Memories of Pops…Part 2

I should probably preface this post by stating that the meal I cooked for my father on the 10th in no way contributed to his demise. I thought I should clarify that.

My Dad left our place after a few hours and he went on home. For some reason that nobody knows, the very next day he decided to travel up to Maine, to Bailey Island, to surprise my Mum and whoever else was up there. Mind you, my father has not been up there since the late 1970’s. It was always just Mum and various siblings making the long trek north. My Dad, as he said, “…had to work.”

So it was rather strange for him to have gone up there. Did he know? Somehow? Did he know that he was on the verge of death? He stayed until Friday morning and drove back home. Mum had pleaded with him to stay up there, to drive back together on Saturday when she had to check out of the rented cottage.

Early afternoon on Saturday my Mum returned, lugging in packages and bags, unloading the cooler, and only then did she find him lying on the living room floor, his legs up on a chair as though he was doing some form of sit-ups. Knowing my father (he had always tried to stay fit) he exerted himself too much.

Maybe.

Since there was no autopsy (“Too expensive!”) the EMT fellow said he ‘probably’ died of a massive heart attack. No autopsy, no report from a bonafide doctor or coroner. No, he simply had a heart attack and that was that. Sounds rather odd to me.

He was whisked away to the funeral home, still in the clothes he wore when he died; khaki shorts, polo shirt, and Nike sneakers. A couple of days later I called the funeral home. I wanted to see him one last time, to give him a second kiss on his stubbly cheek. I gave him the first one when I was seven years old, the only time I ever recalled kissing my father.

A woman answered and, after listening to my wish to see him, told me, “I’m sorry, honey. He’s on the way to the crematorium.” Still in his golf shirt, baggy shorts, and Nikes.

I did not have the chance to kiss him goodbye.

 
Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018 – all rights reserved.

 

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Memories of Pops…Part 1

Years ago, Julie and I went along a trail in Wells State Park, one of our excursions into the foliage, together and naked, unseen except for the sun bathing our skyclad bodies in the heat of a late summer day. After hours of reveling in each others arms, and with a bottle of chardonnay content in our bellies, we wended our way along the dirt path back to our car.

Before the road, I saw my Dad, out for one of his usual marathon solo walks in the woods. We stopped and watched him amble along down the road, shuffling with his signature gait, sort of a stumbling motion, head leading, with long arms and purple hands hanging by his side.

We stood there, in the shadows of shrub and pine, me thinking whether to announce our position or to let him pass in silence. He was a mere forty yards away. We stayed, watching him turn right onto Oak Lane, another dirt path that skirted the pond and back home, another half mile or so away.

He disappeared down the dappled trail and was gone. I felt an immediate sense of guilt, as though I should have hollered to him, perhaps startling him with a voice from the woods.

Recognition settling in, he would have formed some kind of derogatory comment, his idea of wry humor, something to the effect of, “Christ, look at what crawled out of the forest” or “See you’re working hard as ever, Ug” the last word some form of insult. Not really sure what it meant. Ugly? I never knew.

This was August 8th, 2010, two days before his birthday. I turned to Julie and said “Let’s invite him to dinner for his birthday.” His day of days was Tuesday, August 10th.

He was home alone as Mum and family were up in Maine, at the usual haunt, Bailey Island. Our family have been going there since the 60’s, with only two variations, both proving unworthy. So my family has gone to that island ever since. I however, have not been up there since the mid-90’s and, every year, Mum always invites us up. “You’re always welcome, you know. But you probably won’t come. One day you’ll regret it, Paul.” Trying her best Mum guilt trip on me, but so far I have not relented.

“That’s a great idea!” Julie said. It would be just the three of us. I thought a nice grilled chicken salad with a crusty peasant bread, along with a bottle of chardonnay would do the trick. It would be a perfect way to celebrate his 78th birthday.

Four days after that meal he would be dead.

Copyright, Paul Grignon – all rights reserved.

 

Timely Post from Mr. Wendig…

Great blog post here from Chuck at his site terribleminds.com

Please check it out as it contains keen insights into how to corral anxiety and the ways we all tend to worry, keeping us away from our craft.

Here’s the link to this wonderful post. Enjoy!

Take care, and take care of your cup!

Paul

Subway to the Strand – Chance Encounter…

I originally posted this without a preface but a few of my beta readers were flummoxed by what exactly I was talking about. So just a little backstory, I suppose, is necessary.

Have you ever met one of the crazies, you know, a lunatic from the fringe, the homeless, muttering type who ramble on in their own bizarre world?

Well, this is a chance meeting I had with one of them in New York. Prior to that, when I lived in Boston, I had met plenty of these folk, on the T or on the sidewalks, spouting nonsensical verbiage into the wind. (I am not knocking these people at all; sometimes what they have to say can be quite profound, and little tidbits can posssibly be used in a future story.)

Anyway, when I was in New York this past August with my wife, we took the subway from Central Park to the Strand bookstore. This, then, was my experience with one of those unique characters.

“Is…is that seat is that seat taken sir?”

“Uh, no. Go ahead.”

“Th…thank you sir. My name’s Eddie. I live in a brick house with a cat I found in back yard. The hole in tree I saw something like a bird fly out of it once you know.”

“That’s…great.”

“Have to be careful balancing a canoe on your head like time I went fishing with my brother Danny and he caught splinter on deck of house in New Jersey. It was funny that movie all alone in woods with nothing but shadows following me eating Debbie cakes on sidewalk in New York time I went there to store and just couldn’t figure what to steal.”

“Really? That sounds fascinating.”

“Do you like me? My name’s Eddie. I live over there in a brick house. Sometimes I scoop water from puddles in backyard and then my goldfish died. I found a cat there. Where are you going?”

“I…I’m going downtown, to The Strand.”

“Oh? You…you like to stand? Me too. Sometimes you can’t help it on train when you’re rowing on that narrow stream in woods by dirt road. That white house. I don’t know who lives there. So what’s your name? Do you mind if I sit here?”

“Paul. And no, I don’t mind if you sit there.”

“Oh thank you sir. I been waiting to sit on train a long time ever since I was left on that trail with nothing. Oh I had my backpack but someone took it. I think the Yankees stole it. Do you like the Red Sox?”

“I guess. I never really think about sports.”

“Well you should think about newspaper I found on sidewalk. I think Patriots are gonna  win. Food I found in pantry didn’t taste good. Don’t think peanut butter should look green do you?”

“No, that doesn’t sound—”

“I’M TELLING YOU DON’T EVEN TRY TO TO BALANCE THAT CANOE ON YOUR HEAD! It’s hard! My uncle Kenny he looked at me too long. I don’t like men when they touch me. So where you going?”

“To the bookstore.”

“The last time I flew was when I jumped off that cliff in the water.”

“Oh. Well, you have to be careful.”

“And then I found a quarter in the grass. I bought two candy bars with it! Peanut butter didn’t taste good green and all. That canoe. Be careful!”

“I certainly will.”

“I live in a brick house. Windows broken at night get cold. Animals in there sometimes keep me warm. I think they’re rats. Not sure what I’m gonna have for dinner tonight. Do you live here?”

“Well, no. I actually live uptown.”

“Maybe I come over we could look at your boat in the river. Ropes in shed look strong. I think canoe can handle wind. I hate when bats get in my window. What’s your name?”

“It’s…uh, it’s Paul. I believe the next stop is mine.”

“I don’t have a stopwatch. I used to have a watch it fell off the wall. Now it’s always 10. Can’t tell if its am or pm. Do you like pistachio ice cream? I don’t like nuts. I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Well, I suggest you wait until you get off the train.”

“Oh I hate trains! You’ll never catch me on one. I like canoes. Did I tell you had soup for breakfast last week?”

“Why, no, you didn’t. Well, Eddie, here’s my stop.”

“Oh okay sir. Can I have your seat when you leave? I don’t like trains. I have to go home. I live in a brick house. My cat is probably hungry. I had soup.”

“Okay, then. Take care and good luck.”

“You be careful! Gotta watch out for those stars you know. Can’t be too careful. Sometimes…sometimes they fall. I know. I seen them. Right out of the sky!”

“Nice to meet you, Eddie.”

“Yeah. Yeah it was nice wasn’t it going up those stairs in park. Trees they looked special didn’t they? Dark. Dark trees. Yeah my cat’s hungry.”

“Goodbye, Eddie.”

“I live in a brick house. Bye. Bye sir!”

Obviously, this was not verbatim but you get the gist. Have you ever had such an experience?

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018 –  All Rights Reserved.

Morning Moments, Part Two: The Perch…

 

perch

Pallet Perch

 

Sitting in my blue chair, watching a lone hawk glide effortlessly over the fields, Sasha rooting around behind me in the snowy woods, the winter sun bathing my face. Across the meadow, a phalanx of birch hold sentry at wood’s edge. Close to me, skullcaps of snow cover stones on a low wall.

It was calm save for a soft wind rustling pine needles, showering me with a fine mist of snow dust. The oaks and pines creaked and groaned, swaying high above from lofty winter gusts. Only a gentle frigid breeze eddied about me as I sat contemplating such tranquility.

As in yesterday morning, I concentrated on the moment at hand. After all, what else was there? Present, but lost from worry, from stress—lost from monkey mind.

It was pure. I stayed one, surrounded by nature, by the world, by the universe, alone yet part and parcel of eternity. Such moments keep a soul attuned to the tension, the rhythm, the sway of nature.

Does a squirrel high in a sycamore wonder what time it is, slavishly glancing at a wristwatch (okay, iPhone) distressing that he’ll be late for his AA meeting? (Acorns Anonymous.)

Or the crow flying overhead. Does he flagellate himself for being late at the gathering on Elm Street for the latest roadkill? No. No such codswallop. The squirrel and crow exist. For the moment. That is all they have. There is no scheming, no nights of lying in nests, stressing about missed carrion weeks ago or formulating plans to screw over a crow-worker.

A hammering in the distance startled my reverie. A pileated woodpecker, banging its head against a tree. At least it has a purpose. Humans doing that serves to illustrate the sheer, absurd drivel we engage in. Does lying in bed, stressing over Monday’s workload have anything to do with Friday night, free from work, the whole weekend ahead? No. Yet only humans perform such self-inflicted misery. Time to reclaim mind. Time to reclaim what is the moment.

Sasha still roots about, as though searching for delicate truffles. Crows fly over the fields, winging their way to a kind of kaffeeklatsch, a murder of friends out for…well, maybe not coffee.

I sit and absorb all this without judgment, without comment, without question. I am simply here. The lesson learned, to allow my soul such moments, such time, such experiences, to exist and lessen the chaos I create.

Later on, between twilight and dusk, when all is silhouette and night beckons, I went on the deck to retrieve the birdfeeders. A jet passed on by. It left a slight pink contrail, like a flame without a candle. The jet slowly faded, a mere glimmer in the distance. But the flame remained, floating, slowly diminishing in size, a last gasp of light upon darkening skies.

It simply was.

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018 – All Rights Reserved.

Morning Moments…

Minute observations are rare. They are fleeting things. They flutter into existence and then disappear, like a butterfly alighting on a rose, soon flitting away, out of sight.

This morning, instead of my usual routine, I decided to follow some of the wonderful advice found in Natalie Goldberg’s book, ‘The True Secret of Writing’. It’s a Zen thing, about awareness, about really paying attention to the moment at hand.

To most western minds, being present is a foreign concept. We tend to never be present; the past speaks to us as well as the future. But truly, what are you doing right now, this very moment? That is key.

So I did. I sat alone in the living room, before anyone or any animal stirred and, sitting still, concentrated on the five senses.

I listened and absorbed everything about me; the scent of the woodstove, the chirping of chickadees at the birdfeeders, the feel of the ceramic coffee mug in my hand, the softness of the couch where I sat. Everything, in the moment.

The dishwasher had ended, and I went to unload it, not a particularly enjoyable task. In fact, it is an irritant. But cutlery and crockery must be put away.

I brought that same awareness, though, into the kitchen, opened the dishwasher, pulled out the top drawer and listened to the sounds of glasses placed in the cupboard, trying not to touch them together.

The bottom drawer was more of a challenge to be silent. It is impossible not to make a sound when putting plates away. They must nestle, and no matter how carefully one does it the plates always clink, the ringing of china against china resounding in the quiet morning air.

(I have a brother-in-law who cannot stand to be in the kitchen when dishes or bowls or saucers are put away. It grates his nerves, as though someone found a few old rusty, dull roofing nails and dragged them across a chalkboard. Or, in the case of my wife, anything to do with Styrofoam. She cannot be near the stuff.)

I put the items away and listened to that gentle clinking, absorbed in the task at hand, not thinking about the Patriots win a handful of days ago nor wondering about the snowfall later this week.

I was there, hearing the music of cutlery placed in their respective niche. There was no irritation, no stress–just being present.

Sasha, our German shepherd awoke and had to go out. Boo, our twenty-pound black cat, lapped at the water dish. The Keurig sputtered and released brown liquid, my third cup of coffee.

I sat back down, with mug in hand, and thought about my time alone, how nice it is to rise before any occupant, to be in the calm of the house, to feel its rhythm and become one with the quiet and solitude.

To be mindful of morning moments.

Let me see if I can access this awareness tomorrow. And the day after.

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018 – All Rights Reserved.

Toolbox…

Today I had simple task to do. Something that should have taken, oh, about 10 minutes tops. But because I remain the ‘Unhandy-Man’ (motto: measure once, cut twice) it lasted for well over 30 minutes.

The sliding door to our laundry closet was off track. Seemed simple enough. Just pop it back in and be done with it. Back to the writing job at hand.

Not quite. I ended up with a smattering of tools, some questionable for the job. In my possession—eventually—were the following: a hammer, vice grips, flat-edged screwdriver, a hacksaw, pliers, wire cutters, and metal snippers. What I did not mention was I did not have all these at the same time. But then, that would have made sense, wouldn’t it?

I ended up making several trips up and down the stairs to the garage, searching for one of the tools. All the ensuing expletives terrified my dogs. I now have a crick in my neck from shaking it from side to side, cursing myself for being such an idiot.

I managed to get the ‘springy-thing’ (whatever the hell that is called) back in the track but it seemed I managed to destroy part of the track during the repair. My remedy? Put several pieces of duct tape over the mangled part so the spring doohickey will not come off.

Now we can close the doors and yes, there is that unsightly slight piece of tape showing, but at least we can close them. Although you cannot open the doors fully because of the tape. But still, we can do the wash with that slight obstacle.

The reason I am mentioning such trivial things and why I titled this post ‘Toolbox’? It’s because I recall the title of a chapter of the same name in Stephen King’s excellent book, ‘On Writing’. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you purchase it, read it, put it on your bookshelf, and then pull it out frequently. It is an indispensable guide to the craft of writing.

Anyway, this chapter (page 111) talks about when Stephen was a kid, and he was visiting his Uncle Oren. The old man would teach him how to fix things around the house, lugging this immense toolbox around with him when he only needed one screwdriver to do the job.

Steve thought about it and then asked Uncle Oren why, if he only needed a screwdriver, he carried that heavy box around with him. Uncle Oren said, “Well, Stevie, you never what else needs fixing around the house.” (paraphrasing)

Evidently, I’m still learning that lesson. And it’s not only for around the house, with actual tools, but with my own writing, to stock my writing toolbox with the correct tools for whatever task is at hand. (Just read the chapter; Mr. King does a better job explaining the entire process.)

My wife hasn’t come home yet from work. I can’t wait to show her my handiwork, despite the glaring strip of duct tape staring back at you.

Good thing the laundry is tucked away in a dark hallway.

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018, All Rights Reserved.