Records fall … torches are passed.
I spoke with a friend Sunday morning about the illogical order - and lack of order - that we call life. We were commiserating on the toll often taken by alcohol, and I shared how three of my uncles had passed long before their time ... leaving behind little ... save for a solid example on the evil of drink.
It was understandable that my flesh crawled when Dad called late Sunday afternoon to say that Uncle Bill had died. I sat here in my shorts and tshirt, watching ba
Uncle Bill was the oldest of my Dad's 6 siblings. 6 boys and a girl … poor Grandma. Our branch of the family tree sold several solid dairy farms here in southern Minnesota and purchased thousands of acres in Saskatchewan, with the intent of farming wheat there. It was during a trip into Saskatoon that Grandpa met the Canadian girl he would soon marry. The first 3 of my Grandparents' 7 children were born there in Canada. My father – the middle child – was the first born here in the US.
I'd likely be writing this from Canada this morning, had it not been for a rather extreme weather event. The Dust Bowl swept across North America with little regard for international borders. My generation has listened while the elders tell of tumbleweed piled up to the roof against the new barn built there in the new of Saskatchewan … a barn that would never hold hay in the mow.
Fortunately, the hills and valleys here along the Mississippi buffered that constant scorching wind that tore soil from roots across The Plains. Times were still hard to be sure, but the Holstein and Guernsey herds of Minnesota and Wisconsin survived as livestock west of here simply withered and died for lack of grazing and water.
Also fortunate was the decision to sell those dairy farms at a very reasonable price to family here in Minnesota. When word came back that the Saskatchewan Venture was indeed doomed, a plan was devised to set up my Grandpa and his sister with 2 of the 4 farms they had sold. They came back here to the hills battered and embarrassed, but not nearly so broken as many who suffered ... through first the Great Depression ... and then the Dust Bowl.
The unbalanced gender of my Grandparents' children also turned out to be fortunate. 6 sons were very useful in rebuilding a life that had come so close to devastation. My Uncle Bill made it through the 8th grade, and only at my Grandma's insistence. From that point he was expected to help my Grandparents farm until he was old enough to buy his own. The other 6 children all finished high school – again at my Grandma's insistence.
In return for his sacrifice, my Grandparents helped my Uncle Bill and his young bride purchase a farm of their own. Grandpa and the other 5 boys helped crop Bill's land as if it were their own. They helped him build a barn there. They built his farmhouse together. And it was there – in that farmhouse - that my uncle passed in his chair on Sunday afternoon, his beloved bride of 64 years out in the kitchen fixing him a sandwich.
This morning, the extreme of nature and climate is evident again. I stare out my window on May 3rd at a world so warm and balmy and alive on Sunday afternoon, now shocked and stalled in a deep blanket of record snowfall. I can't help note the return of severity these past years. I can't help wonder if once again we haven't magnified conditions with our human activities.
My poor Aunt delayed Uncle Bill's funeral until today. It was expected the freak snowfall here on Wednesday and Thursday would be melted and nothing but topic of conversation by now. Records fall.
I can see my Uncle Bill's soft smile … picture him shake his head … at the 10 inches of white that covers everything ... throwing just a little more havoc into his time here. He would turn to my father and hand him the torch, as the new elder. And he would graciously point out the 'fortunate' of it all – that it wasn't the 18 inches lying an hour west of here.
My wife's brother is going through divorce after 20+ years. I don't know anyone who challenges the wisdom of their decision - his wife and him. There is sadness, of course, but in today's world there is acceptance and tolerance.
We were surprised when he and his youngest - two daughters - announced they were returning here to live. His son is 22 years already and out on his own. His son will stay in California, where he has lived since about age 2. The plan was for the girls to spend summers in California and the school year here in Minnesota.
I'll admit I did scratch my head at the logic of a 13 and 8 yo girl living most their time with a single father. But I was glad to see he certainly wasn't shirking his parental duty. Neither he nor his wife had much relative experience in the break-up thing. They were each others first relationship of any length, and they were married at 18 & 19. Their respective parents have been married forever. So none had seen divorce 'close up.'
But after couple months of settling here, it became painfully clear these girls need their mama in their lives. Maybe not every single day, but more often than three months over summer break. The youngest moved back almost immediately - the 13 yo wanted to stay here. I wondered the wisdom of splitting them. But at Xmas, the oldest returned to California for a visit - which was actually a Xmas 'surprise' - she would be staying there.
Though this is likely best for these young girls, my brother-in-law remains here almost 2,000 miles from his kids. I cannot imagine being that far away from my children as they grow up. Not surprisingly, my brother-in-law's mental health - in my opinion at least - has suffered some. He has enjoyed reconnecting with his parents and other family, but at a cost too great ... in my eyes.
Enter hllbilly. My wife thought perhaps it would be useful to her brother - if I shared my experience as a child of divorce. When my own parents split back in the 70s, divorce no longer held the stigma of the 1950s, but here in the Midwest it was hardly common. I was the only 'divorced kid' in my circle of friends.
I was a lil flummoxed at this request, for a couple reasons.
First, my brother-in-law and his wife were married very young. Had anyone asked, I would have said 'too young.' I was 28 when I tied the knot. They went straight about the business of beginning a family. Their son was born about 12 months after they wed. My father-in-law built an 'apartment' in the former apple-processing shed on his property, so the two of them would have a separate bedroom for the newborn - they were unable to afford a 2-bedroom apartment.
About 6 months after the arrival of their first, my brother-in-law's wife stepped out on him. As devastating as this was for him, to me it didn't seem so terribly surprising - that an attractive young woman of 20 might allasudden realize she may never be with another man. She confessed this to him, as the guilt was evidently too much to bear. She wasn't interested in continuing her affair. She seemed truly remorseful.
I understand there is not much in the way of a manual on 'how to deal with a cheating spouse.' And there was likely less available back at the time. It's a 'stumble through' for most of us - like most any other curve ball life decides to send blazing toward our plate.
My brother-in-law decided to deal with this by leaving town. Unannounced. He told no one he was leaving. He contacted no one to let us know he was okay - or where he was. He was fired from his job. His parents had his wife and baby living 100 feet away on their property. The three-week mark came and went and folks began to get genuinely concerned.
There was understanding for his plight. But there began to be concern he'd done something stupid. Eventually, someone pondered the most dreaded - whether he might have taken his life. Fortunately, he called my home early one Saturday morning - wanting to speak with his sister, the oldest in their family. She was working.
It seemed at the time 'best' to let him speak what he felt like saying. I did ask if he was in trouble, and he laughed that 'No ... he wasn't in any trouble.' He stated he needed time to get things square in his head ... and wasn't sure when - or if - he'd be back.
Maybe not surprisingly, I decided to gamble - and open my pie hole. I told him I thought I could understand his pain and situation. But I thought he'd better consider that leaving town without a word for his wife - or a nickel for that matter - might be seen as abandonment in the eyes of a court ... that his behavior MIGHT have consequence. I asked if he was comfortable with the thought of her taking that baby and moving off wherever SHE felt like going ... without any input or say on his part.
He hung up on me.
He was back in two days. He'd been in northern California and had located work. He was forgiving his young wife and moving the three of them out there, away from the home where both their families lived. We learned this not from him, but my in-laws. They were sick at the thought of them leaving with so little money and a 7 month child.
That Sunday morning, I had just awoken after being out late for the usual Saturday night gig. My wife and I were seated on the couch drinking first cups of coffee and reading the paper. Suddenly my brother-in-law was standin in front of us in our living room, his wife several feet behind him ... with their baby in her arms.
He launched into a tirade about my lack of faith in him ... about my failure to understand the depth of their love and commitment ... he attacked my opinion that she might ever betray him by leaving with their child and moving somewhere without his knowledge or approval. This went on for some 10 minutes, while my wife and I sat there stunned at the intrusion - me in nothing but my boxers. The look on his wife's face grew sicker as he rambled and bitched at me. Neither my wife nor I spoke one word as he vented, though I silently wondered if he'd care to tell me what it was had changed his mind - why he'd suddenly decided he'd thought about things long enough and cleared his head ... decided it best to haul ass back to Minnesota in two days' time.
When his speech ran out of ammo, he stuck a finger toward me and asked what kind of brilliant response I had 'now.'
"You are lucky your sister, wife and baby are here, or you be lying on your back on my front sidewalk."
He grabbed his wife by the arm and stormed out my door, slamming it for good measure. Other than the odd occasional time when I'd answer his phone calls, we did not speak for 8 years.
So I am cautious, to say the least, about offering him counsel again today. Secondly, it has been a very long time - 40 years - since I was 'the divorced kid' in my circle. Time has softened it all in my mind. The tragedy of it has mellowed. I see it more as positive than negative today. I recognize that my parents would not be happy together.
As my wife pestered me - that her brother was pestering her about talking to me about bein the only 'divorced kid' in his family - I realized I maybe had less wisdom on the matter than anyone expected. I had 'reached out' to both my 22 yo nephew and 13 yo niece when their parents' split became public knowledge, telling them only that I had been down the path they were on now ... that it only gets better from here ... and that I am 'here' - should they need anyone to talk with about it.
My brother-in-law and I have improved our relationship the past 10 years. That distance - between California and here - probably helped a good deal. He was not pissed, but touched - that I had taken time to contact his older children about the divorce.
Last night, he once again showed up unannounced in my living room. This time was much more civil. Neither of us is interested in battling or insulting the other. I'd had a chance to prepare some, but I still felt like I had little to offer.
I told him my story of stumbling into the 'real of it.' My mom, sister and I were shopping for groceries, when my dad came around the end of an aisle shopping for his own groceries. At that point I recall it being painfully clear ... "We don't live with Dad any more."
I also mentioned that I thought daily contact should be HIS responsibility ... that telling his kids "You call me whenever you want" is not enough. I think kids need to KNOW he wants to hear from them every day, and there's no better way to demonstrate that than to initiate that contact himself. If he's truly 'bothering' them too much, they can let their phone ring through to the message system. But even then, they'll still smile at the reassurance that 'Dad called.'
And that was all I could come up with. I know ... old motor mouth at a loss for words of wisdom. This morning it occurred to me I had not tapped all my resources. A good plenty of you have been affected by divorce in some form or another. So if you been good enough to follow me this far, what would you add? Is there something important my brother-in-law should know about his children and how they will feel in coming years - now that they also are 'divorced kids?'
I'd like to know what you think. If you'd be kind enough to add here, I'll relay any help I can to him. Thanks in advance ... hllbilly.
I am working at relaying some stories for my daughters. Much of these are things I want them to know in the event I'm not here when they're old enough to hear them - yet not so young as to be bored with the telling. I've decided to share em with those of you interested enough to follow along. So if you see somethin titled 'Yarn' - expect some more of what follows here today.
At the back side of 50, we're free to reflect a lil more – head back to those glory days. There's just a lot more of em at 50. I've watched this phenomena most my life. I'm a son of a tavernkeep. And I, also, have kept tavern.
Memories are magical. This is so frickin cliché I could gag … you roll your eyes ... but it's true. They're our stories – and our history. Our experiences. Some will embellish their stories. Some will wait to tell their tale until they're too far up the path to recall it with much accuracy. I see a dab of it in my parents – now well into their 70s.
With that thought in mind I have decided to write my memoirs.
Why would an everyman like me write memoirs … I mean besides the money? Well in my case, it's the mortality thing … combined with my children coming later in life. There are stories my girls should all hear one day, but some of these stories will have to wait until my daughters are out of their teens, I've decided.
Something will be the end of us all – every one of us. Lightning … lymphoma … city bus with our name on it … jetliner aimed right at our building. Sometime it comes sooner than we expect. We've got the life insurance. We bought the plot and the stone. I've set aside a couple of old-timey coffee cans for the ashes(truth). My loose ends are tied up as much as most.
I don't lead a particularly cautious existence. I'm not a stunt-man or mountain climber, but I've been in the ER as often as any 3 or 4 of you combined. I get away with shit. I'm charmed … horseshoe up my backside. While I can be thankful nothing has taken me down up to this point, I have to acknowledge that the choices I made – the ones that landed me in whichever calamity I survived this time – may not be the wisest.
Might be a lucky man never has death catch up to him. Wouldn't that be somethin? But maybe a lucky man actually has no more good luck than bad – if most of his life story is about survivin.
Anyhoooo … if I go next week – and there is no pending doom for me that I am aware – I want my girls to one day know all of my story. How I became the storyteller you know here at Ep. They know where I was born and when. They've been raised among their extended family and know them. But they don't know all the stories that made me who I am.
If I stay lucky and get to tell these stories to my grown children too many times, my memoirs may curse me … prevent me from embellishing and polishing the stories when I'm in my own 70s. I can live with that I think. But it will bug me if I find myself without time to tell em all. So here we go.
I am an entertainer. One of my earliest memories is singing for my Grandma Mac.
“Have you got a song for me before you go?”
And knowin how it would make her smile, of course I did. That face was creased and wrinkled and spotted from the garden and the floods and the rearing of her 10 children. Bringing out her warmth and joy by singing a simple song … sometimes hearing her softly join me … it was such a simple thing to do – to make another feel so good.
Some people remember dates. Some are very good with names. Some hear a joke only once and recall it perfectly the rest of their lives. I recall emotion of events. I maybe recognize potential for emotion more than the average Joe. When things get hilarious or heated or solemn, I try to be tolerant and inclusive. For as sure as there is unity in the sharing of emotion, there are few things lonelier than watchin as others share - while you are not able.
I want you to keep that in mind while I get back to that 'real' thing.
Believe me, you would not be the first to shake your head while you grin ear-to-ear and chuckle “Jesus christ, hllbilly … how can you have so many god-dammed stories?”
Well actually, I doubt I have any more stories than you or the next person. I just remember different things than others. I remember the emotional shit.
“I cut myself with a sharp knife when I was preparing the chicken before I grilled.”
Well yes … yes you did. And that's an event worth remembering. No one likes to open their skin with a knife(much). And there is some emotion in the pain of doin so.
But if we're gonna tell a story bout chicken, let's talk about butcherin chickens. Let's get emotional. Let's look at how some are just freaked out by the whole ordeal. How others can go to a place of determination and reverence for the task at hand. And finally, how that one guy(the strange fucker) – he just plain-out likes butcherin.
Bring on the emotion of life. Bring out the kink. Face facts and let's tell it like it was – if it was worth some emotion.
I don't know. But I think that may be why my stories capture a listener. That sounds cocky, I know. But I think that's why there are so many of the stories to tell – what sticks out in my glory days are emotions. More than accomplishment. More than unusual. More than cool. Emotion ain't always pretty, but it stirs us … and when we recall a story and neglect to relate the emotion of it all, we sell the story short.
So I will try to tell the all of it. The emotion of it. The why of it and the how of it and the real of it. And hopefully you will enjoy it. If one day you hear me tell these stories again – with a lil better version and flavor – you'll have these pages to learn the most clear, coherent and accurate version of the story.
Of course I wouldn't put you through all this explaining and reasoning without tellin one before I go. That wouldn't be right. So here goes.
Delmar & Judith Watkins 50th Anniversary
I am an entertainer … but I never really wanted to be a star. I am not that ambitious or obsessed or driven. Thank goodness. Because I think that's why more people opt to not entertain: If they cannot be the best, they will not be at all. Self-doubt has never been much issue for me.
We are who we are … we do what we wanna do.
Or not. But those are the choices. I do what I wanna do. Making people happy by singing … and then by playing guitar … and finally by performing in a band on stage … they were all things I liked and wanted to do. So I did them.
I got paid to do it, so I was a pro. After that it's all judgment, and there's plenty of it in entertainment – most of it self-inflicted. Read the stories of a Pete Townsend or an Eric Clapton, two of the most accomplished guitarists ever. Yet. Both of em tell stories of others they felt put their own efforts to shame. There's allays someone better. Entertainers can allow this to eat them up – the envy is what leads to the obsession and drive for many.
Or they can simply accept that some will out-entertain them - and enjoy the process – get and appreciate what is offered them. That's my school. I got to play couple big auditoriums, appeared on TV couple times, enjoyed some local celebrity, I spose.
But hands down, it was the filling of a dance-floor that drove me to play music … when folks are filled with the sound you make and it moves them to move. If you can recognize and appreciate that interaction – the emotion of it – then it really doesn't matter do you get paid or not. You could live on the emotion of it.
So this first tale will not be about TV appearances or big crowds. I wanna tell you bout the emotion of an anniversary dance we played.
Delmar and Judith Watkins farmed top of one of the hills overlooking the place where I was raised. It was a farm big as most in my own family back then – good productive land. Their farmhouse was bigger than most – an addition on every side of the original 2-story box so commonly simple for the pre-depression - when most farmplaces were established here.
It wasn't enough – the land or the house. Because Delmar and Judith( no one called her Judy) had 14 children. The youngest of these – we called her 'Quick' – was 2 years younger than me. The Watkins tribe filled a couple rows at minimum of the Lutheran church here every Sunday. Judith was very active in the church. Delmar was not a church-goer, save for Easter or Christmas or the many weddings he co-sponsored. Quick had nieces and nephews plenty who were older than she. Judith was involved in most everything because Delmar was busy with little – except figuring out how to keep 14 kids fed, clothed and warm.
Maybe other places the Watkins would been a family unusual and large enough the community would take em under their wing and help as much as they could. But here in farm country – in those days – they were hardly an anomaly. I can name you a half dozen local tribes with double-digit broods faster than you can spit twice – my own Mama's among em.
So Delmar was a seldom-seen man of few words ... Judith, an ever-present woman of many tasks. And the kids … well the kids were abundant, if nothing else.
My first encounter with Judith Watkins occurred when I was 10 years old. It was my first public appearance playing music ever – unless you count the 12th birthday gig a month earlier in Susie's Plank's garage. That shouldn't really count, because our drummer Mike Plank was Susie's nephew. And we played Indian Reservation(Cherokee People) like 11 times in our second set.
The Lutheran Church held – still holds – an Ice Cream Social every summer. In the 1960s this was one of THE events in a rural town of couple hundred. All three the other guys in our band attended Grace Lutheran. I went to United Methodist one block back. Methodists are 'almost religious' compared to the Lutheran Synod, in my hometown.
Ralph and Dave's parents got the notion we should perform at this Ice Cream Social. The four of us were plenty excited at the thought of playin before most everyone in town. So we rallied up a version of 'What A Friend We Have In Jesus', 'Down By The Riverside' – a capella no less, complete with hand-clappin – and 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken.' We pushed this up to 10 songs with some old classic country music.
Most everyone agreed would be something to have live music at an Ice Cream Social. But …
When some of the women serving at the Ice Cream Social saw us hauling electric amplifiers, guitars and an actual drum-set into the ba
“Does that music have a place in a church?”
“No one said there would be drums!”
“We won't be able to hear ourselves think … let alone hold decent conversation.”
Quite likely – at that time – no one save for those who'd heard bout Susie Plank's birthday were even aware there were boys in town with electric guitars and drum sets. So no one could blame em if they thought boys like 'that' - whose parents would let em mess with electric guitars – might need a quick 'talking-to' before they decided to disrupt the pleasantness of an annual Ice Cream Social. No one could blame em for failin to realize that not only our parents, but the Pastor as well, had already given us a lengthy talking-to bout proper Ice Cream Social stage and material etiquette.
Was Judith Watkins decided to give us one last reminder as we set up our sinister gear … she being no stranger to dealing with adolescents.
“I hope you boys remember this is the Lord's house – not the Wyattville ballroom. I don't even know whose idea it was for you to perform here today. But I know this and believe you me … if you embarrass whoever stuck their neck out for you, I won't hesitate to yank the cord on your fancy machines. I'll grab that guitar and El Kabong every one of you.”
We laughed at her reference to Huckleberry Hound and she smiled at us. Judith was very effective and clear. Some time later I 'd recognize how she gave us the 'out' with her statement – finished up with a laugh to put everyone at ease about her decision. I bet you learn a lot ... bout human interaction ... with a husband and 14 children.
We didn't embarrass anyone. We played to the house … to smiles like my Grandma Mac's. After out first song they asked we turn it down 'just a tad' – and we did. They clapped along to 'Down By The Riverside.' As we finished out the last verse, last song of 'Will The Circle' most those good souls stood up and gave us an ovation.
Our parents beamed. We were all ear-to-ear as we bashfully made our way back into 'the crowd.' A good deal of back-slapping and congratulating ensued. Today, it is prolly the earliest experience of community I can recall … of tolerance and acceptance.
After a half-hour or so, it was decided we should do some more music. We decided against doing something different. This was no time to waste good will. We stuck with what had buttered our bread and decided to just do em all again.
As we started the 2nd or 3rd song of the ten again, Judith Watkins approached. There was spontaneous leapin of hearts up into throats as she strode confidently and purposefully toward the 4 of us. I recall bein happy that Dave - and not I - was singing. But Judith came toward me, and I remember turning beet-red … certain that we had somehow messed something up and I was about to hear about it. Judith leaned down into my 10 year-old ear.
“If you're going to do some repeats, would you mind playing 'Green, Green Grass Of Home' one more time?”
Relief rushed down through me. I nodded affirmative in the most mature style I could muster … like I'd been handling requests all my days. Just like The Wolfman. Mrs. Watkins smiled and so did I. I added a few more affirmative shakes of my pumpkin. I looked cross the room to where my mother had her eye-brow raised. And I grinned all the wider.
We finished our song as I stepped up to the mic. I was about to add something special to a very simple(for me) task. I was going to make someone even happier than she already was.
“Folks, I don't know if we'll ever make it to the big time, but I want to thank-you all for being so nice to us. And I wanna especially thank Mrs. Watkins, for making our first-ever special request! Green, Green Grass on 5 boys! One, two, three, four. One ...”
As I sang to em all how the old home town looked the same, some of those folks broke into applause in that tiny church ba
My mama once again was beamin, and I spose the other boys' mamas were just as happy. I remember that as we finished, and I told the folks how good it was to touch the green, green grass of home, Judith Watkins' eyes were shiny with tears. Like I said … I was absolutely hooked.
There's hierarchy in any tribe and families are no different. This can be fairly simple in a family of two siblings like my own. Believe me, I know my place. I'm sure it's a little more complicated – maybe more la
Mike Watkins is all of the above. And though they may not all be affluent, none of the Watkins could be termed a failure in the eyes of others. Not one is a mooch or deadbeat. I've known Mike for ages now (fact is, I know each of the Watkins kids includin those 'kids' that have passed on today). Still, Mike Watkins had never stood in my kitchen before. I was turning over his proposal carefully.
“Well first thing, Mike ...” I wanted to be clear, yet respectful. “This is a different band today. We'd play things like weddings and anniversaries every weekend … if it was affordable … for the guys in the band or folks who want us to”
“How much you get for a wedding?” Mike was on the same page, at least.
“We book weddings at $1500 these days. That may seem like a lot, but you gotta consider ...”
“Done. No problem. You need a check up front?” Mike was quick and definite.
Though I'd been out of the area for a decade, I wasn't worried that Mike Watkins' check – or word – was good. And Delmar and Judith still turned up occasionally, when we'd play a place where folks preferred the more classic of our song sets. Dave and I still made a point of stoppin by their table so Judith could tell everyone how she made 'the first request these boys ever played.' I never ever did tell her about Susie's birthday and 'Indian Reservation.'
But these days Delmar and Judith were gone home early, long before the faster, more current tunes that filed the floor with younger, rowdier and - yes - drunker dancers. My last concern was simply the matter of were we 'appropriate' for a 50th wedding anniversary celebration. I had not disappointed Judith yet, and didn't want to start at this point in her senior years.
“I'm not worried about getting paid, Mike. I am concerned whether we fit what you wanna do. Will Delmar and Judith like the new stuff we do? We don't play songs over and over any more … like when we were young.”
“We all talked bout that – us kids. I got another proposal. $250 more if you do a dozen of their old songs for em. Then you play whatever you normally play. It's the young folks will make this thing last late – if it does. I'm hopin it does ... so I can get my '4-hours-worth' out of you over-priced prima donnas.”
Like mother, like son. Mike had given me a chance to smile at what he wanted – at his decision. And $1750 would look awfully good to the band for a single Saturday night. Truth was it still hadn't registered - to a child from a family my size … how a big a deal this was to how many kids.
“$1750 really ain't that much when we're splittin it 14 ways. Just give them and their friends an hour of dancin that old shit they love so much, Mitch. Then let er rip. We got a deal?”
“I sure don't see why not. It's open on the calendar, so I'll give you a tentative like everyone else. Then I'll run it past the boys at practice to confirm it. I do wanna make sure they're all okay with mashin up some of those oldies. I haven't done those tunes in a long time. But I can come up with an hour's worth. If it's good with the other fellas, then yeah – you write me a check and the date is yours.”
“Fair enough.” Mike seemed happy and I thought the band would be too.
Delmar and Judith Watkins' 50th Anniversary arrived as steadily as the years that preceded it. The family held lunch at a local park. There they played horseshoes, drank beer, and loved each other. They rented a hall for dinner and dance that evening. Dinner was served at 5:30 and in consideration of the long day – and the elders – the dance would last from 7 – 11. None of the band members complained about odd hours resultin in us getting home a couple hours early.
Delmar bought a new suit for the occasion, and a great deal of fun was had at his expense. More than one man joked that he'd be buried in that suit. There's humor in simple truth ... and simple living ... and Delmar was buried in those very clothes. Each Watkins son and every Watkins son-in-law wore at least a sport coat to dinner that evening … for Judith.
The women of Grace Lutheran served 250 ham and chicken dinners that night, and would not take one penny in return. That Christmas season, the Watkins family presented Grace Lutheran with a new marquee for the front lawn – complete with 24-hour lighting and landscaping. It still stands today.
At 7 pm promptly, we went on stage and did the 'Senior Set' – as we called it while we re-learned the 15 classics we put together for the elders in the crowd. We were kinda pleased with ourselves at putting the time and effort into that Senior Set. And like we kinda expected, after 4 or 5 songs, some of the folks that age made way back to their tables for a little break.
I took advantage to do the necessary introductions and saluting our Guests of Honor. I turned the crowd's attention to the rear of the hall, where the Grace Lutheran women were rushing the last touches on clean-up – anxious for a dance or two themselves.
Then I turned to Judith … and realized I was about to make her even happier than she already was. Like I told you earlier, I am real. This is really how my life flows along … because I let it … I do what I wanna do.
“Young lady, you and I have a kinda special song … and really a kinda special musical relationship don't we?”
Judith's eyes were dancing in delight. I could see very clearly what Delmar Watkins saw in this woman. I could see it despite her 70 years. I leaned in close so she could be heard on the fancy remote headset-mic that had become standard equipment.
'Yes we do.” she said. “You aren't gonna bring that up are you?”
“You're kinda my groupie, aincha?” I leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
The crowd roared in laughter. Judith blushed and and flung a whack at my arm. Then she hit me even harder. I looked cautiously at Delmar, who evidently had no prollem with Judith being the center of attention - any more than he usually did. I read pride in Delmar's eyes, as he watched this woman 'take the room' like she may have in her younger days.
“C'mon Judith … everyone knows the real you … what a wild woman you are! I mean … 14 kids?”
I looked over at Delmar who was grinning now ear-to-ear as the room laughed and hooted. I pounced.
“Oh yeah … Mr. 'Romeo' Watkins? You had nothing to do with those 14 kids?”
Delmar reached his arm around his wife of 50 years to give her a kiss on the cheek. Judith whacked him one on the arm too. The crowd was howling now. These two actually were golden – in more ways than one. They were in love. They were happy as could be – surrounded by a couple hundred folks who also loved em. And the emotion was flowing like a river.
I stepped back and gave them an overly discerning look.
“C'mon you two … spill it. You got plenty of daughters and sons both. Ain't like you're the Johnsons havin 7 boys before you finally get a girl. You ain't Catholic – how do you end up with 14 of em swarming all over the town and the countryside? You kids all stand up!”
The topic had danced far enough to the edge. It was time to make certain I did not embarrass anyone who'd stuck their neck out for me.
The crowd got louder. All the Watkins kids stood up, and then one by one they all made their way to Mama Judith and Daddy Delmar Watkins and kissed em both. The crowd never ceased the clapping, as one after another 14 children leaned down and paid respect, devotion and love to the man and woman whose 'never quite enough' had turned out to be plenty.
I started back to the stage, confident of my next move. Then I saw Judith motioning to me. She had something to add.
“Mitch … Mitch … I was going to tell you … about the 14 children … how we ended up with so many?”
Judith was not taking – apparently – the out I was offering. She was ready to push.
“Well then please ... tell us how you wound up with 14 great kids, Mrs. Watkins.”
Judith took me by the shoulders and pulled me in like a microphone stand. She got way too close to the mic and her next words literally boomed across the room.
“Delmar can't keep his damned hands off me.”
Oh. My. God. And the crowd roared. I jammed my hat down over my eyes and twirled a 360 on my boot. Watkins boys were high-fiving each other. I ran for the stage and leaped back up. Watkins girls were holding their hands over their mouths in amazement and laughing till the tears came. Delmar Watkins raised his clenched fists in a ball over his head and shook em in victory. The crowd went hysterical.
“Judith ...” I said over the sound system. “Would you be willing to share our special music thing with everyone? Could you ask me what you asked all those years ago?”
Judith's eyes were bright with wet. The wet streamed down a face … creased and wrinkled and spotted … from the sun and the floods and the gardens. It had been very, very long … since I'd felt so sure I could increase the warmth and joy in a face. I held one hand high for the room to quiet. Judith stood. And Delmar came to his feet and took her hand. Judith led him confidently to the dance floor.
“Would you boys play 'Green, Grass Of Home' one more time?”
And again, the place erupted like Hank Williams had just walked onstage and called for 'Your Cheatin Heart.'
“Green, Green Grass on five fellas! One, two, three, four, One ...”
Delmar and Judith Watkins danced there 50th anniversary dance quietly and softly and tenderly ... while I told them bout Mary's hair of gold and lips like cherries. Their community and friends and family watched while they danced … as the moment maybe overwhelmed them. We all watched as they commented to each other and twirled each other and smiled at each other. We wondered what it might be … that two people who'd lived so much together ... might speak of ... in moments like that moment.
I know that's what I was watchin anyhow. I saw Judith begin to tremble some. I saw Delmar draw her closer. Judith began to shake. Delmar stroked her hair and led her steadily in rhythm. She buried her face in him … and I could see she was sobbing. Judith needed an out.
I twirled my finger in a circle, signaling a 'stay' for the boys to keep the music goin, as I hopped down to the dancefloor and cautiously approached the two of them. Delmar smiled that 'it's gonna be okay' smile at me, and Judith looked up to me and smiled as well.
“Judith … it's a special night ... “ I began. “Is there something special about this song for you? You're doing the same thing you did first time I played your request ... 30 years ago.”
Judith was nodding at me through her tears. She was smiling now. I leaned in as Delmar never lost the beat.
“Yes” was all Judith could manage. I smiled knowingly at her. I had a hunch why 'Green, Green Grass' was so special. Intuition.
“Well you told us bout the 14 kids … may as well get it all out in the open.”
It was an out for the crowd. Almost every one of em had moved up to the edge of the floor to see the honored couple. Again they honored them ... with applause, whistles and whoops.
“Yes Mitch … it was playing when Delmar asked for my hand.”
I smiled and turned back for the stage as the crowd let out a collective 'Awwww' at this precious confession. We all got secrets. As I jumped back up to the stage I asked Delmar if he had anything to add to that. Delmar smiled at me and silently, thoughtfully, shook his head 'no' across the floor.
Then I told them all the rest of it – even the part about the guard and the sad old Padre. Delmar held his sweet Judith - of the 50 years and 14 children – close. Judith's tears gave way to pleasure and the two of them finished the tune with eyes locked in adoration. It was a gen-u-ine Kodak moment. Dave – who was there the first time Judith Watkins cried ... that day so many decades back at the Ice Cream Social – motioned for all to get up and join the couple as I sang the last words to the song.
And the crowd gave Delmar and Judith Watkins an out – gathering them in warmth as they left their moment of emotion.
The night never got slow. Mike Watkins got his money's worth and then some. We played till midnight without givin it a second thought. I remember at the end of our first set, Delmar's daughters appeared with his Red Ball bibs. The ones he wore pretty much every day as he toiled his acres of not enough. He changed from the suit, but he kept the the white shirt and tie beneath his denims. Delmar and Judith stayed till the last guests were gone.
Before we started our third set, Delmar came to the stage and asked for a mic. He thanked all his friends and neighbors and the rest for making the day such a gift. Then he got a bit quieter and held his hand for quieter still.
“For my family … for you kids … you Grandkids and your kids too … I do wanna say something bout that song … bout memories … bout how they're enough. They're plenty … really. When I hear that song that makes Judy cry, I think bout my own emotions … the memory of them.”
“Don't be afraid to remember the emotions … the thrills and the agonies … there's not one bit of shame in the thrill of learnin Judy Swenson will marry you. I'm so glad Judygirl … I'm so humbled you said 'yes.' Come dance with me Judy.” Tears streamed down Delmar's face. My own eyes were wet. There weren't many eyes didn't shine with happiness at that moment.
Judith Watkins strode across the room confidently … with purpose … to dance with her man of 50 years and 14 children.
“Can you find me one more song I can keep up to, boys?” Delmar Watkins grinned back to the stage.
Dave softly leaned into each of us and whispered aside.
“Livin On Love – Alan Jackson. Livin On Love.”
We broke into some 2-step and so did Delmar and Judith Watkins. So did the rest still able to dance. Emotion ran high. Emotion ran high in the right direction.
And that's what I wanna share before I 'go' … here in these memoirs. How I came to value the emotion of life … more than the measure of it. Quite simply, the emotion prolly is the measure of it … the reason we keep a memory … the reason any of it matters. That's the stories I wanna tell.
It's these emotions have created the who and the what of me. I've maybe had some moments you'd consider more noteworthy … brushes with tragedy or death or celebrity. And I'll tell those too, if there's time. Maybe I can do it a lil more quickly than I've told you of Delmar and Judith's 50th Anniversary. But I'll need to tell the all and the real of them … the emotions of a moment … or there ain't much point in me telling stories at all.
I always have a plan. I just don't always know what it is.
For now, my immediate plan involves that '99 Silverado with the aggressive mudders and 250,000 clicks, a well-thought CD mix, the frozen muddy trails of Whitewater and wastin $50 worth of gas. Some smoke. No drink till I get back. And I will get back. Thank-you Jason. Thank-you Eric. Thank-you all.
Tell me that ain't better. And tell me again if you like. It's wayyyy better.
Contrary to media reports, I have not been apprehended - nor have I slipped into some pit of deep depression or crevass. I am simply back on the peninsula. Much has changed here on the Yucatan over the past 20 years, and much has remained the same. It is the 'same' that I came for, and I'm happy to report that I've found it.
It seems the decision to build Cancun 40-some years back was solid. So also, was the decision to build Coral Mar here on the barrier isle, rather than among the quickly sprouting resorst of the city's beach strip. The higher cabfares necessary to venture into the city for its treasures are a small price to pay for the security and quiet here along Pok-ta-Pok. The rapid growth of the city has flushed out the tiny path which once led only to this small resort and a golf course across that path.
And as the city has caused the street to flourish, the cost of airfare has caused the popularity of Coral Mar to do the same. Last I visited, there were 3 buildings of 6 units each. At that time, the buildings were shared by several vacation clubs. Today, there are 7 buildings and our group owns them all ... As much as foreigners can own anything in Mexico. Some still grouse at the carfare into the downtown area, but most now realize the value of the quiet and the remote.
I am happy that my friends King and Steinbeck were able to be here. King brought along a man named Bachman, and his tales are new and entertaining to me. There is little the other two can share that I have not already heard. If this were not enough, when I returned to Quintana Roo from the jungles of Yucatan last night, Koontz was waiting in the living room of the condo. We stayed up well past midnight together and have made plans to lie in the sun today and bake till we can stand no more. He's a bit creepy and dark at times, but he's been places I have not.
Other than this post to confirm my well-being, I cannot say that I have accomplished much in my time here so far ... though I did attend an all-you-can-eat buffet at Mayaland in a white shirt without soiling it. I hung it in the closet promptly on my return, and I'm happy to report that this morning it smells well enough for me to use it again sometime during the trip.
If I had the technical knowhow to transfer to transfer a picture to this iContraption, I would prove it to you. You'll have to take my word for it. Be safe, well and envious ...
(usual dumbass look n his face)
I am a curious sort. Yes, I'll agree with you – curious in more ways than one. I would say my curiosity has been far more beneficial than hindrance.
The Internet, for me, has been that convenient library that never existed in rural America. I've poked my nose in countless places I never imagined. And yes, one of those is Ep.
I am now somewhat of a 'long-timer' at Ep. My circle contains those have been here longer still. One of them is 'LetMeGo2.' She arrived here shortly before me. We are bout as opposites as can be. She is black, I am white. I am male, she is female. She holds strong faith in her GOD, I am agnostic. She is modest, I am … umm … you know what I am.
However, we both love to laugh and frolic – that attracted me to her. I've always thought Ep is LetMeGo2's lil guilty pleasure. The way you or I might eat an entire pint of ice cream in an evening … take in an adult vid for some self-gratification … or do a line at the holidays for old time's sake.
She exemplified certain things for me … patience … understanding and communication … peace-making … and tolerance. That last – tolerance – above all else. When it became evident I had fallen into disfavor among the 'in-crowd' back at Stone-Age Ep, she was among the first and loudest to stand by my side. Hers was the voice that always seemed perfectly suited to ask “Can't we all just get along?”
We communicated most often out in the open of comment sections back then. But LetMeGo2 and I did some occasional messaging as well. I don't think either of us were familiar with the concept of instant messaging back then, and all of ours took place here via the Ep message system … sometimes over the course of days.
Eventually, we came round to that infamous topic – 'How did you find Ep?'
I explained to her how I had been research surfing and which topic had interested me. She in turn, shared with me her reason for being here – the oldest of reasons. LetMeGo2 suffers Multiple Sclerosis. Some of you may not know the history behind Ep – I've written bout it a little before. LetMeGo2 pointed it out to me, and pointed me toward the info explaining as much at one of the Ep links.
Being a curious sort, I read through the history and did a little supplemental digging about Ep on the web. I was a bit flabbergasted that a woman so seemingly techno-inept knew the skinny better than I. It was not the last time I would learn from LetMeGo2, but it was probably one of the more memorable things she revealed for me.
And being the curious sort, I am still curious about the people and events that inspired Ep. So I decided to click this morning on the homepage banner link to the same.
Armen Berjikly - and 'no' ... I don't know how to pronounce that – was invited to speak at a TEDx gathering. These are independent TED gatherings encouraged by the folks at TED, but conducted separately from the large annual conference. I enjoy Armen's speaking manner. I can believe his enthusiasm bleeds into others around him. Quite frankly, he looks like the sort of boss I'd like to have, if I had to have one.
Something else has occurred to me. This 20 minute video is the ultimate among Ep experiences or confessions … or dreams. It is answer to the question … 'why does Ep exist?'
And here's your trophy for best answer rolled in to the original story, Armen.
I have rolled my eyes plenty here at Ep, though I'll add that I'm still here … ain't I. Some of the invitations to become studied or portrayed on reality shows have me shaking my head as much as the offers of Psychic readings and that little blonde who lives 2.9 miles from every one of us.
This link to Armen's talk is not those links. I think Armen's talk is a good thing for all of us to see … to know. There's so much to be said for experience … for patience … for communication and understanding … and yes, for tolerance as well. There's much as well, to be said for Experience Project. Ep Armen has done it well. Don't know I've ever felt more comfortable bout being here. Peace.
Few years back I introduced some of you to my friend Lily. Lily was a new mom, willing to let the world follow her through the miracle of birth and raising a newborn. Those of us who observed came to know her daughter, Hope. The process was bearable enough that she's done the same with subsequent off-spring, and since then we've met Jason, Faith, and last year, Jewel.
Early Saturday, it was twins again for Lily. She's surpassed Lilt with two sets now. If you'd like to stop by and see these little angels, you can do so at the following link. The twins' eyes will be closed til around March, but their whining and cooing is better than iTunes while I enjoy my morning java.
Lily as a young girl with her Mama
Lily hamming it up for her dencam
Lily with her first-born - Hope - at 12 weeks
Mama and Daughter during Hope's first Autumn
I'll give you all a heads up when the eaglets are ready to hatch ... hllbilly
Last night we got supper dishes washed up and headed in to town for the boys' high school basketball game. My DDs(Darling Daughters - for those of you unfamiliar with softball terminology) are in the Sophomore and Junior class this year. Both are dating now. Both seem to have developed an eye for decent companions.
I resist the urge to wedge myself into their relationships, accepting they'll only tell me what they want me to know. DD #2 has found a guy much like me - writer, musician, vegetarian ... something of a Bohemian, if they still use that term. His parents are divorced and his mom now has a female life partner. All three of them - dad included - live in the same home with their children. We get along quite well with them, a benefit of our tolerance I'm sure.
DD #1 has been slower than younger sis to do the 'boy thing.' She's explained she finds it pretty much a waste of time as she'll be leaving soon for Stanford, Columbia or the University of Arizona ... all subject to change next week. But last spring, this tall and gangly guy started showin up to watch her throw for the softball team. I've spent enough time in the dugout with these girls to 'get' what was goin on. I've spent enough time round DD#1 to keep my mouth closed and act like nothing's up.
Tall and gangly hung round most the summer too. They 'did things together' - making no commitment to 'dating' or any other archaic term of that sort. Seemed a bit peculiar to me, but long as she's having fun, who cares?
As football season rolled around this fall, DD#2 cleared all this up for me.
DD#1 has been a 'manager' of the football team for a couple years. She started doing this with one of the neighbor girls, and there's a half dozen of em in this group of girls that run down needed equipment, haul a half dozen water bottles onto the field during time-outs, or fasten a new facemask onto a helmet when required. Pretty thankless task, but she enjoys it - and likes the girls who do it with her.
One of the 'rules' the coach has for these Equipment Managers is that they don't date team members.
Ahhhh. Lightbulb moment. DD#2 was surprised I didn't realize this. Tall and gangly is a linebacker on the football team.
The two of them continued 'doing things together' - but not dating. Near the end of the football season, the head coach called her to his office. She was kinda un-nerved to see most of the coaches in there as she arrived. Coach C said he'd get right to the point ... "Was she gonna continue dating her tall and gangly or be a football manager?
I know my DD#1 well enough to imagine all color draining from her face. She's a good kid, and if this is the greatest crime she commits during her HS career - I'll take it. She says she was tongue-tied ... very unusual for my daughter.
And then one of the assistants lowered his head, studied the floor, and began to shake. One of the other assistants whacked him one. One by one, the assembled football coaches all began to grin. Coach C stood up and handed her her football 'letter' for the year and said she's done a great job, and that he expected her back next year ... even after tall and gangly graduates this spring.
"You could do worse." he smiled at her.
The next morning, DD#2 came squealing out of her bedroom with the news that DD#1 and tall and gangly had BOTH changed their facebook relationship status. Still - in typical DD#1 fashion - there hasn't been that over-the-top-head-over-heels-can't-live-another-moment- without -you approach we see from so many high school romances. They're both very active in sports and other school activities - both have part-time jobs.
Tall and gangly is the starting center for the basketball team. I watch a lot of basketball, and this is not one of my favorite teams to watch. They are small - and blessed with shooters I guess - but the continued bombardment of 3-point shots gets weary for me. One and done, if you know what I mean. Even when tall and gangly has a size advantage, their outside gunners all too often fail to recognize it.
This really escapes DD#1. And no matter ... she's just as likely to be found selling raffle tickets in the hall outside the gym, or working the concession stand, rather than watching the contest.
But last night the largest school in the conference was visiting - unbeaten. To say this school has more than their share of success may sound petty, but it's true enough. They are the 'cake-eaters' as we say here. DD#1 was nowhere to be seen outside as we entered the gym. From the comfort of my balcony seat, I spotted her cross the floor in the student section behind the bench. She had a big cardboard sign read "#55 in the paint ... #1 in my heart." Of course I rolled my eyes ... but yeah ... I grinned too.
By halftime it appeared the powerhouse visitors would have their way again, up by 8 ... having led by as many as 15.
Then something happened - something not so terribly unusual for me, having watched countless basketball games. Tall and gangly timed one right, and completely stuffed his counterpart - who had him by at least an inch and 50 pounds. The crowd erupted, and as they trotted back up the court I could see his opponent jaw-jackin at him. Tall and gangly was grinnin away.
Until they fed him the ball. He protected it to his left and went up to his weak side, laying in a soft touch and getting hacked by his opponent ... sinking the resultant free-throw. I smiled at it and saw DD#1 jumping in the bleachers cross the way. I smiled again.
As they came back down the floor, tall and gangly's man was jaw-jacking some more ... tall and gangly grinnin some more. I can read lips well enough to see his man usin the f-bomb on him. I have watched enough basketball to notice a ref keeping eye on the two of them. Tall ang gangly was leanin on him heavy now ... his long arms preventing any attempt to feed the ball inside. His man threw an elbow caught tall and gangly square in the chin and knocked him on his ass. The whistle blew, and an offensive foul was called on his man. The ref walked over to the opposing bench and said something to the coach.
Tall and gangly walked to the stripe and promptly clanged the front end of a one-and-one. But still he grinned and trotted back up court, his opponent no longer jaw -jacking, his ire evident in the steam rising from his ears. An elbow to the jaw can draw forth the 'quit' in a lot of us. That is not the mind-set of a linebacker. The two of them leaned and shoved and tussled for position for a couple possessions.
Then something happened again. One of our missed shots came dropping down toward the two of them. They both went up for the ball, and it popped up into the space above them. Again they leaped, neither of them snagging the elusive rebound, and the ball sailed up into the air above them a third time. This time, tall and gangly got grip on the rock, and as he came down to the floor he hunkered down and secured it.
Frustrated, I imagine ... losing all track of what he'd been taught ... his opponent reached out and shoved him square in his #55 with both hands, sending tall and gangly to his ass and sliding out of bounds with the ball still wrapped in his arms.
Whistles blew, the crowd erupted, and both refs came flying in, one of them hauling the glowering opponent from his threatening stance at the ba
Miracle of miracles, those outside gunners finally recognized tall and gangly's new mismatch underneath and began feeding him the ball. He made good decisions, picking up a handful of assists when no shot was available. As the clock wore down to a minute left, it still looked as though this one was not meant to be. Our hometown boys trailed by 6.
This, evidently, is when those outside gunners - that bug me so much - can come in handy. They kept firing away and tall and gangly kept snagging rebounds and pumping the ball back out to whoever was open. They fired six 3-point shots in that last minute and two of them fell in. Overtime.
Overtime was basically 'Tall and gangly time.' Absent the big man to defend him, tall and gangly put on a show for everyone. Watching across the floor, I doubt anyone - save for tall and gangly's mama - enjoyed the show more than DD#1. As that final buzzer went off, I saw her and the rest the students jump up and erupt with the Pep Band into the fight song. 18 points, 14 boards, I don't know how many assists. Maybe a career night for tall and gangly. As the chaotic gathering of pla
And she absolutely beamed.
You've read plenty of come-from-behind sports stories. This one is no greater than any other, because it really isn't a come-from-behind sports story. It's the future memory of 'a dad watching his DD grow up' story ... and I don't wanna lose it somewhere in my clouded mind. If you stuck with it this long, you understand why.
Life is good. Peace.
The past couple months have not been what I expected. Of course, I didn't know what to expect in the first place. There's no handbook or precedent for this. But I certainly didn't expect this.
Yet, this is here, whichever this it has become.
I don't make many promises, but I keep my word. I did promise that I want to be good for you. I can't recall a stretch where I worried so … whether I was keeping a promise. I want to be good for everyone – all of you, all of them, all of us.
Been 30 years since I been at such unrest … since I worried I was doin harm and not good. It's been unfamiliar territory .. hearing how wrong I can be. I find myself doing things against my better judgment, and for what? The result is the same – if I'm wrong, not good.
I know this place … I recognize this now … dark … lonely … easy. I'm not sure why you'd bring me here, but I know that I followed you, and willingly enough. I've wandered around with my eyes closed, while you insisted I wasn't using my ears. I knew the smell here – the taste of this – but I wasn't willing to admit I'd ended up here in this.
When finally I opened my eyes, I saw the this that is here. Why did I wait so long? Because this is so easy. Why did I open my eyes? Because I heard this echoing from my mouth … 'good for all of us.'
Unless the rules have changed, I also, am a member of all of us, with a stake in this.
30 years ago I was able to eventually be good for all concerned. It was hard work ... work worth the effort. And that's what I have presumed these past couple months – that all this is worth the effort. Maybe it's not. Maybe there are those I cannot be 'good for.' Maybe your victimhood is beyond my reach. Maybe your need and draw and hunger are black holes that eat everyone that wanders too close. Maybe I'm not as good as I thought … or not good enough.
I don't know … I don't need to know. I know that I need out of this. This is the deeps. This is not somewhere I can be – it hurts. Fortunately, I've figured this out. I have been here before … this hole that is this. There are ladders here somewhere. I know how to use them. They'll get us out of this hole if we only use em. I've tried convincing you of this.
You've proven more than my match. So keep that shovel you're using to get out of this hole. I'm finding a ladder. I'll simply agree with you ... I'm not good enough, or I haven't enough good available for both of us. Whichever the case … one or the other … you've proven it and I'll accept it … so I can get out of this.
Yesterday was supposed to be a good day.
I have a cousin who is 28 days older than I. We have been the brothers that neither of us had. Over 30 years ago, Curt moved on from the hills here, but we have remained as close as could be expected. His sister's daughter – his god-daughter - graduated from college yesterday. He got into town late Thursday night, and we were excited to get some time together again, at her graduation party last night and again this weekend.
I've spoken with some of you about my 'reach' – a feeling or intuition I get/experience. I don't have - or use - much more definition for it than that – it's my reach. Curt was the first person I ever spoke with about my reach. We were probably about 12 and hanging out on our bikes, when the topic of this 'new kid' in town came up.
“He's broken” Curt said. This was an odd remark to make, but Curt no more than spoke it and I agreed completely – in my head. Neither of us had even spoken with this new boy yet. But the very first time I saw this new kid, I knew there was something wrong with him.
Some of the guys with us asked why Curt would say that, and Curt had to admit he didn't actually know why he felt that way. He got chastised for judging a book by its cover … they reminded him that this new kid might be a solid addition to the summer ball team … someone mentioned that Curt had been the new kid in town last year.
Not me. I knew Curt was right. I could reach it. Later that afternoon – when the two of us were alone – I asked him how he knew.
Curt slumped his shoulders and sighed.
“It's just a feeling … a special feeling … like it's too important to ignore” he confided.
“Do you get these feelings often?” I asked.
“I … sometimes … I don't really like to think about it” he said. “People will think I'm screwed up or something. You better not tell, you motherfucker.”
“No … I won't, Curt … promise.” I almost whispered. “I get them too. I knew the moment I saw him ... this new kid is fucked up.”
Curt and I talked a little more about the matter that afternoon. It was great to confide in him, and he felt the same way. He and my wife are about the only people in my 'real life' have ever heard this from me. Curt has told me I'm the only one he's ever spoken with about it, and it certainly isn't something we discuss often.
Through the years we've kinda determined the reach is more useful than nuisance. The feeling works mostly with people, but we both have instances where places or things don't seem right … or where they seem very right … almost 'good for us.' Curt has always been a collector. He has had couple instances where someone would bring him something for his collection, and he wasn't able to keep it. It felt wrong to him. So wrong he had to get rid of it.
Stephen King writes about dark and light quite often. He changes the words in some stories, but I felt an immediate connection to King the first time I read his words. Not all people, places or things create a reach for me. Those that do are either bright or dark, and I guess I've just grown accustomed to paying attention when the reach is there. I quit long ago attempting to create reach where/when there is none.
So this is the sacred kind of closeness my cousin and I share. We all got secrets … we don't all got someone who understands them. The reach topic doesn't come up much between us these days. If one of us should comment that a place – or a person – is fucked, the other might question 'fucked' fucked? An affirmative nod is all the other needs.
We live cross country from each other. We get along with each others spouses. Our kids are amazingly tight, considering the rare occasions they see each other, and the fact that his are boys and mine are girls. About every year or three, we'll vacation together for a week, either out east or here in the Midwest.
I recall very well the first time we visited the home where he lives along a Connecticut river. It's a beautiful setting, and a great place to have fun. Our kids were in the water non-stop. All of them are water skiers, and the one-up-manship was a blast.
But as he and I were returning to his home from a food and beer run one afternoon, I got a dark reach. I thought I might have felt this earlier, but just dismissed it amid the excitement. This time it hit a lil harder.
“Is this a good place?” I blurted.
“Good?” he turned to me. “Ahhh … good , you mean.”
“Yeah.” I answered, looking straight ahead beneath my sunglasses now.
“I don't think it's a bad place … but yeah .. something dark happened here. It's kinda famous for it.”
Curt went on to explain to me about the Lake Zoar murder story, and how the lake on this river had gained its infamy. I'll leave the details for the curious among you to google. It's a story worthy of several TV specials and episodes, and at that time, I took it as plenty enough reason for the place to feel dark – not my cousin's home – more like the neighborhood or area.
Yesterday morning, I was chatting with a friend about this … how stoked I was to see my cousin … where he lived … and the whole Lake Zoar story, when I got a text from my oldest.
“What's going on in Newtown?” she wanted to know.
I felt instantly dark. I turned on the TV to watch what most of you have now seen. My daughter's next text said that she'd been in touch with Curt's boys … that they were 'locked down' in their school. They were concerned because they couldn't reach their mom at work. She works at Sandy Hook Elementary.
I shared this info with my friend I'd been chatting with – the one who'd just heard all the story I'm telling you now. We watched the reports from our separate locations cross country … dumbfounded and numb … not only at the tragedy, but at the 'coincidence' of all this. I tried Curt's phone repeatedly, but it went straight to voicemail. He had it turned off during his god-daughter's commencement ceremony.
My daughter finally got a text that Curt's son had heard from his mom - she was safe at the firehouse. Moments later I saw her picture on the national newsfeed – anguished and sorrowful. That was enough for me. I switched off the TV … begged goodbye with my online friend, and went in to lie down in the afternoon sun … in the comfort of my room.
Twenty minutes later the phone rang – I knew who it would be. This time I felt light.
It was Curt. I could tell he was crying and the tears burst forth from my own eyes, a shot went up through my vagus. I ached for him.
“She's okay – right?” I asked.
“Yeah … they let her use a phone to call me from that firehouse. She can't go back for any of her stuff. It's all still in the school. I'm gonna go back … I have to ...” he apologized.
“Of course you are” I said.
“Dawn's dead … you remember Dawn?” he sobbed.
“Aww fuck ...” I was at a rare loss for words. We'd all caught an excellent wine glow one evening on his deck with his wife's friend, Dawn, and others. Dawn was the principal at Sandy Hook.
“So yeah … I won't be at the graduation party needless to say … on my way to the airport in a couple minutes here … “ he sounded confused.
“Need a ride?” I offered.
“Nah … I got a rental to return” he said. “But thanks … man I wish we coulda got together … especially now.”
“You go be with your family – are you okay to drive?” I asked.
“I'm good … yeah … y'know … maybe it is darker there than I saw … than I'd admit ...”
I've decided that a reach is more-or-less a good thing – more useful than not. But there isn't much more to it than that. That new kid in town was implicated the following summer with the disappearance of several family dogs in town, and sent to the State Boy's School. At 19 he died slowly over a couple weeks, result of a gut stabbing during a late night brawl. Nothing Curt or I coulda said woulda helped him. I'm certain his family and most anyone around him knew he was broken.
“Stop it” I scolded. “Stop that shit right now, or for chrissakes don't get behind the wheel of a car. What would you have done? Warned the townsfolk? This place is dark! They'd lock you up. You got a job to do. Get your ass home and be with your boys and go bout makin your wife whole again. She needs you.”
“You're right” he sighed. “Can I call you back during my lay-over in the Cities?”
I managed a small chuckle.
“You call me anytime you need to, Sunshine”
“Fuck you too” he snickered. “I really am sorry I don't even get to see you. I love you, man.”
“I love you too” I replied. “We'll speak soon.”
King writes about places – and people – where things get thin … like the fabric of life isn't thick enough to keep the dark out. There are times this makes perfect sense to me. My cousin Curt can't read King – abhors his writing. I wish I could use that – a common understanding of King's words – should Curt wanna talk again about the dark of Newtown. Because I'm pretty certain he'll need to … now. Maybe we get lucky, and the Newtown shooter is the end of the dark for that place, and Lake Zoar. We can hope.
Sometimes days don't turn out anywhere near as good as they're supposed to be. Yesterday certainly wasn't a good day.
Coldest of my friends
Proclaiming to be right
If we all mind our place
If we all dare not look
Perfect victim of all ill
And so patiently I bide
If you just have your way
Coldest of my friends
You storm in here this morning
I've spoken with a few of you bout my latest project here at the ranch ... a couple of 'rescue' kittens.
Had circumstance been different, I'd jumped right in to animal rescue at 13. As it was, I got to help Jane most days and spent some of the next couple years pullin some time at the shelter. None of it was lost on me.
Anyhow, back to these kittens. A woman up on the ridge found 4 kittens left in a cow tank with an inch of rainwater in it … barn cats likely. If you understand the term 'barn cats', you likely get why her husband was opposed to her scoopin em out of the tank. Without a mother who wanted em, these kittens were unlikely candidates to survive in a farm environment. But scoop she did. She dried em and moved em to a warmer spot in the milk house. One died that first night, another the next day or so.
The remaining two females appeared to have a chance, save for one thing – the farm gal was slated to have hip surgery. Despite her intuition that hubby would relent and watch over the kittens, he refused. He's hardly a heartless man. He is simply a very practical man with a structured approach to his business of farmin.
A friend learned all this and approached us. This friend knows that we always have a couple cats around … that we're equipped for cats. We're not farmers, but we live rural enough that cats are useful to us in ways beside companionship. Our yard borders pasture and the woods … critters gonna crawl … rodents gonna gnaw. Still, I'm in no way ready to become a 4-cat household. Too much litter boxin.
Had this friend not made her pitch in the presence of my girls, I'd likely told her to find someone else. I stressed to the girls how much extra work kittens this age would be. They were barely 4 weeks if that, I'd estimate. I also pointed out the possibility that even here in our home they may not be healthy enough to survive. I warned em all about the joy of ringworm, which most barn cats inherit from their mothers.
All of this was for naught, once the girls felt I was receptive to the idea. Before finally relenting, I got promise from all involved it would be a TEMPORARY situation, and if farm gal couldn't find a home for them, they'd be returning to the farm first of the year. And then (of course) I caved in.
It's been hilarious at times, and a pain at times. If you've read this far, you likely understand the necessity of training animals young. They're flawless at usin the litter box now. They don't jump on legs any more. They've learned to sit on a lap without crawlin up to the face. They stay off table chairs and flat surfaces. They take their meds without much trouble. They head to the laundry room with the big boys every night for their treat … and stay there to sleep till morning without protest. They're growin back the assorted patches of fur they lost to the ringworm, and yes, as of this past Monday, ALL of us have contracted that little patch of fungus at one spot or another. That was pretty much certain.
But they have also been a non-stop source of hilarity and entertainment. If you're gonna host a cat for 8 weeks, these would be the weeks I prefer. They're both very loving and social with strangers, and they been stealing the show at any gathering here. Farm gal has come through as promised, and they'll be moving to a new home – together – mid-December. We were all tickled to learn she'd found a place they could remain sisters.
And truthfully, I'll miss em the first few days they're gone. But I know the young girls in their new family will be thrilled to get them – an early Xmas present as I understand. Anyhooo … that's the story on our latest rescue here. The calico is Layla … to the right is Clio.
"We are who we are ... we do what we wanna do."
I allays wondered why the ratchet tie-down straps were such bright colors ... day-glo orange ... safety yellow ... brilliant blues. I concluded it was mostly for consumer appeal at point of purchase.
But now - as I wrapped the nylon braid round both fists firmly(mindful not to let it slip and cut into my calloused hands) I wondered if it there might not be some value in the color contrast. The strap was easy to distinguish against the load as I cinched it through the ratchet.
The load paid some resistance against the harness, and I gave a determined grunt - watching the strap press down into the rain-proof tarp that would shelter through the journey. The load's resistance set the ratchet with a click. I let loose the strap from round my fists. I lifted slowly on the ratchet lever ... watching the strap settle deeper into the load with each advancing click. I was mindful not to tighten so far as to injure or violate the tarp, knowing well that a slight tear now could well lead to a major spill somewhere ahead on this journey. And all her words and blogs and confessions would be left there unattended in the ether of somewhere else.
I decided that the tie-down was at perfect tension now. I closed the ratchet lever upward and it clicked in place - promising not even a budge in the wrong direction. Ratchets only lock in one direction.
"So that's it then? That's all of it?" I asked.
"All of it - every letter, word and sentence" she replied.
I slid my hand along the taught nylon strapping. I gave each a quick pull and release, listening for the gentle guitar string 'twong' that meant all was tight.
"You'll want to check these first stop you make. I showed you how to tighten these ratchets."
I was making small talk now - trying to fend off the inevitable.
"Yes, hllbilly - you've demonstrated everything properly two or three times now" she sighed.
There was humor in her voice. There was humor and sadness and strength and determination and tenderness - all in one moment. There was a grin on her face but her cheeks shone with the tears - all of this preparation, this final act of actually moving on - had forced from her eyes.
And then she was in my arms. I wrapped myself round her, desperately trying to show her the warmth, the safety, the familiarity of me. I ached at the thought of ending this embrace. I hated realizing we'd never embraced so furiously - so intimately - that somehow our last embrace was by far the best we'd ever enjoy. I wept openly, silently, so I could hear and cherish each heave and sob from her chest. And I held on. I held desperately.
I watched my tear bead on the silk of her hair. I gently touched it, splitting it and sharing it ... on the rough of my fingertip ... and among the strands of her auburn. I stroked my fingers across the auburn and the warmth of her. Gently - but regrettably - her soft sobs came to an end.
She loosened her hold round my waist, and in turn I let my arm unwrap from her shoulders. But my other hand went from her hair to now her cheek. I daubed at the sorrow there. She reached up and pushed my tears away with her tiny thumb.
Then it was done.
She'd decided to leave in the dark. I'd scoffed at this initially - speculating that it was theater - that it flew in the face of common sense. But she reminded me how she'd allays been at her best in the lateness of each day ... long after her real world had moved on to slumber. When she could be her 'she.'
I'd been hard-pressed to counter this reasoning. Many the time I'd awakened to see she'd been here late ... working long after the rest of us had called it a day. I would awaken to learn she'd typed until the result was satisfactory, often at it till the first shreds of light awoke the rest of us.
She was right of course. Call it dark ... or late .. or night ... but it was exactly the somewhen she could use best. No doubt about it.
Still, as I looked at her now ... taking in all that was the her I knew ... her world here loaded heavily on the trailer, I hated the thought of it. If ever I held a picture of her leaving, in my mind's eye, it was a brilliant sunny morning, her window down, her fair-skinned arm waving happily as she pulled away. In my mind's eye, she would leave until my vision couldn't hold her any more - not be swallowed up in the dark.
But the dark was here. The trailer was loaded and ready. In the rare places where lamps still fought the dark, the lamps began to shine. Her vehicle purred impatiently at the curb. Rather than risk another embrace and its accompanying ache, I shoved my hands down into my pockets.
"You've got my cell number. And my email" I said determinedly.
Her tears were back. She didn't speak. But she nodded vigorously ... insistently.
"Good. Then we'll stay in touch."
I was fairly certain - instantly - that we both knew the last words I spoke to her were a lie.
There was no finale. No credits rolled. No 'Happy trails to you." Or me. Or her. There never was. Endings are usually just that - endings. I walked slowly back to my profile. Not so long ago, I would have stopped several times along my way home, wherever I saw light glow in the circle. There had been nights I never made it all the way back to my profile, choosing instead to sleep off the merriment on a couch in some friend's profile. Those had been the salad days, before the 'big' came.
I guess most of us saw the big coming. At first we shifted from one foot to the other ... doing that piss dance of anticipation ... anxious for its arrival ... urgent for the legitimacy of size ... the respect that comes with magnitude. Some of us even urged others to join us, and in that way we promoted the big - like it or not. Looking back now, encouraging this growth may actually have accelerated the eventual exodus.
When 'exactly' the big finally got here, has been hard for anyone to prove. Some declared it early on, and moved ahead - or fell back. Some felt the pinch of the big much later. And some still refuse - or fail - to acknowledge the big. They believe size really shouldn't matter. In principle at least, I stand here today with those folk ... even if it's because they are the only folk left here.
Yes ... there have been many drawbacks to the big. Along with the excitement and new of it all, I can't help but stumble into some occasional ugly or evil. And impatience. Christ, is there ever impatience.
Seems one of the major prerequisites for sustaining the big was the cell phone app. 'Smart' phones they call them. Liberal use of the word - smart - in my opinion. At first it seemed amazing that someone could check in with all of us as they ate lunch out - or rode the train home. But the impracticality of these smart phones soon lie exposed. They mandate brevity - not thoughtful contemplation. They are tools of speed and convenience ... not steady accomplishment and the satisfaction of thoroughly reworked completion. They are geegaws ... shiny ob
So far as I could tell, that's where she was headed ... to easier. All of them left for easier. Not one of em had so much as a map to find the place. They only knew that it's out there somewhere ... that they were looking for it when they found this place.
I don't begrudge any of em. I'd wish it for em - easier - if wishing would make it so. All of us left here in circle know it ain't allays easy round here. Fuck no. It can be hard as it gets sometimes. We laugh and we ache and we cry and we snark. For as long as folks been coming here, there have been folks leaving here. It's fact of life, yin and yang.
Mayhap the big is so big now, that this has happened many times without my knowledge ... this leaving en masse. I guess man has seen it before ... in 'The Grapes of Wrath' ... or at myspace. At any rate, there can be no denying the October Exodus struck hard in my circle. And if you're takin time to read this, you've likely noticed the same.
Was there kool-aid? Is there some new route to easier? Was this some collective act of desertion meant to deal a final blow to Ep? Here now in the early of November, I have to say 'no.' The departures that caught my attention were all decent, caring, thoughtful individuals ... not everyday rank-and-file sheep in the herd that is big. The fact they shared time here together makes their communal coincidence - leaving at the same time - simply noteworthy ... not death's knell.
The profiles remain ... often ... long after the departure is complete. Like the arrival of the big, the finish of a profile can be hard to pin down. They deteriorate in the neglect, unless a circle neighbor chooses to stop by occasionally to pull a weed or leave a flower on the odd memorial day.
Some of the departed stop back. Maybe they forgot something. Maybe their easier is so nearby they're able to visit often. Maybe the new out there wasn't all they hoped it would be - and they come back ... to stay. And yes ... some never leave at all. They simply move to a different circle at some fresh profile.
Wherever they end up, I wish em well. I understand the need for the new ... for the other ... for the else. It's what brought me here ... what keeps me here. Peace.
hllbilly - November 2012
Yesterday was the day after 9/11. This year it was the day after the Embassy Strike in Libya. It's also the day after my darlin's birthday, but she and her birthday have have ceded the front row of 9/11 to that infamous day back in 2001.
The day after 9/11/01 stumbled by in shock for most of us. 9/12 was not in the playbook of Proper Reaction Protocol. We came, in fact, to learn we have no playbook of Proper Reaction Protocol that covers acts of aggression waged by international terrorists. We learned that the planet's most expensive System of Defense could not 'react' fast enough to prevent 4 lumbering jumbo-jets from wreaking havoc.
The decision regarding our reaction, absent any play in any playbook to counter the first attack on continental soil in a gazillion years, fell to a Decider who many will rate our most clueless leader ever.
The Decider decided we would wage War on Terror. Shortly after, it was decided to call this the Global War on Terror – making it much easier to operate wherever the hell we choose, and announcing our ability to muster our usual gang to back us up – you don't want Billy Parker stealing your lunch money? Then you'd damn sure better be there when I kick his ass for you.
3:30 … school parking lot.
There have been some difficulties waging this War on Terror. You cannot find Terror on a map – any of em. Searching for Terror turns out to be quite expensive … but damn if we haven't looked hard. We spent 1000s of military lives and 100,000s in civilian lives turning one country upside down … looking for Terror … Terror that apparently may never have been there in the first place.
“Real sorry bout your Mesopotamia, there … you'll thank me for it some day. Here's some rags to wipe up.”
Maybe the ugliest discovery of the War on Terror, was the determined necessity – decided and established by the Decider and his Decidering Advisory Council – of using torture in the War on Terror.
Torture. Despite the many contracts and agreements we've signed with other peoples – that no one (except us?) should torture another human being. Despite the despite we've shown historically for those who employ the practice. Despite the fact we have hanged Germans and Japanese as examples … for doing the same.
Evidently, the Decider and his council pulled a page from the Bill Murray/Caddyshack playbook on Gopher Combat.
“My foe – my enemy – is an animal. And in order to conquer him, I have to think like an animal … and whenever possible … to look like one.”
Do you recall the uproar? Do you remember the rioting in the streets? Do you remember the back & forth of the debates on whether or not we should torture our foes? You saw the outrage … right?
No. Of course you didn't. No one told us. That's how we like it … ignorance is bliss.
I think a lot of us like to assume that faced with a task that would save a city of several million, we'd be able to go all Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne on some terrorist's ass. And I think that's understandable, especially when we set ourselves in the fantasy of serial TV or a Hollywood movie. But in reality, many - if not most - folks who are witness to torture freak out. They puke. They pass out. They actually want no part in it.
I'm pretty sure that's why we stated and agreed – along with every other civilized nation on earth – that we would not torture anyone. I think that's why we made example of those Germans and Japanese after World War II … those we found guilty of torture and inhumanity.
The Decider and his council decided to rewrite the definition of torture. They came up with some tricks they consider 'almost-but-not-quite' torture. This too, they did in secret – the way we like it. If we don't know about it, it isn't really fair to judge us for it. It isn't really fair for other nations to despise us, if we can claim we had no idea.
This plan worked fairly well, until some folks – including some who'd been through the almost-but-not-quite torturing process spoke out - “Hey! The Americans are torturing people!”
Even this wasn't much trouble, so long as the accusers were folks who dressed funny and looked different … folks who worship a different god can't possibly understand that fine line between torture and almost-but-not-quite torture.
Then something pretty unfortunate occurred. Someone who didn't look or dress funny said the same thing: Americans are torturing prisoners. The fellow's name was John Kiriakou. This fellow happened to be an American. He even looked American. He happened to be a former CIA official. In fact, he happened to be the former Chief of Counterterrorist Operations in Pakistan … for the United States of America. There was concern he may even know what he talked about.
His revelations, combined with previous evidence of prisoner abuses in places like Abu Ghraib, did not bode well for the Decider … or his Decidering Advisory Council … or the political party who brought us the Decider.
A new leader – the Changer – was proposed. He promised that 'now' was the time to turn away from torture – even almost-but-not-quite torture. In fact, he promised that 'now' was a good time to turn away from war. He promised a 'now' when transparency in government is important. The American public was ready for this type of changer.
The American public rallied round the Changer and elected him to replace the Decider.
End of story? End of America torturing others? Let's hope so. There was, in fact, some outrage ... at the Decider and his Vice-Decider for moving forward their method of almost-but-not-quite torture. There were some Americans felt we might even indict those two - for the use of almost torture.
But the Changer would have none of that. He decided 'now' was a time to move forward … to forgive and forget. That was then … this is now. In the end, no one – at least no American – would be held accountable for the use of torture ... or almost-but-not-quite torture.
Well ... almost-but-not-quite no one. One person will be charged for the debacle … for the disgusting practice that has no doubt taken place … whether or not we were aware of it. No. it won't be the Decider, or his Vice-Decider. It won't be the decider's Attorney General – the fellow who wrote the new definition of almost-but-not-quite torture. It won't be any of the folks who actually committed the tortures – almost or else-wise.
Yesterday was the day after 9/11. It also marked the opening day of 'closed' Classified Information Procedures Act hearings in the trial of John Kiriakou.
Yes. That John Kiriakou. The Changer – an his Justice Department – have 'decided' that the only man worthy of punishment in the American torture of prisoners, is the very man who was willing to tell us the truth about it.
The truth? You can't handle the truth. And someone has got to pay for it.
Which one of you been readin my blogs? I kinda quit writin blogs cause no one else is.
This mornin I was thinkin bout writin somethin - maybe in a blog - an as I thought bout the idea it seemed so clear an familiar that I decided I better go check my blogs to make sure I hadn' already written an posted it. That ever happen to you?
Good news is I'm not nuts an I hadn' written the idea yet. Bad news is I noticed the number of reads at the bottom of my blog posts. Have those allays been there?
Someone has been readin the shit out of my blogs ... unless the counter is broken. I'll confess to my narcissism accountin for some of the reads - maybe a thousand - but that still leaves more than a thousand left on some of these blogs. What is wrong with you?!?
I usually got like 75 friends in my circle. I know of 3 that can' even read, an a dozen more that refuse to. That means each of the rest of you is readin these round 40 times apiece? Nuh-uh. Say each of you is readin this like 5 times (is a stretch), but even at that ... with my own thousand views ... someone among us is still readin this like 800 or 900 views-worth ... on some of them. An I don' use a lotta big words.
Please message me so we can discuss your well-being.
Either that or I will learn who you are ... hunt you down wherever you lurk ... drag you from the tenements or the deep north woods or the streetlight shadow ... whoever you are.
An I will thank-you.
Oh hell yeah - course I will. Us prodigious writers got to pay attention to our public. Even when they're nuts. Like you.
You might as well say hi so we can get to know each other. For that kinda attention I could keep your brand of beer in the fridge. Thanks for the reads ...
(usual dumbass look on his face)
The second one.
Hope I can remember what it is I was gonna blog bout when I came here. WIsh I woulda wrote it down.
Family reunion today - my side. This is an annual gatherin for our clan, same weekend - same month, every year.
All of my family here in the US descends from two brothers, who oddly shared the same first name. As a young man - a teen likely - Big John went to battle against Napoleon during the French Invasion, or as Russians called it - The Patriotic War. One of the family's early traits was allays a strong 'dislike' of the French.
We know little of our Russian Heritage - precious little. Aside from the understandable prejudice against the French, we know that our ancestors lived in the area now known as The Ukraine, but durin the French Invasion they moved to St. Petersburg. It stops there. Part of this is simply due to the difficulty of trans-atlantic communication durin the 1800s. But we've come to realize - today - what the Cold War meant to our 'family' ... how it slammed the door on attempts to maintain or re-establish family ties cross continents ... or document our pre-1800 ancestry. No one wants to go on trial for treason ... an we had seen that happen durin World War II - families simply stayin in touch with their European kin - dragged through the mud ... their patriotic loyalty questioned.
Maybe someone in the Homeland has kept records ... maybe someone wonders "Whatever happened to THAT branch of the tree." Maybe some day the North Americans of my family will once again connect with the Europeans.
Anyhow ... back to Big John - an Little John. Cause 'yeah' - that's how he came to be called 'Big John' - there was a 'Little John' too. Though I haven' any documentation, this is how my mind's version of the story goes. The more important aspects are so thoroughly known amongst my clan that they can be considered fact - without hesitation. =)
One day John walked into the kitchen of his parents' home back in the Homeland.
"I am leavin to fight that dirty Napoleon an those dirty Frenchmen."
One thing I DO know is that the elders of my family were no strangers to profanity ... cussin. But the word 'dirty' has allays held a special place in my family. Long after John passed from this planet, my elders would add the term to that dirty Hitler ... an the dirty fuckin Germans(though prolly half the family has as much German as Russian coursin through their blood).
John took off that afternoon to fight the French. His parents never saw him again. The Russians lost thousands upon thousands fightin Napoleon. But they held. As it turned out invadin Russia was the primary reason Napoleon fell. John was considered a family hero. When his parents had their final child, another son, they chose to honor John with his name.
Little John was not a hero, but he was an adventurous young man. He too, left home at an early age. He wandered Europe, before findin himself in Paris aboard a ship bound for New York. He knew that there were other family had settled in midwestern territories. That's bout all he knew for sure, that an he wouldn' be able to rest till he learned if America was all it was cracked up to be.
Little John made his way here, to what is now southern Minnesota. When he arrived, he learned that the family had already settled a good deal of farmland above the Mississippi valley. He could split his take for 5 years on any of the available 160s an at the end of the 5 years he would take deed to that land. John was happy as hell to do so, an allays marveled at the the 'fortune' he found in farmin here.
An he found one other thing. Among the first family members Little John came cross, he learned that there would be some confusion with his name. There was already a 'John' of our ilk in the area. John was anxious to meet another man might happen to carry the same handle. Yeah ... you already prolly figured it out.
Few days later, Little John met the reason he was nicknamed Little John - a man folks would come to call 'Big John.' Big John was a hero in the French Invasion, but he did not perish. He wanted the hell out of Europe - after fightin. He wanted more opportunity. He went to America.
So that's the story of our clan here. Big John & Little John were both born in Russia to the same mother & father. They never laid eyes on each other ... Big John didn' even know Little John existed ... till Little John walked into his yard here in the 'new' home country.
So that's my lil piece of family history to share. Now I'm off to get the hall open & tables set up. Last year, my aunt came to me with a worn ol manilla folder fulla noteboooks & addresses with phone numbers. She said it was time for next generation to handle the duties. It was an honor brought tears to my eyes back then. It's more work than maybe it's worth, but it's nice to be seen as at least a 'potential elder' ... lmao ... feels good to stumble on to these lifetime milestones.
Later on today, Great-uncle Vernon will tell the story for all the young folks ... bout Big John & Little John ... he's the last of his generation, my grandfather's. It seems to get better with age ... the story. I'll pay attention, cause it'll one day be my task - an pleasure - to tell the story.
You all my warm-up audience. Hope you enjoyed - peace.
This one is(obviously) another blog bout my trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, an which artists/pieces hit me with some velocity. These blogs are a lil self-centered I guess ... more bout the what & why of my own experience, than the awesomeness of all the great masters whose works hang there.
I'd not come cross Kawara before my visit to the Institute. He's a Japanese-born American nearin 80 years age now. I spose like many other artists, he's a sort of think-outside-the-box type, when it comes to 'what is art' ... an what is not.
In the mid 60s, he began a series he's titled the 'Today' series. These are paintings of today's date. They look
as though they've been photographed or stenciled. But they are very 'perfectly painted' - not created by machine. The date is allays painted in the language of the place where he paints the piece. Perhaps more interestin, if he does not complete the piece by the end of today's date, it is immediately destroyed. He uses eight standard sizes for all of these, rangin from 8" x 12" to 61" x 89". He stores a copy or clipping of the local newspaper with the piece after completion.
None of this in itself would be somethin that 'grabs' me. But his paintin hangin at the Art Institute did.
The bold black & white of this, coupled with its size - it's one of the 61 x 89 works - really leaps out from the soft white of the gallery wall. I looked for a moment ... read through the accompanying plaque of information an moved along the hidden comveyor of folks passin through this particular gallery. But somethin gnawed at me jus a lil bit, an my eyes kept wanderin back cross the room to Kawara's stark date hangin there.
It is of course, impressive in it's technical skill. As I look at it now I still marvel that it is a free-handed piece. But there was somethin more to it than that. Of course, October 31 falls on Halloween here in the states. But I've had many Halloweens now in my 53 years ...
Oh. Oh my. I have one especially memorable Halloween in my collection of em. Those of you who've read here an there bout my guitar pickin exploits, or those of you who know me a lil more personally, know that as a younger man I managed to lop off the better portion of my left thumb on a 36" table saw where I worked. Had this occurred on mos any other date of the year, I wouldn' likely still recall the exact date.
But it happened on Halloween, so I do remember. An it happened the year after I got out of high school in 1977. It happened October 31, 1978.
Yeah ... jus a weird coincidence. But more than enough to give me one of those 'chills' we get when coincidence seems eerily un-coincidental. I realize now, a week later, that there have been plenty folks walk past that painting who were born on that very date ... that Kawara has painted hundreds of dates.
But it still grabbed me ... that that date - of all his paintings - hung in the museum where I first spotted his work. And oddly, it's the same painting used on his wikipedia page. None of this is life alterin stuff ... jus somethin I thought I'd share. Thanks for checkin it out.
Jesus ... don' even ask. It's cool & the wind is howlin too hard outside to do much ... sometimes starin out the window of my world is dangerous. I feel like somethin new is gonna happen, but it's still a lil too early for arrival. I don' even know where to put some of the shit comes outta my mind ... suggestions?
Minds of Matters
What scares her, is the thrill
What thrills her is the fear
I think of her … drink from her
She comes to me … flies to me
For the rights of the wrong
We are what we make
We are what we need
I need to write. Fuck I need to write.
I been hangin out in this fog of ennui for so long, waitin for somethin to occur … somethin that would jolt a guy like the door slammin as he drifts off in the La-Z Boy … or a knee jerk jus before he starts to snore. You couldn' make it happen if you tried.
But you wish it would happen.
And … I haven' been willin to make it in to the 'doctor.' See, there is a drug for this. I know what to do. An I can do it myself.
Still … there are certain somewhens I jus don'.
It's kinda like the burnin ... the self-harm ... this 'not doin what ought to be done' of mine. It ain' constructive, therefore it mus be destructive. I know that. You know that. For Pete's sake … everybody knows that.
So here goes again.
“You've said this before, y'know.”
“Yes I have. An haven' I allays done it ... jus like I said I would?”
“Course you have … you jus ain' none too sharp bout rememberin to do so.”
“Well I don' allays need it to get by. It's jus … sometimes I really need it.”
“ Like now … for instance?”
Yes. Like now.
“Include your current wellness?”
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