letting go of the past

Perusing my old blogs, I can’t help but notice how much I have dwelled on the past. I’ve had it pointed out to me many times but I never realized how bad it really was. I think the secret to my future happiness depends on my getting a grip on this once and for all.

I think that the real sledgehammer to the forehead came as I was reading a series that I appropriately named “Diary of a FUS (fucked up shithead)”. While unfinished, it paints a pretty clear picture of my obsession with all that I have done that I regret but serves no real purpose other than to remind me of that which I want to forget. Digging deep into the possible psychology behind the posts the best I can come up with is that deep down not only do I regret many episodes and decisions, even entire periods of my life, but also have come to believe that my life would have taken an entirely different trajectory if I had taken a different path.

But I wouldn’t be the person I am today, for better or for worse, if not for those errors in judgment and behavior that haunt me to this day. Every stupid thing I’ve said; every poor decision; every time I failed to listen to the little voice in my head; every time I ignored my better instincts has in some way formed my current self. I am now careful to speak and quick to listen. I now question everything before I make a rash judgment. I now ignore my initial instinct to be trusting and instead ask the hard questions and dig deeper. I am hyper aware of what comes out of my mouth and very sensitive to what my face is saying when I’m listening. Perhaps most important, I always try to be kind to everyone: even those who don’t necessarily deserve it. Every one of these modified behaviors stems from one or more formative incidents that I wish that I could forget. Incidents that I have played out in my head and consequently beaten myself to metaphorical death over.

I have come to a major realization that in committing so many faux pas in behavior that it was always when I was trying to be something or someone that I was. The difference between the old, guilt-ridden me and the new me is that I now know who I am and I feel I know my place in this world. I embrace my smallness when I once chased success and stature. Despite my gruff appearance I am actually OK with being quite gentle. My facial expressions often express consternation but in fact it usually means that I am thinking about something and I am not aware that I look like that and I am in fact most likely thinking happy thoughts. While I often obsessed over my own predicament and weighed my worth in possessions, I now am happy with a modest lifestyle and I am quite generous for a man of my means. While I merely coexisted with my fellow man before, I now care deeply about the welfare of others and genuinely make an effort to alleviate the pain and sadness through simple acts and gestures.

Does it really matter what we were once or is it most relevant what we are now? How important is the past, if amends are made and lessons are learned, if we are now better people? Regardless of the twisted and winding paths we took, the obstacles we climbed over and how many times we had to turn around and start over, dusting ourselves off, isn’t the end result what matters?

I would love to change some things that I have done and said. I have hurt people and I know that I have missed many opportunities that, had I embraced, my life would be very different today. But I can’t. “Redo’s” only happen in the movies. What I do know is that lying awake at night beating the shit out of myself is doing nothing also. It’s time to recognize the past for what it is, it’s over and done with. I have definitely learned my lessons and I almost like who I am today. I can look in the mirror and be ok with the man staring back at me. He forgives me and I should as well. I have acquired many things due to my checkered past, the best of which is wisdom. I may not have known how to do the right thing before. But I do now and that is all that matters.

The rearview mirror is small, the windshield is large. That is because the past is only worth a small view but the present looms large before us and everything that matters is yet to come. If you are in the right place and frame of mind to receive it.

I have been blessed with opportunity after opportunity lately. Life is good. I believe that the positive energy I have tried to put out into the world has come back to me. Karma is not a bitch but instead the great reckoner and equalizer of the universe. Karma is not rewarding the me of the past, but instead the new me. The one that finally realized, no matter how late in life, that the past is just that. But today is a gift, that’s why it is called the Present.

The good old days

It all starts with the childhood right? If my B.S. in Psychology taught me anything, it is that a Shrink would think that all Fucked Up Shitheads (from now on will be known as FUS) are the product of hating or wanting to fuck your mother. They would be wrong. I was the product of a loving home. I had honest and hard working parents. To my knowledge I never needed for anything.

My town was lower middle class at best. If I had to guess, we were on the lower-middle end of it. My parents bought our house when I was 3 and from that moment Dad spent every spare minute working on it. The man left the house at 5AM, got home at 6 or 7. Mom kept his dinner warm. I would sit and watch him eat, careful to point out that we had left the biggest piece of steak for him. Sometimes he was talkative, other times he was quiet as he ate. If he was in a bad mood he would still give me a wink to let me know it wasn’t me. When he was finished he put his plate in the sink and went to pound nails or cut some boards. God bless him, he was the hardest working man I have ever met. Ever.

Mom walked the tightrope between Gloria Steinem Feminism and the good housewife brilliantly. She wore her hair down to her waist (see Cher), opened her own doors and, once I was old enough, got her own job. But around Dad she was a traditional housewife. Don’t hate on that term, that’s what they called themselves back then. By traditional housewife I guess I mean that she cared for me, cared for the house and inexplicably took care of him as part of her marital duties. She did it because it had to be done and she wasn’t offended by traditional Gender roles. She had limits. If he got too “traditional” she would give it back. She was a very positive female influence.

We were a very social family. We were the house that all the ladies in the neighborhood would come to for coffee and conversation. They’d stop by with their kids in tow, looking for a cup of sugar and would stay for coffee and whatever baked goods Mom was able to whip up. It was great for me, my friends were hand delivered. I didn’t even have to leave the house. When there weren’t pop-in play dates, it was my Grandmother.

My mom and her mother had a great relationship. They were very close and spent a lot of time together. Because they were both married to workaholics, their time together meant more than I ever would have understood at the time. They were lonely together, if that makes sense? One thing that helped to pass the time was to dote over me. As it turns out, doting was my Grandmother’s specialty. She took me places and showed me off to her friends at the Senior Center. My memories of hanging with her go all the way back, and I attribute my love of Elderly people to her. We had nothing less than a wonderful and gratifying relationship. Unfortunately, my Grandmother’s doting was also the source of a huge rift in her relationship with my mother. A rift so large that it essentially molded my mother’s approach to me. To a degree, it would be a problem for me in my teen years.

They were good times.

The wayback machine

“Mr. Peabody, set the Wayback machine to 1976…”

Music is transformative. Music is time travel. The right song, as it drifts through the speakers, has countless beautiful memories clinging to it. I’ve gotten away from music for a long time. Apparently my grey hair dictated to me that talk radio about sports and politics was the only thing for me. Sure, it was intellectually stimulating, but nothing reminds me of how beautiful life is and was like music.

Today as I was driving back from the clinic I had the volume low on the car stereo. I was thinking about the morning while simultaneously planning my day when I heard a magical strumming of guitar faintly playing. I immediately turned it up to see if it was…YES it was Bob Seger’s Night Moves. I turned it up as loud as it can go.

Sooooooo many memories. I think I have been delighted every time this song ever came on the radio but today I went all the way back. Back to the days of AM Radio. I recalled the small transistor radio that only got 3 stations and working outside in the fall air when I was 11 years old. I vividly remember splitting wood in the cool afternoon air. I should have been cold but I was in a t shirt and jeans and the chill of the autumn air didn’t faze me. The older kids drove by with their car stereos blaring, the neighborhood kids of my age stopped by and asked me to join them in a football game. I declined. I wanted to get my work done just so that I could see the pleased look on my Dad’s face when he came home from work.

The neighborhood kids didn’t understand. Not only did I need to do my chores because we needed the wood to heat the house in the pending winter, but I also liked the work. I felt strong as I swung the 8 pound splitting maul. The cool afternoon breeze cooled my brow. I felt powerful. I was young and strong. I felt accomplished. And despite being alone, for much of my early years I suppose, I was never truly alone because I had the radio.

Do you remember the days before Pandora and Spotify? Before 6 disc changers and countless radio stations? Do you remember hitting the record button on the tape player when your favorite song came on? And did you curse out the DeeJay for talking over the introduction? Hearing Bob Seger belt out Night Moves brought it all back to me today and it has put me in a melancholy but wonderful place.

I crave the simpler times. The times before life sapped all of the youthful energy and optimism out of me. I miss the days when I had strength and endurance to spare. When the simple tasks of getting through my day didn’t leave me drained and in pain. I miss the days of having only thoughts of the future and waiting for my favorite song to come on the old Transistor radio. For all of the complexities of adult life, right now I would trade them all for the cool Autumn afternoons of October 1976.

Now if you’ll excuse me there are some songs that I want to search out and truly live out this moment.

I have to go work on some of my Night Moves…

the bottle story

In 1981 my Great Uncle Cyrus died. He had a big house on Cape Cod, about 300 yards from the water. My family was tasked with cleaning it out.
My Great Uncle was a kind and giving man. On my 16th birthday he gave me his late wife’s 1964 Ford Falcon as a present. I was grateful yet conflicted, I barely knew the man. Amazingly, the distance between us and the Cape was enough to keep me from seeing him more than 5 times in my life. And there I was cleaning out his house, charged alongside my mother, father and Grandparents with deciding what was “junk” and what wasn’t.

There I was, a 16 year old exploring a old house. I meandered to the basement where I found a dusty tool bench with some really cool but unfinished wood working projects and a lot of unorganized stuff scattered around. I stooped to check out the bottom shelf and I saw a bottle. I blew an inch of dust off it and I studied it. It was a bottle of J&B Scotch, a fairly middle of the road blend and a very popular drink in its time. I was intrigued by the label “half gallon” and realized that this bottle was old. The stamp revealed that it was bottled in 1949.
“Hey Dad, check this out!”.
Dad came over and agreed that it was a find. We brought it home with us and stored it in my grandparents basement.

Saturday I had my installation ceremony as Master of my Masonic Lodge. Due to Covid restrictions we were only allowed to have 50 guests and we reached that number. My children and my mother, several brothers from other lodges that I became friendly with over the years graced me with their presence. One of them had told me 5 years ago that should I become master he wanted to be there. So I invited him. The remainder of the crowd consisted of lodge members and their guests who all came out to support the new line of officers.

It was an AMAZING ceremony, the same one that was conferred on George Washington in the 1700’s. Once complete it was my turn to say some words. I had it all planned out. In fact, I have had it planned out since the day I decided that I would move through the chairs to Master.
“Brother Marshall, would you retrieve my conversation piece?”
The crowd was intrigued.
Brother Marshall is my good friend and past master Basil who promised to help me in any way should I take the big chair. He winked at me and walked to the back of the building and came back with the bottle of J&B. He handed it to me with a wink and sat back in his seat.
I hoisted the J&B in the air and told the story.
“I am a lover of objects, for their significance and place in history. Objects do not contain memories but they have important associations. For example, I wear my grandfathers watch and cufflinks. I wear my fathers motorcycle helmet. They hold memories for me and mean something. This bottle is not just a bottle, it is a reminder of a different time”.
I told the story of cleaning out Uncle Cyrus’s house, who I later found out was an esteemed and beloved Freemason (it explained why he gave me a car) and how the bottle in my hand has fascinated me all along.
“This bottle has never been opened, it was bottled in 1949”. The crowd was hanging on every word now.
“This bottle was owned by a wonderful man. It was also bottled during the era of Harry Truman, my favorite President. Harry Truman, you may not know, was a Freemason. He served as Grand Master of the state of Missouri as Vice President yet he never discussed it”.
I asked the crowd if they knew that in a Masonic lodge everyone is treated the same regardless of social stature. I told of how Harry Truman went to a regular lodge as Vice President and later President and wasn’t greeted with fanfare and adulation…he was simply “brother Harry”.
“This bottle represents a simpler time and I hope to run this lodge as Harry did his own, with humility and honesty”.
It was a hit, everyone applauded. After, I rounded up all of the shot glasses I could find and I opened it. We toasted and took a drink. After 70 years in several basements, I finally shared my find with those people closest to me.
A week and a half later, people are still talking about it. They agreed with me that it wasn’t just a bottle.

It meant something.

Lessons unlearned

I came home today to be greeted by the sounds of Circular Saws and Hammers. The Contractors are finally finishing work on our Farmer’s Porch that they started in October. On the way into the house I paused to watch in fascination as they measured, cut and nailed with such precision and skill. And, as often happens, I triggered myself. Again.

I can’t hear a saw, a hammer or a drill without thinking about how much I didn’t learn from my father despite the many offers and opportunities. My dad was beyond handy, he could do almost anything with his hands. My earliest memories were of my dad rebuilding our house as we lived in it. He would work from 5 AM to 6 PM or later, slam down a quick dinner and then go to work until at least 10. The saw and hammer were sounds I knew at a very early age.

As I got older Dad tried to enlist my assistance, not because he necessarily needed help but instead to teach me. I was eager to help him but not very interested in learning anything new. This was odd for me because I was an eager student in every other aspect of life. I would pull nails from a pile he created, I could swing a hammer fairly well but offers of learning to measure, use woodworking tools and such were dropped due to lack of interest. Even offers of car maintenance were met with tepid enthusiasm despite our shared love of everything to do with cars.

One incident really stands out in my mind. One evening when I was in my late teens Dad offered to show me how to change the oil on my car. He had it already in the garage, the drive up lifts set up and all. The house phone rang (cell phones weren’t invented yet) and it was my girlfriend (she was goddamn gorgeous if that is relevant at all here) and she was imploring me to come over her house. I told her I was doing something with my Dad that was important and she insisted that it was very important. I had to make a decision and I can honestly say that I made the wrong one. I blew off my Dad.

The look of disappointment on his face was tangible. In my feeble defense, I really thought my girlfriend needed me. That almost helped me pull out of the garage feeling good about myself. Almost.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s house 20 minutes later and knocked on her door. She yelled for me to come up. I went upstairs, asking as I climbed the steps if she was ok, still very curious as to what the emergency was. As I entered her room and saw her lying there buck naked with a rose between her teeth I knew that I had been suckered. It was merely a sexual emergency. I somehow managed to get through it but soon after I began to feel bad.

I apologized profusely to my Dad the next day. He was curt and brief with me. He wasn’t mad, he was disappointed and that was always so much worse. He told me that he had offered to show me something for the last time. It was a pivotal moment in my relationship with my father and one of many regrets that I have from my childhood with regards to my dad. If I could talk to him for only five minutes it would be a priority in the conversation. He was such a hard-working and self-taught man. I admired him so. I take some comfort in many other things that I did learn from him that have made me the person I am but there is still a lot of regret.

Sorry Dad, how’s it go…If I knew now what I didn’t know then?

Missed opportunities

 I posted recently about my 35th High School Reunion. It was a honest piece in which I spoke directly to the healing that I have experienced in the years since I graduated.

I spent a lot of years blaming others for my own lack of visibility and satisfaction. Consequently, I developed an aversion to all things HS related, in particular Reunions. Fortunately, I grew up and eventually I went to a couple. What I came up with is that it was as much my fault as anyone else. That realization led to growth. So in my post I was honest to myself and issued a statement to my classmates. It was fairly well received on WP. But WP wasn’t the desired audience. As supportive as the community was, I felt that my former classmates needed to hear it. So I posted the link to the FB page of my HS class. I was nervous. I felt like I was in HS again, so afraid of being judged or ostracized by my classmates. But I knew that it didn’t matter in the big picture what they thought of me. I had put that monkey behind me. And I was further fortified by the possibility that I wouldn’t even be alive for the next one. I hit the “share” button. There was no turning back.

The response was amazing.

People that I thought never even knew my name responded. Friends who I had lost touch with for years told me how proud they were to be my friend. Comment after comment posted about how well I captured the experience of High School. Of how they could relate. Of how they remembered me. One of my classmates went so far as to say that my prose had inspired him to attend the next one.I received multiple FB inbox messages telling me how much my post meant to them. Friend requests followed. My blog received a record 151 views in one day. I was deeply humbled.

 I am a guy who walked out of  The Breakfast Club saying “I call Bullshit”. I never believed that the scars caused by the cliques of HS could be overcome by one 8 hour session of detention. When RUSH released the song Subdivisions,I immediately adopted it as the story of my High School experience.To say that I was jaded is an understatement.  

I carried this resentment for too many years. It was uncomfortable, cumbersome and it went on for too long. Based on the feedback, and in some cases support, of my classmates I now know that I had it all wrong. So many years living in my own head.

Sunday I am driving to MA to have lunch with a guy I went to HS with. He was the most recent of FB inbox messages related to my FB posting. He really wants to get together and get to know each other. Here’s the kicker. I never knew him in HS as a friend. I actually thought he disliked me. Apparently I was wrong. I look forward to making a new friend, even if it’s an old one I wasn’t aware of. 

So many missed opportunities. I wonder how many I can recover before it’s too late.

Hot summer days

Those hot summer days
Basking in the sun’s rays
Outside, even when skies were grey
The knock on the door
Can Billy come out to play?
Cops and robbers in the yard
Shins and elbows always scarred
Streetlamp curfews
Wasted days were few
Wax bottles and candy cigarettes
Eight-track tapes and cassettes
Hot afternoons in the pool
Mirror shades, try to look cool
Leaf piles to dive in
Saturday night drive in
Sleepovers at camp
Motocross bikes, jumping that ramp
Swimming and fishing
shooting stars and wishing
Talking to my first cutie
Worried about cooties
Bad music and One hit wonders
School dances and social blunders
First day of school sneakers
Hi-Fi and Big speakers
The crack of the bat
My first baseball hat
First day of tryouts
Don’t make a flyout
Ground ball heading to first
Damn, I missed it. I’m the worst

Those days were the best
I just didn’t know it
Let me go back
This time I won’t blow it
I don’t want to play adult
Tell Zoltar to stop winking
I wanted to be Big
What was I thinking?
I miss my old house
I miss my first dog
I miss not worrying
About every damn thing
I miss feeling good
rugged and strong
I’ve lost my joy
My days seem so long
My longevity is fleeting
I’ve taken a beating
I’m tired of this, my downward phase
I want to go back to those hot summer days

My favorite place

FB memories, the well-intentioned feature that shows you posts from years ago “on this day”, has been my Lex Luthor of late. They have been a source of great anxiety and annoyance as they remind me of the dreaded “used-to’s“. All of the memories that pop up are of better, healthier days. Days that I miss so badly.  Today, one popped up that I wrote in 2015 about my beloved hobby of Mountain Biking.

Post-Transplant in 2011, I needed a means to get my body healthy and I chose biking. Initially, I bought a street bike. I was a newbie so I rode mostly alone. Once I was able to ride 20 miles or more I began to ride with organized groups. I became strong enough to ride 55 miles in one day, while never the fastest, I took great pride in just being part of it. It was my recovery. But it created a new problem, immunosuppressant medications increase your odds of skin cancer and after 2 years of riding, I had 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma’s removed from my face. I was told to stay out of the sun.

So I explored Mountain Biking. I bought a bike, researched trails and hit the woods. I was immediately hooked. It was challenging, the rough terrain and obstacles required skill and technique, yet I was compelled to rise to the challenge. The atmosphere was amazing, miles into the woods you weren’t observing nature, you were immersed in it. I began to take my camera to photograph the Deer, Bears and even Fisher Cats that I would encounter (from a safe distance of course). I would head out early in the AM in the hopes of seeing my favorite sights, crashing through a clearing to see a pond, the mist coming off it in the early morning heat; the owls that would buzz me as it headed to its tree to sleep the day off after a busy night of hunting; and of course the wonderful sight of nothing but me and trees. It was my Nirvana. And I was out of direct sunlight so no skin cancer.

Through FB I found a group to ride with and I made an instant group of wonderful friends. Riding with them made me happier than I had been in years. They weren’t just riding buddies, they were real friends. By 2015, I was a regular part of the group. Crazy Bill they called me. I took risks, I fell a lot, but I gave it hell and went home every day feeling accomplished and euphoric. Then I got sick in the spring of 2016 and I suppose you know the rest.

Why am I telling you this? Because despite how much today’s FB “Reminder” saddened me, I was reminded of my Buddy Tom of Tom Being Tom Fame had written a post about his favorite place and challenged his readers to write of theirs. So I turned a negative into a positive because I’m sick of being down.

Here is the FB post from 2015 that started all of this if you would care to read it:
This past fall I made a decision that I was only about 80% sure of. My new activity for the last few years is biking. It was my chosen rehab tool after my surgery to get into some semblance of shape. I got 2 bikes, a street, and a mountain bike. I upgraded once on both but I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. But last fall I traded in both bikes on a new, nicer full suspension Mtn bike. I picked one and went with it. Well, I am now 100% sure that I made the right decision. Many of my family and friends have questioned both the commitment and the hazards I have put upon myself and to be fair I have hurt myself badly a couple of times. People have questioned the wisdom of a person my age with my medical history taking such risks. They don’t understand it, and a lot of the risks I can avoid but I want to push myself, to experience adrenaline and accomplishment and I don’t give a shit about pain..it goes away a lot faster than regret over doing nothing. I love the trails, the woods, mother nature and the comradery of the new friends I have made. But it is even more than that now. Mtn biking has become a metaphor for my life. Let me explain.
When we first start the ride it is easy, you are fresh like when you wake in the morning. But you know the hills and the obstacles are coming, you either prepare for them or let them blindside you. 
When the trails are smooth and flowing it is the equivalent of your life going smoothly. Enjoy it but be in the right gear when you round that corner and see the hill.
The hill is adversity and the obstacles; exposed roots, jagged rocks, and logs are the people telling you that you can’t do it. 
When you make the decision to try that hill, to power over that rock, to push yourself you have made the decision to at least try to prove them wrong. And make it or not, at least you tried. 
Then you come to a downhill. But it’s not a smooth path it’s a steep, rocky and rooty obstacle that can send you over the handlebars if you are not careful. This is the downward spiral that we can fall into. We can plummet and crash, we can stand there and look at it, or you can carefully navigate it to safely reach the bottom with as little damage as possible. 
And if you are able to climb the next hill, stand upon it and look down at all of the obstacles that didn’t stop you. And if you do it once, you can do it again. And sometimes it is the climb that you never made, until today.
Nothing pleases me more than getting up a hill that I never thought I could; to make it through a rock garden that sent me flying a week before; to race through an opening to find the parking lot waiting for you. Knowing that the end of the ride is like the end of the day. I got through this one and I am not afraid of the next one.

I wish I still had that attitude…but at least I took a shot at retrieving it today.

 

38,325 days…a life truly lived

Yesterday, May 2nd is a tough day around this house. My mother was uncharacteristically quiet and I had no interest in pushing her to talk about it. I knew why, and wasn’t going to bring it up.

Over the course of several May 2nds for the last 16 years, my mother had lost her father, her mother, and her 2nd husband. My Grandfather, a wonderful man who I have written more than one tribute to passed in 2002. He lived until 92, I miss him terribly but he didn’t owe anyone anything. My Grandmother died in 2015, 12 years to the day that my Grandfather passed. That was no coincidence, despite her semi-conscious state she knew what she was doing. 1 year ago, on May 2nd, my mother lost her second shot at love when her husband of 3 months passed from lung cancer. He lasted 10 days from diagnosis to departure. May 2nd is, safe to say, her least favorite day of the year.But she doesn’t talk about her problems, she bottles them up and shoves them down deep where they can’t be felt.

I felt guilty being in a good mood yesterday knowing she was in such pain. I couldn’t help it. The sun was out, I was on the deck blogging in view of my beloved duck pond. I washed my truck without sucking wind and I was finally starting to feel better. I was grateful for all of the support I have gotten from friends, family and the WP community. As my buddy Bojana pointed out, I have been fortunate enough to have some wonderful people in my life. Especially those that have passed on. Instead of mourning, on March 2nd of this year, I chose to celebrate the memory of my Grandmother.

It is hard to be sad about losing someone who lived almost 105 years. In my estimation she graced God’s green Earth for 38,325 days give or take.

Born in 1910, Marion Francis Barnes lost her parents in a house fire when she was only ten years old. She was raised by her Grandmother, a tough as nails Yankee woman with ties to the Mayflower and as deft with a wooden spoon as a Ninja warrior and his sword. I barely knew her, but I heard the stories. She did an admirable job of raising Marion and her sister Bertha, both finishing High School as strong, independent women, as the Great Depression in 1929 ravaged the country. She wasn’t entirely unscathed by the atmosphere of the times, pictures of her then suggest a very serious, proper woman who valued etiquette and upbringing. If one didn’t know better, she was a snob. In actuality, the purest example of a New England “Blue-blooded” Yankee.

Marion would become a victim of the wiley charms of my future Grandfather, a hard-working young man who didn’t worry about his future because he could build, paint, repair, rebuild and refurbish anything. Another skill, he was not fazed by her Yankee sensibilities and I suspect that he was the first person to ever make her laugh. The unlikely couple married in 1935 and began their life of 65 years together. Family was the main goal, and once the house was built, by him, my Grandmother conceived 3, and lost, 2 babies. One was a miscarriage and one a stillborn.  She became pregnant for the fourth time with my mother just before my grandfather enlisted in the Navy Seabees and went to fight in the Pacific in WW2. He tirelessly wrote her letters. I have them in a box, all of them expressing his love for her, his son Charles and my mother. I’ve read the letters, one thing that stood out was the guilt when he missed penning one letter a day.

Marion was busy doting over my mother. Having lost 2 children already, nothing was going to happen to Charles and my mother. She worried about her husband, feverishly wrote letters to him and friends and patiently waited for him to come home and resume their lives together. They, as one single couple, embodied the Greatest Generation. True to the nature of the said generation, when he came home, he didn’t relax. He didn’t talk or complain about what he saw (he saw a lot as I would later learn) but instead, he started making up for lost time.

My Grandfather returned from active duty in 1947. He spent 2 years working on battleships once the Pacific campaign was over. Charles was 6, my mother was 2. They acted as if they never skipped a beat. They would almost never be seen apart after that. Theirs was s love story for the ages.  Life went on and they were a big, happy family again. But it was not without heartbreak, tragedy and incidents that tested the concrete foundation of their marriage.

Tragedy would strike a mere year later.

To be continued…

A scene from the Antique store

my first piece of fiction…I hope you enjoy

It was a beautiful fall day, a light breeze playfully toyed with the colorful leaves littering the small but bustling street. The street, much like the town, was old but well kept. The town, like so many small Anytown USA’s, had lost its “Big Company” and the jobs that it provided. Most of the younger families had long moved away but it’s loyal, remaining citizens insisted on preserving their little town. A particular source of pride was the row of shops on Main St, where a mother and her young daughter were walking hand and hand along the cobblestone sidewalk. They were clearly not local, their pace lacked deliberation as they alternated between staring in the storefront windows and glancing around in all directions. Their clasped hands suggested fear of separation more than of a maternal bond. Mom looked nervous, out of her element and intent on holding her little girl, no more than 8, as close to her as possible.

They continued down the sidewalk, almost going into several stores, only to turn and continue walking. It was not until they came upon one shop, more inviting than the others, that caused them to stop and stare. The name Yesteryear Today was displayed in golden letters on the thick glass window. The mother, clearly a lover of antiques, gently tugged her daughter through the massive mahogany door. A bell announced their arrival.

They were immediately greeted by the smell of cinnamon. No stranger to antique stores, the woman stood in the doorway, her daughter obediently clutching her hand, and surveyed the enormous room. She was greeted by afternoon sunlight streaming through skylights and 3 walls of shelves overflowing with pictures, dolls, books and knick-knacks (as her mother had called them God rest her soul) with the floor full of tables, chairs, desks, cabinets and sofas that she knew (from her mother again, God rest her soul) had names like Edwardian, Davenport, Divan, Fauteuil, and the list goes on. She noticed the conspicuous absence of the pungent, mildewy odor of old books and discarded memories common in most antique stores. Perhaps it was the cinnamon.

“Cider?” a voice called out to her, surprising her. She had been so fixated on a rolltop desk to her left that she had not noticed the elderly man approach her. He looked to be about 75, wearing khakis, a white shirt with a grey sweater and a bow tie. His appearance immediately struck her as meticulous, right down to the knot in his tie.
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“Beg your pardon?” she asked.

“Sorry to have startled you, Ma’am. I was offering you and your lovely little girl a hot cider. Fall is in the air you know. I may be a bit early but I admit it, I’m a sucker for the season, hot cider and all.” He turned his attention to the little girl, “Do you smell the cinnamon, young lady?” I add real sticks to the cider” he said excitedly. The little girl hugged her mother’s leg and looked at the floor.

“You’ll have to forgive my daughter’s shyness, please don’t take it personally”.

“Don’t be silly, young lady, no offense taken. What is her name?”

“This is Lily”. She looked down at her daughter and smiled. “And I’m Kelly. Kelly Swanson”.

The old man’s brow furrowed and a concerned look crossed his face, “As in the Swanson family over on Hemlock Lane?”

“That’s the one”. He knows about the accident “It’s been in probate for a year but since I just lost my apartment this seems to be my best, most logical move. We dropped off our bags this morning and decided to check out the town before we unpack. I hate moving.” Stop prattling on! she scolded herself. He doesn’t need to know your life’s story. He’s going to think you’re nuts and you just met him. She noted to herself that he was almost unsettlingly easy to talk to.

“Well, Miss Swanson, welcome to our town, circumstances as they are. I must say, that accident took a little of all of us. We haven’t had a crash like that in decades. Just awful. I’m so sorry for your loss. Again, may I please offer you a cider?” and he gently steered Kelly and her daughter to the small table with the old-fashioned hotplate with a small steel pot of cider. He ladled some into a cup for Kelly and went out back for a couple of ice cubes for the one he would give to Lily.

After he returned and had stooped to convinced the ever-shy Lily to try his cider, he again turned to Kelly. “My name is Bernard Steele, proprietor of this fine establishment” and he bowed to her slightly. She was visibly taken back by his old-fashioned mannerisms as she was his pristine appearance. “Please look around the store, I take great pride in my collection of memories”.

“I will Mr. Steele, thank you so much.” She reached down for Lily’s hand and was surprised to not find it. Apparently, her shyness had worn off a bit. Kelly scanned the room anxiously and was relieved to find her Lily intently staring at a very old bicycle. Relax, she told herself, we’re not in the city anymore. She can be five feet away without calling in an Amber Alert. She fervidly wished to herself for the ability to lighten up and not worry so much. My mother smothered me, I’m not doing it to her dammit! She took a deep breath and exhaled, staring bemusedly at her daughter. She certainly looked like she was happy all the way over there. She again caught herself and looked away. Her gaze was immediately met by an old roll-top desk. If she didn’t know better it could be the one her Grandmother had in her basement. She walked over and studied the antique desk, running her hands over the aged wood marveling at the craftsmanship.

Next thing she knew she found herself sitting at the roll-top. I don’t remember sitting down she thought to herself. She had a fountain pen in her right hand, a jar of black ink open beside her. A half-written letter lay under the thumb and forefinger of her left hand, barely visible below the fluttery sleeves of her blouse. I don’t own such a blouse! Tucked into the corner of the leather blotter was a letter. Confused, she looked around her and realized she wasn’t in the antique store anymore, but instead a room she had never been before. Puzzled yet intrigued she took the letter from the blotter, opened it and began to read.

Dear Marion:

I’m so sorry I didn’t write you yesterday. We had a surprise inspection below deck that took all day. Then we spotted a Kraut Sub that we chased all damn day. I had KP at night so no letter time.
I hope you are doing ok with the little one, I’m sure she’s a handful. I saw the pics, she looks like the Milkman. I kid of course, I know you wouldn’t do that to me. It’s a damn shame what’s happening to some guys though. Wives running off with Gardeners and handymen, war-dodging bastards, while their husbands are at sea. Not you. You wouldn’t do that to me would you kid?
Listen, we got something big coming up. I can’t tell you much more but you may not hear from me for a few days. Know that I love you and as soon as we win this damn war we’ll pick up where we left off.
Love you kid, Mel.

She then scanned over to her letter.

 My dearest Mel,

I have been getting your letters. I wait for the mailman every day, but not like you joked about you silly man. I will never do that to you. Your daughter is growing fast and she wants to see her Daddy so do what you have to do and please come home so that we can

That was all she had written. The paper had a small circular wet spot where a tear had fallen. She looked at the date of the postmark. It was dated June 5, 1944. Stunned, she frantically scanned the massive desk for a calendar. She found it, it was opened to July 10, 1944. Stunned, she pushed away from the desk.

“Miss Swanson, are you ok?” Mr. Steele was next to her, a look of consternation on his face. She was back in the store. What the hell is going on here! She remembered the letter.

“June 5, 1944!” she exclaimed. “That date! That’s the day before D-Day!”

“I’m sorry Miss Swanson, but it’s clearly October and we are considerably past the year 1944. Are you sure you’re ok”?

“It was July, I mean it could’ve been. I…I don’t know. Something very strange just happened to me and I’m a little rattled”. She noticed the cup of spilled cider on the floor next to her and sheepishly apologized to Mr. Steele. He scurried off to find some paper towels.

Meanwhile, Lily was admiring a bicycle. As she touched the old, worn rubber grip she closed her eyes as a satisfying, warm sensation coursed through her body. She felt a strong gust of cool air dust her long brown hair from her face. She felt the warmth of the sun on her face as she opened her eyes. How did I get outside? She wondered. She then realized she was coasting down Main street past the shops on a bicycle! When did I learn how to ride a bike? The shops looked different, newer. And there were so many people. Women with big flowy skirts bustling about with paper bags and children in tow. Boys in jeans and tee-shirts and cigarettes dangling from their mouths leaned on the lamp posts. Music from big cars blasted from all directions. Everything was so clean. One of the children yelled to her “Hi Cindy!” But my name is Lily! She found herself calling out to the boy “Hey Bobby”.

“Cindy let’s go to your house”!  A voice to her left called to her. This must be a friend of mine that I’m riding my bike with. She found herself answering,

“Ok, follow me”. And then watched in amazement as the little girl and three others fell in behind her. They rode through town, carefully avoiding the big cars until they reached the end of the block and rolled down a side street. Her “friends” in tow. As she approached a big white house with a white fence with lovely roses growing in front she saw a mailbox with the word Little in block letters. She pulled into the driveway and almost in unison, she and her friends dumped their bikes on the thick front lawn. Waiting for them on the front steps was a tray of glasses of Lemonade. She was sweaty and pulled her hair away from her face as she turned towards the street to face the breeze. The street was beautiful, lined with small but neat houses with tidy, green lawns and shiny cars in the driveways. The flowers still vibrant, making their last defiant stand against the approaching winter.

A voice to her left called out “Lily!” Ignoring it, she thought to herself No, they’re Roses silly. Again, the voice called “Lily!” and again she ignored it. Suddenly she felt a hand grab her shoulder and she pulled away quickly.

The sound of the bike crashing to the floor startled her. Almost as much as the look on her mother’s face as she stared at her.

“Lily, are you alright? I called you twice and you were just looking off into space like you were in a trance. Here, let me hold you…” and extended her arms for a hug.

“No” Lily said and pushed the outstretched hands away. “I’m ok, I don’t need a hug. You hug me too much. I want to ride my bike now”.

Her mother kneeled down and said. “Ok, no hug. But honey, you don’t know how to ride a bike”.

“Yes, I do. I can do it all afternoon and ride all over town with no adults watching me or my friends.” She crossed her arms indignantly.

Kelly leaned in, “Sweetie did you see something special when you touched that bicycle? Because something happened to me. You can tell me. I promise it won’t sound crazy. In fact, I hope it is.” Crazy is the only explanation she remarked to herself. I was just in 1944 and now she knows how to ride a bike! At that moment it occurred to her that the reason Lily had never learned to ride a bike was because she never let the girl out of her sight. She had reasoned it away by memorizing crime statistics and watching the news but the fact was she had sheltered the girl. How many times did she take your hand before you took hers she asked herself. She knew the answer, and she wasn’t pleased with herself. But, she rationalized, her father left us when she was 3 in a shithole neighborhood and I did the best that I could. She shook her head, refocusing herself. She needed to stay focused on her daughter.

“May I interject?” asked Mr. Steele. “Never underestimate the power of old things. I believe they have a memory of their own. It’s a powerful thing when you think about it. That objects may capture and retain moments. I find it fascinating! I like to think of my little store as a magical little museum of memories” he offered as he flamboyantly gestured around the room. “May I suggest, young lady, that you just experienced a bit of magic?” He leaned in to Kelly and whispered, “perhaps you did too, my dear?”

“See Mommy, it’s Magic. That’s why I can ride a bike. Well, I could. I mean I just did. Awwww you know what I mean”. She was clearly coming back to reality.

“Sweetie, I think we need to leave now. It is getting late and I don’t want to unpack too late tonight.”  She gently but persistently nudged Lily towards the door. “Say goodbye to Mr. Steele”.

“Goodbye, Mr. Steele” Lily said. And they headed for the door. As they stepped outside Lily said to her mother “Is it alright if I just walk beside you, you know without holding hands? I’ll be ok, I feel safe here.”

“I’m sorry I’m so protective honey, I just worry about you. I can’t help it.” She was still instinctively thinking about reaching out for her hand. She instead put her hands in her pockets, it was getting chilly anyway.

“I saw and felt something in there, Mommy. I felt warm. I felt safe. And I didn’t feel like you were worrying about me. I was just doing stuff and having fun without getting hurt or chased by bad guys.” She looked so grown up, so independent. Maybe I have to let her go if she wants to grow. She smiled and said “Something happened to me in there also. I’ll tell you all about it when we get home. Just hold one second.

She turned to the Antique store and opened the door. She looked to make sure Lily was still there (habit) and stepped inside. “Mr. Steele?” she called out.

Bernard Steele emerged from the back room. “Yes, Miss Swanson. I trust all is well with you and the young lass?”

“Of course, Mr. Steele. I just want to say that while I’m unsure what happened here today, you do indeed run a magical place. I may be back later in the week to talk about that desk. I believe my new cellar has a perfect corner for it.”

“Indeed, Miss Swanson. I look forward to your return. And again, welcome to our little town.”

“I want to buy that bike” Lily called from the doorway.

Bernard Steele laughed heartily. “Absolutely, my dear child. I look forward to it. But you must ask your mother, not me. Your mother may become angry with me”.

“Thank you, Mr. Steele. You’re my first new friend here.” Kelly said. She waved to him. As he waved back he winked at young Lily, who would later swear that she saw a twinkle of light, like a star streaking across the Autumn sky.

They stepped outside, the heavy door closing behind them with the ringing of a bell. Together, mother and daughter walked towards the edge of the square to Hemlock, their steps deliberate and with purpose.