Four Year Pup


It was four years ago, July 6, that we took Buster on his last trip to town. It will soon be four years, August 17, that we brought Tsuga home to Goose Creek.

This is not a very good picture from a couple of weeks ago. And contrary to how it appears, he is NOT about to stand up and walk on his hind legs, but is running toward me, full out, laughing. It will serve as a placeholder, a reminder not to forget his anniversary of becoming a part of our lives.

Maybe I’ll indulge myself and reminisce. Meanwhile, the hemlocks, his namesake, continue to turn gray and give up the ghost.

Julys Past: A Glance Back

This is a rebroadcast–from July 2002–out of those distant archives (still hard to reach just now after the recent WordPress move.) These concrete memories help “place” me today in the context of what has come in Julys past, to better hear the rhythms of these times. If you want to dance, you have to hear the music.

July Morning Sky

Things I like about summer

~ getting out of bed wearing boxer shorts, period. Not two pair of socks, silk longjohns, sweatpants, T-shirt, sweatshirt and fleece sweater…the typical Winter straight-out-of-bed garb.

~ getting out of bed and going straight to the coffee pot. I don’t have to go out on the porch where it is obscenely dark and obscenely cold in all the garb mentioned above to get kindling to start the fire. No crumpling newspaper, wiping soot off the sleeve of my fleece sweater. In summer I don’t bang my knuckles on the woodstove door pulling singed digits back from a smouldering fire that all of a sudden leaps into a conflagration, the July sun, up close and personal.

~ sitting on the front porch in my boxers with a cup of coffee in the mornings. Maybe two cups.

~ listening to the quiet sounds not made by man, while sitting in my boxer shorts, on my front porch, with a cup of coffee, straight out of bed.

~ the warmth of the morning sun on my bare legs, while sitting on the front porch, listening to the quiet sounds of nature, holding a good book in my hands which are not covered in soot.

~ the warmth of the morning sun on a vine-ripened tomato eaten whole in the garden, in my skivvies, just after my first cup of morning coffee.

~ the smells that rise from the warm earth, wafting on the morning sun, the smell of pollen like bread baking, lilacs, yellow sweet clover, spearmint along the creek, damp loam…the smell of coffee and of ripe tomatos.

~ seeing the orderly rows of stacked firewood seasoning behind the house, waiting for a time when the sun’s scorching heat is only a uncomfortable memory, its pleasant warmth a fleeting rarity; in the heat, the sour smell of oak, the medicinal smell of walnut, and the sweet smell of cherry. Each piece in the stack from woodlot to face cord has been handled over and over by these hands that will in a few long months crumple newspaper and offer each piece into the stove like an sacrament, while my mind thinks back on how nice it was to be warm, to smell the earth, to live in my skin alone, to have experienced Summer.

How Do You Spell SUCCESS?

image copyright Fred First
’tis a sad day when my photographic opportunities come only from (Friday) work and (Saturday) a day long meeting. But I’m determined to start up the learning curve with the new hardware, so I’ll take the shots where I find them. Love the one I’m with, I suppose.

Having the camera at work reminded me of another time that cameras were part of my physical therapy experience. I was working in a “pain center” where folks came after dropping through the cracks of health care or otherwise failing to improve. They were, as a rule, a very discouraged lot. It took a half dozen professionals working together as a multidisciplinary team to hope for success where other individual practitioners had failed to free the patient of their pain–or enable them to live their lives in spite of it.

On their second day in the program, one of us with a video camera in hand asked the patient to do some ordinary things: Tie your shoe. Stand up from the chair and walk in a circle and sit again. Reach up to the top of the door. Balance on one foot. Get in and out of your car.

Six weeks later, when they were perhaps still depressed, feeling like (and claiming) that they had made no progress, we would gather–the whole team and the patient–and watch the “before” pictures of their prior level of disability. They were often amazed at how far they had come, so gradually that they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see what those on the outside could observe.

This was a turning point for many, who took hope from the “proof” of the possibility, the reality of improved lives. It was often true that their pain had not changed as much as we’d hope it would. “But you’re doing A, B and C 50% better now, and, while it isn’t the best results we’d hoped for, it is nevertheless success.”

Yesterday, Leonard here gave me permission to post his picture on the hip machine. He’s an example of a physical therapy patient who would have very different “before and after” pictures! He’s a hard worker, and yesterday I learned: a singer. AND a photographer!

Like Momma Like Daughter

image copyright Fred First

Somewhere up in the Very Back Room, in a cardboard box full of faded leatherette albums filled with yellowed acetate sheets of pale Instamatic images from the Pleistocene era of our marriage and family life, is a picture of our eldest–then about a year old–gnawing a turkey bone. She is sitting in a high chair in the midst of our little apartment on Southside, Birmingham (La Clair Vista it was called, and the vista was anything but La Clair in the smoggy days before the Clean Air Act.) All around our young daughter was the chaos of Childcare By Husband, the flotsam of apartment life for which there is no storage, no hiding, no pretending–though, granted, it could have been more organized.

And seeing young Abby attaching the turkey leg on Tuesday brought back those memories, and later ones of her momma’s eating habits later in life–the slurping of spaghetti in particular–that became issues of eating etiquette of a similar kind to “don’t cram food into your mouth with your fist”.

And for this, a twenty-something-year-old Abby will berate me, much as her mother does for the picture that hangs on our wall showing her at three, sitting on the front steps of our Wytheville home in town, her index finger imbedded to the middle knuckle in her left nostril.

But hey–what are daddies (or grand daddies with cameras) for anyway?

A Separate Reality: High School Reunions

It was too long a trip from Floyd to Mobile to be comfortable with her going alone, though for me, everyone there would be a stranger. Maybe I shouldn’t go at all. It was her home town where we were headed for Thanksgiving weekend, her friends gathered there, their memories to be celebrated. I was just along to see that she got back safely to a time and place beyond the realm of our long relationship. And home again.

I knew it would not rest easy with me to stand outside the windows of her life, looking in on an era I did not share with her, a time when she was becoming who she would be when we met at Auburn our sophomore year and fell into something like love at twenty.

She spoke fondly and often over this past summer and fall of people who had been her friends, found all across the country, now friends again, brought together by email and conference calls. Their histories had become forever intertwined by the accidental thread of shared classrooms and stadium bleachers so long ago, and she would soon see them again after all these years.

It meant nothing to me except that it meant so much to her, and I would go and support her as best I could. Besides, I had to admit–I was curious to see what it would be like to be with a hundred or more people who were my age, who had lived through my times. There would at least be that sixties connection between us, and maybe something from that to say to them.

It didn’t make matters any easier that Ann was one a few who had initiated, organized and would be in charge of events over Friday and Saturday. For months, she had referred to the desktop computer’s email as her email and I was banished to the laptop in the next room. For months, I went to sleep at the usual time while she stayed up clicking the keys furiously, helping coordinate the music that the DJ would play, the name badges with pictures, the tour of the high school on Saturday afternoon.

For six months before the reunion, her present was immersed in the past, submerged in tiny black and white yearbook images of hairstyles from the a lost time, symbols that spoke through rose-colored memory of simpler, more hopeful, mostly-happy days of youth growing up in the Deep South.

Friday’s Meet and Greet under the vaulted atrium of the hotel lobby was an informal gathering. I consented to go down briefly to be introduced to a few of her most cherished friends. It wasn’t long before I found myself standing among the Ficus trees along the margins. I swirled the ice in my cup, conspicuously disengaged as gray-haired folk passed by for a quick look at my nametag. Was I another of their classmates grown unrecognizable over the decades?

Cameras flashed. Hands were shaken and held. Hugs lingered, but the crowd milled about as if they had all just woken from a long, long sleep, only to find themselves surrounded by half-familiar faces.

When we’ve known someone for decades, somehow we never let go seeing them the way they were back then. And for her eyes, this crowd of late fifty-somethings were still the people of their pictures in the yearbook. Their high school faces and youthful, pre-adult personalities were that night who they had been to her then.

But I could not see through to the young people at their core. For me the encounter was unsetting–to be standing in the midst of so many iterations of just how old my body really is, even while the boy in me lived on, looking out through my eyes at these old strangers.

Soon, I slipped away to our room upstairs; she didn’t even notice. I stood there in the dark quiet and watched the crowd -and my wife of thirty-six years, one of a hundred strangers mingling in the lobby four floors below. Hugs, back slaps, handshakes-like so many ants touching antennae and moving on. We’ve come so far together to be so far apart for these two days, I thought. But such is the stuff of high school reunions, of separate realities that have made us who we are, for better or for worse.

And through all this, we’ve gone back in our conversations to the pre-history of our relationship, and have had our own private reunion over Thanksgiving. We’ve found a common ground of understanding. In spite of the fact that we lived separate stories the first two decades of our lives and yes, that has made us see the world forever through different eyes, she and I can keep growing together, keep falling into something like love until we get it right.

We’ve hung wall paper together and we are still married. Now, we’ve survived her high school reunion. I think maybe we’re going to make it, after all.