My Son’s Beard

 

I saw him being born. Later on, I saw peach fuzz on his adolescent chin.

A few years later, when he moved in with us, in New York City, I think he borrowed my razor.

Yesterday, I stood next to him at The Beacon Bar. I sipped a beer, he had something I never heard of.

I was close to him, as I always like to be. He’s a big guy and he’s 31 years old ( Oh, God, how time flies !)

I studied his face, thinking how much I love him. Then I saw them!

I  Counted three. My boy had three gray whiskers on his cheek !

I don’t know what his thoughts were, but I felt ten years older.  Some would say “that’s life”. That’s not what my words would be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Can’t We Stay Forever Young?

[Brian looks out over Galway Bay, Ireland (2015]

As I type this post (3:00 pm Saturday, July 14), I’m thinking of my son, Brian, who, 31 years ago would be about seven hours old. When the OB-GYN turned from his mother, Nancy and asked me what I thought of watching my son being born, all I could do was look out over the parking lot of the Stamford Hospital parking lot and cry.

It was an awesome and overwhelming experience to be the second person to see him enter the world.

In 2015, he joined Mariam and me in Ireland for a quick tour and to meet some “real” Egans. He says he loved the trip…and I believe him.

Father and son are now 31 years older than we were that hot July day in 1987. He lives and works in New York City now and Mariam and I sit and listen to the loons in the middle of the North Country.

He is entering the prime of his life. I’m a ‘senior’ citizen and have more gray hair than I did yesterday.

From a father who loves his son…more than words can describe, I’m wishing him a very Happy Birthday.

Brian, you’ve grown up to be an amazing man.

Try to stay “forever young.”

[Brian bids me good-bye at Shannon Airport, Ireland 2015]

My MRI: The Awful Truth

SONY DSC

SONY DSC [Image from Wikipedia]

I have lower back pain.  I’ve had it for years.  Many of my readers will be saying:

“What’s he complaining about now?  I’ve had it for years.”

Point taken.  But, I moved to the North Country for a reason…I wanted to hike and climb more mountains.  Now, this back pain makes those dreams a bit unattainable.  And, besides, I already had back surgery for spinal stenosis back in December of 2013.  So, why the pain now?

I can think of several reasons:

-I lean too far forward when I change the spark plugs in my Ford Escape. (Joke)

-I spend too much time on my knees, with a hand lens, bending over in my small Adirondack lawn, and examining the next insect that will bite the crap out of my forearm and make me bleed like a leaky garden hose. (Joke, but our hose does leak)

-I spend too much time sanding the back deck in order to paint it, yet again, with a paint that is guaranteed to last at least five years. (True)

-I spend too much time bending over, when I visit New York City, to read the headlines of the New York Times without having to pay $2.50 for a copy. (Pretty much true)

-I spent too much time sitting behind the wheel of our Ford Escape on the recent 13,589 mile road trip and not enough time hiking in the Mojave Desert or Joshua Tree National Park. (True, but if you haven’t read all those blogs, then shame on you)

-I spent too much time bending over my laptop writing about forty blogs about the trip. (True)

So, I make an appointment with my neurosurgeon in Manhattan to get an MRI to see if my left side needs surgery to repair the damage from whatever.

On May 18th, I went to my appointment at Mount Sinai to get the truth, the truth that only an MRI can tell you.

I was laid out and tucked in on the moveable bed.  I looked up and saw how much smaller and narrower this “tube” was than the last time I had the procedure done.  I knew I was going to become like a Coney Island Kielbasa or a Nathan’s Hot Dog.  That is, if this thing had a mind of its own and somehow squeezed in on me.

The technician asked if I’d like to hear anything on the earphones.

“Anything but JZ or Big Daddy”, I said.  “How about some Mozart?”

“Fine”, he said.

“I’d like to hear Mozart.  Can you find Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Adagio and Fugue, KV 546?”, is that possible?”, I asked.

“Not a problem,” he said.

And I began to feel the bed slide me inside the stainless steel tube.

I heard the opening notes…and then all I heard for the next ninety minutes was either a soundtrack from Star Wars or a Phillip Glass piece…repeating chords and noise.

When it was all over, the guy helped me stand up straight, which was nearly impossible, and informed me where the nearest bathroom was located.

I knew that my Neurosurgeon was going to see me in several days to discuss the results.  Well, I demanded to speak with the Radiologist on duty that day…I wanted a quick read of the images so I could make future plans, if I had any to make.

Once he heard my name, and that I was a famous blogger from Owego, NY, he readily agreed to give me a quick summary of what he had on his computer monitor.

“Well”, he said, “see these little pinches in between your L-4 and L-5?”

Spine MRI image

[This is not my spine.  Image from Wikipedia]

“Of course I see them”, I said looking at a screen that resembled a NASA image of the far side of Charon, a moon orbiting Pluto.

“But, something worrisome is showing up here,” he said. “See the area just to right of my pencil point?”

“I see,” I said.

“Well, right down here near the end of your endothelial membrane, I see a disturbing sequence beginning to take form.”

“Give it to me straight, Doc, I can handle it.”

“Well, I see a growing sense of self-doubt and insecurity,” he said. “See here?”

I looked and said “yes”.

“Over here, near your Lumbo-sacral spine, is a large mass of guilt and misgivings.  Alongside that is a well of worry and loneliness.”

“I think I see,” I said.

“But there is also a distinct lack of morality, pleasure and sincerity,” he said, “and over here, see, there is growing sense of self-doubt, a mass of existentialism and nihilistic thought, as well as an approaching feeling of fear and trembling.”

He glanced at a copy of Kafka in my shoulder bag.

“But, I care about people,” I protested.

“You’d never know it from this,” he said, leaning back on his IKEA office chair.  “But, there’s more. Can you take it?”

“Hit me, Doc,” I said.  “Give me your best shot.”

“There is a large mass of growing dread and fear over here near your nerve-fibrillae.  You fear that your real active life and vigor of youth are gone,” he said.  “Am I right?”

“But, I’m going to be celebrating my 69th birthday in a few days…people will send me cards and letters.”

“Cards and letters? Where have you been, guy, off in a desert somewhere?”

“Actually, yes,” I said.

“You’ll be lucky if anyone notices your Facebook page at all.  And, your blog site? Well, I’ve seen it.  Nothing but pictures of cacti and sand and you posing in a cheap cowboy hat with the Queen of the Sonoran Desert at some rodeo in Yuma.”

“Hey, that hat cost me $14.95 (+ tax)”, I retorted.

“Well, happy birthday, dude, want the real medical story now?”

“Sure.”

“You have age appropriate degeneration of the lower spine.  Live with it.”

“Gee, thanks Dr. Oz.”  I got up to go.

“Oh, one good thing, Patrick, you’re covered by your AARP.”

 

 

 

Trying To Stay Forever Young

AngieMaryMe

I’m sitting on the deck of our home at Rainbow Lake.  A lone chickadee hops from branch to branch and then vanishes into the thicket of trees.  I can see the shimmer of the setting sun reflecting from the water below us.  Only patches of the lake can be seen, we need to trim a few trees so I can watch the kayakers splash by on warm afternoons.

I hear the distinct honking of the Canadian Geese as they fly overhead and set their internal compass on south.  Their skein is visible for a brief moment above my head through the only patch of open sky on our property.

Just a week ago, I too, headed south.  Back to my hometown.  Back to a monumental reunion of my classmates, fifty long years after we graduated from Owego Free Academy.  At this very hour, one week ago, I was mingling with men and women that were once the boys and girls of my class.  Grey hair was dominant.  A cane here.  A limp there.  But, considering the changes that took place in the past half-century, my classmates fared well.  Extraordinarily well.  Last Friday night was the mixer.  I had to read names tags carefully, since I hadn’t seen these people in decades.  I did not watch them age because I did not stay in my hometown.  I saw them on a day in June 1965, and now I was seeing many of them for the first time since.

The next night was the Big Event.  It was the dinner and dance.  I found out that I was one of the few speakers on the program to make remarks.  I was to follow shortly after the poem that remembered those of us who had passed away.  Tough act to follow.

I was very nervous.  Many in the ballroom had read my blogs, many had followed my Facebook posts.  Many had little idea of who I had become.

My talk seemed a blur to me as I tried to bring humor and nostalgia together.  Was I funny?  Was I confusing?  Was I making a fool of myself?  I’ll never know.

I watched, with a wet eye, as Judy walked across the dance floor and became our “Senior Prom Queen”.  I learned that she had to move half-way through our senior year to join her mother–she missed the prom.  Now, this was her moment.  Her gown was that of a princess.  Her husband wore a tux.  I looked at my wool blazer and felt underdressed.

Across the dinner table were dear old friends, including my childhood sweetheart.  She and I and her BFF from elementary school went to the photo booth.

I’ve been dreading this reunion in a way.  I knew it was going to be a splash of cold water–something to force me to face the fearful fact of how fast time goes by and how we succumb to the years and how we face mortality.  I had to face the fact that, unpleasant as it is, I may never see some of these people again.

But, that dinner-dance was a moment in the present.  Some danced at the oldies like any of the sock hops back in the day.

One can try to “stay forever young”, but everyone in that room was aware of the force that was beyond our control.  The ticking of the clock–the pages of the calendar–the rising and setting of the sun.

But, for the moment, everyone was in the present.  The only place to be, really.

Someday, a group of people will look back on the weekend of September 11 & 12, 2015 and say: “Those were the days.”

Me at OFA

[Photo of a man with a microphone trying to make some sense]

56 Years Along The Blue Trail: Then And Now

TrailMarker

Like brave mountaineers, we weren’t bothered much by time.

–Gordon Lightfoot

It’s late August in the North Country.  The green of the leaves and shrubs are looking tired.  Some hints of the colors of autumn are emerging from the maples and oaks.  Late summer flowers like Black-Eyed Susans and Ragweed are everywhere.  The quarter moon rises after dark for a brief time before setting in the west.  The recent heat wave has broken, leaving the nights cool and breezy for sleeping.

In the Adirondack Park there is a region a few miles out from Lake Placid that is designated by the DEC as the “High Peaks Wilderness Area”.  I first hefted a pack and took to the trails as a twelve-year-old in 1959.  I’m still hiking these paths today…my pack is newer and my boots are better.  In those days, one could walk for hours and never see anyone else.  Now, the trails are crowded with climbers and people just out for a short time in the forest.

I owned a Sierra Club cup.  It’s wire loop handle of aluminum allowed you to carry it on your belt.  At every stream I’d cross, in those early years of hiking, I would stop and fill the cup with cold clear mountain water.  Soon my urine would change from deep yellow to a clear fluid.  Then, I felt, I was less filled with the toxic substances of normal life.  I was cleansing my body.

Now, I would never do such a thing without fear of getting the dreaded Giardia, resulting in extreme gastric pain, vomiting and diarrhea.  I carry bottled water from the Price Chopper supermarket in Lake Placid.  Price: $1.15 for 16 ounces.

TrailSigns

I am on the Van Hovenburg Trail, the main highway to the summit of Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York State.  I’m not intending to go to the top today, I would have had to be on the trail at 6:00 am.  That was a climb I’ve made perhaps twenty-five times.  No, not today.  Today, I was only hiking with my wife and another couple to Marcy Dam.  It’s a 2.3 mile walk that I’ve done in the heat of summer, the chill of autumn with dazzling colors of the leaves against a sky so blue it hurts your eyes.  I’ve been on this trail in the dark, with friends, alone, and on snowshoes in -5° F weather.

This is the Blue Trail.  I’ve been on nearly all the trails of the High Peaks.  The trail markers show you the way.  The Red Trail goes up this mountain.  The Yellow Trail goes up that mountain, and the Blue Trail is now what I follow.

When I was a teenager, I would often be found hiking in these hills.  I was fifteen…sixteen, full of vigor and carried a full Kelty packframe on my strong back.  Usually, I would prefer to let my brother, Chris or my friends hike ahead of me so I could walk in solitude.  I would often sing to myself, only to myself, the popular songs of the day.  Sometimes it was Moody River, sometimes it was Running Bear.  My songs led me to think about our return to Owego.  Hopefully, there would be a dance on the night we arrived home.  I thought of my girlfriend.  I would sing Teen Angel and think the dark thoughts of death and youth.

I don’t remember being tired.

Today, I’m not expecting a high school dance or my girlfriend.  I’m thinking of very different things now.  I think of my older brother, Chris, who first showed me the way to the top of the mountain.  His ashes were scattered in the forest only a few miles from where I’m walking.

In 1962, my legs were strong and the days would never end.  Now, my legs are that of a man who has had back surgery, leg surgery and foot surgery.  I’ll not be dancing tonight.  I’ll be home and sitting with a book on my lap…but, not without irony, still thinking dark thoughts…this time not of youth but of age.

I am carrying my load on 68 year-old legs.  I can feel how the years and miles have damaged my bones, my ankles and my lower back.

Roots

But, still I walk, stumbling over the same crazy pattern of tree roots that I tripped on fifty-six years ago.  I’ll cross the same streams, but on different wooden bridges.  Those old planks have long since rotted away.

TrailBridge

Even when the bridges are no longer replaced and people stop walking these woods and begin to forget the cloud covered summits, there will always be a way to cross the stream.

I would search for a few large rocks and, taking great care, step from one to another.

Then I would find myself on the other side.  Then I would have to find that old trail again.

 

CarryTrailSlang:LongPond

 

Let It Be

mirror

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea

Sometimes I turn, theres someone there, other times its only me…

                                                        –Bob Dylan “Every Grain of Sand”

Parents, send your children to bed (or the media room).  Men, if your wives are of a delicate nature, take them away from your laptop.

I am going to expose myself, my soul, fears and hopes in this, my 200th blog post on WordPress.  Yet again, I will fall into the bitter pit of memories—some bad and some good.  That has become my blog “theme”, I guess; trading in on old dusty thoughts, lovers long gone and the cracks in my heart.  Here I am again, standing in the rain at the corner of Bittersweet and Nostalgia.  It always rains here.  There’s no atmosphere without some discomfort.  It could be rain, snow or tears.  Doesn’t really matter, though.  I turn my collar against the wind and go back to the Hi-Ho Motel to wait for the next train for El Paso.  Then I remember.  There’s probably no more trains to anywhere anymore except some open-pit coal mine providing good clean green energy for us all.  No more whistles that broke the heart of Hank Williams or Box Car Willie.  Now, it’s the next Short Line coach to Toledo.

Last year, on the RV trip to Orting, Washington, I did hear the occasional train whistle.  But the long line of flat-cars never stopped.  They only slowed down to obey the speed limit as the tracks crossed empty streets and country roads.

Yes, there’s no authentic atmosphere without some discomfort.  No one lives in a world of warmth and protection (except, hopefully, children) without living through periods of self-doubt and a tablespoon of dread.  I once had a great deal of faith that got me through the night terrors, but after heart-breaking losses, deaths and illnesses, I often feel like I live in a city populated by millions…alone.

I fall in love quickly and easily and that is a serious fault.  That has led to too many broken hearts in my chest cavity.  When a very close friend died in my arms (he had lived all of twenty-three years), I realized that there really isn’t a lot of time for us, on the earth, to wait for the most perfect choices.  So, I made decisions based on the old trusty phrase: Carpe diem.

But, as usual, I digress.

It’s change that obsesses me now.  Yes, our house could burn down tonight…that’s a big change.  But, it’s the slow insidious change that happens to you during life that frightens me.  I was born on May 31, 1947.  That is 67 years and 6 months ago.  I never was a victim of amnesia.  I was never abducted by aliens (that I recall).  But, I look at a childhood photograph of myself and then quickly stare into a mirror.  I have changed.  But I haven’t gone anywhere to undergo this change.  I can’t say it happened when I wasn’t looking, because I always looked.  I look different and I think different (I used to be a Conservative, for God’s sake).  And, all this happened without a break in the flow of my life!  All the changes I see happened during a day to night to day flow that was never broken.  The lines on my face came slowly, never overnight.

There are years I lived and yet somehow missed.  Students I loved, taught and counseled…I can see their 6th grade faces but do not remember their names.  Women I have slept with are memories now…not out of disrespect…just the passage of time.  I was numb with shock when I heard that one of my long-ago lovers is now dead.  I know that this is trivial and self-serving to many of you, my friends, who have lost a spouse or future partner.  I can only speak to my own experiences.

Somehow, it would make more sense to me if all these changes happened one night.  I’d wake up and be middle-aged.  But, it didn’t.  It happened as I was looking—but I never noticed a thing until one day…

“Hey, that’s life.”  This is what is going through the minds of many of you who are reading this.

I taught with someone many years ago.  Her husband died part way into the school year.  She was the Head of the Middle School and it fell on her to give the graduation speech that would send the 8th grade girls onto the high school.  One sentence will remain with me forever.  She said: “Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional.”

I stood there with the other faculty members.  I cried.  I knew what she had been through even though I had not lost anyone in my life…yet.

What she said was absolutely true.  I knew that then, but I was into my early 40’s and had no idea what was in store for me in a few short years.

I guess I catch on slowly—just like when your hair starts to turn gray.

It’s never overnight.

ME AND MY BROTHERS—AGING SLOWLY

birch tree 1

[Circa 1954]

birch tree 2

[Circa 1970’s]

birch tree 3

[Circa late 1970’s]

Birch tree 4

[Circa early 1990’s]

Two Elderly Gentlemen Walk Into A Pub

  JimMerrill&Jiff

An older man walked into a pub in Burlington, Vermont on a recent Saturday afternoon.  It was minutes away from a heavy rain.  The guy went downstairs to the men’s room.  He was there at the pub to meet an old friend and he was about two minutes late.  As he climbed the stairs, he realized he had a problem…he hadn’t seen his friend in 50 years!  He had no idea what he would look like. The man and his wife had already scanned the pub but he saw no one who might remotely look like his old pal.

And he was an old pal.  They played together as children…lived close enough to see each other’s house.  They played “cowboys & indians” in the backyard.  They played “army” in a neighbor’s backyard.  On hot summer nights, they slept on a large back porch, listening for the tire skids and crash as the cars came around “broken-arm” curve in front of one of the boy’s houses.  One of the  backyards stretched to the Susquehanna River…it was a giant playground, war zone and hiding place.  The other boy had The Brick Pond in his backyard.  Skating in the winter…turtle watching in the summer.  It was a small town called Owego, in upstate New York.  It was the 1950’s.

One of the boys brought a new vinyl album over to his friend’s house.  It was the early ’60’s.  He put the record on and said: “Listen to this guy…he’s saying something.”

The friend listened.  He didn’t like what he heard.  It wasn’t Dion.  It wasn’t Fabian.  It wasn’t Frankie Avalon.

“This guy can’t sing…he sounds weird.  I don’t understand what he’s saying.”

The boy with the album knew what was happening.  He heard the words.

The uninformed boy took another year to grasp what was being played that night.  That nasal voice and those complex lyrics.

It wasn’t: “Why must I be a teenager in love?”  It was “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Later, during their last year of high school, they sat on the front porch of one of the boy’s houses and talked about the future.  Their paths were about to diverge forever, or nearly forever.  One of them was destined for college the other for Viet Nam.  Their lives grew apart and they lost touch…not to see each other for another 50 years.

The old man climbed the stairs from the restroom.  On the deck was a man talking to his wife.  He felt as though he had never seen this guy before.  He had a cane.  He looked a bit old, like so many men do when they get to their late sixties.

The stranger talking to his wife was the old friend.  They embraced after 50 years.  Both had been through highs and lows, good times and bad.  Divorces and deaths.

They weren’t two kids with stick swords in a weedy backyard anymore.  Time had carried them to the outside deck of the pub in Burlington.  Time had given them a stoop in the shoulders.  Time had taken away their dark hair.  Time had given them illnesses and joint pains and muscle aches.

They used to fish in the Susquehanna River with a stick and a string and a cheap hook.  They each had gone through a fly-fishing stage in the middle years.  They won’t be sharing this, most likely.

Calendar pages fall to the floor.  The man had a cane…it fell to the floor.  Someone picked it up.  Things are so different.

It took half a century before Jimmy Merrill and Pat Egan met again.

It started to rain heavily.

Jim&PatSept6'14