Heaven Will Never Be The Same

It is The Fourth of July, 2019, and our country is celebrating the 243rd Independence Day.  Other anniversaries thus far this year will have included the 75th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6th and the coming 50th Anniversary of Man Landing on the Moon on July 20th.

As with every morning, our radio is on and I’ve awakened to a plethora of patriotic music.  I still recognize the military anthems of each branch; unlike most of my generation, I actually played a couple of them on my accordion.  Such were the expectations of my childhood home; in retrospect, apparently God and Daddy knew what was best for me; the music lessons proved to be character-building.  As a Baby Boomer, however, guitar lessons would have been the preferred choice to “fit in” among peers in The Sixties.  After forty years, I have since recovered from adolescent embarrassment…kinda.

 Today on this July 4th, I am mourning the loss of two men whom I admired greatly and who admittedly influenced this writer’s belief in the American Dream and my religious perspective.  Both were independent thinkers and not afraid to take risks that challenged traditional practices in their very different professional fields.

One I never had the pleasure of meeting, but he once gained national interest when he challenged the American public: “If you can find a better car, buy it!” 

The other was a preacher whose intellect and service to His Savior engaged and befriended this soon-to-be-divorced mother of one; he and his wife welcomed us into their church family.

With his wife at his side and five little critters to tend to, this pastor challenged the traditional practices and availed himself to the greater community.  He didn’t wait for the spiritually hungry to enter the church. He walked out among the neighborhoods and met people where he found them. He joined community service organizations and learned about each town’s dynamics. 

He was a student always, an articulate speaker who found God’s truths and built future sermons from his library which included vintage Catholic writings as well as from some of Sunday’s comic strips.  A voracious reader, he once admitted he couldn’t spell well and depended heavily on spell check.   Once this admission was voiced, I wasted no time in secretly presenting him with a Scrabble game for his next birthday.  Eventually I was forced to confess (an old Catholic habit) and the chuckles and much detested board game remained in his household even after several moves to other pastoral assignments!

I had the pleasure of his friendship for more than thirty years.  He proofed my first published book and, in his signature dry humor, admitted that he would allow it in his church library, with the caveat, “But what do I know, I’m just a heretic” (wink, wink).

Other memories remain, not the least was our final get together here in our Washington, Missouri home.  It had been fifteen years since we’d seen each other but always, always, the occasional email picked up where we left off. And I was allowed to once again banter back and forth, trading barbs and dry wit, enjoying the fellowship with our spouses’ smiling approval. 

Health issues presented themselves, spine deterioration and hearing loss which forced him to retire after thirty-three years of ministry.  But he pursued and, with the successful medical technology of cochlear implants, regained “his life again” (his words) and continued to mentor young pastors and former students, in addition to teaching high school math and history; in some cases developing the curriculum for on-line courses.

He was my first “adopted minister” and, as he was quick to point out to me, certainly the MOST entertaining! His passing has left me heartbroken but comforted and grateful that God’s plan allowed us one final fellowship.  In true dry wit form, I’m smiling at his arrival in Heaven on the same day as that CEO…  

May the angels never run out of vitamins…

Seasonal American Pie

Having the additional ability to reason and therefore, expected to ably discern differences, man should routinely ask questions.  There is AS YET no harm in being inquisitive; despite what the current, myopic main media might imply, one should freely share and explore all variables of a topic.   While I wouldn’t attempt to read the intent of all the journalists behind the microphones, I would ask that we consider the source.

The US media have been fashioned from liberal arts and collegiate think tanks, many of which are anti-free market.  While there is no immediate harm in being compassionate and relegating a certain amount of the free market net earnings to community needs, the decision makers have grown power-hungry, therefore, less than honest with their philanthropic agendas.  And the main media have been quick to disguise underlying facts to oblige them.

The fiscally aware, i.e. the entrepreneurs and wage earners, are mindful that there are only SO MANY PIECES of the same American Pie…and more than twelve slices are needed in this 21st Century.  Twelve slices of tax payer money are rather thin and finite.  Not nearly enough to accomplish the compassionate missions of the most well-intended; the unscrupulous have yet to be fully vetted or, at the very least, have their microphones taken and discarded.

The competition continually competes for our dollars and rapt attention.    As some of the most benevolent people in the world, perhaps it is better for Americans to test the waters at the local watering hole.  Time to restudy that marketing travelogue…and make sure we are on board and our economic journey correctly remains in a free and open sea.

God Bless America —- and the ones who defend it at home and abroad.

Nurturing Garden Blues

Estaban Gardens book cover

Mom would have loved my back yard garden once it had developed after the first few seasons.  She would have enjoyed the maturity of the trees and the scattered perennial shrubs.  Blue was her favorite color, so the lobelia that I’d dappled here and there to offset the varied pinks and orange hues would have pleased her very much, as it well should since I’d planted it especially with her in mind.

So, too, the Star of Israel blooms that appeared just in time for the Fourth of July every year.  It was no coincidence that all of my plants yielded blue flowers.  Agapanthus plants, the correct name for the Star of Israel, were indeed survivors; the blossomed “star” bursts of white or blue were used frequently in California as commercial landscaping flora and in highway dividers.  They were my kind of plant; nearly indestructible!

I can’t tell you how often over the years I had read “easy to grow” and believed it!  Perhaps it was because Mom could always keep things growing, no matter how delicate the plant; she could revive any greenery in her keeping.  She had houseplants that were older than some of her grandchildren!  Each plant had a story and held a memory of someone or someplace.

On the other hand, delicate looking vines didn’t grow very well under my care. An “easy to grow” clematis struggled for its survival and, much to my chagrin, the vine very soon after planting looked like it needed a transfusion.  I decided after a few months’ efforts that it was really begging for mercy, so I dug it up and disposed of it.

One of my favorite sayings among garden prose is the one that reads,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

than anywhere else on earth

Nurturing an appreciation for flowers and gardens was one of the pleasures Mom and I shared.  Refilling our vessels as we did our favorite vases, His grace seemed to quell our anxious souls on many occasions, allowing us just to be.  Within the presence of God’s mixed bouquets, my mother remains joyfully alongside me.

 

Paste Buckets and Sweet Peas

Daddy prided himself on his yearly garden.

No paste bucket that had been emptied at the floor covering shop went unused; many came home to be repurposed as part of the vegetable garden; the buckets enabled Daddy to stretch the garden area.  He planted pepper plants, some zucchini plants and even tried growing pole peas in them, allowing the vines to trail upward along the old lattice fence to reach the late afternoon sun.

Because we had only a limited amount of garden bed in the backyard, Daddy used the area well, packing enough tomato plants against the pink stucco wall (side garage wall belonging to next door) to feed the third world …we were constantly amazed at how many plants Daddy could pack into the seven by ten bed!  Radishes, Lettuce, parsley, thyme, some Swiss chard and even kohlrabi – this latter veggie had been introduced to us by our Czech neighbor.   Often, marigolds filled spots in between the edibles to fight the garden pests.

The next door neighbor would drive into his garage, hear my father cussing and look over the wall.  Daddy would be on his knees, pulling the tomato worms off his precious plants, cussing at them as though it would make them leave and never return. Return they did and I can still hear the Italian chuckling and shaking his head, then admonishing Daddy to be sure all the worms were off “his” plants.  A repeated scenario, his reminding Daddy that the property line reached 10 inches deep into our garden was an on-going joke; in our neighbor’s eyes, all the plants against the heat-holding stucco wall were technically his.

Hey, Brochier…make sure you water those plants really well when you get through cussing out the worms…I want to see a good crop this year…

I can’t write verbatim my father’s response as it actually had little to do with gardening.  Suffice it to say that the two bantered on like this for years, one cajoling the other and the other never failing to come back with his best retort.

Daddy wasted nothing.  He kept old coffee cans and other trays and containers from any nurseries to plant garden seeds ahead, so he often dried seeds from his own beefsteak tomatoes and green bell peppers.  He and his buddies even exchanged seeds from year to year, comparing the easiest to grow, the sweetest varieties, and so forth.

One particular year, our cousin dropped off some seeds in an envelope; he told Daddy that they were among the sweetest peas he’d ever grown, so Daddy was really excited to have some of such high quality hybrid peas.  He put them away until sowing time, and then made sure he gave them lots of room to grow in his limited garden bed.  He staked the seedlings and had cross bars he’d made from salvaged wood strips.  Daddy was determined to have some very sweet peas to enjoy this season.

The plants had just the right amount of sunshine; the stucco wall helped bounce back some of the afternoon sun, so the tendrils began climbing up the makeshift lattice in no time!  Daddy was really happy with the progress until the small little pods didn’t grow any longer; instead, the little pods began to open.

Standing tall, smack in the middle of tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard and crawling squash plants fighting for room with the herbs and marigolds were multi-colored blooms of pastel pinks, lavender-blues and creamy white.   What the—! He called my mother out to the back to see; she confirmed what he already suspected:  those very sweet peas that Daddy had imagined he’d soon be harvesting for dinners were indeed sweet peas.

Sweet peas in all their beautiful, delicate glory!!!  Mom was absolutely delighted, as the blooms’ scent perfumed the entire back yard.  Some were even tall enough to cut and take inside to enjoy!

Down at the coffee shop, the guys had been counting the days until Daddy realized this garden “discovery”; you can bet they knew the minute their ears began burning!   My father resigned himself to being the butt of one very clever joke, but remained a good sport always. Obviously, Daddy became especially careful when accepting any future envelopes of “specially” dried seeds from this gang!

When the Chimney Shook

Daddy didn’t contemplate life before him in rhetorical terms.  He might ask the questions, but he’d already accepted the circumstances and decided on his necessary role.  His was a tough act to follow; principled, he normally forged ahead with a quiet conviction.

Daddy was extremely loyal to family.  In his view, family was his original siblings.  Mom understood this loyalty, as she shared the same devotion to those “siblings”; their father was her guardian and she lived with them in her teens until marriage to my father. Familial assumptions of responsibility were theirs to share. As number seven’s daughters, we grew up watching this devotion and love for the older ones, Daddy’s name for the six children born before him.

We were ill prepared to influence him very much to think outside of the box. Devotion had become a hereditary virus of sorts; collected from our common good, we were emotionally spent beyond our capacities often under the mantel of doing the right thing.

Infected like the rest, I did the best I could to do my part; sometimes, it took a toll emotionally and I gladly buried my head in my studies and retired most evenings, totally relieved to shut away the day’s responsibilities.

Daddy’s actions always spoke louder than words. He did the right thing; as hard as it might be on him or us all.  Underlying the days’ tasks was the deeper belief and faith that we were doing the best we could; that there was a light at the end of this tunnel and we’d get through it.

Our family provided a home, food, a job and often transportation for a favorite uncle of ours who was an alcoholic.  Somehow, Mom and Daddy managed all this at the same time Only Bro was having his ups and downs, phases during which times his mental stability was very fragile. Daddy pursued, working his business around the needs of his customers, his son’s medical needs and his brother-in-law’s binges, covering the bases to provide for the immediate family with Mom’s support from the home front.

The carport was beyond the chimney and had no room left for an actual car anyway.   Daddy’s seeds and garden equipment, along with his tool bench and storage cabinets filled up what wall space there was.  Our family picnic table sat in the middle, out of the sun and accessible for backyard picnics.

As cars grew in width,   one had to be very cautious not to drive in and break any tomato plant branches or roll over the garden hose.  The drive might have accommodated two smaller cars, but our father drove a station wagon for business and personal use.  So, he rarely used the deepest end of the drive.

We always knew when Daddy had arrived home for the evening; once we felt the rumble, Daddy had hit the chimney; no point in going any further. We raced to the front door and unlocked it. Daddy was home.

What are ya gonna do?

That was Daddy’s summation of his day, as he stood there in the kitchen, pouring his glass of red and grabbing a piece of French bread with a slice of salami before dinner…

Plywood

I’m sure my father never thought twice about the plywood he delivered to my junior high school that day; but I remember it on occasion, especially on days like this when I think I haven’t accomplished nearly what I set out to do.

In fact, today was one of those the whole damn day was shot days as Daddy used to call them, walking into the kitchen to reach for the wine bottle and a glass from the cupboard.  This announcement was normally followed by a string of the what went wrongs:  the pattern that arrived was the incorrect color; one of the guys had a flat tire and was two hours late getting to the job site; or somebody forgot about a medical appt. and didn’t show up; or any variation on a theme that might affect a small floor covering business.

Daddy had heard me say that our eighth grade class was pricing wood for the showcase.  That’s all he remembered.  Before the pricing had even begun, I was called out of a morning class and asked to see my science teacher.  I arrived there and, to my great surprise, was told that my father had just dropped off two large sheets of 4 x 8 three-quarter inch plywood; my teacher had been in class, so he missed seeing Daddy, but was informed by a memo that we now owned had two large sheets of plywood-what did he want to do with them? Mr. L., my science teacher, was especially appreciative that Daddy had donated the wood sheets; so he asked me to please make sure to thank my father for the donated sheets.

I was on cloud nine that day…couldn’t believe that Daddy had taken time from his busy, time-sensitive schedule to drive by the school and deliver the plywood sheets.  My father worked.  He owned his own business.  He was a no-nonsense guy when it came to serving the public.  My father was an honest laborer, who made sure that the customer came first; normally, that meant that the family’s wishes were secondary.  Without his “hustling” as Mom called it, we’d have had no income. Neither Winnie nor I were allowed to chat on the phone for anymore than ten minutes tops.  Our home phone was an extension of our family business, so God help the daughter who dawdled and prevented a possible customer from reaching our home!!!

Daddy understood time was money, so made sure we understood it as well.  That day, I realized he had spent an hour traveling from his shop to my school, then making sure the plywood sheets were delivered to the right classroom (I still marvel that he even knew how to find the administrative office!!!)

I would never completely understand all the nuances or the actual costs involved, but I would always remember:  I was important enough for my father to make sure our class had the material to build the showcase for our science project.  There was no describing that emotion; even today, I “tear up” at the thought that my father, the man I saw as normally too focused on making a living to even tune in to his kids’ school projects,  would attempt such an extracurricular delivery; especially during a work day.  But it remains one of my very precious memories.

Perhaps, with any luck at all, I might have touched someone’s heart today…and the day wasn’t a complete loss.  I should be so fortunate…

When Healthier Roots Prevailed

The American Dream was the prevailing mindset:  there were opportunities for those who sought them and a political system that – in its purest sense – erased social classes via the ballot box.  Thus had the quintessential republic become a world beacon for opportunity, not opportunists; and this young country flourished as long as those tasked with governing maintained the disciplined checks and balances needed for a healthy milieu to support free enterprise.

Some old country practices and expectations naturally slipped right on through Ellis Island into the new country.  A family member contributed to support of the entire household, sometimes at the expense of a shortened, formal education.  Daddy was one of nine who had grown and matured, understanding full well the responsibilities of earning one’s keep as part of the workforce in the family’s laundry business.  As one of the babies, my father was lucky enough to finish high school, and then enter a trade school.  Not so the older daughters; many of them married early and became homemakers themselves; more often than not they, too, worked outside the home.  Two of my aunts had married foreigners who became naturalized citizens.   In keeping with another customary practice, my father and mother were married only six months when they moved “back home” to take care of his aging parents.

My father had his dreams like any young man of his generation.  He’d had the chance to tour the Orpheum Circuit.  As one of a barbershop quartet, he lost the big chance when one of the four decided he couldn’t commit to traveling the country, so went into hiding for several days; his action was long enough to permanently break off any remaining ties of a permanent contract with the entertainment circuit.

A marriage and two children later, Daddy was too old to enlist for WWII, so worked for the war effort at home.  After the war, he and Mom opened up a floor covering business.  Daddy understood the labor movement from both sides now, and was reforming his previous union mindset.  My father changed his voter registration to vote for Ike.  Eventually, my uncle joined as a full partner. By the mid-fifties, the linoleum shop was supporting two families and growing.

While not easily fooled by smooth-talking orators, Daddy liked men who told it like it is (and touched his own emotions).  Spiro Agnew was a particular favorite.  I can remember my father chuckling at Spiro’s deft handling of the press; that is, until the first American Vice President with a Greek lineage was exposed for federal tax evasion, then struck from the nation’s memory in quick form!  Daddy had voted for the Nixon-Agnew ticket.  We’d never let Daddy forget it.

The Brat and I guaranteed old Spiro would forever remain in our father’s conscience; a metal trashcan with Spiro’s cartoon image would ensure the proper place for additional garbage – political and otherwise.  We presented it to him for Father’s Day.  It stayed – well hidden but serviceable – under the shop’s main desk for many years.

When the Vietnam War was aired on nightly television, Daddy insisted that we watch Cronkite’s coverage each evening.  My brother had already received an honorary discharge, but others’ sons were fighting; thus, my father insisted that we remember the toll being carried by our fellow Americans. This was difficult for us around the table; several times, we asked if we couldn’t dispense with the war coverage just for one night.

My father was insistent: our young men were fighting in a terribly difficult terrain and under very divisive circumstances here at home; the least we could do was stay informed.  The news would stay on during dinner.  End of subject.