Living Passionately

Moments. Those that stick

For the past few weeks, I have been in a combination of feeling morose, no, strike that, reflective and elated. You see, having been through many life’s experiences, a person needs to sit back and take account. Maybe not a full accounting but one that takes measure of their life. The people, the places, and of course, the events.

I look back over the years, now spanning into decades, and in that reflection, I realize that I have been most fortunate. I spent 6 years in the Marines, some of which, I have a dubious accounting of. I make jest of most of it, some funny, some making light of some very shitty circumstances, but for me, overall, it was something that I needed.

mom lynda me

Most of my life I have had a pretty lousy opinion of most authoritative figures, some conscious, some unconscious, but all in all, a pretty lousy opinion all the same. I had run ins (multiple) with an assistant principal in which I lost the battle,

every.

single.

time.

It began with witnessing the aftermath of a school mate who had committed suicide in his backyard using his dad’s .300 savage at point blank range through his mouth. The sight stays with me to this day. This was a moment that stuck.

I arrived at school that morning after seeing that bloody wad against a wall, who had been someone I knew. The principal felt obliged to explain to me and a few of my compatriots that suicide was a one way ticket on the express elevator to hell. I felt obliged to tell him where he could place his holy book and I left his office. Two days before the semester was out, he summarily dismissed me from school for a day I had missed without an excuse a few weeks earlier. It never got any better, so I finally decided that my ticket out was the armed forces, and more specifically the US Marines.

usmc-logo

In the first four years of my six year tour in the Marines, I made some serious mistakes, and had some epic adventures. I flew for the first time in my life to San Diego, CA where I attended boot camp. I traveled to Okinawa Japan, where I spent 14 months and 29 days of some of the screwiest times I had ever had. I fell in love, tried to make that a permanent situation and it blew up in my face. I ran with some great guys and laugh heartily at the temporary insanity that we all experienced over there. I had yet another run in with an authoritative figure which I handled well, in my opinion.

okinawa 83

I returned to California where I spent time in 29 Palms California. That was epic. We were assigned to go out into the field in the “Stumps” and inventory all the gear that Supply had out in the storage vans and 50 cubic inch boxes that they had scattered through the area they called “Supply”. When we arrived, we got off the “Deuce and a half” (two ton large truck), and were summarily marched to the large 20 man GP tents that were waiting for us. First thing you noticed was the heat. it was around 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and not a cloud in the sky, much less shade. The first thing they told us was at NO time were we to try to get shade in the tent, or sleep in it. It could kill you. and within the first week, one guy tried, and almost succeeded… in dying. The tent amplified the heat, it didn’t reduce it.

We had been there for two nights, where the temps dropped to about 20 degrees at night, so you bundled up in your sleeping bag on your cot and get the best sleep you could. On the second night I woke to a rumbling sound. In the haze of a good sleep I kept trying to figure out what I was hearing, and it just didn’t compute. I got up, and looked down and noted that there was running water on the ground. I kept thinking “what the fuck” did someone take a leak in the tent? Then two things happened. I realized that the folks that originally setup the entire supply camp had placed it in a very old dry river bed. and that we had a 3 or 4 foot wall of water coming at us.

The mad scramble to get our shit out of the tents, up the sides of the river bank was something you would see in the three stooges movie clips. We had our cots and gear floating downriver, the tent collapsing, and the water was rising. After a few minutes the water was from bank to bank and flowing furiously. a couple of guys went downstream a bit before they came out spitting muddy water and cussing like only a Marine can.

When first light came around the water was almost gone but with that? so were the big wooden boxes with a LOT of our supplies in them. Everything from tires to electronic chips to starters to repair parts for just about everything. and as we looked down the creek bed we saw tires sticking up out of the dirt, boxes buried by dirt, and all we could say was “HOLY SHIT”… So we spent the next three months sifting through and digging supplies out of the dirt all down the creek bed. Needless to say we were cussing the folks who initially planted our Supply depot in the middle of a creek bed. In seven different languages.

So after weeks in the heat, freezing at night, and living in the desert, it was getting old. I started walking to the concrete head (showers and bathroom) that they had in this camp. I was walking in the required red shorts, white t shirt, and either boots or shower shoes, carrying my shit shower and shave bag along with towel, pretty much on autopilot just slogging through another day. I look to my left, and I see a naked woman. running. I rubbed my eyes, shook my head, opened my eyes as she went right past me. naked as a jaybird.

It was a woman Marine, who had started out from the Women Marines tent, that was surrounded by concertina wire to keep the males out. (believe it or not) and she was scootin down the dirt road heading for the other end of the camp. I looked down the road and saw what appeared to be either a Colonel or Lt Colonel just chewing the shit out of a very young Marine who had obviously done something he didn’t like while on guard duty. This was the entrance to the camp, and the guard was required to stop every vehicle and ask them some kind of asinine question… anyhow, they both stopped, mid sentence and watched the gal sprint on by, laughing her ass off.

The officer then shouted at the guard to go catch her. He ran after her asking, no PLEADING for her to stop and she just kept trucking, dodging this way and that, laughing the whole time. He finally tackled her, and quickly covered her in his jacket and she kept laughing. I found out later that the gals had a connection with Motor T, and got a bottle of tequila brought in.. The gals proceeded to get pretty shit faced, and they bet her five bucks she wouldn’t streak through the camp. and off she went.

Later, a group of us were talking about it, and they went on and on about how stupid it was to do, funny, but just stupid.. Then I popped up, and said, well, while we are here in the “Stumps” baking every day, she is back in the BEQs in Pendleton, 3 people per room and has AC.. not sure how stupid that is.. they stopped, and agreed. Fast times in 29 Palms.

streaking

I also got to spend time in San Luis Obispo, and of course the fun loving town of Oceanside. All this, and more, courtesy of the USMC. I decided to get out in 1985 and go home via a road trip that I had planned for months. I rode my motorcycle from San  Diego, to Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, and made a grand tour of freedom after my first tour in the Corp.

yosemitehikes_com-upper-yosemite-falls-1900x1200

I spent a few days in Kings Canyon, then made my way to Yosemite National Park. I was told there were no camping spots available, and that I could ask the local ranger if they had a spot at each campground. I found a ranger who looked at me, then at my gear, then asked, “You in the Marines”? I said that I had just got out. He smiled, put his hand out, and replied “Semper Fi”. He too had been in. He pointed up a gully and said that I could camp there, but watch out for the mosquitoes. He wasn’t kidding. My helmet stayed on, as did my clothing while I put up my tent. Once inside, I had all I needed, a six pack of beer and a smile that wouldn’t quit. This was one of those moments that stick. Lying in a tent, in Yosemite National Park, a beer in hand and nothing but time… It was glorious

When you find yourself actually in a dream that you had been working on for months? It feels good, in fact, beyond measure. Happiness doesn’t begin to describe the elation of that experience. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone. Over the next few days, I went from California to New Mexico where I prepared to leave for Alaska.

You see, I had also bought a ticket to visit my older brother in Alaska. While I was enlisted in the Corps, my brother left Texas and New Mexico and went to Alaska. Over the next four years, I received these wild letters and pictures of my brother and some of his adventures in AK.

garrett-and-daonne

I was truly impressed and felt I had to go explore Alaska. I spent a few weeks there, did a 10 day kayak trip into Prince William Sound, and fell in love with AK. I watched Orcas by the kayak, spent nights in a tent on the shore of a glacier and listened to it growl. The feeling of complete freedom, and a respect for nature and all she had? this was another one of those moments that sticks

orca

I returned to New Mexico and found myself exactly where I had left. Lousy no pay job, no education, and heading nowhere fast. I reminisced about the Corps and talked myself into re-enlisting, and with that? I was sent to North Carolina, and shortly after that, to the Mediterranean, where I got to explore Europe which I also fell in love with. The people were welcoming once they got past the “you are a rude American” opinion. and I explored with gusto. On board ship, I got to experience what the first navigators of the ocean must have had. The stars were from horizon to horizon and there were so many! The sky was packed with stars, and finally I could understand how you could navigate by them, and fall in love with crossing the ocean. We would lay out on the flight deck and just watch the sky, another moment that sticks.

stars

My Lt who was in charge of Supply had decided that the warehouse would be on the LKA while he and the office staff were on the LST, a flat bottomed “Gator Freighter” where the brass of our MAU (Marine Amphibious Unit) were going to be. He was a fantastic brown noser, but not much more when it came to planning. That left us on a ship that never pulled into the same port they did. Which meant we were on our own as long as we kept our heads down, and after a rather terse discussion with the other Corporal, we all decided to stay quiet. We ducked our heads, stayed low key, and we “skated” while we were in the Med… We didn’t pull duty, we didn’t pull guard watch, my troops didn’t have to pull mess duty, this was golden.

uss-charleston-lka-113

We were able to go out on liberty every night, go on every tour that the ship offered,  and had no one to answer to. No duty, no watch, no responsibility other than to ourselves. Marines NEVER get it that good, but by god we did. And we went from one end of Europe to the other, and saw as much of it as we could. Another moment that sticks

backpack

My plan, while being in the Corps, was to save my money, and each year, take my leave and return to Alaska with the hope of buying land and a home. And by the time I retired? I would have a place I loved and it would be bought and paid for. Have you ever heard of “better laid plans of mice and men”? I spent endless hours buying books from our catalog and from mail order companies, then studying in great detail my routes to Alaska and places I wanted to see. I bought my backpacking gear with every intent on using it as often as I could just to prep for AK. I fantasized, I planned, I dreamed. On the mess deck I was living the dream of returning to Alaska.

mess-deck-1986

Eventually I was medically discharged, so my retirement plans vanished, but my plans of being in AK did not. And this is one of the most exciting memories of those days. I bought a small RAM D50 pickup truck, and with my dad’s help, put a small camper shell on it, built some small cabinets over each wheel well, and laid a foam crate type layer in the bed where I would sleep for the next two years. My father, who had divorced my mom when I was 12, and left us cold? Well, after years of being pissed off to no end, I had finally made peace with. and his helping me with that truck was a moment that stuck.

The adventure of going back up to Alaska was a dream reborn. I drove from New Mexico, visited some friends in Oceanside on my way up to Cordova, AK. We had all got out of the Corps about the same time, and they were all just hanging out in a 2 bedroom apt on the beach. about 6 or 8 guys sharing an apartment, but free of the suffocation of the military and the freedom to do as we pleased. Most had jobs that barely paid the bills, but it was freedom, that is much maligned by my civilian friends that have no understanding what freedom truly is. Let me repeat that. Civilians, never having served in the military have NO idea. This was a moment that stuck.

For about a week, I just relaxed with some great guys, and enjoyed Southern California. But eventually I had to pack and go. I was heading to Alaska. I loaded up and moved on. One of my regrets was not getting everyone’s full names and phones, as last name basis doesn’t go far in white pages. Sometimes even both names don’t work in looking up old friends.

I got to Oregon, and while there I stayed on the beach in a campground for a day. It was raining so I got my fishing gear on, and went for a walk down the beach. I can remember feeling incredible, I was, after all, a free man. I am sure the people who saw me out dancing a jig in yellow rain gear during a downpour on the beach was an odd sight indeed, but I cared not. The sheer overwhelming emotional overload of no longer having anyone to answer to was a joy. Those that have never served in the military will never understand what I am talking about. This was again, a moment that stuck.

rain-dance

Over the years, I have had so many moments like these, moments that have been my candle in the dark, or the impetus to plan yet another adventure that would make this life just that much sweeter. Since then, I have been blessed with the company of my wife, who was also my high school sweetheart. Lynda of whom I have multiplied those moments that stick by a factor of thousands.

I hope, no, strike that, I would ask, that each of you who read this? follow Mark Twains suggestion, and join me in those “moments that stick”.

 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor.

Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore.

Dream.

Discover.

– Mark Twain

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Canada O’ Canada (You I will not see) Late post from 2015.

Well, another minor adventure in our travels, one of the kind that makes you want to pull your hair out, and slap people viciously…  To explain….

I have wanted a shotgun for home protection for some time. I have always had the opinion that the sound of a round chambering in a twelve gauge is unmistakable. Everyone knows that sound, “CHICK, CHAT”, and if they keep coming in our rig after hearing that? Well, their next step will be their last.

I finally came across a shotgun that fit all our needs, it has a longer barrel than I like, but it would fit the legal needs to go into Canada with it. Longer barrel, pretty much a hunting shotgun at this point. I went to the US embassy site and read up on the legalities of bringing a shotgun across the border, in a few words? Should not be a problem. I mean I sat there and read all the rules and regulations several times over, and based on my interpretation? No problem.

We chose to go through Canada primarily due to the short distance to get from Grand Rapids Michigan to Bangor Maine AND get to see Niagara Falls! woo HOO. Off we go! We arrive at the border crossing early afternoon, we have plenty of time. I have placed the ammo in a drawer that cannot be accessed and put the shotgun (empty) on the bed, and we pull up to the check point. “Passports?” Drivers license? yep yep. “Have anything to declare”? “Yep, a twelve gauge shotgun”. The guys eyes get BIG and he starts to stutter.. “Uh, you got that where exactly”? I reply, “Empty, out on the bed for easy access”. He still has those big doe eyes, “And it’s empty, right”?

Lake Harmony

I look at him funny and think what part of “empty” did you not understand boy? But I stay nice and say, “yep, it is empty”. “Do you have any other weapons”? “No” I respond, “I know that handguns are illegal in Canada”. He asks a few more questions then again, “Any other weapons”? “No” I reply while thinking to myself “What part of NO did you NOT understand boy”? But I remain pleasant. He is just doing his job. He sends us over to be inspected, which I knew was coming.

The Canadians had us get out and went into the rig after the shotgun. Meanwhile, two more join the party. The guy with the shotgun asks me if I am going hunting, and that I reply “No, just going to Niagara Falls”… Wrong answer. The cop takes the shotgun and goes inside. Then comes back out and says “Well, we don’t have any rules about just transporting your weapon into Canada, but…” We can’t allow you to take it either”. The question he had was whether I could ship on or just have to turn around at the border, and back in he went.

In the meantime, the dogs board the bus, looking for that elusive Colorado grass that they are SURE we were smuggling across from the US after declaring I had a weapon on board. Yep, I’d be that smart indeed. And of course Lynda has all manner of plants sprouting in the rig.. Looks like a regular green-house and to the untrained eye? Probably all looks a lot like pot. That mind altering plant that does all manner of nasty things to your brain. Just ask the Federal Gummint about that. Anyhow, the dogs go through, the people go through, and close to three hours later? Do we get to go to Canada?

Nope

We got sent back to the US… We didn’t do anything illegal but not quite legal either. So much for the US embassy look up that I had spent time on JUST to avoid this problem. We turn in traffic and head back to the USA.

We arrive at the US side, a quarter mile from where we just spent 3 hours having our house torn apart by the polite Canadians. But at least we didn’t have them come out waving my syringes saying “WTF is this?” Instead they looked at the legal drugs and went.. “boooooring”.

As we pulled up to the US side, the guy reacted the same way, the same doe eyes and “You have a shotgun”? Well he spent about 4 minutes putting that into a computer and sending us on to the inspection guard. This guy had us pull up and put our hands on the dash until he could see what we were doing and that we weren’t Haji, of course I SO look like a rag head bent on killing and maiming citizens of the US. He pointed us inside where a very laid back older LT. said “You did what”? and laughed. He responded that sometimes you get through and sometimes not, this must have been a not day.

He got the numbers off the shotgun and checked to make sure it wasn’t stolen. On that note, if the shotgun wasn’t registered to anyone? It is now registered to me due to that neato skeato check. The Lt. held us for a few minutes and eventually sent us on our way. All said and done? about 4 hours of waiting, being searched, and turned around, re-searched, waiting, and going on our way, several HUNDRED miles out of our way just so you know, but no worse for wear. Other than my shortening fuse…

Lesson learned.. no weapons into Canada… and Canada, O’ Canada?

You I will not see.

 

 

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The Whistle

I have a whistle on my keychain. My brother had borrowed my keys and asked about it, I told him it was a long tale, and I would share it at some point. Well, he got away without me explaining that story so, here goes. That whistle has significant meaning to both my wife and I, and most of her family. Let me explain, this is going to take a minute.

Going back to the 80’s when my wife and I first met, in high school. We were the average love struck teenagers and we were each other’s “firsts”. Yes, that “first”. Our first time was in the front seat of my orange Mustang Ghia (no jokes about how it wasn’t really a mustang now). We were parking one evening after visiting with a friend, Larry Clark. We had some Jack Daniels and coca cola, and were talking to Larry about his current life’s events. He and his wife were having problems, pretty significant ones, that unknown to us at the time, led it his suicide in July of 81. He was my best friend at the time, and had said nothing to me about his intent.

Larry

Anyhow, as we were about to leave Larry’s he said, “Nope, you can’t leave drinks behind” and Lynda reached over and downed the entire glass. I was shocked. Lynda never drank much, but wow, she put it down like a drunken Marine. (I became one of those in July of 1981). We went to our usual parking spot and things, well, things got carried away. We had both held back on crossing that “line” for quite some time, but she decided we were ready. Even today, when we see an orange Mustang car of any year we get quite the laugh.. and the smile.

I enlisted in the US Marines without telling anyone. I had been thrown out of high school three times and finally decided that school wasn’t for me. I had a problem with authoritative figures. So what do I do? I get my GED and run off to the recruiters and end up joining the US Marines. Lynda was rightfully hurt and angry. But I explained to her that she not only would have talked me out of it, but I had no where to go. I had no education, and the economy was in the toilet. In  a big way. A few days later I left for San Diego, and essentially said good bye to Lynda for 22 years. I spent many years wondering where she was, or who she might be with, and how she was doing. I knew I had screwed up.

mom lynda me

 

That same July, Lynda’s dad, JD Smith, sat down the the breakfast tableand calmly turned to her and asked her if she was still a virgin. You could have dropped a pin and it would have been as loud as a gunshot. Lynda looked back at him and said, “Well dad, I won’t lie to you about something that important, no I am not”. JD’s next question as he eyed the shotgun behind the door was, “Where is he”? She replied that I had just left four days earlier for the US Marines. JD got up from the table, walked outside to the porch and sat down and cried. He didn’t speak to Lynda for two weeks after that.

Now, fast forward 22 years later and Lynda and I had reconnected. We were going to Grand Junction, Colorado from Anchorage Alaska on my R1150GS BMW motorcycle to visit everyone in Colorado and then finish moving my stuff to San Diego. It seemed like a great visit, I was getting along with everyone, even JD welcomed me into the fold. I was ecstatic, I was about to have a second family, and I had history with them, knew them all. Little did I know what history was about to unfold.

bike

JD decided that we needed to go to town and pick up some items, who knows what, and invited Dan Hudson, Lynda’s uncle along. We walked out to the drive in front of the house, David, Lynda’s brother, was sitting in his wheelchair (He is a quadriplegic from a three wheeler accident) on the front porch, facing the GMC truck we were about to climb into. You see, JD had zero business driving, he was getting up in years and his eyesight was nothing to laugh at, so Dan opened the driver’s front cab door and jumped into the driver’s seat.

JD had a three door truck which had some limited seating in the back portion of it. He opened both doors on the passenger side and leaned in to clear a space for me to sit on. He was pushing pillows and other items they had brought for the trip from Roswell, New Mexico to Grand Junction Colorado. He was eager to be on the road to pick up whatever it was he needed, and I passingly noticed that Dan had found something on the steering wheel. He was staring quite intently at whatever it was and suddenly his head ducked down to the steering wheel. and…….

  TWWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEETTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT   

The whole fucking world exploded into the sound of a whistle. Now, I mean the loudest damn police whistle you have ever heard, it shook the windows on the truck, hell even the windows on the house! I mean HOLY MOTHER OF GOD loud. It went on forever. Then?

Silence.

But JD shot out of the back of that truck as if his hair was on fire from the smoldering lakes of lava in hell, and that all the imps from that same godforsaken place were on his ass, and they were going to drag him straight to Hades for all the evil and wicked things he had ever done. You could almost see those demons in your minds eye, where they were all over his back and shoulders, screaming, cackling and laughing, well intent on putting him up in front of Satan for every thing wrong he had ever done. I could see them clawing and scratching, just trying to get a grip and drag him into the depths of that dark dank hole in the earth….

Well, JD was not going to go quietly, and not without one HELL of a fight. He spun around, away from the truck, and I could see his eyes, heck it was impossible not to see his eyes. He had glasses like coke bottle bottoms that magnified those eyeballs a hundred fold, and all I could see in those huge orbs was the total fear of those imps reaching for his soul. He was so scared that he couldn’t even scream, all he could get out was, “NNNNNYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!” and he saw me. No actually, he didn’t see me, what he saw was something blocking his escape from all those demons that were upon him, and there was nothing in this world going to stand in his way. NOTHING. Not God himself would have been able to slow him down. Those eyes that belonged to JD were huge, bulging, and in complete and utter panic, and I happened to be standing in his way.. that was not going to work for JD in that moment.

I saw his right fist come up out of the south forty and “biff!!” he caught me in the chin. All this as I spun to get out of his way. It was a weak grazing blow from a 72 year old man to the chin, kind of like a light whiffle bat catching me on the edge of the jaw, but it caused me to rotate, giving this rocket propelled devil magnet, a way out, and he looked like a man with his hair was on fire and his ass was catching. JD flew past me in such a manner that the wind sucked me into his wake. And he was gone.

Just like that. I mean gone. and me? I was standing there totally dumbstruck still trying to figure out exactly what in the hell had happened. I looked back towards the truck and there in the front seat with a police whistle dropping out of his mouth, was Dan, and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. He had tears streaming down his cheeks and the look of someone who had just pulled off the gag of the year. My eyes glanced sideways to the house, and David, Lynda’s brother, sitting in his wheelchair had tears streaming down his eyes, and his problem? He was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe either.

JD? at the other end of the yard… Eyes darting madly trying to figure out where all those imps that just about had him were gone. Patting himself to be sure they didn’t take a piece of him to hell for a taste test. I looked back at Dan, and now he was doubled over from laughing so hard, and Dave? Still couldn’t breathe. I kept wondering if these two jerks were going to pass out from laughing so hard. I still hadn’t figured it out.

You see, JD had this police whistle on his steering wheel just in case.. He had fallen years before during a cold November day in New Mexico in his “back forty” and had broken a hip. He couldn’t get up, and couldn’t make enough noise for anyone to hear. He almost went hypothermic before a friend happened to stop by and found him freezing to death outside. After that? He carried a police whistle in his truck just in case that ever happened again.

Dan found it on the steering wheel, and knowing that JD was as jumpy as a tick on methamphetamines, he knew blowing that whistle for all he had would scare the bejeezus out of JD.. and it did. Worked like a charm, JD turned into a rocket propelled devil magnet and I just happened to be in the way. A sock to the jaw, I moved, and so did JD, at just under sonic speed.

After all the laughter died down and after JD’s heart rate got down to 200 beats per minute, we all laughed, shook hands and went inside to share the tale. After everyone else quit laughing, someone, not sure who said something to the effect, “Hey JD, guess what?” “You got to sock the guy that fooled with your daughter”. And in that moment? JD kind of processed that thought and his chest swelled, and he said “You know something?”

“You’re right”

Shortly after that I received a wooden plaque from my future parents in law. When Lynda and I had reconnected, I had asked for their blessing of our marriage. It took them awhile, but guess what?

I got it… Once her mom got over the huge shiner that Lynda had when we showed up at their house, but that?

Is another story

 

 

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Christmas! (and Landmines) and Angels Galore

Well, we have settled (for the time being) in Grand Junction, Colorado. We decided to park it here in Colorado for a plethora of reasons, however the main reason was that Lynda is pursuing her Masters in Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The cancer she was diagnosed with, and sentenced to, has been dealt with, a stage 4 prognosis that western medicine states that there “is no cure” seems to have been cured.

Lynda

Now, we are always reluctant to scream out “CURE” as cancer can be a sneaky bastard. so we go with NED.. (No Evidence of Disease). We have been in Colorado for what, a year and a half? 6 months in Breckenridge two winters ago, and last year here in Grand Junction. It has been pleasant, and we seem to be settling in nicely, but one never knows what the future may or may not hold. The past, however, is a different beast.

Lynda and I finally retrieved our stored “stuff” in San Diego, of which, included our Christmas decorations. We were both really looking forward to putting up the tree with our own stuff, and items with history to them. I began pulling the boxes from our shed and garage, and Lynda began putting them up including the fake tree

“click”

“What was that”?

“Hmmm hmm hmm” listening to country Christmas music we laughed and guffawed, eager to setup our home in the best of the festive new year.

BOOM

crater

Landmine.

I opened a box of ornaments, and staring me in the eyes was an ornament that Connie, my first wife who I lost to pancreatic cancer, was lying. It hit me like a brick. The date on the ornament was  1997 and I found myself propelled back to our home in Alaska, putting up the tree, along with my two cats, Einstein and Champagne, and I was acting a fool watching the two cats bat the balls around or chasing tinsel. Suddenly I realized that those days were long gone. She was gone. As were my cats. And I know that doesn’t sound like much, but they were my first family… and they weren’t coming back. It hurt.. soul deep.. something that is expected to last a lifetime? Doesn’t.

Connie

I  have spent much of my life trying to anticipate what was coming next, simple things like how long my truck would last, or heck, even if the stock market was going to go up or down.. you name it, I have continually failed at guessing what the future holds.. But I sure as hell didn’t foresee Connie dying, or my family vanishing one by one. I mean, yeah, I know that the cats had an “end of life” time on them, but while you are living the life, we simply don’t comprehend that end.

my einnie 2

And when it happens? It is as if your world suddenly stops spinning and there is this “Holy shit” moment that is impossible to describe.

At the same time, Lynda stepped on one, and it was an ornament that her mom’s picture was on. It was an emotional scene. We didn’t break down and lose it, but neither of us were far from it. Then? Top all that emotional energy  and with the fact that based on western science, Lynda shouldn’t be here either.

At that point we decided to go get me some coffee… (any excuse to take a breather). It is at moments like these that we realize how tenuous our lives are here on this planet, and all of us should celebrate each moment we have with ones that we love.. Because sometimes that 100 years you are given at the start of life, suddenly becomes a lot less.

We took the break, did some reminiscing, took stock of where we were and where we are. Dabbed our leaking eyes, steeled our hearts, and went back to it again. This time? Not so bad. the initial blasts caught us off guard, but only for a moment. I think that our experiences, our losses, have taught us to cherish what time we have, however much that may be, and to be mindful of our pasts, to not repeat any mistakes we have made over the years. and we both have made our few.

This year, we celebrate 10 years married, 12 years together, a record for us both. It has been by far, the best years of my life. I shudder to think what would have happened if Lynda had lost her fight as Connie lost hers. I won’t waste anytime contemplating nightmares, but I will, however, share a story about what I consider to be an angel among us.

 Angels – you never know when they might pop up.

 

Lynda was in bad shape. She was officially stage 4. This is terminal in any doctors book. And with breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone, it is a fast moving prognosis.

We had gone to Arizona to get her treated holistically by a naturopath Dr. Joe Brown. First, don’t let anyone tell you that holistic therapy is any less painful than allopathic (standard medicine). This was not the case for Lynda.

Lynda was in pain from the shots she received, and was not doing well at all. We had no idea if we were winning the war on her cancer or losing it. The xrays showed a spot on her shoulder that we refused to have biopsied, but we were sure it was cancer that had metastasized. This is commonplace for breast cancer..

The therapy was very expensive and insurance didn’t cover any of it. This was all out of pocket. We spent somewhere around 50-70K treating Lynda. We had cashed out our savings, our retirement and were going all out. For me it was an easy choice. I can survive without retirement, but I wouldn’t make it long without my wife.

I was working 4 ten hour days in San Diego, then driving to Mesa, AZ when I got off work and stayed with Lynda until I had to go back. I would go to therapy with her, hold her at the townhouse that her brother had bought earlier that year and let us use for free. (It was a rental property for him that he had just purchased). I will never be able to thank David enough for that place for her to stay.

I was exhausted. We were in financial binds that Lynda knew nothing about, we were looking at losing our house, most of our cash, and I was truly surprised that she still had a job.  Emotionally I was trashed. I was tired from the driving back and forth to CA, but I hoped that I showed none of this in front of Lynda. I told her from the start I was her “rock”. I would hold the course when nothing else could. She could stand on me, hold me, and I would always be there for her, no matter what. And if she got too tired to fight the battle? Somehow, I would find a way to fight it for her.. no matter the cost.

I had just left her at the townhouse, and was heading back to San Diego. I found a cornerstore to gas up at. I reached in my wallet and was scrounging for cash or card. We had spent a fortune, and money was starting to get tight. I think that was an understatement, it was tight… Medical expenses were stacking up, the house payment was looming and I was stressed. I stepped out of the car, swiped my card, and started pumping gas. Out of nowhere, this black guy comes around from in front of my truck and starts talking.

The first thought that goes through my head is “Shit, I am about to get mugged”. And as he stops, and begins to speak, I “SEE” this guy. I will never be able to explain this, but here is this guy, my height, but muscular, I mean in really good shape, dreadlocks, dressed neatly. I mean not ghetto, not all thrashed like most bums, but cleanly.. and he is asking for money. any change I can spare. but what has my attention is the aura of this guy. His presence… Suddenly?

The world gets small. and quiet. one minute I can hear the traffic, the planes people talking on their cell phones, doors to cars opening and closing and suddenly?

Nothing. Not a sound. It was as if time was displaced.

It is as if the universe just took in it’s breath, and is waiting to see what I do. In that moment, I was convinced I was looking at an angel. I can’t explain it any other way, and I am not a Christian by any stretch. But somehow this guy was a turning point in my life.. How I treated him would be given back to me… Ten Fold.  I could turn him down and send him on his way, and I was convinced that if I did?

The same would be done to me. I too, in some way, would be turned down. When I say that, I mean that if I decided to brush this guy off like I normally did most people begging for money, the universe would treat me the same way… Brush off any requests that I had made. Including the life of my wife…

I stopped him, told him to hang on a moment, and went into the store. I could see his shoulders sag a bit, and his smile lose some of its shine, and the world seemed to go a little darker. I went to the ATM and pulled out what I could afford to give, and then some. I went back and placed the bills in his hand,  and told him that it was what I could give.

The smile he put forth lit the area up. Suddenly the world was in motion again with the sounds and smells filling the air. He hugged me, thanked me for the cash, and walked away. I turned to look at my truck then back to where he had headed. He was gone. I mean POOF. He should have had another 200 feet to go, but he either moved quickly or something else happened.

At that moment, all the anxiety, fear, anger and sadness was gone. I mean gone. And filling it was the absolute certainty that my wife and I would be together for a long time. Lynda has often questioned how I can be so sure about her health. How can I not question everything? and in that, I can only reflect on that moment, that I had met something, someone that I could never explain, but the interlude left a lasting impression.

Now, since then we have had our challenges, and our scares, but today? she is still by my side, still healthy, and still my first and last love in life. That guy that I met? May very well have been just a bum and I was just tired and exhausted. Me? I like to think that it was a test. A challenge of my basic humanity, of who I am as a human being.

And like that test of my humanity, so are these “land mines”. they are a test of the love we still hold for those that have passed, and our love for those that are with us still. Not all landmines kill, some reaffirm our lives and our humanity

What I would ask of each of you that read this, reflect some, and hold those near you a little closer this year, and the strangers that you meet? Help where you can, you never know who they might truly be.

Merry Christmas to all. Be kind, open your heart, and help where you can.

 

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Grenade… How quaint

You know, I just saw a quick cut of a movie called “The Faults in Our Stars” about a young girl with cancer and her life story. (I have avoided it like the plague as I don’t need any more emotional roller coaster rides from hell than I already have, thank-you-very-much)

She explains to someone that she is a “grenade”, and that, my friends is a pretty good descriptor. What she missed is, that she is a faulty grenade, as the pin is pulled the the timer?

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has a mind of its own

Anyone who has had the word “cancer” and their name used in the same sentence understands exactly what I mean. When someone does that to you, suddenly you become a grenade. A faulty one. You may go off, you may not. The pin may get reset, or you may stand there for years, staring at that fucking pin and that damn grenade and wonder, “Exactly when are you going to explode”?

Then the clock starts. You don’t know how much time you  have. Nor does anyone else. But a lot of them step away from you pretty quick or hide behind life avoiding the blast if they can. At least limit the damage they will experience. Tick tick tick.. fucking life’s clock just keeps on going. In the meantime? You stand there staring at the pin trying to figure out exactly why it got pulled and whether or not you can put it back in.

Then the circus begins.. A true three ringed circus, clowns and all. The doctors that are looking at another grenade, working to slow the timer. Nurses poking and jabbing, they too, doing what they know how to do to slow the tick tick tick of that fucking grenade. Then you begin to wonder, what can I do? what can my spouse do? what can anyone do? and in the background of life you hear that god damned timer still ticking.

You research, study, learn things about health and life that you really wish you hadn’t. and not sure exactly what to believe as half the shit on the internet is someone trying to make a dime, and statistics are made up 73% of the time on the spot. The deeper you dig the more confusing it gets. You hope for something, anything to help silence that ticking sound that is scratching at your brain like a splinter in your hand that you can’t get out. It is maddening. And still you hold that fucking grenade and pin…

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Slowly, if you are that lucky, you realize a couple of things. While you are driving yourself mad trying to stop  that fucking ticking sound, you can forget the single most important thing that you should be doing…

Living

Each tick is a moment wasted if you aren’t doing what you truly love. Each tick is something you cannot get back. Time is a commodity that you cannot trade or earn, you get what you get. So for those of you out there reading this? If you think cancer patients are the only folks holding a grenade in their hand waiting for that horrific moment that it decides to go off?

They aren’t the only ones.. You might want to look in your hands and see that each of us have pulled that pin, and time, for all of us is winding down. Cancer patients may have a shorter run of it, they may not. After you read this, you might want to re-examine where you are and what you are doing. If you aren’t doing what you love to do and who you love to do it with?

You might wanna change that before that fricking grenade in your hands goes off.

crater

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Resilience

I read a post on the New York Times today, about a lady, Lisa Boncheck, who recently died from metastatic breast cancer. In the world of cancer, this is not unusual. In fact, in almost every case, when you are diagnosed with metastatic cancer of any kind, the diagnosis is almost always fatal. In fact here is the quote that I read years ago.

“The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that the five-year survival rate after diagnosis for stage 4 breast cancer patients is 22 percent.”

Other quotes are considerably less, and, as the years progress, the survival rate drops over time. It truly depends on a multitude of variables, and for some, just dumb luck seems to be the case. Each person picks their mode of therapy when first diagnosed with cancer, of any kind, and personally I do not believe there is a right or a wrong, only what works for that person.

Sometimes the patient gets lucky and they find a therapy that kills cancer outright. Others are not so fortunate. Still, others find therapies that function for a while, then, like a bad penny, the cancer re-appears and the patient is given options from everyone. I know we certainly were. And while everyone, including the health care folks, mean well, it is a very, very personal fight. I know, I have watched my mom fight lung cancer, my first wife Connie fight pancreatic cancer, and finally my high school sweetheart and my wife of almost 10 years fight breast cancer as well.

And being the “support guy” I could not, cannot tell you how crazy that battle is. I have watched each of those ladies fight the most personal war of their lives. Each trying to find a way to come to grips that this mortal conflict was both private as hell and as public as it can be. Everyone wants to know how you are doing. Privately each of these ladies could bare their emotions to me. At least to some degree, each holding back what they feared would topple my sanity. On the other hand I was also the sounding board for the fear that held them in a lover’s embrace. Fear of life, fear of death.

On one hand no one wishes to die, to throw off these mortal coils and see what happens next. On the other hand, to live in constant misery of chemotherapy and radiation, each a miserable wreck on the body, in the far reaching hope that somehow this might be the answer to a cure. That by some miracle, walking through this physical hell you might obtain the brass ring in the merry go round of life and get to stay for just a bit longer. And in all honesty?

That is one fuck of a long shot.

Then there are friends that try to help, and like me, find that there is a serious lack of words and honesty. You can’t allow the elephant in the room to grow any larger, but day by day, bit by bit, that elephant fills the room. Until it is much to late to even acknowledge it, and suddenly that elephant is gone, as well as the person that was hiding it.

The lady that wrote her blog and had a lot of followers was brutally honest and descriptive of her experience with breast cancer. I have read only bits and pieces of it, as I find it much too easy to let my mind revisit days of lying with Connie as her cancer marched on with the sounds of gestapo boot heels in the corridors of my mind. It is all too familiar to allow myself to re-visit, so to me, it is something to avoid. Her words and her actions were much the same for my ladies, painful, loving, and honest. An honesty that escaped my Connie.

My mom was beyond forthright, she tackled death with as much energy as she tackled life. When she realized that time was rapidly fading (and long before the movie “Bucket List” came out)

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She determined that she would take care of her “final arrangements” and was calling all the funeral homes in Albuquerque. She finally called one who explained to her that it would cost about nine hundred dollars to cremate her, then there was the container which would vary in cost from three hundred to several thousand. She popped off “Why can’t I just come out in whatever box I am in”? and the response from the curator was “That would hardly be appropriate”.

She laughed and told him, “I am gonna be dead, I could care less what I come out in”. “In fact, hell, you could take me out in a coffee can”. then she summarily hung up the phone and turned to my younger sister and told her “That’s it!” “You can put me in a Folgers Coffee can”.. “Just make it Gourmet Blend” and off she went.. laughing the entire way. And, what remains of her ashes are in a Gourmet Folgers coffee can to this day.

Mom and Halibut

 

My Connie did not have such  a sense of humor. Her defense was denial. While she went through chemotherapy (what little she could tolerate) she simply would not speak of the finality of her disease. The cancer she had was pancreatic, and it was easier to say where the cancer was not, than it was to say where the cancer was. They had missed the diagnosis for probably five years or better. By the time they found the cancer, it was everywhere.

The oncologists were truthful, Dr Stewart informed here there was little they could do. Connie insisted on trying. and after repeating that comment several times to the doctor, I finally pulled the oncologist off to the side and explained to her that while I knew there was little she could do, “by god she would get on board and do something, if nothing else to give Connie peace of mind”. When she saw the anger in my eyes and my clenched fist, she got on board.

One hundred and sixty three days, and my girl was gone. We did all that western medicine could do for both Connie and my mom, but the hard fought battles were lost. In both cases, I closed off those last days in a very tightly sealed corner of my brain, only to revisit them in times of sorrowful loss and woeful memory. Something I do not allow myself to experience any more than I absolutely have to.

Connie

Then in 2006 Lynda’s mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. and shortly after that? Lynda was diagnosed with stage 3a breast cancer. My absolute worst fears had just returned. Understand this, there is little, if anything that I truly fear in this world. The last man I ever feared was my Marine Drill Instructor and during that training, I learned that there was no longer any reason for that trepidation ever again. Until I was faced with a demon I could not wrap my hands around.

Cancer is that devil. No person in this world can hold that emotive response over me. I either lose or I win in combat, but there is no need to dread it. But when there is a disease that threatens the one thing that you hold most dear and you discover that you cannot grapple with the bastard? That is the feeling of someone walking over your grave, and you are aware of it. To sit back and be able to do nothing is the hardest single thing in your life you will ever do as a caregiver.

Yes, I can research, I can study, I can chase down all the potential therapies day and night. I can discuss those until the cows come home, but other than that? There is nothing to kill that enemy, no way I can plunge a knife into it, wrap my hands around its throat and choke the life out of it. I can do nothing but be there. It is a sense of foreboding that I do not wish on anyone.

I also determined that if that is all I can do? Then perform that duty as best I can. Be the support, be that rock that my wife can depend on.. at all times. I think that for those that have played this role? you will understand more than most. It was an honor to escort my mom and my first wife to their next lives. and an absolute nightmare as the person being left behind at the door to that life.

Lynda chose a different modality. She felt that chemo and radiation were a bad idea. We went through a boatload of cash, a few friends, and drove some of our family nuts. She stuck with the concept that something was out of balance, and once discovered and corrected, that her body would heal itself. My skepticism was tempered by the fact that most who had chosen standard western medicine were dead. So to quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity: to do the same thing over and over and expect different results” echoed in my head. So I shut my trap and got on board. I researched we researched. We had trials and tribulations we had success and failure. But at the end of the day?

Lynda is healthy and still by my side.

Colorado Mesas

Coming back around to the start of this post. Some choice news editors had unfriendly or misplaced words for the lady who has just passed. Those posts seem to have been taken down due to the lack of civility or perhaps crass nature, I am unsure. But to those that criticize the writers of this new epidemic, and yes, cancer truly is an epidemic, I say this. Before you lash out with uncivil comments or some incredible argument against those that are fighting and are leaving their thoughts and hearts for posterity.

Try having someone use your name and the word “cancer” in the same sentence. It will change your life forever.

For you critics out there, that feel the need to hassle this gal at the last day of her life?

 

I leave this:

monkey 1

Namaste…

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The Christmas that shouldn’t be

I look at that title of this post. and I re-read it again. It has been four years since Lynda and I were hit with the cold hard fact that her cancer had spread. and without Lynda in the room, I asked Dr. Sinclair the question that would bounce around in my head in more ways than I could ever imagine it would.

How long?

How do you spit that question out? How do you wrap your head around that kind of a question? My tongue was numb, hell, I was numb. I was in probably the deepest state of shock I had ever been in, but also I had known from the first PET scan that Lynda, my second wife was in trouble. Just like I knew Connie , my first wife, was in trouble when the words “pancreatic cancer” rolled out of that surgeons mouth in 2001. I knew that the likelihood of Connie making it for any period of time was nil.

Now, there I sat, with my second wife and now this ugly beast had reared its head in the dark and turned our way. Staring into the eyes of a dragon is a life changing event.

Dr. Sinclair, who I considered to be an excellent oncologist prefaced his statement with “We don’t know”. It could be… and at that point I tuned everything out. As I watched his lips move, I was rocketed back to the days with Connie. Spending days in the hospital bed, cuddled up next to her realizing that time was getting shorter with every passing day. And I was so wrapped up in losing her that I couldn’t figure out how to live… for those last few weeks, it was as if I was sitting around an empty coffin, just a matter of time before I found it filled.

I came back to the conversation finding Dr. Sinclair looking down at the floor, we both realized that this diagnosis was as dire as any that I had ever heard. Lynda and I left the office that day, and went for a walk, trying to talk about what we thought was coming. The options, any ideas? What in the hell do we do now? It was crushing. We talked, we cried, and we sucked it up and determined that we would do everything we could to beat this dragon.

As it progressed I think a light bulb went off in our heads. We are all going to die at some point, the end is never the destination, the journey is. Life is the journey, and it is what you make it. I remember a line from the “Shawshank Redemption”

Get busy living or get busy dying

Damn straight.

Lynda and I have always lived full tilt boogie, ask any of our friends. We don’t take life lightly. We decided to up that a notch, and go for the gusto. The road trip, Belize, getting in touch with old friends, making sure our family knew how we felt about them, then re-confirming all that once again.

Lake Harmony

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erick and Lynda bristlecones

Over two years later, and that dragon that had turned to us in that rough night is now sleeping. It rustles every so often, but does no damage other than remind us that life is uncertain, an ending is forever possible, and at some point, inevitable. But we think we found the secret to life. Live it. Run it as hard as you can, you won’t get a second chance, unless you get lucky like we did. We are in our second chance now. And it is good.

Us in Guatemala

Me and my wife

Me and my wife

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What has cancer done for us? Our sister in law has often asked “How can serve you” (can cer v u). and it has in more ways that I can count. This disease has made me appreciate every day I have with my wife and friends. It has made me a better man. And together, it has made us a much closer couple. Lynda is healthier now than she has ever been. As am I. Mentally we are tough enough to deal with anything that life has to offer, and perhaps a bit more.

Then there is the Christmas time of the year. This was Connie’s favorite time of the year as it is Lynda’s. For me it has always been tough as I get nostalgic remembering the Christmases of my past. The Charlie Brown Christmas tree with Connie. Connie and I decided to cut our own Christmas tree in Alaska, and found what we thought was the area to cut a tree, found one in Chugach National Forest and proceeded to cut it down, waist deep in snow.

We loaded it up in my little Dodge D50 pickup truck and off we went back to our happy little trailer in Anchorage. We  put it in a tree holder and filled the tree stand with water. A couple of days went by and it began to turn brown. I kept wondering what was going on? I looked at the water level and it hadn’t changed. added a bit more water and watched. Slowly over the next couple of weeks, the needles fell out and we were left with a bare tree with all its decorations about it. A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. Then I realized that the stump was bout a quarter inch or so above the water line. We laughed about that for years.

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There fun we had as kids with my mom, never realizing just how little money we had, yet Christmas was such fun. The Pinatas, friends coming over, the smell of turkey in the air. I can remember the squeal of delight from my younger sisters as the threw themselves at the wrapped toys under the tree. I took great delight in that. Knowing that my brother Danny and I had spent a lot of the evening, wrapping those same presents. My mom in her chair at the dining table looking down with a worn but happy smile. those were magic times.

I realize now that the conversation with Dr Sinclair hung in the back of my mind for all this time. Lynda should not be here. Based on patient history of  those whose cancer that has spread, she should be gone, and I should be a widower yet again. and had this scenario played out, I am at a loss as to where I would be. and that thought chills my bones to the core. However, I am humbled by this Christmas that shouldn’t be.

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It is by far one of the greatest gifts that the universe could have ever bestowed on me. And my promise? I won’t squander it, and instead of being “Grinchy” I opt more for the “It’s a wonderful life” attitude. This is indeed the Christmas that shouldn’t be.  And may there be many more, not only for us, but for all of you who read this post as well.

Merry Christmas to all  and a quote from “It’s a wonderful life”

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he”?

Here is to the lack of holes in your world.

Merry Christmas to all

Note*** And especially to Regina, who just lost her husband, I truly know the loss, and if ever we can be of help, reach out, we are here.

 

Erick and Lynda Carpenter

 

 

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This time of the year

I find myself more reflective than normal. While I always try to remember where I am, and where I am going, I find myself melancholy this time of the year. Memories come and go, with the ebb and the flow of tide of the day. I have quick flashes of truly delightful Christmases with my siblings back in the day.

I gleefully remember waiting for my younger sisters going to sleep so my brother and I could put their presents under the tree that we had all worked so hard on. Stringing popcorn and cranberries, along with my brother and I trying to figure out which bulb was burnt out so we could get the lights going again and hung up on the tree.

I remember laughing quietly as we went through the wee hours of the night trying to make it all look good. I know my mom who was at work at the bars being either a waitress or a bar tender while teaching school during the day would come home to a worn smile, knowing that she didn’t have to do it all herself. I realized I probably received more happiness from that alone than almost anything else.

My younger sisters would bound out of bed early on, only to squeal in delight as they opened the hard earned presents that my mom had bought with her tip money or had put on layaway the equivalent of a credit card back in the day. On one hand the delight my sisters and I got out of the gifts almost outweighed the underlying guilt I felt that my mom had worked her butt off so hard only to spend it on us kids.

However, my mom, long black hair and her stunning indian features would sit in the dining room of our trailer and look down on us with such a bright smile. It was a moment that I know she treasured. We bought her gifts as well, nothing quite so grand, but we all did what we could do to either make them or buy them to present to her as kids do.

Some of the gifts, long since faded into history, were hand made. Nothing wild, but often it was clothes or some type of plaything that we enjoyed for awhile. During those times I learned that all things, as fun and as enjoyable as they are, fade over the years. The clothes become tattered and eventually discarded. But the emotion, the memories, have stood the test of time.

I often have coffee at home, and sitting at the kitchen table, the memories flood back of my mom sitting there with  her smokes, laughing, chatting about the events at the bar or at school, and at the time, they were amusing. I loved sitting at that table at christmas time, the white octagonal table that we spent so many years rushing in and out of the home, but somehow seemed to find the time to sit, have coffee, and enjoy each others stories.

Those memories remind me that life can be fleeting, but can also be relived over and over as the years go by. and the enjoyment often grows over time. I sit here in our home in Colorado, and I have a small kitchen table where I can pour a cup of coffee and sit back to remember those days. What a true delight it is.

To those that are just beginning families, or have families that are growing, do you and your family a favor, put the electronics away when you come home, turn off the TV, start a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, and have a conversation if even for only a little while. In the years to follow, those will follow you and your children for a lifetime, and in that, provide you memories that last for generations.

Mom? I feel your presence to this day, here in our home.

Merry Christmas.

 

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Angels among us

Mark Neidig posted on facebook today, Mark is a friend that was the director of what I consider to be a cure for cancer. (I hope that the company he worked for proves me right). He brought up a point about how he gave some money to a homeless man and said quote “There was just something in his eyes…perhaps, I entertained an angel unawares!”

And it reminded me of a turning point in my life. OUR lives. Have you ever had a moment in life where you are about to do something and it is if the world pauses for a moment, catching its breath right before you make that choice or do that thing? Yes, that thing that at the time was a pretty small endeavor, a little thing that later, cascaded into a life changing event? The one where you look back and you can see that event taking place as clear as a sunny day?

I have had a few of those in life. One was when I was a teenager, around 14 or so, give or take a year. But we were in a Sears department store, and my mom was having us shop for clothes. The girls were running around picking out what they liked, as was I. I had selected a few pants and shirts, and as I came around the corner, I could hear my mother say “I don’t know how I will pay for this, but oh well, will find a way”.

That hit me like a brick. I put back all my clothes except for one pair of pants and one shirt. My mom looked at me and asked me where the rest of my clothes were. I told her I would pay for my own “stuff” from now on. I meant it. From that day forward, I paid for everything that I ever owned. I learned lessons from that event, some good, some bad, but it was a life changing event that I can see as clearly as the lack of hair on my head.

Later, there was another event. One with “different” players. Lynda had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and on a CT scan she had a spot on her shoulder. We freaked. Scared was not a good descriptor, frightened, petrified, those didn’t come close to the feelings of those days. I had lost my Connie to this monster in 2001, and now? Lynda was in the same playing field. One with land mines every other inch, and one mis-step and she would be gone. My intent was to be her rock, to be her Gibraltar, never swerve never stray from the single fact that she would win this battle with cancer. I think, I hoped that I did a good job of that.

We went to Arizona to see a doctor who had a pretty good track record of treating stage IV cancers. Including his own. He was treating Lynda now, and I would drive back and forth from California to Arizona, stay for 3 days and drive back to California to work. We were in the process of realizing that we were spending all of our retirement, and I had come to realize that we were going to lose the house. All of this therapy was out of pocket with no guarantee that anything would work. I realized that I didn’t care, that I would spend my last penny if it meant one more day with Lynda… It was worth every last penny and any that I could find.

Stress was at an all time high, my mind was focused on keeping Lynda alive, no, not alive, healthy, to get her back to “no cancer” that was all I wanted. When Connie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I did something I had not done much at anytime in my life. I prayed.. I actually bent a knee and dropped my head. I offered a deal, you cure Connie, and I will take her place. Deal? The answer was “no”.

With Lynda? Even after I had sworn I would never ever again bend my knee, I did so, without hesitation. I made the same deal. You cure Lynda, and I will swap places. Nothing. Not even a chuckle or a curse. So I decided enough of that, waste of time. I traveled to Arizona, spent the 3 days with Lynda and was on my way back to California. I was tired, beat, bone fucking weary, and now that I was out of sight of Lynda I could show it. I pulled into a gas station, some 7-11 or some such spot, and jumped out of my truck to fill it up and head back. A voice came from the front of my truck and I looked up.

A black man with dreadlocks, arms the size of my legs, about my height, but twice as wide and it was all muscle was talking to me. I stepped back and at first I thought, “Shit, I am about to get mugged” and balled up my right fist with my keys protruding through my fingers.. Figured we could go a couple of rounds before whatever happened happened, then? I saw him. I mean I really saw the man. He was righteous. There was an aura about him that was undefinable, it was as if he was physically glowing… and at that point? I realized that I was looking at an angel. I mean the energy pouring out of this guy was nothing short of magic. Call it holy. I listened to his words, which were eloquent, but what I truly heard was something altogether different.

I heard my universe take in a breath, and pause. I knew here, right then and there, was a moment that would change my world forever, and how I treated this man, what I did to him, would be done to me a hundred fold. He was asking for money, but in a way that I had never heard before. I usually just brushed people like this off, go find your booze money someplace else or your drug money elsewhere. Seen it a million times. But this guy? This was different. I could feel the universe in a pause mode.

I told him to wait a second, that I would be right back. I could hear him sigh, and I walked inside the convenience store. We didn’t have a lot of cash on hand, most of it we had used for therapy, but I took what I could and went back out. I handed him about 40 bucks, more than I could afford, but there was something going on here that was different. When I came back and handed him the money, the universe let out its breath and it went through me like a spring breeze of peace and dare I say it, love. The aura this guy projected grew.. I mean really glowed. He took the money, and gave me a dazzling smile and hugged me. And somewhere in that hug, I knew everything would be ok.

For the first time in weeks, I had my first night of complete rest. The spot on Lynda’s shoulder never changed. It never got worse, it never got better. We had some very serious ups and downs since then, but know what? Lynda is still by my side, and I am convinced she will be long into our golden years. That man? Maybe just a bum, but in my mind? Proof that there are angels that walk among us, and how we treat them, who we are to them?

Maybe, just maybe, it is a turning point in how the universe decides to treat us.

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Cancer, Downhill Skiing, Family, Hiking, Hot Tubbing!, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, RV Travel, Scuba, Ski, Spiritual, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

Road trip from Hades

Trip from Hades…

 

Lynda and I left St Cloud, Florida, a nice quiet little lake in Florida that had herons, cattle egrets, and Sand Hill Cranes galore.. Even had a couple of gators and their buddies the turtles that would hang out on the beach during the day and just sun. Very relaxing, but also eye opening. Lynda realized that she no longer had the attraction to Florida that it once held for her. For me, this was a huge deal as we almost bought property there sight unseen.

We finally agreed that we liked the idea of Colorado as home, we had discussed that as teenagers. Then, Lynda’s uncle, Dan, had met his hot new 77-year-old honey and they had bought a home together and he was selling his at a pretty good price. Lynda woke up one morning at 3 am and had an idea. (She at least waited until I woke up later on) and asked “Why don’t we buy Dan’s house”? and the decision was made. We called her uncle and made our proposal.

I flew back to San Diego to see my doc, and to pick up Lynda’s car to drive to Grand Junction.. woo HOO Chrysler Crossfires do haul buns and handle nicely.. I spent an extra day in Vegas to hang with our friends, Vicki and Brad. What a great time. I left Lynda’s car in Grand Junction, landed a job at the same time (being late to the interview due to my own scheduling snafu) then flew back to Orlando where Lynda picked me up and the next day? The Hades launch was made.

I had noticed a slight vibration in the rig that seemed to be increasing, just a bit each day. And that there was a lurch of sorts when we took off from a stop.. I just chalked it up to the truck weighing a ton (3 tons to be precise). And off we went. We traveled through Georgia and into Arkansas with little issue along the way, other than changing the route a couple of times, but all in all not a big deal. We stopped by her nephew’s place where they had just had a little kiddo and we wanted to see everyone and that was very pleasant.

We loaded up into “Koko” and off we went. The vibration getting more noticeable and I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent. We pulled out of a KOA in the middle of the night, not knowing the way out of the park, with my truck in tow. I rounded this rather sharp turn, and instead of saying “honey, I can’t see shit, spot me outside”, I just said screw it, “I got this” and CRUNCH. Stopped the rig Lynda hopped out the back and sure as shit, I had swiped one of the poles that were already tilted from other hits on the side of the curve. I had mashed the running board on my truck. 15,000 miles or so with some close calls and Walla, I had finally run out of luck.

I jumped out, tired and frustrated and had to work with a hammer to get the truck disconnected from the rv. Got it parted, and backed the truck up. Still runnable, just cosmetic damage. So decided I would keep it, have a new paint job and some bodywork and keep it for a while longer. I also noticed I was getting warmer as the evening progressed. Later as we were coming into Oklahoma, I came off an off ramp that had a serious left turn, and the guy in the outer lane to me, just didn’t budge an inch, so I had a choice, take out the truck or take the curb with the back wheel. I took the curb

Ever been in an RV when you run over a curb on the rear wheel? It rocks like nothing you have ever sat in.. I thought shit was going to fly out of every cabinet and cupboard… Lynda went “HOLY SHIT” and I said a lot worse… but just a curb.. We arrived at the RV site in Oklahoma City and I am seeing stars… funny stars, when Lynda leans over and says, “Honey, I think you are running a temperature. I kind of ignored it wondering what has spilled out over the curb dance we had done.

Lo and behold the shower filter I had haphazardly installed had snapped off. It had been installed on the water pressure valve that keeps the water pressure down in the shower. Small plastic spindle that screws into the shower handles that when you turn them allows water to flow through the showerhead. I looked at it and thought, “ok, I knew I half ass installed that, so penalty box time”. So I went out and got my new trusty toolbox muttering to myself the entire time, and Lynda says “Honey, why don’t you take a nap”? Again, ignored her, then finally said, “Hey, I gotta fix this if we are gonna shower”.

In the meantime, the inverter gave us an error message and was beeping out loud. At first I thought the system was just goofed up from one to many bounces so I reset all the breakers and checked what I knew to check and to no avail, the beeping continued. Lynda finally grabbed the inverter manual and I read up on that. Turns out that the reason it was beeping was that the batteries were at a minimum charge and were not accepting anymore. I.e.? Your batteries are toast. Which means if we get new ones it is a 700-dollar investment and we are about to park the rig for 2 years. Something else we both knew was coming, we were just hoping to get to Grand Junction. So, solution? Turn off the inverter and use the generator.

I turned back to the shower in a temperature-laden haze and looked at the piece of plastic still screwed into the shower faucet. The only way I could figure to get it out was to get a knife, tap it down until it got a bite, then turn it and screw the plastic piece out. If that didn’t work, I can just replace the entire faucet and call it good, but the plastic piece is only 5 bucks the handles and plumbing are more like 50 bucks or better.

I pulled out my trusty scuba knife and opened it up.. thought I heard the “snick” of the blade locking into place and I put the knifepoint down into the hole where the plastic piece was screwed in and brought my hand down on it forcefully. Not real hard, but enough to get a substantial bite into the plastic.

 

Snick

 

The blade folded and closed and my finger was in it. Blood shot across the shower and all I can think is “Shit, this might be bad, that is a REALLY sharp knife”.. and I quickly reopened the knife, which sent more blood shooting across the shower. F&*K F&*K F&*K and I am trying to find a towel, anything, and find a washcloth. In the meantime, Lynda has a business call in two minutes and she sees the little spurt of blood in the shower. Now she is a little frustrated with me as I ignored her in the first place.. remember the “nap” suggestion? So she is scrambling trying to patch my stupid finger up and take a call and I am standing there somewhere between a really good fever and being pissed that I just cut myself AND haven’t fixed a damn thing in days.

Magically Lynda gets a couple of band aids on my finger and I just toss the knife into my tool bag, look at her and say “Know what? Gonna go take that nap”. And off I go. She looks at me like “DUH” and goes and takes her call. Over the next three days I let the temperature go where it will and finally on the third day I take some ibuprofen to dampen down a splitting headache. Next day? Starting to feel better. We decide we can fix all this crap when we get into Grand Junction. So other than a mild hack and a temp that comes and goes, I don’t feel all that bad.. Normally I would be flat on my back with bronchitis, but Lynda has learned a few things in alternative medicine, and while I may be skeptical, this is the second time I have stayed on my feet and haven’t ended up with bronchitis or worse. She is on to something

We finally end up in Albuquerque, and visit my sister. We go out to our favorite Mexican restaurant called Sadie’s, and I order a Chile Relleno. GREAT food and safe for me cause I am not allergic to them! Woot woot says I… They bring the plates and we dig in, laughing about the trip from hades and then I notice a taste.. something I haven’t had for…. Years. Potatoes… mmmmmmm and I am allergic as hell to them. They cause asthma in my lungs. Son of a …. So I take Benadryl that night and wake up, no problems.. I am impressed! Woot woot says I, dodged that bullet. We bid my little sister adieu and head off to Grand Junction.

Now that vibration? Is getting really bad. We pull over in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico so I can look at nothing I truly understand. The first time I look at the U joints? They look ok, not loose, not goofy, so nothing makes sense. We go down the road another 10 miles and I say ok, I have to look again. This time? Oh shit, the U-joint is breaking up. One of the clasps that keeps the yoke in place are broken. I don’t think we will make it much further.

We agree to take the Toyota off the back and have me drive it and follow Lynda to Farmington, New Mexico, 77 miles away. The entire way we are both saying “Just a little further, just a little further”. We pull into Farmington and I Google truck repair. We find Bruckner’s Sales and Service for large trucks. We pull in and they say “Yep, we can work on your rig, no problem”. Later the shop manager comes up to us and says, yeah, you’re right, your U-joint is out, and so is the Yoke, and we are checking the driveline. Turns out the driveline is fine, but the U-joints and the Yoke need replacement. They tell us that they can order them and have them in the next day and have us on the road by 1 or 2. GREAT shop. We get a motel room and just relax.

The next day we get to the shop and they are doing a great job, quick and the labor was pretty cheap. The parts? Not so much. All things said and done the job was about 1300 dollars for the job. About what I figured it would be. And the reason it failed? No grease. I thought a shop in Washington had greased it for some reason when they changed the oil. Live and learn. We pulled into Grand Junction and my list of repair work is finally stabilized.. and my finger, thanks to the fingernail being in the way is still attached.

The road trip for a lifetime is winding down for now, and the house trip for a lifetime (or for at least two years) is winding up. Stay tuned, Lynda’s uncle has agreed to teach me how to remodel a house… Anyone know where I can find my scuba knife to pound a nail into a shingle?

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Cancer, Downhill Skiing, Family, Hiking, Hot Tubbing!, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, RV Travel, Scuba, Ski, Spiritual, Thanksgiving | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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