Sunday, November 13, 2011

Share it if you got it

I'll be the first to admit it.  In most ways, I'm pretty square.

My wardrobe is simple. My drawers and closet have a neatly organized selection of beige chinos, polo shirts and white Keds.  My winter wardrobe is similarly practical, featuring my trademark white turtleneck and cardigan wool sweater.  My pocketbook is plain leather, no designer logo, containing a simple wallet, a tube of red lipstick, and several important necessities -- most importantly, my Swiss Army knife, a Sharpie ™ permanent marker, a flint and steel, a one-time-use toothbrush, and at least one crisp, fresh, linen handkerchief.

My creativity is pretty square and simple, too. When I weave, I design utilitarian blankets and cloth out of wool.  Nothing artistic that you'd hang on a wall or use for household decor.  When I knit, I make practical wool socks and durable, long lasting sweaters out of good home-spun sheep fleece.

My music: square, dated, and corny -- and I suffer a crippling case of lyricosis for anything recorded after 1972, often singing along with entirely incorrect lyrics.

To that end so far, I've led a pretty responsible life, taking few risks, usually drinking in moderation (oh, yes, we've all had our moments), and following the advice my father gave me when I was 12, I watched out for the Good-Time-Charlies. Overall, I think I've been a fairly good example, either by word or deed for our four children, as they've all made us proud.

But one summer several years ago, after a difficult lonely few weeks, I'd been invited away and it was then that I strayed.  I left the path that was good and narrow and I ran away.  For about eight solid hours.  It was wonderful.

It was all Gerry's influence.

Gerry Couture is a good friend who became well acquainted with our family when he helped my Dad, Wallace, build The Gazebo at Waterside, New Brunswick.  My folks had purchased an eight-acre piece of waterfront land about 20 years ago, and Dad designed a secluded eight-sided cottage that faces The Bay of Fundy with a 180 degree window exposure to the water.  It was meant to be a primitive getaway from the hustle and bustle of Alma Village (population 298) where they lived.  Gerry helped Dad fine-tune the design, adding a sleeping loft.  During the two-month spring-time construction they spent many long days together, joined by Gerry's constant companion, Byron, the goat.

Since Gerry lived close by The Gazebo, he and Dad would often return to his house for a break at lunch time and a much needed respite from the unrelenting mosquito population at Waterside.  It wasn't long before Gerry became a good friend in fun or in need.  Besides being adept with hammer and nail, Gerry was an excellent guitar player, though he played only by ear. He'd perfected almost every Beatles song, but could also play just about anything requested.  We all enjoyed many late nights joined in song.

Gerry didn't ever seem to have many serious obligations.  His children were grown, and he was on his own.  He worked at several odd jobs in the area to earn his living, and seemed talented in getting the work done well.  He enjoyed his music, his friends, a bit of whiskey, and any whim.
One night, Gerry called, telling me his good friend was having a bonfire, and they wanted friends to come out and sing under the moon.  There was a bright round moon on a clear summer night, the B&B was empty and Stephen was away so I said I'd come along!  We met and I drove us both to the camp where his friends and son and daughter would also be joining the fun.  But first, we stopped at the liquor store to pick up a church pint of Crown Royal.

The bonfire was lit in a huge dedicated fire ring at least 6 feet across, and the wood supply was ample.  Gerry invited me to join him down at the water's edge, as this part of the Fundy shoreline was quite different than that in our neck of the woods.  The water was calm, warm, the beach soft and sandy, and the twinkling town lights were pretty and fun from the land just across the inlet. Funny how a change of scenery can refresh.

After we admired the view, we re-joined Gerry's family and friends around the fire ring and out came the guitars and harmonica and Crown Royal.  Gerry played, we all sang, the bottle was passed around.  Early on the songs were lively, loud, the camaraderie around the fire grew as the moon rose.  No one had a care in the world.  Except for me.

I'd  forgotten to take a low-dose allergy pill before I'd left, and being outdoors on a summer night I began to feel my nasal passages constrict and eyes water.  It was also getting pretty late, so I went inside the camp cottage to wash my face, and blow out my nose, and when I returned saw that the six remaining around the fire ring had all drawn their chairs and benches up close and the music had mellowed.  Gerry played some quiet instrumental riffs and then a few French tunes known to his family and they quietly shared a few songs among themselves.  It was quite touching; a special memory.

But my histamines were really taking hold, and my nose was dripping and I couldn't ignore it anymore.  I didn't want to break the mood with a loud honking snort, so I silently slid back in my chair and extended my legs out in front of me so I could reach deep down into the pocket of my blue jeans.

The music abruptly stopped and everyone looked at me.

As I dug deeper down into my pocket someone in the circle loudly exclaimed:

"You got WEED??!!"

and everyone watched me hopefully, anticipating the withdrawal of a small baggie.  Apparently, I had just demonstrated the universal late-night bodily gesture for retrieving weed from the depths of one's pocket.

Instead, I sat up and burst out laughing.  What a night! A perfect getaway; a carefree, moonlit night, filled with music and surrounded by friends.  But it wasn't that kind of night.

As I withdrew my hand from my pocket, I presented a white linen handkerchief with dainty yellow-lace tatting all around the edge.  No, dear friends, I'm just that square. I don't have weed; I have a hankie, freshly starched and pressed.  I waved it delicately, laughing harder as they all joined me -- Gerry strumming a fanfare.

But now I have a memory.  A time I frequently recall, that includes music, friendship, and laughter.

That, I can share.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Grotesque Scenes of Carnage and Brutality

There's a tool on my blog service provider that allows me to see who has visited my pages.  It's pretty amazing to me that I can see what country a visitor is from, and what path led them to my blog The Jugular Vein.  I can see who, how often, at what time, and where they are in the world when they searched for a specific name, location, word, title, or phrase that may have led them to any one of my thirty-six entries.  I'm quite sure that most of them have found it as a result of becoming distracted from what they were initially searching for, but it's neat for me to see that process.

What I find most curious about it is that the pages with the word "hurt" in the title (It Only Hurts When I Laugh and It Rhymes with Hurt) have far more visitors than any of the other entries, even one with the word "kind" in the title.  (Granted, some entries are older than others) So I'm keen to learn the number of visitors who visit this blog entry with its current title.  Dear reader, no matter how you got here, you are now part of an experiment.

But while you're here...

I am reminded of the philosophical question posed to me when I was very young:  Why do people stop and stare to watch two people fighting but turn away when catching two people being affectionate?

Which then calls to mind a fairly effective motto we adopted from our pal Paul Hoff.  He uses it when dealing with difficult, rude, or inconsiderate people, and it's one I have since used on more than one occasion. It's simple: Be Nice Twice.

When shopping at a well known discount home decorating store in New Jersey, I found an item that I'd wanted for quite a while but was only available at a well known high-end gourmet kitchen supply shop, with a price tag far too steep to justify buying it.  It is a hefty, chrome plated, well balanced pounder for making paillards of meat for a few specialty dishes I prepare.  A stout rolling pin does the same job, but this tool does it with class. Pleased with my find, I proceeded to the cash register where I was caught behind a woman unloading a full cart of a variety of wall decorations, imported ceramic vases, a large wall clock with a star-burst of metal appendages, and other pieces of mass-produced "art".

Unfortunately, my new toy didn't have a price tag, so I side-stepped the cash register and asked at customer service for a scan code.  The clerk was unable to find one, so the store manager was called and he promptly told me it was $150.00 -- delighted by his impromptu exaggeration, he waited for my reaction, so I replied, "WHAT?  At that price, I can't afford the meat that it's used for!!"

An aside:  To the average reader, this may seem an inconsequential detail of dialog in this blog entry -- unless you're familiar with the typical New Jersey customer service experience.  Ordinarily, there wouldn't have been anyone at the customer service counter.  When a clerk finally arrived, they'd be annoyed that there were any customers on the premises, and would have proceeded to make it well known what an imposition my request was.  After waiting at least 8 minutes for a manager to arrive, who would not have the key to a register, I'd be made well aware that he was just about to go "on break", and after vainly searching through countless ledgers, he'd find a scan code and ask me to return to the end of line while a ticket was prepared.

But none of that happened!  I had a pleasant exchange with a cheerful clerk and manager, who both shared my delight in this unusual purchase. We exchanged a few more pleasant remarks and he printed a scanning ticket out for $14.95.  A bargain at twice the price.  I was the proud owner of a three-pound, twelve-inch, solid, chrome-plated meat flattener.  It went into a bag and I carried it out, elated over the entire experience.

By now, the woman with all the decorative pieces had completed her transaction and headed out to the parking lot with her cumbersome load.  I went out shortly after her, and there we met.  Side by side.  Her nice shiny new vehicle parked next to my nine year old Dodge Neon with Canadian license plates, clouded headlights, and dull white paint revealing its age.

I could only see her bottom half as she wrangled with her new purchases trying to wedge them into the back seat of her car, maneuvering the cart that was blocking my way, while contending with the waving arms of her timepiece.  I watched for a moment, and patiently waited for another.

I asked her if she needed an extra hand.

She said, "No."

As I got closer between our two cars, I saw that her passenger door had been pushed open to its widest point and had stuck fast to the side of my Neon.

I loudly said, "UH OH!!" since I couldn't open my door, and feared a dent in it from hers.

She extracted herself from her vehicle and said, "WHAT?" with deliberate exasperation.

I pointed to her door and with cheerful concern said, "I can't get in, and I hope your door didn't leave a dent."

She tugged on her door.  It stayed fast, but a firm quick second pull freed it revealing a small dimple and a perceptible nick out of the paint.

I said, "Oh, that's a shame."

She impatiently replied, "Eh?"  So I pointed to the pock, and said, "You did leave a dent." She licked her finger, reached over, smeared her spit in a big wide circle around the tiny indentation, now revealing a more obvious sin: a clean spot.  She t'sked sharply, and with fully nasal Latina attitude and sass looked at me and said, "I din't dent nut-ting."

By now, I had employed and exhausted my ordinarily effective motto, finding that she was just going to be nasty.  So I nipped it in the bud.

I swung the bag containing my pride of purchase, and with a thick audible metallic CLUNK hit the side of her car and stated, with flair, "I din't dent nothing, either." and promptly opened my door, got in, started the engine and drove away.

After you've been nice twice, you see, you can make up your own rules.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"...the kindness of strangers"

The other day a blog reader asked me if I thought some of the experiences that I blog about are entirely unique and wondered if other people share similar stories and anecdotes, suggesting that perhaps her life might not be as rich as most.  I know she's well travelled, outgoing, and well-liked, so she has her own set of stories. Everyone does; some just have more than others.  Some we share, some we keep secret, some we never forget.

The summer heat and humidity in Nebraska can be especially oppressive when you don't have much money and few resources to seek relief.  Frequently on especially sultry days, I'd walk the four kids to a branch of the public library that wasn't too far from home and we'd enjoy a children's story hour in the quiet air conditioned building.  After checking out a few books, we'd head out further and stop for a frozen treat.  One day, as we pushed young Olivia in her stroller and the other three kids each took a hand, we approached an older man who was supported by his walker and wearing clothes that were completely inappropriate for the heat and humidity: a thin winter jacket, a long-sleeved flannel shirt over a t-shirt, clip-on suspenders ... and plaid trousers down around his ankles.  He wasn't wearing any underwear.

As we got closer, I steered the kids to the edge of the sidewalk anticipating that we'd avoid him physically since we were a large group, but I also hoped to shield the kid's view of  his vulnerability as he vainly attempted to retrieve his pants.  It was then that we heard onlookers and passersby catcalling, whistling, and shouting from across the street or from cars that slowly drove past, making rude and insulting comments amusing themselves or their companions with what they thought were clever put-downs.  I hated those people.  

So, I stopped and helped him.  He smelled of urine and the neglect of hygiene, but he was aware.  His arthritic bones and aging muscles prevented him from reaching down for his pants, so he stood quietly as I pulled them up and clipped his four suspenders back in place at equal distances around his waistline.  He thanked me, sincerely, and I told him to have a nice day. I've never forgotten it.

It was on that same main drag of South Omaha where a few months later I stood on the corner with the four kids in the pouring, chilling rain.  We were waiting for a bus, which we would take downtown, get a transfer to cross town and eventually get to Children's Hospital where Olivia was well known.  She had weekly appointments for blood counts and routines of injections and infusions, sometimes requiring overnight stays or -- if results and reports weren't positive -- she'd be admitted for several days in isolation.  We couldn't anticipate the outcome of the day on those frequent trips, and since Stephen was commuting over an hour away, transportation wasn't always convenient or to our advantage.  As the rain pelted down, our chilled breath showed, and the five of us waited at the bus stop, dripping in our slickers, a sleek Cadillac pulled up to the curb and stopped.  Luxury cars were not common in our neighbourhood, and luxury car owners usually made quick time when driving through it. The electric window lowered, and an expensively coiffed, well dressed woman in her 60's leaned over the passenger side and called out, asking if we needed a ride.

I was tired, stressed, wet, and faced an hour's trip by bus to the hospital --a car ride would make it in fifteen minutes. I accepted her simple offer, and filed the four dripping kids in the back onto her leather seats and joined her in front, shaking out my umbrella before closing the door.  Never showing concern for bringing the rain into her fancy car, she chatted politely all the way to the front door of the hospital, then let us off, and told us all to have a good day.  I've never forgotten it.

Not much longer after that we made the move from Omaha to New Jersey.  (You might have read about that adventure in an earlier blog entry.)   For us it truly was an adventure.  We took advantage of the long trip to call on my sister's family in central Tennessee.  We spent just a few days together, and though my stress level was high and concerns were heavy, we were glad for the opportunity to visit.  Our home in urban Omaha, suffering for repair, hadn't yet sold, we were travelling in a 30 year-old vehicle crammed with possessions and pets, and Olivia had only a small window of freedom in between her last Omaha hospital visit and checking in at the hospital in New Jersey where they were expecting her. I imagine that to my sister, who lived comfortably in the country, we looked bedraggled, hassled, and hard scrabbled.

When it was time to leave her and continue on our adventure, she expressed her concern for our safety and comfort, and wished us luck.  It was genuine and it revealed a sort of kind-hearted nature she doesn't openly share -- we weren't a 'share your feelings', affectionate type of family.  She hugged me, and we kissed cheeks.  Though she is generous in every other capacity, this rare gesture of affection moved me, and the softness of her cheek vividly stays with me.  I've never forgotten it.
Years later, when my folks were anticipating a trip to visit us, Dad had several eBay (tm) purchases delivered to us to avoid slow and expensive postage to Canada.  He was completing his collection of Alden Nowlan works and had many first editions including some limited printing chapbooks.  We were in the car on our way to lunch when Dad opened a package containing The Best of Alden Nowlan and he quickly thumbed through it to find his favourite poem.  He quietly read it and passed it to me suggesting I read it before going into the restaurant, mentioning that Nowlan was his favourite poet.

But I'm not a fan of poetry.  I find it either poorly written, too esoteric to understand, or the writing will evoke difficult emotions such as loneliness, melancholic nostalgia, or heartfelt expressions of love or regret which I find overwhelming.  Dad insisted, and so I reluctantly read:
Tenth Wedding Anniversary

This is neither to
take back what was given
in rage, nor to deny the scars
I send you no Valentine card.
We are human and didn't
live happily ever after.
We are what our children
promise they'll never be --
a man and a woman
who get on each other's
nerves at times, and have traded
glares of the purest hate.
This is only to say there has never been
a moment in ten years
when I ceased to be
conscious of your presence
in the universe, never
a thought of mine in all that time
that wasn't superimposed
on my constant awareness of
your separate existence.
If the inhabitants of
the earth depended
for their survival on my
keeping them always
in my mind, my world would be
empty -- except for you.

For me it was gut-wrenchingly emotional, and it took me several moments to regain my composure before we all went into the restaurant; me, red-eyed, and sniffling.  I've never forgotten it, and said as much the very next time they visited months later and we returned to the same restaurant.

That time, it was a  nice spring day as we pulled into the parking lot, when we noticed an old man struggling with a cane.  He wasn't stumbling exactly, but it was clear he was having a problem, and then it became stunningly clear.  He had soiled himself with a most foul and copious combination of diarrhea and solid waste.  He was immobilized standing with oozing trousers as lumps fell about him from under his pant leg onto the asphalt while cars maneuvered for parking spaces. The old man was frantically gripping his backside trying to stanch his bowels with one hand while balancing himself on his cane with the other. Dad parked, and I approached him asking if he needed help to get comfortable or if there was someone we could call for him.  He was humiliated; his body had betrayed him and he reluctantly admitted that he needed assistance. I escorted him to his car, laid his cardigan on the seat, and he said he'd just wait for his son to drive him home.  I joined my folks as we were seated at the table, reminding them how emotional it was on our last visit and here were tears again. We all remembered.

Some things you just don't forget.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Small World Problem -- or-- 6 Degrees of Separation

It's a common catch phrase with us. You'll mostly hear it when Dad is around and you're discussing a landmark, one of the United States or Canadian provinces, a country, museum, mountain range, or body of water.  Dad has traveled to a lot of places in this world, either through his career with Norton Company or his adventurous travels over his many years.  There are few places on the map that you can point to that he won't say, "Been There!"  When we all sit to watch a movie, frequently while mostly amusing himself he'd blurt out, " BIN 'DERE!" when he recognized a familiar scene.  He's also met an awful lot of people.
It happens when we're among our friends and acquaintances, usually during animated conversation, that the name Wallace West will invariably come up.  So often, in fact, it became a sort of running joke among us  later becoming a challenge to see who would bring his name up in a topic first.

Our friends Jos and Darcy first became acquainted with Dad in his book shop at Cleveland Place.  Darcy was visiting Alma and getting re-acquainted with her ancestral home after many years of absence.  While talking in the bookshop, Dad learned that Darcy was a professor at a small college in central Tennessee where my sister's son was a student, not far from where my sister was living.  While Darcy and her family were getting more familiar with Alma, they often relied on Dad for his knowledge of the area and its long-time residents, seeking homeowner advice for their 100 year old home, enjoying each other's company with a shared devotion to Fundy.  Eventually, Darcy left Tennessee and accepted a teaching position at a university in Abu Dhabi, and traveled back to Alma to live with her family during the summer months.

After Dad moved to The Farm, we became friends with Darcy's family during their short time spent in Alma each year.  During the months she was teaching in Abu Dhabi we stayed connected through e-mail and she would recount their experiences and adventures in the United Arab Emirates, sharing exotic tales of visiting neighbouring countries while they immersed themselves in the culture, food, and surroundings of the residents there.  Darcy wrote that she'd been introduced to a fellow at the university and in the course of their conversation they each described their lives and where they lived when they weren't living and teaching in the UAE.  Darcy told about the Fundy area and Alma Village and her new acquaintance exclaimed, "Well, you must know Wallace West!"  Over 6,000 kilometers away, but just one degree of separation.

Several years ago, Dad and his friend Gerry built The Gazebo; an octagonal cottage at the edge of the Bay of Fundy --one of the few areas in North America where the eastern shore is still pristine and undeveloped.  We've hosted guests at The Gazebo from all over the world.  One was a fellow who found his way from the west coast of Canada to the east traveling by bicycle to celebrate turning 55.  As he passed through Albert County, he eventually landed at The Gazebo since he was rain soaked, tired, and the rural area offered few overnight accommodations.  It took one call to reach Dad who opened the door and offered a snack of peanuts and a respite for the weary biker.  Later, when Henk wrote a book about his travels, he told about his encounter with Dad and The Gazebo. 

With our New Jersey friends, Jim and Jen, bringing up Wally nearly became an eye-rolling annoyance that I was becoming self-conscious about.  Once, within just a few hours spent together over dinner at their house, we counted three times that Wallace West had been introduced into the conversation:

  • His acquaintance with author E. Annie Proulx and her visits to Dad's book shop at Cleveland Place.  Having read all of her books, we shared his excitement and brush with fame (I later met her myself on two of her subsequent visits).
  • His travels with my mother in a soft-top Jeep Wrangler to The Yukon and The Northwest Territories.
  • His scuba diving adventures in Michigan and Canada and a spoiled diving expedition when Canadian customs officers released all the air from their scuba tanks after a traveling companion got arrogant with an agent. 
We all decided enough was enough. Though Wally's exploits and life stories were entertaining, we had to start drawing on our own experiences to fuel conversation and so we made a friendly agreement: we would not bring Wally into conversation again.

Weeks later, we met Jim and Jen for a fine meal.  We'd been anticipating  the grand opening of an authentic Greek Restaurant in central New Jersey.  We knew the owners as we'd become frequent customers at their other business; a small specialty market that featured Greek imports and fine wines.  One hard-to-find item that they carried was slivovitz, or plum brandy.  On one of our visits to the shop, Dad bought several bottles to bring to Canada with his new wife, Anna, who'd left Bratislava many years earlier and happily recalled the memory of her father making slivovitz when she was a young girl.  Tassos, the owner, chatted with Dad enjoying the novelty of meeting a Canadian foreigner.

When Tassos bought the adjacent building and announced the opening day for the new restaurant, we eagerly made our reservations, anticipating Jen and Jim's impression with the new taverna and its Athenian decor with enticing aromas from simmering pots of rich Greek cuisine, and our ability to get a table on a busy grand-opening night.  When we arrived we were immediately seated by fresh-faced expectant servers to our reserved table in a very lively and crowded restaurant --every seat filled.

Not long after we'd settled at our table, and perused the menu options, I leaned over to Jen and reminded her that since we hadn't seen each other for several weeks, we had a host of topics to cover, adding that none of them involved Wally.  Remembering our previously agreed upon pact, she laughed, said, "We'll see" and continued to read the menu.  Moments later, when our wine was opened and poured, we toasted the evening just when Tassos caught Stephen's eye and approached our table with arms outstretched, beaming a welcoming smile, and loudly said, "Hello!" while eagerly shaking Stephen's hand thanking us for coming out.

His next words were, "How is your father, Wallace West?"

I experienced my very first spit-take.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Those Were the Days, My Friend.

In her early days of marriage and motherhood in Marlboro, Massachusetts, my mother had a small group of friends who also had young children. Our families would gather at Fort Meadow Lake in our neighborhood to play, swim, or parade for the much anticipated Spree Day.  We didn't live there for long, but nearly fifty years later, I'm still acquainted with some of the friends and families from those days.

Swimming at Fort Meadow Lake 1957

Spree Day, Marlboro, Mass. 1959

My mother's girlfriend from those days, Carolyn Brewer (now Carolyn Towles) is my godmother.  Carolyn and her daughter Brenda, who is my sister's age, have both visited New Brunswick and Cleveland Place, and I visited Carolyn at her home in Florida just a year ago.  Since my mother died several years ago, it was special to get reacquainted with one of her peers and recall good memories.

Grey Shingles February 1962
Carolyn happily recalled an incident at Grey Shingles, which was the wee house my folks and grandfather, Allyn, built in Marlboro. When my grandmother, Anne Carritt, came by and found nobody home and the house locked, she climbed in through a window. Our dog Mixie, a large shepherd mix, cowered and hid under a bed, too afraid to be coaxed out.  Carolyn was incredulous that this large dog would be so petrified of a tiny old lady to the point of incapacitation. She never forgot it, and laughed easily recalling it.

Mixie with her pups 1961

I don't know how Carolyn and her then husband, Bud, landed in Massachusetts.  Carolyn's mother was a doffer girl at Dixie Mercerizing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where her father was a plant manager.  That seems like a time far away and long ago to me.  I imagine it was Bud's engineering career that brought them to the growing technology sector that Massachusetts was becoming in the 50's and 60's along Route 128.  Those are the stories I absorb and relish -- the chaos of the universe that brings people together in place and time. 

My folks called Carolyn a classy lady -- high praise from my parents -- and I easily recognize that quality in her.  She was genuinely gracious and welcoming with hospitality during our visit.  She remarked that she could still see the little girl in me.   

Little Jane 1964
In the day we spent with Carolyn in Florida, I admired the array of artwork in her home and was impressed to learn that most of them were her own work. She pointed out those of a few other artists, but hers was the real talent on the wall.

Carolyn, Jane, and Bill 2010
I was surprised to see two New Brunswick landscape scenes that I immediately recognized.  One of Red Head at Waterside, and the other of the marsh at Waterside. Carolyn had taken photographs of the local area during a visit to Cleveland Place when my folks were still operating the B&B together.  She then painted these landmarks.  It was strange and thrilling to see these familiar scenes captured by Carolyn's hand, so far away from their natural setting that was so familiar to me.

Having forgotten the names of the locations, Carolyn got pen and paper to write them down and I remarked that the Red Head scene (a local tidal promontory) that she'd captured had since eroded into the ocean.  Our friends Tim Issac and Jim Blewett wrote a song about it, and made it the cover shot and title song for one of their albums.  I especially appreciated that Tim remarked to me that his song is a metaphor for my mother, as Red Head fell around the time my mother died.  Her ashes are scattered at Waterside.

Carolyn met Jim Blewett at his 50th birthday party celebration during her visit to New Brunswick.  I'm quite sure that the party was one like none other she'd been to before, as she and her husband Bill, my folks, friends, and neighbors gathered in a large circle on the wooden floor of an old farmhouse and each guest shared deeply personal anecdotes, feelings, admiration, and memories of the birthday boy.  It was quite emotional for everyone.

I sent Carolyn a copy of Issac & Blewett's Red Head CD, and in return she sent me the two large paintings.  Priceless.

Red Head and Waterside, by Carolyn Towles

Though my mother was a private person, she did tell a few stories on herself. In those early years in Marlboro, she and Carolyn had an acquaintance about their same age who'd recently had twin babies. My mother described how they'd gone to the friend's house and stood in the doorway, anticipating a visit with the new mother, when they noticed a crib and high-chair folded and unused off to the side.  The woman explained that one of the twins had inexplicably and unexpectedly died.

Saddened, the two friends silently stood searching for words of comfort, and one of them asked what was to be done with the baby furniture. The mother explained that it had been sold to another family who also had a new child.  Trying to find supportive words of optimism, my mother cheerfully replied, "Well, it won't be a total loss, then."

She immediately heard how grossly inappropriate it was, but it was too late.

I have to assume they were all good friends enough to know it was an aberration of thought and speech, and thus easily forgiven, knowing the intention.

I hope that eventually I'll have friends that long-lasting and forgiving.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

absit iniuria verbis: duos

And then there was the time....

I was a young Air Force wife.  We belonged to the Non-Commissioned Officer's Club where we could join other couples for dinners, cocktails, dances and social events.  The wives had an auxiliary social group that met during the day for luncheons that would feature an educational speaker, community service projects and charitable fund raising efforts.  At the end of the club year, we held a banquet to record and applaud our successes, elect committee chairwomen, and give awards for achievements.

The club photographer gathered us all on stage for a group photo.  We stood, row-by-row, shoulder-to-shoulder, refreshed our lipstick, straightened skirts, tucked blouses, grimaced to each other to check for a lodged poppy seed or pepper flake in our teeth, and then posed.  A much older woman --the wife of a senior-ranking non-com officer --who was standing next to me wore a white pullover knitted sweater.  As she smoothed down her front I spied a dark black hair on her bosom.  I delicately reached over to snatch it and just as the photographer was putting us in focus, I gingerly and effectively tugged.

"OUCH!" she loudly exclaimed!  I startled and froze with the short curly hair pinched between my still extended thumb and forefinger that just seconds before had been attached to her chest.  Too embarrassed to comment, I lowered my hand turned and faced the photographer and smiled.

That was a case of not knowing what to say.  Here's one of saying it all just plain wrong.

In high school, before Stephen and I were dating, but were getting better acquainted, I quickly learned that he was very well read--often admiring him quoting entire passages from Shakespeare, lines of poetry, or pages from classic literary works.  I was impressed; after all, I was a reader, carried honors level English lit classes, and we had a respectable library in my family home where books were considered especially important and valued when we were growing up. I was glad that I was at least familiar with Hamlet and Polonius, and could return with such quotes as, "To thine own self be true" and "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

Stephen would frequently walk me to my locker between classes, and we'd chat before the bell rang.  In those early days, he would tell short, lively, and captivating stories of his time living in Cyprus until the war.  He recounted adolescent thrills of being a refugee and his efforts to come to the United States without his parents but with two siblings in tow.  I was growing more and more attracted to him.  (See the Do You Like My Hat blog entry.)  We also quietly shared knowing that the teacher whose French language class he was walking me to each day stood close-by carefully eavesdropping on his tales.  It was fun to watch her expressions as the stories became dramatic or when she was frustrated by student distractions when she was clearly trying to attend to Stephen's narrations.

Most of our locker visits were quick between bells and he dominated the conversation as he recounted his experiences, shared favorite authors, or we bounced back Monty Python dialogue and quotes.  On one particular day I remember, he was quieter.  He seemed concerned about something, and naturally, with my personality, I self-consciously considered that he was growing tired of me, and was distancing himself. 

So I drew upon my vast grade-eleven literary knowledge, and searched for an appropriate quote or reference to open a conversation about his quiet concerns.  Remembering an important Greek legend, and thinking it appropriate after recently learning so much about his Greek culture, I said:

"Why, Steve, you appear to have the Spirit of Androcles above your head."

He simply said, "What?"

So I repeated, "It seems you have the Spirit of Androcles hanging above you!"

He paused, thought for a moment, nodded, then said, "Do you mean the Sword of Damocles?"

Crushed, I felt my face get hot, and quietly said, "Ah, yes, I guess I do."

I then replayed in my mind's eye where I'd learned of this famous historic morality tale.  Oh, how my memory had betrayed me.  I hadn't read it in Aesop's Fables, where I'd confused Androcles the Lion, and some wistful guiding spirit of Greek Mythology somehow creating my own Spirit of Androcles, but rather entirely botched the quote as I recalled it from a version of Pygmalion.

But now, I must reveal my literary sources.

The Three Stooges.  It was in the episode of slap-stick comedy that I'd seen so many times:  Half-Wits Holiday, where Moe, Larry, and Curly are transformed in a Pygmalion plot adaptation from bumbling repairmen into society gentlemen.  In an ensuing food-fight, Moe sends a pie upward that sticks to the ceiling, and seeing his concern, a society Dame --one they were supposed to impress with their new gentle manners -- says, "Young man, you act as if The Sword of Damocles is hanging over your head!"

BINGO!  That's what I meant.

Stephen laughed.  Not so much at me, which would have been humiliating, but just for the humor of it.  Oh, yeah, I was really, really starting to like him.  It wasn't long after this admission, that I fessed up that my knowledge of Hamlet was solely from the Gilligan's Island television episode when the castaways created a musical version of Hamlet using music from Carmen.  Stephen had never seen an episode of Gilligan's Island.

Even without that in common, years later we married, and in our wedding ceremony hearing it and repeating it for the first time, I solemnly pledged him my trough.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

absit iniuria verbis

Communication.  It can be difficult.  Here is just one example of the many troubles I've had.

While waiting my turn holding a Chinet™ paper plate and plastic fork I stood in the hot sun and humidity in a long line at a summertime buffet along several tables of generous offerings for a potluck of picnic foods.  There was country ham, burgers, hot dogs, sausage & peppers, a variety of salads including garden, Jell-O™, and endless varieties of macaroni or marinated bean, and typically, there was the ubiquitous potato salad of every culinary variety known to North Americans.

I am usually wary at potlucks if I don't know the cooks or the cleanliness of their kitchens, and I was especially wary as these heaping vessels sat exposed in the sun and heat.  My mind's eye replayed my grade-eight science class movie about germs and bacteria, and I saw the teeming micro-organisms dividing and multiplying exponentially as Monsieur Pasteur narrated the growing potential for food poisoning the longer the uncovered dishes sat and the line slowly progressed.  I was making my selections very carefully with an uneasy feeling on an empty stomach.

I made step-by-step advances and noticed as several people bailed from the line and simply cut in with quick precision to grab a scoop of whatever caught their eye to plop it onto their plate and exit again without interrupting the flow.  I chose to follow suit.

Having spied a dish sitting in a small portion of shade, I made my choice and slid in line next to a woman whose plate was piled high with several large portions of a wide variety of dishes.  She reached for the serving spoon from the same bowl full of the shimmering molten mayonnaise and macaroni salad that I had cut in line next to her to serve myself. 

Now, let's pause for an expository passage:

We watch a LOT of movies.  We have favourites in every genre whether foreign, independent, a Hollywood blockbuster, or a clip from a little known gem.  We watch movies, rate them, discuss them, enjoy them, recommend them, love to hate them, seek out soundtracks from our top picks -- and we quote from them.
A lot.

For example:

Nell, starring Jodie Foster who plays a girl who was brought up in a cottage in the forest.  Her character had never met anyone and spoke a kind of language that she developed learning from her speech-impaired stroke-victim mother.  Moviegoers get to understand some of her mangled English during the movie.  We adopted one: "Ehbadee"; her word for 'every day'. I use it a lot.

Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman playing Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant.  We use Raymond's line, "I'm an excellent driver" (it's very useful) and "UH-Oh, VERN, V-E-R-N!", when something goes slightly wrong such as a messy spill, or when we're unsure in a tense situation like when a scary dog advances; "82, 82, 82" (when Raymond immediately counts a box of spilled toothpicks) when we have to quickly add anything out loud -- a couple of us in the family seriously struggle with math.

Now, back to the picnic.

My line companion was a large woman.  Not just overweight, but one that a responsible doctor would accurately chart as morbidly obese.  She schlucked her selection of the mayonnaise and macaroni concoction off the spoon mounting it onto an already filled plate and was about to return the spoon to the bowl when she looked at me as I waited my turn.  She motioned the spoon, speechlessly saying, "want some?"   I nodded and held my empty plate forward, so she scooped and shook off approximately a half cup portion onto my plate and immediately scooped a second spoonful and motioned to drop a second helping on top of the first.  I shook my head and said.

"That'll do, pig."

Movie:  Babe; the story of a runt piglet on Hoggett's farm who trains as a shepherd dog -- Farmer Hoggett uses sheep-dog training commands to teach the pig using phrases such as "come-bye", "away-to-me" and "that'll do".  A famous line repeated throughout the movie especially in the final scene, "That'll do, Pig."

The woman snapped her head and looked at my face.  I immediately realized that in this situation, it was not an appropriate time to make that particular movie quote, and so I then blurted out:

"Oh, not that YOU'RE a pig."

She frowned and continued to look at me, remaining speechless.

So I continued, stumbling with words, stammering, becoming breathless (I can fix this!)

"It's from a movie, about a PIG! We quote from movies all the's a quote from the movie, BABE; the pig's name.  I wasn't saying you're a pig.....or calling you a pig....." The word PIG ringing hard and jarring each time I repeated it.

She put the spoon back in the bowl, and walked away from me, mid-sentence.  She never said a word.  I felt helpless and humiliated.  I remember I had to physically close my still-open mouth and with tunnel vision, rejoined my family.  

Regrettably, I have quite a number of other incidents to tell about in this blog-entry category, but for now,

That'll do, pig.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Just let me go naturally

We recently returned from an 800 mile trip to attend a funeral.  It's a sad day when you bury a loved one.   Peter was buried on February 3, 2011.

The first funeral I attended was for my grandfather, Ernest Henry Carritt.  I was six.  I only have vague memories of the event.  It was held in spring in Massachusetts.  He was buried in the cemetery offered for those whose bodies have been donated to science and used by medical students, so his funeral was long after his actual death.  We'd traveled as a family from Illinois to be there.  My grandmother, his widow who was 28 years younger than him, and the five of us stood quietly at his graveside in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.  I asked Nana if Granddad was in that box, and she kindly whispered back that he was. 

I have attended only a few funerals, memorial services, celebrations of life, interments, cremations, and transitions to eternal happiness over the years since then.  Each one, I assume, executing the wishes of the deceased. 

Naturally, it brought to mind some of my own wishes.  I have to assume that people will be sad when I die, will gather to scatter my ashes, and have some happy memories to share.  I think that funerals are for the living--no matter what customs are observed-- to say goodbye to the dead.  So, when it's time to say goodbye to me, here are a few of my wishes--

Food.  Make sure there's lots of of it, and come hungry.
Laughter.  An important facet of my life.  Enjoy it when you're remembering me.  Laugh hard enough to cry.
Spirits.  Raise a glass. 
Children.  Embrace ours.  They've made us unfailingly proud.
Regret.  Acknowledge it; do not dwell on it.
Flowers.  Do not spend money on any. Use that money to gather again at a fine restaurant and tip well.
Music  Just a few selections.  Sit quietly and listen, then play your own.
  • Randy Newman's He Gives Us All His Love
  • Blood Sweat and Tears' When I Die
  • Owen Steel's Wake
Also, be good to my family.  Dress appropriately.  Be kind but not maudlin.  If you can't find the words to express your feelings, just say that.  Everyone handles grief differently, but be practical.

The funeral we just attended was respectful; the eulogy was notably brief, describing our cousin as a simple man, who loved his family, enjoyed life, and laughed easily.   We will remember him as laughing heartily, embracing his large family both literally and with an abundance of love, generosity and good humor.  A fine legacy.

Rest in Peace Peter Chrysostom November 15, 1959-January 30, 2011

One child born in this world to carry on, to carry on.  Tigh Robinson Woolsey born Feb. 3, 2011.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fifteen Minutes

We were famous for a few minutes.   Our family of six was seated and posed in our tiny Lincoln Nebraska living-room, including our dog Scout, while the newspaper photographer silently took numerous shots of us.  A few days later we were on the front page of the city newspaper in vivid color.  It was an odd feeling to immediately recognize our own faces looking back from behind the little acrylic window in the box at the gas station that held the daily paper.

I bought the morning paper, and a few extra, and shortly after I got home, the phone started ringing.  The first call was from the pet shelter who wanted to donate dog food for Scout.  Several more supportive calls came offering money, babysitting services for our four children, group meeting times and places, and groceries.  Lots and lots of groceries.  We were overwhelmed by strangers' generosity and compassion.

We only spent a year in Lincoln.  We rented an apartment just a few blocks away from Stephen's work.  His boss had strongly suggested that a move to Lincoln would be a real gesture of Stephen's commitment and loyalty to the company, and consequently possibility for better opportunity and a secure future with them.

Previously, we had been living in Omaha for several years -just an hour's drive from Lincoln. We owned a very old home and had dug in, probably far too ambitiously and well beyond our capabilities, making improvements and renovations ever since we'd settled in and where we planned to raise our family.  But life changed very quickly and it all started with a little girl's nosebleed.

After a series of dramatic events, we discovered that our youngest daughter, Olivia, had an unusual blood disease that required frequent hospitalizations, often in isolation, sometimes in critical care, and usually required several day's stay. It was a routine we were forced into like many families who have major medical issues.  Our situation was not unique, it was just unique to us and we were managing as best as we could; Stephen had a decent job with medical insurance, and other than the long daily commute to Lincoln in a fairly reliable vehicle, we muddled through.

But then, we had to move to Lincoln.

We knew we had no possibility of selling the house in Omaha in its condition, so we shut it down, and made the 'commitment to the company' by moving close to Stephen's work and taking a year-long lease for an apartment in Lincoln that would allow pets and larger families.  We traveled back and forth on weekends to continue working and making improvements on the house, either for a potential buyer, or for our future in Nebraska. 

Three months later, Stephen was fired.* 

Things got more difficult, but mostly just financially.  We had a mortgage to cover, monthly rent at the apartment, and suddenly astoundingly astronomical hospital, medical, and doctor bills.  Someone at the Lincoln newspaper got wind of our story and thought it was a good human interest piece reflecting the concerns of those with middle income and rising health insurance costs.  We were featured since we suddenly had no job and no health insurance with serious medical costs and so we became the headline story, above the fold, on a weekday, in a Midwestern city newspaper for a day. Our fleeting moment of fame.

It took several years of treatments, countless hospitalizations and procedures, and surgery before Olivia was finally in full remission and considered cured.  Those difficult years are ones I often look back on to measure how we've come along, and remember those who we encountered along the way --many leaving lasting impressions that in some ways have influenced who we are.

One elderly lady who had been living for several years in a senior citizen apartment complex called and invited us to her storage area in the basement of her building.  In there, she had her own grocery store.  She had rows of peanut butter jars, carefully arranged varieties of dried pasta and cans and jars of pasta sauces, boxed potatoes, neatly categorized row upon row of canned beans, vegetables, fruits and soups.  Her son had built floor-to-ceiling two-by-four shelving all around her 6 foot by 8 foot allotted space and in there she had been storing surplus foods that she'd been purchasing ever since she'd moved in.  For ten years.  She explained she often invited people who were in situations like ours to visit with her.  She was a child of the depression, and found that if there was a sale on something at the grocery store, she was compelled to bring extra home for someone who could use it.  We left, very gratefully, with several bags of premium groceries for four growing young children.

We were reminded of this generous woman and her orderly and methodical ways of charity many, many years later.  When we were doing some routine grocery shopping we noticed an elderly woman with several plastic shopping bags at the entrance to the store who appeared to be waiting in the cold for a ride.  After we'd finished our own shopping and headed out to our car, she was still there.

We asked if she was expecting a ride or needed one --it was cold!  She meekly suggested that she needed one, so Stephen immediately collected her bags, took her arm and we gave her a ride home which wasn't far from the store.  When we got to her senior citizen apartment housing complex, Stephen carried her many grocery sacks in one trip and escorted her to her very small apartment while I waited in the car.

There she'd stashed what Stephen described as at least ten years of grocery purchases.  However, these were all in bags, sacks, and indistinguishable piles of disarray and chaos.  She invited Stephen in to her apartment and he set the bags of her most recent purchases among countless others of identical non-identifiable shape and abandon. She expressed her gratitude for the transportation, offering a generous contribution for our gas and the effort. Stephen left empty-handed but wide eyed with the contrast of a memory from a fairly similar scenario from years past.  Two senior women, compelled to purchase more than they themselves could use or needed, but with entirely different intent.

A couple in Omaha offered us a day free from parenting and providing.  She called in the morning, offering to take the three kids to the park and a variety of activities for the day, and returned with them tired and ready for bed at then end of the day providing soup and home made bread for supper.  It offered us a chance to sit quietly, at home, taking several naps with a very ill child, worry-free from the needs of others and meals.  It was a short, unexpected, and very appreciated respite that I often recall.

When our car broke down, our teen babysitter's family offered us their second vehicle so we could get around Omaha in winter until ours was repaired.  An older friend offered us her credit card to pay for the repairs, knowing her bill would take a month to arrive, and we could take another to pay her.

A friend at church, a plumber by trade, helped in a most generous way with labour, advice, skill, and services when we moved back into our Omaha home from Lincoln after a year of shut off water and frozen pipes.

There were a lot of people who helped us along in a variety of ways during those short years, but we try not to dwell on the hardship; it's much more pleasant to remember the generosity of others, the details of laughter and friendship, the gestures of kindness.

I hope to always remember those who are kind and understand those who are not.

* Since another family in the company who had a terminally ill child was fired at about the same time, I'll always believe that the reason for the firings was because of the health insurance costs for the small company.  I also suspect that Stephen's boss felt that his strongly suggested move to Lincoln (for a family of six needing proximity to a children's medical facility.) would be rejected and Stephen would resign.  Oh--the wisdom of hindsight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guess What?

On several occasions over the years when I was growing up my Dad would quietly grin as he'd ask the question.  As I recall it was usually timed just as we were lifting our forks to take the first bite of a meal as we five sat at the dinner table.

"Guess What?"

It immediately made my sister cry.  My mother would set her fork back to her plate with a look of realization, steel herself, and simply state:

We're moving.

I'd be elated.  But for everyone else in the family, it meant something different.  For Dad it was a promotion, a new territory to cover for Norton Company, a better opportunity.  For my mother, it meant selling a home, searching and buying a new one hundreds of miles away, and cleaning.  Not just dusting and setting aside knick-knacks and gee-gaws to attract a potential buyer, but a thorough scouring and renewing of our house that was already in near pristine condition  -often, one we'd lived in for just a few years.

Mayflower was the contracted mover for Norton Company, and the familiar green and yellow transport truck would pull up in front of our house with three men, blank newsprint and cardboard boxes.  It was a good contract for them at our house, no doubt.  We had books, and lots of them.  Books are easy to pack and weigh a lot--benefits for the both business office and the packers at Mayflower.  Also, our house was clean.

When they pulled a chest of drawers away from the wall, there was nothing there; no dust, no stray socks or missing toy parts, no intricate cobweb structures that had housed several generations--all that was there was the footprint of the furniture in the thoroughly vacuumed carpets.  When the washing machine was disconnected, there was no lint, no detergent spills, no telltale sign of leaks that had repeatedly dripped and dried, just gleaming linoleum that was cleaner than most family's kitchen floor, all the while, my mother exclaiming and apologizing to the burly workers for the unsightly conditions, contritely suggesting that they must see some real 'doozies' of filth in their line of work.  They'd nod politely and continue with their work while she'd kneel and wipe. 

As a little kid, of course, I was oblivious to the concerns of my folks who had to oversee these operations, transitions, school transfers, mortgage approvals, title searches, interest rates, closing dates, car and pet licensing, and my siblings' emotional turmoil for the upheaval of yet another move.  My brother and sister were several years older than me and they had to leave schools, friends, scouts, bands, and familiar neighbourhoods; mostly the ties that I never had or realized being much younger. 

When a new home in a new state was ours, my mother acted as forward artillery and attacked all its imperfections, wear and tear, and the previous owner's dirt with fresh paint, and elbow grease.  Our boxes would arrive ready to start again.  We kids would start a new school -often in mid year, and then we'd do it all again, soon.  A familiar routine, each with a unique story or memory.

A vivid memory is the move from Illinois to Michigan in dead winter in the late 60's.  My sister and brother were in high school by then, and had several moves under their belts.  I was seven.  We stayed at The Mayflower hotel in downtown Plymouth, arriving tired on a blistering cold mid-winter's night.  After a full day's drive in our Volkswagen bus, we were keen to get out of the car and get some warm elbow-room in the hotel.  We walked up the wide stairs in the stately 30's era hotel, continued down a long hallway to our large 3rd floor room, and settled in.  Beds were turned down, the heat turned up.  Once pajama'd, we were ready to call it a night, but nature called and Buffy, our dog, needed one more run.  To make a quick trip of it, shirtless, but wearing his pajama pants and socks, my brother Allyn took the dog to the fire escape at the end of the hall.  Once outside, the door shut behind him and he quickly realized there was merely a two-foot square platform and he would be unable to get down to the street level carrying the dog on the iron-rung drop ladder.   Too late, he also realized that the door was now locked from the inside. They were trapped.

As the rest of us slowly let the day drift away, it didn't occur to us that the knocking and muffled yelling outside was my brother --just a faint background noise in strange surroundings.  He banged, hollered, and pounded on the thick fire door for a long time while holding a very unhappy dog who did not like being suspended several stories above ground on an open grid ironwork platform and wriggled earnestly to be freed. The pounding persisted, the yelling continued, until it worked its way to Dad's nearly asleep semi-consciousness when it occurred to him that Allyn and Buffy had been for gone quite a while.  He poked his head out of the room to look and heard -much more clearly- the imploring racket.  Back in the room, as Allyn warmed up and described his predicament, our laughter was even louder.  My brother was not nearly as amused.

That was our last move together as a family.  When I was in high school, my folks and I moved again to rural central Massachusetts.  I watched, unseen as one mover whisked away my dress-making mannequin, and with a gruff voice, said, "C'mon baby, let's dance!" while he waltzed her all the way out to the truck. It's funny, the little details you remember that made big impressions.  As adults Stephen and I moved many times with our growing family.  Those moves, too, had some stresses and unique adventures we can recall --you may have read a few of them in earlier blogs.

After Stephen and I moved from Nebraska to New Jersey in the mid 90's, our family of six stayed at an extended stay hotel called Embassy Suites.  We had a two room suite and they allowed pets.  The company that had hired Stephen was paying for the stay while he worked as a consultant.  The four kids and I went house hunting with real estate agents during the day.  At the end of the day, we'd all meet up at the heated indoor pool, enjoy the Manager's Complimentary Cocktail Hour, and the kids swam while Stephen and I would catch up.  Our spacious rooms, which had complete housekeeping services and two televisions  included a full cooked-to-order breakfast every morning in the dining-room/courtyard.  I quickly got used to the surroundings, routine --and luxury-- while we stayed there for several weeks.  

Eventually, we found a home, the kids enrolled in school, and we started again.  Justin started middle school and since the school year was well underway, he was quickly thrust into the curriculum and his science class required a few 'from home' supplies.  Justin was asked to bring a raw potato the very next day.  Not yet moved into the house, Justin matter-of-factly explained we didn't cook and didn't have any potatoes.  The teacher, understandably, took this as a lame excuse to avoid the assignment and quickly chastised him and dismissed his excuse.  Justin insisted he was being honest, and compromised that he could probably ask one of the kitchen staff for a potato.  Now his teacher --with an entirely new assumption-- wanted more information about her new student and his 'kitchen staff' and asked where he lived.  Justin simply replied,  "The Embassy."  She stopped asking questions and I think with our foreign sounding last name, it temporarily left quite an impression on her; it may have been Justin's first not-lie.
Recently, I hope, we've finally made our last move.  Stephen and I have settled in at Cleveland Place.  Here my folks, Pat and Wally, had done the spectacular and complicated forward artillery work with their battery of skills, taste and work ethic.  We have the luxury of turning the key and comfortably settling in to continue the high standards that they set. The stories and memories and friendships they shared here are abundant, and we hope to carry on those standards and traditions. Except for one.

Guess What?  Chicken Butt.