Monday, December 28, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
World of Lepers
Who writes about lepers?
Only those who wake up less whole
Lepers check the morning bed
For what fell off in the night
They gather hair from the pillows
And give passionate eulogies for each white strand
You will be missed my thin albino friends, you will be missed
Then sitting on the edge of the bed
While my feet rest on the lost years crumpled on the floor
My hand feels three hearts-my three hopes
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The song in my head shouts "Last Call"
Up all night singin'
Shuffle my feet
Snap my fingers
That dark air dancin' all around my face
She says, "One more slow dance"
A flower falls from her hair
and I'm too slow to catch it
The petals on the rose fall apart
This time it's my turn
I dry her tears and pick up the pieces
I really thought I could catch
Every single rain drop
Of every single stinging second
Of every single stinging day
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Her last six months of earthly life were lived in a small town in New Jersey where she was living off of raw juices. A team of friends would volunteer their services taking care of her every need except for ginger snap cookies and Tetley tea, and ice cream and hamburgers... Her main care givers were Janice and Charles Stillhard. No two people worked harder to try and extend the life of another, but that is there story to tell. I want to talk about her memorial which was held some months after her passing. Janice told the story in front of about a hundred family and friends about how she met my mother-a story that was new to me. Janice related how she was desperate to stay alive and had exhausted all treatments that she could find out about. My mother was referred to her by someone in the New York area. She called up and they had a conversation which I can only imagine and she was invited to visit. Janice decided to fly into Portland and for a variety of legitimate reasons she was scared-it was do or die time and she was about to put her life in hands of a real eccentric in every way. She even belonged to something called the Baha'i Faith which Janice thought was a nudist society cult. When she was telling this story I was thinking "Wow! you really wanted to live!" My mother had given Janice directions from Portsmouth, N.H. although she had told Dr. Mary she was coming from Portland, Me. Needless to say the directions made no sense and poor Janice had been driving around frazzled mentally and physically. Finally she made it to Eliot Me. and had found a Green Acre Baha'i sign for a place called Fellowship House. There was a sunburst carving on the sign that sent chills up her back because there was a nudist camp in rural N.J. with a similar sign. She knew she was close but still there was no house with a porch light on an it was eleven at night. She called my mother who said she was right down the street from her house and would she please hurry because she was anxious to get out of her clothes. Suddenly, Janice wasn't so sure wasn't paying too high a price to stay alive. She was greeted warmly at the door and their was a pot of comforting soup on the stove and a comforting presence to serve it. They became close friends and Janice and her daughter actually lived with my mother for several years and Janice became a Baha'i and regained her health-although to my knowledge she never did become a nudist. My daughter Laurel read my contribution to the memorial.
I was hoping
I think you were too
If there was an Indian Summer left in you
A reward for fixing broken bodies and shattered spirits
A last season on the porch
Of swaying and being swayed
By the colorful sleep of the twilight sky
"See this sunset," you'd say
"Abdu'l-Baha loved the sunsets at Green Acre.
Can't you picture him walking on stairs of light
to the other world."
And there you go,
A dying sun burning brightest at the end
All eyes of the universe giving reverence to this moment.
To be seen
Monday, December 7, 2009
I was in college struggling mightily with hard core science courses for which I had no aptitude. All my uncles worked for IBM and they urged me to follow in their footsteps. I know they meant the best for me but it was the proverbial round peg in a square hole scenario. The war in Vietnam was heating up and I was imagining myself trying to hide behind flimsy rice stalks in a swamp with deadly snakes crawling up my pants. While in college I was called along with a thousand other young men to appear for a draft physical in Albany, N.Y. I really was not that worried because I was overweight. In fact the first stop on the physical conveyor belt was stepping on a scale and when the room stopped shaking my physical form was stamped with a huge REJECTION. So here I was not a care in the world amidst all these athletes who gazed on my being with doe like admiration. They knew I was home free and that they were taking the first step in acquiring PTS. A few stops later I took the eye exam and was accused of faking it to get out of the military. I have been legally blind in my right eye since birth but instead of trying to explain I pointed out that I had already been rejected for reasons of being a hopeless blivet. "Oh" was the reply and I eventually ended up in the world's biggest gym with a thousand naked guys all standing in a row for a hernia exam. In front of us was a paunchy hopelessly depressed doctor who actually did this day after day for a living. I thought how does someone go through medical school and end up here-one too many malpractice awards or a serial killer doing community service? He stood in front of us and asked us to bend over and for some reason having to do with a low I.Q. 999 men bent one way and I bent the opposite way. Don't try to picture this because you will never again enjoy your food. The laughter was deafening but Doctor God Hates Me just looked at me with eternal sadness in his eyes. I was sitting serenely in some lounge at the end of the physical when a young man in uniform fetched me to see Colonel Lifer in his private office. I was ready to explain why I bent the wrong way when I was politely asked to take the chair in front of his desk. I noticed the lack of a salute and thought of mentioning that when he said "Son, I have bad news for you."
"Oh my God ! The war in Vietnam is going so badly (all those hippies were right!) that they were going to draft me anyway!"
The officer continued solemnly, "Because of your physical condition we are unable to accept you into the army."
I'm waiting for the "and" and the "but"-we are going to use you for spare parts or we are trading you for POW's. I was free to go home -happy but perplexed forever.
Six months later I received a letter from the government asking "Are the conditions that disqualified you for military service still accurate?" I looked down and I still could not see my you-know-what so I wrote on their letter "yes" and sent it back. A while later they informed me that I actually had to go to a doctor to verify my overweightness. It's not enough being called fat now they doubt my word. I swallowed my pride and went our family doctor-Dr. Asstone(real name), a fat slovenly good natured old guy who blew cigar smoke in my face. In other words a doctor who is not about to lecture anyone about right living. God rest his sanctified soul. I know you are thinking this all fiction from a fevered mind, but it really happened like this.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
To say my mother had an open mind doesn't quite explain how open. You could drive a tractor trailer through a mind this open which made her tremendous search for meaning beyond the mundane a real adventure. Her search began a with fortune teller in her hometown of Beacon, N.Y. when she was young. The fortune teller told her that she would not find what she was looking for there, but would find her heart's desire far away. My being born legally blind was the impetus for her moving us to Davenport, Iowa and you would think going to college on a GED with two young boys would be enough to occupy her mind and time. We were always going to strange meetings-hushed gatherings listening to Martians speaking on reel-to-reel tape recorders. I must admit that was quite a thrill for a kid who loved to watch Captain Midnight on Saturday mornings. I delighted in having an avowed vegetarian buy me a hamburger after a Theosophist meeting. The humdinger of humdingers was Saturday nights at Edith Ewing's in Rock Island Ill. which was on the other side of the Mississippi River. I remember walking down a dark alley with my mother and brother and knocking on the door of a poor but clean apartment. About a dozen people and one Irish Setter named Rusty sat on overstuffed chairs and a sofa, My spot was a chair by the window where I could marvel at the slivers of light that would come and go past my face. She was an elderly, warm woman who lived since childhood surrounded by about six Native Americans who walked this land over a hundred years ago. They were her friends who vowed to stay with her until she passed. Did I think this was scary or odd?-no not at all which probably explains why I have never felt that comfortable in this world. Edith would sit with her eyes closed for a few minutes in this darkened living room and at some point different voices would emerge from her body. People went around the room asking questions. My mother wanted to know what her father did in the next world. One of the Native Americans would send a runner and a minute later my mother was told that her father helped children who had died a violent death transition to a purely spiritual world. My mother derived great comfort by this answer. It was something she could imagine her father doing. White Owl was a medicine man and he would answer medical questions. My mother bonded with him and all the decades of her chiropractic career he would place a light over an area that required attention on a patient. I wonder how many of thousands of people she worked on new that. I will save the most incredible part of this story for tomorrow as I need to fill out work reports.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Doris Kurzius, like my mother, is impossible to explain to anyone who has not met her. Tthe opportunity to meet both of those wonderful quirky souls has vanished along with their outer form of dust. Let's just go with quirky and leave it at that. Brian's father was non-quirky. He was the total opposite of what that word embodies. Why a quirk and a non-quirk end up together is a mystery but I can think of a lot of couples who fall into that category.
Anyway, after Charlie passed away Doris traveled like a feather taken by the winds and we never knew where or why she landed where she did, but we knew in her heart she was trying in her own pure way to serve humanity and spread the Baha'i Faith.
My equally quirky mother was holding forth in her office in Beacon, N.Y. when the phone rang. My mother did not have a receptionist or an answering machine so phone calls were answered in a terse manner. She gave her full concentration to who she was working with and had little time for small talk.
Here is my recreation of the phone call: "Mary, help!!! I'm in a cabin in the wilderness of Alaska and a bear is beating down the walls and the door. He wants to eat me!!!
"Doris!! Calm down!! You know what to do. Walk all around and shout Ya Allah El Mustaga(I'm sure I'm misspelling, but Baha'is say this in times of dire trouble). The bear will run away. Now stop bothering me!. I'm working on a patient!"
So Doris did walk around shouting this Arabic call for divine assistance and the bear did run away. The local inhabitants came the next day and were taken aback by the mauled cabin walls and wondered why she was still alive. I know people are going to suspect the veracity of this story, but that is how it happened.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Anyway, eventually my mother through sheer force of will over powered all obstacles and established a successful home practice. My grandmother moved next door to her other house and lived in the second floor apartment. The houses were close together separated by a driveway. I think mother and daughter liked that because they could spy on one another. A patient comes into the office and calmly says to Dr. Mary, "Hey isn't that your eighty year old mother up on the roof (now it makes sense) washing the windows?" I really would have liked to have been there for this incident because I think I would have been filled with admiration for my grandmother's ability to maintain her balance on a sloping roof because my mother opened her office window screaming "what the hell are you doing!!! get off that roof now!!!" A lesser mortal would have lost their balance and plummeted to their death, but Ma (what we all called her) told her to mind her own business and finished the job. Ma would also walk over, if she had a pressing question on her mind, to my mother's office and walk right in her adjusting room where Dr. Mary would be working on someone dressed in one of those gowns where your backside was exposed. "Mary, you work on customer? get me some milk when you go shopping." My mother would go nuts, "How many times do I have to tell you to knock! I'm working on naked people here!" To which Ma would say, "I seen all dat lots before." Escorting Ma out the door she would yell "And don't say customer! they are patients."
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
My father was just funny-all kinds of funny. He told me my first joke while holding his hand walking to church. "Later on I have to cut our toilet seat in half" dad said. I was stunned. "Why you doing that dad?" and he answered "Because my half ass brother is coming to town." Years later I would love to observe his interactions with the regular customers who frequented his 24 hour restaurant in downtown Danbury, Cn. This massive man would come out of the kitchen to socialize. An old customer totally disgusted with his dripping wet smelly, gross apron the size of a bed sheet said "Sam, why don't you change that apron? and my father answered with a serious face "How am I suppose to keep the soup pot full if I do that?" My favorite was this guy at the counter who was bending his ear to the floor going on and on about ground hogs chewing up his lawn. I kept thinking why was this man bothering my father-the guy is a cook not a landscaper. Dad leaned over and said to him "Why, I can help with that. Get a sign and write on it "No ground hogs allowed" and pound it into the ground. The guy did not know what to think, but I bet he never asked him pest control questions again. I have one memory that stands out-it was our wedding day and sitting side by side at the head table were my parents looking terribly uncomfortable. The death blow was administered by my Aunt Fran, who my mother couldn't stand until she was dying of Alzheimers. She walked by with a sly smile and said, "Look at the two little love birds" . My parents are gone to that promised mansion in heaven and I am sure that their rooms are as far apart as possible, but they left behind a bunch of brothers and sisters and I thank them for that. We are going to have a reunion in the spring and my parents and step mother will be there in the smiles, sarcastic remarks, the shocked expressions, the laughter and the tears. We will sit at the long dining room table and share a bowl of soup along with a nice cold glass of water.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Anyway, I was working with a brain injured client during their day program which offered a variety of classes for the members and on this day my client and friend chose a writing class. The instructor asked the group for any two random words which he wrote on the blackboard. One was "blue' and the other was "wind" and the assignment for both staff and members was to write a poem using those two words in a minute or two. Here is what I wrote:
A blue wind blew through his life
The calm never came
Each morning it howled and he howled back
But no one heard
Not even the people who had surrounded him all his life
In the end there were four silent walls
It could have been blue
I knew immediately the "he" was my older brother who had taken his life a few years before and what I know now is that not all internal damage is caused by speeding tractor trailers. Some can be caused by a blue wind.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I have started out with the more humorous stories because they are less emotional to relate, but my mother was way more than a constant source of amusement. I should say that what made her so funny to me was that she did not have a traditional sense of humor. I mean the exploding bed story would not be nearly so funny if she was in the corner of the bedroom covered in splintered wood and bedding and she she found it funny. I would tell her the same Polish joke (we are Polish on my mother's side) every year. I would say "Mom, did you hear about the Polish man who almost beat the train to the railroad crossing?" And she would say "Why no son I haven't." and I would answer "He almost made it, he hit the fifty second car." and she would say with a serious demeanor. "How can you say he almost made it. He was not even close?"
But I want my grand kids to know also the enormity of her compassion because it is what made her so special.
After we moved to Maine where my mother had opened up her second chiropractic practice and where we had joined her the last few years of her life I began to have a new appreciation of her. She worked for the love of helping others and gradually became more informal in her dress and really did not care about sticking to a prescribed length of time for a treatment. She had a beautifully old waiting room right off the kitchen that contained some comfortable chairs and a Steinway player piano. One day I came home from my wood shop and saw my pre teen daughter and my mother scrubbing the rust off of an old bike. They were laughing and having a grand time oblivious to the disaster of a mess they were creating in what was supposed to be a professional waiting room. I asked them what they were doing and mother replied. "We are fixing up this bike to give to Linda (not her real name)" I was surprised. Linda was a young girl in the terminal stage of what I think was cancer. Her blue collar father accompanied by the mother would carry her swollen body in for her weekly treatment. There is something so awful about a whimpering child in pain. Neither the parents or my mother had any illusions about a cure, but my mother was able to give her pain relief. I know also that my mother never charged this family. If a child was involved my mother was simply one of thsose rare angels. She could be abrasive with adults at times and had a fierce temper but little kids never saw those human failings. They saw a loving smile and heard a gentle voice and felt her love. Anyway, I said "Mom, I don't understand why you are doing this. Linda is never going to ride this bike." Dr. Mary looked at me and said. "Ronnie, Julia and I know that but Linda thinks she will ride this bike someday and that is all that matters." Linda passed away a short time later but she had many moments of priceless happiness thinking about riding the bike her Dr. Mary had given her.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Anyway back to reality or close to it. We drove by our old family home where my brother lived on the second floor in bachelor squalor all alone after my mother moved to Maine to open up a chiropractic office. I had a hard time recognizing the place where I grew up. There was a white picket fence with a small manicured lawn and a new porch. It was like Anne of Green Gables had moved to Beacon to escape the tourists on Prince Edward Island. I did recognize the roof over the porch and the bedroom window right above. My brother, God rest his soul, treasured his privacy and his freedom to have piles of underwear and socks heaped on a broken recliner. Our two daughters and especially our older daughter loved him and he was devoted to them often babysitting if we went to the movies. They didn't see the mess, the grime on the stove, floor, chairs, windows and cat. They just saw Uncle Bingo who loved them and did Elmer Fudd impersonations. The only intrusion into his idyllic world was the late night phone calls from my mother that drove him crazy. Finally, he got rid of his phone-money better spent at Off Track Betting anyway. The problem was the doorbell did not work and he locked the front door from the inside and there was only one way to get his attention. I would stand in front of the house and throw pennies at his bedroom window and over the years the roof was covered in pennies. My daughter wrote this poem looking back at those odd times.
Pennies on the roof
littered from Daddy’s overall pockets in winter,
the ones aimed at Uncle Richie’s storm window one
cent, a nickel, at a time
until he heard their staccatos breaking
up the television into Morse code.
we waited outside in the cold for the click of the lock
and a middle-aged, overweight bachelor who had
clam sauce and spaghetti on the stove
and his nieces on the fridge
and a picture of the child Andalib in
the school uniform paid with pennies
sifted from the sawdust and
paneling nails of his pockets.
The day there was only one left, enough to buy
a peppermint or a soul,
he called us up on the phone.
I cried afterwards, mistaking
the distance in his voice for sadness
But it was only the distance of a man,
The next morning, the pennies on the roof
were circles of gold . They glistened
in the morning
while we mourned the loss and gain of wealth.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The wedding took place in what was the town library when I was growing up. It was built through the generosity of General Howland and it is a grand ornate brick structure that has had a rebirth like the rest of the Beacon. As I entered the building I noticed the row of beautifully restored brick buildings across the street. Twenty years ago a tree had grown through the open roof of one of the buildings. Another building once housed a seedy bar that sold beer to minors for which I will always be grateful. It was easy to tell that they did because their sign said "We sell beer to minors". Another building stood right across the street from what was the police station and during the depression was the home of the legendary Toots Adams. One time Toots was standing on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the three story apartment house talking to a policeman. Here you need to know that this happened during the prohibition years when it was against the law to drink alcohol. Anyway, there was a large explosion on the third floor where Toots had his apartment and literally a river of beer cascaded three flights down the stairs to the sidewalk below. Toots and the angry policeman were ankle deep in foam and roly poly Toots seemed to be oblivious of the environment which was not that unusual. The furious officer said, "Toots! where did this beer come from?"
And Toots uttered the famous words that until this very day every school child in Beacon knows "What beer?"
Legend has it the officer could not stop laughing and simply walked away without arresting the immortal Toots.
This is the problem with going home-every square inch is the site of a memory. The wedding was even for a Baha'i wedding unique. Besides the dancing bride, there was poetry by the groom, piano playing and singing by the father of the bride, Persian prayers chanted, passages from Rumi (Rumi most be amazed at his popularity and is probably wandering the halls of heaven yelling "Where the xxx are my royalties" Finally, the bride and groom in front of two designated witnesses said the words that make a Baha'i wedding official "We all verily abide by the will of God" I smoozed with old friends , talked to Pete Seeger who sat next to me and ate finger food(Not food from Pete's fingers-just tiny meatballs). The sun was going down as we left the wedding and Karen and I completed our tour of Beacon. We drove by my old house and the house that my mother and brother lived in separated by a common driveway, but those memories I'll share in the future if you all promise to eat your vegetables.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Beacon has a mythical past based on some facts, but even the facts are of the kind that cause a minute of reflection and then "Na, I don't think so." The town exists on a narrow strip of land between the towering Mt. Beacon and the Hudson River. The story is that during the revolutionary war the good guys were concerned that the British would send their ships up river from New York City and reek havoc on upstate New York cities. The plan was to have some soldiers stationed on the top of Mt. Beacon and if those nasty British were tried to send their ships to attack upriver a bon fire or beacon (get it) would warn other soldiers stationed on either side of the river ten miles south of Beacon to pull a massive submerged chain tight so that it was resting on top of the river thus preventing ships from passing. At this point you, the reader, is expected to reflect one minute and then say "Na, I don't think so.", but this is really a true story. There is an historical marker testifying to this bit of history. Anyway, the point is that who knows what else is on top of Mt. Beacon? All kinds of dangerous foolishness could be going on and the good citizens living down below would be oblivious which leads to this story about the Melzingah Buffalo Preserve. One bored day in the life of a bored teenager with a tenuous hold on reality reads the local paper and sees a picture of a couple of dozen buffalo grazing at the base of a mountain. I imagined a Buffalo preserve on top of Mt. Beacon. The name would be the Melzingah Buffalo Preserve-logical and believable in that there was already a Melzingah Reservoir named after a local tribe of Native Americans. Well, Ron what are the buffalo doing down at the bottom of the mountain? Simple-better grass, more tender-not covered in Bald Eagle crap like the grass on the top of the Mountain. How did they get down this very steep Mountain?-That's a tough one. How about the kindly caretaker of the Preserve, Mr. Greely, brought them down one by one in the morning in his wheelbarrow and then brought them back up at the end of the day? So why a newspaper story? Has to make sense-not too far out. The wheel on his wheel barrow was broken and he had developed a large hernia and the penurious hard hearted town leaders would not buy him a new wheel. They would only give him three bucks for a role of duct tape to repair the wheel and his hernia. How is such a wrong righted?-A petition! I carefully wrote out a petition urging the civic rulers to spring for a new wheel and an operation for Mr. Greely and I placed it above the cut out of the grazing buffalo. Then I taped it to Dr, Mary's waiting room wall. Each day after school I would go back and notice with amazement the growing list of signers-some even added a few choice epithets for our skinflint mayor.
So one of the things I want to do when I go back to Beacon forty-five years later is to check my mother's waiting room wall to see how the cause is progressing. I can see myself knocking on my old front door and a young boy answers. He says "Are you here to sign the petition?" and I would say "Why, yes I am" . There would be reams of petition paper piled in a box. The family would ignore me in favor of the local news on tv. They are all eating Swanson's fried chicken dinners. I sign and say goodnight. In the car as it pulls away I add " And a goodnight to you Mom, Richie and Grandma.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Of exuberance: It was at the New york Baha'i convention the year it was held at a large hotel in New York probably forty years when the Baha'i Faith was even more obscure. We were all excited to see a fellow Baha'i and on this one day in October every year there were Baha'is everywhere-all hugging anything that moved. My mother became a pure powerful spirit feeding off the energy. We were on an elevator with our telltale glow when one passenger-not a Baha'i-just a curious businessman asked a perfectly normal question. "Who are you people?".
My mother's huge arms sprang upwards and outwards and she shouted, "We are the people of light!" The look on the man's face of total panic makes me laugh until this day.
Of hilarity: We went to visit some Baha'is in upstate New York and as usual my mother was so excited to meet new people-especially Baha'is and their friends. In a country house with a view of a meadow we sat down at a dining room table to socialize. Dr. Mary turned to an older Baha'i woman and asked, "How are things up your end?" and I, making things worse, said "Mom, you can't ask someone a question like that"
My shocked mother replied, "Oh, I didn't mean it like that!"
Of Faith: She went out to Chiropractic school in her mid thirties to try and help her son who was born legally blind. She was divorced and like so many others of the Great Depression generation had to drop out of High School to make money. With two small boys and a High School equivalency certificate and some money saved from working in a factory she began five grueling years of college. Her entire family thought she was crazy and would not help her. After going to class all day she then worked at a nursing home and came home at nine o'clock at night. She became a member of the Baha'i Faith and helped form the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Davenport, Iowa. She left Iowa in the dead of winter and arrived five days later at her Mother's house in New York-five days of sleeping at gas station parking lots from Iowa to New York. She had two pennies left in her purse.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Even when I made the move to Maine after a year of being separated from Karen, Laurel and Julia I still had furniture customers back in New York and would make the trip down with a van loaded with furniture and then make the five hour trip back usually in the same day totally exhausted. This time my my long suffering companion had made the trip with me. We were anxious to get back to Maine because although the kids were safe with Dr. Mary we always felt guilty leaving them. I remember it was summer and about three a.m. with very little traffic on Route 95. We were on the homestretch with me behind the wheel and Karen asleep on the van floor. Just as we crossed the Mass./N.H. border there was and is a welcome site-a rest stop with a concession kiosk on the side. I was trying to be courteous and quietly pulled into a space beyond the reach of the building lights so Karen's sleep would not be disturbed. I looked back and saw nothing but darkness because the overhead light had burnt out years ago and I softly whispered, "Karen, I'm making a bathroom stop. Do you need to come in?"
Half asleep she said she was fine. I softly closed the door and went into the rest stop and information part of the building where I exchanged some small talk with the attendant. On the way out I decided to go into the adjacent building for a cup of coffee. Again I made every effort to get in the van making as little noise as possible and off we were for the final forty minute trip To Eliot, Me. In fifteen minutes I could see the toll booth and began to slow down-still only two cars ahead of me on this lonely moonless night. I was waiting my turn when a another toll booth operator approached the driver window and asked if my name was Ronnie. Now this is the part you will not believe but it is totally true. I thought, "One more reason to love Maine! The state has so few people that the toll booth people get to know everybody on a first name basis! In New York this would never happen!. Then my bubble burst. "You left your wife back at the rest stop. She called and said look for a red van. I hurried back thinking Karen would be frantic and out raged but she was her loving forgiving self. As luck would have it she had woken up and gone to the ladies room when I detoured to the concession building. We must have just missed seeing each other. The rest stop attendant told us that this happened more than one would think and that all they did was call ahead to the toll booth with a description of the vehicle and the driver's name. We made it safely home and stumbled up the back porch steps grumbling that the light was broken, but you already know that story.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
One lazy Summer afternoon when other fourteen year olds were wasting their time playing baseball my friend Gregory and I were making plans to conquer the business world. We were always looking in vacant lots or neglected wooded areas for interesting junk either for a fort or something we could sell for a few bucks and on this day we could hardly believe our luck. Covered in brush, mud and rust we found our future-a five foot tall gum machine. We carried it to Gregory's backyard where there was a hose hook up. For hours we washed, scraped and oiled and what we had in the end was one disgusting gum machine, but in our eyes it was a beautiful moneymaker. The premise was that the customer inserted a penny and then pulled a lever and one stick of gum appeared in a tray. Now here is the genius part. We knew we could but six packs of gum for five at the local grocery store. This meant that for every 30 pieces of gum sold we would make five cents! We were so happy that we had paid attention in math class! School really did teach something practical!
The next step was where to place this cash cow so we could spend our days drinking soda and and count our growing wealth. Who needs school? But what lucky business would we favor with our gum machine. And then it came to me!-my mother's chiropractic waiting room. There was a steady stream of patients coming and going who were basically bored and hungry and would be so appreciative of a nice inexpensive snack. I could see my mother's smiles and hear her words of appreciation at being the only chiropractor with a penny gum machine in her waiting room Why she might even increase my allowance. We carefully carried the gum machine and placed it in place that could not be missed by the patients and then went off for our next adventure-our work was done here. Hours later we came back to my house. My mother's office was on the first floor and we lived on the second and third floors. We approached the house from the end of a dead end street. There was a path through some woods and then we entered our backyard which was really a combination of our lawn and my Grandmothers lawn. I looked up and saw my grandmother sit on her second floor porch with her arm on a wooden railing. I was thinking how comforting my world was in that I knew where everyone and everything would be. Even the birds seemed to be where they should be but there was one object that was out of place . Our gum machine was a wreck and looked like it had been dropped from a ten story building.
We found out later from a patient that sometime that afternoon that my mother noticed the gum machine. She had turned bright red and was ranting and raving about "my reputation" and "I'm going to kill my lunatic son!" She had carried the machine to the back of the house and let it fly and with it were dashed my hopes of having a business career. What saved my life was that my mother had no short term money and by the time she finished her work day and joined me for supper she had forgotten all about the gum machine. Now for a validating post mortem. The next day Gregory and I open the cash receptacle and pocketed 12 cents. We were on our way to riches after all.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I must admit to a small measure of irritation when we first settled into my mother's house in Eliot the time the back porch light refused to shine and it was more than a burned out bulb. In New York tradesmen would come at a call eager to rob and pillage, but they would come and fix the problem. The only tradesman I knew in Maine was my Mother's long time mechanic, a delightful individual whose photo would be right at home on the cover of Yankee Magazine. He would personally deliver her fixed car and the stay and talk with her in the kitchen. We had the only kitchen with a 400 pound vibrating recliner occupied by a 250 pound chiropractor named Dr. Mary. Anyway, I have this memory of Dana with his Vietnam era ponytail coming in the back door and my mother's face lighting up. "Dana, there is a beautiful golden aura around your head."
Dana's face lit up as he accepted anything Dr. Mary said to him as the truth and I could picture him in his ramshackle garage locate in back of the Eliot library proudly telling everyone of his golden aura as he put another log in the wood stove.
Anyway, back to my problem-a broken back porch light I called several electricians listed in the Eliot phone book and was greeted by a recorded message. I believe that every recorded message of every tradesman was made by the same person and I base this emotional assessment on the fact no electrician would call me back! Finally, after a few days of stumbling up dark porch steps I decided to pay a visit to my good friend Dana who surely could fix me up with a competent electrician.
He was sitting at was once a hundred years ago an elegant living room chair. All my frustrations came to the surface as I complained that I could not get an electrician to come to the house. He rose to his feet scratching his chin demonstrating his sincere desire to help. "Well Ron it is like this. In boom times all the tradesman including the electricians are busy working on new housing construction and they can't be bothered with small jobs. In bad times they all leave for the big cities where they can find work. So there is only a small window of time when you can get a tradesman. "
I was astonished at his answer and my frustration was at the boiling point. "But Dana there has to be someone you know who could come over and fix a lousy porch light!."
More chin scratching and walking around deep in thought. "We...ll there is old Henry Smith. He could fix light and do a real good job, but..."
"But what Dana?"
"Old Henry passed away about six months ago."
"Dana", my voice rising higher than a choirboy. "That does me no good!"
Another well and more chin rubbing. "Ron, Old Henry is as apt to come and fix you light as anyone else."
I shook my head-defeated, thrashed beaten like an old rug-muttering to Henry Smith under my breath. "You old coot! Would it have killed you to live a few months longer!"-and that is when I knew I had become Mainer. My whole logic system had become Maineanised!" I needed a Maine solution and then it came to me. Maybe Dana with his brilliant golden aura surrounding his ponytailed head could be hired to stand on our back porch for a few hours every night-hmmm makes sense to me.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Today we resumed our training with John Lovering, a spiritual giant in a Yoda body, at the community radio station. We received our first critique from the big boss who is planning to put us on the schedule in Nov.-a half hour every other week. We need to get better at the technical aspects an be cured of insanity-not necessarily in that order. We were joined by a young 24 year old woman who is also disabled. Born with a genetic disorder that has left her underdeveloped with weak muscle control and extremely poor vision, she is hungry to find her place in the world-some work that she finds satisfying. We welcomed her with open arms. My friend and client John S. would welcome any lady with open arms. I told him on the way home that I was going to get a big rock and put a wig on it so he could proposition it all day long. Anyway here was today's miracle. We did a mock interview for practice and she answered the questions in this delicate voice that we had to strain to hear. I was asking most of the questions when out of the blue John S. intuitively asked her if she had ever been teased . Her being went back years ago and she was once again eating her lunch at a middle school cafeteria. "It was ravioli and the sauce was on my face and some kids said I was a little two year old who did not know how to take care of herself." She was crying and remembering and the pain was five seconds old and I looked around and we were all crying because our pain was also five seconds old. "We spoke of her courage for wanting to be a part of this team because she would hear more stories like this. On the drive home John S. asked if the rock could have blond hair-just kidding John if you read this. Love to all and especially those with those who have ever had sauce on their face.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Gym for me in 1964 was an equal mixture of the illogical, the embarrassing and some mold for a touch of seasoning. I was short and pudgy in the tenth grade-true I sprouted a foot and thinned out the following year but it doesn't change this memory. I can still see this long thick rope suspended from the top of the gym which was shrouded in mystical clouds. I am standing lamb to the slaughter like bahing with my doomed classmates awaiting humiliation. Two strangers stood on either side of the rope and it was explained by my gym teacher, Mr. Gaurlauf,that if I lost my grip 30 feet in the air and came plummeting to the earth like a moldy comet (ok I should have washed my gym uniform) these two total strangers were going to sacrifice their life for me by getting in between me and the floor. My only question was "Why?'-why would they do this? It was all a charade anyway because I couldn't lift myself one inch off the ground-not then-not now. If heaven has a rope ladder, I'm screwed. So Mr G. wrote something in a notebook and I had to run around the gym thinking is the adult world that I am about to enter really this illogical? If I could climb the rope ladder to the top of the gym ceiling I would be part ape -part Adonis and in no need of climbing ropes and if couldn't climb the rope it would not help me in the least to get in shape.So my head is swirling with these crazy conversations with Plato about the search for logic when I get out of the shower draped in a towel and return to my locker only to find in empty. Here I am naked exploring the depths of embarrassment asking My gym teacher to find the thief who cleaned out my locker.We went around with a master key and he opened the lockers while everyone wondered who the thief was-it was CSI Beacon with Det. Gaurloff and his naked assistant Toodles. Finally the master key opened the locker to reveal all my belongings. The problem was that there was no thief-he had opened my locker.I can still see the look on the gym teacher's face. I tell you this story because it is my mission in life to spread hope. A wonderful woman actually married me years later and we have two wonderful daughters, a noble , fun loving son-in-law and a granddaughter so enchanting I walk around spellbound.Now, there is a reunion next year and I am going to walk into that gym go up to that rope hanging from the ceiling and set it on fire
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I switched my day off with the complicity of my boss too Friday and beginning in a few weeks I will be Samaya's babysitter on Fridays when Laurel is subbing at a nearby Montessori school. We will watch old movies and I will teach her how to play pool and tell her improbable stories about friends who are shadows over my shoulder. We will laugh until we pee our pants and plan train trips over the Canadian Rockies. But most of all I will thank he-just thank her.
Samaya from the sky
Samaya from the earth
Samaya from the sea
Here now she reigns
A queenly emissary from the Kingdom
Saying “See my honour and nobility”
In the miniature mirror of my eyes
Turn around and see the “threading lights”
Of my thousands of mothers and fathers
Turn around again and see the shore of time
Covered with “corals and pearls”
“I am the thread of life
With one hand I touch the past
With the other hand I touch the future”
Monday, September 21, 2009
We all seek heaven. We might not call it by that name, but we all seek it. For some heaven is straight up and turn left at the Pearly Gates. For others it is the memory of yesterday or the hope of tomorrow.
When I was a child, my mother assured me that ice cream was plentiful and free in heaven. A cold peace enveloped my young heart on that long ago hot summer’s day. Speaking of cold,
Again, who is to say what it is or isn’t? The bible says His mansion in the sky has many rooms. Perhaps we will all have our own room and get together for lunch in a gigantic cafeteria which calls to mind the day I saw heaven while eating lunch in a much smaller cafeteria.
My work entails bringing brain injured clients to a day program run by a private foundation called SteppingStones. Everything takes place in a rambling modern community building honey combed with social and charitable organizations. The diverse groups all share a common lunch room. A SteppingStones member who was hit by a car as a child was being fed his lunch by his caregiver. Food was dripping down his chin unto his bib and he could not clean his own face or even ask for it to be cleaned. Except for one arm that seemed to have a life of his own, he had little control over his own body, but he had total control over his own heart.
For some mysterious reason he has become the friend of a group of three year olds who attend a pre school in the corner of the cafeteria. After they finish their lunch they gather around their wheel chair bound friend. They tell him all about their day and are not bothered that he is unable to answer them or that bits of food fall off his bib unto the floor. After all, they have the same problem.
And then I saw heaven. The young man in the wheel chair raised his one usable arm and it settled softly like a broken winged bird on a little girls shoulder. She smiled up at him and he smiled down at her.
So here is what I know about heaven. Life is made up of moments and some of those moments are pure heaven, but you need to look carefully for them because sometimes they happen in a crowded lunch room and if you are always looking up, you may never see them. I suggest looking sideways. I also believe they serve free ice cream in heaven because my mother told me so.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
This past Tuesday we had to put together and record a fifteen minute program including station announcements and a live interview without any help. My friend and client did great and I really am proud of the proposed show that will be judged by the radio board to see if it is air worthy. If they give us our own show we will owe our teacher John Lovering everything. He was the soul of patience and an incredible instructor. He taught science at a local High School for thirty six years and it showed in his patient skill. As the weeks went by this tutoring job became personal and he began telling us how much he believed in the show. After one session he opened up about his own past and his own unlikely survival from spinal cancer. There was a time years ago when he was paralyzed for fourteen months slowly fighting his way back to his feet and his classroom. At the end of one school day he received a call from his doctor in Boston asking that he and his wife drive down the next day for serious consultation. A cold chill came over him and he kept asking why did they did to see him. Finally he was told that his latest skeletal x-ray disclosed fourteen tumors-one had already cracked a rib and another one was growing behind his right eye. At that moment he could only see suicide as an option and he knew exactly how to end his life. There was a stretch of road on the interstate where he could drive his car into the river. He began to speed up only to notice that someone was tailgating. His innate kindness prevented him possibly startling the driver into an accident so he sped up reaching eighty miles per hour and still the tailgater was right on his bumper. In a flash the stretch of land by the river that was exerting a gravitational pull on him like a Black Hole was now in his rear view mirror and its deadly power waned. The tailgater actually passed him going eighty plus as John slowed his car and his mind and returned to his wife and home. The moment had passed and thirty years later he stood before us a vigorous senior citizen with a baby face and timeless kindness in his eyes eager to help us and perhaps help someone out there listening who needs help just for a moment to escape the pull of their own personal black hole. Our teacher has promised to stay with us as our engineer as long as we need him.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
By Ronald Tomanio
At the end of the day
when you fall into bed exhausted
I advise you dream all night
Go ahead, but take off your socks
Both of them
socks cut off your circulation
causing many peaceful people to have nightmares
about a gang of foot stranglers
Now, foot stranglers notoriously show no mercy
so take off your socks
In the awake world where half the race
is punching the other half in the face
I ask you to be gentle with your feet
be gentle with other people's feet
then work your way up to the face
and slowly kiss each cheek
Remember the smooth softness
Lay down on your bed facing the stars
sleep and dream like an old cat
foot stranglers hate that.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I said my friends were and are wonderful and here is some of the reasons why. I was not the BMOC or good looking or even renown for being a scholar. If you liked me, you really had to like me because there were no bells and whistles. I always felt I did not belong-a feeling that began my first day of school as a freshmen. I sat in the back of a math class totally lost by the discussion and on top of that everyone else was twice as tall as I was. I was relieved to discover I was in an advanced algebra class for seniors.
The low point of my four years of befuddlement was losing my big toe nail. I know there is going to be some understandable skepticism but this is a true story.
Gym was a challenge for me. Our school had long ago purchased medieval instruments of torture and relabeled everything exercise equipment. I remember the store room opening and this giant
leather horse about four foot tall with handles was rolled out. The premise was that the class would, one at a time, run at this beast full out leap through the air grab the handles twist in the air and land on your feet. I'm thinking that if a student could actually do this they would never need another gym class until their 45th High School reunion and if you could not accomplish this acrobatic contortion you would be crippled for life. I wanted to request a priest not for end of life words of comfort but to guilt him into taking my turn. I took a deep breath and approached the horse and two classmates pushing the evil thing rolled it over my foot. I screamed and hopped around and was sent to the nurse-my big toe was flattened and bleeding. I was bandaged and sent home-my athletic career and my hopes of joining the Great Wallendas were shattered.
So limped around home and school grateful that I did not have to go to gym class for a while. One evening I was changing the bandage when I noticed that my big toe tail was wobbly. I tightened the new bandage and told myself to be a man. A couple days later I took the old bandage off and was horrified and petrified that the nail came off! I was too scared to even tell my mother or brother. On my little island with its own logic I was determined that at age 15 with a long life ahead of me I was not going to limp through life sans one big toe nail! So I taped the nail back to my toe and determined to make the best of bad situation. Of course a few weeks later a new nail started to grow and I was enormously relieved.
In retrospect I probably had plenty of company on Nerd Island-all those wet behind the ears kids trying desperately to hold on to their toe nails and dignity, but how unprepared for the dangerous post high school years of charging leather horses and other lurking dangers we were. While writing this I began thinking about Terry O'Neil. I see him with his boy scout uniform with the buttons straining to contain his flabby stomach, I see his horn rimmed glasses and child like smile-and I see the painfully short announcement in the local paper of his death in Vietnam.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
You said: Take one step toward Me and I run toward you.
But what if I can only limp or crawl?
What if I can only lie in bed?
Listening to the rain pound on the roof
You said: If I prayed to You
You would become the ear that listens
But what if I can barely whisper?
Or cannot summon the courage to speak?
What if I can only lie in bed?
Listening to the rain pound on the longing in my heart