Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Give or Take a Memory or Two

            I had pneumonia. I was in the care of the good doctors and nurses of Saint Vincent’s hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I was eleven years old and it was Christmas time. A crappy time to be sick. It was the first time I tried onion flavored cottage cheese and Baby Ruth candy bars. One after the other, which should have made me even sicker but somehow didn’t. This is that story.

            The cause of my right lung filling with bodily fluid was most likely attributed to the fact that I’d walk to school with my hair still wet every morning and on the way home, stop at the ice rink and play hockey or just skate around with my pals. I had a hat, I didn’t wear my hat. I was an idiot. I got sick. So sick that while my family, including the extended family that had come to visit from out of town, all went roller skating, I slept on the recliner in our living room.

            I don’t know which adult drew the short straw to stay home with me, could have been my mom, but by the time everyone came home from a night of disco music, popcorn, cokes and pizza, my breath was shallow and labored. My lips were turning blue and it felt like someone was blowing bubbles inside my chest.

            I was taken to the hospital.

            I want to say I was there for two weeks. I can’t be sure. I do know I had a roommate for a while, two to in fact. I also had visitors. Lots and lots of visitors. Neighbors, classmates and family. One family members visits always stood head and shoulders above the others. Uncle Paul. Or as the family called him… Brother Paul.

            Uncle Paul was my Mothers brother. He might have stood five foot eight inches tall, bald shiny head, a brash orangish-red beard that almost hid his bigger than life smile. He seemed to always be in a good mood and had an inappropriate joke for every occasion. He lived in a farm house, drank Yukon Jack, Heineken beer and smoked Camel non-filter cigarettes. He seemed to love life, women, art and basketball all with the same amount of passion. His house was littered with books.

            I mean littered. You couldn’t sit anywhere without having to move a stack of books or magazines of some sort. If something peaked his interest he had to devour it. He had to know everything about it. He had to understand the where, why and how of it. Or so it seemed to me. 

            When he came to visit me he always had a present for me. A model. A book. A magazine. A story. 
            However; in this case…

            “Skipper! You awake?” Uncle Paul’s voice called from the hallway outside the half closed door of my hospital room.

            “Uncle Paul?”

            “Yessiree! It’s Me!” he exclaimed as he kicked the door open. His beard looking like he had the sun stuck on his face. 

            I smiled and waved.

            “I brought a snack in CASE you’re hungry.” He said as he raised his arms showing me a large cardboard box.

            “What is it? What is it?” I cried out in adolescent excitement. 

            “Well, it’s something I know you like and it’s something I like as well. So, I figure we could share it together. Like a picnic. We can pretend we’re at the park or on the porch at my house and that it’s summer time. That’d be nice. Right?”

            “It sure would be. But I’m not that hungry, everyone keeps getting me to try and eat but the food here stinks.” I pouted.

            Uncle Paul pulled the bed dolly up to the bed, slid a chair between my bed and the window and placed the box on top of the dolly, pulled out a pocket knife and cut open the box. He reached inside and pulled out a carton of cottage cheese and handed it to me with a goofy grin on his face. “All for you. A whole case of cottage cheese. I know you love it.”

            He was right of course. I reached out pale and shaky hand and took hold of the cool plastic container and read the label aloud “Chive Flavored Cottage Cheese. Uncle Paul, what’s chive flavored cottage cheese?”

            The twinkle in his eyes seemed to falter a bit but not extinguish. “Well Skipper, it’s like onion. You like onions right?”

            “Yeah, I do. Guess I need a spoon.”

            “Got it covered.” My uncle exclaimed and magically produced two spoons from seemingly nowhere. “Care to share?”


            We dug into the first container but after two bites I couldn’t eat anymore. It tasted foul. Sour. Expired. Bad. I wanted to gag. I suppose my uncle picked up on my distaste for his treat because he said he’d had enough and put the container back in the box with the rest of the containers and then put the box on the floor.

            “Excuse me a moment Skipper, I think I forgot something in the hallway.”

            As he walked away I tried to drink as much water as I could to get rid of the rancid taste of chive flavored cottage cheese in my mouth.

            “I’m sure this will be much better.” He exclaimed entering the room for a second time. He was holding a case of Baby Ruth candy bars above his head. The sun on his beard couldn’t hide the beams of light emanating from the smile behind it. 

            He sat down in his chair, produced his knife and we both splurged on chocolate and salty goodness.

            I went home soon after this event. But the gossamer memories of my youth that keep bubbling to the surface of my life seem to make the coarse reality I live easier to swallow.

Have a great week.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Pride and Hope

         I exhaled my cigar smoke into the cool air as I walked across the large grassy park. It’d rained earlier in the week and the moist sod muffled my boot covered footsteps. I looked down at my ever-escaping shadow and saw an odd outline.

         Normally my shadow is reflective of my pants and my leather jacket followed by long, thin wisps of my hair. However; today, in the early afternoon sun, my shadow showed my head looked like some strange box. That’s when I remembered the hat that was lovingly given me by an elderly British lady. And when I put it on she laughed and said I looked great.

         I reached up and pulled the hand-knitted pink wool hat off my head and just stared at it.

         If I’d learned anything from the events of today, it was there is hope. There is love and I was glad to be on the receiving end of those emotions.

         I also learned there is anger. There is frustration. There is grief and there is going to be hell to pay. I’m also glad I’m not on the receiving end of those emotions.

         If you’d asked me a year ago, hell even a month ago about the upcoming generation I’d have laughed and said they were a bunch of self-absorbed, entitled, tide-pod eating idiots.

         Not today.

         They changed my mind.

         And it all started with my daughter.

         She was asked to be on the National Student Council for the “March for our Lives” movement. She eagerly agreed.

         That in of itself made me proud of her.

         Then she organized a school walk-out. She also got the schools administration to wave any punishment for any student who participated in the walk-out.

         Then she made a gun-violence six-minute movie.

         Then she wrote a speech.

         Today she gave that speech in front of three-thousand people. Her anger, her frustration and her distaste for our current administration seeped from every pour of her body.

         Then other students, like my daughter got up and gave empowering speeches. They sang. They danced. They demanded change.

         Then they marched.

         And I walked away with pride for my daughter and her generation. I walked away with hope for their future.

         I walked away grateful that I was not a politician who had to face the angry, unheard, tired and frustrated youth of this new generation.

         If I’ve learned anything from my daughter it is that she is not going to accept being treated like a second-class citizen because of her sex. She’s not going to accept unnecessary violence. She’s not going to accept “No” for an answer. She’s not going to accept any disrespect from elected officials. She’s not going to accept any of that, and neither are her peers.

         My generation dropped the ball on standing up for what is right and what is wrong. Our progeny are suffering from our mistakes. But they forgive us and only ask for our support.

         It’s the least I can do. It’s the least any of us can do.

         Now, let’s change this country for the better.

         Have a great week.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

True Colors

            Cyndi Lauper was on the radio in the kitchen singing about sad eyes and true colors.
I laughed as I walked out of the kitchen and into the dining area of my part time job. I was laughing at myself.

            You see, I knew the song, I knew the singer and all my life I’ve never given it or her any thought. Sure I had girlfriends who liked her music but back then, as a middle teen filled with anger, angst and a general skeptical outlook for my friends, family, government and life overall… well, any pop-music was too “feely” for me. For me, there was no hope, no help from others and no bright side to anything.

            I’ve grown older since then and maybe, just maybe, a bit wiser.

            Still I laughed at myself for not realizing what a great voice Cyndi has and not thinking twice about the lyrics of the song.

            I approached a new table, an elderly couple who I’ve waited on before. We said our pleasantries and then the man says to me “I was talking to someone the other day who knows you.”

            “Really? I hope they were nice.” I replied with good humor.

            “Oh yes, she knows you well… NAME REDACTED.”

            “Ah yes, I’ve known her for thirty years.”

            “Sad news about her husband, we were in high school together and I even hung out with him when he worked for NAME REDACTED.”

            A lump formed in my throat. My hands began to tremble. The floor beneath my feet felt soft and squishy. “Uh, yeah. George was a good man. I was very close to him.” I stammered trying to think of any excuse to leave this table.

            You see, I thought I was okay with Georges death. I thought I had put those pains to rest. I thought I was okay.

            I thought wrong.

            My mind filled with memories of how he taught me not just engine machine skills but life skills that most people develop by the time they’re fifteen. I didn’t get that. I was too hard headed as a youth. Too filled with my own perspective of right and wrong. Too stuck in my own adolescent pain to listen to anyone.

            When I met George, he didn’t care about any of that. Not my past. Not my angst. Not my skepticism. Not even my fear of failure. He just cared I was willing to learn and do the best I could do.

            I tried my best to not disappoint him.

            “Uh, yeah, what would you two like to drink?” I asked as I felt tears welling behind my eyes.

            They ordered and I walked away quickly. Stopped in the bathroom, splashed water on my face and tried to stop sweating. That’s when the lyrics of Cyndi Laupers’ song hit me hard. The song that’d made me laugh not moments ago.

            I smiled.

            Not because George had ever said any words like the lyrics to me. Instead, he’d shown me the lyrics in action. Over time. Thirty years time. He showed me his true colors and in doing so, he passed those on to me.

            Through painful, endless conversations he taught me how to be a man, a husband and a father.

            Through his actions as a provider he taught me how to put aside my physical pain and power through so my family’s needs will be met.

            Through his patience with me and everyone around him he taught me how to be patient with myself, my co-workers, my friends and my family.

            He taught me so much and I never thanked him for it and for that, I feel like the shitiest person in the world. I’m sure he knows how grateful I am and I’m sure he never really expected a thank you from me. After all, that’s the kind of man he was.

            I don’t think I’ll ever get over this loss right now. I don’t know how I can. I lost a friend and mentor. It’s been months and I thought all this emotional mess was over but it isn’t. After all, even from the grave George is showing me his True Colors.

Have a great week.