My Life’s A Hoot!

Just a short note to tell you I have started a new blog entitled, “My Life’s A Hoot!”.  Some of you may have already read the first posting from this weekend “I Like Not Camping!”  To support the new blog, I have created a new website, which you can access at www.mylifesahoot.com.  Please visit the new website and sign up for alerts, so that you will be notified when new stories are posted.  I’m looking forward to the new journey and I hope you will join me again.  It’ll be a hoot!  Thanks to all of you for your past support.

The Cleaning

Hi everyone.  My digital book, which was based on my blog, is now available on Amazon for downloading to the Kindle or Kindle Reader App. Amazon doesn’t allow me to give the book away, so there is a cost ($1.99). The Apple version, which came out earlier, is still free and can be dowloaded through their iTunes or iBooks stores (for iPads, iPhones and Macs). I also have a free PDF version that I can email to anyone interested; send a request to smeckler7528@gmail.com. The Kindle and PDF versions incorporate the new bluebird cover, as well as a new Forward (which explains the bluebird cover).  The Apple version will include the same revisions in a few more days (takes a little longer for Apple to review and approve).  Links to the Kindle and Apple versions are included below.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B016E16JWQ/ref=cm_sw_r_udp_awd_vufgwbPE6B517

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-cleaning/id989644034?mt=13

The book incorporates all of my previous weekly blogs, with some minor, subtle changes and additions for continuity.  You encouraged me to put this together into a book, so here it is.  I hope you enjoy it.  To set the tone, I included the revised Forward, as well as the Preface below.

Forward

Preface 1

Preface 2

A message to the readers of my blog who follow via emails.  I edited the latest blog, which is the last blog of this series.  Since I edited it after the email went out, you may end up reading the old version. To access the new version, click on the title in the previous email and it will take you to the latest version. Thanks.

Things You Should Know!

I looked at my watch…3:30 p.m. I’d been at it for a little more than 3 hours. In that time, I had reorganized the things into categories based on “what to keep,” “what to discard,” “what to sell,” and “what to give away.” Next week, we would all be together…my mom and her four grown kids. We would work together to finish “The Cleaning.” It would be happy and bittersweet all at once; smiles and laughter, tears and hugs…lots of hugs. I stood up carefully, so as not to hit my head on the exposed beams above and brushed myself off. The motes of dust glistened in the light; and as my gaze followed them upward, I reflected on the past few hours in the garage rafters and what I had accomplished. There was so much more here than these things; so much more.

I steadied myself against the trusses as my dangling legs searched for the support of the ladder. Once on the ground, I folded the ladder and placed it back on the hooks my father had installed so many years before. Everything in its place. As I opened the back door, I pressed the button to close the garage and, from the back step, watched as the sun faded leaving only the light of one bulb. I turned to go inside, hitting another switch as the door swung closed, and the last light flickered out.

My mom greeted me in the den…the memories of events in this room still vivid in my mind’s eye. “Well, is there anything worth keeping?” she asked. I responded with a hug.  ”No material things, but what are your plans for the rest of the afternoon?” I asked. “It will take me some time to tell you about what we should keep.” We sat together in the living room, where I proceeded to tell her about what I saw; I told her stories about…

Epilogue

While most stories come to an end, this isn’t one of those stories. Because this has been a story about life…my life; and only a portion of my life at that. I still have plans to continue my travels down the road of life, turning left or right, meeting new characters and enjoying new experiences. I don’t know what the future has laid out ahead for me and I don’t rightly need to know. I do know there are stories in front of me and a pen and blank piece of paper on my desk to record whatever plays out.

As we take one last glimpse over our shoulders, I acknowledge that I have much to be grateful for, including the friends and neighbors I have met and the experiences we have shared. We have covered many miles since the ‘60s and ‘70s. We survived turbulent times, which have, no doubt, prepared us for the times we are in today. Most of us have moved out of the neighborhood, but not so far away that we couldn’t, some years later, come together to reminisce as neighbors once again. Thanks for the inspiration.

To my family, I have always appreciated your love and support. Thanks for putting up with me for the last 6 months as I aired our fallacies and quirks for all to see. There were stories in both the good times and bad…and humor in everything…who knew. Though some of our beloved family members have moved on ahead, these stories have shown to me that no one is so far beyond our physical world as not to be able to provide continued guidance each and every living day.

OK…enough of that. Since this is the last chapter, there are some things that are too important to go unsaid, so I’ll use the remaining space on the page to fill in some gaps; things you should know, which may not have come out in any of the preceding stories.

  • Riding a bike – Forward motion, turning, and stopping should be taught on the same day!
  • Throwing a football – I learned how to throw a football from our neighbor. It’s all about gripping the ball and releasing it correctly. Window glass can be replaced at most hardware stores.
  • Horseshoes – I learned enough from my dad to always come in second place!
  • Be nice to your brother – “If you tell mom I beat you up, I’ll beat you up!” I would have accepted “please!”
  • As teenagers, younger brothers think their older brothers are cool. As adults, older brothers think their younger brothers are cool. As a general rule, people get smarter as they get older.
  • My little sister was always faster than me…she knew it and reminded me after reading one of the stories. You are correct…the bear would have ate me, not you! It’s never too late to be nice to your younger sister.
  • Older sisters – they always have your back. They’re there to tell you how nice and pretty your girlfriend is and they’re there to tell you how you deserve better when that same girl breaks up with you. Love you!
  • Dads – You will never be able to hold the flashlight steady, but that’s never what it was about.
  • Mothers – Mothers will give you the same loving reaction to any gift you bring home to her: a live bird in a box; a dead bird in a box; cheap, discarded things found at a neighborhood garage sale; weedy bushes from a field; flowers from a neighbor’s garden; or a hug. She loves you just the same and that love is timeless.

Important things can also go unsaid. I waited throughout my teenage years to get the talk from my dad…about the “birds and the bees.” That talk never came and I felt cheated enough that, on my wedding night with permission from my bride, I called my dad to provide him one last opportunity. It went something like this…“Dad…you never gave me the talk…I had to go out and buy a book…an instruction manual….I think a page is missing…I think it was important…what do I do?” Most of you know that my dad was a man of few words. On the other end of the line, I’m sure he was quietly contemplating how life’s road had brought him to this moment; but after that brief moment of silence, there was a clearing of the throat, and in his steady, confident tone, he responded… “Here’s your mom!” Life has no directions…no left or right…you live in the moment and get what you get. Cherish every moment.

My stories have centered on certain aspects of my youth and I know there are many stories that will go untold. I also know from the feedback I have received from readers that my stories have been their aide-mémoires, which have triggered memories within your lives. Selfishly, that was my goal all along. I hope these stories provide inspiration for you to take pen to paper to preserve your stories for posterity. Tell your stories to your kids…they want to hear them!

We are now in the present, having arrived at this destination by the grace of God. The road to life is best traveled without a map or list of directions. Turn left, no right…no matter as either direction will bring you to new and wonderful opportunities.

I end this story on the day that we are helping our eldest daughter and son-in-law move into their new house. We took many lefts and rights through life to get here. As we unload the truck and move their belongings into their house, I know that this is just another beginning. The artifacts of life are placed in each room with a purpose for the foreseeable future. Among the things were a desk, a coffee maker, a photograph, dog toys…and so it begins again…

With time, their house will become a home; and in the coming years, our family will have traveled further down the road. Some of the material things we have moved into the house today will have been discarded, but some will have made their way to an attic or perhaps into the garage rafters. Sometimes, memories get attached to material things making it hard for us to part; we place them close enough to provide the periodic aide-mémoire that draws us to an experience, a past destination, or to a lost friend or family member.

Someday both my daughters will have to visit our attic, where they will get a glimpse of things.  Two sisters performing “The Cleaning”…together.  When they do, I will be there with them…among the things…that say “I’m so glad we were able to meet along this road of life.”

The Chair!

This is the story that starts at the beginning…my beginning…the fourth day of the fifth month in the year nineteen hundred and sixty-two. As I recall, it was a relatively quiet, unremarkable day; relative to five months later, when the nation was at DEFCON 2!  Don’t blame me, they had nine months to prepare!

The world then, as it is now, is full of instability and moments of crisis. As nations, we often work toward peace and stability by sitting in chairs and talking. In the world of the four walls and roof we called home, it was no different. The path to peace went through a chair.

The first few years of my life were full of crises; sudden loud noises, stumbles, and unfamiliar faces. Peace came in the form of a short, wooden rocker with a rattan seat. That “rocking” chair did not start its life as such, but as a tall Shaker chair with four legs; the type of well-made minimalist design you’d expect to find in a country church. This chair was handed down through the family…one generation to the next. Over the years, its constant use wore down its four legs; tired from the movement back and forth along the floors of every home it supported. At some point, growing ever shorter, but still providing utility, it was fitted with its current “rockers,” which added a sense of warmth to its character. Simplicity, utility, honesty, and warmth is what you’d expect to get from this chair and, through the years, it was true to its structure.

My first memories of life are from this chair, in my mother’s arms, rocking back and forth, the tears drying from my face. Words were seldom spoken, as it was the chair that spoke volumes that all was well; no worries…I am here; you are not alone. My mom and I both found peace in that chair.

In the years that followed, that chair remained in our home; it remains there now to be passed to the next generation. It conveys a sense of peace just to see it.

There were other chairs that passed through our home; short-timers that were discarded when their usefulness as a chair had passed. It requires a heart to make a chair special and enduring.

Chairs in antiquity were often symbols of authority and dignity. Our home was blessed to have such a chair…another special chair with a heart, which often sat in our living room…we called it my father’s chair. It was unremarkable; another sturdy rocker made from a wood frame covered in robust fabric…but special nonetheless.

Growing up is not about growing old, but about learning and being nurtured. During the years my father sat in that chair while he lovingly and unselfishly dispensed his wisdom and guidance. Thank God I had the forethought to listen; even as my mouth sometimes spoke to the contrary. My dad and I both found peace in that chair.

In the years that followed, that chair remained in our home; it remains there now. It also conveys a sense of peace just to see it.

A few years ago, one of my daughters wrote a few poems. Reading what she wrote gave me pause…for the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. When I was her age, I had also put pen to paper. We worked together to unite the poems into one book, which we called “Not Far From The Tree!” We ended our book with the following poem.

From My Father’s Chair

My Father’s Chair is big and sturdy
My Father’s Chair is warm and comforting
My Father’s Chair is stable and dependable
Its arms will embrace you
Its legs will support you

Crafted from the finest wood
Designed for utility and use
Its grain guides you
Its color invites you

My Father’s Chair has purpose
My Father’s Chair is accessible
My Father’s Chair is essential
A place to rest
A place to learn
A place to look and listen
My Father’s Chair is a place to grow

My Father’s Chair was a gift
Passed from one generation to the next
My Father’s Chair is never empty

When I was ready, I climbed into my Father’s Chair
And what I saw
Was you

My Father’s Chair is big and sturdy…

A Rainy Day!

“Turn off the TV and find something else to do!” My mother turned the corner from the living room into the dining room; she carried a basket of clean laundry. I got up from the living room floor to follow and watched as she unfolded the ironing board. “Davey wanted to watch TV!” I attempted to justify, but the words came out overly whiney. Davey looked surprised at my mention of his name, and moved slightly to stay out of view. “Well then he can go back to his house to watch TV; you’re not going to just lie there watching TV all day…there are more things to do with your lives!” “Not today…it’s raining out!”…I responded with a prepared second line of defense, all the while moving confidently back down to my position in front of the TV. As we waited for my mom’s next move, we were outflanked by my dad, who entered the room from the hallway, stepped over me, and turned off the TV. “Listen to your mother…Hi Davey!” Davey had rolled himself up into a defensive ball in the far corner. “Oh…Hi” came his muffled response.

I grudgingly got up from the floor and walked into the foyer to peer out through the storm door. The pitter-patter of rain on the walkway was interrupted by the sound of distant thunder. In my mind’s eye, I traveled to the homes of my other neighborhood friends whose mothers, as I expected, were doting over their kids rainy day well-being; a uniform chorus of maternal wisdom echoed in my head… “Well, you’re not going out in that today! You just lie yourself down and watch TV for the rest of the day!…Let me know when you want lunch dear…” A loud clap of thunder brought me back to reality. My mom continued to iron my clothes in the dining room.

“What does she think we can do on a day like this?,” I mumbled to myself. Davey drew up next to me at the door…“I really don’t want to go home…my mom will make me clean my room.” Ignoring the fact that Davey’s statement was inconsistent with my theory that life was always better everywhere else, I took him to task that my mom remained in earshot of his mother’s “rainy-day-to-do” options! “Let’s go check out the games in the den closet.”

As I opened the closet door, several items fell from the overstuffed shelves. I picked up one of the items…my GI Joe Talking Astronaut…and pulled on the dog tag chord. “Confirm second stage ignition…entering lunar orbit!” “Heh…heh…GI Joe is cool!” A small, blue flowered print luggage had also fallen causing the lock to snap open and spill its Barbie clothes contents onto the floor. “Hey Davey, remember when we used your sister’s Barbie as the guinea pig to test out our homemade GI Joe parachutes?…We kept tossing her out your bedroom window until we got it right…boy was your sister mad!” As I put Joe back in his place of honor on the top shelf, I kicked the Barbie clothes and luggage back into the closet, next to the Bag-Of-Blocks and eyed the stacks of games, which were organized by box size: Parcheesi, Candy Land, Go To The Head of the Class, Chutes and Ladders, Chinese Checkers, Hands Down, Mouse Trap, Operation, Bingo-matic, and Game of the States. “No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No , No and No.” I thought to myself that all the good rainy day games like Yahtzee and Monopoly must be locked in the camping trailer.

The next shelf, labeled “rainy day” (by an adult), was filled with crafty things like paint-by-number, chalk, colored pencils, and a wood burning set. We ignored it and focused on the lower shelf. The lower shelf was full of electronic games and activities: Creepy Crawlers Thing Maker, Easy Bake Oven, and electronic football. Davey and I looked at each other and, without discussion, I grabbed the electronic football game.

“I call offense” I yelled as I opened the box and removed the metal field and bags of yellow and white plastic players. We started to set up the players before realizing we had to move closer to an outlet to get power. Over the next ten minutes, not a word was spoken as we dreamed up highly technical offensive and defensive formations. After several minutes of adjusting and readjusting plastic figurines around the field, we were ready for the kickoff. We simulated crowd noises and did a ceremonial kick of the football. I placed the sliver of a sponge, which represented the “pig skin,” under one of the players arms and put him down in the backfield. “Ready Davey?” As Davey nodded with excitement, I toggled the “on switch” and the field immediately came to resounding life; the noise and vibration adding to the fervor. We watch with intensity as these polyethylene masters of the gridiron rushed toward each other with equal goals of electricity-driven annihilation!

We hovered over the field as the opposing players collided; we made crashing and crushing sounds to accompany the anticipated battle playing out below.

In seconds, Davey and I realized our respective strategies were for naught. No battle to the death would play out on this day. Players coalesced regardless of color into a singular mass of plastic, which migrated without fanfare toward a neutral side of the field. We watched hopelessly as the figurines continued to stack up, with neither intent nor purpose. We watched until our attention was refocused on two rogue players, arms hooked, who had taken up a perpetual do-si-do at the 30-yard line. It was then that the vibration emanating from the metal gridiron transitioned into an acoustical annoyance. We longed for silence and obtained it through the single toggle of a switch. Two players stood frozen in defeat…until they walked out of the room.

“Lets go bowling!” Rainy days brought out the inventive nature of baby boomer adolescence. The idea of repurposing materials was passed down to our generation from our grandparents, who reused, recycled and repurposed out of necessity during the Great Depression and WWII. I opened the cellar door to find my mom carting another load of laundry up the stairs. With four kids, my mom was in a perpetual loop of collecting, washing, drying, ironing and putting away clothes. “Is your room clean?” she asked. I looked back at Davey with a slight air of contempt. Ignoring the question, I responded “We’re going bowling.” We let her pass and then took our turn on down the stairs. “OK, but clean-up after you’re done!” she responded casually, as she kicked the door closed behind us.

We passed the ping-pong table and moved toward the washer and dryer on the far wall. “Hey, turn on some of those other lights,” I directed Davey as I started pulling on the overhead chains to turn on lights near the washer. Out of the darkness, an ocean of empty plastic laundry detergent and bleach bottles came into focus. Without additional direction, Davey collected 10 of the bleach bottles and set them up in a 10-pin bowling configuration. I collected the black plastic ball from the shelf. “You go first this time.” I offered. “Same rules…no handicap…first one to roll a 300-game wins.”  I tossed the ball to Davey who stepped back behind the black tape laid down on the basement floor, approximately 30-feet from the front pin. With the ball in hand, he charged the line at which point he sent the ball spinning toward the awaiting bleach bottle pins. A crack of thunder outside worked in concert with the sound of the ball smacking into the “pins,” which sprayed outward leaving no pin standing. Without comment, we collected the ball and stood up the pins to repeat the process. Life was good, even on this rainy day!

A Day In The Life!

My day started with the slow climb up the stairs. Morning light slipped through the window and fought for dominance over the retreating shadows. At the top of the stairs, I eyed the door frame, which was splintered by the ritualistic scratching that delivered my daily freedom. Back behind the furnace, the remnants of breakfast lay spread out across the concrete floor. I reached high, flexing my back and began to scratch where I had left off the day before. Slivers of wood rained through the steps to the floor below. The sound reverberated upward through the walls and it wasn’t long before I heard the downward patter of footsteps from the place above.

The door opened allowing the sunlight to flow freely into the darkness below. I rushed through the light past my liberator and into the space above. “We need to work on your conditioning…your reaction time is too slow…I might have scratched my way through that door before you opened it! Oh…before I forget…I left something for you behind the furnace…you might want to check it out before your mother does the laundry!…where’s my milk?…acchtttt!…that’s yours too!”

“That’s what I’m talking about…hey…hey…don’t be pouring that on your cereal.” In a flash, I was up on the table, head-to-head with my nemesis – the red cereal box; Cap’n Crunch stared back menacingly. Before I could defend myself, I was placed unceremoniously back onto the floor; pushed toward a bowl in the corner. “C’mon…water again!”  I could hear Cap’n Crunch wallowing contemptuously in the milk above. I detested that pompous, portly, milk-hoarding, swashbuckling man.

I lapped at the water with enthusiastic vigor, masking my true intent to spread as much of the water as possible onto the surrounding floor, then turning the bowl over as the final coup de grâce. With head held high, I strutted away from the bowl with confidence that all things find their place in time. As I headed toward the door to the outside, the red box was carried back to its place on the pantry shelf, aside the cellar stairs. “Heh…heh…see you later, Cap’n!”

I sat at the door, momentarily staring back at the mundane activity in the kitchen. “Hey…I don’t have all day!” “This door is not going to open itself!” “Abrir la puerta por favor!” I started to scratch at the door. “Oh yeah…that gets your attention…so predictable…keep playing with Mr. Potato Head…you’ll go far…jeez!” The door opened, but before I exited I made a few passes around and against his legs to measure his commitment to my well-being. He scratched behind my ears, which, in my experience, was his signal to me that it was safe to move into the world beyond the door and, more importantly, his intention to let me back into the house later. It’s good to have a house buddy, so out the door I went.

I sat and assessed my surroundings.  This was truly my realm…well…at least among the three or four streets that demarcated the neighborhood around my house. Beyond that was the realm of “Mr. Pickles!” I spent the first part of my day marking my territory and property. Marking was necessary on a daily basis to establish ownership rights among my contemporaries. On this day, I owned the grass outside the front door, the rosebush on the side of the house, the neighbor’s hibachi, and little Janie’s doll…left outside…so fair game! When I physically could “own” no more, I moved across the street to sit for a while and watch the neighbor’s dog run, jump and bark itself silly on the other side of a tall chain-link fence. He’ll sleep well tonight! “You’re welcome!” With another task complete, I moved on.

As the early summer sun rose higher in the sky, I took the cue to check out the big sand box behind the house three doors down. The coolness of the sand softened the harshness of the building humidity, and within moments I was asleep. But only for a moment…for in the next, I parried and lunged and Cap’n Crunch’s little sword fell from his little hand. With his captain’s hat askew, a look of defeat spread across his mustachioed face. He begged for his salvation, “It’s got corn for crunch, oats for punch, and it stays crunchy, even in milk.” “The milk will be mine, Cap’n!” I promised. That moment of euphoria was suddenly interrupted by the sharp pain of a pincer, then another. I awoke to red ants parading up my back. So close I thought! I completed a quick roll in the sand to abate the ants, then moved on to other business. My business in a box…just like at home. “Do it in the box!” they would say. So I did it in this box…daily!

As I was finishing my business…shuffling my back feet, I was interrupted by two kids charging out the backdoor, each carrying beach toys…shovels and pails. I dashed from the box as they plopped down and began to dig. None of my business…it was now theirs. “You enjoy that kids…there’s a surprise in every box…like Cracker Jacks…be back tomorrow.” “Say hi to your mother for me!” I pranced back across the street and into another backyard. A basket of clothes was set upon the lawn; a few sheets remained hanging from the clothesline, continuing to dance in the warm summer air. I jumped into the basket and rolled around the sun-warmed clothes until I was content that most of the remaining sand and ants were removed. The back screen door opened and I was quickly eschewed to my next task.

Throughout the day, I continued to chase the sun as it moved across the sky. I completed various other responsibilities, which included chasing a butterfly until I ate it…chasing a grasshopper until I ate it….becoming the owner of a GI Joe…and playing with a mouse in the garage until I…“acchttt!…I’ll come back for that later!” All the while, keeping an eye out for Mr. Pickles.

The last hour of my day beyond the door was spent following the boys around the neighborhood assisting in the delivery of the evening newspaper. I followed them and the sun as they both fell behind the houses. Having completed the daily delivery at dusk, we entered the house through the back door. The boys washed up and joined the others for the family dinner.

As they sat together at the dinner table, they engaged in discourse about the events of their day, and I sat aside my overturned bowl and offered discourse about my day. With a periodic nod in my direction, or an occasional reach-out to scratch behind my ears, I knew they were listening and that, despite my occasional sarcasm, they cared.

After dinner, we moved to the living room for a quiet end to the evening. We all had our places; mine demarcated by a layer of hair embedded into the couch cushion. Games were played or TV watched. Sometimes the TV would play my favorite shows, which included contemporaries singing about a favorite food, descriptions of the attributes of my favorite drink that remained out of reach, or about newly designed “business” boxes that cleaned themselves. I thought about the house three doors down…why change a good thing…the kids love it and it does seem to clean itself. Sometimes, my enemy, the Cap’n, would flash on the screen; his sword back at his side, his hat back on his head. “Stays crunchy, even in milk!” he boasted. “Tomorrow the milk would be mine!” I vowed.

One-by-one, the residents of the house went upstairs to bed. I woke to one of the kids lifting me from the couch. A little more of my hair left on the couch for posterity. “Time for bed Tuffy.” She put me down on the floor and I followed her to the cellar door. The door opened slightly, allowing the kitchen light to leak onto the pantry along the staircase wall. In the light, I could make out a red cereal box placed precariously on one of the pantry shelves. I walked through the open door onto the cellar staircase landing. The door swung closed pinching out the last of the light.

In the darkness, there was a Meow! “Hello Cap’n!”