Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Recent reflections: Part three

It has become our practice, in our empty nest years, that Wife plans a vacation for us each year. She is of the philosophy that we are not getting younger and should travel while we can.

She will take other trips between the ones she takes with me. For example, she will take beach trips without me because I am not the fan of the beach she is (I don't dislike it, but I have strict rules on when I will go, e.g. when it is not hot an not crowded; she is a bit more lenient). Also, if she has lady friends who get the travel bug, she'll quickly organize a trip for them. Last October, she and three of them went to Paris.

But still, she likes me to accompany her on at least one trip per year, and this year it was Ireland.

When we first started talking about it, I sent an email to blog friend Vince, who suggested either a southern or northern route after flying into Dublin, assuring me that we would likely take a liking to his native country and soon want to return for more. We did the southern route, and he was exactly right. I didn't get enough.

A while back, Wife was having a conversation with some good friends of ours who I''ll call "M" and "J."  She was telling them about our proposed trip to Ireland and M, the husband of the couple, allowed as to how he had always wanted to go. Wife said, "Go with us," and before we knew it, they were!

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Costco, which is a wholesale warehouse, which, believe it or not, has a travel agency. We know a handful of folks who have booked travel through them and have given us good reports.

Wife knew we wanted to fly into Dublin and fly home from Shannon. She had sketched out a rough itinerary and estimated the costs. She called Costco and they gave her a quote that was about $800 less than her estimates. The cool thing was, we could book it through them and get airfare and a rental car, as well as the first night (in Dublin) and last night (near Shannon) and do our own thing in between. And that's exactly what we did.

I'll not give you a complete travelogue here, but I'll tell you that we arrived in Dublin on a Friday morning. We checked into our hotel but could not get into our rooms yet. We visited the beautiful Trinity College near our hotel, then had lunch, at which time I had my first Guinness of the trip.

I have never been a big fan of "stout" beer but felt like I had to try it in the country that many think makes the best. The taste was quickly acquired.

While at lunch, Wife got a call from our hotel and was notified our rooms were ready. We went back and took a nap, then went to the Guinness Storehouse, which is kind of a museum for Guinness beer and at which time more of it was consumed. Great fun.

But to be honest, Dublin is a big city and is like many big cities. Crowded, dirty, etc. After a while, I couldn't wait to be gone from there.

I'm skipping details here, but . . . . Saturday about noon we got our rental car and Wife took the wheel. M was also authorized to drive, but he never did so. Wife drove for the duration of the trip and M rode in the front seat and navigated, while J and I sat in the backseat and did our best to keep our mouths shut and speak when spoken do (with limited success). Wife did an outstanding job of driving on the left, just as she had done a few years ago when we went to England. I would have, no doubt, gotten us into a collision, so it was never even considered that I would drive.

Again, I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow of everything we did, but will tell you that from Dublin we had stays at delightful inns and/or B&Bs in the towns of Kinsale, Kenmare, Dingle and Doolin; wonderful drives on the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula, along with other unplanned countryside drives "where the road might take us;" delicious food (abundant seafood, my favorite, because we were on or near the coastline); tours of castles, including one adjacent to our hotel in Doolin; ferry rides; breathtaking scenery; incredibly interesting afternoons and evenings in pubs where we quickly became friends with locals; and, along with Guinness, wonderful local beers; and beautiful music.

And so much more. Even with the beautiful scenery, the most impressive thing about Ireland, for me, was the people. They were among the nicest, friendliest and most polite people I have ever met. After just a short time, I felt like we were friends and I felt so very welcome.

I am indebted, as always, to Wife, who is not only my better half, but the brains of this marriage and who takes time to plan trips like this that she knows I will know very little about before we get there but also knows I'll love each step of the way.

Although they don't fully do it justice, here's a very small glimpse into our trip. I certainly hope to return to Ireland some day.

 First Guinness
 One of my favorite pubs, in Doolin
 B&B in Kinsale
Wife and me  
 Spectacular coastline
 Cliffs of Moher
On the Scilly Walking Trail in Kinsale






Monday, September 11, 2017

Recent reflections: Part two

Wife and I left early the morning of Tuesday, August 22nd, for the visitation that evening, and memorial service the next morning, for my brother. It's about a 7-8 hour drive, depending on traffic and number of stops made.

When his wife first called to tell me he had passed away, she did not yet know what she would do as far as any arrangements, other than to have his body cremated. She wanted to know when I could get there and I told her I could easily be there by the following day, or even later that day if she wanted me to.

Of course I knew I had a vacation planned and we were scheduled to leave Thursday the 24th, but I didn't tell her that. If we had needed to cancel or reschedule, we would have done so.

As it turned out, that did not end up being necessary. Her son, my nephew, called later in the day to fill me in. With the memorial service being the morning of the 23rd, we would be able to drive back and get home in time to get things together and leave for the airport around noon Thursday.

Wife and I discussed whether or not we could, or should, do that. We decided if we could pull it off logistically (getting all our work taken care of), there was really no reason we should not go.

That's not to say we didn't have to work fast and furiously to make it happen -- I was pretty much on the phone with my staff until I walked out the door and Wife was doing tons of last-minute stuff as well.

We arrived in plenty of time for the visitation at the funeral home that evening. Hundreds of people came and there was a steady stream for two hours. It was very touching for so many people to come and honor the memory of my brother. I knew only a handful of people who came -- a few family members and some old friends.

But my sister-in-law and her sons were very gracious and went out of their way to make sure we were included as part of the family.

Wife and I spent the night in my old hometown, about 30 miles south of where my brother lived. On Wednesday morning, the day of the memorial service, Older Son was able to join us. He happened to be working in Dallas for part of that week, and made arrangements to drive part of the way Tuesday night and drove to our hotel Wednesday morning to go with us. It was very nice to have him there.

The memorial service was a lovely tribute. I know people have different views on funerals, memorials, etc. but I found it to be comforting and uplifting. My brother's grandson, my great-nephew, sang, as did another gentleman, and the officiating pastor gave a very appropriate, brief message.

I thought so much of my parents during the service and in strange but very real way, felt their presence.

We drove back later that day and arrived home that night. To be honest, at this point I was a bit numb to everything that had happened over those past 48 hours, and that continued through our vacation. The reality sank in, however, as soon as we arrived home, and I am very much dealing with the grieving process now.

But I know, from having lost both of my parents, that it is healthy and necessary.  There are sad moments as I think about the fact that he really is gone and we won't talk again in this world, but there are many moments I smile when I think of him. I keep remembering things from our childhood, things I have not have thought of in years, and I cherish those memories.

My brother and I were two imperfect people and two very, very different people. There are things each of us could have done better and done differently to have made ours a better relationship.

But there is no reason to dwell on any of that. I am thankful that, for the past decade or so, we did much, much better. And I'm especially glad I got to spend some time with him three weeks before he passed away -- a visit I did not expect to be our last.

I'll keep holding on to the memories, which I'm sure will become even more dear as time passes.

**********************************

Next time: a report on our spectacular Irish vacation!


Monday, September 4, 2017

Recent reflections: Part one

It has been an interesting and eventful couple of weeks for me, a period of time in which I have experienced a range of emotions including sadness, awe and wonder, but have also had a great deal of fun.

As I mentioned in my last post, the solar eclipse on August 21st was the subject of much hype and excitement around these parts. Nashville was the largest city in the path of totality, and folks from all over the world descended upon middle Tennessee to witness this peculiar phenomenon.

Wife and I left the house about 11:15 that morning and drove a few miles north to a church parking lot we had previously staked out as a good vantage point to watch. We had wondered about traffic heading that direction, but it was no problem at all. If we hadn't known there was something special taking place, we would have thought it to be just another weekday.

(That was not to be the case as we drove back two and a half hours later, as thousands of people returned from their particular viewing locations and traffic was bumper to bumper).

We used the app on Wife's phone to tell us when the partial began, which was around noon. At that point we began using our special glasses and looked up every few minutes to witness the moon gradually crossing the path of the sun. All we could see through our glasses was the sun, which was a sign these glasses were the real deal and not a counterfeit. My fears of eye damage were put to rest.

We had a fair amount of cloud cover and at times during the partial, we could not see the sun for the clouds.

There was concern that this would be happening once totality hit. In areas of Nashville, this was in fact the case. In parts of downtown and in particular, at a local science center that had days of festivities leading up to the big event, the clouds covered up most of the total eclipse. Viewers in these locations (one of which was a downtown bar where patrons paid $500 for a spot on the rooftop!) witnessed the darkness that overtook the area, but they essentially missed seeing the big event itself due to the cloud cover.

Wife and I, however, were privileged to witness one minute and 21 seconds of totality with no clouds obstructing it. I will tell you this: it was not overrated.

When the moon totally covered the sun and we were able to remove our glasses and look directly at it, I witnessed something that will stay with me the rest of my life. Although a dusk-like darkness prevailed over us as stars came out and crickets began to chirp, the brilliantly white circle of brightness in the sky as the moon crossed in front of the sun made for a beauty unlike anything I have ever seen.

One of the things I loved about the entire experience was that, despite the hype and the many ways folks around here tried to commercialize it, it was a God-scheduled event that humans had nothing to do with.

And on a day that started with some very sad news, I was comforted. Looking at that brilliance in the sky for those 81 seconds reminded me of One strong and mighty who, even though He provides through his creation wonders our minds can hardly behold, He is also kind enough to remind me through such events that He loves us very much.

***************************************

Several hours earlier as I had gotten back in my car after an early morning workout, I saw my sister-in-law's name in my missed calls. I did not have to listen to her voice message to know the subject matter of her call. We rarely talk by phone, and certainly not at 7 a.m.

Her husband -- my brother -- had passed in the wee hours of that morning.

He had called me in January to tell me had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He also had COPD. He was optimistic about the chances of sending the cancer into remission and soon began an intense regimen of chemotherapy.

At first he tolerated the treatment pretty well. As time went on, however, it took its toll on his body and the typical side effects -- rapid weight loss, nausea, fatigue, hair loss -- occurred.

He had some good days. When I scheduled a trip to see him in late May/early June, and called to tell him, he and his wife had taken an impromptu camping trip because he was feeling so much better. I never even told him I was planning to come; I simply told him to enjoy his time in the great outdoors.

A few weeks after that, he called to report that scans showed the tumors were decreasing.

That, however, was the last bit of good news I received from him.There were a couple of hospital stays. In subsequent phone conversations, I could tell his breathing was becoming more labored.
On Saturday, July 29th I went to see him. I could tell he was in bad shape. Still, we had a good visit and, as usual, laughed over old family memories.

I talked to my sister-in-law privately before I left, and she said they were still confident he could at least get the cancer into remission and, when he would finish his chemotherapy in a few weeks, were hopeful he would begin to feel better.

Three weeks later he was gone.

He and I were the only two children born to my parents. He was five and a half years older.

He married young, at 19, when I was just starting the teen years. His marriage at that time was a matter of great sorrow to my parents, which was, sadly, a continuation of strained relations between him and them, and especially between him and my dad. It was a difficult and confusing time for me as a young adolescent and I began to distance myself from my brother as much as possible.

Understandably, somewhere along the way he began to hold me partially responsible for not only the uncomfortable relationship he and I had, but also the tense one he had with our parents.

Over the years, after he had his family and I had mine, we began to do a little better. We had done much better over the past 15 years or so, especially in the nearly 12 since my dad passed away (which is sad in itself). I think we finally began to understand each other. He and his wife visited us here a few times and we made some good memories.

We made it to the visitation and memorial service in south Arkansas on Tuesday and Wednesday (August 22nd and 23rd) of that week, and still left for our vacation to Ireland on Thursday the 24th.

I'll write more about our time in south Arkansas in my next post, and report on our spectacular Irish vacation in the subsequent one.