Humble I Will Go

 

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I’ve heard many people say, “when my time comes, I’m going to slide in like a baseball player slides into home. I’ll be whooping and hollering, screaming and singing. People will know I have lived my life to it’s fullest!” I think if that’s the way you want to go, great! I have a different idea. My thoughts have been shaped as I have been walking down the road of life.

 

In my younger days, high school, I was there for the party. If beer or other alcohol was involved I was there early. To this day I am amazed that I lived through that time.  A steady stream of beer was not hard to come by as “garaging” was very popular in my day. We just went from garage to garage in our neighborhood and snitched beer right out of garage refrigerators. My next door neighbor, in fact, was the head brewmaster for a major brewery. He did not have room in his garage for a car because his garage was stacked wall to wall and floor to ceiling with beer. A teen’s dream. All good things must come to an end, my good times were about to crash into the wall.

One night, after a big party out in the woods near my home, I stumbled home about 4:30 am. Way too much whooping and hollering and I found myself hugging the toilet making buicks when the bathroom door opened. There stood my dad, “Are ya having fun?” I can’t remember what I grunted; but, his response was, “Your boss called last night. They need you at 6:00 am and you will be there.” He spoke the truth because I was climbing into a moving truck about 6:15 am the next morning. The worst part was yet to come. By the time our crew pulled up to the thirty-floor office building they all knew my plight. The boss had me operate the elevator that day. The air conditioning had been shut off and I rode up and down the hottest elevator ever for twelve hours. Leaning over the garbage can in the elevator with the world’s worst hangover, I knew I would be changing my ways. No more beer drinking if I have to work the next day. This was a pretty good lesson on my dad’s part.

My life made a change for the better in my twenty-first year, I married the love of my life. We started a family soon after and I found a new rhythm to my life. I went to work in the paper industry and made a life-long career. I made a good living working as much overtime as I could handle. I started out as rod knocker and worked my way up to a lead operator and finally made Process Manager. The money and the hours got better, but the work was hard. In my off hours, I helped with the children as they grew, attending many sporting events, concerts, school programs and other activities my children were involved in.

I coached one of my daughter’s little league softball teams for several years. They won several citywide championships. It was a fun time. I also played softball in a men’s league and participated in three on three basketball tournaments. I ran and lifted weights. Between work and sports, I was burning the candle at both ends. During this time, my wife held our family together with her love and devotion.

I know everyone has heard that time passes in a blink of an eye, I would say that is an accurate statement. My memories of that time are so dear that a tear will often drip from my eye as I recall each moment. Time did move on and our children eventually began their own lives. There was college, marriages, grandchildren and my wife and I found ourselves as empty nesters. No complaints just another change in the rhythm of our days. I will admit to some feelings of impending age at the thought of becoming a grandfather for the first time. I didn’t feel old enough to be a grandaddy! I would ask my wife, “do I look like a grandaddy?” I soon discovered that being a grandfather was the best and easiest thing in the world. My only job now is to give love, hugs, and kisses. My wife and I enjoy attending their events, soccer games, science fairs, gymnastics, dance recitals and school awards. I have spent some time watching my grandson as he masters his skateboard. I marvel over how his body moves and maneuvers that skateboard into all the tricks he can do. I also think about how much time I might have to spend in the hospital if I were to try skateboarding.

I admit I also enjoy having my wife to myself these days. I love her and I am happy that she is still my best friend. We spend many contented hours talking over everything from what we should have for dinner to solving issues of world peace. We laugh with each other and we also just enjoy the quiet of being together.  I walk my dogs every day, they bring me so much joy. My life is still full.

I had continued to run for a while during this empty nest time. My oldest daughter and I were running partners in several 5K’s. But running began to get harder for me. I had to tell my daughter to go ahead, I would meet her at the finish line. I could not help but beam with pride as she pulled ahead with a graceful stride.  I had a feeling that my times of running with her were coming to an end, soon after a doctor told me my body was worn out.

I had my first heart attack when I was fifty-three and then a string of bad health followed. These days my rhythm is slow. I rely on my wife and youngest daughter to take care of me. They put me in the truck and take me to the grandchildren’s events or out shopping. I am not stupid, I know they keep watch over me, ready to jump into action if needed. I usually spend Mondays with my baby girl and her daughter, Rowen. This is my “Rowie” time. One Monday, Rowen and I were playing with Lincoln Logs on the floor. I guess I had dozed off for awhile because I startled awake. I was reassured with a pat on my arm and the words from, my granddaughter Rowen, “Don’t worry Grandaddy, I’m here.” Loving words from a four-year-old.

I spend a lot of time studying the Bible these days. I write out thoughts for my children. I may learn to strum the guitar. Things do change. I think I’ll go with the words from the balladeer, Tom T. Hall. I’m going out in my rocking chair singing, “Old dogs, and children, and watermelon wine,” with a big smile on my face. No Regrets.

 

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Don’t Forget The Past

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photo credit: fengshuiphotography

I would like to warn readers that the following essay may be disturbing. It is my story or at least part of my story. It is strange to me that I have kept so much suppressed. Through a psychiatrist, a counselor, some doctors, a stay in a psychiatric hospital and hours upon hours of talking to my wonderful wife the skeletons are coming out of my closet.
I have had a good life, don’t take this wrong. The Lord has blessed me with a great wife, three wonderful daughters, five fantastic grandchildren, two awesome son-in-laws, (I consider them my sons)and a best friend Ron Ruiter. My problem is that I was both physically and emotionally abused by my mother and father. Everyone tells me that I need to forget my past. And I have tried. But, I have a question. How does one forget his past?
I am the eldest son of three boys, born in Youngstown, Ohio. This is where I spent the first eight years of my life. Memories of my life have come flooding back to me. Unfortunately, those memories are filled with terror and abuse. We lived in the country, one of my earliest memories was sneaking out the back door of our house and running two farms down to a neighbor’s. I sought her comfort. Her name was Helen and she would sit in a big overstuffed chair holding me in her arms as I cried. Eventually we would see my mother coming up the drive. I would beg Helen to not tell her I was there; but, she always found me. I spent the walk home being slapped, kicked and cursed at for upsetting my mother. I look back now and wonder what Helen thought.
At the age of four my family was blessed with my twin brothers. My mother had a nervous breakdown and went into a hospital. I spent time being passed to grandparents, family and friends.
My parents put a big fence around our back yard, like a prison fence without the razor wire. In the mornings I was given breakfast then sent outside to spend my day. Once while playing I had to pee. The door to our house was locked. I knocked frantically and my mom opened the door. I told her I had to use the bathroom, but she replied that she had just cleaned the floor,”not now.” As I jumped around the garage trying to figure out what to do, the flood gates opened and I wet myself. I was sentenced to spending the rest of the day naked in my room. I was permitted to come down to dinner and eat naked. Finally at bedtime I was allowed to put on pajamas and go to bed. Let the punishment fit the crime was my mother’s policy.
Another time I broke out of the compound and I filled my wagon with toys and pulled it down the road. I was walking past our neighbor’s house, Mrs. Donovich saw me. She asked, “Where are you going Jeffy?” I told her I was going to sell my toys so I could run away. Somehow I ended up in her home wrapped up in her loving arms. She had two high-school children, Donny and Rita. They treated me with kindness and love. I think my mother was afraid of Mrs. Donovich. She had my mother’s number. I spent many happy hours, day and night with the Donovich family. Oh how I longed to be a member of their family. Life is life, good and bad. A few years later my adopted family moved to Chicago, I never saw them again.
Life moved on and then at eight years old everyone in the family got a jolt. My father took a new job and we were moving to Columbus, Ohio. This is where I started fourth grade and spent the worst nine years of my life. Not sure why, I just never got it. What’s it? It was life, school, friends, family, you name it and I could just not do it right. From the start of fourth grade my teacher said I was lazy. This is the point my father decided he was going to beat the lazy out of me. I remember many evenings being my father’s punching bag. Also during this time my father would go days without speaking to me. One time my mother informed me that my father did not speak to me because he did not like me; furthermore, she could not understand why anyone spoke to me because nobody liked me.
A memory of playing catch with my father is punctuated with fear and dread. We would start out playing catch and my father would say that I “threw like a girl.” Finally, my father would run towards me, knock me to the ground and kick me while yelling, “Don’t throw like a girl!”
Another memory of being in the back yard with my father, brothers and neighbor, Mr. Wolf, I did something that made my father mad and he knocked me to the ground, kicked me a few times, picked me up and ran to the back door using my body as a battering ram. When the door broke off it’s hinges he threw me across the room and through the family room wall. As I lay in the dust, wood and rubble, I looked up and saw Mr. Wolf. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I was embarrassed for being such a bad person. There was joy in this though as I watched my father spend the next week fix the door and wall.
About the time I was thirteen or fourteen, my mother announced to me that I was too dumb to go to college and I needed to decide which branch of the service I would go into. No more good grade expectations for Jeffy.
When I was fifteen I went through a major growth period. I was big and strong and I had a temper that could better my father’s. I think the coward became afraid of me. The physical violence stopped but the emotional abuse never did. Falling back a bit to another story…I was about thirteen and had gone through a punishment with my father and then was sent to my room. While I was in there I carved up an overstuffed chair in my room with a pocket knife. When my parents saw this they asked why I had done it. I had no answer except to say, “you better sleep with your door locked old man.” I think to this day my father sleeps behind a locked door.
Please do not misunderstand me, I sound terrible and in many ways I was. But a few good things happened to turn me around. Number one is that at the age of fifteen I found the love of my life, Kay Daniel. I had never been around someone who made me feel so good. I did learn that if you tell a fourteen-year-old (her age at the time), that she will be your wife – it will freak her out. Oh well, we have been married thirty-six years now. I can’t help it if she was slow to understand. I also met during this time some friends that I still call friend to this day. Yes, my mother was wrong, a few people did and do like me. A big thing that I did learn from my father, is asking myself what would my father do? And then I do the opposite.
One more story from growing up. I was sixteen and my uncle came to our house at Christmas. I got a stereo for Christmas. My uncle came up to my room to sit with me. We talked for awhile and then he gave me twenty bucks to go buy some albums. “Jeffy, buy yourself some records, I have always felt sorry for you. You were never treated right.”
OK! I have a question. All of these people mentioned in this essay, Helen, Mrs. Donovich, Mr. Wolf and my uncle – how did anyone not rescue me? I can’t point a finger though or blame them. One of the biggest burdens I carry in life is how I failed my niece Shannon. She grew up with similar struggles; she has her own story to tell. I often thought she needed me and did nothing. Shannon I’m sorry I did not rescue you. I love you and I am proud of you.
Eighteen years old and I was out of the nut house. I worked hard and raised three daughters. I never missed an opportunity to tell my family how much I love them and how proud they make me. I have taken by wife to hell and back; but, we have always done it with love. Thank you Kay.
The answer to my question of how do you forget the past was given by a man named Big Joe in a group session a Davidson Behavior Center. He said, “If anyone tells you to forget your past, tell them bullshit! Make peace with your past, but don’t forget it. This is who you are. Your past is what you have overcome.
I am still a work in progress. I try to turn my problems to God. Will I backslide? Yep; but, I’ll try some more. All I can do is love my family and my Lord. I’m learning to enjoy the smaller things in life. Oh yea, my oldest daughter, Katherine, played softball for years. We played hundreds of hours of catch together. I’m proud to say she, “throws like a girl,” and I’d put her up against anybody, she’s got an arm! I love her.

Testament

I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s. My family went to church on Sundays because, “that is what people do.” I took classes and I joined the Presbyterian Church at the age of fourteen. Standout memories from those early church days include my father explaining to me that God had a big book, “he keeps everyone’s name in it and when you do something wrong, God puts a black “X” by your name.” I also have the urge to go back and find my Sunday school teacher to apologize for my behavior. Those days left me with a big quandary. Why did everyone love each other on Sundays and the rest of the week you got a big fuck you. I will say I walked away from this time with a firm belief and a unique relationship with God.
My unique relationship with God at today does not include going to church on any regular basis. I have many conversations with Him. I ask, “why.” I also beg for forgiveness and look for guidance. I have experienced God’s love through at least four miracles.
In August of 2013, I had Rhabdomyolysis, a severe form of heat stroke. I had been working in my yard on a very hot South Carolina day. My wife took me to the hospital, where I learned that my organs had begun to shut down. In the ER while the team was working on me I tried to help them, the doctor finally told me to lie down they could do without my help. I laid back and a relaxation came over me, like floating up to the ceiling. I could see all the activity going on below me. Later they told me that I had “flat-lined,” at least twice. God told me, “no not today Jeff.” A week later I had my first heart attack. No one will admit, but I feel that this was how I damaged my heart and my story began.
A few years and a few heart attacks later my wife’s uncle and aunt were in town for a visit. They walk the talk. A gospel singing group, The Browder’s, were in town for a small revival and our aunt and uncle invited us to go with them. The evening came for the revival and I was feeling bad. Once at the church, I was not sure I could make it through the service. During the service, the congregation was asked to testify. People stood and raised their hands into the air. I had never seen this; but, the urge to put my hands in the air overtook me. As I raised my hands, I felt an electrical current charge through my fingers. No, I can not tell you if the charge was coming or going; but, the feel was amazing, beautiful and peaceful. After the service, I talked, prayed and cried with Matt Browder. A week later I had a heart cath to open and 95% blockage.
One of my favorite activities is to go hunting. Notice I say hunting, I have never shot a thing. This is my time to sit in nature, turn off the world, relax, and commune with God. I see a frog, lizard or butterfly and I am overwhelmed with the feeling that God is with me. One time as I was sitting still, a cardinal landed in my blind. He eventually flew over and landed on my shoulder. God and I have some deep conversations in the woods.
Another time, I was not feeling to well and was in the woods and I tried to talk to my Friend; but, I got no response. I thought maybe He was busy and had more important things to tend to. I needed Him, “why Lord? What do you want me to do? Is it time? Give me some direction, I just don’t feel good, not sure I can keep going.” As I left the woods that night I was sad. I rode home in silence, depressed. When I got home, my wife asked about my day. I told it was not good, God did not answer me today. About that time a smile washed over my face as the “Foot Prints in the Sand” poem came to me.
God whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever during your trials, testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Not long after, I found myself in the heart center in Charlotte, NC. I had awful chest pain. All of my tests were coming back normal. Finally, a doctor agreed to do a cardiac cath to appease me. The next day the nurse came in to get me, I panicked, my wife was not there yet. I would not be able to see her face and tell her I love her. No choice, off we went, my wife knew I loved her. I got into the cath lab and they put me on the table. I was scared. About that time the table began to sway, I pictured myself in the hand of God and he rocked me through the whole procedure. They found a 90% blockage. My wife is also one of the people who walks the talk. She prays every day. The morning of my cath, she had no specific prayer, she just prayed with my daughter for God to protect us and keep us in his hands. Her prayers were answered.
That about sums up my spiritual journey of fifty-six-years. I believe in God and love Him. I still don’t understand many things. Why am I sick? Why do children fall ill from disease and so on? I may never know; but, I am confident God is in control and I will continue to worship Him. Not now but when God is ready I hope to rejoice in His word, “Well done good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things. I will make you ruler of many things. Enter into the joy of the Lord.” Mathew 25:21

Crooked Smile

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Part 1

I grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio; 1976 and I struggled through the ninth grade of school. Our school system operated like a giant melting pot. Eight elementary schools in eight neighborhoods were poured into two middle schools when students reached the seventh grade. In ninth grade the two middle schools were dropped into one giant high school, where we became the class of 1979. It did not go well for me. I was shy, awkward, and unsure of myself. I did not blend well into the melting pot of almost five hundred students.

Somehow I made it through to spring. Everyone was happy and excited to begin summer vacation. I was doing a bulletin board in the hallway for my shop class. I was alone in the long and dimly light hallway when I heard a commotion coming towards me. Two girls came skipping and laughing down the hallway towards me. One of the girls looked my way and smiled. I felt my ears grow hot. What a beautiful, crooked smile and then they were gone.

To this day, the girl does not know how that smile effected my life. She probably does not even remember this encounter; but, oh, that beautiful, crooked smile.

The fall of 1976 came around quickly. I played the drums in the marching band. The week before school started the band began practicing in the high school parking lot. As we were practicing, I noticed the girls drill team marching out to practice with us, hands on hips, heads held high and big smiles on their faces. I did a double take, blinked my eyes; was the girl in front the one from the hallway? She WAS! Game over, I was in love.
My luck began to change with the beginning of classes. The girl with the smile was in one of my classes. How lucky could I be, she was even sitting at a table with one of my old childhood friends. I made my way over to the empty seat at their table, I found out her name, Kay, and she smiled. Bang! Not long after we went on our first date. I was happy, oh, that beautiful, crooked smile.

Not the end of the story though. I was still that socially strange, awkward fifteen-year-old boy. I did not know I should not tell a fourteen-year-old girl that I love her and tell her she would be my wife one day. That did not go well, she broke up with me soon after that. Broke my heart. From that time on I set out to wait and work on ways to make that girl mine. I should have been focusing some on my education; but oh, that beautiful, crooked smile.

Part 2
June 20, 1981 was the best day of my life. I married the girl with the smile. The smile would be mine everyday. All I had to do was love her, comfort her, and keep that smile on her face. Yes! Yes! Yes! That smile would spread across her face and my heart would burst with love. Smiles for the birth of our three daughters, our first home and sprinkled over the years at events for our children. Oh, that beautiful, crooked smile.
Her smile has kept me going. I would tell her stories from work and she would smile. I played softball and every game I would hear my name and words of encouragement, look in the stands and see that girl with the beautiful crooked smile. I’m still uncomfortable in many situations, socially awkward. But all I have to do now is look around and find that girl, our eyes will meet and oh, that beautiful, crooked smile.

Part 3
Unfortunately, life has not always given my girl a reason to smile. At fifty-two, I had my first heart attack. Got through it ok and my girl smiled again. Don’t think the smile was for herself, it was for me. See my girl is also smart, she knows what that smile means to me. Two years later another heart attack for me. I knew it was bad when a team of doctors and nurses started prepping me for surgery in the hallway. I said to God, “I’m tired, I hurt, if it is my time, I’m good to go.” I looked over my left shoulder and there in the corner stood my girl. No smile, just tears running down her cheek. Wow! Wow! Wow! Hold on! God my girl’s smile has left her face, she’s not ready for me to go. Please help me through this, so I can see that smile again. I woke a few hours later in ICU. Someone was holding my hand. I opened my eye and saw my girl, oh, that beautiful crooked smile.

Conclusion
My girl and I have traveled down many roads. Most have been smooth, some bumpy, at times there was no road at all. My girl smiles often around our five grand-children. She goes by Ma-Kay now, her southern roots run deep. Her grandmother another woman with a warm smile was called Mama Ciele. When Ma Kay and I go to our children’s homes the grands run out screaming MA KAY! Hugs and kisses all around. I sneak a peak, my life flashes before my eyes; I go back to the spring of 1976 and see my girl’s smile. My heart swells. I thank God for bringing me the girl with oh, that beautiful crooked smile.

The Thrill of the Hunt


I grew up playing sports like football, basketball and wrestling because that’s what my dad did and what he taught me. For the most part I enjoyed it, I was good at it because my dad was one of those dads; you played to win and if you could not win, why bother. I knew about hunting but never really considered it a sport because my dad didn’t. I had several near misses with hunting opportunities as a kid, my uncle hunted, but somehow I never got to go with him. As I came into my teens and young adult years, I had friends that hunted, I grew up in Ohio after all. Still I never had the chance to go hunting. The close but not quite continued into my marriage.

My wife’s father and uncles were all avid, successful hunters. They spent weeks away from home during various hunting seasons. They were always telling deer camp stories, how many were bagged and by whom. Again, the opportunity never presented itself for me to go along. At that time, work and family were my prime commitments. I finally fell in with some co-workers who managed to do it all – family, work and hunting. Expenses were my last consideration, guns and ammo are expensive. So I took up bow-hunting with a used bow borrowed from a friend; and, I set out on the hunt. It lasted about four years. I never got a deer, I was not a winner. So why bother?

The intervening years between then and now were filled with winning things. I went back to basketball, winning many Gus Macker 3 on 3 tournaments. My daughter played soft-ball and I coached her team through one un-defeated season, three league championships and two all-star championships. I took up power-lifting, I got huge. Work was going well and family life was by far my biggest win. Now, those days are over. I am retired with too many injuries to participate in sports, I will say I participated until I was the old guy on the court with knee braces, ankle braces and elbow braces. Winning became hit or miss. I realized there are different ways to win. I won big time watching my daughters grow into strong, smart, lovely young women. One even married an outdoorsman. A hunter, fisherman, and naturalist with a big big heart.

Ben, my son-in-law has renewed my interest in hunting. We have spent several years talking about it, the beauty of guns, the many things you see out in the woods, the noises, the smells. Even before we took our first hunting trip we had a few stories of our own. Finally, last year he took me hunting. I went armed with a Remington 870. It was a very, very wet fall and most of our hunting grounds were marshy and swampy. The bugs were eating us alive. It was also hot. (We are no longer in the midwest, South Carolina is our home and our hunting ground.) We went out about a dozen times in our pursuit of deer, no luck. Then we moved on to boar and beaver. Ben was successful with boar and beaver. I never even fired my gun. But the peaceful moments of waiting and watching brought a tranquility to my mind I have rarely experienced.

This year I am more excited than ever for hunting season to begin. Ben and his friend Michael have built a hunting stand on Michael’s property just for me. It’s tricked out with all the features needed by a two-time heart attack survivor with bad knees and ankles. These two boys have shown me a whole new world of sporting. A world where winning might be sitting up close and personal with a woodpecker because he doesn’t see you in your quiet, still repose waiting for that deer to come along. Winning is watching the fog clear in the woods around you as the sun comes up. Winning is sharing your tree stand with a couple of tree frogs. Winning is having two young men in your life who cared enough to teach me and show me. The thrill of the hunt has its own rewards now. The old me still can’t help it though, I would like to write, at least once, a story called, The Thrill of the Kill.