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Wednesday, April 18, 2018
... spring blooming still here in Virginia, when it is over in middle Georgia. I have enjoyed a second spring since arriving last Wednesday morning. Lots of trees that are fully leafed out farther south are still in glorious bloom here. It has been loverly!

The dogwoods are just starting to get past their glorious peak. I have seen so many out in the woods, naturalized, obviously volunteers that are so pretty when all the other trees are bare and you see those drifts of brilliant white blossoms that are so eye-catching as you ride along. Others that have been planted around homes, having grown and matured, placed where they are the centerpiece of carefully manicured landscaping.

The redbud trees. Overlooked and nondescript most of the year, simply not noticeable growing out in the forest. Until early spring when every thing else is gray, drab, virtually colorless: then those brilliantly colored tiny little blooms open and put on a fabulous display. Multitudes of wee little lavender blossoms that appear along each branch of the tree. They are actually unusual in that the blooms develop on the twigs and limbs, without any sort of stem between the bark and flowers. Even though the blooming period is long over in middle Georgia, they  have been beautiful out in the wildness of wooded areas her in Virginia.

And - amazingly - still some daffodils blooming. I know there are innumerable varieties, that will put on a show over an extended period of time through many weeks. But the performance of bulb plants has been over for so long farther south, it has been a delight to still see some at their peak here. Most of the ones I have seen, planted in large clumps for best visual impact have been palest yellow, with heads gently nodding in the breeze. Along with some sort of brightly blooming ground cover that is likely Thrift, creeping along in lavender and white. Planted to prevent erosion on the steeply sloped verge of a driveway in an effort to retain soil, where it is turned loose to grow unhindered and be more attractive from year to year.

Then there are the hardwoods. I have sat here in the sun room at the breakfast table over recent days and seen the deciduous trees begin to leaf out. With rain over the weekend and warming sunshine each day, you can almost see them growing. Putting out the lime green wee leaves that will mature over the coming weeks to make create a thickly shaded slope behind the house, down toward the creek running through the slough. Knowing it will eventually become so dense the neighbors' homes will disappear from sight.

It is delightfully entertaining to sit here and observe cardinals and blue jays flitting through trees, with their amazing navigational skills that allow them to avoid  crashing.  See them scatter leaf mulch as they unearth tasty tidbits. Watch the squirrels optimistically visiting the (empty) bird feeder each morning,eternally hopeful of raiding the seeds meant to attract feathered friends. And see spring arrive inch by inch, day by day.

it would not be...

Tuesday, April 17, 2018
...appropriate to have April 15 on the calendar without taking the opportunity to remember my dad. Today is the day everyone in the USA is required to submit tax returns, often accompanied by a check made out to the IRS. My dad, a devoted patriot, found the IRS despicable. I can only assume the animosity was in a convoluted way due to his work ethic. Meaning he worked hard to support his family, was self employed most of his life, and knew he earned every dollar that came his way. Making him profoundly reluctant to turn it over to the government without a whimper. He never failed to write the check and send the funds, according to the bottom line of the convoluted document he faithfully deciphered and completed each year. But he did wait until April 14 to mail the check. Determined to never give them more than due, or a moment before the law prescribed.

 My dad knew long before the US became involved in armed conflict that caused him to serve in the European Theater of WWII that he wanted to serve his country. When he went off to college, he chose a military school, and was an active participant in the ROTC program at the two year school he attended. He transferred to a four year university  (if I am correct, the University of Georgia was the first one established in the state and possibly the nation?) and continued to be active in ROTC. Upon graduating with a Business degree, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army.

The details get a little obscure here, and I am not so sure about the specifics. He returned to south GA. awaiting orders, where he settled into small town life living with his parents. Armed conflict was brewing across Europe and he surely knew it would only be a matter of time before he was called into active service. He found a job, and went to work. I have a clear memory of him telling about the news flash on the radio: the Japanese bombing in Hawaii. He was driving home on that Sunday morning, and said he turned the car around and went back to tell his supervisor at work he would not be returning to his job.

He was activated, called up to serve, trained in artillery, given a company to command, went to England and then to France.  After the armistice, he returned to GA to go into business with his dad, was discharged from active duty, married, raised a family. But continued his service in the National Guard (taking a reduction in rank to get into the local Guard unit) as well as years spent in the Reserves. I know he received retirement income,as well as some very good benefits through the VA as a result of his devotion to service, that provided care and Rx for both he and my mom.

My brain is programmed to be hyper aware of April 15. It will always cause me to think of him and his very strong feelings about the IRS. The man who faithful in giving Uncle Sam his due, but not a minute early.

post script: When April 15 falls on a weekend, the IRS generously allows extra time for people who knew on January 1 that 4-15 was coming. All those foot-draggers who waited until last week, scrambling to get receipts, documents, medical bills together had until today, when the gov'mit relocated the 15th to the 17th. Thus my tale about my dad arriving two days after Income Tax Day.

while sitting...

Monday, April 16, 2018
...in the quiet with my brother over recent days, I noticed that his wife had started writing his obituary. This may sound maudlin, but she knew. The surgeon had given a very clear picture of what the future held when these two people made the decision to return home upon discharge. They chose: no rehab, no nursing facility. Like so many people who have the sense of' being held against their will' in hospital beds: he just wanted to go home. To the place of comfort and safety he had known for so many years.

She had been keeping a journal to help document meds., give sitters a place to make notes, and just generally keep tabs from day to day in their profoundly fractured lives. There, on the back page of the lined, spiral bound notebook, she had begun to gather her thoughts for the inevitable. I sat in the quiet, just being nearby, listening to him breathe. Began to look over the notes about meds. for the past weeks and months, glancing through the history of what their lives has been like since mid-January. I came to the condensation of seventy years of a full, rich, busy life. And added a few lines to the page she had written. There is always a narration, in chronological order, from birth through the years of education and career, but often nothing to help readers better form an image of the man who walked through this world and made an impact on so many diverse lives.

     "His mother said of his Dad, 'He was happiest when something was broke and needed fixing'. This is even more true of Tom  - the inveterate tinker-er. He was the consummate problem solver, a career trouble shooter. A man who would, like his dad, much rather take anything apart, repair and re-assemble than purchase a replacement. Tom was beloved by coworkers who believed wholeheartedly there was no technical glitch on the planet he could not puzzle out to figure a solution. He was loved even more by his family, who daily witnessed his ability to ponder, consider,  'sleep on it' and come up with a creative, ingenious out-of-the-box method to fix any appliance, tool or broken toy presented to him that needed attention.
     Tom was raised by generations of people who loved the Lord, in an extended family faithful in their attendance and attention to the needs of church and community. As a long standing member of New Bridge Baptist, he was generous with his time and skills as well as financial resources. Often the first to arrive and last to leave, he loved his church family as devotedly as the wife, sons and those delightful grandchildren he leaves behind.
     To his family, friends and coworkers over a long richly blessed, joy-filled life, he was a caring compassionate, God-loving man. We will all miss his wisdom, wry wit and bad jokes, good attitude and tinkering skills. And with great anticipation, await the Joy of what comes next: ...'today, you will be with me in paradise.' (Luke 23-24)"

The memorial service will be next Sunday afternoon at the church they attended for over forty years.

finding the joy...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

.. that can be had hiding within the heartache. My brother died yesterday, after a long lingering as his health declined over days and weeks since the horrific diagnosis the end of last year. He had become bed bound and immobile, so as the sons came in and out for brief visits, his wife was the faithful-est of faithful providing round the clock care for months. There were some paid caregivers who came through, often overnight, and occasional day sitters who provided little bits and shreds of relief. We  are all thankful he is no longer struggling. He knew where he was going, and we can rejoice through tears.

As she has begun to sort out the process of the final goodbye, talking to pastors and end of life personnel, there have been spots of gleaming sunlight streaming through the gloom. She and I have spent a good deal of time in their breakfast room, with windows on three sides, where you literally sit out in the woods. Nearly twenty feet above the ground, up into the trees. Sharing meals, talking about Tom, reminiscing, remembering, telling stories that are sometimes brand new to other ears, often repeated and embellished over time.

Oddly enough, as it was obvious the end was near, she found it more difficult to go in the room where he was lying, nearly immobile, when each breath was a struggle, in a slow heart-wrenching decline. While I found it easier to sit with, hold his hand, talking to him, or just being near without words.  It has been mentally, emotionally, physically exhausting for her as the constant, round-the-clock caregiver. So even though grief is a sharp pain, constant companion, there is comforting knowledge that he is at peace, feeling none of the things that made us all ache for him as we were helpless to change the course of this awfulness.

If you have been to memorial services in recent years, you have seen a collage that condenses family history to a series of interesting and amusing photographs that depict years of an individual life.  The ones gathered here on the floor of the den have laughed and cackled, groaned, and giggled while looking through boxes, albums, envelopes filled with the past forty years, memorialized on paper.
Looking at photos of spiffy little guys dressed in stiff new clothing for on Easter Sunday. Galloping high energy little boys in hilarious costumes at birthday parties filled with super heroes. Family gatherings  including generations now departed. Young guys in cap in gown as they progress through the years: graduating from kindergarten, high-school and college. Serious young couples, dressed to the nines, with astoundingly bad hair, headed off to the prom. And a few photos of the guy who was usually the one behind the camera. Where Tom's beloved face showed up often enough to provide a number of candid photos, allowing those in attendance a sweet remembrance. When they gather in a week's time at a service for friends, family, co-workers, fellow Baptists to view a long happy life of a devoted family man.

It has been good to be here with them, to share the companionship, and see them interact. To have the time to spend unhurriedly conversing about things of importance, as well as trivial words of little consequence. To be here, offer the small comfort of presence, during this season as they experience and learn another of life's hard lessons.

'that close'...

Friday, April 13, 2018
... to (possibly) being detained and incarcerated. I thought I had come dangerously close to being classified as a criminal with terror in my heart. And would have likely been terrified myself if the tale had ended differently, and I had actually been locked away.

When I got put out at the airport before daylight on Wednesday morning, I had to stop and search on those big lighted displays right for a Delta flight. Then decided I'd best make a stop by the facilities before getting in the long, meandering, slow line, that might could stall out (like Atlanta traffic!) as we laboriously, obediently made our collective way through the screening process. So naturally, while in the 'Ladies', as I was carefully guarding  my person and baggage to prevent tampering by miscreants, the gate info. slipped out of my brain, requiring me to return to the big lighted displays to confirm.

Then on to the dreaded inching-along line to be squeezed into the system, scanned for contraband. Over time I have figured out to have a plastic zipper bag handy, drop everything in the clear bag and zip it shut, contain all that must come out of pockets. With wallet, change, phone, misc. to keep up with, it seems like a simple solution to empty pockets and put it all in a bag that you can just grab out of the plastic bins at the far end of the scan process.
The last couple of times I have been through the pre-boarding routine, I decided to wear my knee brace on the outside of my pants, to ease the process of being frisked. If they can see it, and wipe it down for trace elements, it just simplifies the necessity to be assured of safe passage. Plus it makes me look disabled, and gives the workers the opportunity to shunt me off into the shorter line where people in rolling chairs, transported to their flights by airport personnel.

I completely totally forgot about that folding knife in my pocket. When I reached in to get out my phone and insert in the zipper bag, out came the knife. After I said: 'Oh, s#!t', I immediately reached over and dropped it in the nearby trash can. Probably placed there for that specific purpose. Instantly, without hesitation, just tossed it in where it landed with a small 'clang'. Gone forever. I cannot even begin to imagine what the response would have been if I had put it in my zipper bag for all to see, or tucked it away in my luggage.

Sadly, I had just found it the day before when it appeared in the bottom of the washer. I must have left it in a pocket and it came out during the agitation process with a load of dark clothing. I was so pleased to recover it, as it had been missing for some days leaving me thinking: Long Gone. But I did not for one instant think of how I might hold on to it  - just leaned over the opening in that trash can and let it go.

Interesting to look back over that seconds long event of me disposing of my accidental weapon and see that I did not hesitate. I am now surprised as I consider the fact that I made no effort at all to negotiate... I guess I just wanted to get through that screening and on to the plane-train, move on in hope of being allowed to board when I got to the gate, wanting desperately to fly, that I knew conversation was not an option?

book review: "What Made Maddy Run"...

... written by a correspondent for ESPN, Kate Fagan. Subtitled: 'The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All American Teen.'  Published in 2017 by Little Brown. I did not know anything at all about the author, only have a vague idea about ESPN: a sports channel, right? Not particularly interested in sports, and don't devote my time to television, so I have no knowledge of the author or sporting activities.

Madison was a great soccer player in high school, well liked by all who knew her, team-mates, fellow students, teachers, community members. Just a sweet tempered good kid who was also an excellent athlete. She began to run as a way to build endurance, make herself a better at soccer that she had been playing since grade school. Obviously driven to excel, she was even better at track than on the soccer field. Noticed by college recruiters she was offered a scholarship to be part of the track and filed team at Penn. University.

When she finished high school in New Jersey and started to Penn. in the fall she struggled to fit in, did not seem to adjust to college life. Even though her expressed desire as a high school student as to be accepted at an Ivy League school, she was acutely unhappy as she attempted to settle into a routine around athletics and classes, study and social life at the university. She knew something was not right, could not identify the problem and sought help through the counseling program. Constantly in touch with her family, they believed she to find her groove, and settle into a life that was vastly different from living at home and being surrounded by her teammates and close friends in high school. Her parents tried to get her in with a private doctor, to try to figure out why she was having such a hard time, seemed to be so unsettled.

She talked of transferring to a different college, thinking she needed to make a change that would allay her anxiety. Her family, though worried, felt she could adjust, find the help she needed, and be successful.  Maybe it was a chemical imbalance, that could have been resolved with labs and an evaluation. Maybe she could have met with a counseling expert, had some talk therapy, figured out why she was so stressed out. Maybe there was something that happened in her life she could not ever share or unable to talk about.

Maddy was nineteen when she jumped from a multi-level parking deck. Left a bag of gifts for family members on the top level of the deck before she ran and jumped over the guard rail. And a lot of unanswerable questions.

The book was hard to read: a sad story, with the knowledge from the title it would not have a good outcome. Also difficult to read as there were pages of text messages back and forth with friends and family. And messages lifted from her computer files that the family provided access to. Just a heart wrenching narrative that attempted to decipher what went wrong - when ultimately it doesn't matter.

cheatin' songs...

Thursday, April 12, 2018
...on the country/western radio station come to mind when I am motivated to make a confession.  Believing I should own up before the time comes when I get caught in a situation where the cops come into the interrogation room and give me the 'third degree'. I will go ahead and admit to having the feeling of cheating on my BFF by going to Taco Bell without her.

People in their church family have been very thoughtful, dependable and generous providing meals on a regular basis over the weeks they have been in need. Signing up on a rotating basis to deliver delicious eats twice a week to relieve some of the stress of care giving. I've done my best to be helpful by eating leftovers and consuming home cooked meals as often as possible: one of those things that could be classified (with a smirk) as a 'dark and dirty job, but someone has to do it'. Most of which has been excellent - pretty much my opinion about anything I do not have to prepare myself.

But today, just for a change of pace, we decided to get take-out and I made a run several miles down the road to a newly completed Taco stand. So new, in fact. that they have not marked the lines for parking lot on the newly pressed asphalt. With customer service people who are so freshly trained, they don't know where all the buttons are on the screen to punch in orders. Causing confusion and panic when I came along and order something they had never heard of when required to memorize the menu.

If I were at home, the Bell is The Place my friend PC and I consistently go when we think it is time to meet and talk. Which we do on a regular basis when we have news or concerns to share, things we need to confess or talk about, solve the problems of the world over tray full of ninety nine cent tacos.  I'm feeling badly that I went to the Taco store and did not meet PC, as she is the most best taco eating friend in  my life. A sneaky thing for me to do, as well as unpardonable of me to unwrap tacos without her presence. Trying to justify away my guilt with the knowledge that they were not eaten there on the premises, but put in a bag to take back to the house and eat off paper plates.

I have a poor but hopeful theory about personal mishaps: if there are no witnesses, it didn't really happen. In the way people have dreamed up additions to Murphy's Law, another consideration is: If You Don't Confess, They Won't Know You Are Guilty. Meaning I just won't tell her I have been to Taco Bell and she did not get invited. All well and good until someone goes without inviting Me!