Friday, May 30, 2008

It's the little things in life, right?

A friend of mine told me once that she thought it was, “the little things in life.” She stopped there because she assumed that I would immediately think of some nice little thing that had happened to me and I would be on the same train of thought that she was. Let me make it clear though, I knew exactly what she was saying, what she meant and what I was supposed to carry away from her little sentence fragment. But my off beat sense of humor made me go the other way with her statement. Yep, it's the little things in life alright, Pop used to say that a bit of pepper or a blackberry seed from the jam felt like a boulder under his dentures. That's one of those, “little things in life.”

Outside my window, closest to my bed, there is an auto with one of those long playing car alarms. When someone touches the car, even just leans against it, their small movement becomes, “a little thing in life.” It becomes a half hour symphony of beeps and whines, discord in the key of car. By the same token though, a grain of sand in the right oyster and it can produce a beautiful, “little thing in life.”

I mention these things because of the statement, “it's the little things in life.” The phrase usually is followed with the statement,”that makes life worth living,” or some other statement of conventional wisdom. There is a lot of truth to statements like the one that ends, “that makes life worth living.”

On Tuesday morning, after a long weekend, I opened the newspaper and stopped at the obituaries. I always joke that I look for my name first, if I don't find it then I figure I'll work the rest of the day, right after reading the obits then I read the comics. As a florist though, the obituaries are kind of like our sports page, we look at it first to see what the day might be like, what the score is, if you will. Since people die in the newspaper in alphabetical order, it doesn't take long to formulate a good idea of how things might work and it also lets names jump out at you because it is so organized.

On Tuesday it wasn't a name that jumped from the page and slapped me awake, it was a photo attached to an obituary that stopped me in my tracks. The fact of the matter is, I said rather loudly, “OH NO, it can't be.”

The picture on the page was of the man who owned the beauty salon down the street from the flower shop where I work. The owner of the salon, 40 years old had passed away only the day before and very unexpectedly. In fact, I had seen him on Saturday morning.

He was a handsome man, but whats more he was handsome on the inside and the only conversation that I ever had with him was at the dumpster in the parking lot where he was wrestling a large box into the dumpster and losing. I walked over and said, “let me help you.” After that we waved at each other across the parking lot and you could see his smile across that distance. It felt good to share the greetings and we shared them very often, sometimes a couple of times a day, these greetings went on for years. But the news in the paper on Tuesday was that he wouldn't be there to wave any more. I would see his bright smile in the parking lot no longer.
In this case the feelings were twofold, it is true that it is the little things in life that make it special. That wave across the marking lot made life for me better, it improved the quality of my life and yet, it was a wave, a little thing.

As Tuesday wore on, I realized that it is the little things in life. This man's passing suddenly felt like a bit of pepper under a set of dentures. This loss of a, little thing in life, had that annoying kind of pain, and was not little, it was HUGE. As time goes by I'm sure that I will look out across the lot to wave at my neighbor as he gets out of his pick up truck, but he won't be there. It will hurt like a grain of sand in the oyster, but I realize already that this man, the one who was nameless until I read it in the paper was a man who was allowing me to find a pearl in the oyster, sure that precious gem is small, built of an even smaller thing, but it's value is huge. I have lost something of great worth, but I enjoy the thought that it was the little thing in life, Rusty's friendliness that made my life better.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Quiet Walk in The Old Northside

It was very quiet when I woke this morning, that's unusual in the city. There were no clanging dumpster lids, no cars charging toward the center of town, people off to work as though they can't wait to get there, when in reality they didn't leave in time because they most likely didn't want to go at all. Today is Memorial Day and many of the city's workers have the day off, hence the quiet. In fact, it appears that even the drug dealers and prostitutes that parade past my building in constant motion seem to have the morning off. They are not yelling at passing cars simply because there are so few of them.

For me, a morning person, it seemed like the perfect time to take advantage of the quiet for a stroll through the neighborhood just to the east of me. If I walk just a block over the neighborhood changes from one that looks a bit blighted to one that is beautifully cared for and is filled with interesting sights to drink in. So, at half past seven this morning I put my shoes on and took a walk through the Old Northside. It's an area that gives me a taste of another world, so unlike the one that I live it.

Here's why I like to move a block over: across the street from my apartment is another apartment building, it is waiting for rehab, all of it's former tenants have had to find other places to live, some of them moved into my building and have been very quiet neighbors, though some are not quick to speak to you in the parking lot or at the mailbox, I try to remind myself that I'm a country boy and you wave at every car that goes by and you speak to each person that you meet. I suppose they have their reasons for shutting out the world. I can look across the street and see a small lawn area that used to be Derek's Garden, (check the archives here and you can read about his garden,) I have a feeling that if Derek were to come back to his former home he would be sickened by the sight of his garden. The grass is tall enough now that only a few inches of the tops of the park benches are visible. His hedge of Rose of Sharon is haphazard and the weeds have taken over his flower beds to the point that there really aren't flower beds anymore, they have been choked by the grass gone to seed. And yet, one block over to the east things improve and two blocks over it becomes another world, a world of beauty and charm.

On Park Avenue I met a woman who was out doing what I was doing, drinking in the quiet and the beauty of the new day. I greeted her with a good morning, nearly whispered as if we were somewhere sacred, actually I suppose we were, there is enough stained glass in the neighborhood that one could nearly call it church, but instead I would rather think of it as God's cathedral. She whispered the reply and I felt that she was feeling the same way, surrounded by the holy. There were only a few people visible around and they were walking as though they were walking through a museum, foot steps not to be heard for fear of interrupting another's view of Van Gogh's field of poppies or iris. In fact on this quiet street the gardens are running over with iris and the kinds that win awards at flower shows. I was especially taken in by one whose massive blooms were the color of a school bus. Another was the shade of peach that reminded me of bridesmaids dresses, complete with a ruffled edge. Another was the bearer of a breathtaking complimentary color scheme, pale yellow over light lavender. A hedge of mock orange bore one last bloom, the rest of the petals on the grass and sidewalk looking like the last of the snows.

The old houses on Park and Alabama truly look as though they don't belong in my neighborhood. They are classic examples of, well, classic styles of architecture and each has a tad bit of lawn and flower beds that continue to break forth in glorious bloom. But the most beautiful thing of all in this morning walk was the quiet, even the man overhead running the vacuum on what would now be called his exterior living room, (you know, a balcony with some nice furniture on it?) looks embarrassed that he has broken the quiet. He nods a greeting though and I appreciate that.

Since I work in a flower shop I might appreciate the flowers more than others, I don't know that for sure, but maybe I do. When I walk through neighborhoods such as this one and I see such sophisticated blossoms I want to pull up a chair and see what they know, they look as though they could carry on lofty conversations about the architecture, the well educated children of the area or the current state of affairs that the hellebores is having with the coral belles, speaking of them as though they were spatting neighbors. Yet, they only speak with their glory saying nothing bad about anyone around them. Maybe it's because they know the weeds are three blocks over bending to the ground in the strong winds. And quiet doesn't have the same respect on my street as it does on theirs.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Time Does Fly

While some believe that time flies when you are having a good time, let's face it, time really does it's best flying as you grow older, good time being had or not. When you are a kid a ride of any distance in the car brings the thought to mind and then of course to lips, “are we there yet?” When you're a kid time and distance mean very little to you. As a kid there are exceptions to all things. When you are young and you are playing outside after dinner you suddenly have a sense of time when you see the sun fall behind the neighbor's house, you know that before long it will drop below the horizon and the street lights will come on and then you will have to go in and do the things that go with the end of the day and then you recognize time, it's time to go to bed, ready or not.

As we age the concept of time changes, as teens we feel like time is our ocean and we can play in its surf forever. The fact that the street lights have come on doesn't mean that we have to put our bikes in the garage and go in for the night. In fact, when we get closer to our twenties we think of sunset as the real beginning of our day, the time when we don't have to think about school, we can visit with friends, tuck away into our private space and put the bear buds on our iPod in and forget the world as we drift away in that infinite sea of time.

Yet, as we grow older time moves faster. In fact, I have heard our lives compared to rolls of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end the quicker the tube rolls. I think that is fairly accurate. It feels to me some days that I have no more shaved and brushed my teeth until I'm back in front of the mirror the next morning looking at my puffy eyes all over again.

All of this thought on the relativity of time stems from my thinking today of how things move so quickly for some and so slowly for others as I look the second anniversary of my father's death in the face. For me it often seems as though he died just a month or so ago and then there are times when I feel like it has been a pair of years. Today, it has felt like both.

I visited the unit that Pop was in at Methodist Hospital this evening. I do so every now and then, I drop off a note of encouragement to patients and their families. I sign them with the nickname that my father gave me, he being the only one allowed to use it. When you are in the hospital or a health care residence of any kind, time passes so slowly and there are times that you want it to go faster and times you are glad that it doesn't. Having someone leave a card on your tray table while you're napping helps to pass time in a good way.

Pop and I had a rough start, to say otherwise would be stretching the truth dangerously thin. We had a smooth finish though and for that I am so very grateful. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have had more time with him, what wisdom would I have heard or seen? I think I would have learned more about the things he did for others, quietly and at the right time.

That isn't how it worked out though and it's then that I think about the wisdom of King Solomon when he said, “to everything there is a time and a season to every purpose under heaven.” There is too, a time to put your bike away when the street lights come on and then later you realize that there is a time to answer the call to go to, “that house not made with hands.”

Time does fly.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Mother and Child Reunion

The school that my mother attended from first through twelfth grade is also the school where I attended first through sixth grade. By the time I started there it was no longer a high school, just a grade school. Because my mother was twenty when I was born, everything monumental in our lives seems to be based on twenty, go figure. In 1946 my mother started first grade at Union School, in 1966 I started there. (My father attended school there for the later part of his education.) He and Mom graduated in 1958 and I graduated in 1978, Union being part of a consolidated school system, you can say in essence that we graduated from the same school.

Since I graduated in 1978 the math I learned at Union will back me up when I say that this year I’ve been out of school for thirty years. I attended my 20-year class reunion and noticed that the gathering of the large class of over 300 had drifted into smaller clusters of people chatting and visiting, these groups were made up of the ones who went to elementary school together. My class from Union did the same thing as the former students of Hopewell, Needham, Webb, Northwood and Southside. Makes sense really, these are people who have shared a lengthy history. After all, we signed one another’s yearbooks and field trip permission slips for a lot of years. I often thought that I was Mrs. Brown; I did her report card signing duties for a long time. I think it’s okay to tell that now.

When I thought about the groups that gathered at our last reunion I thought about how we should have a reunion of the classmates from grade school. Union has an alumni association and each year they have a dinner at the school where each of the classes join together to reconnect, even though some of them just visited at Wal-Mart the night before. They visit and recall the good old days. Even though Union ceased to be a high school in the mid 1960s I thought it would be a good time to gather my class from the ‘70s and enjoy a visit as a part of the larger group of alums.

Remember the math thing earlier? If a student who graduated from high school in 1978 is celebrating his 30th anniversary of the event and his mother graduated twenty years prior, how many years has she been out of high school and what year did she graduate? (Trust me, this story problem, as we used to call them, is a lot easier to figure out than the ones that started with, “if a train leaving Boston…”) Yes, your 3rd grade math lesson at the feet of Mrs. Bridges, shod in sensible shoes of course, has worked! Mom has been out of school since 1958 and that was 50 years ago. My mother’s class was seated at a special table for the honor and a substantial showing from her class of 20 were there. Though there are three who were attending in spirit only as they have gone on to better seating heavenward, my father one of them. It was neat to see this long table covered in the school colors, blue and gold, surrounded by a group of people who haven’t wandered very far from home or has failed to be like family for one another. The women in the group have a Christmas get together each year and the entire class tries to do something together each summer. My mom acts as cruise director in a way, and they thank her for keeping them connected.

I could see that my mother was proud and I understand the pride that she was feeling, she was with some of the people that she has the longest shared history with short of her family. She has known many of these people since she was six years old and now sixty two years later, they are all seated at a long table visiting like it was a family Thanksgiving dinner and they hadn’t seen one another in ages.

I felt some of the same pride; I enjoyed listening to those in my group share where their lives had taken them and where they were at now, some told of where they hope to be heading. I was a bit surprised that two in the class had gone back to school, one of them missing that evening to attend her capping ceremony as a nurse.

It was a good evening, knowing that in many ways this gymnasium full of people share a common interest, celebrate a shared history and hold an old brick building full of memories in such high esteem.
So, it was a good reunion for my mom and dad’s class of 1958 and my class of 1978. Since it was on Mother’s Day weekend I like to think of it as, “The Mother and Child Reunion.”