Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Lost Socks

Today I gave up hope; hope that I would ever see the mates of the socks that I keep tucked away at the corner of the sock drawer.  Why had I kept them these many years?

I was like the father of the prodigal son who scanned the horizon of his fields each morning and night hoping to catch sight of his son returning home.

As each new basket of clean clothes returned from the laundry room I looked through them hoping against hope that I would find the wayward socks that had lept out of the washer and journeyed the world in search of a better sock life.  And finding none, they returned home, flinging themselves into the clothes basket asking for forgiveness.

Where do these socks go?  Some have suggested that the dryer is a portal to a parallel universe where socks rule and humans are worn and thrown away.  And once a sock enters it never returns.

More practical people suggest that socks, full of static, cling to bed sheets or clothes and find their way into dark closets or shelves and lay there for years; hearing their owners walking around calling their names but never responding.

The sad statistics are that the longer a sock is missing the more likely that it will never return.  Quick, decisive action is imperative.   The first 24 hours are crucial.  The entire house must be mobilized.  Clear communication is vital.  A detailed description must be compiled.  A timeline has to be hammered out.  And even if these things are done, there is no guarantee.

And so, today, I took the pile of mates out of my sock drawer and put them into a box and put the box into the attic.  I am sure that if I look in the attic tomorrow they too will be gone.  Free at last to wander.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Goodbye, House

Dear House on Statesman Drive,

You have been a wonderful home for us.  We bought you 32 years ago and moved into you on a February day that was filled with wind and sleet.  Our daughter, Erin, was four years old and our son, Jeremy, was 4 months away from being born.

You had a large, two car garage, an above ground swimming pool, a big yard, three bedrooms, a roomy yet cozy den, and an adequate kitchen.  And we came to love you.  And we called you home.

Our children grew up in you; from toddlers to teenagers to adults.  There were many adventures along the way.

And now my wife and I are moving.  Our children have homes and families of their own.

As I clean you out and spruce you up, moving box after box to the car and taking them to a new house, the voices and footsteps of the past echo in the silence and emptiness of you.

In the hallway between the kitchen and the den I can still see my five year old daughter, Erin, in her dance dress, showing me the ball and change.  By the fireplace I can see the cradle where our son, Jeremy slept as Erin leaned over and kissed him.  In the empty dining room I can hear the chatter around the table as the talk turned, over the years, from dolls and toys to cars and dates and schools.

As I climb the stairs, I see Jeremy constructing his giant hot wheels track from the bottom to the top of the stairs and sending his cars racing downward through two loops before crashing into the front door.

In the driveway the sounds of roller skates and bicycles fill the air and sounds of splashing and laughter come from the place where the pool once sat.

When I was cleaning out the storage room I found, behind the door, some writing on the wall that I had never seen before although I am sure it was there for quite some time.  It said simply, yet profoundly, " Erin loves Jeremy."

The love that filled you is what made you a home.  And we will carry this love into our new house and it will be this same love that will make this new house our new home.

Goodbye house on Statesman Drive.  We love you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Pinto Beans and Cornbread

Our trip to Europe was coming to an end.  My father-in-law and I were standing on a bridge in Paris overlooking the Seine.  Our travels had taken us through Germany and Switzerland and now we were in France.

We had seen some breath taking sights, eaten some wonderful food, met a lot of different people, traveled by airplane, train, subway, and automobile, slept in a lot of different hotels, been lost in unfamiliar places, hiked down mountains, walked on rocky beaches, looked into the face of the Mona Lisa, and had the time of our lives.

That evening, as the sun was slowly sinking and Notre Dame Cathedral loomed in the distance, my father-in-law said to me, "Eric, we have had a good trip, but right now I would give all the money in my pocket for some pinto beans and cornbread."

It is good to travel; to get out and see the world.  It is a good thing to know that your way of living is not the only way; that you are not the center of the universe.  It is good to feel out of place, to learn new words and do things in a different order.

But it is also good to know that there is a place for you, a place that fits you like a glove, a place that is yours, that you know and you don't have to think before you act; a place that feels, and smells and tastes like home when you return- like pinto beans and cornbread.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Moms and Pops

Some of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in are known as Mom and Pops.  These are typically small, independently owned  (sometimes by a family) restaurants, that are usually one-offs (not franchised) and can be found at only one location.  They specialize in foods eaten by the people who live around them and they cook them with secret family recipes that made them famous.

There used to be one such restaurant that specialized in hot dogs with a sign that stated "Famous since 1946".   It must be nice to be able to point to the date of your notoriety.  Fame usually happens so incrementally that it is hard to tell when you got that way.

The waitresses at Mom and Pops all call you Shoog and Honey and Sweetheart, even though you don't know them and have never been there before.  They will encourage you to take your time when you are ordering, and when they bring your ticket to your table they will apologize and say something like, "I'm sorry.  I'm just laying this right here.  Now y'all stay here at this table as long as you want to, I'm just bringin' this so you will have it, but if you want anything else you just holler."

Some of the waitresses even have their own clientele who ask if they can be seated where "Jamie Sue is waitin' on tables".  Once seated, Jamie Sue will come to their table and greet them with a hug.

Some (but not all) of my favorites:

The Dam Restaurant near a dam in Baltimore, Maryland where we had Dam ham sandwiches, Dam french fries, Dam potato salad and Dam iced tea; and where the waitress asked if we were ready for our Dam ticket.

Bob's Grill in Kill Devil's Hill, North Carolina whose restaurant motto "Eat and Get the Hell Out" is on their sign out front.   Nobody seems to pay any attention to the motto.  The restaurant is always full.  Nothing else needs to be said.

The Four Corners Diner in Atlantic Beach, NC .  The name does not come from the owner's love for UNC basketball, but from the fact that the Diner sits at a crossroad.  This is where my father and brothers and I used to go and drown our fishing sorrows in bacon, eggs and lots of hot coffee.

The Shiny Diner in Rocky Mount, NC.  It has another name (The Highway Diner) but everyone I know that eats there calls it the Shiny Diner, because it is shiny, outside and inside.

The Conscious Coffee Cafe in Talkeetna, Alaska.  They advertise that the average person spends 25 minutes to 1.5 hours there.  My wife and I ate there for 1.35 hours several years ago and we spent most of that time talking with the owner who told us her story of moving from Maryland where she was a veterinarian and how much she loves Alaska, and the 35 feet of snow they had last winter and how her home is off the grid and she powers everything with generators.

The Soda Pop Shoppe in Savannah, Georgia where we ate hot dogs and we met a lawyer at the table next to us who told us about meeting Tom Hanks when they filmed the movie "Forrest Gump" and how there was not really a bench in the spot where Forrest sat with his box of chocolates.  And then he told us about meeting Clint Eastwood when he directed the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil",  and how nice Clint was to everyone and how he got to be an extra in the movie.  Exciting stuff.

You can find these restaurants almost anywhere you travel, but you have to search them out to find them or you have to have luck to stumble upon them, and then you have to be there at just the right time.  But, if this happens, you will never forget it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Walk in the Rain

I went walking in the rain the other day.  I had on a waterproof jacket with a hood, old running shoes that have seen better days but were used to getting wet, a pair of faded jeans, and a T-shirt I got back in the days when I was running in races with the face of a Viking on it.

The rain had turned into a slow, steady drizzle and I quickly realized that my glasses were of no use so I took them off and put them into my jacket pocket.  The world looks different when you are nearsighted and not wearing your glasses; foggy and mysterious, soft around the edges.

The fall rain, combined with fallen leaves has a unique smell that is only present that time of year, that I associate with high school and wrestling season and endless running drills in a sweaty gym.  And on this particular day, I was back in that gym, on those mats; young again with boundless energy.  And I wasn't even aware that the drizzle had turned to downpour and that I was soaked from the waist down.

Despite the rain, I crossed the highway and walked into the park across from our neighborhood. Because of the rain I had the entire park to myself.  I walked the trail that wound through the woods and listened to the sound of the rain coming through the trees, like whispers on the wind.  And then I walked to the small stream that was near overflowing, its waters reaching the top of the bridge.  Rain changes things.

Soon, I found myself in a road near the field that months ago during summer was planted with corn.  This was the field that I had walked to the day before my sister died three years ago and had been followed by a dragon fly.  I had told my sister about it and she said that lately dragon flies had swarmed her each time she went outside.  And now, every time I see a dragon fly, I think of that day and this field and the quiet summer corn, and her.

From the field I walked back home, and the rain fell steadily all the way back.  And as I unlocked the door to my house, I was thinking about what a good walk it had been.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Stake in the Woods

Everyone knows that nothing stays the same. We are surrounded by change.  When we go back to our hometowns or to places we used to live or visit years ago, we can see visible evidence that nothing stays the same.  It  is a rule of life that things change.  Some changes take us by surprise and some are announced.  How do we live and survive in  a world of constant change?

Years ago I went walking in the woods with my dog near my home.  In the woods, there were places I liked to go; the stream, the large rock, the big tree.  But on that day my dog and I walked past those places and went into a part of the woods that was less familiar to me, further from home.

Near a clearing I found a stake that had been hammered into the ground by someone and stood above the ground about two feet.  On its side were printed the letters DOT.  And I knew that change was coming; that the days of walking in these woods with my dog were numbered; that the deer who lived here would have to find another place; that the sound of cows mooing would soon be replaced by the sounds automobiles on an interstate highway.

Going home that day, being in unfamiliar woods, I got lost and could not find the right path  But I knew my dog could lead us both out so I said, "let's go home" and he ran ahead as I followed behind. And he led us home.

In a time of change, we need someone to walk with us.  A good friend.  A companion.  A partner.  A spouse. And when we come across that stake in the ground announcing a change that will alter the very ground we stand on, we know that they will be by our side and we can count on them to help us navigate the twists and turns that lead us home.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Singing in the Dark

Hurricane Florence just blew through the Carolinas and it was strangely reminiscent of another hurricane that visited us in 1989 named Hugo.  We never thought Hugo would come to Charlotte, NC and although we followed it with the weather reports each night and were concerned for the people in Charleston, SC, we in Charlotte took the hurricane very nonchalantly.

When the weather reports began to say that Hugo would reach as far inland as Charlotte, we all thought that it would dump a lot of rain on us along with some 30 mph winds and would move along and die out somewhere west of us.  We had a beach weekend planned with friends.  Hugo was scheduled to arrive in Charlotte Thursday night or early Friday morning.  We thought that after it blew through, we would get in our car and drive to our long awaited time at the beach.

How wrong we were.  Hugo came through Charlotte with a force we had never seen, blowing down trees, blowing roofs off houses, cutting off power from thousands of homes.  Getting in out of town was nearly impossible because of fallen power lines and hundreds of trees lying across the roads.  Businesses were closed, gas pumps were inoperable, and grocery store shelves were empty.  We were totally unprepared for this.

The first few days were a frantic scramble to find flashlights that worked, water, and food that would not spoil and trying to stay cool in the September heat without air conditioning.  While other homes regained their power, our house and two others on our street were to remain in the dark without water for an additional week and a half.  Our power problem (a blown fuse in the transformer) was a local problem and first priority was being given to much larger problems.

October arrived and we were hoping that our power would be restored before our daughter's birthday on Monday, October 2.  But it was not to be.  My wife's parents arrived (by then the roads were cleared).  I came home from my job (businesses had reopened).  And darkness arrived soon after.

Throughout our time without power we dreaded the night.  Night without electric lights seemed so very dark.  There was no T.V.  Reading or playing games was difficult.  Our problems seemed worse at night.

But the night of October 2 was different.  It was almost magical. The dining room was filled with candlelight including those seven candles on the birthday cake.  And as we wore our party hats and sang happy birthday, the room was filled with joy and love and we had forgotten that we were sitting in darkness, and we were somehow lifted up beyond our situation.

There is a hymn whose refrain is "Love lifted me.  When nothing else could help, love lifted me."

When nothing else could help us, love lifted us that night, out of the darkness and into a joy and peace that surpassed all understanding.