At my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party yesterday, we all had a laugh. The church we invaded for the party is in Fayetteville, not too far from the U of A campus. About halfway through, some of us heard a loud bang, followed by immediate darkness in the church. Because the game was about to start, we could only assume that a higher power was expressing disinterest in the game rather than our party. We were without power for the last half of the party. As it turns out, the Razorbacks were without energy for most of the game themselves. We got the better end of the bargain, in my opinion.
I was tasked with getting the balloons for the roadside for the party. I bought mylar balloons and triple-tied them to each other and to a large traffic cone at the roadside entrance to the church. About 45 minutes later, I glanced through the frontside vestibule doors. A man was walking past on the sidewalk. He was holding a colorful balloon similar to the ones I displayed. It occurred to me that the odds of an adult man coincidentally having a balloon similar in appearance to mine on an early Saturday afternoon were about zero. I went out the side entrance and walked around. It turns out that the odds were indeed slim. For reasons unknown to me, he had cut off one of the decorative balloons as he passed. He looked happy, so I can only assume that a balloon was just what this fellow needed to improve his day. Besides, I couldn’t imagine calling the police to report a stolen party balloon, especially if it improved the gentleman’s day.
One of the surprises I made for Julia’s birthday was a 90-page bound book, stuffed with pictures of her life. Its contents did not reflect a life reduced to mere pages. Somehow, what filled it was greater than the sum of its photographs.
There is no greater juxtaposition in life than of age and youth unless it is the smile of each generation celebrating a year, a life, and fellowship. That one of the participants in the picture has a touch of frosting on his lips further proves the efficacy of a life of humor and good food.
I unabashedly stole the picture of Julia and Marie’s children from Marie, who I finally met after a long social media friendship. The picture best reflects the life I hope Julia has experienced and for the years awaiting her.
Given that the lights were out for half of the party, it was a success.
Last weekend, we had a chance to get away for the weekend to Wisteria Lane Lodging. At the last minute, we decided to extend the weekend by a day, if possible. The owner at Wisteria Lane gave us the green light. Instead of 2 nights and three days, we stayed for three nights. We stopped at the grocery store and loaded up on food for four days. The difference the extra day made was immeasurable. Vacationing in far-flung destinations has its appeal, I’ll admit, but knowing that we can drive less than forty-five minutes to be in the middle of nowhere with no one to intrude is difficult to surpass.
No cellphone, no internet, no outside world was imposing upon us. Unlike many of the competitor’s cabins, it’s possible to go and see no one during the entire stay. The cabins have satellite television; the solitude is best experienced without the world’s intrusion, in my opinion. I took a laptop loaded with shows and music, along with cables to use the flat screen television to project them.
Dawn and I don’t leave the valley unless we must. Many people who know me superficially are surprised that such isolation is enjoyable to me. Going without wifi and cellphones probably scares those who haven’t experienced it in the last few years. The disconnection is a welcome privilege. It’s a great way to measure your addiction to connectedness.
For those who love to walk or ride mountain bikes, the area is ideal. It’s possible to encounter no cars during your ride or hike on the maintained dirt rods.
While it only rained a bit during our stay, we sat on the hanging porch swing and listened to the thunder of the insects around us as the sun sank below the upper rim of the valley’s treeline.
Wisteria Lane is located North of Eureka and Holiday Island, in a deep valley populated with five billion trees. Cabin #3 & #4 are the best, in my opinion, given their location toward the inside of the forest. Each cabin has a long, covered porch facing the creek running through the valley. Each porch has a gas grill, which allows guests to cook in any weather, either using the grill or the full kitchen inside.
After our trip, I noticed that I hadn’t been billed for the extra night. The owner told me that she was treating Dawn and me to the extra night at no charge. A great trip made more exceptional due to the generosity of the owners.
This is not a Father’s Day post.
On the other hand, it is. I just found out this morning that my dad had another child. Were he still alive, he would have found out this morning, too – and I would have been the person telling him. Life is a series of kicks in the face.
All my life, I’ve resisted the revisionist tendencies of much of my family. I revolted against the idea of secrecy and shame. Each of us makes our own decisions and is responsible for the consequences. People misbehave and make terrible decisions.
For the first time, this morning, I wrote, “every person in my immediate family has struggled with the demons of alcohol, drugs, or violence.” Some of their stories weren’t mine to tell, even as the consequences boiled over and tainted my ability to live a good life. Over the last year, I learned that my brother, despite his stunning intelligence, has been a victim for much of his adult life. On the Terry side of my family, every person in my immediate family has led a double life. Many have died prematurely as a result. Just writing this paragraph might have earned a beating in the not-so-distant past. The revelation that some of us lead secret lives (or smaller lives) controlled by our lesser natures is one that seldom gets a warm embrace. We prefer to hide our shadows away from questioning eyes.
None of this is a secret. Everyone close to those family members knew, of course. That’s part of the corrosiveness of alcohol or addiction. Part of my adult fight was trying to reconcile the fact that so many people stood by on the sidelines and angrily pushed me away as I tried to be open and honest about my parents and their brutal hidden lives. It’s my story to tell because I have an equal right to share my steps.
Since I was little, I’ve joked that I must have brothers and sisters out in the world. My dad was unfaithful in every sense of the word. He had notorious affairs with several people. I knew that one day I would be able to say with certainty, “I told you so,” even as a couple of my aunts and uncles angrily told me to shut up. “You ought not to talk about that!” Equally true is the fact that my father ought not to have behaved that way. People close to me have heard me say that my genetics are an infection. I don’t say it with disrespect toward my brother and sister; it’s a fact that is sustained by the carnage of our lives.
Years ago, I started genealogy. I didn’t think it would be interesting to me, even though I love to research. It opened a world to me. I helped many people find lost loved ones, discover their birth certificates, and unlock countless mysteries. Many of those mysteries were buried – or so those involved foolishly thought. I participated in the DNA system early and with optimism. DNA is the blueprint of truth that people can’t control. It is the genie which relentlessly tells us the truth, despite what those who preceded us might have written as history. Alongside DNA, I began to discover the historical record that buttressed my claims about my past. Much of the record contained people’s accounts of crime, abuse, violence and sometimes proud moments. Several of my aunts and uncles died before I compiled a record that would make them wince.
History devours all of us incrementally.
As the unofficial family historian, I’ve never shied from directly admitting what happened behind closed doors. It’s caused some discomfort and anger.
After years of relentless diligence, it finally happened: through DNA, I discovered that I have a half-sister out in the world. This discovery just happened. It’s raw and fresh in my mind. I can’t imagine what my half-sister is experiencing. I have a million questions, of course. Luckily for her, she can use my ancestry treasures and written accounts to jump right into the lives that she wasn’t able to experience. I warned her that demons possessed my father. I’m not one to gloss over the terrain that makes people uncomfortable. I’ve given my dad a long eulogy, one punctuated by bitter truth.
Her mom was very young when she was with my dad. The liaison happened in the early 70s after my dad was in prison and had returned to Monroe County, Arkansas. He’d barely survived a DWI accident that killed my cousin. I know nothing about my new half-sister’s mother or other family. It’s probably best at this point as she comes to terms with unintentionally finding an entire family in the world.
I don’t have all the details. Part of the uncertainty is that the woman in question didn’t expect to ‘find’ relatives, much less someone like me with a full arsenal of DNA results and extensive family history for her. I don’t even know her name yet.
Ironically, I found confirmation on Father’s Day, a holiday that was no more real than a unicorn in my family. My dad died over 25 years ago. He would laugh. Whether that makes him human or a monster I’m not sure.
I am both confused and happy. Most of my glee is for my half-sister who found the road she was seeking. What she does with it is entirely her choice. That’s entirely the point of DNA and family history. None of us had a choice regarding who brought us to this world, and many of us would desperately love to be able to change those choices. It’s not our fault. Whether our parents were doctors or assassins, we are guiltless in our existence.
I wish I could grant amnesty to all those children who grow up feeling responsible for the people behind them.
For those of you who have good families, it probably seems a bit exotic to think about these situations. Many of us flee in self-protection from our family. All of us would prefer the warm embrace of people who value and love us. Unfortunately, much of the world operates on a stranger wavelength.
It’s no insult to say that my original sister and I are incompatible. I’m not one for anger, drama, and instability. It might make her angry to see this truth written out – but it is true in a way that no one can deny. As for my brother, he wisely moved away when he was younger. Over the years, our connection lessened. A few years ago, we went through an intense and disruptive episode that broke something in me. I didn’t know at the time how much he was suffering from addiction. I knew but didn’t ‘know,’ much in the way that each of us later wonders how all of us avoided connecting the painful dots.
Now that the day has come that I might have a connection to another sister, it is news that I can’t share meaningfully. Mom and dad are both dead. My sister is in exile for my sanity, and my brother is struggling merely to live another year.
You might say, “None of that is your place to say, X.” You’re wrong, though. I have earned the right.
I don’t know what, if anything, will come of my discovery of a new half-sister. I wish my brother Mike were in his right mind, though. We share a deep and incisive bond of dark humor and irony. Since he’s been at the brink of death, he has passed a lot of time with me recounting the old stories. Shared history acquires a more profound meaning when you realize that your time in it is diminishing rapidly. In the last few months, Mike has read all my family lore and stories and relished them. He knows how strongly the gravity of what we came from has affected us.
I hope that my new half-sister waits a long time to meet my original sister. While I am by no means able to claim normalcy, I’m foolishly confident that I am the best ambassador to the family.
To anyone reading this, I hope each resists the urge to ‘find’ my new half-sister. She gets the right to decide when or if she opens the door. I wish her peace regardless of her timeline.
To the new half-sister I don’t even know by name, I wish that Father’s Day were one of joy for you. I wish that life had been different for us all and that all of us could sit at a table and wonder about what might have been. Each paid the price of our common ancestor. We never stop paying.
We also never stop hoping, though, either, not if we share a common humanity.
For anyone who never had the pleasure of the holiday buffets at the now-defunct Clarion Inn in Fayetteville, you’ll have to pick another such activity or place to visualize. It’s possible I’m too nostalgic. Something about the holiday buffets evoked a feeling of kinship and holiday in me that few things ever did. I was always surprised by the mix of people who would show up and join in.
The buffet was fabulous, whether you were a light eater, a healthy eater, or someone who could best be described as a “human disposal.”
I didn’t get to return “one last time,” mostly because of factors out of my control.
Over time, I wrote a few rules to keep in mind as I hear/see people forego simple things in life, as if they themselves will not be scattered dust on a day much sooner than most of us expect.
The Clarion Misconception
The error of foregoing even mundane pleasures due to the illogical
presumption that said pleasures will always be at your disposal.
The Clarion Misconception Addendum:
Giving primary consideration to other’s preferences due to perceived proximity to death or variable out of your control.
The Clarion Certainty: Future moments are all promissory notes without guarantee.
The Clarion Kinship Observation: Familial or societal expectations should be evaluated against all variables, with your own voice given equal vote.
The Clarion Selfishness Observation: Compromise in all things will get you far; giving yourself permission to not do so will sometimes make your life happier.
He didn’t relish the role foisted upon him.
He didn’t shy away from it, either.
His only concern was that each deserving soul met its end at dusk. Whether guilt or innocence played a role in each participant’s demise failed to register for him.
Life hadn’t altered its casual disdain for the perceived importance each player brought to his or her small part in the universe.
His tired muscles could feel the pull exerted by the thirst for endings, anticipating a busy nightfall. From off in the distance, he could hear the amassing footsteps of those unaware of the unfolding promise of the night.
Each of them expected a demon or the angel of death; none expected a fatigued man with a full face of worry lines and eyes burning with purpose.
He’d greet them all, while pushing them onward toward the great ‘next.’
X Teri’s New Year Meal Recommendation: eat whatever you want, even the last 2 old hot dogs in the partially-opened package.
Reminder: if you’re eating anything with more than 1 adjective in the name, you’re not eating, you’re imitating.
“Hey, sprechen ze talk?” – Harry Ellis
The holiday season can be defined in any manner people see fit. For some, it is an intensely personal celebration of the cornerstone of their faith. For others, it’s an excuse to share time with family and friends. While this will cause a ruckus for some, those who disagree should look to history for an explanation, lest Hans Gruber and his merry lot of robbers burst into their lives and spoil their festive plans. There’s room for everyone to live and love the holiday exactly as he or she wishes. Even for nutjobs like me who love fruitcake or those weirdos who enjoy trees comprised of one single color. Luckily for all of us, our party requires no invitation or dress code.
“Welcome to the party, pal.”
If people love the movie Die Hard as a yuletide movie, it follows that it is, in fact, a holiday movie. Observance of a ritual makes it so. It’s for this reason that I abandoned most of my foolish insistence on orthography and spelling. People drive usage and customs, often at the expense of the comfort and sanity of those around them. As much as we like to insist on consistency, everything is always in flux. In a century, the words I’m using will feel awkward. There will be new traditions we never imagined – and many of ours will seem antiquated. Change is so constant and gradual that we allow ourselves to forget that nothing we do today was always done by our predecessors. Some of us get stuck in a feedback loop that traps us in the idea that our way has always been the way.
Traditions and customs ebb, flow and grow in a wild manner, with complete disregard for what preceded them. If you find yourself struggling with friends or family who disagree with the way you choose to celebrate (or not), ignore them. Don’t fuss or argue, even if you want to wrap them in a chair with Christmas lights, and drop them down an exploding elevator shaft with a note indicating, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.” Wave your hand in the air in frivolous disregard for their jaw-wagging. Sgt. Al Powell didn’t heed Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson, did he?
If you want pizza for Christmas dinner, enjoy it. If you want to play board games and drink fizzy margaritas, followed by a bacchanalia of present opening at midnight, jump in with enthusiasm. If you feel the urge to put up a tree in October, do it. A great number of non-religious people celebrate the holiday, a fact which riles a few of the faithful, as if another person’s choices spoils their own. There is no “one” way to celebrate the holiday. No matter what choices you make, I promise you that someone somewhere is making a twisted face about how you choose. Capitulating to nonsensical demands about a holiday lessens everyone’s enjoyment in life. You’ll feel like Harry Ellis with a hole in your head, after literally trying to negotiate with a terrorist.
If Die Hard is your favorite Christmas movie, then revel in John McClane’s adventures. Should anyone lecture you about your choices, unclasp your watch and let them fall away, like Hans Gruber from Nakatomi Tower. They’ll make the same face as he did when they realize that you can’t be swayed. “Happy Trails, Hans!”
The last thing you want to be is a Grinch, or as the eloquent John McClane puts it, “Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the a$$.” He also exhorted us to, “Take *this* under advisement, jerkweed.” Wise words.
The question isn’t whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie; rather, the question is why do other people care that you celebrate it as part of your tradition? Heathens and believers alike can rejoice that our world is one of crazy, infinite freedom. In a season of lovingkindness, so many lose their focus on its possibilities.
P.S. It could have been worse. There are those who think that “Christmas Vacation” is the best holiday movie ever made, which proves my point that all of us are crazy.
Yippee ki yay, melon farmers!
We lined Emma Street last night, each of us impatiently waiting for the bright succession of floats, lights, and hurled candy to pass us by. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm late November night. Northwest Arkansas’ largest lit Christmas tree came alive slightly before 6 as those in the parade made their way from the rodeo grounds down the revitalized path to downtown. The people involved in the downtown festivities did an incredible job of organizing the various activities. The Shiloh Square was a diverse mass of commerce, shouting, and smiling. With so many children present, it was no surprise to hear the word “No!” at least one million times.
Earlier yesterday, I heard the rumblings of resentment on social media, as people whispered against the Sons of The Confederacy participating in the parade. I limited my commentary to, “I hope people don’t do anything stupid. Or stupider.” As we all know, it’s become increasingly difficult to be civil at times. Given my background, I know how easy it is to make a situation worse, even if we are ‘right.’ No fire burns as brightly as one fueled by righteousness – and none singes with such wild abandon. In the end, it’s hard for us to believe that much of our complaining is no more than the proverbial ‘fart in a thunderstorm.’ I’m not judging the motivations of those objecting, either, because if we look at the actions of each person instead of as part of a collective, we can better determine the impact of something on our lives. Much of our issues stem from piling people into neat baskets. Even though I also know that screaming, shouting, or typing in all caps not only does not advance my argument but weakens it, like so many others, there are times when my brain short-circuits and leaves me incapable of persuasive disagreement.
If the Sons of the Confederacy is a relic, then so too are our family members who subscribe to supremacy and the arguments of heritage. It is often tone deafness amplified to a shout; out of place, out of time. Many are proud to be Southern and I find myself conflicted at times attempting the impossible task of distinguishing between prejudice and pride in others. In my case, I don’t feel Southern or even Arkansan. So much of our life is tribalism. We identify with the people, places, customs, collegiate sports teams, and religions of our geography. Allegiance to and defense of things which are unchosen lead us to strange destinations. I don’t subscribe to any of their memberships.
As someone who has done a lot of genealogy, I’ve discovered that many of us share a mass of common ancestors. One characteristic of those who preceded us is that they did a lot of vile, ignorant things, just as many of us do. I vainly try to read the hearts of those I know to circumspectly decide whether they glorify heritage or hate. I’m not impartial. Even as I hate to find myself judged, I judge others.
If I find myself unable to distinguish motive, I look to my own past and to my own father. His demons fueled a fury that left a wide path of pain behind him. If I cannot separate his humanity from his actions, I’m left with nothing except the certainty of destruction. It’s impossible to elevate him or honor him in the face of his actions. Other people in my situation find a way to love the person in their lives, my father’s equivalent. Some are able to do the same with our national disgrace of slavery and the institutions which furthered them. I don’t know how some people compartmentalize their adoration for Southern heritage without being derailed by what fueled it. I do know, however, that I am foolish if I paint all such people as having hate in their hearts. Just as they can embrace violent fathers or remain in churches which institutionalize abuse, they also embrace an imagined way of life without associating themselves with the violence of slavery. It perplexes me.
Having said that, I squint at public monuments which seemingly glorify our collective lesser nature and past. I distrust by default those who wave the Confederate flag. I wonder what motivates a group of people to build a float that will probably upset the very people who want to be entertained. Even as I do this, I know that I’m making the mistake of generalization when I judge everyone who disagrees. My privilege as a white male does not benefit me when I attempt to add my opinion to the pile. As such, I leave the heavy lifting to those who feel emboldened enough to protest or resist their presence. In short, I’m lazy. Especially of late, it is inevitable that most things will morph into shouting. A world in which the Confederacy is important is not my world. But neither is a world which mobilizes to shout back at those who find value in it. For those who truly feel the need to protest, my heart is with you. I hope you resist the visceral need to shout down those whose arguments are shaded with subtlety. People will say dumb things such as, “No one was offended,” as if they know your heart.
As we leaned against one of the restored buildings along Emma, I told my wife that a controversy was brewing and that I dreaded the inevitable brouhaha on social media. I knew that the next day would bring teeth gnashing and recrimination. I told her I was surprised that such a float would be included in the parade, but that it wasn’t a last-minute decision and that someone had hopefully taken a moment to consider the implications of its inclusion.
As the floats passed, the only misbehavior I noticed was that of several young misfits who were diligently and insistently attempting to make their mothers lose their minds. That a mother might actually smack a child was the most likely genesis of violence. The best float was the one celebrating the movie “Christmas Vacation.” Eddie drove by in a decrepit RV, tailpipe dragging on the pavement and ahead of him, a tree-laden (roots and all) station wagon adorned with a thousand lights.
As the parade ended, my wife and I cut through Spring Street, then on Johnson. The floats had looped around on Johnson after traversing Emma. I was carefully making my way along the edge of the road, watching the uneven ground carefully. “Merry Christmas” enthusiastically yelled a young blond-haired girl. I looked up as I bellowed, “You too!” The float behind her held two of the men dressed as Civil War soldiers. I waved and said, “Have a good night!” They both waved and said, “You too!” Both floats were part of the Sons of the Confederacy. I didn’t wave to endorse any hateful ideology. I waved because those were people and any meanness on my part would serve no purpose other than to solidify the presence of more discord. Time will hopefully do its job and convince people that such affiliation equally creates discord. I waved and greeted the other float participants, too, as each passed me. Especially Cousin Eddie in his RV.
The picture in this post is of one last night. I chose it because while it captures the beautiful lights carefully placed along Emma, it also captures an interloper passing through the frame. A shadow, one not participating, yet present. Whoever that shadowy person might have been, he or she represents the stain of controversy in an otherwise beautiful Christmas parade. Even as we enjoyed the goofy pleasures of a community parade, I knew the shadow would linger in the hearts of many. Many people worked hard for the night we all shared. It’s important that we take the shadow in its proper perspective yet also be grateful that the Springdale we now share is infinitely better than it once was. I truly believe that.
When I write, I lay out my deficiencies in concrete, leaving people to bring their own misconceptions and lives to the words I write. Unlike many, I have ideas which do not reside on permanent foundations; they shift as my understanding changes. In short, I am often wrong. Interacting with people changes me, especially those who temper their knowledge through a filter which demands that we often give one another a huge benefit of the doubt – and to be cautious when we attempt to read the hearts and minds of those around us.
I left with much to think about.
I left hoping that thinking itself would prevail over shouting in the next few days.
Behind me, the enormous lit Christmas tree filled our Springdale downtown with colorful lights. If the Spirit of Christmas is something worth aspiring to, I hope those lights somehow made their way into the hearts of those who share our community, no matter what their hearts might already contain.
On this day, I’m thankful for the statute of limitations, for those things on the ends of liquor bottles which inhibit pouring with greater volume, hair chalk, cats who take the time to learn sign language, exploding birthday candles, sauerkraut, prank obituaries, going to sleep in my own bed and waking up in the middle of the lake, indoor toilets, fiberglass-stuffed pillows, maniacal laughter in the middle of the night, police who limit themselves to shooting me just once, large and flightless birds who get cooked, cranberry sauce (aka “the devil’s snot”), that “Twilight” has no more sequels, another year without me being embroiled in another sex scandal, fungus removal creams that also serve as sour cream, elastic waistbands, that intestinal gas isn’t colorful or visible, the relief I feel when they take the handcuffs off, when people think I’m George Clooney after a year of really bad luck, wool underwear, a wife who foolishly stopped looking when she found me, black licorice, Tab soda, fruitcakes, Weird Al song lyrics, a good book rendered even better by a good cup of coffee, the ability to write the word ‘Grammer’ incorrectly on purpose and not care, that my sister-in-law cuts her hair at least once per full moon, burned popcorn, chewing 17 pieces of gum simultaneously, feeding the squirrels until they can barely climb the trees in the backyard, living room campfires that don’t burn the house down, stories from people who take the time to share them, memories of hard rains against cotton fields on a wood plank porch, and finally, an irreverence toward every thing on the face of this Earth, the one which has tolerated me for half a century.
P.S. I would never wait for a ‘day’ to be reminded.