Thursday, December 29, 2016

3 Men In Heaven.....

      "I loved him and was proud of him.  But you saw how I was raised and what I had for a father - I never learned how to show pride or affection," said the first man.  "I feel bad about that now."
     'I know," said the second man.  "The way you were raised wasn't your fault. That was obvious when I married your sister." The second man  (with skin turned leather from years working in the sun and fingers busted from so many missed hammer strikes)  then got pensive - " I cared about you and I cared about your son - that's why I  worked so hard to take care of your son/my nephew. Men of our generation didn't tell each other how we FELT.  We just dealt with what we had to deal with....usually a day at work."  He then leaned back in his chair and took a long draw on a Winston...."He's good people and I always enjoyed having him around.  You'd be right proud of the man he grew up to be.  Married a real good girl.  She takes good care of him."
     The first man looked off towards the horizon that I assume is always blue sky, puffy white clouds and where the sun is always rising.  "It really wasn't fair - you had a boat and God knows he loves boats and water and fishing."
     The second man laughed - "It's because I knew how to play AND work.  All you worried about was work."
     "I reckon," said the first man though the answer didn't make him all that comfortable.  Even in the hereafter, he worries about who's  making sure Atlanta streets aren't falling in on themselves and who is cutting the grass at houses he no longer owns..   Even here, he doesn't know how to completely relax.  A restless soul is a restless soul wherever it resides.
     "I think I've been looking for y'all."   There was suddenly a third man in their midst. He was all manners, perfectly trimmed moustache and sideburns.   "I think y'all must be Daddy and Uncle Ralph?"
      "You found us..."  said the second man  (who we now know is Uncle Ralph.)  "You're the one who took the biggest chance of all."
      "How's that?" said the newcomer.
      Uncle Ralph laughed "You had one child.  And you let him marry that only child....a DAUGHTER!"
      "Well," said the newcomer. "I told him early on that he was raised to have character.  And now I'm sitting here with the folks that taught him character.  My name is Charles...but I already know your names - Sam and Ralph.  I've heard many stories."
      They sat without saying a word for while.
Sam -  the father - said "I'm just glad they let you drink coffee and chew tobacco up here"
Ralph - the Uncle - said "I'm just glad they let you drink coffee and smoke Winstons up here."
Charles - the father-in-law - said "I don't drink coffee and hate tobacco."
Ralph-"Well, there's somebody over there smoking pork shoulders and making sandwiches"
"I'll be right back..." said Charles.  


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Ma" Goddard and the Greatest Generation

     We should all be as lucky as Helen Goddard.  Her obituary notes that she died at 96 while vacationing in Mexico.  I could handle leaving this world while sipping on tequila slammers in some ocean front cantina, dining on another bowl of ceviche (heavy on the jalapeno)  I have no evidence that she was enjoying tequila or ceviche....those are my own vices thrown into the story.  I do know, though, that whatever she was doing there in Mexico someone near her was smiling.  You had to smile when in her company.  An individual who loves life that much rubs off on those around them.  An individual who loves everything and everyone around her more than she loves herself is a gift from God.

     I saw her at church and in the classroom.  That's one of the perks of growing up in the "touch of country in the city" that Stone Mountain, Georgia was at the time.  Those of us raised there were, truly,  raised by a village.  There was always someone to feed you or give you a ride or ask how your family was doing.  Helen Goddard was the epitome of the guardians that surrounded us.  When at church she never asked if I'd done my homework.  When at school she never asked if I'd gone to youth choir practice.  She was a rare soul that cared about US in whichever venue we were lucky enough to be near her.  She was the first person (outside of my family) that I ever discussed plans I wished to pursue in adulthood.   I remember the room, the afternoon, the smile on her face and the chalk dust on her hands when she grabbed my face and said " can do whatever you want.  You being you is important to everyone that knows you.  Don't live life in terms of income.  Just live life...."   I think she practiced what she preached, given that she died in Mexico after nearly a hundred years on this planet.  She knew how to live life. 

     It's no wonder that my generation spends so much money on therapy, self-help books, medication and tequila slammers.  Just look at the people against which we had to measure ourselves.  A work friend - in his 60's - once told me "Thank Christ your generation didn't have to fight World War II - we'd all be speaking German."  I couldn't disagree with him.  I've not accomplished any of the things I discussed with "Ma" Goddard that afternoon.....but I have lived life.  I hope she'd be proud....

Monday, August 8, 2016


     "Do you want  your Aunt Nell to cook some fried okra tonight?"  Uncle Ralph asked this question about 2:30 in the heat of the afternoon, while I was scraping weeds out of the okra and beans and tomatoes and anything else he'd chosen to grow that summer.  I figured I was earning me a trip out on the lake in his boat to catch some fish that Aunt Nell could also turn into a religious experience.  I didn't know I was placing my vote where supper choices were concerned. 

     "Yes sir, that'd be good."

     "Use 'Sir' when talking to your daddy.  I don't need that.  If  you want some fried okra, look on the porch, get a bucket and come back out here and pick some."

     Okra - for those not afraid of hot weather and home-grown anything- tastes like someone picked heaven, cooked it and served it up fried, boiled or pickled.  To this day I not only enjoy its taste but realize it's part of what makes me, well,,,,,ME.  It has much in common with the way I pronounce certain words and love hot weather. 

     I ran to the porch, grabbed a bucket and picked as much as I could.  "If it ain't as long as your middle finger, don't pick it"  he said.  I cheated several times and picked some way short.

     "That's enough for supper...go back there and wash off unless you and Alan are going  swimming after while..."   ("After" probably being pronounced "Atter" and Alan a reference to the cousin I spent most of my formative years following around on lakes and in woods and anywhere else he went.)  

     But before I made it to the shower, Aunt Nell stopped a shirtless me and screamed at her husband "PA!  You didn't tell him to wear a shirt before he went out and picked okra???!!!"  I had welts up and down my chest, stomach and back where I'd been picking.   As was par for the course, my dear uncle just laughed and said "Well, he won't do that again."  Okra, you see, has this fuzz on it that's very much akin to the  insulation we use to  secure our houses from the elements.  If you're not careful while picking it, you'll soon need a bath of Witch Hazel or Calamine Lotion (I vote for Witch Hazel because Calamine makes you look like you took a bath in Pepto Bismol)  I didn't care if acted like battery acid upon my skin.  A taste of okra is worth any hardship that you have to endure to get it on a plate.

     I see a lot of commercials these days dealing with "What do  I feed my kids??!".  There's great mention of chicken fingers because they're so easy..  The women that I grew up around would've said "chickens don't have fingers....what do you want for supper?"  I know times are different.  Both parents have to get out and make a living.  So I reckon 2:30 p.m.  inquisitions about "what do you want for supper?"  are as antique as turntables and VCR's.   This makes me sad...and also makes me want okra for supper....


Friday, August 5, 2016

Where you are and what you are........

Dear God, I hate the word "Settle."   It sounds like things didn't work out and, well, this is the best I could hope for. I'm beginning to believe that's NOT what "settle" means at all.   I had a long conversation yesterday with someone who's been dealt a hand she didn't ask for, but is quite content that, if this IS the final hand she's been dealt, she's ok with that because her life has been more than she could've ever hoped for.  MY hope is that it's not her final hand and she's here to tell me to quit taking life so seriously for many more years to come.  I get the feeling she wishes people would start treating her like HER instead of defining her by the battle she's fighting.  (Then there are others who need to quit pitting their own travails against hers, trying to compete in the "I've got it so hard department."  That's a one-sided pity party so just cut the crap, please.  Never, EVER will I understand the need for some folks to beg attention by bringing attention to the "daily unadulterated crap" that we all suffer.)

Back to the issue of "settling."  WHERE I am makes me happy.  A beautiful wife, a good old dog (who's slowing down considerably and I fear you'll soon be hearing me deal with her move on to wherever it is dogs go when they leave us.)   I married into a great family that loves me and treats me like their own. I want for little and the change of seasons (you know, from baseball into college football) keeps my simple needs met.  But realizing there's another side of me doesn't mean I've settled for married life and old dogs and sports.  It means that life is made more interesting because I have the perspective of being a working guy who finds more loose hair in the sink by the day....but is also governed by the very long-haired guy who really enjoys banging on stringed instruments and playing loud music and living on the road that exists on his inside.  Those who know me well can hear certain songs (an example of which is displayed below) and know "that's a Tim song."  They knew me when I aspired to be someone sharing that type of art with the world.  Now it's been deemed planet earth is better served by my life taking place between 9:00 and 5:00 so that I can take care of the people I love when they need it.  From here, I can better relate to nieces and nephews who are still exploring the thousands of options life has to offer.  If me living normal gives them the opportunity to explore EVERYTHING, I'll "settle" for that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Most importantly, from there I can fall asleep every night looking at the sweetest face God ever put on earth and listening to an old dog snore at our feet.  I've not "settled"  I won....
Now, for some "Tim music"

Monday, July 18, 2016

Jesus in the moon

"Look attention.  Look to the left and you can see his nose, beard and eyes looking off towards the front of the neighborhood...."

"I'm sorry, Babe....I don't see nothing."

"You're not looking right.  Can't you see that one dark spot on the left side of the moon?  That's his nose...."

"I can't see it.  I think you must be more Christian than I am."

"NO, I'm not more Christian....but I spent a lot of time out behind Ma's Ma's house staring at the moon in the summertime.  And she always said you could find the face of Jesus in a full moon."

     Years later, she still looks up at every full moon and tells me "I miss Ma-Ma" (in our southern vernacular it's pronounced "Maw-Maw").  "She taught me how to find Jesus in the moon.  And we always sang old gospel songs at her piano"   Inevitably she cuts her thoughts short and says "I don't like telling you that because it makes me sad that you never really knew either of your grandmothers."  I make her feel some better by telling her that she's right, I didn't KNOW either of them.  One of them died the year before I was born.  But one lived long enough for me to see her in her last days.  It struck me (and I still  take pride in) how "Cherokee" she looked.  She says "that's why you don't ever've got that Indian skin."  I think she takes comfort in pointing out that I do have some small connection to a woman I never really KNEW...but to which I am definitely connected.

I played her one of my "long-haired" songs called "The Whippoorwill"  recently.  I told her that the guy that wrote it deemed it one of his best because it reminded him of singing old gospel music by his grandmother's piano.  She got tears in her eyes and I felt guilty because it wasn't my plan to make her miss Ma-Ma and that old piano.  She got really choked up when there was mention of 'barefoot and smiling there by the piano...."   And then I got choked up....because I could see the woman that makes it worth getting up in the morning standing there in the hot Alabama summers by Ma-Ma's piano and singing "Power In The Blood" at the top her lungs.  I haven't done much right in this life....but celebrating her birthday over this past weekend it has occurred to me that I've got great taste in women.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"I hate the singing parts..."

     Christmas in early 1970-something always meant that Winifred Freeman had to watch "White Christmas" or "Holiday Inn" as many times as they would show it on one of the 5 or 6 channels we were blessed with on our first color television set.  Then and now I'm convinced they're actually the same movie...characters change and some songs change but little differentiates one from the other.   The stories were good enough (it was Christmas, after all, and nothing embodies the magic of childhood like December 25th.)  But I thoroughly despised and ridiculed the moments where characters suddenly launched into song.  And they told me "Ultra Man" and "Speed Racer" and the "Banana Splits" weren't real and just for fun?  But it IS real when people start singing to each other with an orchestra playing??  While riding on a train hoping that it will "Snow, snow, snow...." when they get to Vermont?  THAT'S real?   My mother laughed out loud every time I said "I hate the singing parts."

     I was exposed to many other musicals in those formative years.  Mother loved "My Fair Lady" (I think the primary draw was her crush on Rex Harrison)   And "Fiddler on the Roof" came on television at least once a year and all I remember from that is someone wishing to be a "rich man."  Sound of Music was, again, a good story but who among us has had opportunity to run and sing our way through lush mountain meadows with full orchestral accompaniment?  Or stand in a gazebo and woo our crush by singing to them that we're "16 going on 17" (or card rules forbid from me remembering the exact lyrics.) 

     But then something happened.  My older sisters started going to and listening to this musical based on the last week of the life of Christ.  First it was a stage production then a movie came out by the same name.  I never saw the musical or the movie but I did sneak in and give a listen to the soundtrack which had a really big album cover.  Some of the songs were a lot cooler than the ones belted out by Rex Harrison or Audrey Hepburn.  A musical that was as "cool" as some of the "hippy" music that pissed off the grown folks - that was worth a listen.

     Fast forward 40 years or so.  The same guy that put together the musical about Jesus' last week has taken one of my favorite movies and turned into a musical with a lot of "singing parts."   It's enjoying a pretty strong run on Broadway and, as luck would have it, my bride and I were taking a trip to the Big Apple as part of her birthday celebration.  Along with my youngest sister's family, we head to the Winter Garden Theater on a windy March Sunday and check out the matinee performance of "School of Rock."  Tides turned, the heavens shook and lions and lambs laid down next to each other.  See, I sat glued to my seat and thoroughly enjoyed this bit of culture, singing parts and all.   Of course it was a huge help that the singing parts were mostly of the very loud, bombastic variety  - key elements to most of the music I enjoy.  But there was also those darn kids...

     Children's efforts in the dramatic arts are fun to watch no matter how many lines they forget, how many notes are sung or played flat or how amateurish a presentation looks.  So take a bunch of kids that are very, VERY good at what they're doing (be it voice, drums, basses or electric guitars) and it's nothing short of fireworks.  There weren't any forgotten lines or flat notes and I heard some musicians better at their craft than many making a lot more money.  A couple of hours in a theater flew by and I ended up wanting to take the little doll in pigtails home with us (banging on her bass, making her best rock & roll face and singing like an angel)  I now follow a couple of 12-year-olds on Twitter.  I now know some "singing parts" by heart and listen to them often.  Amazing how appealing something becomes to me when you put "Rock" in the title...

Do yourself a favor....

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Charles Wesley

     There were always cupcakes that looked like Easter baskets.  Mama would take coconut, mix it with green food coloring, then put the "grass" on top of a cupcake already covered in white icing.  She'd nestle in some jelly beans and then bend a straw to make it look like a basket handle.  She took the Easter Basket cupcakes to Sunday School for the third graders she taught for years.  We'd have extras at home.  I think about her and those cupcakes every Easter.

     There was the year that Daddy began some huge project in the basement a couple of weeks before Easter.  He kept asking me to come downstairs and assist.  Every time I asked him what we were building and every time he found a way to avoid the question.

 "Just hold that board still so I don't hit you with the saw."
"Yessir,,, but what are we building?"
"It's a secret...I don't want to tell anyone in case it doesn't turn out the way I want it to...."

     Being the engineer he was I could tell he'd drawn up some plans for whatever it was on some drafting paper from his office.  But that wasn't unusual - the simplest of household chores sometimes started on drafting paper from his office.  When Easter morning finally arrived, I was led down to "the project" now finished in the basement. Turns out it was a rabbit pen and I had been given two live rabbits in lieu of an Easter Basket that year.  I liked them even better than the peanut butter eggs and jelly beans and Easter Basket cupcakes.  At least one of them lived much longer than rabbits usually do, not dying until we'd moved to a new house and I was a teenager.  It might've been my best Easter.

     Easter always meant a new suit.  You had to get a new one, not just because of Easter protocol but because you were growing at such a pace that last year's suit didn't fit or it was just showing the wear and tear a reckless male child can exact on a good suit.  Some of them were God-awful gawdy, in colors that would've been plain garish the rest of the year.  But on Easter they seemed perfectly natural, as did the gigantic hats that adorned my sisters' heads.   Those hats looked like they were on their way to the Kentucky Derby, not the Methodist church at the corner of Metropolitan and Moreland. I remember Easter being the only time Daddy slapped Vitalis in my hair, using it's miracle powers to control a cowlick that could double as a television antenna.  I never knew why he had a bottle of Vitalis in the medicine cabinet - he was bald.  I reckon to use on that one Sunday a year, so that my hair would be as spiffy as my suit.

     After church there was ham.....lots of ham. And green beans.  And deviled eggs.  And more ham.  Being older and slower and busier I now know the Herculean effort involved in a spread like that one.  Especially AFTER you've made the Easter Basket cupcakes, helped sisters get those huge hats to perch on their heads just right and kept  a rotten little boy in a new suit from going down to the dog pen to play with his favorite creatures ( "You can 't go to church smelling like a dog!")

 Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

     Last night, late in the evening on Maundy Thursday,  I decided to watch the news before I went to sleep.  On the news, I saw infant lying amongst the rubble of a freshly bombed airport terminal,  crying at the top of its lungs.  I suddenly wasn't so sleepy.  No one responded to its screams because that baby's dead mother was lying next to it - the nails in the homemade bomb someone turned loose in that airport had found her body instead of her baby's.  Though someone slowed down long enough to take that video on their phone they didn't stop running.  "I couldn't run past a dog crying for it's mother, how can those people just ignore that baby?"  I decided to not be too hard on them because I've never found myself in the middle of a terrorist attack and don't know how I'd react. I was glad the lady of the house had already fallen asleep so that she wouldn't see a tear roll down my cheek as I tried to rest.   I tried to relax.  I even tried to pray.  I didn't do much of either.

     This morning's Good Friday.   I worked hard to put my mind on my job, answer emails, make some calls and play catch up from a busy week.  But I didn't turn on the news.  I didn't want to hear that baby crying again.   So I kept my nose to the figurative grindstone and kept hoping it'd feel like the middle day of the three days that are supposed to define the faith I was raised to lean on (no matter how dark things became.  "There's Power In The Blood!")    But it was so much easier back then.  Easter Sunday and church and Charles Wesley hymns and ham and bunny rabbits and fancy cupcakes and more ham.  Yes, the world was much, much nicer.   Hell, we even loved going to school most days!  I can remember one time, in second grade, Mrs. Kilpatrick (who was at the same time the scariest and sweetest teacher God ever put on earth) showed us a map of our United States.  She went around our circle, pointed at a state and we took turns telling her what each abbreviation meant.  Everyone else got "GA"   or "TN"  or "NY"    I got "VT"  I said, "uh,,,,Vietnam?"   It was some word I'd heard on the news, you see. 

          “He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activites in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they'd have no heart to start at all.”
Cormac McCarthy, "All the Pretty Horses"

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Coffee & Crosswords

     "If you like colored water, you'll have to get your coffee somewhere else."  God knows the Luzianne coffee with chicory root that she used to brew in the morning could put hair on your chest (or take it off your head - a distinct possibility given my father's head and the way mine has turned out.)   Singing in the morning.  Who sings that loudly before the sun's up?  I can remember as a child thinking "if I didn't have to go to school and got to stay at home all day and do crossword puzzles I'd sing in the morning, too."   But that's not all that consumed her day - I was just too innocent (ignorant) to realize it.  Like anyone else raising a family, our clothes got washed, a broom got pushed and a hot meal at suppertime starts in the afternoon.  But when I think about her, the first images that come to my brain are strong coffee, crossword puzzles and that constant singing in the morning.

     Today would've been her 91st birthday and I considered going to the cemetery on my lunch break, putting down some flowers and standing there sad for a minute.  But I could just about hear her voice - "You've had a cold all week.  You don't need to be standing out here in the wet and cold."   She used to say she didn't want an open casket when she died ("I don't want people standing around saying 'Oh, doesn't she look good?!'  No!  I'll look dead!")   In the same conversation she would tell me "and I don't want people standing around at the cemetery staring at the ground.  That's not me in the ground."   Indeed it's not.  "Sweet" is something that lives on in our hearts, in our memories of her.  And 9 times out of 10 it's the first word I hear folks use when remembering her. "Your mama was so sweet."   "She was so sweet to us."  "She was sweet and she could cook!"  

     And she could make a pretty good cup of coffee.  My bride loves to poke fun at my own coffee addiction.  "I've never seen anybody who could just chug scalding hot coffee like you and  Erfy!"  I take it as a compliment - maybe if I can chug coffee as well as she did someday I'll learn to be as sweet as she was.  Probably not...and there's no chance I can breeze through a crossword as quickly as she did.  And my singing is not something you ever want to hear at any time of the day.  The fact that today's her birthday didn't make me  miss her any more than I already miss her every other day of the year.  And she'd be ok with that, I think.  "Just finish your work, make a pot of coffee and decide what you're gonna cook Rhonda for dinner."  I miss her but I can still hear her...


Monday, January 4, 2016

Penguins in the woods.....

     I just didn't want to get involved with Monday this morning.  A pot of my favorite coffee and I was still sitting and staring,  in spite of the big chunk of adulthood staring me in the face through a laptop and emails.  If you had a "Christmas break" then God bless you.  For a lot of us, Christmas break was Christmas Day and then another week of work then a day off Friday for New Years Day.   Had I scheduled my year a little differently, I would've taken some time off during the holidays but sometimes year-end business doesn't always lend itself to that.  In fact when I turned on my laptop I was bombarded by folks who HAD taken a chunk of time off since the week before Christmas and were now anxious to get things rolling again.  I was just anxious to drink coffee and feel sorry for myself.   And, as for my bride, being an RN rarely lends itself to long breaks of any kind.  At least I'm able to work from home and didn't have to get back into the commute and traffic like she did.

     I poured another cup and turned on CNN.  They interviewed Donald Trump.  I listened to the interview because I'm grown, by God, and listening to folks running for office (especially THAT office) should be on my agenda.  A few minutes in I couldn't decide if I was disgusted or frightened that someone who apparently went to politician fantasy camp (but then made the team!) was THIS close to the Oval Office. 

     STILL not wanting any part of Monday I poured another cup and started flipping channels.  Came upon some cartoon where a tiny British girl was imagining all the things that lived in her imaginary woods.  She decided her woods were full of penguins.  The little girl playing alongside her said "Penguins don't live in the woods!"  The first little girl had a swift and convincing retort with "They do in MY woods."   I couldn't tell you the name of this cartoon but I watched more of it than I did the Trump interview.  A little girl wanted to frolic in woods where penguins lived.  Hell, who wouldn't??   I was jealous of her innocence and imagination.

     Back in my single days - when I lived alone in a crash pad with a 130 pound Labrador Retriever - I had an odd cure for insomnia (because, well, I'm odd.)  Stashed away in my nightstand was the first book I ever read and had  held onto through all the changes and travels.  Anytime I had trouble sleeping  I grabbed my copy of "Charlotte's Web," opened it and started reading on any page.  I knew the story well enough to immediately follow whatever was going on with that girl and her pig.  A visit to childhood usually relaxed me enough to put me to sleep until an alarm clock forced me to, once again, deal with adulthood. 

     I'm not sure if I still have that copy of "Charlotte's Web."   It's probably best - I should learn how to deal with the "daily unadulterated crap" without trying to resurrect childhood innocence.  Still I think there's a reason why we leave this world sometimes curled back into the position in which we entered it (and, during our journey, spend a lot of time looking for our own patch of woods full of penguins.)