Tag Archives: Musing

Promises

I sometimes find myself getting annoyed with my fellow drivers who roll through stop signs as if they were optional. Even after I tell myself not to take it personal it’s hard to let go of the idea that they are putting people’s safety at risk.

When I was seventeen years old two friends and I planned to go camping and target shooting in the wilds north of Victorville. I had graduated from Lawndale High School when I was sixteen but my two friends were still students at Villa Park High School. The night before we were to leave on our Spring Break camping trip a group of us decided to go to the drive-in in Huntington Beach to catch a long forgotten movie in my pickup truck. My friends were all in the bed of the truck while I drove to the drive-in and where I would back into the last row of the theater where all the pickups and vans got parked. The oldest of us was twenty-one and while I was still parking he pulled a six-pack from his duffel bag and opened a beer. Even before I was out of the cab we were descended upon by two undercover Huntington Beach police officers. To make a long story short we were all arrested, placed overnight in a drunk tank, and released the following morning, that is all but the twenty-one year old who had possession of the beer and the only one drinking.

Once I paid the fifty dollars to get my pickup out of the impound my two friends and I were on our way to my favorite camping spot in a secluded canyon north of Victorville. I rolled through a stop sign and onto a lonely country highway and was immediately pursued by a Highway Patrolman who came out of nowhere.

I rolled down the window and expected the worst but instead was greeted by the saddest face on that Officer. He explained to me that what I had done was known as a California Stop. He further told the three of us that earlier that morning, at the very same stop sign, a man had rolled through but had failed to take notice of the oncoming eighteen-wheeler who was unable to stop in time. In the resulting collision the man, his wife, and their three children were all killed. We had already noticed and commented on the debris from what must have been a terrible collision and so of course we believed him without question.

In a completely unexpected turn the Highway Patrolman said that if I were to give him my word of honor that I would never do another California Stop and be vigilant with my traffic checks he would not write me a ticket. I did, and then we shook hands and went our separate ways. Forty-three years later I still keep that promise and I suppose that may have something to do with why I get annoyed.

Drive safely and live long.

Mountain Dreaming

I grew up on the South End of the Santa Monica Bay, near the Palos Verdes Peninsula and with a view of the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. The allure of the distant peaks permeated my childhood but I was not to visit them and spend some time getting to know them until my first Boy Scout Summer Camp in August of 1965. The Scout Master of Troop 97 allowed me to don a Boy Scout Uniform a few days early because I would not turn eleven until the middle of that Camping Trip.

In the Summer of 1965 we still gathered firewood from within the forests of the Lake Arrowhead Boy Scout Camps and I was even sent out with an ax to cut wood from the fallen trees. We’ve learned since then that these are not necessarily healthy forest management practices but they seemed perfectly natural at the time.

There would be a second Summer Camp in August of 1967 and a few years later, once I had my motorcycle, there would be numerous day trips up into the mountains. Then more years later, as a father and an uncle, their would be trips to Santa’s Village and to Mt. Baldy so the little ones could play in the snow. Then, in the late 1980’s, I went to work in Greeneville, Tennessee. The inhabitants of the area referred to themselves as Mountain Folk and had a pleasant, kind of laid back and unhurried, life style. I remember an interview with Park Overall, one of Greeneville’s own, in which she spoke quite fondly of her Mountain upbringing. And so, after nearly a year of two weeks there for every week home, often with my wife who worked on the same software development project, we made a decision to move up into the mountains and reset all of our clocks to Mountain Time.

We lived in Running Springs from 1989 to 1997 and continue to miss that lifestyle. It was a number of events and circumstances that made us decide to leave our mountain home for the foothills where we will still see snow once or twice a year when the snowline falls below four-thousand feet.

We just returned from a short visit to the mountains on the occasion of our 26th Wedding Anniversary. It was something we did for our 25th as well and each time I am reacquainted with that old home sickness for Mountain Folk, Mountain Time, and Mountain Hospitality. I would like to think that perhaps someday we will be able to afford a small cabin where we could spend our summers exploring our creative aspects like writing, composing, and painting. Let’s just call it my Mountain Dream.

Missionaries

Several years ago two young women visited me from Utah on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I had finished my morning chores, showered, and then sat down on the couch with a glass of wine to keep me company while I was reading when the doorbell rang. The spokeswoman for the pair asked if they could come in and talk to me about their Mormon faith and to present me with a copy of The Book of Mormon. As my son and daughter were in their bedrooms I acquiesced and permitted them inside.

I asked if they minded if I sipped upon my wine while we talked and they assured me that it was perfectly fine and we entered into a back-and-forth discussion of their faith and my own particular spiritual bent. Even though, I explained, that I attended church with my family, was a youth group leader, and had spent five years as the Board President, I had never considered myself a religious man although I do consider myself a spiritual one.

I listened to the young women and they listened to me and we genuinely respected each other’s beliefs and could see the value in them. There was once a time when I had trouble with three tenets of the Mormon faith but they demonstrated the value of two of those leaving me issue with only one, which is their idea that the Latter Day Saints practice the one and only true religion. I always figured if there was an infinite God then there must be an infinite number of paths that lead to Him/Her/It.

One of the two young missionaries hailed from Ogden and the other from Salt Lake City continued to visit me once a month or so for the remainder of the Southern California Mission and we spent many pleasant hours learning about each other’s beliefs. They were quite happy to learn that I had visited Palmyra while on a business trip to Rochester, toured the facility there, and was shown the spot where Joseph Smith was said to have retrieved the Golden Plates. They were also pleased to know that I had also been to Joseph Smith’s home in Salt Lake City while on a business trip there.

On their last visit to see me they said their mission was over and they were returning home and that other missionaries would visit me. It was a bittersweet farewell, as if I was seeing old friends for the very last time. I had, after all, truly enjoyed their company, our discussions, and our explorations into faith. Blame the anthropologist in me for being so interested in other’s beliefs.

We said goodbye and sometime later two young men stopped by on a Saturday afternoon. The spokesman for the two introduced them and that asked: “Are we ever going to convince you to visit our church.” When I replied in the negative they said I would not be visited again and left.

I still have The Book of Mormon the young women had presented me with a personalized inscription on the inside directing me to some passages they believed to be of particular import. I read those passages along with others and rarely I’ll pick it up and read a little bit but the truth is I may never finish it, although I should so I can better understand the faith of coworkers, neighbors, and friends although I don’ t know how much of a difference it would make. I suspect very little.

I will always treasure the memories of the two inquisitive young missionaries and of lazy Saturday afternoon discussions and of the fact that we could follow different paths and maintain a relationship that was not only pleasant but also one of mutual respect. It’s something I think our shrinking world could use a little more of.

Downsized

My wife and I have downsized. That is to say, we have moved into a double-wide mobile home in an over fifty-five community. The real truth is that the mobile is nearly the same square footage as the home we left behind so that our daughter, her husband, and four children could move into because they had sorely outgrown their two-bedroom.

The four-bedroom (plus office) home we gave up was finished in the Craftsman style (by me) with extensive built-ins and storage galore. The double-wide is a two bedroom with large rooms, loads of wall space, and minimal storage, which of course met the necessity of a yard sale. Now, I loathe yard sales, but I trimmed my possessions and sat it up, but left the running of it to my daughter and son while I boxed belongings.

As our previous home had the built-ins we were forced to purchase new furniture. After all you can’t just take chests of drawers, bookcases, desk furniture, and entertainment centers out of the walls that they are an integral part of. The mobile is slowly taking shape but the expenses (including some large unexpected emergency outlays) have slowed us down in replacing what we gave up, which were things like a desk, a piano, and storage space for my things. My current desk is a little 2’ by 4’ white plastic craft table but it supports my laptop perfectly well and now that we have reliable Internet things are slowly getting normalized.

Not only have we downsized but we’ve become empty nesters because in order to make this whole transition work our youngest son (21) and daughter (19) have moved into that aforementioned two-bedroom, which is some 40 minutes away. The good news for them is that, not only are they closer to their respective colleges (they don’t even have to get on the freeway), they get somewhat of a sheltered independence. The bad news is that they are learning how to be independent and I miss having their voices around. A double-wide can be a lonely place when you’re in it all alone and a little scary when the normal creaks and groans sound like footsteps and people mumbling. You see, I’ve never lived in a mobile home before and so it’s a different experience, to say the least.

I have learned, although, that downsizing is a lesson in letting go. Letting go of record collections and stereo equipment, of books and hobby magazines, and handmade furniture and fixtures, of the accumulated knickknacks of twenty-eight years together, and of all the familiar sights, sounds, surroundings, neighbors, and routines. It seems almost that letting go is a lot like pruning the deadwood and overgrowth.

But, letting go has also met leaving behind things that exacerbate my middle-aged onset of allergies and physical trauma. Letting go of mowing the lawn, of pruning the fruitless mulberry that left bumps all over my body, cat dander, of the mule on the next street braying in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, with the voice of a thousand pained banshees, and of letting go of those nasty allergy medications. I’ve even let go of the idea of being downsized and I have embraced the changes. I have even drawn plans up for a storage cabinet to sit below the window next to my desk, and for two window tables to sit behind the two couches and under the two east windows in he living room, for DVD cases to sit on either side of the LCD TV (we hope to have before too much longer), a wine rack, and I am now dreaming up plans for a replacement desk in the French Country style.

I think being downsized can be a lot of fun once you recognize it’s a bit like starting over and maybe, just maybe, it can all be done even better this time around.

A Helping Hand

I have always been an independent person used to doing physical things himself and rarely asking for help except when physically impossible. I know this is a result of my father who practiced that proud American tradition of self-reliance and perceived it a weakness to be otherwise. This is not to say that I never ask for help and have always been the first to admit I don’t know or understand something and to seek clarification or assistance from those with the better qualifications, although I usually try to figure it out and muddle through on my own first.

Just over a month ago I had reconstructive surgery on my left arm to repair a badly healed broken wrist that at the time I had only thought sprained. Prior to the surgery, knowing I was to be impaired, I installed several devices to make one-armed living more amenable as well as safe. After the surgery it was apparent that while I could still do most things by myself there were some that were physically impossible and some that were prohibited by my surgeon, such as lifting anything with my left hand. One of the things I could not do was to pull my boots on and off. Fortunately, we had the foresight to purchase a pair of slip-on shoes, which caused me to joke with my wife that I had always figured that when I could no longer pull my boots on and off that I would walk alone out into a forest in the mountains of western North Carolina and let my body become part of something new.

It’s been 33 days now I have been able to get my boots on and off with my right hand although it is a bit of a struggle as is putting socks on with one hand. But in these 33 days I’ve had to ask for help a number of times, especially when it comes to lifting things that requires the use of two hands, and I haven’t felt like I was exhibiting too much of a weakness but just today I was reminded of how deeply ingrained my self-reliance really was.

My wife and I ran a couple of errands today and in-between stopped at a Mediterranean restaurant (the chef is from Syria) for lunch. Now this particular restaurant features a daily luncheon buffet and I self-reliantly picked up a dinner plate, which I balanced on the cast of my left arm, and proceeded to serve myself. It took less than a minute for the friendly young host to approach and offer to serve me and my first impulse was to decline his offer and trudge on alone. Fortunately, I realized the ridiculousness of my attempt to be self-reliant and accepted his offer of assistance, which obviously pleased this young man who, also Syrian, heaped overly generous portions on my plate and insisted on my having a second so that the salad items wouldn’t lie beside the main dishes.

Today I was reminded of how rewarding it was to offer someone a helping hand and even though I will likely mostly return to my old self-reliant self I do hope the next time someone offers to give me a helping hand I won’t be quite so quick to refuse.

Traffic Circles

Our little town, which isn’t so little anymore, recently installed traffic circles and reverse street parking as part of a downtown renovation project. Our community members received these improvements with mixed emotions. I have heard from those that adamantly hate them and from those that simply say something like: “Well, they’re here and I guess we’ll just have to get used to them.” As of yet, I’ve not heard anyone say: “I love them.”

My first encounter with a traffic circle was in 1970. I was sixteen-years-old and on my way to Laguna Beach to visit an old friend who’d recently moved there. I had decided to take the Pacific Coast Highway south rather than traveling on the freeway with my motorcycle and was in for a little surprise when I reached the spot where Lakewood Boulevard met the Coast highway in the form of a traffic circle. I had never seen one before and I circled several times on that merry-go-round until I figured out how to change lanes without getting hit and continuing on towards Laguna Beach.

As it often is with our lives things from our past reach out to greet us once again and my wife and I moved to Long Beach. As we both worked in Torrance the Lakewood Traffic Circle was a daily part of our Pacific Coast Highway commute – both going to and returning from work. In the many hundreds of times we went through that circle I only recall one other time that I had to go around an extra time in order to make a safe lane change and continue our commute. Chalk that up to experience.

Over the years we’ve encountered other traffic circles, such as the ones in Old Town Scottsdale that are sized rather small as ours are. The most memorable traffic circle I’ve encountered thus far in my limited travels is the one that encircles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. When I was there I watched what seemed to be a never-ending onslaught of cars, motorcycles, vans, busses, delivery trucks, and every other imaginable type of motorized land vehicle. While I watched I was amused by the handful of brave (or were they foolish) souls that attempted to dart across Place Charles de Gaulle for a closer view of the Arch only to be driven back by the cacophony of horns decrying their impetuous choice. Of course, one could always walk through the underground tunnel the crosses beneath the circle but then, there were those rumors of muggers and thieves that hid within.

And so, our town has two downtown traffic circles and plans to construct several more in place of the widened streets and traffic lights called for in the city’s master plan. And yes, community members are still complaining.

Don’t get me wrong, the traffic circles are architecturally attractive and have been landscaped and possess custom statuary that reflects the early days of our community. As for myself, I plan my routes to avoid them altogether for two simple reasons. First and foremost, our town has more than one too many aggressive drivers; as I suspect most towns do. Secondly, the beautiful landscaping and statuary serves to somewhat obscure the view of oncoming traffic.

Now, this is not to say I never go through our traffic circles. Why just the other day my wife and I went to do a little Christmas shopping before stopping at the market. With our purchases stowed we set off for the market only to find that my alternate route had been blocked so I bravely went on and through our traffic circles. I thought everything was going just great until I heard: “Honey, you do realize that you are driving over the traffic circle and the street is over there.”

Well, so much for experience – but, thank you all the same for our being in our daughter’s All Wheel Drive Honda CRV rather than in my little 5-speed Cavalier.

The Case of the Missing Peaches

I have been a long time fan of Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books, television episodes, and of the movies one of which; The Case of the Defiant Daughter, I watched just last night. Now I don’t know if every story line began with The Case of but I don’t ever remember reading or seeing one that didn’t, which brings me to the current episode of my own peculiar Case of’s.

We have in our backyard several citrus and deciduous fruit trees that I have planted over the years. Of these, we have an apricot and an apple tree, both of whose fruit is ready to harvest around the Fourth of July weekend. A year ago this past June I was keeping watch on what was going to be a good harvest from both trees and in late June I set in a store of canning lids, sugar, cinnamon, and other items necessary for turning those fruits into jams, butters, and conserves and then canning them for later use. On the morning of Saturday, the seventh of July, dressed for the work at hand I carried my sturdy bags out to backyard to harvest the fruit I had inspected the previous evening.

Both of the trees were completely bare.

It was The Case of the Missing Fruit. Some folks may have been outraged or have gotten very angry over an episode like this but my wife and I figured that whoever carried away the fruit needed much more than we did. We also had an idea who might have been responsible but there was no evidence to substantiate our notion and we let it slide – except that it did give us a interesting story to share with our family and friends over the succeeding weeks and months.

The Case of the Missing Fruit was never solved and the neighbors we suspected moved away and the trees fruited again the following year, but with only a fair sized crop, which on harvest day appeared to me to have been raided again, although they were not completely stripped like the year before. It was The Case of the Missing Fruit, Redux, and my entire July apricot harvest yielded only seven pints of apricot jam and there were only enough apples for one apple pan dowdy.

There is also a peach tree in our backyard. It’s not the prettiest thing, as two years ago it seemed to haven gotten a viral infection in its main branch, which I pruned away. The secondary branches continued to be healthy and last year they produced some peaches that were barely larger than the stones they contained. This year, however, the tree produced about twenty tennis ball sized peaches that turned harvest red only this month. A few days ago I went to check on them and the poor little tree had been stripped completely bare. Alas, it was The Case of the Missing Peaches.

Our backyard is completely fenced in and, as in the previous cases, there were no partially eaten fruits on the tree or ground like you have when the culprits are birds or rats. We do occasionally have skunks wander through our yard and rarely raccoons, but I didn’t consider them to be likely suspects and I certainly did not suspect that any of my neighbors would be shimmying over the fence. So then, where did the peaches go?

I thought about it and then I remembered that at about the time the peaches vanished there were some fairly large green parrots frequenting our yard. No we don’t live in the tropics or rain forest but it seems our community is now home to these immigrants who either escaped or were released from captivity. After I thought about the parrots I recalled a nature documentary I viewed on PBS that showed parrots raiding (what I believe were) fig trees and carrying away the fruit.

I don’t recall the parrots being around our yard back in July and therefore I am not holding them responsible for The Case of the Missing Fruit, Redux, and so that case remains unsolved along for the very first case. However, I have closed the book on The Case of the Missing Peaches.

I do hope next years harvest fares better as our store of preserves is dwindling.

Peace be with you.

Time Enough For Love

Way back in 1973 Robert Heinlein’s science fiction novel “Time Enough for Love” was first published. I was a nineteen year old student at El Camino Junior College and the novel made quite an impact on me at the time although I did not yet learn the lesson of having time enough for love until much later.

In 1973 my youngest brother Robert was an adorable nine-year-old Cub Scout and the favored offspring of my father who was later to be in a state of denial over the shortcomings of youth. I married in 1973, began working full-time as a model builder for Xerox in El Segundo, and was a full-time college student who did not seem to have enough time for love. It was to be a disease that would prevail for the next decade of my life.

Robert, like many bright young people, was introduced to and swallowed by addictions to drugs and alcohol. It was a topic of discussion at our “A Course in Miracles” meeting yesterday as we read from Chapter 25 and a too oft repeated story. Now, while my brother Robert was alive and struggling with his addictions I made the mistake of judging him using his drug use as the scale. Of course, I did not know that passing judgment upon him was a mistake at the time. That would not come until his weakened body gave up the struggle in August of 2000, the month I would turn forty-six, and begin a long period of wishing I had taken time enough for love.

We have been on the road this first part of August making a circuitous journey visiting family through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and then back home to California. One of the highlights of the trip was a short stop over in Las Vegas to reconnect with a woman who was, for all intent, my little sister. Visiting with her, and her mother, excavated many fond memories that are indeed nothing short of little treasures that I do so cherish as I stare down upon my fifty-ninth stalking through the underbrush of years gone by.

We were driving from Kingman to Gallup on the thirteenth anniversary of my brother Robert’s death – after some days visiting with my son, daughter-in-law, and our two granddaughters. Today we are all meeting at my daughter’s house to join in celebrating our grandson’s seventh birthday, which is to say that sometimes it might take a little effort, or maybe even a huge effort, to take time enough for love but the rewards are well worth it.

Jobs, careers, addictions, and a myriad of other forces work to push us off our path from “womb to tomb” but I’ve learned the best defenses against those dark interlopers is to abstain from passing judgment and to take time enough for love.

A Copper Penny

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Not too long ago my wife and I escaped to the mountains, on the occasion of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, to enjoy a little escape from the demands of our civilized lives.  Now I’ve written about some of our adventures there but there is one I have been thinking about since our last day on the mountain.  On the way to breakfast Sunday morning we crossed the street between the Idyllwild Inn and Jo’an’s Restaurant and right there in the middle of the street was a shiny, apparently brand new, penny.  Now as is the custom I was taught:  pick it up if heads are up and you’ll have good luck, turn it round if heads are down and leave it for another’s luck.

Now, as my luck would have it, Abe’s profile was up, and into my hand it went.  As my wife and I continued walking I put my bifocals on and was surprised by the fact that this shiny, about uncirculated penny, was dated 1964.  Well, the first thing that struck me was my baby brother Robert was born in 1964, October 30th to be precise, and I thought about that fact for a long time.

After my wife’s younger sister, whose name coincidentally was Penny, died some years back my wife began to find those little copper pennies in the most peculiar places and they were always heads up.  My wife felt that they were signs from her sister that she was in a good place and that she was okay.  So, recently, I have been cataloging and building a library of the hundreds and hundreds of creative works my baby brother left behind when he died and I wondered if it were indeed possible that our spirits do go on and if that penny were somehow a kind of ‘thank you’ for the task I’ve undertaken –or– if it were merely another one of life’s little coincidences that seem to crop up at every twist and turn.

So, if it was indeed a coincidence, one has to wonder exactly what was the series of events that led to a nearly uncirculated 1964 Copper Penny to be lying in the middle of Village Center Drive on the morning of Sunday, June 9, 2013 – forty-nine years after it was minted in Denver, Colorado.

It’s something to think about.

Fragments

This past Saturday morning I was driving westbound on Interstate 10 heading for the monthly Creative Writers Club meeting when a billboard turned my thoughts to a sixth grade classmate of mine – from that single school year when I attended the South Bay Junior Academy, which was (and still is) a Seventh Day Adventist School. Well, I thought about Bonnie Jean, and the love poems this shy eleven-year-old wrote for her, and the fact that I never gave her any of them, although I encoded a few that I presented to her but never revealed how to decode them.

From that memory I segued five years ahead in time to when I wrote poetry and essays on almost a daily basis. One of those circa 1970 poems I wrote was in the vein of Lord Byron’s: “She Walks in Beauty.” Now I wasn’t really writing the poem about anyone in particular but I was quite inspired by the English Romantic poets, which besides Byron, included Keats, Shelly, and of course the penultimate William Blake. Back in those halcyon days it was quite common for some of us to get together and share our poetic attempts with one another and tell each other how good we were. I showed my attempt to emulate Byron to my friend Shelly, which happened to be on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday, and she liked it so much she asked if I’d dedicate it her, which I did. Now since that time I’ve moved a number of times, been through a failed marriage, a house fire, lost floppy disks, and crashed hard drives with misplaced backups and, as a result, only 42 poems and 1 short story (out of the many hundreds) survived from the period of 1960 to 1983, and this one was not one of the lucky ones.

I had liked that poem so much that I’d memorized it and later showed it to my Creative Writing professor at El Camino Junior College who called it trite and clichéish. Well, so much for taste. After I discovered the poem was lost to time I tore through my memory but all I could recall was:

For Shelly Dawson on the occasion of her 16th birthday.

The beauty of my true love
Is far beyond compare
Radiant beams from high above
Accent her body bare.

The grandeur of the mystic moon

Only a fragment of the original.

West Bound I10

By the time I entered the city of Upland on that west bound freeway my thoughts turned to the first poem I remember writing. It was late 1960 and I was in the first grade at William Green Elementary School. The previous fall I had been expelled from kindergarten for kicking the principal in the shin and on the first day of the first grade, September 6, 1960, I was told by him that I had to sit at the back of the classroom, turned away from the teacher and students, and was not permitted to turn or participate in class. What I was allowed to do was read any of the books that were shelved across the back of the classroom, draw, or write. Well, you can imagine that it’s quite difficult for a six-year-old not to turn and look when his classmates we’re laughing or giggling and so I was sent across the median to the principal’s office rather frequently for a tearful swat from his carved wooden paddle.

It’s a harsh, broken, memory, but I do recall soon finishing all of the books of even the slightest interest and thus began my writing career with an epic poem about a spy that I’m sure was inspired by one of the books I read while sitting alone at the back of the classroom. It too did not survive the wrath of time but this is how it began:

The Spy

There once was a spy
The size of a fly
Who went to war
Riding a boar

Well, if you’re thinking it’s a good thing this epic didn’t survive, that’s really okay, because what did survive was the creative spirit born of the necessity for a young boy to entertain himself while seated alone at the back of a classroom.

Like the bits and pieces of the poems my memories survive in much the same way. A little bit from here, a little piece from there, sometimes even an entire scene, and sometimes only a static image of an old friend who is no longer with us, or who simply went on a path that diverged from my own.

Now that I’m nearing the end of my sixth decade I’ve decided to treasure all of my little bits and pieces, be they joyous or painful, because, after all, these fragments are my life.