Friday, February 27, 2009

Past Connections

I have been away from home for one week and I was awfully glad to get home last night. I worked in Memphis the latter part of last week and the first part of this one, with a trip to Arkansas to see old friends and family sandwiched between. Here are the highlights:

-- Spent Thursday and Friday nights with Wife’s parents in Little Rock. They are both 80 and doing well. He’s a little deaf and they’re both a bit set in their ways but I hope to be doing as well should I hit 80. They are both like parents to me and I love them dearly. They have both been great friends to me as well as wonderful grandparents to my children, and have never been the interfering type. He had had his two old fishing rods re-spooled and presented them to me, as well as his tackle box. I told him I hope I am worthy.

-- Had lunch on Friday with my good friend David. He is one of my life’s soul mates, one of about a half-dozen guys that I know I could call anytime, anywhere and whatever I needed, it would be done. And he knows he could expect the same of me. We met as young single guys just out of college. We both married the summer of 1984, he in June and I in August, and were each in the other’s wedding. My first child was born in January of 1986, his in May. His second came along August 1988, mine in November.

In early 1992, after several years of running together and doing 5Ks and 10Ks, we decided to start training for a marathon later that year. In the spring we learned that Wife was pregnant with our third. With a newborn coming late in the year, I told my friend the likelihood of my doing a marathon would be slim. And I fully expected him and his wife to join us in having another child. That didn’t happen. They stopped at two. We named Younger Son David in honor of my buddy. Marathons would come later, I said. He has done them; I have not.

-- Drove down to South Arkansas, to the town where I grew up, on Saturday morning. My trips there are infrequent now and I see it through such different eyes. I drove in on the “main drag” where I spent many a Friday night driving from one end to the other, making occasional stops at McDonald’s or the mall parking lot to talk. I wondered if high school students still did that.

The house where I grew up, which my parents built in 1966 and we sold after Dad died in 2006, looks just the same. I think the new owners take good care of it and that makes me feel good. I thought of stopping in to say hello and tell them how that used to be my home, but thought better of it. I need to remember it for what it was when I was there and my folks were there, and need to keep that visual unblemished. The first time I drove by after we sold it, I thought it would bother me. Strangely, it does not. It evokes all kinds of memories but it does not make me sad.

The old neighborhood has had almost complete turnover, but one of the couples still there are my next-door neighbors who were and are like family to me. I spent a lot of time with their four children as a child but also have a lifelong friendship with them. He was a family physician and she was a homemaker. They are both 80 now. She has Alzheimer’s and he is taking care of her.

He greeted me warmly when I arrived and we talked for two hours straight. He told me she has deteriorated quite a bit and he has “about 42 things going on” with himself, but he says it is important to “give thanks in all things.” That is what he does. He is an amazing man of faith.

After our long visit we walked back in their bedroom where she stays in a hospital bed most of the time. She smiled broadly when I walked in but could not call me by name. I grabbed her hand and talked about old times. I never could tell if she put it together who I was, but I saw occasional glimmers of familiarity, and it was heartening for me to sit there with both of them. They helped raise me and were devoted friends and neighbors to my parents for many years. They are part of my heritage.

-- From there it was on to the cemetery. I have never been a big grave-visitor, but since I am there so seldom, going there seems the right thing to do. My parents’ bodies lie next to each other under one marker that states the date of birth and death for each. I placed flowers and stood for a moment but I never feel that I am “visiting” them there, nor do I sense their presence there anymore than anywhere else. I always feel them with me, no matter where I am.

-- Saturday night a handful of us got together from my old high school class. One couple who, like me, no longer live there were in town and they still have her deceased parents’ house, so we gathered there with a few others. We do not see each other often, and even the ones who live there admit their visits are infrequent. But when we are together we talk and laugh with a warm familiarity that takes us back to our childhoods and it’s as if we had never been apart. We compared notes on our lives and, as always, found that we all still have much in common. At mid-life we are less concerned with “success,” whatever that is/was, than with getting our children educated and launched and staying healthy enough to see our grandchildren.

-- Sunday morning I attended the church where I grew up and where my parents worshipped and served for nearly fifty years. There were only a few familiar faces, but it is still a big part of “home” to me. I very much felt the “spirituality of place” – the mystical presence of old friends and family as well as the spiritual energy of my confirmation and other significant events that marked the development of my personal faith. I left with a sense of gratitude.

-- After church there was a quick visit and lunch with my brother, five and one-half years my senior, and his family. He is a grandfather several times over. He and his wife have been empty nesters from time to time but certain ones of them keep coming back, a fact which they seem to calmly accept. Our lives have been very different and I have often thought we have little in common, but now that we are the only ones remaining from our original family, we seem to have a bond.

-- It is not always easy to stay in touch and stay connected with people and places from our past. Jobs, families and various obligations command our attention and often leave us little time for much else. The physical distances between us can cause real distances to take root and flourish. That inevitably happens with some.

But the places and people I visited last weekend reminded me how important it is for me to keep these connections as strong as possible. The past so much defines my present and an occasional trip back does me a world of good.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Day to Honor the One You Love

As I wrote last time, Wife and I got engaged on Valentine's Day -- 25 years ago tomorrow. I wrote her that poem, she said yes and we got married six months later.

Ours was a tumultuous courtship. Like so many males, I was deathly afraid of commitment. We started dating in 1982. We broke up. We started again and stopped again. I told her a week before I took the Bar Exam in the summer of 1983 that I could not cope with preparing for that test and maintain our relationship and you know, I had spent three years in law school so I might want to follow through on taking the test.

Oh brother. I hope I have matured maybe one iota since then.

Even during our breakups, though, we would always somehow be drawn back together. We had a lot of the same friends so, inevitably, we would see each other and we would always end up talking.

Still, I thought I should move on, so I went out with a couple of other girls.

On one infamous date, a new aquaintance and I went to one of those "cook your own steak" places. We had a pleasant enough time and I even thought I might call her again after I left her apartment.

At 3 a.m. I awoke heaving. I will spare you the details but suffice it to say it was one of those lie-down-on-the-floor-of-the-bathroom-and-hope-you-die types of nights. I never called that girl again and I have never liked steak since then, nor any type of place where you have a hand in cooking your own food. It was all, no doubt, a sign. (Wife still loves this story and says I got what I deserved).

I saw Wife at a wedding not long afterward. She was a bridesmaid and as I watched her walked down the aisle there was that little voice saying to me, "You are such a dope."

"No, Little Voice," I said. "That is a closed chapter." Little Voice repeated his previous statement. I ignored him.

On a Saturday in November a number of friends were scheduled to take a little day trip to see the fall foliage. Everyone backed out except -- you guessed it -- Wife and me. She called the night before and graciously suggested we avoid the awkwardness and agree to cancel the trip. I said no, surely we can be mature enough to enjoy each other's friendship, put the past behind, enjoy the day, blah, blah, blah.

It was, possibly, the most perfect day of my life. We talked non-stop and when we got back to town that night we had dinner together. After that night I knew beyond a doubt that, if she would have me, I would marry that woman. This time I would not let her go.

I went ring shopping shortly after Christmas but decided a Valentine's Day proposal would be cool. The rest is history and I have never looked back, other than to still ask myself why I was so afraid and what it was I was so afraid of. I hate to stereotype but I do wonder: why are men so, so terrified of commitment?

I will let the psychologists take that one. Thankfully, I overcame those fears, whatever they were, and 25 years later I am a thankful man.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Random Sunday Afternoon Thoughts

-- We have finally had a break from the cold here after the longest consistent cold stretch I remember in a long, long time here in Middle Tennessee. I mean we're talking lots of single digits, teens and twenties from about mid-November. Not used to that kind of thing. This weekend, however, hope has sprung eternal as the thermometer is nearing 70 degrees. Took a long walk yesterday morning to try and decide if I am up for another half-marathon in April (I think I am), then played HORSE with the boys yesterday afternoon. We played about five games and Older Son obnoxiously won each one. Was great to be outside with them.

-- I will say one thing positive and one thing negative about President Obama. The positive is I really liked the way he took responsibilty for the appointees who had to step aside because of their tax problems. Obviously something went awry in the vetting process but he took his lumps and said "I screwed up." Yes he did. But he took responsiblity for it. I like that.

The negative I must call him on, however, has to do with the stimulus bill that sailed through the House but is having a tougher time in the Senate. He is completely undone that it has not passed, claiming all kinds of calamities that will befall us if Congress doesn't hurry up and approve the spending of nearly ONE TRILLION DOLLARS! He allowed this past week as to how the American people elected him for change and it was time to get on with it. Sorry, Mr. President, and pardon us if we might swallow a bit before we sign onto this massive bill that includes ever so much spending that for the life of me I find hard to believe will stimulate the economy. I appreciate all of the Senators who are giving this a good, hard once-over before agreeing to mortage the futures of our children.

-- Wife and I are each reading the Bible through this year. We started January 1 and we're following a plan that each day gives you an Old and New Testamanet reading as well as portions from Psalms and Proverbs. I have had the privilege of sitting under some great Bible teachers in my time and have had some great resources for studying the Bible. In all of that, however -- and this is noone's fault but my own -- I think I largely lost sight of the fact that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is an incredible story, and a really cool one at that. Hardly a day passes now that Wife or I don't say to the other something like, "Did you realize . . . " or "Did you remember. . . " and then we have some great discussions.

It is imperative, of course, when doing something like this, that you keep up. The readings are not short. If you fall a day behind, it's manageable but more than that and I think the likelihood of staying with it gets slim. I've had to do "catch-up" about three times so far and I sure don't want to fall more than one day behind.

-- Next Saturday is Valentine's Day and I expect I'll write a little more about it when the times come. Wife and I got engaged 25 years ago this Valentine's Day. As I said, more to come on that but will say for now that I proposed to Wife with a poem called an "acrostic" which means the first letter of each line spells out a message. The background on this is that as Wife and I got to know each other we realized we both loved to read but she wasn't much on poetry. I was always reading her poems and trying to tell her how cool it was. And here is how I proposed:

Poems are fun, as I've tried to convince you.
Love, faith and honor they often promote.
Even a personal message they will send
And the reader, quite flattered, might tend to gloat.
Surely you realize that would be my delight
Even though the message herein is remote.

Meaning is ryhme is often hidden
And sometimes the reader must take great care.
Read every line, search every prase.
Realize there's some revelation there
You want to understand.

Make sure you go back to the first of each line.
Enlist just the first letter; see what you find!

It took her a couple of readings to put it all together, but she "got it," she said "OK." She's still not that much on poetry but she likes this one.