Could This Be My Lucky Break?

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Last week while I was in Seattle, the General sent me an email communicating that someone had called regarding BITTER OR BETTER, the book I wrote concerning the grief process. They wanted to highlight the book and ensure that it got the attention of the right audience. Details of exactly what was involved were sketchy, but the thought lifted my spirits. Under the auspices of “Confession is good for the soul”, the effort involved in writing a book pales in contrast to the time required to market a book. I have a very full life. Consequently, I don’t have either the time or the connections to successfully make much progress in promoting either of the two books I’ve written.

Maybe this was my lucky break? At least it made a worthwhile fantasy. I hung on to the hope until I talked directly with the person on Monday. If they had the wherewithal to produce all they promised, the business proposition they were offering might be a worthwhile consideration. However, the bottom line came with no guarantees. They’d create a website for the book and they’d ensure email blasts would capture the attention of the right audience. In addition, they would carry the book with them to a book fair. For the most part, it sounded pretty much like the written commitment made to me by my current publisher.

Did I mention the proposal was both pricy and time limited? The agency was willing to devote their attention to marketing my book, creating the right market for success and completing it all in three months. At just short of a thousand dollars a month, I had the thought: “Do I have stupid written on my forehead?”

As I contemplated the decision I needed to make, I noticed that an avid Facebook friend from high school had “Liked” a blog. Surprisingly, the blog had been posted on April 5, 2014. It was entitled: “Day three – Camp Lejeune”. While the blog chronicled a full day of activities, my focus shifted to a dialogue I had with my youngest grandson. He was five years old at the time.

Reading the account that I’d written over two years ago, validated my intent. I started writing my blog because I recognized that I was getting older and that I didn’t know where the years had gone. At some level, life has been lost in living. By capturing the adventure, or a memory, or a reflection in the midst of a day, at least I was highlighting a written record of the experience.

Re-reading something that I had chronicled two years earlier reminded me of the gift of my youngest grandson’s love. The setting was a baseball game for his older brother. I wrote this:

“Jake set next to me and verbalized that he didn’t feel good. In short order, I was headed with him to the car when he started vomiting. Poor little guy! Under normal circumstances I would have been vomiting with him, but I managed to be responsible.

“When we got to the car, Jake said, “Grandad, you’re my daddy’s daddy aren’t you?” “Yes, Jake, I am your dad’s dad.” “Do you mind if I call you Daddy, too?” Talk about a heart-tug! The bad cop/good cop routine obviously was paying big dividends.

“I responded, ‘Jake you are so precious. I love you so much. Thank you for wanting to call me daddy. I know you want me to feel special and the name daddy is really a special name, but it really should be used only with your dad. Grand in granddad means large or enormous. It is even a more special term. Why don’t you continue calling me Granddad? He responded, ‘I’m going to call you Granddaddy’. What a sweet kid.

“The rest of the evening was mostly uneventful. All is well in my world and obviously in Jake’s as well. He slept through the night and hasn’t been sick again…”

The general thinks I’m wasting my time chronicling my stories. Maybe she’s right, but do you have any idea of the joy I re-experienced by simply being reminded of Jake’s thoughtful conversation with me two years ago?  I was totally oblivious to the memory until I took the time to re-read what a friend on Facebook had “Liked”.  Consequently, I’m thankful I had written it down.

In the aftermath of that experience, the thought occurred to me that maybe I have a book or two already crafted in the content of two plus years of chronicling my memories. What if I identified those that could fall under the auspices of “Tender Moments” and those that could be categorized as “This Laugh’s On Me”? It’s just a thought, but maybe the script has already been written. As a secondary benefit, it might be a balm to my soul to re-experience by reading what has already been recorded.

As a side note, I’ll share with you a conversation that I recently shared with my daughter. It, too, falls under the category of “tender moments”. One day last week she scolded me for posting a blog at 4:00 a.m. I momentarily thought she had become the General made-over. I got the “you don’t get enough rest” speech and she was almost as forthright as the General in reading me the “right act”.

Yesterday morning, I was late in getting my blog posted. At 7:22 a.m., my daughter sent me a text: “Dad, you know you can’t win…When you post your blog at 4:00 a.m., I worry that you aren’t sleeping. When it’s after 7:00 a.m. and there’s no blog, I worry that you’re okay.”

I am a blessed man! I am surround by family members who genuinely love and care for me. You don’t find that everywhere. Consequently, out of gratitude, I’m writing it all down. If nothing else, after I’m gone, it will serve as reminder to loved ones that I valued the time and connection we shared. Mine really has been a lucky break.

All My Best!

Don

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Power of Music – There was no one like Patsy Cline Until Now

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Easy Listening Music” has changed, or so it seems. My son used to describe the music I listen to as “funeral home music”. I’m not sure how he came up with that description, but  twenty-plus years ago our music tastes were worlds apart. Back when he was alleging that my music genre of choice was funeral home music, he was listening to Robert Earl Keene. “Worlds apart” pretty well describe the gap in our music venue of choice. Enough said!

That’s not to say that I had totally boycotted country western music. You may find it difficult to believe, but during my high school and college years, I was drawn to the lyrics of country western music. There was something about the storyline as it resonated with the notes that captured my imagination and garnered my attention. Maybe it was a one-size-fits all approach, but the story lines seemed real and the narratives they told were compelling.

When I was a kid growing up, our family watched the Grand Ole Opry on television. Trust me, it captivated our attention the same way that many music fans track the weekly performances on American Idol. In addition, it wasn’t unusual for our family to attend music venues to hear live performances of recording artists or amateur singers. We liked music. We liked country music.

I took up the violin in elementary school. Did I mention I have absolutely no musical talent or ability? Actually, the mistake I made as a fourth grader is that I wanted to play the fiddle, not a violin. They may look like the same instrument, but the sound and music is entirely different.

Even as a kid, I had it figured out when it came to incredible music. She was without doubt my all-time favorite vocalist. Yet, on March 5, 1963, the same year that President Kennedy was assassinated, Pasty Cline, Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Randy Hughes perished in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee. Yesterday marked the 53rd anniversary of their tragic deaths.

I never heard Patsy Cline sing in person. Yet, she was and has been my all-time-favorite vocalist for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t just that her voice reeled you in and held you fast. It was also the emotional impact of the story musically shared. It was the lyrics. The story that unfolds takes you captive and draws on your heartstrings.   If you question what I’m saying is true, go back and listen again to: “I Fall To Pieces”, “Crazy” and “She’s Got You”. Patsy Cline was an all-time great. She had the stuff to make it work: a storyline, vocal range and the delivery to make it all seem real and up close and personal.

Maybe my subsequent departure to “funeral home music” twenty years ago as my son calls it, was an attempt to replace verbal and emotional messaging with calming and soothing instrumental music. In fact, some might even more appropriately describe it as “elevator music”. But that was twenty years ago. Times have changed and so has the easy listening genre.

Earlier this week, I heard a recording artist I had not heard before. Wow! Wow! Wow! What she brings to the table is as impactful and captivating as the music of Patsy Cline. Am I overstating it to suggest her musical gift, the emotional story she crafts, and the play on the listener’s heartstrings is etched in stone? You can’t escape it. In fact, you find yourself not wanting to run from it, but run to it.   Perhaps her genre is more “soul” than “country”, but the emotional draw reels you in and holds you fast. Without even consciously being aware of what’s taking place, you are intrinsically crafted in the story line. Her story reminds you of your story or that of someone you know and of course, when your story is being shared, it has you full attention.

Let the sound, rhythm and storyline of “Hello”, sung by Adele, resonate in the fabric of your mind. We’ve all got stories. Sometimes our stories have a common tread. Adele has the ability to craft it in the most uncommon and powerful way.

“Hello, it’s me

I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet

To go over everything

They say that time’s supposed to heal ya

But I ain’t done much healing

 

“Hello, can you hear me?

I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be

When we were younger and free

I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet

 

“There’s such a difference between us

And a million miles

“Hello from the other side

I must have called a thousand times

To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done

But when I call you never seem to be home

 

Hello from the outside

At least I can say that I’ve tried

To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart

But it don’t matter. It clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

 

“Hello, how are you?

It’s so typical of me to talk about myself. I’m sorry

I hope that you’re well

Did you ever make it out of that town where nothing ever happened?”

All My Best!

Don

“I Make Furniture And I Mill My Own Wood” – Indeed He Does!

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I am sometimes overwhelmed in a crowd of strangers. If I anticipate being in a large gathering of people where I have any responsibility for leadership or involvement, I like to get there early and meet folks individually as they arrive. I do a better job of capturing names and committing them to memory if I can visit with the person one-on-one and repeat their name back to them in conversation at least three times.

When I arrived at the wedding rehearsal on Friday for the wedding I was officiating on Saturday, I made a point to get there early. There were only three or four people when I arrived. The groom and bride had not yet arrived, nor had their immediate family members. The first person I met was a man named Dave. I introduced myself and promised him I’d remember his name if I repeated it three times. He promised to test me on that the following day. Consequently, I repeated his name four times. I had it ingrained in my memory, but I still have no idea regarding Dave’s connection with the couple getting married. Sometimes folks volunteer that information, but Dave didn’t. In addition, I didn’t ask.

After meeting Dave, I met a lady named Brandi and a lady named Paula. Same story – “Let me repeat your names and I’ll remember them”. Three names down, how many more to go? I had no idea. A flood of people then arrived about the same time. There was a lady named Toni and a guy named Tony. Simple, I remembered them as sharing the same name, although they were not related. At some point, I met a man named Brandon. I mentioned to him that earlier I’d met a lady named Brandi. Brandon responded, “Yeah, I know Brandi.” He didn’t say anything else.

As luck would have it, when I arrived at the wedding on Saturday, I was an hour early. There were only three men in the outdoor open-air pavilion. The guys in the wedding party were beyond them passing a football to one another as the wedding photographer captured their activity with his camera. I looked in the direction of the first man I had met the afternoon before. He said, “Hello Don” and smiled. I knew that he was waiting to see if I really remembered his name. So, instead of simply responding “Hello”, I said, “Hello Dave, I told you I’d remember your name.” I then said, “And this is John, (father of the bride) and this is Brandon. Three for three! Impressive? Well maybe not, but I was pleased that I had remembered their names.

At some point, John and Dave were summoned elsewhere and I was left standing on the pavilion with Brandon. Actually, Brandon was setting at a table. I was standing, but he was sitting at a table looking at his cell phone. I interrupted by asking how he was connected to the wedding party. He said, “I’ve known them a long time. My wife was Kali’s best friend growing up. They lived across the back fence to one another as children. Immediately, I connected the dots in my head. Brandon’s wife was Brandi. I heard her story the day before. I smiled with the thought of Brandon’s disclosure the afternoon before when I said, “I had met a lady named Brandi”. “Yeah, I know Brandi”, was his reply. Indeed he did.

Following the wedding I had another opportunity to visit with Brandon while the wedding party was having pictures made. He asked, “What do you do?” Somehow responding, “The best that I can”, seemed inappropriate but that probably what I said. I went on to tell him about my work. I then asked about his work. His response captivated my attention. He said, “I own a sawmill. I also make furniture.” He had me hooked, I wanted to know more about his work.

I asked if he’d had always been interested in working with wood? He replied, “No, not really.” He went on to say that immediately following high school graduation he got a job working for a company that builds boat docks. He said, “I decided to wait before I went to college. I was just a welder, but I liked the work.”

If you know me, you know I couldn’t let that pass. I offered gentle redirection, “Don’t refer to yourself as ‘just a welder’. Do you have any idea what an incredibly marketable skill welding represents? If you can weld, you can do something I can’t do.” Brandon smiled and said, “I did go to Texas A&M later, but I became interested in working with wood from one of the men who worked building boat docks.   I found out that he was building his own house. I asked him how long he had been building and he answered, ‘Ten years.’ I was interested and asked if he’d mind showing his house to me. He said, he’d gladly let me see it. It was incredible. The woodwork alone was amazing. I had never seen craftsmanship like that before. He built his own cabinets, did crown molding and the detail work throughout the house was amazing”.

Brandon shared that the reason his friend had been working on the house for ten years is that he understood the importance of living debt free. He saved his money and when he got enough accumulated to pay cash for the next step in building his home, he did so. Brandon said the craftsmanship in the woodwork caught his attention. He wanted to do something like that. He wanted to learn that trade. With his friend’s encouragement, he did”.

Brandon went on to say, “The man told me if I had my own sawmill, I could cut the lumber anyway I wanted and I could be very particular in the wood that I used”.  He added, “It made sense to me. I decided to give it a try. Consequently, I make furniture and I mill my own wood. I really like the work”.

Brandon didn’t add that he was good at his trade, but I intuitively knew that “high end – high quality” workmanship was second nature for him. I asked for a business card and told him I’d pass it on to my daughter. She’s been looking for a coffee-table like the ones that he builds.

I told Brandon that I write a daily blog and asked if I could mention his story. He smiled and said, “Sure”. I am taking the liberty of adding his website. Hopefully Brandon won’t mind. His work is impressive. http://berdollsawmill.com

Brandon’s story is one that needs to be shared. It highlights the impact of following your dreams, doing your best work and never settling for second best.

All My Best!

Don

At Our Church There Is No Pecking Order

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I am always intrigued by the casual, but interesting conversations that take place in the barber shop. If you enjoy watching people and listening to them talk, the barber shop is an ideal and informative place to hangout. Perhaps, I may need to clarify that I am not talking about the “Barber Shop” in Drippings Springs. I haven’t been, but I have heard the “buzz” (pardon the pun) that it is an enjoyable place to spend an evening. The Barber Shop in Dripping Springs is probably more likely to be a venue to “let your hair down” rather than get it cut off. I’m talking about the barber shop where I get my hair cut.

Some of you are thinking that “barber shop” should be one word instead of two. I honestly don’t know what I think. Actually, I first thought it should be two words based on my memory of the signage, but spell check highlights the need for it to be one. I changed it to one word and it looked odd. It changed it back to two words and find that it still looks odd. Consequently, I did a Google search. I discovered that George’s Barber Shop in Saugus, Massachusetts claims to be the oldest family owned barber shop in America. Reportedly, it has been in business since 1902. I also checked the website for my barber shop. They also opt for two words being correct. Consequently, I’m going with the two words usage.

If you like the concept of second guessing, you might also consider the word or words for the following: timeframe or time frame, businessman or business man, barstool or bar stool, phonebook or phone book, headcount or head count, breakdown or break down, goodnight or good night, anymore or any more and homeschool or home school.

Saturday morning I had been in the barber chair for a few minutes when the next customer came into the shop. He sat down, picked up the newspaper, read the headlines in silence and then said, “I am going to stop going anywhere. If you leave the safety of your home, you put yourself at risk. You’re likely to be shot.” Another barber in the shop added, “ Or stabbed by someone.”

The man also expressed frustration that James Holmes was only sentenced to life in prison for the movie theatre murders in Colorado. He then doubled back to his original comment about the safety and security of staying close to home.

It doesn’t take much exposure to the evening news to believe he could be right. What a troubled and perplexing world in which we live. The man was also disgruntled and saddened about the heat related death of an infant in Austin this week. The parent reportedly forgot their child was in the car. He said, “I don’t understand it. How does a parent accidently leave their child in the car? If I ever sent my kids to the car, I went with them. I never left them alone.”

Actually the more the man talked about his values as a parent, the more I found that I liked him. The customer and my barber obviously have been friends for many years. At least that’s the impression I gathered from snippets of their conversation. They moved from the troubled state of society, to news near and dear. The man said, “My son has a new job. He is now working 8 to 5 instead of having to work at any time of the day or night. It was really rough on him for a while. He likes the new job much better.”

The barber then said, “Your son doesn’t come home much, does he?” The father said, “No, money is tight right now.” I thought about my kids. I immediately felt guilty that I take their comfortable lifestyle for granted. Not everyone has that luxury. I’ve lived long enough to know that when your kids are doing well, you are doing well. It really can complicate one’s life when you have to cut corners to make ends meet. I was grateful my children weren’t dealing with that level of stress.

The man then said something that jolted me back to his story and that of his son. He said, “The church they attend is small. Of course, it is a Catholic church and they are really involved, but it is a small church. He then added, “It is the same church that Joe Biden attends. They live in Delaware”.

It was a feel good moment for me. I like the thought of people being valued and regarded as family in the “family of faith” regardless of circumstance or income level. Isn’t it true, the cross of Christ is a level playing field? When we come into relationship with him through faith, we become family.

Too frequently, income levels, power trips, founding fathers, class distinctions and any number of other variables, including whose been there the longest, define who gets the last word if there is disagreement. The thought of folks for whom “money is tight” attending a small church and being a part of the family of faith with a person whose prominence and influence is recognized across the world is significant. I really like that!

I attend a small church west of Dripping Springs. If you blink your eyes, you miss the small community all together. Sometimes people notice the sign and wonder about what life is like in our locality. I’m sure they have the same kinds of questions when they drive by the church. It is a picturesque country church that looks well care for and maintained. Ours is not a sleepy little community. While it is true that everyone doesn’t fall into the category of “banker, lawyer and Indian chief”, there is a broad diversity of folks and interests.

I’m pleased to report that the church I attend pays no attention to income levels, power trips, founding fathers, class distinctions and any number of other variables that normally define the pecking order. At our church there is no pecking order. The only two variables that matter is that we have a God who loves unconditionally and the realization that this side of eternity we are all broken. From those two understandings we forge a family of faith united in hope and supported by grace. It is unlike any other church I’ve ever attended. People come and intuitively know they are home.

All My Best!

Don

I’m Not A Hurry Up And Wait Kind Of Guy

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At some level, I am not a hurry-up-and-wait kind of guy. The Honorary General was scheduled for cataract surgery yesterday morning. I was a little surprised when she told me that we didn’t need to arrive at the surgery center until 8:30 a.m. The arrival time was subsequently modified to 9:00 a.m. after she received a call from the hospital.

I was a little surprised by the time.  My only frame of reference has always been an early morning venue where one had to get up before the crack of dawn and arrive by 6:00 a.m.  It may surprise you, but I prefer the earlier arrival time.

If you wait until later, like sands in an hourglass, all traffic from our direction has to funnel through the “Y” at Oakhill.  The traffic often closely resembles a parking lot.  I was once very late for a meeting in downtown Austin because it took me thirty-five minutes to get through that one intersection.  You almost have to see it to believe it, but it adds a whole new dimension to the concept of “stop and go”.  I find myself thinking “Go, go, go” while others must have an equally strong subliminal message that says “Stop, stop, stop.”  It becomes a quagmire.

The “Y” at Oakhill is only the first of many hurdles related to traffic.  Getting into the flow of traffic on Texas Highway Loop 1 is also an obstacle.  Texas State Highway Loop 1 is named the “Mopac Expressway” after the Missouri Pacific Railroad.  I’ve always heard that Missouri is the “Show-Me-State”; perhaps you have to see it to believe it.

I’m not making this up. “Missouri’s unofficial nickname is the “Show-Me-State”, and that appears on its license plates. This phrase has several origins. One is popularly ascribed to a speech by Congressman Willard Vandiver in 1899, who declared that ‘I come from a state that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri, and you have got to show me.’ This is in keeping with the saying “I’m from Missouri” which means, “I’m skeptical of the matter and not easily convinced”.

Loop 1 in its current state of construction is anything but an expressway.   Did I mention the hospital is located in northwest Austin about 45 miles from where we live? The Honorary General’s eye surgeon’s office is located in southwest Austin, but she exclusively uses that one hospital for surgery. “Go figure”, it didn’t make any sense to me, but I was only along for the ride.  Actually, that’s not true. I was the designated driver.

I opted to sleep in yesterday morning. When I got up at 6:00 a.m. instead of 5:00 a.m., the Honorary General was already in command. “I’ve thought about it and I think we should leave by 6:30.  I’m concerned about getting through Oakhill.”  Talk about needing to “put the pedal to the metal”, I had to hurry. I wisely opted not to tell the Honorary General, but I wasn’t going out the door until I posted my blog.  I wrote it the evening before, but it always takes me a few minutes to get it posted on WordPress, Weebly and Facebook.

As we were going out the door, the Honorary General told me to get a light jacket. It reportedly is cold in the waiting room and she’d been instructed to tell whomever was accompanying her that they would need a jacket.  Maybe I’m from Missouri, but I had to see it (sense it) to believe it.  I wasn’t wearing jacket.

When we pulled into the hospital parking lot at 7:45 a.m. for our anticipated 9:00 arrival, the Honorary General suggested we just sit in the car.  After all, it was cold in the waiting room.  It was magical thinking on my part, but I countered, “Let’s go inside. You can at least get the paperwork completed. Who knows, maybe you’ll get in early.”

That’s when the Honorary General dropped the bombshell, “My surgery isn’t scheduled until 10:30.  They told me to be here by 9:00.  I don’t know what paperwork I’d need to complete, I did everything online.”

I didn’t say it out loud, but as I did the math in my head, I was in a state of disbelief. Three hours!  We had almost three hours to wait. I’m not a hurry-up-and-wait kind of guy, but obviously today I was becoming one whether I wanted to our not.

I coaxed the Honorary General out of the car and as we walked toward the entrance to the to the hospital, I put my arm around her shoulder and assured her she’d be just fine.  She leaned slightly into my arm.  For the first time, I recognized that she had some anxiety related to the procedure.  Offering reassurance, we walked into the hospital lobby. It wasn’t cold!

According to the written instructions, the surgery center was to our right.  When we got to the “glass elevators”, we would take the elevator to the lower level.  Okay, I was perplexed.  What does a glass elevator look like?  Since we subsequently discovered there was only one set of elevators to our right, we opted to try them even though they looked like every other elevator I’ve seen (solid silver colored door).  When the door opened, the back wall of the elevator was glass.  It looked down into the surgery center waiting room.

“Are you kidding me?”  I didn’t say it out loud, but the waiting room was totally packed.  It wasn’t yet 8:00 a.m.  Like the sands of an hourglass, we were joining a sea of other people in a large, but cramped waiting area already filled with people.  I’ve never eaten sardines, but I had the mental image that we were soon to have an experience that would remind us of a can of sardines.

I can’t really say the time passed quickly.  I also can’t confirm that arriving early altered the surgery schedule. I can say that I learned a surgery waiting room is not the place to have what should be a private conversation.  I was sitting almost knee to knee with a guy whose chair was on the other wall.  At some point he made a telephone call.  It wasn’t that I was eavesdropping, but without putting a finger in each ear, there was no way I wasn’t going to hear his side of the conversation.

I tried not to look in his direction.  I didn’t want him to be aware that I was the third-party hearing everything he had to say.  Obviously, he was talking to his ex-wife.  You are probably wondering how I knew it was his ex-wife?  Okay, I couldn’t help myself, as the conversation ensued I looked in his direction.  I’m not good at guessing ages, but I’d say the man was in his mid-to-late thirties.  Interestingly, his demeanor wasn’t one of anger.  From what I’d just overheard, I assumed there would be steam coming out of his ears, but he looked more confident than he did angry.  I noticed that he was wearing a wedding ring.  That’s how I deducted he was talking to his ex-wife.

His voice was authoritative, but it wasn’t a threatening angry tone. It was more of a “matter of fact”, “this is non-negotiable”, “Don’t make me do this”,  “I don’t want to got there, but I will if I have to” kind of conversation.  Let there be no mistake, this was not a conversation I’d be comfortable having with anyone in a hospital waiting room filled with people.

The man’s voice carried a tone of confidence as he said, “What you are doing is hurting the children and it is wrong. I want you to stop this behavior immediately. If you don’t, I will take you back into court.  This time I will ask for termination of your parental rights.  The court will side with me and you know it.  You’re only responsible choice is to stop it immediately.  Please know that you’ve been warned.”

As you might suspect, it was a stretch for me to stay out of this man’s business.  I share that simply to say, on rare occasions, I can be responsible and appropriate.  I opted not to attempt to engage the man in conversation.  Perhaps, if he had seemed more vulnerable and fragile, I would have said something.  This man didn’t need help.  He already knew what he wanted and getting it was non-negotiable.

The conversation reminded me of something a friend said long ago, “If there is anything worse than a wife, it is an ex-wife.”  The man whose phone call I overheard probably would agree.

The magic hour eventually came and the Honorary General was summoned for surgery.  It went well.  I am thankful.

All My Best!

Don