passingwindagain

the wind and i just come and go

In Praise of Reunions

written September, 2018 – finished 2022

In the past, I have been a reluctant attendee at school reunions, so reluctant, in fact, that I have now actually attended a total of two in fifty-four years.  To complicate matters, I was not part of a lot of things that happened, either because it was necessary that I work, or the fact that I left my hometown to escape family pressures in the middle of high school, only returning to complete my senior year of high school – mostly because of a glitch in my home state’s rules regarding in-state tuition qualifications for state colleges.   On the other hand, the majority of the kids I graduated with had been classmates from kindergarten on, so it’s never really been just about high school.

I’m a person who remembers past favors, large and small.  Friends are a treasure, good friends are beyond measure.  I am also a person who does not easily let go of slights – perceived or real (a glaring fault, I realize – I’m a work in progress, remember). I do not suffer fools, or the self absorbed with patience. I love humility, and people who think.  

So, the reunion was the 50th – a few years ago now, as I finish this small epistle, and I recall it as a night filled with irony.  A lot of stories floating around, and an open mike.  One reluctant story was that of one or ours, who went to war, as many did, and by his own admission, “drank the kool-aid” of war and soldiery to the point that he became one of our elite fighting men and a follower of the conservative flow and all that goes with it.  When asked, “how are you doing?” his response was “OK, now”  “Now?” I queried.  “Well, I had a heart transplant three months ago.  It changed my life”     I asked “How so,?” not because I wanted rhetoric, but I wanted to hear about the “changed” part.  “I found out after the surgery that the donor was a 37 year old black woman who died in a car crash.”

Dumbstruck.  I had nothing to add to the conversation.  I wondered later though, how much I had missed about the lives of friends left behind so many years ago.

 

Whoa, Hoss, That’s Not How I See It.

Ethics, the truth, stories, parables, statistics, projections, damned lies and friends. I was having a serious conversation about this topic over beer and Tacos in an Irish Pub a few days ago. As serious a conversation as you can have about the truth over (Shrimp) Tacos washed down with Guinness in an Irish restaurant in Wisconsin. We were coming up to Father’s day, having a casual conversation about what constitutes lying, what is ok, what isn’t, and at what point a lie is ok. My position is you go moment by moment and decide as you go what suits the situation. I think that’s called situational ethics. I learned after 35 years in the insurance industry, reading and hearing varying accounts of the same set of circumstances, that there is seldom one clear truth. Sometimes it takes 12 honest people to make their best guess, and most of the time, they get at least part of it wrong.

My friend, whose idea it was to go to an Irish Pub in Wisconsin for Tacos – which is at the very least an oxymoron, if not an outright lie, says she would never lie, except to protect a friend’s feelings. Now that I have had a few days to think about that, I really want to pull back on the reins and say “Whoa!!”. So nice lady, who I consider a very, very good friend, sometime confidant, and platonic sister figure in my life, how many times have you “protected” me from myself, or failed to ask me to re-examine my thinking on a person, idea or relationship, when what I really needed was a dope slap?

I think that’s risky. Hans Christian Andersen probably had a less tangled view of this concept when he wrote The Emperor’s New Clothes, But I think our true friends are the ones who nudge us back onto the blacktop when we have taken to the shoulders of life. Those who tell us when we have no pants on, or when our fly is open. When we want to believe something so bad that our friends, who have a better view of the situation, are hesitant to say, “Whoa, Hoss, that’s not how I see it . . . ” we might be overpricing the friendship and understating it’s durability.

My Dad was renowned as a storyteller, yarn spinner – but a truthful man. One day he was spinning a story as we drove down a country road, as usual about his version of his idyllic youth, and I point blank asked him, “Is that a TRUE story, Daddy?” Those steely blues twinkled for a moment and he said, “Naw, son, but it should have been” There was a lesson in his story. That was how he taught. It was untruthful, but I don’t think it was a lie. I was the kid, he was the Dad. He got to decide what I needed to know, so if you’re not my dad, give it to me straight. I don’t want to live my life as a fantasy.

What motivates me to write…

First, I have to think, then I write. I haven’t written much lately, as I’ve been as worn down and frustrated as the rest of you. It is humbling to think of all the little pieces of chaos that people are dealing with, far worse than anything we have experienced, which in our experience is some real “knock you off the path to your goals kind of crap”. Today is the first day of the New Year 2022. Not a big deal here, we’re taking this one day at a time – maybe by the hour. Oh, we still plan, there are doctors appointments for both of us, one after another, and doctors scratch their heads and stroke their beards. But we feel pretty good, and we’ve accepted that we’re not going to be able to do everything we wanted to in retirement. We had plans – plans that started fifty years ago, and we were just trying the results on, when things started to hit the fan.

So what motivates me to write today? Sitting here at my desk, listening to a book, I heard the long lonesome whistle of a westbound Union Pacific freight that runs within a few hundred yards of our home. It transported me to life on the tracks on South St. in Oconomowoc, where less then a hundred feet from the Milwaukee Road tracks (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific, technically speaking) where my parents raised their family, and the railroad right of way was a significant element of our recreational orbit. We mowed the narrow right of way so that we could play football and wiffle ball, tend the burning barrel, and play with the dog. His name was Dick.

The most desirable and evocative memory from those days, though, were the hobos. Back then freight trains were one engine, maybe fifty cars, and a caboose. Probably a crew of five or six, a brakeman, a flagman, two guys in the engine, etc., but the real attraction were the traveling kind. Hobos. We lived next to a switch, that allowed trains to access the Carnation plant and the lumberyard. When the train slowed and stopped, the hobos had to skedaddle, lest they be grabbed by the railroad police or the local gendarmes. Empty cars were unlocked and sometimes open in those days, so the temptation was always there.

There was a certain romance that surrounded those men, generally feared and pitied by the locals, but more than likely mostly good folks down on their luck. Occasionally, one would appear on the back porch and ask if there was any work that could be done for a meal. Suprisingly, my mother, who was known to call the police if someone spit on the sidewalk, was usually cordial and declined the offer of work, but would provide a sandwich and a glass of water, with the almost rude admonition to be gone.

I would look to the west down the tracks, which, although they appeared to stretch to the horizon, made a turn which took the train out of sight after just a few blocks, approximately the limits of the city. What was “out there”? I would sneak a train and fare schedule occasionally at the station downtown, and from that I knew if I was to undertake train travel, it would be as a hobo.

Michaelangelo’s God

Michaelangelo's God

I’ve watched enough History Channel, and studied enough and thought enough to come to the conclusion that most of what the Judaeo Christian world believes it draws not from the Scriptures, but from the Renaissance images by the “Masters” – the hired guns who painted on walls, ceilings, and the like, funded by the Medicis, and other local bigwigs of the day.   If you were illiterate, or at least had no access to the scriptures personally, you took your facts from the ceiling, or from a statue of David, or Mary or whomever.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Michelangelo’s God is just that: An Artists rendering.  But they put no disclaimer on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  You see, I look at this the same way as I did when I was a kid, loaded down with a Bible bigger than my head that I received as a birthday present the week I learned to read.  Those Pictures are ALL in there, mixed in among the scriptures.  “Why did God need ears?”  My mother didn’t want to hear those questions.  “If God made Adam and Eve, and they had three sons, where did the rest of the people come from?”  Run that one past your Redneck senatorial candidate, and he will likely say, “Devil, get thee behind me!”  That’s what evangelicals say when they are tested beyond their means.

I am not an atheist.  Maybe an agnostic, if you are ok with the definition of an agnostic as someone who is ok with “I don’t know – can’t know” it’s just not in my power – right now.