Mother’s Happiness

I know little of what my parents thought about any deep subject such as a philosophy of life or their world view. I managed no more than hints or rare tidbits. Regarding my father, I remember too much of the bad and little of the good. The opposite is true of my mother.

I remember more in Mom’s case, and most of it good. The few bad memories were usually not her doing. Mom may have had her share of bad days, but I can’t remember one that was her fault.

My clearest memories are the pleasant ones about our overall relationship. We were close. Not in the best of friends sense you may hear some parents brag about. Mom was my parent – not my friend.

As a teenager or young adult, I would have railed against being called a “momma’s boy.” I now look back on our relationship with pride.

My mother protected me, mostly from Dad, but also from a few other things. Oddly, not from bullies. If I developed an early skill in dealing with them, it was avoidance. Later in life, my approach was more direct. Conversely, she liked telling people how she often broke blood vessels in her hands spanking me. I don’t recall any of that.

She and I argued our share. I was a momma’s boy – not a good or obedient boy. There were times when I was disappointed in her for not coming to my aid. Looking back, I now realize how right she was.

When she did help me, she did it her way. She helped me in a manner that permitted me the dignity of learning difficult lessons the hard way – which was apparently my preference. When she felt like I needed to learn a painful lesson, she gave me the space I needed. I now realize how difficult that must have been for her. My mother’s love for me, and mine for her were never in question.

When Dad’s health was declining and she felt like she needed to help him, she postponed action on the lump in her breast. After his death, she moved on to her own health care. Everything she did during the period of that treatment, she did with the occasional assistance of her sister. My sister and I lived too far away to be of much help.

While Mom was a long-term breast cancer survivor, the invasive disease brought on her death only after she decided to end most of the treatment.

But years before that, the spot on her lung had been removed and she was recuperating in the hospital the day my flight from Texas arrived in Pennsylvania. Walking down the hospital hallway, the sounds and smells were unique. I would know where I was had I been awakened blind.

As I walked down the hall following the directions I’d been given, I knew I would take the next right into another hall, then right again into her room. I anticipated walking in and finding her groggy and sore from the surgery. I envisioned her smiling up at me, weak and tired. I turned the corner.

The window at the end of that hall looked down on the hospital’s parking lot. Its sill of hard tile was about a foot deep. My recovering mother could easily sit there and gaze down to the parking lot, watching for me.

When she heard my voice, she turned her head and saw me walking toward her. The day after surgery, my 70-something mother jumped off the sill and started running toward me. Mom drove her five-foot-tall frame hard against me, wrapped her arms firmly around me, and then pulled my face down and kissed me.

After I suggested that she get back into bed, we walked to her room and she slid back onto the sheets and pillow. Mom was excited and chatty. She was always happy to see me. But on that day, her response was overwhelming. The doctors and nurses kept Mom alive. All I had to do was walk down the hall at the right time. I became the star of her show. I will always remember how happy she was to see me that day. I’m glad I could help.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

C – Collaboration Poem (NaPoWriMo #4)

This poem is a collaboration poem written by my daughter, Julie, and me. We both worked on it. In fact, she initially wrote the first part, as a poem to me. It is not renga because it meets none of the normal forms. It is simply two people writing a poem to each other and collaborating, so style and form are free. One could look on it as a duet, or father – daughter billets-doux (love, or sweet letters). Ardor means enthusiasm or passion. My portion is italicized.

Dewey and Dad
by Julie Barber and Bill Reynolds

You are my father, tried and true
And you my daughter through and through.

You know my heart, my feet and hands too.
Some even say I look like you.
From birth and to your life throughout,
I’ve been there for you, without a doubt.

There was a time when things were harder.
I hope I’ve grown and become much smarter.
If we could go back, I’d want you my daughter.
Together we’ve grown older with ardor.

My father, wiser by the day…. Always profound things to say.
Sharing our life keeps misery at bay.

I look to you when the answers are grey.
You say, “let nothing get in our way.”
You heart and your talent come into play,
Find peace therein, as you work away.

Go out and write and use your talents
It will give your life more sense and balance.
Your words are like clay, your pen is your pallet,
Your life is your muse, your mind is your mallet.

Get off your ass and do it already
The world is uncertain, and time is unsteady.
It’s your life to live, you should live it as heady,
Be happy my child, ‘tis all worth it, you’re ready.

The fact you’re so far away makes me sad
But I’m more than proud and grateful you’re my dad.

She’s Julie, but I call her Dewey

Forever you’ll be my daughter to me,
A lifetime of love, we certainly have.

My daughter, our love surpasses all distance
No oceans divide us, our minds unite us.

As we see one to the other, it will always be,
You rank above others swimming the sea.

Mind the gaps, family, love, friends, and the important things in life.
Look both ways, and all around.

The Summer of ’59

Facing the Dark Side

When I was in the sixth grade at my Catholic school, I dreaded being promoted to seventh grade. Sister Mary Scary taught seventh grade. That nasty creature who floated around Saint John’s wearing Rome’s version of a burqa, but used a white frame to emphasize a face that was perpetually angry, who posed as a Catholic nun but was really the Wicked Witch of the West. That daughter of Satan himself, would have complete control of my life from eight to three every weekday, plus an extra hour at church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, when I would be forced to sit, kneel, or stand to watch men and boys dressed in feminine garb prance, kneel, sing, pray, and read in a dead language of which I understood nary ten words.

Saint John's Church and School

Saint John’s Church and School

Mom and Dad were delighted in June of 1958, when I handed them my report card with that depressing word emblazoned on the back cover: “Promoted!” To me, it said, “sentenced to nine months of suffering in Purgatory at the hands of evil.”

I worried all summer. My friend, Jimmy, who was a grade ahead of me reported the horrible carnage that he and others had endured at the hands of Lucifer’s daughter. Whatever the version of depression a 12-year-old boy could encounter, I’m sure I had it. Never, have I wanted a summer to pass more slowly.

My parents always supported authority over me. The nun, teacher, priest, cop, drunk adult, irate neighbor, or neighborhood tattle tale was always right. Ok, occasionally, they really were right. But from my point of view, my parents should have supported me – their son who they claimed to love. I could not discuss my fears about the nun with my parents.

My siblings had the “we survived, but you probably won’t” attitude and said as much. However, my older brother, Danny, did have some advice for me. “Be an altar boy. They like altar boys,” he said. That made sense to me. I would play their game to survive.

Survival

I worried enough about Sister Scary that I managed to get through seventh grade with minimal physical damage and mental distress. I passed academically, and I was home free. This time I was even more pleased than Mom and Dad that I was not held back. I had not shed one tear. I was doing well. My eighth-grade teacher was to be Sister Mary Wonderful, who was also the school Principal. Life was good again.

Toward the end of seventh grade, I was finally approached to join the exalted and glorious ranks of the chosen ones. I was asked if I wanted to be an Altar Boy. All my friends were becoming Altar Boys, and I wanted to be one, too. My brother, Danny, had been one, and it was what good Catholic boys did.

Altar Boys

Altar Boys

I accepted the offer from the Father O’Burts, logically assuming my parents would approve. I started learning the Latin prayers and talking to other boys about the process and the job. I was happy about it. My plan for eighth grade was to be one of the chosen. I even signed up for the school basketball team. I didn’t play well, but I was the tallest boy in my school. I began to look forward to my final year at Saint John’s.

Not So Fast

Then, as the skies darkened again, I had the familiar bad feeling. As September and the start of school approached, there was a shockingly frightful rumor. Sister Wonderful was being transferred, and Sister Mary Scary, the evil antagonist of my short life, was being promoted to school principal and would be moving up to teach eighth grade.

Oh, dear God, No! I was supposed to be done with her. But as every dependable source, including the church bulletin, soon validated, ‘twas da troot. The second coming of the Inquisition had been promoted to Principal of Saint John’s elementary school, and would teach 8th grade to my class. I knew that I could not survive another year. My only solace was knowing that, except for a few favored girls, the rest of my classmates were as upset as I was. The Altar Boy gig became critical.

Say What?

So then, still expecting them to be pleased with the news, I decided to tell my parents that I was to be an Altar Boy. I expected them to be proud, if not overjoyed.

I was happy when I walked into the kitchen and sat down for dinner. She was at the sink behind me. “Mom, guess what? Fadder O’Burts as’t me ta be an altar boy. And I’ma gunna do it, too.”

I turned to look at Mom, smiling and all full-of-myself, at first. Then, severe shock set in when she turned and said, “No yer not!”

Dad looked up and added, “Like Hell, y’are! Yeh kin get dat idea outa yer thick skull right now.”

Dazed, I needed something quick – a prayer, to get sick, perhaps a deadly disease, anything. Desperation was overcoming me.

I was unaware that when Danny had been an Altar Boy, it was not a good experience. The logical consequence, of course, was that I was not permitted to follow, and my parents did not give one inch. Nor did they tell me why I was being denied my only hope to survive nine more months of the Black-veiled Horror. Today, I am glad that I was not part of that Altar Boy thing, but at the time, it was the worst possible news.

Option Two

Quickly, I changed the subject. “Mom, Coughlin is 7th through 12th grade. Can I go there for 8th grade? I’ll be starting there fer 9th grade and high school the next year, anyway.”

She didn’t even look at me. “Now, Billy-boy. Why’d ya do dat? Jist graduate St. John’s then go to high school like your brother and sister did. After I see ya graduate Saint John’s, the Lord can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I will graduate from Coughlin High, Mom. And probably college too. So, the Lord can wait.”

With that, the food in Dad’s mouth came spewing out. He was choking and coughing and wheezing and trying not to die while laughing at my confidence. My wonderful summer was ending in embarrassment and darkness. I became angry and depressed again.

Blues Brothers

Blues Brothers

As It Happened

I was right. Eighth grade was worse than seventh for exactly the reasons that I had predicted. Even our basketball team suffered from the curse of the cruel Head Demon. Sister Mary Scary controlled every aspect of student lives – thus influencing their spiritual growth or decline. She and I were in constant struggle to have all of Hell on our side. That nun and I never had one good day. Eventually, we developed a healthy fear of each other as my size and strength worked to discourage many of her thoughts. Sister Scary promoted me to high school and out of Saint John’s. To this day, I’m certain that neither of us wished to deal with the other any longer than necessary. I was neither the first, nor that last, to be moved along to become someone else’s problem.

Age and experience change how we see our world.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

NaNo Rebel – One Week Done

Telling my story

Telling my story

In the first five days of NaNoWriMo, I’ve written 11,000 words toward the goal of 50,000 before midnight of November 30th. Since my personal goal was 2K words a day, I’m ahead. I have picked up on several things about my writing.

  • I am not isolated. My wife comes and talks to me routinely, and I go talk to her. I have vacuumed the house, gone to meetings, and done shopping. I answer phone calls (not doing surveys or talking to telemarketers, and I voted early), and I go for walks.
  • I have time available to write. Being retired, I could write all day and night. But I can take time for a football game, and maybe some NCIS or Blue Bloods. I read about what I am supposed to be doing: writing memoir. I talk to people, often about things having nothing to do with writing.
  • I think my weakest writing skill is the art, the creative parts, the telling of the story. I blame my experience with technical writing for part of that. But for this memoir, I continue to work on my skills to show and tell from my POV at the time. Can I be both protagonist and antagonist?
  • If I read a sentence that I wrote last week, I will change it. It will be better, but the challenge is to write, not to re-write and edit. This slows me down, but it looks like I can semi-comfortably write a maximum of about 3-thousand words a day. I did 2,800 twice last week.
  • I made an outline, a spreadsheet, and a memory list. The list has turned out to be the most valuable. I never look at the outline or spreadsheet. My only problem with the memory list is that I write in chronological order and the list random.

img_0833-1

  • Here are examples from my list:
    1. Working to pull out coal stove and put in gas hot water heater and gas stove for cooking.
    2. Looking up at Dad realizing I was looking at a drunk man who didn’t care. I had eerie feeling that he resented me. I was not seeing my father.
    3. Helen Hxxxxn (Whitey) BB gun. Tomatoes.
    4. Peggy Rxxb and the Rxxb family.
    5. Carol Mxxar and Joe Mxxxxen
    6. Dog named Rusty and my treatment of the dog
    7. Age 5 birthday party
    8. Danny
    9. Raised by both bio parents…first in fam….Linda was second, but hers divorced (he left) right after Linda graduated high school
    10. Mom’s relationship with my half-bro, Danny, and my view of it.
Write. Just write you must.

Write. Just write you must.

I will be writing this memoir for a long time to come. I’ll win the Nano challenge and complete this memoir, but not anywhere near at the same time.

I miss writing this blog, but I choose not to do both.

If you ever consider writing memoir, I suggest it. For me, it’s not about the book, it’s about me. I still have a lot to write and things to decide. Do I want to write about something or make it available for others to read? Those dark “things” about me? I work at keeping the words and stories on my intended spiritual track, but in my mind, everything relates – particularly during my formative years.

The following excerpts from my memoir are from two more dramatic events, both relate to a nun who taught me. Context is that I had just learned that the same nun who taught 7th grade will be teaching 8th next year, then we jump to what I was worried about.

Blues Brothers movie, my fav part

Blues Brothers movie, my fav part

….“Mom, Coughlin is 7 to 12th. Can I go to 8th grade there? I’ll go next year anyway.”

“Now, Billy-boy. Why wud ya? Jist graduate St. John’s. After I see ya graduate, God can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I’ll graduate Coughlin, Mom.”

8th grade was worse than 7th. Even Father Burns was afraid of Sister Mary Siena, and for good reason. She was the tyrant of the school.

Gerry Dxxxxe sat behind me. As I was turned around explaining something of extreme importance to Gerry I heard, “Mister Rxxxxs, what is the answer?”

“The answer to what, Sister?”

“Young man, you better know the answer to the question I just asked the class.”

After I suggested that she asked one of them, the anger-crazed dark shadow in black habit grabbed her instrument of torture and death. As she stormed down the aisle heading at me, in her hand was the yard long wooden pointer. It was round, about the circumference of my thumb. She yelled for me to standup and turn around.

As it turns out, blows to the flesh behind the knees with such a pointer are not soon forgotten….

At times, how I saw it.

At times, how I saw it.

Life is interesting,
look both ways and mind the gaps.

Guest Blogger (Frat Friday)

My guest blogger today is my ten year old grandson, Christian. He recently won a writing award at school and I thought he and I could collaborate on today’s Frat Friday. Christian wrote this.

What happens when you are one inch tall?

This morning, I woke up and I was one inch tall. I looked down and said, “That’s a far drop to the floor.” So, I jumped and landed on my night stand. Then I climbed down the wire that was connected to my lamp. I got on the floor. “Finally,” I gasped. I slid through the little crack under the door. But, I forgot about something.

Slightly open door, light shining through crack

Slightly open door, light shining through crack

I eventually managed to get out of my room. Then, I saw something. It was asleep. It was fuzzy, and it had big white teeth like a shark.

Christian's story1

It was my cat. I was terrified that I would end up in the creature’s slimy stomach.

Christian's story4So I snuck like a Ninja, undetected by the dozing, fat, fuzzy feline. Then, my stomach rumbled because I was hungry. Cats have very sensitive hearing. She woke up and chased me. I quickly climbed some drawers to the stove.

Then, the fuzzy and dangerous varmint turned on the stove. And I had a nice game of ‘The Floor is Lava.’

Christian's story3

Finally, I got off the stove and jumped into the cereal box. The cat fled and dozed off again. I sat down and ate cereal in the box. Being one inch tall can be dangerous, but it can also be quite a fun adventure.

 

Yesterday

Yesterday

yesterday6Ten years ago, I lost one of my best friends from my childhood. Today, I received a phone call telling me that I have now lost the other. A few weeks ago I was tasked with a writing assignment to provide an essay on what I long for. You can see it blogged under “Nostalgia and Longing.” Reading my blog, you can glimpse my view of humanity and the world. Seldom do I live at any time but the present moment.

yesterday2But today, I want to think about the past. Not in a regretful way, but in an “I remember” way that might allow my brain to be the tool of a child’s mind again.
I want to remember friends and our time together when we did things without much regard for the good or the bad. There was no judgment or guilt. The important part that I recall is that we did those things together. That is what a childhood friendship is all about; an unconditional acceptance of us as is. Blood brothers we were – literally.

yesterday3I know that I cannot go back to that time, and I’m not sure that I would want to. But I want to have those memories until I have no memories. I would like to again feel the freedom, the special bond, and the unquestioned certainty that we would all live forever. I want to think about my future and talk about how much better it will all be. I want free and unlimited amounts of candy and ice cream. We didn’t have that, but when we took over, well, you know, right? I want to know that next year, I will be allowed to stay out after it gets dark, to drive a car (legally), to date girls (with everyone knowing).

Today, I want to cry over the loss of my friends and I want to smile in their memory. I want to think about their faults that I never saw or didn’t care about, as they dismissed mine. Indeed, I miss Jimmy and I miss Jack, but the one is miss most is Billy the Kid — me.

What do I remember most? In our late teens Jack made his belief and faith in me clear. Few people had faith in me when I was a teenager, and I don’t blame them. More than my parents, more than any teacher or any other person, he believed I could do what even I doubted.

yesterday4

I subsequently believed him and that was a significant turning point in my life.

I slightly changed the lyrics of Yesterday When I was Young to reflect how I feel today — Melancholyyesterday7

The game of life I played with arrogance and pride
And every flame I lit too quickly, quickly died,
The friends I made all seemed somehow to die away
And only I am left on stage to end the play.
Yesterday when I was young

 

 

Rain Man (you knew this was coming)

RIn a scene from my childhood, I watched through our living room window as kids my age played in a rainstorm. They were laughing and having a wonderful time getting soaked. The streets and gutters were awash. One boy sat down in a flooded gutter as the water pushed against him and splashed hard around his body. I felt envy. Not because they were having fun without me, but because they were playing in the rain. I was home with my mother, and she told me that I couldn’t go out because I would get soaked and catch my “death-of-cold.” I have since learned and admit more about myself, and about colds.

Rain 1The word ‘pluvial’ refers to rain or something characterized by abundant rain. The suffix ‘phile’ denotes fondness. Consequently, a pluviophile is one who finds joy and peace of mind on rainy days. I was taught that rainy days were sad, as in the Carpenters song lyric; “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” I was to believe nice days were sunny, cloudless, and warm. I’ve never felt that way. Sunny and pleasant days have their place, but few are enough. Later in life, I admitted to liking cloudy, rainy days. I now identify as a pluviophile. These days, I’m often asked why, after more than twenty years in California, Texas, and Florida; I recently moved to the Pacific Northwest. I ask, “Do you know what a pluviophile is?” Like it should be news to me, I’ve repeatedly been told “it rains a lot there.” I reply with a smile, “Yes, it does.”

“Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.” ~ John Updike, Self-Consciousness: Memoirs

ShawshankRainWide-1 Rain 4My involvement with rain changes with its many forms. Scientific names apply based on how it comes about. But, I am talking about how the rain itself varies from torrential downpour to a gentle drizzle. Duration, wind, thunder, lightning, air temperature, and other factors contribute to our experiencing rain. There are times of rain just falling, and times with thunder and lightning. There is morning rain, afternoon rain, and rain at night. Each is emotionally and physically encountered differently. It can be seen and heard while keeping dry, thus precluding feeling the rain. Only outdoors can we dance in the rain. If I don’t perceive rain with senses—I just get wet. Our world changes when it rains. We need it, just as we do sunshine. To me life smells, feels, looks, and sounds more alive in the rain. In the city, rural areas, and in the forest, everything improves. When I am with the rain, I heal and recover. It’s a spiritual exposure difficult to explain. I’m not especially spiritual, but in rain I sense life — nature.

street_by_night_2_innsbruck_by_maradong Rain 2I recently delayed my daily walk when rain was forecast. After waiting for the rain to start, I donned shorts and tee. I was off in good spirits, expecting to be, and was, soaked. After an hour, I was back home. I sat on a dry and covered bench, removed my soaked shoes and socks, slapped water from my dripping baseball cap, and chuckled. I was thinking how others might consider me deranged. But, this is why I’m here.

Nighttime rain is different—good, but different. There’s more drama on rainy nights. When I have a challenging day, I like to experience night rain by imagining the character of Mike Hammer from a Mickey Spillane crime novel. I picture me on a dark, moonless night; standing under a lamp post illuminating my silhouette. With muffled, distant thunder following flashes of light, rain sparkles from the beams of the light post. I wear the characteristic trench coat with raised collar and a gray fedora,Rain 8 tilted forward and cocked right. The front brim bent slightly downward with water flowing off. The sound of falling rain is all around. I hear it splash into puddles and onto sidewalks. With water moving everywhere, I forget the day’s problems and the annoying people. But mystery is afoot. Like it or not, Mike Hammer is involved. And of course, there is a woman. As Hammer, in the writing of Spillane, I mumble, “In the flora and fauna of the Bowery, she was a lot of flora and quite a bit of fauna. She looked like she belonged in a field of Wyoming wildflowers instead of wandering through the human backwash of the avenue.” In the night rain, I can do this. Rain brings magic and drama.

I’ve passed through forest after a rain. My senses were filled with sights, sounds, and the aroma of nature. There I can see and feel it because everything is wet. For me, awareness of water is experiencing the essence of living.

Tony-Yazbeck-in-Singing-in-the-Rain-Drury-Lane-Theatre Rain 5Let’s take life, rain or shine, one day at a time. It’s about how we feel. We’re not alone in our emotional response to rain. In the Pacific Northwest, we love the outdoors, rain or shine. Too much shine and we miss the rain. After some rain, we’re ready to let a little sunshine in. “In every life a little rain must fall….” Of course, and why not?

“The richness of the rain made me feel safe and protected; I have always considered the rain to be healing—a blanket—the comfort of a friend. Without at least some rain in any given day, or at least a cloud or two on the horizon, I feel overwhelmed by the information of sunlight and yearn for the vital, muffling gift of falling water.” ~ Douglas Coupland, Life After God