Excursions

The Shape of Things ….

The greatest lesson my parents taught me is that, when all is said and done, time is the only currency that truly matters.

Despite that knowledge, I am often shamed by how poorly I choose to invest it. Maybe you can relate to that.

When I’m at my worst, I choose escape. When I’m my better self, I hunt.

Escape is the more seductive and available choice, especially in this Age of Distraction.

Compounding my many (many) issues, is that I’ve never been great about finding work’s off switch. The issue is me, not my work (which is actually pretty cool). As my family will tell you, I often let it into the house, sit at our table, steal my attention. “You’re not here,” they’ll tell me. Even though I recognize it as it’s happening, I still allow myself to be led further and further away from the present moment, from what’s right in front of me. Only to then find myself having to hitch a ride back to the simple, fleeting moments that secretly matter the most when all is said and done.

I’m better than I used to be, but not as good as I know I should be.

A couple months ago while fumbling for the off switch, I decided to go for a walk around the block. I was escaping, not hunting. I left the duration ambiguous, and just started up the hill outside our house. What’s great about the hill (or greatly humbling, on the rare, ill-advised occasions when one attempts to go jog it) is that its steepness demands to be reckoned with. It shakes you by the shoulders and snatches your wind until it has your full, undivided attention. Put another way, it’s a great escape. So I leaned into it, head down … and got all of maybe 50 yards before I found my attention arrested … not by my wind, but what the wind had wrought.

Hundreds of fallen samaras — ‘helicopters’ as we called them as kids — littering the ground at my feet.

It says much about my general obliviousness that in my 17+ years matriculating up and down the hill, I’d never noticed that the neighbor’s tree was a maple. Though, as an aside, I’ve probably asked Karry a dozen times over the years to identify the two trees in our front yard. (I think one’s a dogwood?).

It says even more about my particular mental state that day that I cut my walk short to collect a few in my hands, and return Home.

Not the home I’d just left.

My home on Mullen Street, where probably a (mostly) good four decades had lapsed since I last found my attention captivated by these irresistibles.

The old maple in our front yard would just shower our steps and sidewalk with them growing up.   How many contented interludes I spent gathering them by the handful, dropping squadrons as I bent over our porch’s paint-chipped black railing. Mesmerized, I’d just watch them gently spin … bigger … smaller … some spinning faster, some slower. Some carried left or right by the breeze. Some, damaged, dropping like rocks.

For the record, nature did not design samaras for the sole purpose of amusing children. The shape of the fruit enables the wind to carry the seed farther away than regular seeds from the parent tree. It’s purposeful. The process is called anemochory (wind dispersal). I only know that because I looked it up. Nature always has its reasons.

The seven-year-old version of myself wasn’t aware of any of that. He just found helicopters captivating as heck.

And it was the seven-year-old version of myself that whispered to me from the old front porch on Mullen Street to the hill where I had paused my walk. And, for once, I listened to him. Decided that the hill had more than served its medicinal purpose, so I left the majority of its ascent for another day, another escape.

But not before picking up my prescription. I scooped up a handful of the samaras and returned to my present home, specifically to the deck that sits above our modest back yard. And I spent a contented interlude dropping a squadron of biggers and smallers, captivated by the mystery of those that spun faster, those that spun slower, those carried by the breeze to the left and right, and those that fell like rocks.

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The Saturday after the above episode, I had to drop my son off at an all-day service project at the Boy Scout Camp in Farmington. On my way down the mountain, I texted my brother, who lives in Hopwood, to see if he’d be up for a visit. Wasn’t sure if he’d be up on a precious sleep-in Saturday morning.

He responded immediately: “Anytime. Watching a Tarzan movie on AMC.”

Twenty minutes later, I was sitting next to him on the couch in his living room, lights out, morning sun peeking through the windows. On his big screen, a Johnny Weissmuller classic, circa 1930’s.

In between marveling at how well Cheetah took stage direction, we caught each other up on our respective family fronts. He, his not-so-little girl’s inspired plans for her October wedding. She’s having her brother perform the ceremony (he’s getting internet-certified this summer), having her reception at the Aquarium at the zoo, and serving pie instead of cake at the reception, which pre-qualifies it as my favorite wedding reception ever. Me, the agonies and ecstasies of a not-so-young 16-year-old with his learner’s permit.

We laughed that, in both instances, we’re just along for the ride. My brother reminded me how he let me drive his immaculate, sky-blue mid-70’s Buick home from Areford playground when I was barely into my teenage years. I had totally forgotten about that, but his mention of it triggered the memory like a firework, breaking a big smile across my face.

We went out for a local diner breakfast (one of Uniontown’s best kept breakfast secrets is the diner that operates in the old K-Mart). My brother knew just about everyone in the place. In between bites of his big omelet, he shook hands, traded family updates even up, talked local sports. As I progressed through my well-done home fries and griddled sausage drenched in maple syrup, it reminded me of tagging along with Dad when he’d take me on errands growing up. Dad couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone, which is what he loved most about errand-running. My brother isn’t quite as garrulous as our Dad was, but seeing that he inherited the trait, and finding myself once again a quiet, contented sidekick, somehow felt just right.

After we finished Kenny had the inspired decision to stop by our sister Missy’s. I need to pause here and point out the magnitude of his suggestion. It was probably the first instance in recorded history of my brother and me staging an impromptu pop-in … anywhere. Yet, somehow it just felt right. She’d just gotten back from accompanying the family she nannies for to, of all places, a wedding in the Bahamas. (She didn’t want to go at all, but they begged her to tag along and watch their two-year-old during the trip). She was so tickled to see us. Had lots to tell us. She described the surreal experience with an anthropologists’ eye for detail. As I sat with my brother and sister in her living room, time melted. We probably could’ve exhausted hours had I not had to break things up to retrieve Peter from the mountain.

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37.9 miles.

That’s how far Google Maps says is between my house and where the old maple tree used to stand on Mullen Street. But I knew I’d allowed myself to drift much farther than that.

Sitting in the passenger seat while Peter drove us back to Washington along Route 40, I realized that I may have mis-diagnosed my problem from earlier that week.

Not work.

Anemochory.

The way we shape our lives determines how far nature carries us from the parent tree.

Lately, I’d been falling like a rock to the ground.

How mesmerizing it was to spin a little slower on a simple, Saturday morning. To allow myself to be carried by the breeze back to a couple fellow helicopters who once called the same maple home.

Not long after our visit, my brother invited me to join him and his sons for a Bucco game.

Weeks after our visit Missy was still texting me how great it was to catch up.

You know, the simple, fleeting moments that secretly matter the most when all is said and done.

There’s much to be said for a seven-year-old’s understanding of nature … and contented interludes.

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Excursions

Donner, Party of Two?

So, Peter and I are wrapping our fifth day alone in the house together, while Karry and Emma are away doing a national dance thingy in New Orleans.

Conditions are relatively and surprisingly stable here on the home front.

Of course I trained hard for this. Translation: I listened to a podcast on the Donner Party on Saturday morning (true story). As a result I feel pretty prepped in the what-not-to-do-department if things go really sideways. Just in case, I think we have enough tiny cans of cat food to keep cannibalism from becoming a serious consideration until the girls return.

Among the many things I’ve learned this week is that tiny cans of cat food are ridiculously adorable. I’ve been using a tiny spoon to scoop their tiny food into their tiny bowls. And I’ve found that it’s impossible to resist talking to cats as if they are human babies when one is using a tiny spoon to scoop tiny food from tiny cans into tiny bowls. Is Mistow Viktow hungwee?

Incidentally (again), this week has marked the first time in the year-plus that they’ve been living with us that Viktor Kitty and Roman Kitty have acknowledged my presence in the house. Although technically speaking, they’ve really only acknowledged the tiny food I’ve placed in their tiny food bowls. The first full day the girls were away, Viktor slept for like 12 hours straight in my downstairs office chair. I think he was trying to hibernate until the girls returned.

But that’s just the tip of the freakish occurrence iceberg. A few other unprecedented highlights:

  • Peter and I actually survived each other making a grocery run on Saturday, after he literally begged me not to make him go. Aside from us loudly arguing in front of the checkout lady at Giant Eagle, and almost coming to blows over chocolate milk at the Aldi, the excursion was virtually incident-free, except for all the sh*t he tried tossing in the cart that was not on the Official List.
  • Complicating this week’s proceedings …  on Saturday, I picked up the season’s first batch of veggies from our CSA subscription. And get this, I executed a roasted kohlrabi recipe the other night that didn’t taste like punishment. #dadsonfire
  • When I came home from work Monday night, Peter had dinner ready. He’d set the table, had steaks on the grill, corn on the stove, and potatoes in the oven. Not only that, we had delightful conversation at the table. I’m not exaggerating, the conversation was friggin’ delightful.
  • Needless to say, I’ve upped my laundry game to a whole new level. Pouring bleach in the bleach hole, sorting like a sumbitch, turning the knobby thingies like a Boss. Evidently, my enthusiasm is infectious. Peter actually offered to wash, dry and fold clothes the other night. ‘Bout shat my pants. I’m seriously considering adopting him.

I will acknowledge that we’ve, um, ‘adjusted’ the standards that Karry typically holds the house accountable to … but so far, we’re keeping each other reasonably clean, fed and dressed.

Though we’re still not past the ½ point of Survival Week.

According to my training, as long as we don’t follow bad advice to take a non-existent shortcut across treacherous terrain in the middle of a horrendous winter, we should steer reasonably clear of having to ask Google how to tenderize human flesh.

Plus, we’ve got all that adorable tiny cat food.

Just to be safe, prayers por favor.FullSizeRender-3 copy

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Excursions, The Road Ahead

Perfectly Timed ….

Behind these smiles are some stories, that, if you hold them close enough to your ear, you can still hear the beer-sticky basement floor of 311 North Richill Street in them.

That sacred address was responsible for us first colliding in our late teens, and, thus, gathering together last night at PNC Park, to celebrate one of our own NOT turning 50 (as the sign indicates).

That sacred address had a significant hand in at least four of us somehow convincing pretty college girls who totally should have known better to first dance with us, and eventually to marry us.

We solely owe last night’s gathering to an inspired idea from one of them (much love and thanks to Natalie).

Though it was intended as a gift to Popie, it was as much of one to the rest of us: a perfectly-timed reminder that no distance of time can diminish a good story’s ability to coax an on-demand laugh, head shake, hi-five, wince, or blush. And that we experienced each in equal and abundant measure in that golden (ZE) Chapter of our lives.

It was good to hear that my first college roommate’s high-pitched giggle is still in regular rotation (and still higher-pitched than my own). It was good to throw a hug around my last college roommate (and unapologetically go back for seconds). It was good to learn of (and meet) kids who are just blowing their parents away with the young men and women they are becoming, and also of children who are younger karma vessels for the ornerier among us.

It was good to see that Popie still lets his smile have the run of his face.

I think my new favorite game on the planet is to put the 19-year-old versions of us in the left column, and our, um, not-50 versions on the right, and to draw the connecting lines. I’ll let you figure out which column features at least one naked street bowler and which features at least one CDC-supporting, life-saving chemist.

Used to be Friday nights would not end until the clock was deep into single digits, or before our butts hit the beer-sticky basement floor of 311 North Richill for a communal rendition of the theme from Hawaii-5-0.

So it was telling that the majority of us were exchanging goodbye handshakes and hugs by 10:30 (and well before the post-game fireworks)… in deference to our drives home and long-week-depleted energy reserves.

But, as the above picture proves, the smiles will keep.

And as the years have proven, so will the stories … and the bond.

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Excursions

A boxfull of Sundays ….

 

To the outside world, it was a Sherwin Williams van.

During the workweek Dad used it to call on customers; hauling paint and carpet to businesses and schools all over Fayette County.

But on blue-sky-sunny-breezy summer Sundays just like today, that van became our magic carpet. And its cargo was simplified to an afternoon’s essentials: him, me, and the tall cardboard box that sat between us, whose contents I was solely responsible for.

It was my solemn duty to keep the box filled to overflowing with our basketballs, footballs, and, most importantly, our bats, balls and gloves.

Climbing into the van, we never had a destination mapped. That was always part of the adventure. We’d drive until we found a court with good nets and space to throw. Our drives might take us up the road to the Junior High, or over to Boyle School, or across town to Oliver playground, or sometimes up and over the mountain to Jumonville.

He always let me pick the location and the order of events. Whenever and wherever we’d arrive at a field, court or playground, I’d initiate the proceedings by dumping the tall cardboard box of its contents.

The majority of the time, basketball batted lead off. We’d warm up with make-it-take-it, then transition to Around-The-World, and then customized variations of H-O-R-S-E. Sometimes he’d let me switch the name to don’t-tell-mom-swear-words. “S-H-I-T” was our personal favorite … because the loser was obligated to say it aloud (ha).

In his day Dad was more of an underneath guy on the basketball court, more meat-and-potatoes than finesse. But he had a good hook shot in and around the paint, which, of course, I practiced and practiced and practiced when he wasn’t looking. I still remember this one Sunday afternoon at Jumonville when he chased down one of my missed shots to the other side of the basket, caught it in stride, and in one motion, spun his body and flipped the ball, no-look, over his shoulder with his right hand … kissing it perfectly off the backboard. The ball went in just as a car was driving past, prompting the passenger to spontaneously yell out the window, “Nice shot!” Yeah, that’s my Dad, I remember thinking proudly.

When basketball winded us, we’d break out the gloves. He’d let me pitch, humoring me by calling for curves, sliders, changeups and fastballs, though they all pretty much behaved the same coming out of my left hand. After I’d retire a side (thanks to a most generous strike zone), I’d back pedal to an outfield distance. “Make me run, Dad,” I’d command. He had this gift for aiming perfect pop flies just enough to my right or left to summon me to a full sprint and a leap, reach or dive. And whenever I’d rescue a ball inches before it sailed over my head or hit the ground, it was hard to tell who was more excited, him or me.

In those days, there was no greater feeling in the world than chasing down a pop fly and swallowing it with my outstretched, oversized, Reggie-Jackson-model Rawlings (“The Finest In The Field”) that Dad had bought, used, with the best $25 he ever spent.

Our Sunday afternoons seldom had a clock. Depending on our ambition and energy, sometimes we’d flee to another park or playground in the same outing. Sometimes we’d cycle through sports a couple times. We’d just play ourselves tired and hungry, then pile back in the van, re-filling the tall cardboard box that sat between us.

And, since Mom unapologetically never cooked on Sundays (she more than earned a day of rest with her efforts during the week), it gave us an excuse to make a pit stop before returning home. Among our favorite haunts was this deli-slash-convenience store on the other side of town, whose name escapes me. The ritual of our dinner menu, though, is forever etched in memory. We’d pull tall, glass bottles of Pepsi from the cooler, order a pound of Swiss Cheese from the deli, then retreat to our magic carpet, sipping and munching contentedly in the parking lot, while I’d crack open fresh packs of Topps cards in search of Pirate treasures. We convinced ourselves that the finest Swiss Cheese in the world could be found at this specific convenience store in Uniontown. For the record, I’d still testify under oath to that fact.

Around dusk Dad would whisk us home. As we pulled to the curb in front of our house on Mullen Street, our magic carpet transformed back into his Sherwin Williams van. I’d remove our tall cardboard box to make room for the week’s paint and carpet deliveries.

And patiently wait for the next sunny, summer Sunday.

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We came home very late last night after a brief, but nourishing, family vacation. The good (and, these days, too-rare) kind, where the days didn’t have a clock. In her typically inspired, herculean, and meticulous packing efforts, Karry reserved room in a basket for our football, basketball and gloves. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to twist Peter’s arm (um, more than a couple times – ha). Honestly, he coaxed me on a couple occasions to throw some baseball (which, as he’s gotten older, we don’t do very often). I believe we actually passed ball three of the days we were away.

And without any prompting from me, he made a rule. Whenever we played ourselves tired or hungry, he’d direct me to aim a pop fly to his left or his right, so he could give chase and make a leaping, diving, or shoetop grab before we were allowed to call it quits. And when he’d rescue a ball from hitting the ground or from sailing over his head, it was hard to tell who was more excited, him or me.

We got in so late last night, we saved our unpacking for this afternoon. I found myself removing the basket with our balls and gloves, and thinking about that tall, cardboard box that used to sit between my Dad and me in our magic carpet.

And on our second Father’s Day since his passing, I find myself clinking a metaphorical glass Pepsi bottle with all those blue-sky-sunny-breezy, summer Sunday afternoons.
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Excursions

One small scoop for man ….

 

I’ve heard it said that great adventurers often had the sense that they were making history in the midst of their adventures.

Though I’m not sure why, I have the strong feeling that family history will want to record that on the glorious morning of June 17, 2017, we ate chocolate ice cream for breakfast.

And that history may have the kindest words for the one of us who didn’t even bother with a bowl.

Here’s to Saturday mornings scooped straight from the carton.

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