Tag: Family

Finding Home Run Pizza

Our son recently asked Grandma and Grandpa if we could go to Home Run Pizza.  This restaurant was a staple of our early visits to Bartlesville, OK.  They had a buffet, and basic salad bar, and would make pizza to the specifics of the customer asking.  It was not a huge place, it was not a chain, and the pizza was just what Jacob loved.  We had not gone there in years, so it was fun and nostalgic that he asked if we could go there.  Jacob, being the middle child, does not ask for much, and when he does ask, it is not very loud.

It turns out that Home Run pizza had closed some time ago.  The question really being asked was, ‘can we go somewhere to eat pizza, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and relive old times’?  Although no one said that exact phrase out loud, the sentiment that pulls us together through history is an unseen, yet urgent, current in the river of our lives. Can we recapture the sepia of our youth?

Friends who shared a weekend at the lake – they never forget what happened, who did what, how much fun it was, the campfires and stories into the night.  Camping trips up into the mountains – do you still remember what you gave up to get what you gained?  We traded comfort for challenge and accomplishment.  The policy at Philmont Scout Ranch is to ‘human sump’ the dinner dishes – basically swirl water in our cooking pot after cooking and then drink that water. The thought of that gross water ruining the taste of dinner will never go away.  Did it get cold at night? A few of us camped by the Great Sand Dunes one January to commemorate Pike’s journey through that area200 years earlier.  We slept with our water bottles so we would have water, and not ice, in the morning.  Did a tent pole break?  My lover had to repair a tent pole with Band-Aids once so we could put the tent up in New Mexico.  A grin unchains my face at the memory of those times.

We all remember once in a lifetime trips; those are understandable.  Paris in July with the sun setting through the Arc de Triomphe?  Amsterdam at the Anne Frank House with on a cool, sunny morning?  The high-speed train (224 km/h – seems fast) between Koln and Paris – we repeat to this day what I said THAT day, ‘wow, this baby HAULS’?  The indescribable power of the water over the Falls at Niagara?  ALL of those memories are indelible – a reference point to take one back in an instant.  Surely you have a stuffed accordion file of these same recollections.

Perhaps you have read or listened to someone describe the approach to filling your life with the “fill this jar with rocks, pebbles, sand, and water” allegory.  Only a few huge rocks fit (God, family, work), then some pebbles fit (friends, outreach, neighbors), sand (hobbies, diet, exercise), top off with water (breathing, storytelling, video games).  Your jar is not truly full until the water has risen to the top.  Listeners are amazed that they can fit so much into their lives when they decide what size rock each thing in their life should be.

A request for Home Run Pizza is a hearkening to the smaller stones of our lives – the ones you pour into the jar AFTER you put the biggest building blocks of your life in.   It calls us to think of the daily joys we share together.  It is not the grandiose, or the majestic, or the life-defining memory.  By its very normalcy, this indeed is the sinew that builds our family, our ties, and our love for each other.  Once we find a point of commonality, our tribe – be it blood relatives or friends – uses that memory as cement or bungee cord or twine or superglue to pull closer and grow stronger.

Our visit was full of enduring traditions; we like sitting in the TV room watching movies that we choose together, having dinner in the dining room, sharing a few gifts.  We did clear new ground for growth – we finally went to the Phillips 66 Museum where grandpa worked for many years.  There is a picture of him with his crew of aviation gas salesman and the planes they flew to reach their customer base.  It is good for the grandkids to see what their people have done.  He is from that generation that will never bring it up, let alone brag about it.

I cannot help but think that when we passed on the opportunity to find a NEW pizza place with the grandparents, we may have missed a chance at a new tradition.  If, per chance, a voice asks about that ‘old pizza place we used to go to’, perhaps we should listen.

It could fill the jar in a whole new way.

The Caged Finches of Perkins

Maya Angelou – “I know why the caged bird sings.”

“A small bird will drop frozen from the bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” – D.H. Lawrence.

The other day, we went to visit my grandma and my aunt in Perkins Pavilion rest home. In the lobby, they have a glass-enclosed cage that is full of finches. Birds provide a sense of comfort and a spot of nature for the residents, many of whom rarely go outside. These finches are of several species, and they always make me think of both Darwin and captivity. When Darwin visited the Galapagos, he was more interested in geology, and had tasked another with cataloging the many bird species on the islands. At the time, cataloging meant shooting them and taking them back to England. Once back in England, an ornithologist realized they had different beaks to open the shells of the nuts they found. Different nuts for different islands, apparently. This led to sub-species that were better suited to each micro-climate.
Once I begin thinking about adjusting to micro-climates, I wonder if it is difficult. Do we not, in fact, do that all the time? Don’t we have to “read the room”, “feel the mood”, or “know your audience”? Matter of fact, instead of developing a specialized “beak” for social interaction, we have developed an “all-purpose” interface so we can get along with the greatest number of people possible.
The Finches of Perkins seem happy. They do seem upbeat. They do appear to be content. But are these not human emotions? I have a sneaking suspicion that all they care about is that there is a steady supply of food. Their swift and nimble travels between the straw nests they have built and the seed boxes placed throughout the enclosure brings joy to a watcher. Though mostly dull-colored birds, they have an unmistakable vitality.
As I consider these sweet birds, I draw a parallel to the human residents of Perkins Pavilion, a full-care retirement facility. Grandma and Aunt Rosemary live there. My dad refers to them as “the sisters”. They eat every meal together, just like when they were kids. They are happy, although they both wish for better health. I wonder if they feel trapped. I wonder if they long for the wide open farmscape of their youth, or their fertile gardens so lovingly tended, or the open road at vacation. Do they remember the sweeping pastures of the flint hills? Do they remember the stink of the hen-house? Do the dream of the chilling winters, the searing summers, or the perfection of a spring evening before the mosquitoes have hatched?
I know Grandma has said she is ready to go on to heaven. It is not that she hates living, it is just that she does not feel well, misses Grandpa, and is not having a ton of fun during her days. She appreciates her family and loves keeping up with friends, grand kids, great-grand kids. She still looks at pictures, reads cards, listens to my dad read her letters and keep up with all the news from our extended family. She still prays for all of us. She turned 100 years old last November. We celebrated both her birthday and my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary with what amounted to a family reunion. The most that had gathered in several years, in fact. Grandma not only made it to the venue, she stayed for several hours. Her clear and evident joy at seeing her people together was worth any amount of miles driven, plane tickets bought, schedules re-arranged. Her prayer at Christmas Eve dinner this year had all our eyes stung with tears – words, just a few, of humility and grace. In part, she said “we need to forgive, to love, and to care for each other”. Forgiving each other for our hurts – how we wish we could master that.
Aunt Rosemary does not remember too many specifics about all of us, or where she is living, or where she used to live. She is really happy, though, and always has a smile on her face when we go to visit. She enjoys hearing about our few chickens and can tell a story about when she cared for chickens back on the Gfeller farm. Although Rosemary does not go out (except for medical appointments), she loved hearing about the gathering for Grandma’s birthday. Even when she is not feeling well, she still smiles when she says where it hurts. Smiling through pain – how we wish we could master that.

I believe the finches daydream of wide open spaces and trees to roost in and nuts to crack and bugs to catch. I believe the sisters have a lifetime of memories to sustain them through the slower hours of their days.

I do hope the sisters – do the finches? – know what lessons we learn from them about contentment in life.

Do the sisters – and the finches – know how much joy they bring us still?

What Humble means

I try not to be too serious, but I think sometimes that’s bad for me. At my place on the trail, in my 40’s,
it can’t be all fun and games and jokes. I have 3 marvelous children. Marvelous – as in I marvel at them. Whether they think so or not, they look to/at me for guidance and direction and approval. I matter to them, and what they do matters to me.

So, I resolve this year to be a student of humility. I need to work harder, do the ‘big-talker’ thing less, but at the same time, make my words mean something. Clete Doyal once said, in a sermon, “the richest heads of barley hang lowest to the ground.”

Keep an eye on me; help me out.

I Need Lunch Money

That is how my teenagers tell me that they love me and still need me in their lives.  It isn’t easy for them to speak the truths of love, feelings, appreciation, validation, need in conventional ways.  My wife and I now know that if we push too hard, they just want more distance from us.  If we lay off, and step back, eventually they wander back into the room and ask us “what’s up?”.

As a matter of fact, sometimes they need my help.  I totally get, now, why my Dad is always happy to help me with dumb car stuff, or dumb house chores when he comes to visit.  It is fulfilling and heartwarming to do simple things with my nearly grown sons.  Check the oil, crawl around under the car reattaching that plastic thing that protects something, changing a tail light, driving in one of their cars to go get the pizza.  It’s ALL FUN!  I get to love them (not allowed to SAY anything about it at the time), and enjoy them being part of the world.

There is just no down side to that kind of interaction.  I’ll gladly pay for lunch.  All they had to do was ask.

That’s My Boy!

Today is my son’s birthday!  JB is 17 years old; we watched him drive off to school this morning, basically an adult.

He was born on a Monday morning in Santa Maria, California.  Angie said, around 7 am, “You’d better not go to work today”.  By 8:30, we’d left for the birth care center, (doctor’s name Tad something), and he was in our arms by 12:30.  Just past lunch, and Angie had a friend bring Burger King – which she was eating by 1:30.

Jake hated his first bath.  His favorite way to take his nap was in our arms.  He didn’t like to be alone in his crib, and he liked the slanted way he rested while we held him. 

I loved him from the moment I saw him.  Still do.

Happy birthday, JBL!

Reclaiming the Holidays

Family.  Friends.  Health.  Vitality.  Babies.  Soul mates.  These are the reasons we celebrate our significant holidays.  We gather together to give thanks for each other, and to look forward to more precious time together.  One more year has passed, and we count the blessings that we have all shared.  We can’t wait to see that new baby, or meet the new wife/husband, or see Mom and Dad again.

If this is the first year you’ve been without a lifelong companion, take heart.  Invite your cherished family and friends to your place, and let them fill it with new memories full of laughter and tears.  Show them your sadness and let them weep with you.  Likewise, when the joyous show up, listen to their stories of happiness, praise, fulfillment, and soak in the healing.

If you are the one with joy, praise or excitement over a great year, make a point of attending the family reunions on the calendar.  There is a way to share all of you without gloating or just bragging.  Joy is unmistakable.  Joy is a sincere state of being; an observer can tell the difference between true joy, false happiness, and vicarious boasting.  Carry the joy around with you, and leave the rest at home.

Being with family, and being with friends who truly know you means getting to take the masks of perfection off.  Don’t we all wear them?  By the way, ask the teenagers who gather with you if they can guess how you really are feeling.  If you can get them to engage, they will speak truth to you.  They have a sense about people, especially those they love, and teenagers can’t be fooled.

Make a new friend this holiday season; go sit at the kids table.  Get the kids and young people to go around the table and tell a ‘high’ and a ‘low’ for the year.  Or, go with the ‘rose’ game.  Ask them to tell a rose (a good thing), a thorn (a bad thing), and a rosebud (something they are looking forward to).

Ignore the dollar signs of the holidays.  Embrace the deeper, tougher side of the next few months and make memories.