Thursday, June 30, 2011

Message in a Bottle

When I worked nights at the radio station I would talk to Prajna on the phone. Before hanging up, sometimes I would do what I called “kissing her goodnight” and cut the sound feed for just a split second. For just that quick amount of time every listener to the station would hear a hiccup of silence and then the music would go on. I thought that this was ultimately cool to be able to send a personal message this way. I know that by that late in the evening there weren’t that many listeners. The local hospital’s emergency room kept us on and probably people who liked their radio on all night. But this message wasn’t for any of them. It was just for Prajna.

I am able to track my page views for this blog. On a grand scheme of things it’s almost like a small market radio station in the middle of the night… maybe less. But I know some of my readers personally. And if I wanted to I could even send a message in a bottle to an individual here. I would say something to the effect that no matter how important my writing is to me that they are more important. But that’s no surprise. I would get up at 4 in the morning to help out a person but not to write at 6.

I would also say something that I learned from the Book of Romans. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38. That’s the type of father I ought to be. So as you read this know that there is nothing you can and will ever do that will make me stop loving you.

You are entering a scary time in your life filled with decisions. But even though I don’t have a plan for you, He does. And one more thing, we both believe in you.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The warm taste of Summer

Spring this year seemed wanting to remind us all of the cool wet winter that ended in March. Sycophant to the memorable winter where rain came down on both sides of the walls to our home and we kept towels on the sills and floors, spring gave us more rain and even snow in April. Then she saw her time of end rushing close and warmed. The last day of spring had triple digits. The first day of summer was blinding sidewalks, prickly grass and shade that provided no relief.

“You’ve got to pick those oranges,” Manuel the landscaper told me. The oranges were already scattered around the tree in our backyard. “There gonna be sweet too. But it’s time to pick them now.”

A lot was new to me including having a big backyard and fruit trees. I was thankful to have someone experienced advising me. I planned out what to do and Friday morning went to work.

I picked out the few good oranges on the ground around the tree. The rest were bug eaten or rotting. I got an 8 foot stepladder and set it up under the orange tree. Then I went inside and summoned my three youngest. It was mid morning and already hot outside on this the 4th day of summer. The ceiling fans had been at work non-stop for as many days. The air conditioning was set in the high 70’s and the house was cool and dark. The kids were incredulous that their father wanted them to come outside for a project.

Once outside Sarah took a large wicker basket and I gave Jamie and Nathaniel a beach towel. At the tree I had them put all the windfalls in the compost. I showed the boys how to hold the towel like firemen might hold something similar to catch a person jumping from a building.

Then I climbed ladder and began picking and dropping. Some oranges needed a good twist and tug, others just came off in my hand. The boys caught them in the towel and Sarah gathered them out and put them in the basket. Jamie and Nathaniel vied for the scarce patches of shade. An occasional orange that was extra heavy loosened Nathaniel’s grip and his end of the towel dropped and the orange rolled away. When I moved the ladder the kids took turns holding or gathering. Soon the basket was full and so still seemed the tree. Sarah ran and got a laundry basket and we continued.

Finally I had circled the tree and picked every orange I could reach. Up out of my reach were a dozen or so more oranges glowing in the morning sun. I had Sarah stand on the bottom rung of the ladder and climbed as high as I could and picked a few more. Then I pulled a branch close to me but couldn’t reach what was on it. When I let it go and it sprang back it released several oranges and they dropped to the ground.

The thoughts of “Why didn’t I think of this before?” and “this is just cheating” came to me at once. I warned the kids below and got a good grip on the tree. Then I shook.

Oranges fell all over. The boys gave up trying to catch and worked on not getting hit. I shook the branches until the shower stopped. Just before I climbed down I grabbed an orange that had fallen and stopped wedged in front of me. At the bottom of the ladder I felt sticky juice on my hand and saw that the orange had a thin split that was now dripping. After a small taste I lifted the orange over my head and squeezed. The fresh orange gushed out into my mouth and over my lips and face. It was warm and sweet and there is something about squeezing juice from an orange right out of a tree that feels almost decadent. This is what the Joad family dreamed of crossing the desert on the way to California. This was what Adam and Eve did before the fall of man. This was a taste of heaven.

The kids found more oranges that had split when they fell. Soon we were all dripping juice all over our faces and savoring the taste. I was able to rip my orange open and eat the insides out. I called Benjamin outside to share in this and then Prajna. Harrison wasn’t home and doesn’t care for oranges.

I took some oranges to work that day to share and we still have dozens in the house that Sarah will squeeze to make juice. Some of the juice will be made into popsicles.

Goodbye Spring, and thanks for the cool weather. We might miss you come late August. But summer with its ferocious heat arrived on Tuesday. And on Friday we drank in not only juice warm and fresh but a good bit of that magic that comes with summertime.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Eric the Cat

The first pet I remember having was a family cat. We go her from a shelter and named her Sparky. I really don’t remember much about Sparky except that she was a tabby and likes to chase strings. She slept with my parents mostly. They gave her to me at bedtime once but I kept giggling at her walking over me so that ended that. We gave her away when we left Arizona for Hawaii.

Once in Hawaii we got a kitten from a litter. Waldo was a grey tabby with a stubbed tail. I don’t remember where he slept. My main memory of Waldo is my mom poking his nose into the cat mess he made exclaiming that he was a naughty little kitty. One day Waldo was gone. I never had the chance to become terribly attached to him. But that was what sometimes happened with indoor/outdoor cats.

It was a few years before we got Sublease. She was already middle aged and wise. Sublease was a brown tabby and a cat’s cat. She slept where she wanted and became the queen of the house. One of her favorite places was on the hood of our car in the carport. But she wasn’t shy and became by confidant it the times I felt like I had no other friends. Sublease died of old age. In the time we had her two more kittens showed up at our house. One of them was still with us and bore the name, Kitten.

We moved from Lahaina to Wahiawa in 1988 and took Kitten with us. The cargo compartment of a Dehavolend-7 airplane is behind the passenger cabin. We could hear kitten yowling above the propeller engines all the way to Honolulu. Kitten lived with us for two more years and disappeared when I left Oahu to move back to Maui.

When I lived in a bachelor pad there was a cat that came around we named Mooch. I fed him meat in the morning and when he was still alive in the evening had some of the meat for supper. When Prajna and I were married we named our first cat Frank. Prajna liked the name and I did not. I named the cat Frank so none of our kids would ever have that name. Frank disappeared along with Jem and Scout years later. We also had a ginger tom come around sometimes that Naomi called Linda.

When our family lived on Wildwood Canyon Road in Yucaipa we had pet Rats. They were the first pets I ever had that weren’t cats. Then Mike showed up at our door one rainy night and we went through a lot of cats over the next decade. I also owned a dog for the first time. The dog we have now we’ve had about 5 years. Mike lasted a long time but the only cat we still have from that house is Pumpkin.

Now as I write this there is a 5 week old kitten on my lap. Some friends gave him to us. I gave him some breakfast and he used his box right away. He was being very playful for a while. Then he managed to get into the fireplace and needed a bath. He’s very subdued now and looks like he’s going to sleep. I do like dogs but I’m definitely a cat person. He followed me around the house this morning. That delighted me.

Monday, June 13, 2011

gathering and polishing the highs

One of the phrases I heard most through Naomi’s illness and our loss of her was “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” This was mostly said by people whose heart was in the right place. They wished to be able to feel our pain. They may have thought that by sharing the feelings that they could help us or at least understand. It was nice to hear albeit a little tiresome after a while.

Something I never hear this phrase said to us regarding is that we have 5 kids. Maybe it’s because a lot of our circle of friends are big families too. Most families who have three or more have gone past the point of a 1:1 parent to child ratio. Mom and Dad are already outnumbered. We do hear “Looks like you’ve got your hands full,” occasionally, but not as much now that they are older. I kind of miss that.

I can look at one or two child families and imagine what they go through at least up to a point. Every child is different so no two situations are exactly alike. But there are things that we don’t have to imagine the feeling of because we all know it. Other fathers and I stand in the ranks of a brotherhood of men who know life’s highest joys and the lowest anguishes. There was an eruption of joy that I never knew before the day my first child was born. It was hours after he was born and I was driving home from the hospital to rest a bit. The realization hit me and I actually exclaimed out loud: “I have a son!” over and over. I think other dads have felt something like that.

Along with the days they were born and they days they accomplish something new or present you with a homemade gift or just say the right words at the right time children can be a source of joy just by being there. There of course are times they infuriate you, disappoint you and hurt you deep. Sometimes it’s nothing they do that devastates you. But losing a child in any way can be the deepest anguish any person ever feels.

And as a father it’s not enough to look back at the end of his life and decide if it all was worth it. The big things will stand out and sometimes that will be a wayward child or a loss and those lows will eclipse the highs. I have to not only look back at the end of the day but look around all day. Each moment your child isn’t breaking your heart should be a moment of joy from them. Sometimes that’s what it seems like it takes. But if a million tiny moments of little joy can work together to ease out a heavy sorrow then they need to be gathered up each day.
The day Naomi said her first word stands out. She looked at me and burst out: “Daddy!” That memory is as strong as the day I lost her. I want to polish this memory and feel its joy. While I want to let the other one gently fade to the back. It will never be gone, but the sharp edges are dulled down from lack of use.

So I speak to fathers because that’s what I am. Let’s gather up the little joys and foster them. Share them. Never forget them. They are never insignificant and we will need them. I can’t imagine going through a day without them.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Harp and the Blade

From about the late 80’s for almost the next ten years I carried a switchblade knife in my front pocket. There was something about carrying an illegal weapon that made me feel ten feet tall. It turned out that I never needed it for anything other than opening letters. But even never using it the blade served its purpose making me feel like a big bad rebel.

A book I was recently reading about writing asked the question: what does your character keep in their pocket? I love this question. If I’m writing a story I want to develop me characters as much as possible. The answer to this question says a lot about the person. I remember in 7th or 8th grade for a while I carried at Hot Wheels® car every day. It was a Lotus Esprit and I may have imagined that if I really wanted it to it would become real or even turn into a flying car.

I stopped carrying the knife when I changed jobs in the middle of 1994. The shorts I wore to work didn’t have this kind of pockets that accommodated a knife. Then two years later I left the knife at home when we went to Budapest for two years. While I was over there I saw stiletto knives for sale but resisted the urge to get one. By then I didn’t want to carry something that might provoke anything. I knew that the knives were illegal back home and in truth I had outgrown them. Maybe it was the responsibility I had now being a husband and dad. I tried to be a role model to my students. I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove any more by carrying a weapon.

Forward about six years and I was working as a land surveyor. I realized right away that I would need to carry a knife with me to work. We cut flagging, erased marker from lathes and found other uses all day. So with my first check I bought a small good quality folding knife and kept it in a case on my belt. Then months later after having a day where I needed to monitor GPS equipment for hours all day I thought about something to have to pass the time. I remembered something else I pocketed sometimes in college. I started carrying a harmonica in the same pocket that had held the switchblade.

Long before I ever carried any knife or toy I remember walking with my dad to the post office in our little Arizona town. I was probably six or seven years old and there was a bunch of bohemian transients sitting on the ground outside. They had backpacks and serapes and guitars and were looking for a ride to California. My dad chatted with them for awhile and one of them gave me a harmonica.

If I wanted to romanticize this story I would go on about how I played and practiced until I was the next harmonica legend. The reality is other than sliding up and down the keys and breathing in and out with it I took the poor Horner Marine Band Harmonica in the bathtub with me and pretended it was a spaceship.

It took years of growing and carrying toys or an illegal item to find out that I was not a big bad rebel. And only very recently have I realized that what I carry in my pocket really does define me. Several Christmases ago Prajna gave me half a dozen harmonicas of different keys. More than the gift I was touched that she saw me as someone worthy of this. So today I carry one of those harmonicas with me every day. Even though I play it around others and for our chickens I mostly just like to play it alone. What’s interesting is the satisfaction I get slipping it in my pocket and knowing it’s there all day. It’s the same comfort I got carrying the knife. It’s a feeling of reassurance but this time it’s a lot more honest. It’s the feeling I think everyone needs to hear. It says: “Yes, this is who you are.”