Category Archives: Holiday

Befourth

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In a strange place, as dusk approached, I was alone, as if the world stood still. I heard echoes and booms. The frequency and intensity slowly intensified, much like a novice drummer tentatively using his sticks across the surface of a drum set. Peering through the window, I realized I had a front-row seat to a fireworks display at a church slightly more than a hundred yards from me. Because I was higher than the display, I had the best view in the house. It was a moment crafted just for me, though the dozens of spectators packed on the lawn and the parking lot behind the church would disagree. Before light succumbed to dusk and encroaching darkness, I could see the dozens of mismatched lawn chairs assembled in random order across the pavement.  I could see the dots of both adults and children restlessly moving around. Though they anticipated the commencement of the ceremony, I’m sure many of them realized how quickly it would come and go, much in the same manner as the days we take for granted overtake us. One of our modern curses is to be thinking about getting out easily after whatever event we’re attending is over; it is the opposite of living in the moment. “Parking prevails,” a wise man once said.

I pulled a desk chair in front of the large window and sat down to observe.

Because I continue to believe that 90% of our lives lie in the spaces between the grand moments, I couldn’t help but think that somehow I knew I would always remember this moment.

Though I’ve forgotten the majority of my incredible trip to D.C. with the band in high school, I’ll never forget the backdrop of the national fireworks display in the distance. Though we were confined inside due to rain, the moment was majestic and shared. We’d burned under the July sun earlier in the day. All of us were on an upper floor of the hotel. Perhaps the fireworks display I observed at Lake Atalanta 30 + years ago was more exciting because I was dangerously close to the firework system itself. I was within feet of it and found myself mesmerized by the colors and brilliant reflection of the charges on the shimmering surface of the lake as they exploded. As each charge fired, I could feel the heat and the tickle of the powder discharged from the nozzles.

This year, I had the best view, the best outlook and the most colorful advantage. In the background, the approaching dark skies blossomed with intermittent bolts of lightning above the horizon. Mother Nature competed against man and I was a sole witness.

It was an unplanned moment. Unplannable, really.

The subsequent booms and explosions of color ejected streams of dense smoke that floated slowly across to the west. The dark clouds behind and above seemed frozen in place, even as the lightning bolted from within. The smoke billows seemed artificially 3-D as they moved across the sky in front of me.

Across that same long horizon, I watched the dueling lights of the radio tower blink intermittently and the illumination of the coal electricity plant light up a small portion above the vista. Dotted all along the expanse were other fireworks displays, some large, some small, all equally observed by craning necks and fascinated watchers.

I could sense the anticipation of those at the church after so many confined moments and small rooms, behind masks, away from shared experiences.

This unscripted moment will not be rivaled.

Afterward, I watched the human dots and the lawn chairs as they dispersed back to their vehicles. I didn’t need to hear their private conversations to know the content. I now wonder why they didn’t remain there, congregated, and joined. Even in silence. The homes they’ve become too accustomed to in the last few months undoubtedly will echo falsely upon their return. How long will their memories of this exotic Fourth of July remain in their minds? Like the fireworks, things are moving explosively and with no preordained velocity, as if life must be packed into a single instantaneous moment that escapes our grasp. Amidst the temporary sizzle, all of us would probably agree that life is simultaneously on hold and flying past us with hurried feet.

Because you were not here to see, I’ll carve a tiny slice of my witnessed memory to share with you in the most imperfect way possible.

Now that everyone has departed, I remain at the window observing Mother Nature illuminate the dark clouds and the enveloping night with immense bolts of electricity. I feel that those attending the display should have remained to see this too. This eternal power abides restlessly and insistently, ignoring our movements with disregard. It needs no Fourth as an excuse; its power conjures a glimpse of a timeline so mammoth that it drowns out our concerns.

While I filmed both fireworks and lightning in their respective moments, I won’t share them with you. I’d like your imagination to fill in the gaps of what I witnessed, much in the same way I hope you fill in your life with as much curiosity and interest as these times permit.

The picture I used is not real, no more than the already-forgotten pictures you might have taken during the holiday. For me, the surprise and delight of experiencing fireworks spontaneously would overshadow the reality of data I could see. I stole that moment from a night otherwise absent such delight.

Etch A Surprise

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Noted Etch-A-Sketch artist Beth (a notorious yet talented cousin) conspired with my other favorite cousin Lynette, aka ‘Operative Cheetah.’ Beth, using Lynette’s meticulous input, created and designed a permanent Etch-A-Sketch of one of my favorite places in the world: the plank porch at my grandparents’ house on the hill in Rich, a tiny place located in Monroe County. She then installed it in a shadow box stolen from the attic of a noted philanthropist who curated at the Smithsonian. Somehow, despite the current apocalypse, it arrived at my house without damage.

For those who didn’t know that Etch-A-Sketch artists exist – or that they can be rendered permanent by those with the knowledge to do so. Beth’s Etch A Sketch Facebook Page

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Although unintentional, Beth provided my cat Güino with an immediate resting place. He pawed and clawed until he separated the 14 meters of wrap and created a nesting spot for himself.

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This picture is of Güino later, after I pushed trash in around him to determine how long his planned residency in the box might be.

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This was one of the apologetic notes written on the packing box: “I only had gift tape and this is the apocalypse.”

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Post-Holiday Ritual of Ornaments

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These are actually two-sided porcelain ornaments. The colors are rich for the size. I bought these from Snapfish. One of my favorite rituals after the holidays is to take advantage of using last year’s photos to make a few new Xmas ornaments. I have ornaments made frequently, regardless of being on sale; having the ornaments available for what I would call a pittance certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings though. I’m especially proud of catching 3 ̶v̶i̶c̶t̶i̶m̶s̶ people in one picture to make an ornament. Having my stepson smile for a picture almost caused a natural disaster.

A Party For My Mother-In-Law

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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.

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Christ’s Church of Fayetteville graciously gave us the run of the fellowship and church on Saturday when we held the party.

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.

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Here are the two remaining balloons.

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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.

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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.

 

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My mother-in-law with the diamond painting of her favorite dog, a Chow; my wife worked hours on the painting.

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Julia happily looking her over surprises, as a slideshow of 300+ pictures of her life plays in the background.

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Another picture I stole from Marie, pictured on the left. This is her and Julia: cousins.

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We had somewhere around 25-30 people show up. It’s difficult to plan parties anymore. Those who attended were all happy. Julia certainly was.

Given that the lights were out for half of the party, it was a success.

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Wisteria Lane Getaway For Labor Day

 

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This is the porch on Cabin #3. The porch and its swing is one of the best features that many other places surprisingly fail to include.

 

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.

 

 

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We usually take the time to paint rocks during our stays. We tend to go a little further than most guests.

 

Wisteria Lane Lodging Main Page

Wisteria Lane Facebook

It’s Personal, With Love

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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.

And so…

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.

The Clarion Misconception

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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.

A Small Story for Friday the 13th

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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.’