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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Visiting Jack


I wrote this story November 4, 1995; kind of rough but I still enjoy the sentiments. I hope you enjoy it. DCS

It had been almost one year to the day since I had last seen Jack. This time I had taken my bride of two months to Tulsa to visit with him, and his wife, in their large home in Tulsa. The weather was exciting, we flew through enormous clouds peppering a deep Midwest autumn blue sky. As soon as we climbed into the rental car I turned on the radio and learned the area was under Tornado Watch. Leslie felt this was an exciting alert, never having had to spend the night sleeping on the couch with her brothers and sisters as mom listened to the radio to see if she needed to bundle us into the bathtub for safety.
On our short drive to Jack's home I felt the nostalgia build as I drove across the town of my birth. Leslie was unusually silent, perhaps sensing my reflection, perhaps merely absorbing the sights along our route. The trees were wearing their autumn colors, branches swirling as the winds became stronger. As we entered Jack's neighborhood, I was pulled between speeding up so that I could see him sooner or slowing down so Leslie and I could enjoy the large homes with their immense yards, so rare in our part of the country, yet so prevalent in Tulsa. I opted for the latter, to please myself and to give my wife a sense of what my birth town was about.
We pulled into the circular drive and knocked on the large door. So many times I had entered this house, with its 1950s design and layout. The by now faded coral, avocado, and gold colors telling of a past time when the home was new and stylish. Jack opened the door, stooped with his age, clutching his keys in his bathrobe pocket, shuffling in his tattered slippers. He smiled that large smile; as I got older and surpassed Jack in size he seemed to physically shrink but his smile seemed to get bigger.
As I hugged him and introduced him to my wife I appraised his deteriorating physical condition. He was thinner, his once thick white hair had thinned considerably as well. He moved very slowly and apparently with caution, stooped and teetering. His face was etched even further marking the map of his life. Physically the man had never been, in my mind, in the best of condition and now he was frail.
What really interested me however, was the state of the man's mind. Jack had always been able to regale us with endless stories of his youth, as well as ours. Life had not always been kind to Jack, but all my life he had always been able to entertain me with stories that inevitably ended with us both laughing. Jack saw humor in many things, and told about them often. This was what I was hoping he would be able to do with Leslie, tell her many of the stories I grew up with.
Jack did not disappoint, he told the stories. A sign of his age entered as he repeated a few, as he misplaced me and my uncle in a few, but for two hours he sat, smoked and spoke. About his family and growing up in Tulsa and Oklahoma at the beginning of the century, about his son and grandchildren, everything I had hoped he would tell her. Leslie listened, questioned and laughed. I was happy, my wife had been able to sit and visit with Jack.
Over the next few days we had several visits with Jack. Fighting the thunderstorms as we made our way the few treacherous miles from where we were staying to his home. Each visit filled with Jack telling stories and Leslie and I listening as we watched the rain pelt the windows and lightening crease the sky. I left Tulsa feeling content that my grandfather had met my wife and that, although aging rapidly, he was still capable of story telling and giving her the history of her husband's family. I had been able to share part of my life, my birthplace, with Leslie and my own stories of living there as a small boy. The feeling stayed with me for a long time, I had visited with Jack.

I was tremendously excited, having trouble concentrating and completing routine tasks. Finally my brother called, waking me in the middle of the night, he told me Jack was with him. I cried and could not go back to sleep. Later that day, as morning broke I kept thinking how much I wanted to see Jack and my brother. Unfortunately my schedule dictated my presence at home to attend to business, causing my mind to wander as to Jack's appearance and well being. I awoke early the next day and quickly showered and dressed. Leaving Leslie I began my drive to Ventura. Similar to my visit to Tulsa last year, it was raining and the traffic was slow. Jack was pulling me through the traffic, across the miles and over the hills. The usual drive was doubled by traffic and after several hours I arrived.
As I walked in the room my brother beamed at me and we did something we never do, we hugged. Not the pat on the back men at times concede to, a real hug. Mike, stepped back and said, "Jack, Dennis is here."
I looked down at him with his body wrapped in hospital garb, eyes shut as he slept, head barely covered with thin hair, and tears welled up in my eyes. This was Jack! How long I had waited for this moment, and here he was. I sat and visited with him for a few hours, most of which he slept through as my brother and I talked and caught up. He appeared healthy for his age, and Mike was excited about his condition saying he would be leaving the hospital later that day. As I left to drive home to tell Leslie about my visit I was elated, the emotion would carry me through the remainder of that day and several to follow. I had visited with Jack.

My dad had called in the spring and told me that Jack had died. It was not a surprise, but a bit of news I did not want to hear. It had touched us before, death. But that was so long ago, another life. I learned about it too abruptly and with too much repetition. High school ended with the death of my mother, freshman year of college with the death of her mother and fall of sophomore year was greeted by the news that mom's brother had died. These were not expected, at least not by a teen ager trying to figure out too many things about life to spend any time thinking about death. Jack's death was not a surprise, but still a shock, and we were able to better understand the tragedy. I was happy that Leslie had visited with him and relieved that his pain and suffering had ended. Our family had become a little less uncomfortable with death, we had experienced this before.

My brother's call that had awoken me to inform me of Jack's arrival had occurred almost one year since I had last seen my grandfather, and about seven months since his death. Jack was the first of the next generation, quite a burden for a little eight pound boy. In a few years he will start hearing the stories of his namesake and from his grandfather, father and uncle. Perhaps one day he will bring his wife to visit my father so he can introduce her and have him tell the stories he had heard growing up.
My excitement and emotion from my brother's call was due to the lack of experience my family has in birth. To this point I was more experienced at losing members of the family instead of gaining them. My older brother, Mike, taught me how to add instead of subtract. What a relief to be crying tears of joy rather than sorrow.
I visited Jack, my grandfather, to introduce my wife and give her a sense of my background. I visited Jack, my nephew, to introduce myself. Life's visits and introductions, from the time of our birth until our death, have purpose.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Game Called

The other evening in our class at church Reverend Peggy distributed a poem about the afterlife, death, all the stuff we all love to dwell on. It made me think of a poem I have always liked very much by Grantland Rice America's first prominent sportswriter (they used to be prominent, today he would be a "celebrity" on various television shows). I love the poem for several reasons. First, it has as its metaphor baseball, a game I love. Growing up I would often sit in the kitchen talking to my mom while she made dinner, it was not unusual for her to have a game on the radio or television as she was a fan of the game. So the tie with my mom and baseball and this poem creates an affinity for me. Second, the imagery is terrific and whenever I see the final scene from "Field of Dreams" when they walk into the cornfield I think of this poem. As I told Reverend Peggy when I sent this to her when the time comes for my memorial/funeral service I would like this to be read--and hope that when the last line is read those listening think, "he played it well, with honesty, character and integrity."

There are two versions of this poem, one from the mid-1920s that Rice published and this one from Babe Ruth's eulogy that was published in 1956 in The Fireside Book of Baseball:

Game Called by Grantland Rice

Game Called. Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.
The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light,
home beyond the silent ill.

Game Called. Where in the golden light
the bugle rolled the reveille.
The shadows creep where night falls deep,
and taps has called the end of play.
The game is done, the score is in,
the final cheer and jeer have passed.
But in the night, beyond the fight,
the player finds his rest at last.

Game Called. Upon the field of life
the darkness gathers far and wide,
the dream is done, the score is spun
that stands forever in the guide.
Nor victory, nor yet defeat
is chalked against the players name.
But down the roll, the final scroll,
shows only how he played the game.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Here We Go

I am not sure what I will be doing with this site. Since I enjoy writing and contribute posts to my professional mortgage site as well as to the Long Beach Post I thought it would be good to have another avenue to express some of my more random and not pertinent thoughts. So last night while sitting in a class for our church (Science of Mind/Religious Scienctist) I scribbled, "start blog for creative writing outlet." My wife has done the same and I like the idea of an on-line journal that random people may drop into and take a peek--sort of like my older brother and I did to our older sister's diary when we would pick the lock and ready how she kissed Dave Mackey the kid next door--E E W W.

So we will see how it goes. My objective is to post some stories I wrote a decade or more ago to see if they seem as good now as I thought they did when I wrote them (before I fell madly in love and got married and my perspective on life changed dramatically). As well just some random thoughts and observations. Put up some different poll questions to see if any surfers drop in on this wave. And just get it out of me.

If you are reading this and it is waaaayyyyyy into the archives that is a great sign.

March Madness starts tomorrow and I run our pool that is 25 years old this year so I have to go make my picks (Kansas over UCLA in the final).

Thanks for dropping in.