Leaps and bounds

January 31, 2016

This past year, gift wise, I got the Christmas I should have had when I was twelve: a pogo stick, and a guitar.

I am fifty-six years old.

The guitar has gotten little use as yet – I am awaiting getting a friend to get it tuned properly, and the book/CD set I ordered on ‘how to teach yourself to play the guitar’ turns out to no longer be available.

Groucho1There is, however, I similar book available via Kindle that references YouTube videos. We’ll see how THAT goes.

The pogo stick, on the other hand, has become my sticking-with-it-in-spades workout regimen.

And pogoing has turned into a real head turner in my New Orleans neighborhood.

Full disclosure: the SuperPogo 2 that my wife and son got me for Christmas is the first pogo stick I have ever owned – only the second, maybe third I have ever been one; this is NOT Citizen Lucker’s ‘Rosebud’.

I have just always wanted a pogo stick.

When I first started out, I figured it would take me a while to get the balance part down, but figured since I still ride a bike from time to time, there should be nothing vertigo-inducing – so far, so good on that count.  I also figured that since I was going to feature pogoing (pogo sticking? pogo-stick-jumping seems redundant, but I can find no grammatical consensus, so I stick with pogoing) I was going to have to work into getting my legs – specifically hamstrings, calves and knees – back into more functional order.

I never considered my thighs to be the most pogo-abused part of my anatomy.

For the most part, no issues with the legs themselves. Being a teacher, and spending all day on my feet in front of a classroom, I think is a huge plus in that area.  But the thighs – oh man. As my workouts have intensified in length POGOand rigor, the old upper legs have had to get up to speed.

On the plus side, the old gluteous has fared pretty well. Aside from one big spill on day two, and one a few weeks later, I have mostly avoided major spills. In fact, the clean, land-on-feet dismount was the first thing I mastered. Though I have yet to get anything above a 6.1 from the East German judges.

Oh, and I have discovered that pogo is great DIY-chiro: after a stressful day in class, nothing loosens up the neck, shoulders and lower back better.  Who knew?

Sitting here on the verge of February, I have stuck with this exercise regimen farther into the new year than any other attempt I can remember. In fact, I think I have developed a bit of an addiction. There are times at school where I have made note of how long it was til the end of the day, and mentally started plotting out in my head the schedule for picking my son p at school, getting home…and should I start dinner, then go pogo, or pogo and then start dinner.

I am hooked.  And getting much better – regularly stringing together sixty, and seventy pogo sequences. I can break a good sweat and get the old ticker rate up there with a solid fifteen minute workout.  Which brings me to that ‘head turning’ bit I mentioned earlier.

By the time we get home, and I get changed and get out to the street in front of my house, it is usually around four-thirty in the afternoon.  We live on a nice residential street that doesn’t see a ton of traffic – until my neighbors start arriving home from work.  There have been some rather, eh, interesting encounters to date.

One afternoon, just as I got started, our thirtyish neighbor arrived home with her daughter. They are always friendly, she waved ‘hi’ and hollered from a house away, “So – you got a new toy?”
“Always wanted one. First workout regimen I’ve stuck with this far into the new year!”
She nodded. “My father loves to pogo. My cousin got a pogo stick for Christmas and my father basically stole it from him. You can’t get him off the thing.”
“If I may ask, how old is your father?”
“Oh, I want to say…sixty six.”
“He’s got ten years on me!” Catching my breath, I added, “If I do say, your father is a great man!”
She laughed. Her kindergartenish daughter looked perplexed. They waved, went inside. I went back to work.

A week or so later, I had a rather intense, broke-a-decent-sweat, multicultural twenty minutes of neighborly encounters.

Well, fifteen or so, anyway. I must have killed five minutes chatting with…

A white guy in his late twenties, maybe thirty, named Ben who had been jogging through the neighborhood stopped by on his third lap, said “hey, man – that is cool. Is that one of those that they do backflips and stuff with?” I laughed and said, “No, I don’t think so. This is one of the stripped down, basic models.”

Admiringly he said, “It’s cool. Do you have a record set yet?”
“Yeah, eleven.”
SP2-1“Why pogo?”
“I’ve always wanted a pogo stick, so for Christmas, my wife and son sprung for one.”  You want to give it a try?”

“Sure!”

He did, and ripped off a couple of fairly high five-pogo runs, then handed me the stick. “Nice workout plan.” We exchanged pleasantries about where I really feel the burn (the thighs more than hamstrings thing he found of interest. Fellow health nut) he said “Oh, I get that. Thanks again!” I asked him if he lived in the area and he told me that he was ‘staying with his parents, up the street’ for a while.

As Ben started to jog away, our Hispanic, twenty-something, neighbors drove up, started getting stuff out of their car. The husband says “Hey, Friday afternoon workout! Great!” and gives me a big thumbs up.

Pogotracker MON 01 18 16

Imagine if a FitBit could track pogo…

Then our mail carrier, great guy, African-American, early sixties, drives up, delivers to the house across the street, then starts walking to the next house, stops. He looks at me, peers over the top of his glasses and dryly offers my favorite pogo observation to date: “The minute I see YOU on one of those hoverboards . . . I’m HEADIN’ for the hills!”

Building middle-aged street cred, I am.

What I didn’t think about until long after y workout was young Ben returning to his parent’s house, and what the conversation might have been like:

MOM: “Hi, Ben. How was your jog?”
BEN: ‘Oh, nice. I met a new old kid down the street who let me try out his new pogo stick!”
MOM: “Oh. Well that’s, um….nice? I guess, dear….?”

Five bucks says there was some variation on that conversation at Ben’s temporary domicile.

But my favorite encounter (from afar) was just this past week. I have gotten pretty consistent, and have also begun IMG_20151229_222000actually pogoing in the direction I wish to go, instead of just random hopping around. This past week, I was out on the stick, pogoing toward the end of our block. The cross street, Filmore Avenue, is fairly busy, and also has a lot of pedestrian traffic. As I am boing-boing-boinging up the block, I catch a glimpse of a boy, seven, maybe eight, from a local elementary school (recognized the uniform) with a backpack that was at least the size of his diminutive torso. He was running at a fast clip, eager to get home, when he caught a glimpse of me bounding his way…

About two strides into the street, he slows, but his overloaded backpack weighs him down, forcing him into a bit of a crouch, and he slowly covers the rest of the street bent-over, looking like some demented, walking upright turtle, until he reaches the opposite curb, which he almost stumbles over. He then straightens up, keeps on walking out of my line of vision, headed for home, probably with a story to tell HIS mom.

I’m just waiting for the day when I am not out there, and someone comes to our door and asks “Can the pogo stick guy come out and play?” If that does not happen before April first, I’ll owe my wife twenty-bucks.

my dog has fleasNow that I am getting more proficient (and addicted) to my daily pogo routine, I will have to be more creative in working the guitar into the mix: MY dog HAS…has..FLEAS. Fleaaas.

This one may take a little more time.

Pogo on.

Resolved

January 1, 2016

A new year. New opportunity. Fresh starts.

January is the elephant graveyard of motivational clichés and good intentions to better one’s self. By February, the carcasses in various stages of resolution decay will litter the place, and by March, the clattering of dried bones will greet visitors – new arrivals, mostly. They will have instinctively come to take their place with their broken-promises-elephant bonesto-self brethren. Like the elephants of myth, changes to how and why we live instinctively know where to go when they die, and die they do.

There will never be a eulogy uttered.

Human beings are a fatalist bunch, especially when it comes to new years and supposed fresh starts. With New Year’s resolutions, you know the end result before you start – they become self-unfulfilling prophecies. Starting over doing things differently trying to better yourself? There are entire industries built on helping you crash and burn every year, and January first is like Black Friday is to the retail community. Ahh, but they will be there again, in force, next December and January, when you can run through the entire exercise again.

Not the exercise regimen you promise to do this year, but…you get the point.

Instead of setting yourself up for certain failure by looking at the new year (and your life, really) as some sort of cosmic Etch-a-Sketch to simply be picked up and shaken heartily, erasing everything you just did so you can ‘draw anew’ try a different, less adamant, etch-it-stone approach.

Treat your life like your laptop or tablet.

Laptop-MistakesYour laptop or tablet is always there, ready at your beck-and-call, calmly waiting for you to put it into use, OS running smoothly in the background.

Much like life in general you really don’t give that much thought until you need to put the thing into action, at which point you simply log on and jump in. You can communicate, catch up, do basic life stuff like pay bills, shop, make appointments, check on things at work, at home, with family, the weather – all without giving the electronic marvel in your hands a second thought. Everything hums along smoothly, does what it is supposed to do…

Until it doesn’t. Kind of like life.

Any computer technician will tell you how to keep your device working smoothly, running without issue, by taking some simple, preventative maintenance steps on a regular basis. The same basic rules apply to life.
Think of this as an addendum to your owner’s manual; you can print it, keep on refrigerator or bulletin board for a periodic reminder throughout 2016.

Do a periodic disc clean up on yourself? Things will run much more quickly and error-free if you free up disk space discclnupon your hard drive; like your laptop, your brain needs space to think. The disc/self-utility first searches and analyzes your hard drive for files that are no longer of any use, and then removes the unnecessary files. Presto less clutter, more room to compute!

There are a number of different file categories that Disk Cleanup targets when performing the initial disk analysis:

• Compression of old files (memories you tend to dwell on rather than savor)

• Temporary Internet files (trivial stuff, mostly, but does NOT include sports statistics; these do not slow down system operation)

• Temporary Windows files (these are usually extraneous pieces of information that at one time had a purpose such as explaining a situation, but are no longer have much validity)

• Downloaded program files (all the stuff you have planned, ideas you intended to try, and things you have seen on Pinterest or some other DIY site, and said “I want to try that”!)

• Recycle Bin (dump the junk)

• Removal of unused applications or optional Windows components (these are, often as not, toxic people and situations you should be avoiding anyway)

• Offline web pages (cached information: things remembered the way you think they should be, not as they really are – sometimes referred to in delusional terms)

While a cleanup of your personal hard drive will help, you need to go a bit deeper into your utility tool bag and run a defrag. Self-defragmentation is the process of consolidating fragmented data so it will be easier to find, allowing you to work more efficiently. Get organized. Use a journal, electronic or bound-paper. Fragmentation happens to a volume over time as you save, change, or delete files, and running period defrags will put everything back in order.

This may be the most crucial point of all: no matter your spiritual bent, update and then run your anti-virus on a antivirusregular basis. Prayer, meditation, self-reflection will all clear out the cobwebs and will overcome the hard drive-slowing qualities of doubt and insecurities, helping your OS run more smoothly and efficiently.

From time to time, you may also want to download separate malware software. How you get infected with such things that’s all on you.

Sure, you can set all of these things to run automatically, but sometimes default settings aren’t all they are cracked up to be: “Yeah, I’ll get to that…later…” is probably not going to cut it. You need to be proactive, run your own diagnostics, take care of what you need to do.

While chucking most everything and starting over might seem to be the thing to do this time of year, don’t give into the self-defeating hype. You may need just a New Year disc clean up and quick reboot.

And while you’re at it, maybe get a few new upgrades for your browser. But skip the damn emoticon downloads.

Happy New Year.
emoticons

The photograph of Christmas past

December 23, 2015

Some  years ago, I decided to pick up a few extra holiday dollars by taking a part-time job as a shopping mall Santa in suburban Minneapolis. As I was neither the natural size, age nor hirsute enough for the role, I wore a roll of foam rubber beneath my suit, silver nylon beard on my chin, and ended up working mostly the mall’s lower-traffic hours – late morning, midday.

On a very quiet Wednesday afternoon in early December, I was sitting there in my big Santa chair chatting with my college-student, elf-for-the-day Susie, and grad-school photographer, Jen. They, like me, were simply making some extra holiday cash, we were rookies, all. This particular day, we hadn’t taken a picture in an hour or so, though we brookdaleholiday2did a lot of waving and yelling ‘Merry Christmas’ to assorted passers-by, and took pictures of each other. As the three of us chatted about school stuff, I looked down the nearly deserted mall and saw a sight not really of the season: walking down the center of the mall was a tall, young U.S. Marine, in full dress blues; along side of him was a petite, middle-aged woman.

It quickly became obvious they were headed right for us.

Elf Susie walked cheerfully back to the gate of Santa Land to greet the pair, and I straightened up in my throne and smoothed out my beard – although I wasn’t sure why as I didn’t see any kids. I watched the young Marine, who glanced around nervously, while the woman spoke to Susie.brookdaleholiday1

“O.K. Santa! This young man is next!” chirpped Susie merrily, as she swung open the little white picket gate for the youthful Jarhead to pass, as Jen took her spot behind the camera. The Marine walked up to me and I greeted him with my usual “Ho-ho-ho” shtick, to which he replied quickly, coming to crisp, serious attention, “Merry Christmas, sir.”

Their story was short, sweet, uncomplicated…I guess unless you’re a twenty-year old Marine.

The young man was an only child, U.S.M.C. Corporal home on leave, and his widowed mother was very proud of his recent accomplishments: a marksmanship award, three ribbons and a training award. Having her only son home for the holidays was a huge thrill, and, per what the young Marine told me, and what his mother shared with Susie and Jen, she wanted only one other thing in the world for Christmas: pictures of her son in full dress blues…with Santa Claus.

So there we were.

The young Marine had no idea why this particular setting was so important to her, but it was. So thus began a suddenly interesting Wednesday afternoon, just the five of us: Susie, Jen, proud mom…Santa and the Marine.

This was in the days before digital photography; our pictures were the time-consuming, one-shot-at-a time, Polaroid-you-stick-in-a-cardboard-frame variety – and the young man’s mother wanted nine of them to send out to relatives all over the country. My arm around his waist, the young Marine sat awkwardly but patiently at attention on the arm of Santa’s throne, glancing around nervously.

After the first picture was snapped, he staged whispered to me, while staring directly at the camera, “I’m really sorry about this, sir.”

I smiled, quietly chuckled “ho-ho-ho” as Jen readied the next shot. “Sorry about what?” I asked, Santaishly.

brookdaleholiday4“About doing this, sir. It’s my mother’s idea. I’m a little…uncomfortable.”

“Ho-ho-ho!” I bellowed.

I didn’t much look the part without help, but I could sure play it.

The scene played out, the Marine finally getting comfortable enough to lean into my shoulder a little bit, as Jen continued to focus and shoot, reminding us to smile – which the Marine did only slightly less uncomfortably with each shot. We sat there, his mother beaming with pride while chatting with Susie the Elf, me ho-ho-ho-ing-it-up and trying to help the guy out. After a few shots, I whispered to the young Marine.“O.K., I know this feels silly, but it’s making your mom really happy.”

He glanced at his mother, smiled slightly. “Yes, sir.”

He was loosening up a little, though that was countered a bit as by now as a small crowd was gathering, eyes wide; guess it’s not every day you see a Marine sitting on Santa’s lap. He smiled self-consciously. I made more Santa-small talk while Jen snapped away. “Grow up around here? Afraid you’re going to see somebody you know?” I inquired.

“Yes, sir,’ he said, staying focused on the camera, “I graduated from Park Center.”(a high school within walking distance of the mall.) I nodded, ho-ho-hoed some more, asked him a few more questions, reminded him a couple more times about how his mother was smiling, talked sports with the young man, while Jen finished getting all of the pictures to the mom’s satisfaction.

It took fourteen shots to get the nine pictures the Marine’s mom wanted (I saved a couple of the botched extras; they were wonderful.). As his mom was paying Jen and newly Marine-smitten Susie (from the looks on the women in the crowd, she wasn’t the only one) finished sliding each picture into its candy-cane-and-reindeer-motif cardboard frame, the young Marine stood up, turned toward me, started to salute but then stuck out his hand to shake mine.

“Thank you, Santa, sir.” He said crisply, with just a hint of relief, in what I think was proper-holiday-Marine-etiquette-speak.

Then, bag of pictures in hand, proud mother and dutiful, loving son walked off, arm-in-arm back down the mall, as the smiling crowd quickly dispersed.

To my understanding the young man was probably breaking protocol by wearing his dress blues in such a setting, but in the years since, I’ve gotten the opportunity to tell this story to quite a few Marines. Younger Jarheads tend to dressbluehatlook at me quizzically, apparently pondering the obvious ‘what ifs’ if their own situations. Older Corpsmen mostly nod, smiling proudly.

All have agreed it’s a pretty unique take on ‘Semper Fi’.

As for me, every year around this time I read newspaper or magazine articles about mall Santas, the at times heartbreaking requests they get, the funny things kids say, that sort of thing, and I think of twenty-minutes on a long-ago afternoon in a quiet mall.  Sometimes in conversation someone will start talking about the best Christmas they ever had, or the favorite present they ever received.

Those articles and conversations always make me think of one of the best Christmas presents I ever had a small part in giving.

brookdaleholiday3

The Christmas Pageant

December 20, 2015

Some twenty-five years ago I was involved with a small, urban Minneapolis Lutheran church. We were an aging congregation with only about fifteen kids in our Sunday school on a regular basis; this included three kids from one family – one of whom was 14 and confined to a wheelchair due to Multiple Sclerosis.

What we lacked in group size we more than made up for in spirit.

When it came time to put together our annual Christmas program (the traditional Joseph & Mary story) we had very few options for Mary, as most of the girls participating were only seven or eight. Except for Sheri, our 14-year-old girl with MS, who desperately wanted to be involved with the program, which we said we would definitely make happen in some form.

Sheri was certainly capable of taking on Mary; she was vivacious, articulate, had a great speaking voice…but her wheelchair was problematic. The role required Mary to enter from the rear of the church and make her way to the front during the opening narration. Admittedly, much of this was set up by tradition and for dramatic effect, and we certainly had other options, but limited maneuver room. While we had a ramp up the one step in front of the pulpit area (or ‘stage’) there wasn’t a lot of room for extras like a motorized wheelchair to turn or do much once you were up there.

My friend Mark Knutson and I were in charge of the youth committee, and we had given the idea some thought. When the full committee met to put together the program, the first item of business brought up was a request from Sheri and her mom to get her involved in the program, which Barb, the woman directing the program was nervous about.  One of the other women on the committee suggested Sheri would make a great Mary, noting that her motorized chair made that impractical, adding “Maybe she could sit off to the side and narrate”.

As a writer, the idea of the story being told first-person intrigued me.

Mark had a better idea.“What if we made Sheri our Mary, and disguised her wheelchair to look like a donkey”?  he proposed to surprised looks around the table;“We could cover her with blankets, and my brother-in-law is an artist, and I can get him to paint a couple of plywood donkeys that we could mount on the sides of the chair”.

After a few moments and some surprised looks,  Barb asked “Do you think anybody would mind?”

Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Who cares if they do?” And just like that, the decision was unanimously accepted. Yes, it really was that simple.

The Sunday evening  of the pageant, it was hard to tell who was more excited; Sheri or her mom and dad. At least until the audience – including all four of Sheri’s grandparents – showed up. The grandparents sat in the front row, beaming with joy, as it was the first opportunity that Sheri had been given to truly participate in something like this in a major way. Mark and I had better-than-front-row-seats to it all – our own roles in the pageant: we were costumed as manger oxen, wearing homemade, long-snouted masks and kneeling  in the small choir pen off to the side of the pulpit. We were there for authentic manger atmosphere,  but also with hidden scripts handy to prompt any  of our frequently forgetful young actors.

Our Mary needed no such assistance.

Sheri did a fabulous job, and between the plywood donkey cutouts, and the blankets we laid over them and Sheri, it truly looked like Mary slowly moving through our candle-lit, church-aisle Bethlehem on her donkey led by Joseph; an incredibly Christmasmoving moment I remember vividly, looking out at the audience from behind oxen masks from our choir-manger.  Holy Communion Church had great acoustics; you could hear the gasps and murmurs of awe.

By the time the program drew to a close, tears were running down a lot of faces.

Sheri’s  family was so grateful, expressing their thanks repeatedly for us ‘taking a chance’ and ‘letting’ Sheri be involved. We told everyone the truth; Sheri was our first choice and only logical option. As I added with a smile, to hearty laughter from Sheri and her family, “The fact that she came with her own donkey…was just a bonus”.

‘And a little child shall lead them’.

 

Do you know what it means, to teach New Orleans?

December 12, 2015

This is it.

For eight school years, my wife Amy and I have been teaching in the public schools of New Orleans. People that have known us for a long time know the basics of the how-and-why we chucked comfortable, corporate life in Minnesota for the chaos and poverty of the inner city classrooms of New Orleans. But even those who know us best will probably be surprised by some of the how’s and why’s. If you have been with us the entire journey, here are all the tales, in chronological order, that begin with the gestation of some vague ideas about ‘doing something more meaningful with our lives’ into the life we have been living the past seven-plus years. For those of you who don’t know much of our story at all, here it is.

Many of the stories appeared originally in this blog, many have not. Now, if you have ever read a post or two and wondered about the whole story. here it is in a compelling narrative.

And for everyone who exclaimed, with each new classroom tragedy, comedy or farce we relayed, “Hey, you should write a book!”

Here it is.

Do you know what it means, to teach New Orleans? Available in paperback and Kindle versions.

FNT CVR v 77 B

Poverty, violence, neglect – not ideal backdrops for learning…at least if you’re a student. In 2008, Mark and Amy Lucker left their corporate lives in Minnesota and followed their faith and hearts to become teachers in New Orleans, joining the effort to help rebuild one of the worst public school systems in America, post hurricane Katrina. Do you know what it means, to teach New Orleans? is an intimate, first-hand, up close look on what made two people answer a calling, those who helped make it a reality, and many of the unforgettable characters and situations that have graced their lives over the past eight years. At times sobering, always thought-provoking; tales of school children that are funny, poignant, sad – often in the same anecdote. A must read for educators, and those who try to live out their faith and lives in practical, tangible ways.

http://www.amazon.com/know-what-means-teach-Orleans/dp/1522704795/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Songs of Myself

November 30, 2015

Like a lot of other folks there are certain songs that transcend a flash of memory of time, place, or person; something above and beyond a simple moment in time.  Eagles New Kid in Town is one of those songs for me:  it was the first forty-five I ever spun as a professional disc jockey, way back in 1978. Fresh out of Brown Institute and just off a Greyhound bus to my hired-sight-unseen new gig in smallish-Nevada, Missouri.  New Kid in Town summed me up pretty well – then and now.

There are other  moments when even innocuous comments bring a song to mind, triggering the memory attached to it; something as simple as being asked to remember a piece of information, or someone simply sharing a reminiscence staring with ‘remember that time…’  can be triggers for me. One of my father’s favorite songs was Try to Remember – from his favorite musical, The Fantsticks. I inherited a love of the song long before my father died, certainly fantasticksplaybilllong before I could really grasp the songs many nuances.  Now?  I still love the song, but on a wholly different level.

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…

That song – those lyrics – obviously meant something very profound to my father, and as the years have progressed, they have come to mean a lot to me as well. While I was a theatre and American songbook geek from a young age, Try to Remember has never been out of place on my mental playlist ( I even owned the 45!). The connection between me, the song, my father – any combination thereof – has never waned.

Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow….

I do remember being that fellow; quite fondly, in fact.

What these particular ‘connection’ songs have in common is that they are linked to something ‘back in the day’ – coming of age, big moments, that sort of thing. My situation with New Kid in Town I think is fairly unique; I’m not sure many of my friends have a song so inextricably tied to the first real job they ever had. And not just the first real job or first day on the job – my first day in a new, small, town, my first five minutes of my career. I can still remember Rick, the guy who trained me, setting me up to take over the control board coming out of news and a commercial break; “So whattaya want for your first record on the air? I’ll cue it up!” There on top of a stack of 45’s on the counter, next to some news copy and baseball scores, was New Kid in Town.

Serendipitous.

New Kid in Town 45There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you
People you meet, they all seem to know you
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new

Johnny come lately, the new kid in town
Everybody loves you, so don’t let them down….

Songs like these usually resonate because they are tied not only to a specific event or person, but to a time when your life was simpler, things were more black-and-white. While I could rattle off a short but fairly impressive list of such tracks, I can honestly say it has been many years since there were any new entries into the canon of soul-shaking songs.

Until now.

Interestingly, it is a not a new song, nor is the situation it is tied to all that new or unique. On the contrary, it has been a favorite of mine for years, but not on the level that it is now. It is a song I have always loved, but something 100_5066has subtly, but profoundly changed.

The song is White Christmas.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

A native Minnesotan who spent most of his life in the Midwest, I am quite familiar with white Christmases; in fact, I far prefer them over other Christmases. A little over seven years ago, my family and I moved from rural, southwestern Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans rarely sees more than a few wisps of snow every couple of years, and I think they have approximately two Christmas snowfalls in recorded history and certainly in no abundance.

This will be my eighth Christmas as a New Orleanian, and fifth Christmas –and second in a row – that we haven’t been able to make it home during the holiday season and will be spending the holidays in the land of twinkling-light bedecked palm trees. Not my ideal, and we will certainly be missing family, and yes I will even miss the twenty-hours 100_5072-e1388166919353of driving to get there, though I will not miss the twenty hours driving back, if that makes any sense. None of this is terribly new, or unique.

But then again, it is. Damned if I know exactly why.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write…

The day after Thanksgiving, I was working on a variety of projects while listening on-line to a radio station that was kicking off the holiday season with non-stop Christmas music for the day. Nothing unusual; I really enjoy Christmas music and can always find someone playing the marathon thing to kick off the season. I was bouncing in and out of my desk area all day Friday, catching a piece of a song here or there, snippets of a few favorites that caused me to sit down, listen to the rest of the song, check some emails. I even heard a couple of different versions of White Christmas as I kept going about my business.

After lunch, I was sitting down, catching up on some email and Facebook notes about Black Friday craziness, and that when I heard it – or rather, heard him: Bing , singing the original. And I just sat there and listened, like I never had before.

I have heard Crosby singing White Christmas for all of my fifty-six years; literally a thousand times, I’d bet. Watching the movie White Christmas is an annual family tradition and I know the stories behind the song, why it was such a he hit with GI’s overseas during WWII, and I have always loved it and really don’t even mind most (and even really like some) of the cover versions I have ever heard throughout the years; the song is that good.

But now, just now,  it is something very different.

I am certainly not going to try to compare myself to some far-from-home G.I. freezing-in-a-Normandy-foxhole for whom the song transported – however temporarily and imaginary – to home, family, community. I am simply a WC Crpsby 1Midwestern-expatriate who finds himself living in the deep south of New Orleans – still an oddly foreign environment in many regards even after seven-and-half years of residency.

Hearing Bing croon White Christmas the other day was almost like hearing it for the first time; this was no superficial nostalgia or sappy sentimentality come home to roost – it was something else entirely…something I can’t really put my finger on. I can’t just be the missing snow, sleigh bells, glistening Christmas trees – I have been doing without those things (for the most part) for eight Christmases now. No family, friends to be with – no grandson? True; not something I am looking forward to, but not something I haven’t dealt with previously. And again, this is not melancholy or depression it’s all about a singular song, one that I have known well all my life but one that now means something different, something so much more.

…may your days be merry and bright, 
and may all your Christmases be white…

I get it now, like I never have before.

As an English teacher, I spend a lot of my time trying to get my students to grasp the tricks to comprehension; reading between the lines, the nuances of ideas inferred, feelings implicit. I could possibly take a tip from the Apostle Luke, who once said, “Physician, heal thyself.”

Maybe I have already begun to do just that, even without really knowing what, precisely, ails me.

Please excuse me. I need to go listen to some more Crosby.

Thanksgiving

November 26, 2015

Thankful. Or is it grateful?

I have been watching my Facebook feed with great interest the past few days as people debate being ‘thankful’ versus being ‘grateful’ – a semantic back-and-forth that I have taken more than cursory interest in.

It is the writer and English teacher in me.

Curiosity drove me to Merriam-Webster where I found that being thankful and being grateful have some very unique connotations, to wit:

To be thankful is to be conscious of benefit received.

To be grateful is be appreciative of benefits received.

The distinctions are important. Am I conscious of the blessings in my life? I hope so. Am I grateful and appreciative? That is something I ponder.

Consciousness is pretty straightforward, and my list is a lengthy one starting with my loving, healthy family; wife, sons, daughter, son-in-law and grandson. My extended family and in-laws. Friends old and new. Health, shelter, a full pantry and refrigerator. For a loving G-d, for a country where I can live freely. These are some of the people and things I am conscious of and thankful for, but rarely think of in such terms as thankfulness. Except on days like today.

Am I appreciative of all of these things? Probably not as much as I could or should be.

Bigger picture. There is much, as Americans, that we are conscious of, and should be thankful for, but I think take mostly for granted. In 1943 Norman Rockwell painted an iconic series of oil paintings entitled The Four Freedoms; Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Those are enduring things that resonate (or at least, should) more strongly today than ever.

Four_freedomsThere is nothing new or unique about these musings on what to be thankful for; every fourth Thursday of the year we are awash platitudes from various points and perspectives, Hallmark cards to social media, everything in between. Hence the debate I alluded to: are we thankful, or grateful.

Thankful or grateful? We all know we should be one or the other for something or another – our culture tells us so every November.

Still, when it comes right down to it…

I am grateful today for my life, what it is today and what it was and who it was that got me here: family, friends, mentors, past and present. I am grateful today for the memories of those who have been a part of my life at every step, but who are no longer here physically. I am thankful to live in a time and a place where technology allows old friends to find me, new friends to enrich my life. The ability of all of them to reach out in support – theirs and mine. To ask for and offer advice and comfort, to share a laugh or kind word when most needed.

I am grateful and thankful for the love of family. They help teach me humility, to see beyond myself.

I am thankful for the children in my classroom, for they teach me patience and understanding.

I am grateful and thankful for friends who are hurting and who have suffered loss, for they teach me compassion, and allow me to share it.

I am grateful for the gift of discernment, which allows me to see where I can do better, understand that I always can.

Mostly I am thankful and grateful for G-d’s grace in my life, as all of the things I am thankful for and appreciative of stem from that grace. I am happy and blessed to be who I am, where I am today. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

Peace.

Mark,
Thanksgiving 2014, 2015

Leftover Turkey

November 26, 2015

marchives-icon-editThanksgiving Redux, pulled from the musty and cluttered Marchives. Reprising a favorite holiday tale. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 1979 found me in living in on my own in Marshalltown, Iowa and working at KDAO radio. I was going to be working on Thanksgiving, but what was cool was that my friend Rick Hunter was going to be joining me, on his holiday break journey home to Colorado from college life in Minnesota.

An actual guest! A real opportunity to make a full-fledged Thanksgiving.  A couple of cookbooks supplemented with phone calls home to mom in Denver to help iron out some nuances and I was ready. I was nineteen and knew my way around a kitchen.

With Rick scheduled to arrive sometime Wednesday, I thought I could get a lot of stuff done on Tuesday. Mom had confirmed my planning, but she also added a key point: thawing the bird. My initial plan was to pick up the turkey on Wednesday and be ready to go, but mom cautioned that thawing was a time-consuming process, that should start on Tuesday at the latest.

The bird.

As a Thanksgiving gift from the radio station, every staff member got a fifteen dollar gift certificate to the local Fareway store, and a gift certificate for a free, ‘up-to- twenty-pound’ frozen turkey.

Perfect.

The gift certificate covered the bulk of the non-poultry essentials: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, and brownpaperbaggravy. Marshmallows, a box of instant mashed potatoes, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a package of a dozen (big) bakery chocolate chip cookies. Rolls, a jar of olives, a jar of pickles, a bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing and a pound of Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage so I could duplicate my mom’s fabulous sausage stuffing rounded out the list.

We also needed appetizers: cheese, sausage and crackers.  Just like mom would do it at home.  I also picked up a bulbous turkey baster, a six-pack of Coca-Cola, and a disposable aluminum turkey roaster. Fifteen bucks went a lot farther in 1979 than it does today. My out-of-pocket was less than three bucks.

Oh yeah. The bird.

Getting a free turkey was a big deal. Small market radio was not lucrative. Plus, popping into a store with a gift certificate from the radio station was a sign of small town prestige and celebrity. The dang things were a full sheet of parchment, like a stock certificate. People at the store knew who you were.

The key phrase here was  ‘up-to-20 lbs.’ This of course meant I could have chosen pretty much any turkey, but in my 20-year-old mind, the gift certificate screamed, ‘Free twenty pound turkey’.

Never look a gift bird in the mouth.

turkeyrawI picked out a prime, nineteen pound, ten-ounce bird; the twenty pounders all gone by the time I showed up at the store Tuesday afternoon. Arriving home as pleased hunter-gatherer, my next order of business was to get that rock-solid bird thawed.

Dilemma one.

My apartment was on the third floor of an old bread factory where the former executive offices had been made into apartments. The rooms were spacious, with high ceilings, funky old moldings, and big water and steam pipes snaking their way through the place. But in redeveloping, they furnished the kitchen like an efficiency apartment; the gas stove was one of those old, narrow jobs with burners so close together, that if you were cooking more than one stove-top item at a time, you could only use small saucepans and angle the handles oddly so they would stay on the stove. The single compartment porcelain-sink-on-legs was so small the plastic dish drainer I got when I first moved in barely fit in it.

Where to thaw a 19-10 bird?

The refrigerator was small and filled with other stuff. I had a cheap, Styrofoam cooler the turkey dwarfed.  That left the bathtub. What they had skimped on in the kitchen, they made up for in the bathroom: a Chester Arthur-sized, cast iron, claw foot tub with single spigot that took roughly 20 minutes to fill to take a bath in. Or to get enough water to cover a twenty pound turkey to thaw.

Dilemma solved, provided I didn’t need to bathe.

drainstopperThe bird bobbed placidly in the filled tub, though I periodically had to refresh the water level. The rubber drain stopper was cracked and not very efficient, and the large, cast iron radiator next to the tub accelerated evaporation.

I called mom to update her on my progress to date, commenting about the hassle of filling the tub to thaw the bird.

“Couldn’t you just put it in the refrigerator or a cooler?” she asked quizzically.

“Nope” I replied, “It wouldn’t fit.” There was a pause.

“Well, how big is the turkey?” I told her about my free, nineteen-pound, ten-ounce bird. There was another pause.

“What the hell are you doing with a twenty pound turkey!?” I knew that tone of exasperation.

“It’s what the station gave me.”

“For two people!? I thought it was a gift certificate. Couldn’t you pick out your own turkey!?”

“Yeah, I did. It was a gift certificate for a twenty pound turkey – so that’s what I got.”

“Oh, Mark!” She was trying to be cross. She was snickering (sort of) as I heard her turn away from the phone and exasperated, tell my father, “Mark has a twenty pound turkey for he and Rick.”

I heard my father reply dryly, “I hope they like turkey sandwiches.”

My mother then calmly tried to explain to me that even for the six guests she was expecting on Thursday, she did not have a twenty-pound bird, and that I had better make sure I had plenty of aluminum foil to wrap leftovers in.

foilExtra foil had not been on my shopping list. I ended up needing two full rolls of Reynolds Wrap.

Wednesday arrived, as did Rick. The bird continued to bob and thaw.

My Thursday plan was to wake up early enough to get the turkey in the oven, prep whatever else I could, get to the station for my 10-to-2 shift, come home, watch some football and hang with Rick, and feast.

Getting the turkey in the oven was the biggest issue.

As noted, my oven was narrow. I plucked the bird from the tub, and began prepping it by cleaning it, taking out the gizzards, buttering it, seasoning it, stuffing it, etcetera, without incident. Rick awoke, joined me in the kitchen, observed the scenario and said, matter-of-factly, “Is that thing going to fit?”

Well, wasn’t that spatial.

The turkey didn’t fit – at least not at first shove. Fortunately, I had a disposable aluminum roaster and the sides were pliable enough to be bent on both sides, plus get scrunched up against the back of the stove. It took some extended shoving and pan bending, but we got the bird into the oven without getting ourselves burned.

That oven was wall-to-wall turkey.

A good turkey needs to get its moisture regularly, and I had devised a plan that would benefit everyone: the ‘KDAO Bird Watch.’

JackLaLanneEvery twenty minutes on-air I would announce “It’s KDAO Bird Watch time!” and remind people that it was time to ‘baste those birds’ – leading them through the process ala Jack LaLane with the mantra, “And baste, one…two…three! Baste! One…two…three…” as I then smoothly segued into the next record. Sometimes we basted on the beat of the music.

(It was a public service and programming success to the extent that, much to the bewilderment of Paul, the guy on after me got phone calls of complaint when he failed to announce the bird watch every twenty minutes, and he was also later blamed by some listeners for dried out birds.)

It was one fine, juicy turkey we indulged in that afternoon….save for the leather-tough burns on the outside of each drumstick, where they had spent their roasting time shoved up against the walls of the oven.

We ate, watched football, called high school friends in Colorado, ate some more. On Friday, Rick hit the road for Colorado with a load of turkey sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and I can’t remember what else. If memory serves, he took the offered sandwiches grudgingly, as he appeared to be turkeyed out. Me? I had no such qualms…until about mid-December.

turkeydoneTo this day, I enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers almost more than the initial meal.

Mom was right about the foil, dad the sandwiches. Every last nook and cranny of my meager freezer was stuffed with turkey (pun intended) and the last frozen pack made its way out for freezer-burned consumption on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 1980.

My best advice for a successful Thanksgiving feast? It’s pretty simple, kids: “Baste! One…two…three…”

Flounder on the Counter *

November 22, 2015

* actual fish not included – editors note

 

Kids ever ask you “But how does Santa KNOW?”

Naughty or nice, every December a big show

behavior is coerced, by threats and cajoling; the

latest big thing? A shelf-elf spying, all-knowing

 

elfplain“At holiday time Santa sends me to you

I watch and report on all that you do!”

Kids get elf paranoia from Santa himself!

“I am his helper a friendly scout elf!”

 

‘Scout elf’ is a ‘pal’ that your kids gets to name

so years later in therapy they know just who to blame

He sits in a new spot every day in December

elftextingtil one day he doesn’t – cause you forgot to remember

 

Each night while kids sleep he must send Santa a text

all the bad stuff they have done, but in proper context

elf reports to him each day if kids have been good or been bad

then make creepy small talk about the day that you had

 

Don’t swear or be cranky, don’t be a gossip – or skanky

mind your manners, never forget to say “please and thanky!”

Every finger flip-off, push or a shove, elf will report to his boss –

fear not elf surveillance; acts of kindness will not be a loss!

 

elf15So that is how a shelf dwelling elf takes over your duties

minding behavior; as parent scams go, this one’s a beauty!

There must be a better way to keep kids in line

here is an idea from some good friends of mine.

 

Want your kids to toe the line til Christmas?

I have a plan much sounder; replace the elf

on your shelf with a Flounder on the Counter

flounder9

Steely dead-fish eyes will watch every move

a flounder just lays there, nothing to prove

a fish with a backstory, you’ve nothing to lose

make a new tradition, find your holiday groove

 

Just tell your kids that Santa’s Flounder is watching

read them his tale they will comply without scoffing

if they desire all the toys they have on their lists,

they must keep beholden to a big, flat, dead fish:

 

Flounder on the Counter

 

“Here is his tale, your first encounter

flounder12here is how Santa came to hire a flounder

 

“I am a flounder, a big, flat fish from the seas!

I spent my time swimming, I was easy to please!

 

One day I found myself trapped in a big net

ending up on some ice in a fish market, I sat.

 

Flounderonice

A  big guy with a beard came walking along,

grumpily humming a strange jingle-bell song

I was suddenly purchased – destined for dinner

but at our meeting I came out the winner!

 

The man you call Santa was in a foul mood

the business of kid spying, not favorably viewed

elves he employed were balking at workelf5

the kids they were spying on? A  bunch of jerks

 

moved from shelf to shelf was ignominious duty

then people really began to treat them quite cruelly;

elf muggings and tortures for Internet amusementelf6

elves quit, filed suit, claiming workplace abusement

 

I offered a solution Santa took just like that

“Keep kids in line with a dead fish that lays flat!

You won’t have much Internet screwing around;flounder2

threaten kids with dead fish, they won’t make a sound!”

 

Here is the story, written by me and Santa himself

(I am better behavior-mod that a green-tighted elf)

What follow is the poem that comes with the flounder

read it as a family, then place me on the counter:

 

“Each morning you’ll find me on a chair or your bed

Santa’s spying, all-knowing fish, not completely dead

flounder5AAAI’ll be laying there watching, a daily encounter

everything you do – your Flounder on the Counter

 

Why do I keep track of all that you do?

Why do you parents put up with my peyew?

Simple, young friend, old-fashioned extortion!flounder6

Intimidation by fish? Not out of proportion

 

Oh, and always beware as you often pass my counter

no matter the smell – don’t you dare dis the flounder!

Even if you hanker to screw around while at school

I’ll know from the cafeteria or some undercover tool

 

And before you go to bed each holiday nightflounder4AAA

say your prayers, spray your Lysol, I’ll still remain ripe

come the next morn, I’ll have taken short flight

I’ll be on the job someplace – just doing my job right

 

You’ll never know where I will next appear

unless your sense of smell has totally disappearedflounder9

I’ll be lying there, mouth agape, open eyes staring,

bad behavior I see and don’t say you’re not caring

 

There are the rules that govern my magical spell

there is nothing to do ‘bout my dead flounder smell

don’t try to remove me or I’ll just have to tell

then your Christmas gift getting will be shot all to hell.

 

But all threats aside, I can help you get what you seek

flounder21Don’t believe me? Just look in my eyes, ignore the reek

Tell me your wishes! What presents you would like!

Don’t be put off by my death smile, impressionable tyke!

 

I hope we will become friends, and you will not feel abused

by a dead fish reporting on everything you say and do

santahatonfishdon’t be paranoid, for this is just for the toys

a dead fish just coercing young girls and boys

 

I am just another cog in

the holiday enterprise

I am Flounder on the Counter –

Santa’s all-seeing dead eyes.”

 

 

 

First letter to a new grandson

November 16, 2015

It’s hard to believe it has been four years since I first penned the missive below.  But it has been. My grandson Felix turns four on Tuesday. In looking back over my initial thoughts at this wondrous event…well, not much has changed. Except everything has.  All for the good. Time flies, and flying with Felix?  That is not flying – it is soaring.  Happy birthday, dude.
Love,
Grandpa Mark

*    *    *    *

11/18/2011

Dear Felix:

First off, let me welcome you to this wild, wonderful world. Yeah, it has issues – always has and always will. Maybe as time goes by, you’ll be one of the ones fixing the problems. Still, it’s a great place to hang for the next century or so. Make it count for something.

Your parents have been really amazing awaiting your arrival – later than predicted as it may have been. Though you were something of a surprise, they have embraced you from the get-go with more gusto than I would have thought, and we are quite proud of them.

That gusto and clarity of purpose says a lot about both of them. They have been very impressive. Let this be your first  life lesson from grandpa: don’t under estimate people…especially the ones you love.

Your parents are really quite remarkable, both as individuals and as a couple. Your mom is my daughter, so I obviously know her very well. She’s pretty cool, and she chose well when she chose your dad – he is very cool, too. I take a fair amount of pride in her making that choice, though I can take absolutely no credit for it. Pride in your kids is something special to experience, Felix; pride in your parents is a wonderful gift, and I hope you have, hold and treasure it.

You’ll come to love them both as much as we all do, more so, in fact. I’m sure it  took you all of about, oh, say twenty-five seconds, once you got past that where-the-heck-am-I entrance-disorientation.

Felix, you are being born into a theatrical clan; your mom your dad are true theatre geeks, just as I was and as my father was – though neither my father or I have or had the depth and breadth of the passion that your parents do. Along with that passion comes a whole unique cadre of like-sentiment folks that are your parent’s friends and peers and that are eagerly waiting to embrace you. Let them.

You have grandparents to whom you are the first such member of your new family generation. They will attempt to spoil you. Allow them the privilege. Being first also means you will be a leader of your generation. When the time comes, lead with purpose, compassion and a sense of humor.

You have two teenage uncles who are also eagerly looking forward to getting to know you. They have favorite toys and movies and loads of life experience they want to eventually share with you; they plan on showing you the ropes, and how to be a guy. They’re both pretty good at that in some very different ways, so let them teach you what they know. Someday you’ll be able to tell them “Its okay, fellas – I got this” and fly solo. But in the meantime, take advantage of every moment of them that you can. And always keep their numbers on speed-dial.

Their old wooden trains and blocks (Will and Sam aren’t that old, so the paint is safe and all) are boxed and handy for when the time comes. Low-tech, I know, but I can’t wait for the day when they show you how to fit together those train tracks, and stack a few primary color squares and rectangles. They can’t wait, either.

I know; in time. We’ll get there. Let’s get started with some grandfatherly advice and stuff you need to know:

First of all, have faith. Need proof that there is a God? He has blessed us with you, your mom and your dad. Proof that God also has a sense of humor? He has blessed you with all the rest of us.

Remember to say ‘I love you’ frequently – to pretty much everyone. And mean it.

You can be tough and be gentle, often simultaneously. It is not as difficult as some would lead you to believe.

Roll with what you’ve got, improvise when you need to. Admire the finished product no matter how cumbersome it looks or functions.

Oh, your mother hates The Princess Bride. We’ll have to watch it at our house.

Moving on….

There is a popular phrase about not being constrained in life, and living in the moment: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ It’s good advice that, as your grandfather, I heartily endorse. Even if, like yours truly, your dancing looks more like a man being attacked by a swarm of bees than it does dancing, pretend nobody is watching…and then dance even harder when you know that people are watching.

While we’re on the topic, there was a very popular song a few years back by Lee Ann Womack, called  I Hope You Dance. The song includes these lines:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean;
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens…
promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance…”

Amen to all of the above sentiment, kid. I really hope you don’t sit out too much in life, and that you’ll always try to dance. And sing, too. Maybe you could use a more contemporary take: treat life-like every day is commando-karaoke.

Okay, as metaphors go, that last one may need some work. But its good practice now to start realizing that not every pearl of wisdom you get from me is going to be fully cultured.

While we’re on the topic of music, there are some songs you should know, and I’ll try to teach them to you. (Your dad is the musician; he’ll be able to take you places with music I never could. Enjoy that ride.) That being said, there are best learned as grandpa/grandson duets and CD singalongs. Puff the Magic Dragon, for one, Marvelous Little Toy for another, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Oh, and The Unicorn. Your uncle Sam likes really that one, so I’ll try to get my Irish dialect back on track for you so we can all do it up right. We may have to turn that duet into a trio act.

About music. Someday when we’re driving in the car, I can see the family rule about the driver choosing the radio station or CD getting bent for you, especially once you start riding shotgun. It’ll be your call, of course, but it would be nice if you developed a taste for the 1960’s. Your mom really likes The Monkees, and other good stuff from my era, and she also shares my affinity for The Rat Pack; Frank, Dean, Sammy. I think you are genetically predisposed to some Sinatra-coolness factor anyway so it should work out. Cross-generational music appreciation is something we are definitely used to and in favor of in this family. Savor it.

Your dad has a wide range in musical tastes, so you’re likely to experience a lot, musically. Take it all in…from all of us. But always march to your own drum beat.

But you know, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you decided you liked jazz…and The Beatles. We can work it out as you get a little older.

I do have one inviolate music-in-the-vehicle rule; there are certain songs that you cannot change stations or tracks during, or turn the car off on…EV-VER. Hey Jude and Let it be are on that short list along with Turn, Turn, Turn. And, of course, American Pie. If we are just getting home from somewhere and we hear Don McLean start in with the opening trill “A long, long time ago…” on the radio, we will circle the block twelve times if need be to get in all 8:14 of American Pie.  Deal with it.

Felix, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice; the world is not always a do-it-yourself-at-all-costs endeavor. There is strength in numbers…and usually better stories to tell and people to share them with once it’s over. Share the experiences of life.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be independent, far from it. But here is a little secret you should know: the best kind of independence comes from self-assurance, and self-assurance comes from the confidence to know yourself and your own limitations and know that there will always be others who have knowledge and expertise you can utilize. Seeking out the counsel of others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone who tells you otherwise has little of the former, tons of the latter. Ignore them.

By the way; although the lesser version is generally palatable, real cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, not cream cheese.

‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so every once in a while you can surprise them with a big, sloppy smooch on the cheek.’  That’s a grandpa paraphrase. You may encounter the original version; mine is more…functional.

Another popular adage you might hear is “Eighty percent of life is simply showing up.” Now while I mostly see the value in that, I think the advice I have given your mother for years is even more applicable to life in general: “Be good…or at least be prompt.”

Oh yeah. Your mother (and probably the rest of us) will periodically and inadvertently introduce you to the growing and evolving thesaurus that are ‘Luckerisms’ – our family’s own, rather unique set of catch phrases and interjections for all occasions. For example, by the time you are old enough to understand what a ringing phone is, you’ll have also learned the correct thing to yell out across the house in response. (“Somebody get that – it might be a phone call!”) When riding in the car with your mother and stuck behind someone at a stop light, you’ll also learn something about traffic light colors most people don’t ever  think about. (“Only one shade of green in this town, buddy!”) Like I said, it’s a thesaurus not a mimeographed handout.

“Oh yeah, baby grandma.” That one will someday be explained to you by Will and/or Sam.

I hope you are able to blaze your own trail to the things that satisfy you in life. I’ll try to be supportive, even when and if I don’t understand where exactly it is you’re coming from. Hey, it’ll happen. But I’m always open to trying new things and different points of view. Hopefully you will be, too.

Dude; spontaneity rocks.

Another key item: people will always think they know what’s best for you, even when they don’t. Follow your gut instincts.

While we’re talking about self-awareness, don’t ever confuse bravado with taking a stand on principle. You can always be Don Quixote. Just make sure you have a fully capable Sancho Panza along for the journey, someone you can always count on to come up with sharpened lance and a well-rested mule.

Inspire loyalty.

You’ll always need some down time along the way. When you’re not blasting your way through life, you should know that porch swings and reclining chairs are great venues for grandpas and grandsons and sharing things. Things like sunsets and summer evenings, fall afternoons and spring rains, a cold Coke or some sweet tea, good books and chats about…stuff. Guys stuff and, you know, other stuff. Porch swings and recliners are also excellent stuff-contemplation vehicles.

Of course, Coke…not Pepsi.

Recliners are especially good places to hang and watch and listen.

Music of all kinds. A Prairie Home Companion, CNN, Turner Classic Movies. The Marx Brothers, Spongebob Squarepants and all three Toy Story movies. The original Star Wars trilogy. Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Three Stooges, Davey and Goliath. A little Vivaldi is nice sometimes, as are sports. Baseball, football and hockey, to be sure. Basketball only if you insist. Hey, it’ll still be my recliner.

Recliners and porch swings are also the best spots for stories that we can make up on our own. And also good spots for a choice a corned beef sandwich on good rye bread. With mustard. (Just needed to fit that sandwich in here somewhere.)

By the way, porch swings are very neat places to hang out and take naps on during rainy days – with or without a grandpa. Better with, but that’s one of those you can also savor on your own whenever you get the chance. While naps on rainy days are great, walks in the rain might just be greater. We will have to go on some rainy-day quests for the perfect puddle.

And, contrary to what your mother (and my mother and  most any mother says) puddles are cool. So is mud.

Porch swings are also good locales for learning the finer points of brief literature: limericks, haikus…nursery rhymes the ‘Lucker Way.’ When the time comes your mother can explain what Old Mother Hubbard really went to that cupboard for and I’ll take it from there.

Along with porch swings and reclining chairs, there’s a lot to be said for small boats. Fishing ranks right up there as a good stuff-sharing and story-telling time. Fishing is also one of the few times in life when people expect you to fib just a little bit. Take advantage of such times with nature, and always keep in mind it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’ for good reason.

Speaking of fishing, there is another piece of homemade advice I distribute fairly freely. ”Always strive to be like the biggest, fattest bass in the lake – know when to not take the bait.”

Restraint and that whole gut-instinct thing come into play here. You’ll figure it out.

There are a few secret wishes I have for you; I hope you like baseball. And going camping. And pizza. Annnnd…cheeseburgers. Not the lame, limp, fast food variety but some top quality, inch-thick, pressed-by-hand, fresh-off-a-grill cheeseburgers. And be creative with the cheese, Felix; there is far more to life than just processed American. Taste it all.

And somewhere along the line you’ll get to learn and taste a little something my grandfather taught me many years ago; the joy of dipping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee, then sucking the coffee back out of it. Mmmm-mmmm. You’ll find it’s the little things, Felix, that make life so special.

In closing, you should know that as you grow up you’ll hear many wild and wacky stories about your family. If they sometimes sound too outrageous to be true…you’re probably being too much of a skeptic. Embrace your familial eccentricities. Grow with them. You’ll learn to love them and those us who possess them. A little head shaking in disbelief is okay – as long as you keep smiling through it and don’t ever do it with disdain.

Single best advice I can give you, Felix? Hang out with grandpa whenever you can, for as long as you can. You’ll learn stuff. But I’ll learn so much more and you’ll teach me. It’ll be exciting for both of us.

We’ll start to get to know each other soon, the rest we’ll work out as we go.

Oh, and have somebody print this missive out and put it in a ring binder for you. We’ll be adding to it as time goes by. ;-{)


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