20150826-Birthdays

Birthdays

August is a month of birthdays in my family including my own. My oldest grandson’s birthday was on the 19th, my sister-in-laws on the 20th, mine on the 21st, my oldest brother’s on the 25th. For me, however, this birthday required a trip to the DMV to renew my driver’s license because apparently, in California, one has to make an appearance at least once every ten years. This trip to the DMV was to result in a couple of traumatic events on that always-growing older spiral. The first of which is that I failed the eye test and am now required to wear corrective lenses while driving. That’s no too bad because I have been having some difficulty reading those little street name signs but what really hit me hard arrived in the mail – my new driver’s license.

I swear that the photograph on the license is not of my face. For certain it is definitely not the visage I look at every morning in the mirror while shaving. Instead, it is the photograph of some random old man I have never seen before. Yes, he bares a slight resemblance in the way he combs his hair and wears his mustache but that is really all we have in common.

Life is a river that never stops flowing it seems and since this traumatic slap in the you are growing old face I have been worried about it and yet the river flows endlessly. Even now, as I write this, my oldest daughter is in labor with her third child, another boy, who will come into this world as my seventh grandchild – yet another ripple in the currents of what we call life.

Birthdays come and go, some scattered, some clumped, and are celebrated by some as the survival of yet another year and by others as the promise of one more year ahead. A birthday is indeed a milestone marker for many people but one I failed to give any real significance to for most of my life for, if you think about it, isn’t just another day in a year?

I have a friend on the east coast who called me on his 80th birthday in 2012 to catch up and while we talked he let me know that he had just begun thinking about that inevitable end-of-life. I was amazed that only at 80 did he begin to consider his own mortality. I have pondered it much of my life – even before I was told by that Gypsy Fortune Teller back in 1972, when I was still seventeen, that I would die before my 21st birthday.

Our birthday’s mean that we are another year older, sometimes another year wiser, often that we are further behind than at the same time last year, and always that we are another year closer to the inevitable. However, none of this should be dwelled on too seriously when we adopt that one-day-at-a-time power-of-now mentality. For myself I still have far too much to accomplish to worry about it but I am keeping my driver’s license turned over in my wallet so I don’t have to look at that old man’s face.

20150726-Family Reunion

Family Reunion

My extended family got together yesterday, Saturday the 25th of July, for our sixth annual Family Reunion and Picnic. This year we met at a park just a stone’s throw from the Santa Monica Bay, which was a welcome change from the location of our first five get-togethers at a park in Redondo Beach that was situated in a wind tunnel that each year kept us jacketed and wrapped in blankets in the very heart of the summer. Of course, with every positive, some of us have come to expect a negative, a tradeoff of sorts, but yesterday was an exception in that there were none. Being so close to the beach one must always expect that parking will be an issue and indeed it was tight but everyone found a spot.

One of the highlights was that my son, his wife, and their two daughters left Phoenix for Kingman the night before (because of the bridge that washed out on Interstate 10) and then left Kingman early yesterday morning in order to make the Reunion, stayed for the duration, and drove back home late in the afternoon because he was required to open a store this Sunday morning in Phoenix. For my son it is clear that family is quite important to him as well as to the rest of us who attended including my niece Lisa who took it on herself to be the catalyst who made it all come together in the month after my older sister and mother, her grandmother, passed away.

Another highlight of the day was that my nephew Peyton, who had been shot nine times by college police officers this past January, was able to attend and could even walk from where his grandparents parked to our enclave at Barbecue Area 2. It was all I could do to keep from tearing when I saw him arrive without the wheelchair we had expected and looking so much better than the last time I saw him. It’s enough to make one believe in the power of prayer.

This Reunion sent my mind back to the late 1970’s when my career at Xerox, the pursuit of an MBA, and then to the early 1980’s where there was a leverage by out of a division of TRW, and a corporate vice-presidency, all of which had pushed the idea of family completely out of my life – except for every other weekend when I had my daughter and son with me. Fortunately, in the middle of the 1980’s my wife Denise and her friend Becky came into my life and rekindled the spirit of family within me. My wife, whose family is scattered from Colorado and out through the Midwest, could not understand why I did not make the effort to visit with family she considered local as they were mostly within one-hundred miles of where I lived. Well, Denise and Becky pestered me until I made the conscious choice to reach out and back to my roots and my family. Then when Denise and I became a couple I moved from the outskirts of Los Angeles County into an apartment in Hermosa Beach where she joined me within the midst of the family that was to become hers as well.

Yesterday’s Reunion was a very good day for my family after a span of nearly a year of witnessing yet one more tragedy after another. It demonstrated a commitment on those who attended to not only keep the family ties in place but to work to strengthen them. I know that commitment exists in those who could not attend, as for example: my youngest daughter who could not get time off from work, my youngest son who is living in Colorado, my nephew the fireman who was on extended duty, and my niece and grandniece who have been incarcerated since the end of last year.

I have drifted away from family and was pushed back to them. Drifting was easy. Being pushed was not without resistance but the reconnection to family was worth it because, even though one can live without family connections, it’s the connections that make us human.

20150710-A Banner

To Everything

20150710-To Everything

My daughter invited me over to have dinner with her and her family in the house she purchased from my wife and me in order to provide for her growing family. My grandchildren wanted me to follow them outside so that I could see what was new and to watch them play. While we were outside my daughter wanted me see what she had been doing with her vegetable gardening. She showed me several varieties of squash that had appeared and, as she didn’t plant them, wondered if they were some that I planted, which I hadn’t. My guess is they were seeds that sprouted from the last hybrids I planted because my understanding is the seed of hybrids do not grow true.

While I was outside I went to inspect the fruit trees that I had planted. As I toured the yard I was surprised to learn that the apricot tree, which was at its harvest time, had not even flowered this year. I also learned that the Anna apple tree had reached its harvest time a month ahead of schedule. These anomalies seemed very strange to me but not as strange as the Mexican lime tree I planted nearly a decade ago. When my daughter moved in about a year ago and asked for an inventory of the citrus trees I told her that I had planted, from left to right; an orange, tangerine, Myer lemon, Ruby Red grapefruit, and a Mexican lime. I further explained that in all the years of the lime’s existence it had never once fruited. I also told her that I had often thought about removing it and planting something else in its place. However, I never could bring myself to kill an otherwise healthy tree. With all this history I was certainly shocked when I stood before that Mexican lime tree and saw that it was covered with limes.

I wanted to share my surprise with my wife who had gone back to Iowa to visit her mother and other family members so I promptly took a picture phone and sent it along with a text describing what I found. Her response was: “OMG! We get to try some right?”

I was reminded of Pete Seeger’s setting of the Ecclesiastes verse: “To everything there is a season,” and this was the season for that Mexican lime tree. Well, maybe there is a season to everything but I have observed that the seasons are not constant. Change seems to be the order of business and although I am often surprised by the variations over time I suspect the early apple harvest is a result of our local weather dynamics, as for example, the patterns of frost. As for the apricot tree not flowering this year I noticed a dead branch that shouldn’t have been, which led me to conclude it had been infected by a virus or other type of infection.

Why did it take the Mexican lime tree nearly a decade to bear fruit? I certainly do not know the answer to this question nor did the people down at the nursery where I had purchased it. What I do know is there were two major reasons I had planted the Mexican lime tree in the first place; Mexican beer and fish tacos, and that is two things that are always in season.

20150627-To Those I Love

To Those I Love

In my previous blog post I mentioned that my family has been through a series of tragedies over the past six months, including the unexpected death of my mother on June the 8th of this year. I did not learn until the day of the Memorial Service that she died of a massive heart attack, with no previous history of heart trouble. My wife surmised that my mother must have died from a broken heart because of all that has beset our family. I think she might just be on to something.

My mother was 89-years-old when she died and I am sure that many might assert that, at 89, it couldn’t have been all that unexpected. Yes, she had a good run but we all expected that she had several more years in her – given that she had no medical history that might have suggested otherwise.

My mother’s passing has raised several issues as she was the family scribe, as it were. It was she who kept track of births, movements, and other family demographics. It was she who sent out the annual birthday cards to every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild. She was an avid letter writer and a beloved pen pal to several of her descendants including my youngest daughter, who was also my mother’s youngest grandchild. All in all, my mother was the matriarchal glue that held the family together.

My youngest sister started an annual family picnic and reunion several years ago in an effort to bring my mother’s descendants, their families, other relatives, and close friends together for personal encounters that had long ago slipped by the wayside as school, spouses, in-laws, and the miles brought about separation. After the Memorial Service las Saturday my younger sister asked me if there was any point of trying to keep the family picnic and reunion alive to which I resoundingly replied: “Yes, there is.”

We don’t know for sure who will step in and fill her roles. My youngest sister suggested she might be the one to send out the birthday cards, but she has far too much to deal with as it is. Myself, I would like to automate the family demographics somehow but have not yet solidified a plan.

PrairieHillCemetaryIn the meantime my mother was interred this afternoon in the Family Cemetery, back home in Oklahoma, where she will lie alongside my father and baby brother, whom we lost in August 2000 at the age of 35.

Now, I had hoped that the death of my mother would signal the end of the series of tragedies but I received a letter yesterday from Anchorage, Alaska and I knew what it contained without a need to open it. My son-in-law was standing next to me, as the letter had gone to our old address, and I turned to him and said: “My (half) sister has died.” I opened the letter to discover that my father’s first born had passed on the 6th of June, just two days prior to my own mother’s passing.

Below the news was a poem much loved by my sister that she had asked be shared with those she loved upon her passing. I checked on the Internet and the poem exists in different forms but was always attributed to Author Unknown. Although I have read poems of a similar sentiment this was the first time I had read this one and I would like to share it at this time.


~ To Those I Love ~
When I am gone, just release me, let me go, so I can move into my afterglow.
You musn’t tie me down with your tears; let’s be happy that we had so many years.
I gave you my love, you can only guess how much you gave me in happiness.
I thank you for the love you each have shown, but now it’s time I traveled on alone.
So grieve for me awhile, if you grieve you must, then let your grief be comforted with trust.
It’s only for a while that we must part, so bless the memories within your heart.
And then, when you must come this way alone, I’ll greet you with a smile and a “Welcome Home.”
Love,
Nola

In Memory Of:
Nola Billie (Nichols) Richards
June 1, 1934 – June 6, 2015

20150618-Swarm

Swarm

I have been working on our fixer-upper home for six-months and have run into several challenges along the way, all unexpected developments. The last hurdle was something you might call ordinary but it certainly surprised me. On Thursday afternoon, just over a week ago, I arrived at the property to put on some finishing touches before the final move from the mobile into what was to be our new home and was surprised by a cloud swirling about the garage door. I left my car and walked closer to discover that the cloud was a swarm of termites and many were crawling into the garage through the multitude of gaps available.

Well, I quickly unlocked and threw open the overhead door, grabbed for my gallon container of insect poison, began spraying, and did not stop until I had the upper-hand. While inspecting the carnage I discovered dozens of pairs of discarded wings next to the wooden lathe stand and became worried. The lathe had been my younger brothers and when my older brother brought it to me I noticed and he confirmed that it had once had a termite infestation. The previous infestation meant that there were already openings and tunnels in and throughout the 4×4’s that comprised the main structure.

Because of the weight of the stand and the lathe itself I was unable to move it and had to wait for the arrival of my wife. Between her and I we unbolted the lathe and lifted it to the floor and then rolled the wooden stand into the front yard where I cut it into pieces with my sawzall and loaded the debris into the garbage can.

As I inspected the unfinished garage for more of the tiny denizens I realized that the wooden stand likely acted as a lure that had enticed the insects with a ready made development and prevented their settlement elsewhere. And for that, I was grateful.

Swarming in nature is a common occurrence and not just for insects. Birds swarm, fish swarm, and sometimes even people swarm. Lately, I have realized that there are swarms I never thought about before as, for example; the swarm of tragedies that has beset our family of the past year culminating in the unexpected death of my mother last week. Or yet again the swarm of nightmares that awakened me in terror no fewer than seven times this past Sunday night while on an overnight campout with the grandkids and family.

There have been swarms; termites, tragedies, and nightmares but now that our home has been made ready and we are finally moved in I am hoping for some completely different swarming. Even though there is much more to be done with our new home, like finishing the garage for one, I am expecting more swarms, but of a more pleasing nature. Swarms of writing, composing, piano, guitar, woodworking, and who knows, maybe I’ll even get my sketchpad out of mothballs, work on my stamp collection, or maybe even do some modeling.

May your own swarms be always filled with joy.

20150524-Sweat Equity

Sweat Equity

About a year ago we sold our home to our oldest daughter in order for her to have room for her growing family and we purchased and moved into a mobile home in a 55+ community. All was well for a while but circumstances changed such that it became necessary to move once again and so we purchased a fixer-upper home for quite a bit less than comparable properties in the neighborhood, which we did some seventeen years prior to the home we sold our daughter. I enjoyed the process of rebuilding our previous home and the thought of doing it once again gave me a joie de vivre that I hadn’t felt for some time. In fact, I had been feeling quite useless living in a mobile home where there was no garden to tend to, no yard work to be done, no tools for woodworking, and I’m sure you’ve got the picture.

Our new home has been a journey and a chore that has occupied every moment that I wasn’t working. It has been so consuming that I have not taken the time to write, or compose, or hardly even to sit down at my piano or with guitar and I have missed all of it terribly. There have been challenges with our new home such as when we removed the old damaged bath tub in the master bathroom and discovered the studs were dry rotted and forced the removal of an exterior wall and the expense to rebuild it and restucco that wall on the front of our property. Fortunately I found a man who is an artist, to say the least, as well as reliable, dependable, and reasonable. As we talked while we worked side-by-side I discovered he grew up in Hawthorne and attended Leuzinger High School in Lawndale where I grew up. It even turned out that his wife was a graduate of Lawndale High School, as was I, although a decade or so later than me.

This new home of ours is nearly ready and I would be working on it this morning were it not for the rain. It’s funny with the weather this week as the forecast earlier in the week was for a warm Memorial Day weekend filled with sunshine but then this front moved in and refused to leave. It has been overcast and drizzly for days now and this Sunday the rain has urged me to take a break from the construction slowly coming to an end. I still need to finish about eight feet of wainscoting and rebuild the interior on the master bathroom, which had been severely damaged during the destruction.

We have a family barbecue planned for Memorial Day at our new home and will be spending our first overnighter there tonight to get a feel for it and maybe discover something I have forgotten to do. The current forecast for tomorrow is mostly sunny with a high of 76, which would be a welcome treat from the dreary gray of the past week.

It has been a strenuous series of tasks to get our new home livable and although we have grown quite short of funds and need to sell our mobile home in order to get the cash we need to finish but the good news is our home will be worth much more than we paid for it. Way back at the beginning of this adventure we were having electrical problems that forced me to call in an electrician who confirmed that the main breaker was bad and the Zinsco panel had aluminum bus bars that were likely pitted. Well, George (the electrician) had copper bus bars machined and my older brother had a main breaker he gave me to install and that fixed most of our electrical problems.

When George finished his work and we shook hands his final comment to me was: “You know, sweat equity is the best kind of equity.” That statement has helped to keep me going on this frequently overwhelming project that we undertook last December when we closed escrow and thought we’d be moving in over our March Spring Break. That didn’t happen but we should be moving in after school is out (last day is June 10th) when my wife and I can get out of our classrooms, finally make the transition into our new home, and I can return to my writing and composing.

And, thank you George for reminding me that: “sweat equity is the best kind of equity.”

Starr Shine

Starr Shine

As an Adult Education Teacher for nine odd years now it has been my great fortune to meet some exceptional people along the way. I have made some good friends on this journey and have watched them mature and move forward in life. I have seen some grow frustrated with the challenges they face and fall away from the goals with my sincere hope that they will eventually bounce back and achieve their dreams and aspirations. I have had some students whose choices have led them into incarceration but the worst thing I’ve experienced is seeing some bright stars taken out of this life far too soon.

JadeStarrEvans
Jade Starr Evans was one of those bright shining stars. I was saddened to see the obituary of this young woman in our local paper after Christmas, gone at the age of twenty-five. Jade was our student at the Adult School for some time before she moved to the High Desert to finish her education and she was well-liked by all. I had cut her obituary out of the paper and it was setting on the kitchen counter when my own twenty year old daughter came for a visit, saw the clipping with the photo, and exclaimed: “You knew Jade?” In this ever shrinking world of ours it turned out that Jade was the cousin of one of her best dance friends and my daughter told me that Jade was hit by a car that recklessly turned the corner while she was trying on a pair of boots in front of her home. Although the notice did not indicate the cause of death my fellow teacher told me she read an article that Jade was struck down by a hit and run driver and later died in the hospital.

It saddens me that our society seems to be seeing more and more of these hit and run tragedies and I cannot imagine how a soul could live with themselves after such an incident. I know I couldn’t and still feel badly about the two squirrels and the one cat whose lives were lost to the wheels of my own car more than twenty years ago.

The following is from our community newspaper:


Jade Starr Evans, 25, died Dec. 5, 2014.

Jade was born April 5, 1989. Though too young when she was called home, she lived a fulfilling life.

While attending Yucaipa High School Jade helped start the Gay/Straight Alliance Club which promoted love and acceptance for LGBT students. She traveled to Sacramento in 2007 and 2008 as the student representative for the Gay/ Straight Alliance Club and then went on to work as an intern for the organization.

Jade graduated from Hesperia Adult Education. Her friends and family will remember Jade as a woman who showed compassion and love to all those she met. Jade was also known for her witty humor and silly antics.

She is survived by her parents Dana Gopperton, David Evans and Carol Evans; siblings Collin Gopperton, Holly Evans, Aidan Gopperton; extended family Russell and Heaven Barrett; grandparents Kenneth and Patricia Gopperton, LaVenia Gopperton, Les and Erlene Whitehead and Millie Amundson; aunts; uncles; cousins and friends — all who will miss her dearly.

“Let the trials of life define you or rise above and move on. Happiness is a choice. Go get yours!” – Jade Starr Evans


Jade Starr Evans, may you continue to shine in Heaven as you have shown here on Earth.