Category Archives: Nostalgia

A Little Shared Anecdote With Humor

The following is a great little anecdote from one of my favorite people. The last couple of lines are sublime:

When I worked at Windstream, I would often take my lunch to Reservoir Park (in Little Rock) when the weather was pretty. Just to get away from the stress at that building and sit in nature.

One day when I was in the park, I saw a dog (of course) walking around. I tried to get it to come to me, and it wouldn’t. I watched it as it moved on. About five minutes later, an older woman came fast, walking by, carrying a leash. I started the car and drove up to her. I asked if she was looking for a white dog. She said, “Yes.” I said, “I know where it was headed. Do you want me to take you that way?” She hesitated and then said, “Please.” She got in, and as we were driving, we exchanged names, and I told her where I work and that I had been eating lunch when the dog came by. She said they lived at the end of the park.

We located the dog. It was on a path where the car couldn’t go, but we could see it, and she would be able to catch up. As she was thanking me, she told me to please be safe, and then she laughed and asked, “Didn’t your mother teach you not to pick up strangers?” I laughed and said, “Yes! Just like yours taught you not to get in a stranger’s car.”

A Smart Whipping

As I walked down the hill at breakneck speed I caught up to another coworker. He’s an older guy who was raised in a very similar background to me. I took a fallen limb off the sidewalk and broke a 2-ft length of it free. I told him, “If you don’t pick up your pace, you’re going to get a switch on the back of your legs.” We both laughed. And then he told me a story that I really enjoyed: “When I was a young boy, I got a whipping with a stick quite often. My mom made both me and my brother fetch one. So we ended up getting the stick for one another instead of ourselves. My brother thought he was smart and got the gnarliest rough one he could find, intending it to be used on me. Mom took it out of his hand and then turned him around and gave him what for with that horrible stick. As my brother howled in pain and protest, I was crying so hard tears ran down my face. So when it was my turn, I hardly felt it, knowing I was gonna tease my brother for weeks. He ought to have known that you can’t outsmart your mama.”

Love, X


By a series of coincidences, I’m officiating a wedding today. The niece of my wife, who died in 2007, asked me to perform her wedding. I put off getting ordained until shortly before my cousin Jimmy died ten years ago. Though I didn’t do his wedding, I was beyond grateful that he married Alissa before cancer got him. To see him suffering but also making such a loving gesture before he died made my heart swell with peace and love. As for today, I’m not the least bit nervous about it. No matter what unexpected things might happen (and they always do), the truth of weddings is that they only require five seconds of activity to be legal. That people jump and take the risk of marriage is an awesome thing. It is just a piece of paper that doesn’t amplify the commitment between them. But it is still the fundamental way to tell the world that you intend to be with your forever person, whether it’s like my cousin Jimmy who died a month afterward. Or my wife, who died a month short of eleven years with me. It’s impossible to know how much time lies ahead of us. We all get embroiled in the million things that occupy and fill our days. Behind it all, if we are lucky, is the one person who loves us and looks at us like the last french fry in the bottom of the bag. If you are lucky enough to have that one person who is always in your corner, even while they roll their eyes at you, almost nothing in life can derail you. Planes fall out of the sky, tornadoes rip through our homes, and people leave us unexpectedly. Don’t forget to look at the person you’re with and silently say thanks. Even if you’re listening to them slurp coffee from the cup or watching them leave their darned cup on the sink. We do all the things that fill our lives and sometimes forget that invisible things like love are by far the only ‘things’ that matter.

Love, X

A Gift Passed On

Marsha, I sent you Grandpa’s shaving cup and razor for several reasons. Like so many touchstones, it’s just a cup and a razor. But it’s also personal and practical, something to connect me to a past that I romanticize with abandon. If Heaven had to be chosen from moments on this Earth, I might very well choose a summer in the early 70s with Grandma and Grandpa. Being poor wasn’t something I thought about then. It taught me that all the possessions in the world can’t replace the feeling of being loved, even if in a way that isn’t soft and fuzzy.

Bonnie trusted me with the shaving kit a few years ago. I wouldn’t have sent it to you a few years ago. You weren’t ready. And I know my saying so won’t hurt your feelings or open old wounds. I didn’t send it to you because it holds no value for me. As one of the last remaining sentimental things I own, the opposite is true. Everything is temporary, even the people and things we cherish. I don’t love the cup less than I once did. But I also don’t want to hoard and clutch something closely that might touch you in the same way it did me.

Each time I picked up, it was easier for me to flash back 50 years and almost smell Grandpa’s aftershave. He was a simple man, at least by the time I came around. Nostalgia sometimes cripples me when I get into memory mode, trying to recapture details or moments. But even if I don’t get the details right, nothing can rob me of the feeling I had when I was around him. Whether we were watching Kung Fu on the little black and white tv, sitting on the porch swing daring the yellow jackets to approach, or while I was splayed out on the floor with my play pretties while he watched baseball…I didn’t appreciate until I was much older that while Grandpa was no hugger, he gave me more affection than my parents did for the first part of my life. He didn’t raise his voice to me, nor his hands. If I needed to learn that a razor blade was sharp, he’d gruffly tell me to be careful – but didn’t tell me not to touch it. He let me swing an ax that was beyond my capability, bought me nails to drive needlessly into everything in sight, and handed me a sliver of his cannonball chewing tobacco, letting me decide whether I liked it. He poured me coffee when I was four, let me stand beside him when the tornado weather approached and told me to stand still so that we could watch for an unseen animal in the cotton fields. He taught me that four-legged animals were rarely as dangerous as those of us walking around on two. He tried to tell me stories of the war, of riding the trains like a hobo, and many others; Grandma would shout at him to stop. I remember hardly any of those stories, but I can still feel the Monroe County sun on our legs and smell the creosote of the porch steps baking.

I am hoping the feeble power of words that I possess can give you a glimpse of how much it meant for me for Bonnie to send me Grandpa’s shaving kit. The cup is a mercurial, mystical object. It looks like an ordinary thing. But that’s the magic of memory, love, and longing. We imprint onto things that remind of us of the people we loved and who loved us.

May it serve you well or in moments where you get distracted by life’s events that aren’t really important. Or when you feel yourself tempted by old habits. Grandpa was afflicted with many of the same torments that made your life difficult. But he ended up toward the end of his life living a simple, uncomplicated life devoid of the temptations that discolored his adult life. That’s something to be appreciated. If you end up with nothing, yet have a life with even a single person who loves you, it’s a good life.

Love, X

“You Light Up My Life” A Jimmy Story

You Light Up My Life

I wanted to share one of the stories with Brianna about her dad Jimmy.

Jimmy was spoiled beyond belief. As an older cousin, I benefited immeasurably from this. He had all the toys, games, and add-ons that can make a childhood full of play. Because my immediate family was so poor, I’d never get the chance to experience those things if it weren’t for Jimmy and my Aunt Ardith and Uncle Buck. But I’m not exaggerating when I tell stories about Jimmy’s legendary spoiledness.

Uncle Buck was an accomplished musician. He had the chance to ‘be’ someone in the music field but chose to do it as a side gig and hobby instead of pursuing it. He gave Jimmy record players and an endless supply of 45s and LPs. Some of these I remember well because Jimmy played them until you couldn’t help but to have the songs burned into your ears. Stories like the one I’m recounting take on an unlikely meaning when you consider that Jimmy dived deeply into Pantera and his beloved group Metallica as soon hair began to grow on his face. Rock and heavy metal gave him a voice like nothing else had before. The year Jethro Tull won the grammy over Metallica, I wondered if Jimmy might go off the deep end permanently. “Effing Jethro Tull!” he said at least two million times in the next month. “Bands with flutes are NOT rock music!”

Whether it was “Devil Goes Down to Georgia” or other songs, none of my memories eclipse 1977’s “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone. Jimmy was about seven when the song premiered. He thought the song was the best he’d ever heard – and that Debby Boone was an angel. For those who don’t know, this song was EVERYWHERE and #1 for ten weeks. Jimmy played that record so many times that I wondered if it would ever fade into the background. Jimmy had the song memorized in five plays. He played it twelve million more times just to be certain. When Jethro Tull won the Grammy years later, I reminded him that “You Light Up My Life” had a flute in it. He got pissed off, but then in typical Jimmy fashion, he laughed. “You’re right! Damn it, you’re right!” He added the phrase, “Damn flutes!” to his repertoire of mumblings for a while.

When I hear “You Light Up My Life,” which is a rare thing now, I can’t explain how odd it is to think of Jimmy, Metallica, and Jethro Tull in the same thought. Jimmy’s been gone now for slightly less than ten years. 1977 is forty-six years ago.

So, Brianna, if you want a moment to connect with Jimmy, take a minute and look up “You Light Up My Life” and think of Jimmy standing in his living room with the song playing. He’d sway and badly sing the lyrics over and over. He was happy in those moments. Later, Metallica supplanted Debby Boone. Every once in a while through the years, I’d tease him and say, “Well, they are no Debby Boone, Jimmy!”

As for Jimmy, I hope those damn flutes are playing somewhere. With Metallica’s drums and shredded guitars accompanying them.

Jimmy’s hairstyles followed those of Metallica. The picture looked nothing like him for the last half of his life. But it’s tucked away in my collection to remind me.

I hope this story connects you to Jimmy.

Love, X

A Goodbye To Some At Work

My employer offered people with seniority a generous retirement package. And so, as of Wednesday, a lot of familiar faces will vanish.

Someone once said that God only knows everything because he’s been around forever. It’s the same way with some of these people. They make their jobs look effortless at times because they are so familiar with every possible wild contingency. And somehow, they’ve avoided slowly going crazy by the way the rest of us behave.

Every time someone with longevity leaves, I’m surprised by my reaction. That’s how I know that behind their eyes, they will miss their coworkers. Some of them as friends, and some of them as familiar faces.

They will leave holes. Some of it will be work-related and the rest… well, it will be a loss of banter, laughter, and yes, sometimes, disagreement.

I hope everyone lands softly as they start whatever they choose to be their next chapter.

Love, X

Five Minutes/55 Years

Recently, I made a megamix of Rocky theme songs. Though I am not great at it, I made one remix that is impossible to remain immobile while it’s playing. The “Five Minute” rule works great when I’m not feeling it. Because it’s certainly true that motivation follows action rather than the converse. People wait for the urge, motivation, or willpower. It’s the opposite. As soon as the thought hits your noggin, you get up and do whatever it is you were about to put off. Or worse, say aloud, “I need to do so-and-so.” One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was: “DON’T tell me what you’re going to do. Live it. Show me.”

Most of the time, if you practice doing, telling yourself you’ll spend just five minutes on a task cures your procrastination enough to keep going once you start. That’s true with so many things in life.

The Five Minute rule aligns seamlessly with my Law of Increments. If you do a little consistently throughout the day and days, before long, you will amass much effort – and probably consequences.

I know Rocky is old school. One of the reasons it did so well is because Sylvester Stallone (whose real name is Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone) was a nobody with a story about overcoming odds. He was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay.

Late in my 9th-grade year, I got pissed off at myself one early spring afternoon and decided to go running. I figured if the violence in the house hadn’t killed me, I could risk a heart attack. We lived on the downside of a hill in Tontitown near 4K farms. To say that I regretted starting that day is an understatement. I ran a mile. My shorts were ragged, and my shoes weren’t running shoes. Poor aptly describes my predicament. But I put it all aside and just ran. I did it every day, no matter the weather and how sore I was. After a while, I was shocked to discover that the exhilaration of barely being able to breathe was an absolute high. At the end of it, I knew I’d have a hill to run down. Over time, I found myself sprinting a half-mile before the incline. I added more and more distance until one day, it occurred to me that even distance wasn’t an issue. Years later, I wondered what it was that first day propelled me to stop yammering in my head about what I needed to do – and just do it.

My brother forced me to do pullups and lift weights in the horrid dirt floor cellar on the bottom level of the trailer we rented. He usually punctuated the necessity of compliance by punching me in the upper arm with enough force to numb it. Months later, I turned the tables on him when he told me I had to do at least a dozen pull-ups. I said, “After you, my lady, after which I will.” He struggled and finished. I jumped up on the bar and did thirty. “How many CAN you do?” The look on his face was hard to read. “I don’t know. I don’t count. Pullups aren’t a normal thing I do in the real world.” My brother Mike was ridiculously stronger than me. I didn’t like weights. But if I wasn’t practicing my French Horn or reading amongst the trees, it was safe to hide somewhere, anywhere, rather than inside, where the violence would erupt. I’d do anything to have my brother Mike around so I could duck, weave, and throw punches at HIM.

Later, I realized that when I didn’t have motivation, I would listen to a couple of the songs from Rocky and Rocky 3 in my head. “Eye of The Tiger” played ad nauseam everywhere back then. You couldn’t go to church without expecting to hear it being played in lieu of old hymns. That song always gave me the energy to beat my immobility inertia.

All these decades later, some of the music still motivates me. I loathe many of the songs on the soundtracks. Anything by that crack-voiced Frank Stallone, for example. The new remixes incorporate more of the wall of brass sound that the main theme personifies. It’s just raw power demanding that I stay focused.

Through the years, I discovered that almost all obstacles were a figment of my imagination. Could I do 1,000 pushups a day? No, but I could do 1,500. That’s a bit excessive, I know. I stopped doing quite so many a few days before my emergency surgery about sixteen months ago. Could I run a mile in under six minutes at age 55? Yes. Can I run as fast as my childhood best friend Mike? Hell, no. I still have mud in my nostrils from years ago when I tried to keep pace with him. (I decided he might be Superman.) Could I walk twenty a day if I want to? Yes.

I’ve failed at so many things. So please don’t read all this as a litany of humblebrags. I’m self-aware enough to understand that I wasted a lot of my time and energy. I am proud to be a Spanish bilingual and to be a liberal as an adult. Not just politically but across the spectrum relating to people.

The gist of it is that if we are focused enough to ask ourselves what our goals are, we probably can get there. If we want to. Regardless of most of the obstacles. Everyone has their obstacles. And yes, I do recognize my own privilege by writing all this. So many people have no opportunities or advantages. Mine were massive on both sides of the scale. I’m not so stupid as not to realize that despite the harsh hand I started out with, things are good.

I wish my life had a wall of horns blasting at key moments. It would drown out the complaining and haters, for one thing. It would help to get out of bed, too, not that I have that problem. I’m lucky enough to wake up rattling the rafters most days.

From “Eye Of The Tiger” to “Pancreas Of The Platypus” might be an ideal title for a book to describe my outlook on life.

PS That dust all over my vest is from rolling around on the floor with my cat. I can beat him wrestling any day.

Love, X

The Chameleon Of Nostalgia

To burn this bright all the time would be my demise. I awoke at 2:30 this morning, already feeling that sensation of otherworldly lightness. And so I navigated my day at work, my feet boundless. Even after work, both my mind and my feet were creative and I did a few projects as if I were two people, one focused on the task at hand and the other in my head, writing. But the sunlight streamed through my large front windows and the prisms danced and cast rainbows all over me and across the new rainbow light I made today.

So I decided to get 5 miles over my normal amount for the day. I grabbed my keys and headed out, even though I still had on my work shoes from 12 hours earlier. Lord, what a good decision it was. The breeze, sublime, the sun just warm enough, several dogs to stop and pet, and some good music. Though I am unlike most of my contemporaries and enjoy a lot of current music, I opted for ’80s rock. And the very first song was “Sweet Child Of Mine.” I had no choice but to sing part of it, my ears encased in prehistoric headphones. Had someone stopped and said, “You sound terrible,” I would have said, “…at least I don’t LOOK like Axl Rose these days.”

It made me think of my cousin Jimmy. He loved Metallica and copied most of the hairstyles of the band as it transitioned. He would have shaken his head at me and asked me to please stop the screeching. I of course would have ignored him. At which point he would have joined in, his voice equally absent any trace of singing ability.

There’s no doubt I don’t sing well. There’s equal certainty I enjoy a good day. I tend to have a lot of energy. Even when I’m sitting still. It’s why I annoy people and say I don’t get bored. I have to really work at it to feel the sensation.

But I walked and walked and watched the brilliant sunlight grow longer and cast increasingly somber shadows.

I can’t say that tomorrow I will burn as bright. I am fond of saying though, that I can own the moment and memory no matter what.

Maybe there’s a word to describe a simultaneous lightness of being rendered as a chameleon of nostalgia.

I can’t walk forever. And even so the number of days ahead of me is certainly much fewer than those ahead. If this were to be the last photo of me,.. even though I took it myself, it’s fitting. Please don’t “at” me for triggering any possible morbid connotation. Having lived it, no one can tell me that it’s impossible that it might be so.

I’m grateful.

What a beautiful afternoon..

Love, X


I have no claim to being the historian, the biographer, or the speaker for the dead for Marcia. I included the picture because it’s a rare one in which every person is smiling, all convened for a family wedding.

I arrived at the church early yesterday. I’d seen people outside and chatting as they always do before funerals. I took a few minutes to sit in the car, looking across the open area behind the church, my mind returning to the 90s and remembering another life. Not just the person’s life being heralded a few minutes later, but also mine swirled into a questionable collection of thoughts and memories.

Faces I hadn’t seen in well over a decade, some in fifteen years. I was once connected deeply to many of them. The children of the family? Some towered over me, their faces alien yet familiar. I hugged them all. I take my job as the Hug Ambassador seriously. I had to remind myself that I was in attendance for a funeral; the truth is that some of the warmth I used to experience with some of them came flooding back. Those who held a place in their hearts for me still told me plainly merely with their faces and enthusiasm upon seeing me. Seeing people after such a prolonged absence will gauge and plunder your feelings across a spectrum of emotions. All those lives, swirling inside and around a community we all share, were brought back together to send off someone who managed to make it to eighty-four years of age. She was the head of the family in what I call my Life 1.0. When I thought I was experienced and prepared for anything. Oof. Life reminded me that I was in store for a box containing both beautiful magic and dark shadows.

I remembered the first time I met Marcia. My deceased wife, Deanne, cautioned me, and she was right. Marcia mentioned the first time I met her that she wanted her large assembly of children to take care of her when she retired. We were sitting at Village Inn, having met her after our night shift. I had a lot better time than Deanne did. I acted like… myself: irreverent and fast-talking when her Mom veered into wild territory. Marcia had experienced a lot in her lifetime by the time I met her. It was written on her face and etched into her words even then. Deanne and her Mom argued often. It didn’t help things when it amused me when they did. Marcia didn’t quite understand at first how Deanne and I got together. So, I told her the truth: I was oblivious to Deanne’s attention, and Deanne took the reins and announced that I was coming over for dinner. Deanne was ten years younger than me and, at first sight, very outgoing.

The truth is that I had a lot more patience with her Mom than she did. I’ve found that to be the case universally. Most of us tend to grow too familiar with our family, and even the slightest oddness inspires us to imagine jumping into a well to escape them. It passes, of course. Especially when we realize that we probably irritate the blazes out of those around us equally. I know that Marcia hated that I took her baby girl away from her. But Marcia was also the one person we had with us when we married in Eureka Springs. As much as I unnerved Marcia sometimes, it’s hard to hold that in your heart when someone passes.

So, I hugged everyone in sight. I tried to avoid saying something stupid, including all the clichés accompanying death. I’ve continued to learn that everyone says something that rubs people the wrong way, no matter how innocent the intention is. I’ve said my share, and I’ve also listened as people said some incredible things to me while surrounded by death, grief, and discomfort. I watched most attendees respond reflexively to the litany of protocols of the Catholic church. Religious calisthenics, someone once called it. And I listened, my mind going back to the years my life overlapped with Marcia’s. As I sat in the pew next to one of Deanne’s brothers, I listened to the odd lilt of the priest’s voice and of the older male singer. The brother sitting next to me is much older now, of course. He was always irreverent. He and his sister Deanne used to annoy the piss out of each other. Older age suits him. Had Deanne still been alive and been sitting with us, I can only imagine the wild exchanges of inappropriate commentary we would have shared. Deanne and Joe would have traveled conversationally between insults and dark humor in a blink of an eye.

Marcia was cremated, a fact that surprised me. She was angry at me when Deanne died because she wanted her daughter buried. I pushed her irritation aside, maybe a little too confidently. Deanne and I had returned from a funeral in my hometown about a month earlier. We did what people do in those situations: we talked about what we wanted upon our demise two hundred years in the future.

I loved being invited yesterday. I made the picture for her obituary, one that was a composite of two pictures taken at one of her son’s weddings. That time frame was the quintessential “Marcia” most people hold in their minds. I realized I was a proxy for Marcia’s youngest daughter, the first to leave the family of six other siblings. That realization softened me more than I expected. It’s strange to think that if Deanne had not died so young, the arc of my life would have looped around to the same moment all these years later. All those experiences and years would have been replaced by the first arc of my life. Yet I still would have ended up in the same moment and place.

After the service, I went to Ancestry and closed out the chapter of her life by adding her date of death. Now, anyone looking for her will always find my family tree for her. It’s become a ritual for me. Closing out with that certain finality of a date and time. In a few days, I’ll add a hundred pictures to her tree to preserve them as long as the internet survives. 84 years is a long time to walk the earth. Yet it is also insufficient.

People, time, love, death, loss.

We march in time. If we are both lucky and unlucky, we will have enough life to see a parade of people precede us. It is both daunting and a gift.

It was a joy to see all the faces and to hug them. It also stabbed me a little because it was the life and family that I took for granted because the person connecting us was so young and left so early. Put aside were all the petty annoyances and dramas that characterize families. Just people, each trying to get through it and make sense of it in their own way. For me, it was literally another life ago.

Even when it’s truly someone’s time to go, it feels like a robbery. We’ll all convene and observe the rituals and expectations. But no one experiences a person the same way that another person does. Some experienced Marcia with both love and irritation, as a daughter, as a son, as an in-law, or as a friend. I don’t think I dishonored Marcia by saying she was brash, opinionated, and often argumentative. In her defense, most of her children inherited that predilection.

Maybe I overthink things, but I don’t think so. I think all of us have a long series of wild, contradictory, and disparate thoughts and ideas when someone dies. That’s probably an accurate way to go about it. Because people are complicated, and when we’re living a life that overlaps theirs, we don’t understand them.

I took time today to find more pictures of Marcia for her Ancestry entry. And I re-read Deanne’s calendar pages for her last year of life back in 2007. Even her short comments about arguing with her mom (and then mine) made me both laugh and remember her Mom truthfully, through both Deanne’s eyes and mine.

And to be remembered? That’s a feat all by itself.

Love, X


This coffee cup is the one I’ve had longest. It’s from one of my two trips to Mexico decades ago. It reminds me of exotic margarita sunrises and sunsets, salt in my eyes from my first trip to the ocean, beautiful sand stuck in places all over my body,  people working way too hard for too little money, tasting unlimited food and drinks I never had before. Being able to enjoy people even more because I loved their language. And trying to like shrimp made at least three dozen different ways. (I still didn’t.) When I was in Mexico, I filled this cup with a variety of drinks, “surprise me” concoctions of coffee and whatever the servers wanted me to try. One of those workers went beyond; one drink was made by a cabal of her friends, all shouting ideas. She put a 1/4 lb. sliver of homemade coffee-flavored chocolate in the cup, followed by bitter coffee and liqueur. I walked down to the darkening beach with the cup. My wife, now long absent, had a preposterous fruity drink that defied gravity.

I paid one of the resort people $20 for the cup. He reluctantly but joyously accepted it. He said I could buy a case for that amount. I told him that the cup was full of the memory of that moment. He said, “¡Eres loco pero simon!” (You’re crazy but yes!)

I’ve been leaving cups when I make special trips or when I want an on-demand lemon moment.

This morning, I walked down the leaf-covered and rain-drenched hill. I put my Mexico cup on one of the lower branches. I wanted to climb up one of the trees but these were slippery and the bark laden with water. Erika was inside cooking and preparing us a meal.

I left my Mexico cup there for future observers, a silent witness to the forest below. If this world were comprised of magic I would hope that anybody that looked at it or touched it could feel the salt and sand on their skin and that feeling of being in another world. I experienced it literally two lifetimes ago. I didn’t know at the time that those memories would be foundational for me or that life had shockingly different plans than what was in my head when I was there.

I clambered back up the hill and into house filled with bacon smells and presence.

This life.

That’s all there is and it’s more than enough.

Love, X