“I sing well when I am in the toilet, here I feel more comfortable”
Don’t try this here, it’s a public one.
–Anon. (Google Search)
Did you ever wonder where toilet bowls go to die? I have. In truth, I’ve lost many a good night’s sleep pondering such questions. If you drive the roads of the North Country (as well as other places), one can often see a toilet sitting beside a driveway or by the roads edge. Most likely there will be a For Sale sign stuck in the bowl. Recycling, I often said to myself. Makes sense. But, given the societal importance of toilets, there must be a better way. After all, one spends a fair amount of time dealing with toilets. Take your’s truly for instance. I take a diuretic in the morning which forces me to spend quality time standing at the bowl and doing my peeing thing. This can last for about four or five hours each day. I’m somewhat surprised that I haven’t given names to the various toilets in my life. Let me think: My Porcelain Beauty. The Super Bowl. Bowling Green. The Bowling Alley. Harry Potter. Mr. Toilet Man. Shelter From the Storm. Bowlin’ in the Wind. The Dust Bowl. Bowlish Sausage (No, I’m not going there!). Tidy Bowl. Bowling for Dollars. The Big White Phone. The Old Fishin’ Bowl. My Bowl or Yours.
But, I digress.
A gentleman named Hank Robar was turned down for a donut shop permit by the authorities of Potsdam. He was not happy. So, in a retaliation of some kind, he began putting used toilet bowls in several vacant lots he owned. The last account I read, in 2015, mentioned that he was not a very popular person with some community members. Others think he’s onto a good idea and enjoy rubbernecking the various collections.
As I drove by one of the sites, I noticed (I couldn’t help it) that the bowls themselves were decorated with flowers. Wow. It gives a new meaning to the term, Potted Plants. The flowers, I suspect, are plastic. But you don’t need John Lennon’s mind to imagine what it would be like if the flowers were fresh. The splendid sublime and subtle fragrance of toilet blossoms filling the air. A plumber, bent over with age, would stroll by and suddenly imagine that the Grim Reaper has found them. And that they were heaven-bound.
I’m just thankful that I had taken my diuretic hours earlier. It would have been so tempting…
Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
As I strolled through the Parisian gardens of Luxembourg I paused and watched the people absorbing the sun’s warmth which was peeking, like a cat burglar, through the sweet gate in the sky made possible by the slowly drifting clouds that often looked dark and menacing at times and light, dazzling and adamantine at others. I opened a package of Madelines I was never without and dipped one in a small cup of tea I had purchased from a portly gentleman with a bushy mustache and a pocket that sagged with the spare francs he had earned that day. The scent of the tea on the little cookie entered into my every senses. I began to think of my youth, the girls I loved who had by now become stately women. I touched my beard, newly trimmed, and could feel the grayness of my hair. I was old. What happened to all those Lost Years, the years of my older youth, my early middle age and now my late middle age? I had yet to taste of the fruits of old age with its wrinkles, gray hair and painful legs. I had yet failed in my attempts to rediscover the Lost Time of my life. My memories were fading and I must learn ways to regain the imagery and sensations of the questionable choices I had made in the heat of my youth when my blood ran hot in my veins and laughter came easy. But along with the cheers and smiles I am beginning to recall how hard and fast my heart breaks. I have loved but my love was too dear for the women I most desired.
I brought the Madeline to my nose again. I drew in an olfactory sensation that brought back my most elusive memories. I closed my eyes and somewhere, behind my eyes and between my ears were the smells of burning leaves along Front Street of Owego in the state of New York, the town where my childhood was played out like a Shakespearian play, sometimes a tragedy sometimes a comedy. The leaves gave way to the sweet fragrance of a newly mown lawn along Main Street. The old river town has changed over the years, I am told, into a boutique village of cafes and antique shops selling the latest of the old town’s ephemera. One can sit in the sun and watch the slowly drifting Susquehanna River as it winds its way to the Chesapeake Bay. Up on Cemetery Hill, the moss grows over the lettering of the graves of young men and women I played with in sandy baseball fields and snowy hills that seem to exist only to provide gravity to an eight-year-old boy on a sled. How many languid afternoons has seen me at The Fair Grounds, eating sloppy cheesesteak sandwiches and watching the horses race the oval track. On the back row of seats in the grandstand is where I may have tasted my first Madeline.
I shall set a goal for myself. Some people are driven by their need for achieving certain goals. Driven to do such picaresque actions these goals are sometimes achievable and sometimes not. Some people have the ability to set recording devices in order to never miss an episode of Keeping Up With TheKardashians or the Hoarders. Some set themselves on arduous journeys to summit Everest or Denali or the Matterhorn. Others will bike their way across Iowa. Many jump out of airplanes (on purpose) to feel the rush of the wind as they free fall a thousand feet. I set my goal several years ago (I’m not saying when) to read what is arguably the longest novel ever written (not counting the Game of Thrones books). I was going to read Proust’s magnum opus: A La Recherche du Temps Perdu or otherwise referred to in English as In Search of Lost Time. It will be a daunting task. The book (depending on the edition) runs from 3,000 to 4,000 pages. My eyes must look at and understand 1,267,069 words. The books are six in number. I must search for and find the longest sentence ever written. That sentence clocks in at 847 words.
I am proud and somewhat amazed that I have only fifty pages left to complete this gargantuan task. At times the book can be like sucking fudge through a straw. The exquisite power of the language, the depth of the writing, the scope of the descriptions, the insights into love, death, grief, loneliness, lust, desire and dreams of men and women. I truly believe that if one calls him or herself a lover of books, then reading Proust is a must do action.
I have read many books in my life (so far) but none of them can stand up under the blazing light of Proust. If you like challenges…read these books. You’ll never see another book, your life and your dreams and memories the same way again…ever.
Two mornings ago I woke up with an overwhelming feeling that I was immersed up to my neck in a bad case of The Butterfly Effect. I definitely felt I had a sensitive dependence on the fact that even a small change in one’s state in a deterministic nonlinear system could result in a large difference in a later state. Putting it differently, I had work to do. Of course I had several hours of restless legs and overall ill ease that I was lucky to get a few hours in the arms of Hypnos. But, when I made my last stop at the urinal and another sip of tonic water, I felt like I was the bees knees.
During the night, while waiting for sleep to kiss my fair forehead, I made a TO DO list. I always wanted such a list. All my friends have them. I wanted one, so I wrote one out around 3:17 am. What follows is an illustrated picture show on what owning a house, preparing the said house for sale and cleaning in areas where Swiffers are strangers.
The first thing I decided to attack were the numerous spider/cob webs that show up on the exterior walls. The spiders here seen to have an innate sense of ownership and living. You own the house. The spiders thinks the house belongs to them. A conflict arises out of such a treaty. I looked at the Adirondack chairs. There are so many slots and cracks that needed brooming out with my trusty whisk-broom.
[Author’s Aside: Like duct tape, a good whisk-broom is an absolutely necessity for any D.I.Y. kind of guy like myself.]
When I stood closer to the chair, I noticed cobwebs and pollen. I did the same to the wall below our picture window. I stared at the cobwebs and counted an endless number of places they would go. There, on our deck, I stood and looked. I felt as though I had an Albatross tied around my neck. The burden and endless toil of homeownership…I felt I was barking up the wrong tree. My wife glanced at me and said I looked like a deer in the headlights.
My next deck project was relatively easy. My job, as I saw it, was to check the status of the BBQ. I approached with caution. There was no way to know what manner of small furry animals may have chosen to make our BBQ a summer home.
I moved inside the screened-in-porch, feeling like there was an elephant in the room and I was the elephant. This was the hardest task of all. My plan was to remove two of the plexiglass panels to provide the usually chilly breezes to ventilate the room.
Me: “Mariam I need a large flat-head screwdriver.”
Me: “Mariam I need the orange extension cord put in over there.”
Me: “Mariam, I need a hand!”
I felt exhausted when it was all over.
Feeling like a mutton dresses like a lamb, I made my final stop in the kitchen.
So, my tasks for the morning. My back is sore so I think I’ll have a bit of a lie-down. I am deep into another task of completing In Search Of Lost Time by Proust. I began reading the book before Reagan was POTUS. I’m making progress, though. I don’t feel like I’m flogging a dead horse.
[Notes: All photos are mine with the exception of the lead-in picture.]
In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’
The photo above is the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. My friend, Greg Stella and I used this beautiful region as our playground. Every peak, every valley had our boot prints in the mud and the rocky summits felt the back of our heads as we daydreamed away the hours after an ascent. After the ascent. Such a misnomer. It implied a “last ascent.” There was never really a last ascent. There would be another, and then another…and another. In the area shown in the photo were the majority of the oft-mentioned ADK 46. Other peaks were found outside the frame. There were 46 peaks (according to the original survey) that were 4,000′ or higher. If one climbed all of them, he or she would be eligible to join the “46 er’s” and get a patch to proudly wear on your parka or rucksack. Greg and I climbed about twenty or twenty-five of these peaks. We decided, sometime in the 1980’s that ‘bagging’ the summits wasn’t what we were searching. It became less about the numbers and more about re-climbing our favorites…some many times over.
The room in the funeral home in Owego, NY, set aside for the service was filling up fast. I was going to give the eulogy, but I had to wait until a full military service was complete. Then the priest said the words that were so often spoken at funerals. He spoke of God’s mysterious ways and equally mysterious reasons to bring down upon us congregants the unspeakable grief of an unbearable loss. Then it was my turn. I positioned myself at the podium, away from the slide show of my friend’s life. If I looked at them, I knew in my heart I would not be able to string two sentences together without a box or two of Kleenex or even better, Angel Soft. I had to focus on my note cards and pretend my heart was still whole and not cracked open with grief.
We climbed in the rain, the snow and the sleet. We slept in lean-tos when it thundered like an angry Greek God over our heads. We curled up in our cheap sleeping bags when the ambient air temperature was -30° F. And, yes it’s true. If you left your hot chocolate out beyond the roaring fire, it would freeze over in about four minutes. We slept on bare rock summits on balmy summer nights. If it was during the New Moon, we would drift into sleep under unnumbered, uncountable myriads of stars and distant planets that made the midnight hour almost bright enough a time to read a book…or a poem. But hiking wasn’t our only shared experience. We rock climbed in the ‘gunks near New Paltz, NY, entered and competed in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta. Cooperstown to Bainbridge on the lazy Susquehanna. For that we were given a small trophy and a patch for our anoraks. This was in 1976 and we came across the finish line 74th out of a field of over two hundred. Not bad for two canoeists with no training.
I completed the eulogy and held my composure better than I thought I was capable. I knew I had to be strong for his family and other relatives. I took several quick glances at Greg’s urn. It was beautiful. I wondered how they put his cremains and his spirit, talent and humor into such a small square container.If I sound like I’m bragging about all the amazing adventures Greg and I shared, nothing could be further from the truth. I felt humble and insignificant beside such a grand person, larger than life and now silent for a very long time.
We’re at the graveside. There are his parents. Over further are his neighbors. Further on are my parents. In between are our childhood friends who never walked off a plane after a tour of duty in Viet Nam. There were old girlfriends and so many others that we walked past on the streets of Owego in years gone by. Someday, I will mingle with the soil of this hallowed ground not too far from my friend. The priest said his final words. We all stood and began to slowly drift away to get on with our lives. Someone said my name. I was handed a shovel. The small hole was nearly half filled already. I scooped a spade full and let the earth fall on the top of the urn, covering two cloth patches. A green Adirondack Mountain Club patch and a red “FINISHER” patch that I had given to Patti before the service. Soon the grounds person laid the final sod clumps and tamped it down.
It was over, the ceremony that is. What was just beginning was the flood of memories so many of us spoke.
Good-bye my dear friend. I know we will meet again, on a new trail, in another place. This will happen sometime on a sunny day, when the clouds won’t be hanging so low and seem so impenetrably grey.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”
In the rearview mirror of the last three weeks of my life, I see I’ve left behind many things and added many memories. I’ve left behind the heat and sand of Florida, the peaches and boiled peanuts of Georgia, a friend and his wife in North Carolina, the breathtaking vistas and overlooks of the Blue Ridge Parkway and later, Skyline Drive. Mariam and I sat in a restaurant in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and played music bingo. We passed Carlisle where my daughter went to college so many years ago. We drove apace with the trucks and cars across New Jersey and plunged straight into the Holland Tunnel.
The Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Once we were settled in a generous friend’s apartment, we began to search for a place of our own. Both of us want to come back to New York City to live. But it’s proving to be harder than we expected. One place is too small, another lacks outdoor space. One might be a walk-up. I can’t do four floors as well as I once could. No, not now.
Why move? you might ask. You have waterfront, kayaks, canoes, snowshoes and bikes. The answer is simple and complex at the same time. We love the quiet woods. We love the sound of our paddles as we glide along on Rainbow Lake. But, so much of what the ‘dacks provides are activities that are fit for a younger man (I speak here for myself). We miss people. The quiet can be overwhelming sometimes and brings with it the loneliness of the North Woods. As a person who has struggled with insomnia since childhood, I dread the dark nights, those dark nights when the wind shifts in strange ways and the moon struggles to peek out from behind a dark cloud.
I don’t want to shovel another millimeter of snow. I don’t want to get into my car just to get our mail. I want something of a social life. I want to be able to order in Mexican or Chinese food. I want company.
Bob Dylan: “I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea. Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, at times it’s only me.”
With the exception of my mother (she never took to the camping), my entire family had strong ties to the Adirondacks. They made Eighth Lake, Raquette Lake and Long Lake special places. But these people have passed on. Around every corner I turn, behind every tree, on any lake, along any trail…there are ghosts lurking…not to harm me, but to remind me of the many great times I had among the mountains. One spirit, however, follows me. He was a good friend. I took him on his first trip to the High Peaks. On a chilly November night…I remember the gibbous moon…this friend died, not in my arms but very nearly so. I’ve told this story before. His presence, his souI and his life have followed me for forty-eight years. My memories of the night he died are dark and are the stuff of my nightmares.
Gordon Lightfoot: “Like brave mountaineers, we aren’t bothered much by time.”
I’m heading headlong toward a milestone birthday…and I am fearful. There are so many years behind me and not very many left to me. I accept that. But I don’t have to like it.
I’m not done yet.
I can only hope.
But, in the end, I will never totally forget my love of the mountains, even though they are now beyond my grasp.
‘There is beauty in everything. Even in silence and darkness.”
Yes, we’ve left Florida and are now trying to survive in the oppressive heat of Macon, Georgia. For the last 100 miles or so I’ve had peanuts on my mind. I happen to enjoy a good peanut now and then. And who doesn’t like the taste of some organic peanut butter, spread unevenly on a piece of miniature pancake from Costco?
The simple legume, the peanut (Arachis hypogaea), has a complex nature. It can be very good for you (as a source of proteins) and at the same time be the death of you (high saturated fat). It took George Washington Carver (1864-1943), (the first African-American to earn a B.S.) to discover the varieties of products that can be derived from a peanut.
It all reminds me of a song we used to sing at Camp Barton, near Ithaca, when I was a Boy Scout:
“Found a peanut, found a peanut…
It was bad, it was bad…
Ate it anyway, ate it anyway…
Those Boy Scout leaders sure knew how to get an adolescent male’s juices flowing. But the song does highlight the fact there is a shelf-life for peanuts (1 month at room temperature).
The peanut goes by several different names: Groundnut, Goober, Pindar and Monkey Nut. I prefer the simple moniker of peanut. I know some places in New York City where if you asked the person behind the counter for some Monkey’s Nuts, you’ll get a small bag of something…I’d rather not go there.
As we made our way north on I-75 from Fort Meyers, Florida, I had my mind set on buying a small quantity of boiled peanuts, but all the billboards kept pushing were Pecans. I’m reminded of the time when I went to college in Louisiana in the 1960’s. I was talking to my roommate about how much I liked Pecan Pie. I was a Yank and I pronounced the word: pee-can. My room mate lost no time in correcting me: ”It’s pick-on”, he said. He went on describe what a pee-can was. I’ll leave it at that.
So, I see the temperature has dropped into the upper 80’s. I can bear going to our car to get something. In a few minutes I intend to venture out and retrieve a heating pad. All those hours in the car has made my back feel as though Ethel Merman just spent an hour dancing on my L2 and L3 region of my lower back while singing ”Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.
I’ll sit with the heating pad and watch another episode of The Blacklist on Netflix. I will rest assured that all is well in the world (it really isn’t) because in nearby Atlanta is the location of the National Peanut Board.
[Author’s note: I would like to dedicate this humble blog to my friends and loved ones who, through no fault of their own, were caught up in a Late-Spring Snowstorm. No wonder many of my classmates from high school moved to the south or mid-south after graduation. After a winter in Fort Myers, Florida, I totally get it.] Now the blog:
All Things Must Pass–A George Harrison album name.
We are taking our late afternoon walk down Cuarto Lane. One must wait until after 6:30 pm for such a stroll. Otherwise, it’s so barking hot the sun will melt your polyester toupee, it’ll bleach your already grey hair and sear your retina unless your wearing Ray Bans. I’m not wearing Ray Bans. I’m wearing cheap Walgreen’s sunglasses. I can feel the plastic rims get soft. That’s why 6:30 is our cut-off time.
But I digress.
On our walk yesterday I snapped a photo of a palm frond, on the grass, beside the Lane waiting to be picked up by the Resort maintenance crew. I saw it as a symbol of a season’s completion. Just like the leaves in Autumn in the mountains of the Adirondacks or all of New England. The frond spoke to me. It was lamenting the fact that it was done with contributing any and all Oxygen to the atmosphere. No more photosynthesis, it said. I stopped to answer back but my wife, Mariam tugged at my arm.
“Don’t! The neighbors are watching.”
But I got the point. All things must pass, even palm fronds. And even Snowbirds like us. Soon we leave this little bit of paradise and go north. Back to our home on Rainbow Lake and the very real possibility of a freak mid-June snowstorm. Think I’m kidding? We once sat at the bar of Lake Placid’s Mirror Lake Inn. It was May 31, my birthday, and we were have a quick glass of wine before a lovely steak dinner at the Adirondack Steak & Seafood. I spun around in my bar stool to look out at Mirror Lake, but it was snowing…no, it was blizzarding. I saw the fronds as a metaphor for our eventual departure. But, there’s more:
This blog is about travel, migration and departing. Here is something of interest:
The bird shown above happens to hold the record for longest migratory flight yet discovered. The Godwit has been found to have the ability to fly 6,800 miles without any layovers. (Think of it as Jet Blue with feathers). Now, I don’t know what impresses you, my reader, but 6,800 miles is one badass flight. In doing the research necessary to bring you this post I also found out that some long-term migratory birds can do awesome things on their journey. One species has the ability to eat, fly, sleep and mate while on the wing. My brain short circuits when I think of humans doing these sorts of things. Myself? I can barely drive along a country road for a country mile while eating a cheeseburger.
Well, so much for the avians. Time to discuss Cockle shells.
The Cockle shells litter the edges of the beach…where the waves wash up and then back into the sea. Whole shells, bits of shells…shells of all kinds are found in the sands of Sanibel Island. I find pleasure in picking one from the knee deep water and holding it for the iPhone camera. But, like everything else along a shoreline, the waves and currents are constantly moving the shells along only to replace them with newer ones. If I were to stand at the exact same spot on the exact same beach at the exact same time next year, I will reach into the sand beneath my feet and find another Cockle shell…exactly like the one I found today. I’m not sure what the point is about all this, but it does remind one of moving along, going away, traveling and replacing one environment (the beach) with another (the Adirondack lake shores). Some of my readers will say:
“A place in the Adirondacks? You have waterfront? Kayaks? Canoes? A screened-in porch? A quiet place in the playground of New York State? And you’re not satisfied? Are you playing with a full hand?” The truth is that I enjoy the Adirondacks very much, but not like I used to. As a little boy I played in sands of many of the most popular beaches in the ‘dacks. But I’m not a boy. I’m not a healthy fit young teenager who would climb any peak at the mere suggestion of doing it. Two of my three brothers were Adirondack oriented men. Both are no longer with us. I have found that around every bend in a trail, every curve in the road and every paddle stroke I make to round an island, I see the ghosts of my brothers. I’m tired of seeing ghosts, both figurative and real.
I love the night sky and the Adirondack air is fairly free of light pollution. The stars tumble out in numbers that are not humanly countable. I’ve slept on mountain peaks and counted the stars. I gave up after reaching 3,000 points of light. But our house is surrounded by trees and my patch of sky above our house can be covered with one open hand.
I want to see for miles while standing at sea level.
Which brings us to Yankees. Sorry, but this is not about the Bronx Bombers. This is about snowbirds who flock to Florida for the winter. I’m one of them. A yankee? In one sense, that is the definition of anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But what about my one-time sailing partner here in Fort Myers? He was from Toronto. Well he’s a yankee too, by my definition.
I’m lonely and I’m restless. How many years do I have left to see the world? Only a seer can answer that kind of question.
So take heed, take heed of the western wind
Take heed of the stormy weather
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me
Spring and summer were still weeks away, although summer seems to permanently exist here in Florida. But still…
I was sitting in the lanai making notes on developing and writing and publishing a blog about music and the importance of Connie Francis. We had just been to the beach and my head was full of Beach Boy songs. I asked Alexa to play a few more when we returned home. But, I knew there was more to summer and sand music then Brian Wilson & Company. Out of the blue it came to me. I stopped making notes and picked up my iPhone and went straight to Spotify. There they were. I downloaded (or is it uploaded?) several songs by Connie Francis. I sat back and played Where The Boys Are. Her sweet alto voice rising and falling stopped me in my tracks. This was the music of my youth, those halcyon days of bikes, pools and buzzing cicadas.
Where the boys are, where the boys are, someone waits for me…♫
I look around me. I’m fourteen again. My towel is damp from three hours in the pool. I sit on the steps of my childhood home and talk to my neighbor Craig:
“What do you wanna do today?”
“I dunno, what do you want to do?”
“Beats me, what do you want to do?” Our days were carefree and full of Beach Boys, Tommy Sands, Neil Sedaka and Connie Francis.
In the crowd of a million people, I’ll find my valentine…♫
Our thoughts turned to the movies: “Let’s go to the movie tonight,” Craig would suggest. “They’re showing “Beach Blanket Bingo”. This was just after “How To Stuff a Wild Bikini” ran for two weeks. Before that the marquee read: “Dr. Goldfoot” (I’m not making this up.). The next feature was slated to be “Muscle Beach Party”. One could get a shoe full of sand just watching these classics. Many starred Frankie Avalon or Tommy Kirk and, of course Annette Funicello. All the guys around our age, and I suspect a few fathers just adored Annette as a star of the Mickey Mouse Club. And its no wonder. Annette had the biggest…..head of black hair than any other Mousketeer.
And then I’ll climb to the highest steeple and tell the world he’s mine. ♫
Later in life, sad things befell Connie and Annette. It saddens me.
Thank you two ladies for some of the best music of my teenage years.
Now, sitting in the Florida warmth, the ceiling fan whirring above my head, I can feel a bit of the exuberance of youth. Even though I’ve come to fully accept the limitations of age, the pains, the aches, the regrets and the triumphs, I can still appreciate the songs written for the Young At Heart.
But that’s another story for another time. And besides, perhaps inside my worn body beats the heart of a hopeful young boy.
I’m standing at the window of our hotel in New York City watching the snow blow upwards. Fifty-two floors below, whatever snow survives melts quickly on Fifty- fifth street or perhaps Broadway. Winters in Manhattan are infamous for the wicked winds that gust in from the Hudson and clash with the bluster through the cross streets. The top floors of the high rise office buildings are invisible in the low clouds. Heavy coats do nothing to lessen the biting slashing winds that can cut through your outer layer like a sharp scalpel, like a razor or a saber honed to the width of several microns. These winds can turn your Burberry umbrella into fodder for a trash can. February in the City can be deadly to The Little Match Girl.
But I digress.
About 11:45 am on Tuesday, February 15 I will be lying on a table in the Operating Room of Mount Sinai Hospital. Most of you, my followers and curious readers, are well aware of my history living with and dealing with my lower back pain. It’s not a secret. I’m open to this revelation because I’ve discovered one thing that set me on my journey to Upper Manhattan. Simply put, I have a very hard time walking. I lean on Mariam as if she were a well-grounded oak tree. (This is not a good thing because she has a very painful right shoulder…but that’s another story or another blog. When I walk I shuffle like someone who just finished a bowl of gluten free Quaaludes for brunch.) But the most surprising aspect of my story is that I found out that I cannot ride a bicycle. Back in Rainbow Lake I tried to get on my bike only to find that I can’t raise my leg high enough to get seated. I would up with a mouthful of Adirondack sand. This was not a small inconvenience because I love to ride a bike. Every street in my hometown of Owego, NY has been peddled by me.
So on Tuesday I will lie on the surgical table. Doctors and nurses will check on me. I will get an Oxygen tube down my throat, an IV and a blood pressure cuff. The anesthesiologist, I’m told, will insert a catheter. Upon hearing this I will make an attempt to reach the door. The very thought of the catheter sends fear, horror and apprehension to my…. .
But by that time, it will be too late.
“I’ll be gentle” he whispered. “And besides you will be totally under.” I, hopefully will be wandering in the world of general anesthesia. What most amazes me about surgery this serious is the speed at which the anesthesia works. I’ve tried before to experience the drifting away thing and even counting down from 100 like it’s done in the movies. I stare at the clock on the wall. I stare at an entirely different clock in a room I don’t recognize. Who are these people dressed in green? Where am I?
I ask the first nurse that appears and ask her when the operation will begin.
“It’s all over, hon,” she said. “You’ve been asleep for about three hours.”
God bless modern medicine.
I’ll end this narrative now. There’s not much more to say. If it all goes well, I shall be able to feel like a normal human once again. If, for some reason the results are not too successful, I have a back-up plan:
I stood and stared at the box. I was alone. All the relatives, guests and friends had left after the service. The room was quiet except for the almost imperceptible recorded tones of funeral music. I stood several feet away from the box, in the center of the room. I took three steps backwards and sat in one of the empty folding chairs. I continued to gaze at the box. I had asked the funeral director if I could have the room to myself for a few minutes to gather my thoughts.
The box, golden hued, had only a few words printed on one side:
Daniel Charles Egan
March 1, 1945 – December 26, 2019
Inside the box were the cremains of my brother…my last brother. I began to wonder which Dan I was thinking about. Was this the teenager that took apart a ’57 Ford in the backyard and after honing the cylinders, put the entire thing back together. (He had two bolts left over when he finished.) Was this the guy who used-up most of my Brylcreem on his curly hair before a sock hop at Owego Free Academy?
Or was this the boy that swam away hours at Brown’s Tract Pond when we went family camping each summer in the Adirondacks?
Was his the hand behind the wickedly fast snowball that nearly took my ear off, or maybe the future boat maker who turned down an offer of $11,000 for his hand-crafted Adirondack Guide Boat?
Was this the reader who was fascinated by the history of the Mohawk Valley, who collected Native American sinker stones or flint chips of arrowheads?
It occurred to me that in that box were the remains of a great many Dan Egans.
But not all of Dan’s existence consisted of possessing skills (he was a licensed pilot) and knowledge. Early in the 1990’s life began to take on a downward spiral. His only daughter died tragically.
This was quickly followed by the passing of our mother which was shortly before our eldest brother, Chris died. In the late ’90’s and into the next century Dan survived cancer only to lose the battle in 2019.
All that was left of my last brother was inside that box.
Now, as the years pass, more and more of his friends have died. He survived (barely) Viet Nam and was still being handed a piece of Viet Cong shrapnel that the surgeons found every time he had a hip replacement.
So, that’s the end of the life of my brother.
Or is it?
Many years ago I read the perspective of the Native American view on death. To them, it’s all about stories. As long as someone is spoken about after death, then they never really have died. The memory of someone lives on into the future…as long as there is a story to tell or a song to sing about that person. As Dan’s story is told, he’s not in any box. He’s sitting next to me, alive as he could be. Dan’s memory will fade in our hearts over time…but he’ll remain part of the living world.
I know it’s my turn next, but I have children and they will have children and they will carry Dan’s story with them. They will know Dan through the tales I will tell. One could say that it’s only a box with some ashes but the story doesn’t end there.
Go ahead, speak of the departed…but tell the listener to speak with loving generosity.