Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Facial Hair


Right now I'm wearing a two week growth of beard.  No doubt, with my balding pate, a beard might improve my general appearance.  A beard, they say, takes one's concentration away from the bald pate and presents a more balanced image for those concerned about baldness.  

Well, at my age, I'm not so much concerned about "image" anymore…the two weeks growth of beard is simply laziness; an aging rebellion against the pull of the electric shaver and the scrape of razor on sensitive skin.  But, this beard will soon be gone.  The Air Force long ago ruined me for any chance of sporting a beard.  In those "hairy" seventies I was a fledging Airman who, by regulation, was not allowed to participate…no long sideburns, no long hair, and the only facial hair permitted was a small mustache.  

Now the problem with a mustache is that the Air Force would not permit the mustache to extend beyond the farthest edge of your lip.  For some, with a wide mouth, the mustache could be a fine thing indeed.  However, for folks like me, who have a rather small mouth, the only mustache possible was a Hitler like thing that looked absurd.  


Oh, I tried to push it several times. I grew some pretty impressive mustaches...but inevitably one of my bosses would utter a not so gentle reminder that my mustache was not within regulatory dimensions, so off came the mustache.  

As I got a bit older I finally settled on clean shaven…and largely that's the way it has been since I retired from the Air Force.  Ironically, after I began living and working in Saudi Arabia, facial hair was quite popular in that culture and I grew a beard a few times to try it out for size.  Alas, after six weeks or so that scratchiness on my neck drove me back to the razor time and time again.  Ruined by that damned Air Force again and again!

So now I sit here in my dotage, a rich and thick crop of beard, not Gabby Hayes worthy, but impressive just the same…and I know within a few days the beard goes.  And, sigh…while I'm shaving, I'll go ahead and trim the nose hair and the rich forestry of ear hair that plagues us older fellas…even as it recedes from the top………what a joke our creator plays on old men like me.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

3,000 Sundays


When I was a kid I hated Sundays….dreaded to see Saturday go and those deathly quiet Sundays come around.  I grew up in a little farming community in central California and, back then, just about everything shut down on Sundays.  Businesses did so for fear that their church-going customers might demonize them for doing business on the lord's day.  And, since a big old slice of America attended church, they often came home and just lazed around the house, also committed to not working on Sundays.

But kids hate quiet; they revel in the cacophony of boisterous sounds of play, of lawnmowers and hedge trimmers and the engine revs of a Saturday morning tuneup, of school field football games, and the piff of sling shots firing pebbles at the warring sparrows.  

So Sunday would settle in with a deathly quiet.  The fog seemed to linger a bit longer, fighting for dominance with the rising sun.  And, in our house, Sunday meant having to go to Sunday school and enduring the attempts to salvage our rebelling youthful souls.  Our particular Sunday school was especially hellish as we had the pastor's wife in one of those fire and brimstone Baptist churches as our Sunday school teacher.  She would greet us with a smile but, within minutes, open up the book of Revelations and cite all the signs that pointed to the end of the world, thus the need to cleanse our sinful souls.  After an hour long religious tirade we would at last be free to scurry out to the church bus that would ferry us home.  As reward for our Sunday School attendance, the driver would hand us a candy bar, or an ice cream as we got off the bus…I suspect were it not for that little religious bribe we would have given our mother far more grief about having to go to church.

After church we would have lunch at home, turn on the TV only to find early afternoon religious programs, again telling us of our sure fire hell awaiting us, then silence the TV and wander out into the streets, looking for a little "action", any action that would drive away the Sunday blahs.

For a short time during those youthful Sundays we had a benefactor, a family friend, who would give us a quarter for a movie ticket and popcorn for a Sunday matinee, one of the few avenues of entertainment available on the seventh day.  The theater made sure the film shown on the Sunday matinee had some socially redeeming value so as not to offend the parents.  Those Sunday movies included The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur or some other biblical spectacle meant to keep us on the straight and narrow.  At other times a Disney movie would be shown.

Strangely, now, after living through over 3,000 of those Sundays, I find them to be fine day indeed.  I relish the hush of an early Sunday morning, the rising to the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, a clean crisp Sunday paper to pore over.  If I'm feeling a might "peppery" I can tune into the three Sunday morning talks shows and curse political idiocy, or I can just seek further respite out on the back patio with a second cup of coffee.

By the time I've had my fill of the quietude of morning, in football season I can warm up the chili, throw a few dogs on the grill, heat up the Cheeze Whiz, break out the Doritos and park myself in my recliner for a full day of modern day savagery!  

So Sundays are pretty good these days!  If I need a six pack of beer, or tube socks, or a dozen eggs, the Money Changers are in the temple over at Walmart and Target and every other business, none of them ever again fearful of a religious rebuke for operating on Sundays.  

And, if all I want is to luxuriate in the hushed tones of quietude, if I yearn only to hear my own feet shuffling across the room, or to listen to the morning calls of a family of doves, I can do that too.

I guess the only thing I would ask for, should I have a choice, is to not die on a Sunday.  I think I would prefer to go out with a bang…perhaps to the sounds of a John Phillips Sousa march as I take that first step toward my ultimate judgement….no fire and brimstone prayers for me, ever……please.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Old Dogs, Old Men


She turns 15 in June, 110 or so in dog years. She's no longer the spry fawn reindeer chi that once leaped from barstool to kitchen counter to raid a pot of stew. Now she sometimes raises up from her bed, then clumsily collapses, legs splayed in all directions, having failed her this time.

She's hypothryroid and requires canine synthroid now, she's survived two cancer operations and, when you look into her sweet and still pretty face, both eyes are blue marbled with deep cataracts. She still sees well enough to not bump into walls but is no longer on alert for pesky birds out in the backyard…she's learned to live and let live with God's other creatures. Her sweet temperament has always made her the "beta" dog, whether with her late husband, Rocky, or her now sister, Rosie.

Her hearing is going faster than even her eyesight and she sometimes stops a walk around the room and, for no reason, stops and goes into that "thousand mile stare" of those who are lost for a time. Perhaps she's staring far out to that Rainbow Bridge that she will cross one day. When I let her out to go do her morning business (mostly at three or four in the morning) she is lost to me in the dark confines of the back yard. Sometimes she returns promptly and sometimes I have to get a flashlight and go hunt for her and bring her back in.

No longer does she stage life or death bouts with a stuff toy, or chase after a ball. No longer does she follow behind me helping me to dig holes in the garden to plant seed, nor chase a mocking bird. Her babies have been gone for years, the babies she cried for when they were put up for adoption and I sometimes wonder if she even remembers them now. She was a loving mother, a great spouse for Rocky and she's been a sweet and protective sister to Rosie even now.

She no longer leaps into my lap and no longer enjoys sitting in my lap anymore..preferring the soft confines of her doggie bed to my bony lap. A couple of months ago I had to remove the human chair that she used to bound up into for her afternoon nap…she would often injure herself when she leaped down onto the hard floor…then she would limp about for a couple of days. I worried that she would break a fragile old leg bone in her leaps down so she's been grounded now for months.

So one old man and one old dog co-exist in the winter of our days. Our bones ache, especially on a cold morning and we spend not a few hours dreaming of our youth when we were young and strong, the sun on our back and the years ahead so plentiful they seemed never ending.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

On Planning Your Own Funeral


In the summer of my eleventh year we were living at 2504 "C" Street, Selma, California, in the middle of the grand and fertile San Joaquin Valley.  As with every neighborhood back then, a kid could wander around and pluck grapes from vines falling over a back fence, or a climb a tree and sit up there on a convenient branch and snack on cumquats or apricots or apples or sun ripened sweet peaches.  Our organic "farmers market" back then was no farther than a step or two away.  None of the neighbors minded; if it was left on the tree the fruit would soon ripen and fall rotten from the tree if not eaten.

So we kids waged war with the sparrows for the fruit and a good sling shot would do wonders to protect our favorite fruit trees.

One exception to "open season" on the fruit was an old man who lived down the back alley from us.  The old man was scary; he was known as a miser, collecting all manner of things and cluttering his house with junk, things he would never need nor use.  Our parents cautioned us to just stay away from the guy.  But kids are always drawn to the verboten, and since the old miser had some scrawny trees that bore scrawny and undersized fruit that hung over the back fence we were often drawn to that forbidden fruit.  Because the fellow never watered or fertilized the trees, the fruit was hardly worth bothering with.  Yet, still, we would creep stealthily up to that back fence and pluck an orange or a sick little apple from those low hanging branches.  When the old guy spotted us plucking his fruit he would rush out the back door yelling and screaming to stay away from his fruit.  

Later, the old man died.  I remember watching those who busied themselves cleaning out the hoarding mess in his house in the days that followed.  Someone kept a burn barrel aflame all day, burning tons of his worthless trash while others trucked more of it from the front of the house.  Because the fellow lived so near, and because he was so strange, we all scoured the obituaries to see if we could learn more about this fellow who lived alone and lived such a miserly life.  We never found an obituary and, as far as we know, no one attended his funeral.

And then there was my sister, who all her life, could not stop giving away everything she owned or valued.  Anyone who has read my blog knows the poverty our family knew while growing up.  My sister was part of that extreme poverty.  And, while my brother and I achieved a measure of material success, my sister never did.  She married a hard-working blue collar fella who worked hard at manual labor and whose paycheck would never afford them luxuries.  They lived out in the country, in the middle of a grape vineyard, in an old trailer.

But while wealth eluded her, God blessed her with a childhood innocence that never deserted her in her short 50 year life.  Marcie's formal education stopped in 6th grade when the school counsellor brought her home from school one day and told my mom that Marcie had progressed as far as she would ever go in the classroom and recommended she be kept at home.  Back in those days "the system" gave up on special needs children and that was Marcie's fate.  Now to be clear, Marcie was never mentally retarded; she read voraciously and never lost the capacity to learn.  It was just that, emotionally, Marcie would never mature beyond the innocent child stage.  (Ironically, Marcie's skills in reading and writing would have trumped today's illiterate high school graduate!) 

So, Marcie's fate (and blessing) would be a life of seeing only the good in people.  She never developed the cynical caution that we "normal" adults learn to cultivate.  And so hundreds of people in my home town would find themselves being stopped in the grocery store and hugged and had their children fawned over.  Though Marcie married happily, she never had kids of her own but i could name you a hundred folks in my extended family (including mine) who will tell you no one could kiss and hug children and make them feel special, the way my sister could.  And if they were "luggable" my sister would have one or another of her baby nieces or nephews or cousins perched safely in her arms.

Since my sister never knew a stranger it was not hard to "meet" people; everyone in her church knew her, the hundreds who encountered her in a store or restaurant or public park knew her as well.  When my sister became ill an army of nurses became her sisters, her love so overpowering that the most reserved of folks could not resist it.

My sister could never manage a family budget so it was left to her husband to do that.  And he had to be careful not to give her more than a couple of bucks because, before her day was out, my sister would meet someone who would need her two or three dollars and her purse would be empty. If someone dared to express a desire to sample her turkey chili my sister would show up at their door with a pot of chili and a bouquet of flowers.  If she still had a dollar and came across a sentimental card that expressed her feelings better than she could herself she would buy that card and send it to a loved one…just because…  And she kept a log of a hundred family birthdays..then she would drive her husband crazy about the telephone bills as my sister phoned each and everyone of them on their birthday..and this at a time when phone calls were expensive!

I guess Marcie was sent to earth as an angel, perhaps to remind us all that love is more valuable than anything material.  And she did her job so well; she had lightened and warmed enough hearts so that God decided it was time to bring her home.  And so he did, after too brief a time for us.

And so, we have the profiles of two of God's creatures; a miser who gathered everything unto himself, who refused to give away even the poor fruit of his crop…who would die alone, his death neither mourned or noted.

And then you have an angel named Marcie who would spend her whole life giving away anything of value, the most important being unconditional love to anyone who dared accept it.  Her funeral was "rock star" quality as family and friends and church people came…as nurses drove two hundred miles to attend, as poems written especially for her were read, glorifying the most giving of angels.