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

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.

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.

Grandfather Speaks

On this date, December 26th, a Wednesday in 1956, my first best friend was born. Today she would have been 58 years old, but the fact is she never made it to her 20th birthday, having chosen to voluntarily shuffle off of this mortal coil far to prematurely. I have been unable to sleep this night as an old song plagues me. It is that Jefferson Airplane composition entitled Miracles and I ponder the connection that Paul Kantner and Grace Slick have with my inability to leave the past behind and embrace the comfort of sleep.

My cousin Carol left us too early but she has continued to be an inspiration to me, as I carom awkwardly through this life some call an illusion, although the tears and pain we bear prove all too well it is nothing less then real. Carol has been the catalyst for many of my poems and musical compositions, as well as my novel Pictures in the Sand, which is based upon a singular drawing she made in the dirt of the desert so many years ago after the ravages of this involuntary tour of duty left their scars inscribed upon her hopes and dreams.

Eight years ago, a Tuesday, on what would have been Carol’s 50th birthday, I wrote the following while contemplating what might follow this life.

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“Grandfather, what is a soul?”

“Granddaughter, when our world first came into being the Creator included wondrous forms in the first mix. These forms existed for untold millennium as wisps that encircled our newborn world. They could feel the warmth of the sun and the cold of space but judged them not. The winds of space ferried them endlessly about. After a very long time life began to appear upon our world. First tiny creatures floated unseen in vast oceans living upon the light. Eventually larger creatures appeared until finally, one day, a creature inhaled the breath of the world and took in the wondrous wisp. This was the first soul. As the creature lived the soul learned of its surroundings. As the creature died the soul was released back into the realm of our Creator until the first breath of life once again captured it. And so it went for unnamed centuries, living, floating, and living once again experiencing the lives of our Creator’s works.”

“Grandfather, are not souls only the property of humans?”

“No Granddaughter. The unborn souls are more ancient than life. The birthing came when creatures imbued the breath of our world. This occurred long before humans came to walk upon this planet with his older cousins.“

“Grandfather, do all humans have souls?”

“No Granddaughter. The great prophet Black Elk once told me that our Creator had given only 666,000 unborn souls to our world. Since souls may live within any breathing creature only a very few humans may share their existence with one of our Creator’s souls.”

“Grandfather, what is the purpose of a soul?”

“Granddaughter, only our creator would know the answer to that question. Once, I asked Black Elk the very same question. He also said he did not know. He also said that he felt as if the soul was a gift from our Creator to connect all life. He also felt that the souls acted like teachers who would show us how to live life well.”

“Grandfather, do you have a soul?”

“I do not think so my Granddaughter. I am privileged to have learned from Black Elk what it is like to share one’s own life with a soul.”

“Grandfather, how is one who has a soul different?”

“In many, many ways, Granddaughter. A soul has shared the lives of many creatures and has developed empathy beyond the capacity of people. A person with a soul knows what it is to live the life of the least and greatest of God’s creations. A person with a soul does no harm to his fellow creatures or to the Mother of us all, our Earth.”

“Grandfather, are souls immortal?”

“Black Elk once told me that he felt as if there were now fewer souls upon our planet then when he was young. When I pressed the issue he could only say that it was a sad feeling, as if a good friend had died.”

“Grandfather, what other humans have souls?”

“I do not personally know of any.”

Sometimes I think that what happens after we leave this plane is exactly what we believe will happen. If we believe it is nothing then it is nothing that we will receive. If we believe it is basking in the warmth of God then that is what we will receive.

God bless you Carol Joy Harris on what would have been your 58th birthday. God bless you and forever may you bask in the warmness of His aura.

What Dreams May Come

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When I was all of seventeen I accompanied some friends to a carnival in Santa Ana. One of the girls in our little troop insisted that we each pay to have our fortunes read by a Gypsy fortuneteller that accompanied the carnies. Well, I never put much cotton in the idea that a person could predict the future and resisted but was finally pushed inside as the last of our group, all of which had previously exited her tent with smiles on their faces.

Inside the dark, yet colorful, tent I was encouraged to sit and offer my palm. The dark woman took one look at it and any vestige of mirth that might have been on her face immediately disappeared and was replaced by a look that might have been called horror. She then proceeded to consult the cards I selected from a Tarot deck and then some runes with peculiar markings that she had me warm inside my cupped hands and then release as if I was throwing dice. None of this brought a smile to her face but in the end she told me that she was sorry but I was going to die before my twenty-first birthday.

Now I often wondered if one of my so-called friends at the time slipped her ten or twenty dollars and said: “When Sam comes in you tell him he’s going to die soon.” I cornered them with that accusation and they all swore “cross my heart” they didn’t. Okay, if they didn’t then why would a Gypsy woman who made a living giving people good news would tell me I would be dead within the next three years? It didn’t make sense to me and after a period of what might be called grief or depression I decided I wasn’t going to let her fortune change my life, which is not to say it didn’t cross my mind a lot over the next several years.

I recently went to an Asian restaurant with my wife and two youngest children (21 and 19) and when we opened our fortune cookies my little slip of paper was blank on both sides. On our previous visit I had opened my fortune cookie only to discover that it was empty. Both of those incidents took me back to that Gypsy fortuneteller from so long ago and this past Sunday my wife and I had lunch at the Canton Palace and when I went to open my fortune cookie it was with hesitant trepidation. I opened the cookie, found a fortune, and read: “You will be healthy and wealthy in your old age.” That was so much better then no future at all.

In A Course in Miracles we are told that we are living in a dream and none of what we perceive is real. My friend Jerrie, who is in his eighties and refers to himself as a recovering Catholic, says that we are really lying on a grassy bank beside a river in Heaven having a dream about not being an eternal spirit. At sixty I have been thinking more about the end that is inevitable and, like Hamlet, I wonder if we will still be able to dream when the heart and brain stop functioning but the analytical side of my intelligence says no while the hopeful side wonders maybe. Then there is that other self who worries that what happens after death is exactly what we believe will happen. That’s just too frightening but would make a good story in the vein of The Lathe of Heaven.

In the Course we are told that Death has no power unless we choose to identify with it and that Death is not real. Yet, I look around me and I know that it is oh so real and oh so inevitable. Thirty-eight years ago tomorrow, the thirteenth of December, my cousin and best friend Carol took her own life and some seven years before that my dear friend Marsha had had enough of life and at sixteen she stepped in front of a truck to end the pain.

Are they dreaming now?

Why, Indeed?

My 22-year-old student, who continues to inspire my writing, asked me just this morning: “Why is there so much evil in the world?” I found the coincidence curious as I was thinking about the very same thing on my way into work. I was asked only yesterday what my political views were, which has triggered a significant amount of gray matter to develop a inoffensive answer, but the frankness of her question begged me to throw caution to the wind and answer her query as I would see fit and I did. But first, a parable, if you please, from a millennia old story:

“There was once a man,” Grandfather began, “who lived in the old countries and was deeply loved by his family, his clan, and by all of the people as all of the people loved each other in those times before the great change. One day the man built a fence around a bit of our Mother Earth and said ‘mine.’ Now his neighbors had never seen a fence before and did not like the man’s audacity in claiming that a portion of Our Mother, who by birthright belongs to all, was his alone. The people sought the advice of the wisest of the Elders who concluded that the man had a sickness of the brain and advised the people to leave him be lest he cause injury to them. However, one of the Elders was also a gifted and trusted seer who warned the people of a great calamity coming to all and encouraged them to kill the man immediately, and tear down the fence and forget about it, out of their unselfish love for all of the people.”

“Grandfather,” his daughter asked, “what did the people do?”

“They left him be and damned all of mankind forever more.”

I explained to my student that I perceived the root of the evil that lurks in the hearts of mankind to be one of greed that is greatly exacerbated by the private ownership of our natural resources. I further observed that if we all worked together and shared our natural resources I do not see how things like starvation, homelessness, disease, and none of the poverties could exist. Not economic poverty. Not spiritual poverty. Not nutritional poverty. Not even the poverty of inadequate Love.

I was once telling a relation of mine this same basic tenet and when I was all said and done she looked at me in earnest seriousness and said: “But, I don’t want to share.”

If only we could get past all of the “I don’t want to share’s” and the “I need more, more, more’s” even after the accumulation of billions. To slightly paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one needs to be rich but all persons need to live with dignity.” I think Eleanor was a very wise woman and worked hard to secure the blessings of dignity for all. Though that we could all be as wise.

Touched By An Angel Songbook2
Many years ago there was a television show called “Touched By An Angel” that many people know about. Fewer people know that there was also an album called “Touched By An Angel” that included the song “Dignity,” written and performed by Bob Dylan, that has always moved me. You can listen to this song on YouTube here: Dignity. For those of you who might be interested in the album it is still in print. The Songbook, however, has been long out of print and I feel fortunate to have a copy in my music library.

Here are the lyrics to Dignity:

Fat man lookin’ in a blade of steel
Thin man lookin’ at his last meal
Hollow man lookin’ in a cottonfield
For dignity

Wise man lookin’ in a blade of grass
Young man lookin’ in the shadows that pass
Poor man lookin’ through painted glass
For dignity

Somebody got murdered on New Year’s Eve
Somebody said dignity was the first to leave
I went into the city, went into the town
Went into the land of the midnight sun

Searchin’ high, searchin’ low
Searchin’ everywhere I know
Askin’ the cops wherever I go
Have you seen dignity?

Blind man breakin’ out of a trance
Puts both his hands in the pockets of chance
Hopin’ to find one circumstance
Of dignity

I went to the wedding of Mary-lou
She said “I don’t want nobody see me talkin’ to you”
Said she could get killed if she told me what she knew
About dignity

I went down where the vultures feed
I would’ve got deeper, but there wasn’t any need
Heard the tongues of angels and the tongues of men
Wasn’t any difference to me

Chilly wind sharp as a razor blade
House on fire, debts unpaid
Gonna stand at the window, gonna ask the maid
Have you seen dignity?

Drinkin’ man listens to the voice he hears
In a crowded room full of covered up mirrors
Lookin’ into the lost forgotten years
For dignity

Met Prince Phillip at the home of the blues
Said he’d give me information if his name wasn’t used
He wanted money up front, said he was abused
By dignity

Footprints runnin’ cross the silver sand
Steps goin’ down into tattoo land
I met the sons of darkness and the sons of light
In the bordertowns of despair

Got no place to fade, got no coat
I’m on the rollin’ river in a jerkin’ boat
Tryin’ to read a note somebody wrote
About dignity

Sick man lookin’ for the doctor’s cure
Lookin’ at his hands for the lines that were
And into every masterpiece of literature
for dignity

Englishman stranded in the blackheart wind
Combin’ his hair back, his future looks thin
Bites the bullet and he looks within
For dignity

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed
I went into the red, went into the black
Into the valley of dry bone dreams

So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take
To find dignity

Good Neighbors

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I mentioned in a previous post that we are in the process of buying property and moving for the second time in one year. If that doesn’t sound completely crazy it will when the fact is that our family has three real estate transactions in the works. It all started when we decided to sell our four plus bedroom house to our oldest daughter so she, her husband, and their four children would have adequate housing. That led my wife and I to purchase our present mobile home in an over fifty-five community where we now live, our daughter and her family moved into our vacated home, and our two youngest moved into their sister’s vacated two-bedroom house.

One would think that would have calmed things down for a while but then our son moved back in with us for an unknown duration causing us to look for a house because he is of course not fifty-five and older and is not supposed to be here. Then our daughter put her house up for sell and now we have three properties in escrows that are not always running so smoothly. In fact, they are downright frustrating.

The home my wife and I are purchasing is a fixer-upper that I like to refer to as a Diamond in the Rough and we are still up to the challenge. The house we left behind was also a fixer-upper and we basically gutted it and rebuilt it into a very fine house replete with Craftsman touches. We planted fruit trees and gardens, put in patios, landscaping, and had a wonderful home for our youngest to grow up in from their pre-school days on into college.

The house we are selling to our daughter was supposed to close escrow two days ago. It didn’t. Ours needs to close soon because there are repairs that need to be completed by the 29th else we will have to pay penalties. Also, we need the funds from our sell to fund our new purchase. Alas, all we can do is pray that everything comes together like it is supposed to.

Our new Diamond in the Rough is going to take a lot of hard work to make it sparkle but sparkle it will. We have visited our purchase-in-process a few times and have been fortunate to meet our neighbors to be and we have discovered that the neighborhood we are moving into is a quiet, safe, and tight knit. The way one neighbor to be expressed it was by telling us that when he moved into the neighborhood the fellow who owned the house we are buying kept his cherry red 1968 Mustang parked in the driveway unlocked and with the windows down. He knew he had come to a good place.

Our neighbor to be also commented on the work that needed to be done by saying: “My father always told me that you can repair anything that might be wrong with a house but you cannot fix your neighbors.”

I’m looking forward to my new neighbors.

Off the Radar

I read a report recently that claimed fewer than 50% of the children who enter into California’s Public Education System ever graduate from high school yet high schools all across California report fairly low dropout rates. What is the dichotomy here and where did all those children end up?

California’s Compulsory Education Statute says that all persons 6 to 18 years of age are to be in school with very few exceptions and yet it appears that many thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand or more per year, drop out of the educational system in California. As an Adult School Teacher I get some of these students who dropped off of California’s Compulsory Education Radar and have accepted the fact without question that some how they were forgotten by the System. That is, until now.

I have had discussions with my wife who is a K-12 educator about the reasons children disappear from a system as robust as California’s Educational System and it got me wondering about the student I mentioned in my last post and so I asked her. Her response was that the family lost their house and they experienced a period of homelessness from which she never returned to school, until just recently. It makes me curious about what goes on in a school where Dick and Jane are in attendance one day, then they’re not, and I can only conclude that there is not enough money to pay people to follow up on every child who goes missing. Who remembers Truant Officers?

A 2004 report on the California Legislative Analyst’s Office website indicates that in 1997-98 there were 412,604 students enrolled in the eighth grade and five years later during the 2001-02 school year 325,928 students graduated from high school in California. Of course a few may have moved out of state and a few migrate workers may have returned to their homes or found migrate work elsewhere but at the same time many others were moving into California for various reasons. What is clear to me and to the analysts who wrote the report we have a problem keeping our youth in school.

I don’t know what the final solution is but I do know that we will not achieve it until we all, as a society of citizens “equal in dignity and rights,” are assured “jobs, education, housing, and an adequate standard of living.”

It is the same call for a global human Bill of Rights.