Sunday, April 2, 2017

Weddings and funerals

By Roger Owens

I spent a few days at my mother’s house last week, about an hour away in Melbourne, Florida, and I will spend a few more next week. Unfortunately, Mom fell and broke her arm and can’t be alone just yet, so myself and my brothers are taking turns staying over. Ironically enough, she fell at a reunion of the Harbor City Volunteer Ambulance Squad, which has been defunct for many years, but the house was full of people who have spent their lives caring for the sick and injured and carting them to the hospital, so at least they knew what to do.
    It is very enjoyable spending time with my family. Of course, lamentations are uttered about wishing the circumstances were better, but the truth is, when the circumstances are better we all have our comfortable little lives to lead and generally get together only on the holidays, and for weddings, and for funerals. And promises are made – that we will get together, that we will do lunch, that it will not be so long next time – and we all know they are as heartfelt as they are untrue.
    Now, in a way, what I’m getting to is one of those sappy “go see your family and friends before they (or you) are gone forever” kind of missives, and in a way it is not. Because it is not just spending time, but being reminded of things we tend to forget.
    Like how my oldest brother, Don, is so intelligent, so solid, a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, a pillar of the community, church-going, God-fearing, funny, well-read, witty. He recommended a couple of books and movies I had not seen and we enjoyed one one night, the war movie Fury. Worth watching, he said, even if depressing, and he was right. He usually is.
    Or how the next-oldest, “Red,” with his parade-ground voice and blustery, opinionated manner, could be seen as a bit of a buffoon until I remembered how utterly capable, forceful, and hard-working he always was, until his health deteriorated so badly and took so much away from him that had made him who he was. He was the assistant superintendent of a large condominium-construction project at 19 years old, telling men twice his age what to do, spouting the breaking strength of two-by-fours with twelve-foot centers, or the proper configuration of a “C” column of steel rebar, without missing a beat. How he had hired a friend of his who kept screwing up on the job, and how, after the third warning, he called the super and told him to bring that guy’s last check or his own, he didn’t care which. After that he never heard a peep from any of the other guys about keeping the columns and concrete forms and snap-ties exactly the way he wanted them. Hell, he’d fired his own buddy and clearly wouldn’t hesitate to fire anyone else.
    Or my youngest brother, Hugh, every bit the absolute rocket-scientist brain our father was, working for the DIA, DOD, and God knows who else, and I used to brag he had a higher security clearance than Bill Clinton. He still does, and still can’t talk about much of what he does for a living. Top secret.
    Or what a caring, loving woman Mom is, who turned her compassion into reality by riding ambulances and running the Squad as commander and president several times each in a thirty-five-year unpaid career of caring for others in their worst hours. Of telling them they would be all right when she knew they would not, of gently informing the distraught mother that no, her son would not be coming home after his motorcycle wreck. She still hates motorcycles; rescue people call them “donor-cycles” for their propensity to provide donor organs from brain-dead riders.
    By all means, go see your family and friends while you still have them, and they you. But never forget that it is not just catching up on the trivia of lives led separately, and reminiscing about good times had and hard times survived. It is an exercise in remembering who you are, where you came from, and how you got here. If you are a better person, they had a lot to do with that; I can point to exact moments in my life when a friend or family member demonstrated by word or deed how I was failing at becoming fully human. And it usually didn’t happen at a wedding or a funeral.


Copyright © 2017 by Roger Owens

13 comments:

  1. thanks Roger, "sweet" and "nice" are NOT bad words, they are highly valued in my universe, and it is MY universe

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    1. Thanks Susan not sure if you mean I implied these words are bad words or that they are not. Either way since it is as you say your universe you can have it your way!

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  2. Roger, this poignant essay came at a coincident time for me. I learned on Friday that earlier last week my sister Patsy, who is, I estimate, about four years younger than your mother, fell and fractured her shoulder - 2,552 miles away from me (via Interstate-40), in Oxnard, California.
        But more than that, your essay's advice about "remembering who you are, where you came from, and how you got here" prompts me to reflect on whether I have used my visits with Patsy over the years in that way. My tentative conclusion is that I probably have not. I suppose the reason is that Patsy is the youngest (and only surviving) of my four older sisters. When I was a child, my sisters were teenagers and two of them were already married. That is, in a real way, Patsy just doesn't remind me of myself. But I do have a flood of memories of visits, years later, with her, her husband, and her children (she had five who survived, though one died over a decade ago in a vehicular crash while attempting to cross "The Grapevine" from Los Angeles and Bakerfield). I guess, in another way, visits with Patsy, and with Mary, Anna, and Flo, and their families, reminded me that I was "the one who got away" – to college, to a later marriage, and, 34 years ago, to a state over 2,000 miles from California (although Flo and her family had already returned to their native Arkansas – my parents and all of my sisters were born in Arkansas; I was a war baby, born in California, where my father worked in the Alameda ship yards).
        I'm sure I haven't finished reflecting on this. Your essay has provoked an exercise that has only just begun.

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    1. If you're like me we tend to get in a groove (or is it a rut) and go with the flow, it's outside the comfort zone to take the time and make the effort but I find when I do it is rewarding.

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    2. Related, I think, is that, this week, I have been "reaching out" to more old friends than usual with whom I haven't been in touch lately. They, too, are who we are, where we came from, and how we got here. That is, I think your column reminded me to reach out.

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    3. I'm pleased if I could remind folks about the importance of taking that time and effort which I know is not easy. How is your sister?

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    4. I think she's okay, Roger. One of her several granddaughters collected her from the hospital and took her home (about 75 miles away) for the anticipated six weeks of rehabilitation.
          By the way, I reached out to a couple of more friends this morning,after making my comment above. And my thought expressed there, that "they, too, are who we are, etc.," was a new one for me, I think. And it has worn well in the intervening hours; that is, I think it may be true.

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    5. When I said that my sister's granddaughter lived about 75 miles away, it was just a guess. I finally looked it up. About 140 miles. So, no small undertaking by this wonderful granddaughter, who has now offered to take her grandmother in "forever."

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  3. Yes indeed, Roger, you set the brain wheels spinning! Thanks!

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    1. Surely this is my dear friend Saint Francis of the Pharmacy, now in anonymous if honorable exile with the love of her life in Hamburg New York. The only person who ever kicked my ass at Scrabble, although I once managed to roll two joints right in front of her as she was so engrossed in coming up with something so esoteric as ZO to win God knows how many points on a word I didn't even know was a word. I once asked her if she had a copy of Julius Ceasar, and she said "Of course," and came out from the depths with a thick hardback-in Latin-which she was as astonished as I was ashamed that I could not read. One of the few people I freely admit to be my academic superior, not that they are not legion, only that I do not know them. Love you Fran, and my best to Larry.

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  4. Y,bee, indeed, this is your pal... I love my new sobriquet... St Frances of the Pharmacy!!! Only you would come up with something both alliterative and true! You are too kind with your accolades, methinks your memory is a tad clouded...but I still have my Latin books 😂😂 Too bad I can hardly read them anymore...Love you back, my friend...& Larry sends his regards. Hugs & kisses to Cindy... I know you will enjoy delivering those

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  5. And I am hardly your "academic superior"...whatever the hell that might mean... you run circles around me with your astounding knowledge of all things esoteric and your general well-read- iness!

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  6. I named you that 'way back in the day, but if the shoe fits today, so much the better. I gracefully accept your compliments as well, but you still kicked my ass at Scrabble.

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