Life one bite at a time…….


Sitting in my kitchen on Christmas Day. I have made my first ever attempt at homemade biscuits and have enjoyed a decadent late breakfast, contemplating the clean up in progress.

But over the last few days what has really been on my mind is birth. Now I have never had the maternal gene, and I guess luckily for me, my soul mate didn’t desire parenthood either. So I don’t know about the physical demands of birth, other than what I’ve heard and read.

I am experiencing a birth of sorts. The journey of the last few years has had the constrictions and pulsing of childbirth. The pangs have been horrendous. In the early days not even sure I would survive the process but in my new awake mode, I look back at the heartbreak, the loneliness and the grief and realize from that womb will be born a new life. A life that if I just get out of the way, will let me live into the gifts with which I was born.

Leaving the womb is frightening and shocking. All things are new. Sloughing away like afterbirth those things that do not nourish, lift up, propel.

Realizing from here on out, I write my own story, make my own traditions, live or die by the dreams I have for so long held back. As I sit here in my abundance contemplating the birth of the world’s greatest revolutionary and refugee, I look forward to 2018, the year of my rebirth.


August? AuGUST!

First week of August. Temps have dropped into the 60s and 70s, night time 50s. August? AuGUST! I love this. We may yet be hit with high temps and humidity, but I prefer to think not.

As I walk around my acre, it is incredible to me 98% of this came from inside my head. 17 years of trial and error. Planning, scuttling of plans, chaos and nature whittling away at planning. Loving the happy accidents, learning to bend and not break. Giving the thugs and the interlopers their day and then moving in for the kill.

Feeling the ebb of the seven years of riptide. Finally, it seems the flailing and treading of water are bringing me within sight of land. Two of three musical goals in the bag. Number three in the crosshairs? Finding my gardening stride, trying to move it forward, professionally.

Feeling this dome of peace and me-ness. So attuned to this space had I been proffered the apple, my response, ‘sorry bro, on a high protein diet.’ Don’t want this hearts bubble to burst.

So I look ahead to the future….here is the dreaded street side bed at two years.  Populated on the cheap, refugees from the other parts of the garden.  I relish the wildlife, wild LIFE, that moves through its AUGUST situation. Bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds, farm cats, birds. Me. Neighbors noticing and I get to preach on sustainability, organics, let live, don’t stress, join the party.

AUGUST. Loving it….Living it…….preaching the word.  Eden….live… August.

Blank slate


So it begins, the first autumn


Now, two years later



Out of the dark ages…..

Today I transplanted two shrubs. One was a viburnum that “volunteered” into my yard, of course in the wrong spot. About five feet tall, I had to wrestle through creeping sumac and tree roots to remove and rehome it. The second shrub for relocation was a beautiful pure white rose of sharon, called White Chief. I planted this pup a few years ago. This year, for some reason I noticed it had grown ‘wonky’. This roughly eight foot shrub was growing at almost a 45 degree angle.

I was flummoxed by the growth trajectory of this beauty. It needed to be moved and righted as it was now tangling with other shrubs in my mixed hedgerow.

After completing that fairly daunting task, I was thinking about how it had come to grow at such an extreme angle. Had it shifted after planting? Did I plant it so the crown was pointed almost due east? Did she just decide she didn’t like her circumstances and was moving on out?

As I thought about it, my brain said, ‘you planted it in the Dark Ages, that’s why you don’t know’. The Dark Ages.


The Dark Ages. Five years. Followed by 1+ of treading water and getting bearings, feeling the waves kind of subside.

As I considered my Dark Ages, it dawned on me what followed the Dark Ages.

I am singing again and the voice is getting stronger, the musicianship is becoming clearer and easier. And the garden?

I am going out on a limb here, but here goes. There is a lot of research in the sentience and empathy of plants. Go ahead and laugh, you’re welcome!

Plants are now shown to recognize specific predators so they can respond with the appropriate defense. They recognize family groups, they recognize beneficial beings other than themselves. I have had a lifelong belief, well before this scientific research, that plants know we are here. My modus operandi has long been not just to talk to my plants, but to speak to them specifically, to touch them much like one might a good friend.

The spring of 2017 has been off the charts, everything is lush and big and robust, despite a late frost. Intellectually, I can argue it’s because of the early spring, combined with a mild winter. Or even the cumulative result of several mild winters.

This year I feel “awake”….is it possible, the garden has been biding in the Dark Ages and now it’s awake too? Does it feel its mistress awakening and know the time is now?




The Seven Year Itch

With enough frequency to draw notice, in the last few months I have been asked the question, ” How long has it been….”, and there has been no need for a completion of that question. I knew immediately what the questioner was asking, the countdown has been like the Times Square countdown clock on New Year’s Eve. Now I am feeling as if I might be the portal to a palpable space time wrinkle, other folks feeling my clock.

Seven years. Almost.

Done a lot of scratching in the mining of my soul. Finding the will to live. Facing impossible truths. Scratching the hives left by so many peeled onions, only to find many more fields of them to go. Seven years of scratching.

Never knew I had so much itch.

I itch to learn to trust, others and even more so, myself.

I itch to lean into this life I’ve built on the edge of the volcano. (Don’t mind the heat, baby, just enjoy the beauty, the power.)

I itch to binge watch my life to see where this amazing, convoluted plot has been taking me.

I itch to have the life I jettisoned. I itch to accept the life I have carved from the now, vein by vein.

I itch to immerse myself in beauty.

I itch for companionship.

I itch to know who the real me is.

I itch to converse with Lincoln; with MLK; with Walt; with God.

I itch to just have it be over because sometimes the scratching is just too damn hard.

I live, therefore I itch.

Vissi D’arte

Wrote this a while back, just found it and thought it still works, still has truth………..


Never cared much for opera.  Still don’t. But the training was classical and everyone told me I had the voice for it.  Until the day I was told I would never really make it at the Met.  I had this tell tale jaw wobble.   “Bummer” since I really wanted to sing on Broadway, but I processed the tunes, none really sticking.  Until I met Tosca.

I lived for art, I lived for love.

I thought it made us bullet proof, pun not intended.  Love.  Love deep and profound.  Love preventing the ugliness of life from making inroads.  My rod and my staff, love.  Love explained everything, made sense of everything, bright lined the work and decisions of life.  Love.  Beauty.  Art.

Love of beauty and art we had in spades. Museums, Merchant Ivory films, Miles Davis, mist lifting from a farm field in autumn, a small backwater town on a sleepy summer day.

Like Tosca, I sacrificed.  There were things more important than dancing and friends and Broadway shows.  There was love, and there were no sacrifices.  None that mattered.  I stopped lifting my voice to heaven and put my shoulder to the wheel.  There were milestones to catch.

Our engine caught fire, eating mileage, gaining ground.  We were moving, moving towards that bright shiny ring, just ahead.

I lived for love.

Clear now, what is missed is love.  Love cloaked, enveloped, made us whole.  The feeling what I did mattered, contributed to our universe, contributed to the whole.  We were special.  Protected.  Unique.  To one person I was the universe, and my universe was him.  Worlds without end.

2008, 2009 when I felt the love was gone?  Thought he was leaving me, waited for the shoe.  Then decided it was time to heal myself.  Maybe if I dropped some weight.  Work on me, try harder.  Nothing took. Love was dying and I was fumbling with the CPR

It was the rapine slaughter by the dregs of the world that killed it.  Silent, invisible, deadly.

I miss love.  I miss its palpability in my everyday ordinary.  I miss it in taking out the trash and mowing the grass, singing a song badly but with gusto.  I miss the pull of its invisible threads binding me to a bigger reality.

I have struggled with loss and grief, suicide and alcohol.  So much bottled up, a vintage not for this year, this decade, this world.  And in the end, I lived for love, would have died for love, and still, even now, question whether I actually had it or not.  Question why I cannot follow in the footsteps of my hero, my  Tosca.  Am I too weak, am I too strong, did I not really love?

I have lived for art, I have lived for love.  Lived and lost.

Bad Ju-Ju

Here it is, 2016. It’s not as if it’s the whole 60 days. Anticipation begins Memorial day. The first hurdle, June 3. The last, July 11. Not really a whole two months. But my life is no longer on linear time and June/July feel like a lifetime.

Unless you’ve put on my big sweaty shoes, and there would be no reason to do so, no, you would’t know.

2016. We would have been married 30 years. Early retirement would have been the conversation du jour. He’d have been 60. I would have worked a few more years and then a rollicking 24/7 us.

Instead, a life barricaded with guilt and anxiety and loss and history.

It’s not as if strides haven’t been made. Progress has indeed been charted. Milestones met. Moving ahead. Things and times, they are a-changing. Everything but me.

Taking a few moments last night on the deck, in the corner of my eye he came through the shaded side yard, and before my eye could even register, my heart knew. As I turned to greet, gone. But I knew. I know.

Bad Ju-Ju, made better.

Pilgrim’s Progress

Every newcomer gets the same schpiel. There was nothing here when we moved in, except mature trees.  It’s hard to internalize the work, plants and time altering this homeplace. Time and an eroded memory made me start to question what progress indeed has been.  There has certainly been a lot of back and forth in this dance, but how much ground has really been covered?

I stumbled across some pictures of my little arboretum, taken about the time it was purchased, early May, 2000.  The house was purchased more for the possibilities and the amenities than curb appeal.



West side




Stick built in 1960, one of the first in this new country estate plat outside of Dayton.  Cedar and brick, definitely mid century modern, but also with some hollas out to Frank Lloyd and the early century brotherhood.  A project house, inside and out.

Outside there were oaks, locusts, linden and silver maples.  Apparently the folks from whom we purchased had been told to boost the curb appeal.  Curb appeal translated into purchasing eight very small boxwoods and plopping them around the drip line of the house.  One of the first changes I inflicted was moving those boxwoods into a hedge on the east side of the house.  About the time they reached maturity, they were heavily infested with white fly and mites.  I have learned to hate boxwood and will never willingly have them in my landscape.

What a difference a decade (or so) has made.

This space became my outlet, my sanctuary.  Two sides of my roughly acre lot have mixed plantings, 200′ x 6′. (I learned Great Dixter’s beds are 200X20, I need to catch up).  Beds now surround the house and all the trees.  A particularly wooded area with an ancient crab apple, now sorely in decline, has been embraced with shade lovers.  A lot of sweat, trial and error, time and ………. dollars.  “Estate” trees, code for self seeding volunteers, redbuds were moved to the west side along the drive, alternating with limelight hydrangeas.  Fast growers, the redbuds have created quite a screen.  Giving weight and age to a blank slate. The west side of the house almost unrecognizable compared to it’s year 2000 genesis.


The year Hurricane Ike exacted vengeance on Ohio, a 50 foot scraggly white pine was lost, luckily taking nothing else with it.   In its wake, an opportunity to “spruce’ up this island bed in the front of the house. While it took a couple iterations to get it right, it’s now filled with mahogany leaved paper birch, witchhazels and grasses.


The borders I added on two long sides of the property were achieved with massive amounts of chopped fall leaves and layers of cardboard.  The plantings are mixed.  Lilacs, roses of sharon, nine bark creating the backbone; shrubs and sub shrubs like caryopteris, mock orange, daphne and roses filling in at their feet. This doesn’t comprise all the plants but these are the repeaters that I use throughout the beds.


Terraces were built in back, since the house had been built on a “hump” on a sloping plot.  Impossible to mow safely, the hump had to be eliminated.   The base of the terrace is over 120′ feet long.  Built from those easy construct-a-wall cement “locking” blocks, pushed a cart load at a time by me. Each block weighing about 22 pounds, I could haul nine of them at a time.  Built after work and on weekends, it took quite a few months to complete.

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The terraces had to have plants capable of transitioning from “bright” shade to six hours of brutal western sun exposure.  The shade part was easy: hosta, a few spring bulbs, hellebores, jack in the pulpit, ferns.  But as it moves west, becomes exceedingly more difficult.  Some sedums worked, a couple of fairy roses held on, tall phlox pretty much overran everything.  I am still trying to work out a mix.

I’ve added trees.  Beyond being a tree-hugger, I am tree lover.  Given a space big enough, I believe I could populate it with every tree I encountered!  To date I’ve added three beautiful columnar red birches called “Obelisk”, variegated dogwoods, a couple of columnar hornbeams and some big leaf magnolias.  Future trees will have to be in pots; as I age the pots I create are becoming more and more of an issue.  Glutton for punishment, I bought tiny japanese maples late last year, so I’m not out of the “woods” yet!

A couple of years ago, I turned to the house.  Window boxes were installed.  Five, each five feet long and roughly a foot wide.  Transformative!

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This year was a banner year in many ways.  After five years of searching for a me place,  I decided to stay in the one I already created.  During those years I had held back on doing much in the garden beyond maintenance.  With the decision to stay, came the decision to take on two areas that had long been a burr in my saddle.  They were begging for a facelift and I had ignored their pleas.  So, I ordered three dump truck loads of leaves from the township, which delivered them free!  Leaves and cardboard were spread, deep enough to retard the grass underneath.  As my neighbors chased every leaf from their lawns with leaf blowers, I cheered the arrival of dump trucks full of them.


Front walk wall












Since visiting Yew Dell Gardens near Louisville several years ago, I have been madly in love with paper bark maples.  Rarely seen in any landscape, especially a suburban one.  Smaller trees, with great fall color.  The real attraction is exfoliating bark, colorful and crazy and marvelous.  This year I attended a local garden show and like a bolt from heaven two vendors had two different types. There were dwarf brooms possibly attaining 5-10 feet and then a “normal” one topping out at about 20′.  All of them came home with me,  the dwarf brooms becoming specimens in my new curbside bed along with grasses shared from other spots in the garden.  I went crazy with bulbs, a friend shared poppy starts and I found some amazing scratch and dent roses for $2 each.


Progress, progress indeed!





Gardening, from Eden

I have been reading a lovely book, Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Augustus Jenkins Farmer, a multi-generational gardener.  He speaks to the slow way, the older way of gardening and gardeners.  Ways not only pragmatic, but in the new lingo, sustainable, renewable, cost effective. Taught how to root plants, save seeds, and plant by his mother, friends, grandparents, father and others.  It sends tremors through my psychic web, and not in the supernatural sense.  Many of these techniques I have been doing myself, in a vacuum.

While I have read quite a bit about gardening, in books and periodicals, these techniques are generally not covered and certainly not “condoned” by the folks running the Master Gardener’s course I completed.  My Mom has always loved plants and we certainly had a decent sized vegetable garden for a time in my childhood.  I cannot recall any gardening lessons, just the eating ones, picking a fresh tomato and sitting in the garden with the salt shaker eating it right off the vine.  So, from what ether did my psyche pull these tricks?

A work table in my garage near the back door simultaneously has pieces from projects completed and not so much, other detritus working its way to the shed or into the basement; a backdoor catch all.  It’s also the place where flotsam from houseplants and garden converge.  Used pots, fertilizer, drainage dishes, seeds.  Jars and envelops of seeds; sometimes in paper bags, sometimes on paper towels, paper plates.  Not too long ago, electricians were in house, working on the never ending remodeling projects.  One of them commented on a paper plate by the backdoor, filled with the seeds from a Eucomis that bloomed prolifically last summer.  A pineapple lily called ‘Sparkling Burgundy’.  As each flowering stem waned, I harvested it.  The flower spikes are very long and covered with seed pods, the best option for allowing them to dry out without losing any seed was a paper plate. So my trove of eucomis seed ended up by the back door, awaiting my next move.  The electrician, probably about my age, said he hadn’t seen anyone save off seed like that since his grandfather.

I cannot have florists roses in my home without the overwhelming desire to cut they little heads off and root them, especially if the stem shows some fecundity.  I have rooted enough roses this way, with nubile young stems cut from other roses, including those rustled from parking lots and ditches, to know that I have about a 50% rate of return.  According to Mr. Farmer, that’s 100% success.  I stumbled across this technique quite by accident, and then found out within my circle of acquaintances, their grandparents did this.

Shrubs, like forsythia, oak leaf hydrangea, roses taught me other lessons.  These are natural self-peggers, rooting where branches and stems fall to ground level. I gave an assist to these “under gardeners” to create plants to spread throughout my garden, adding to its cohesion.  Repeated plants giving the eye a sense of continuation, familiarity as one travels through the garden. A neighborhood of relatives.

And then there’s the self-seeders.  I remember a first trip to California, amused by some of the terminology used in the wine industry to create a sense of weight to their product, finding out many of those terms didn’t necessarily mean anything but an advertising ploy, “old vines”, “ancient vines” and a personal favorite, “estate grown”.  As I built beds around our personal arboretum, it killed my soul to think of  killing these intrepid little interlopers, so I started using them in the garden plan.  Roses of Sharon, redbuds, tree peonies and even hostas found their way into beds and planting scheme.  The little seeds that could.  Being able to distinguish between a seedling and a weed at the formative stages is not always easy, but quite a few of these hardy little self seeders were relocated to better fit within the garden and became my own version of “estate grown”.  For me, estate was a state of mind, an inward chuckle on garden tours.

I also can’t stand to see plants in big box or grocery stores without wanting to rescue them all.  It’s a primal instinct, I can’t explain it, nor can I deny it.  I have a hard time letting anything die, even when I know it’s well past the time it should go. These plants are put in harm’s way, a marketing gambit for an impulse purchase, often to become fodder for the garbage dump.

How did this become so intertwined in my life?  Maybe it’s vestigial, harkening back to Eden.  Perhaps a recognition or a line of shared memory to a time when surrounded by a garden, life was perfect.  Many of the greatest moments of peace I have had as an adult were experienced in my garden.  Certainly not in the overly manicured, overwrought professionally landscaped places, but in areas where plants feel some sense of inclusion in the creative process.  Allowed their own captaincy in how they will live, and ultimately, die.  Living near their parent, their siblings, finding their own place in the world, in my garden.  Like Mr. Farmer, I would rather weed out the excess than baby those divas that really don’t belong there.  So I have evolved into a live and let live gardener, messy by some folk’s standards.

Some people are compelled to make music, paint, or play soccer; I have lived a life in blissful coexistence with plants.  From where this drive comes, I will never from know.  But in the larger scheme of things, in saving and nurturing the lives of these denizens of the garden world, I have been saved, over and over again.  Even in the dead of winter, sometimes wrapped in despair so dark I cannot feel my way out, suddenly a house plant will lure me to its side.  A leaf to be culled, a vine pinched, water applied, and before I know it my spirit is transformed and an hour or two has passed as I move amongst rooms of house plants, communing, supporting, loving. A plant whisperer………….or am I a plant listener?

For my part, I believe we are descended from the same mother, the one who began her life in a garden.  From her have I inherited the gene to be looking homeward to Eden, and by osmosis becoming a gardener.


At Play in the fields………

Taking country drives as newlyweds was a cheap and lovely means of entertainment. No matter the season, the desire to discover sights unseen, using gas already paid for was like proffered gold. Early Sunday mornings, Saturdays at dusk, always something to see.

In southeast Ohio, delving deep into the back roads, encountering the downtrodden Amish farms of those shunned due to mental illness or alcoholism, not the quaint buttoned down places of the tourist traps, but slightly derelict farmhouses on borrowed time. Fifteen pairs of boots lined up on a peeling porch, slightly askew.

In the deepest depths of winter, sharing the roads with Amish families wedged into buggies, lap-rugged and freezing. Cheeks ablaze with cold. Staunch and hearty. Two lovers grateful for a speedy Honda and blasting heat.

Some favorite roads rollicked through the rolling hills and woodlands; fields fallow for a year or for fifty. Golden in the sunshine, skimmed with snow or mysterious and beckoning in the twilight. Maize and buff, charcoal and siena. Mine eyes were dazzled. Heady stuff, holding hands, young, in love. Buffered.

There were fields like rejected lovers, cast off by a booming oil and gas business in decades past, populated by time warped industrial structures.  Slowly, slowly crept upon by honeysuckle and sumac, grasses and sunflowers.  Fallow farm fields were plenty, crop rotation being practiced, the skin of the mother being allowed to rest, rejuvenate.  Luxuriating in wind and weather, rain and sun. Recharging, sleepily and steadily.

Later, as I began to grow in my gardening life and relocated into suburbia, I read more about crop rotation and organic gardening. Fallow fields and crop rotation almost biblical in its simplicity.  Fields allowed to go dormant not only allowed for recharge but also detoxed in the event any unwelcome, unseen inhabitants had been encouraged by former tenants. Seeds and plants introduced into prepared, rested ground performed better, were healthier. A process ensuring the viability of the soil for generations.

In 2014 I completed the first year of the last half of my century.  A year of momentous change, risk taking, decisions made.  When I left corporate life in 2013, I took the plunge and changed gears a bit.  Became a consultant.  Yes, the C word.  But still “employed”, bringing in the bacon.  But I found myself becoming unhappier and unhappier.  In 2014, I decided I had lived through enough unhappiness, it was ridiculous to perpetuate it further with a bad professional choice.  Roughly mid year, I cut the cord.  God had guided me through some pretty nasty sailing thus far, a small thing like income was a no brainer for a guy like him.  So I trusted and leapt.

There was plenty to do.  Remodeling was still ongoing in my mid-century modern.  Basement to finish, mudroom to design.  Being a “doer” meant I did as much as I could on my own. But it seemed disaster followed disaster as my aging home rebelled, and like a furious diva extracted a pound of flesh for every improvement forced on her structure. Sometime in the fall, I was beyond exhausted.  Four plus years of grief, depression, loneliness and remodeling had drained my reserves.  I was spent.

I had been reading two books “Letting Go” and “God Will Make A Way” to try and move myself forward.  Instead, the onion peeling work of “Letting Go” seemed to increase the malaise in which I found myself.  The late summer cloaked me in the wet wool of an even deeper depression.  And I thought the first year was tough.  But somehow, as I became immersed in “God Will Make A Way”, a curious thing began to happen, and I wasn’t even going to the forum.  The work of the first book led me to the path of the second.  “Letting Go” was beginning to happen.  I was on the right path.

The time was right to become fallow.  And I understood I needed no one’s permission but my own. After 26 years in the corporate trenches and a year as a consultant, it was time to recharge.   I had lost my roots in the creative arts, in music, in dance.  They had been lost to the pressures of being a contributor to a marriage, a household, a professional life.  An unnecessary casualty of an unexamined life.

My mind and body began their dormancy. Wet wool began to lift.   I wanted to dance for the first time in years.  So I took salsa lessons.  I bought a canvas and a sketch book.  Every day items are becoming evocative of a possible hidden life, an artistic use.  Last night, I couldn’t sleep because I was mentally exploring a new art project.  Heady.

Surprising and yet not surprising that the dust of our bodies works like the soil of the earth.  2015, looking for a year of happiness, of health, of creativity.  Long live the Mother, and may she rest.


Dear Dad,

Happy Birthday!  It has been a long time since we’ve spoken.  I miss you.  I miss knowing you.

Your life has taken on an epic arch for me.  You were born into abject poverty in the coal mines of western Kentucky.  One boy out of five children, one lost early to diphtheria.  Living in a shack on company property, using company scrip.  Always hungry.  Always underclothed.  Never having shoes that fit, never having shoes in summer.  Your first winter coat coming from the largess of a man you would never know or meet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Waiting in line to get it.


Your dad a quiet retiring man.  Loving kids and cigarettes.  Braving machine guns posted at the door to his workplace, helping to bring justice and equality to those who descended into the deep dark, bringing up black gold for the men who would live in palaces. Dying from black lung and disappointment.  Your mom, intelligent, driven, hard.  Hating life and hating you.  Finding Jesus long after she needed to find Him to bring His compassion into your life.


img032You escaped.  Or so you thought.  You left Muehlenberg County for a life in the armed forces.  Bringing that manly, silent type to the close lipped service of the Air Force during Korea, bringing our boys home, again and again.  Suddenly, you saw life outside of coal dust and poverty.  Bright lights and big cities.  Tailor made suits for your slimness, bringing life to your dapperness, your aesthetic.  Stylin.  A long way from no shoes and clothes worn too thin and too small.


img033Leaving the service with the vow to never go back, never be a slave to those who would require kowtows and secret handshakes.  But the world was no longer the same.  You were no longer the same.  What does an intelligent, undereducated guy do after seeing the world?



How you got to that blackened hell hole of a steel mill, I will never know.  Did you jump at the first job opportunity?  While other southern migrant workers were finding positions at GM and Ford, Bethlehem and US Steel, you landed at Blaw Knox. Being under serviced by a second tier, corrupt union, taking your dues and looking the other way. Sometimes working two jobs when a strike was called, attempting to put food on the table for your fledgling family.

The baby children we were, adored you.  You were funny and giddy.  I remember the dancing and singing and the smell of Old Spice.  Eventually, your growing silences distanced you from your children.  Those silences becoming frightening and stifling.  And the silences themselves growing, broken more and more regularly by angry outbursts.

We were orphans, our family.  Not that there weren’t grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  We were isolated geographically, we were isolated by experience, by circumstance.  The annual pilgrimages back to the promised land were what connected us to our people, but it was a one way trip. There was only us, and we were fracturing.

By the time I was in my teens, our interactions were sparse.  More often, I would attempt to escape the house, escape your notice, afraid I would raise your ire yet another time. When it came time for college, I only wanted to get as far away from home as possible. And that leave taking was the first time as a young adult I knew you loved me.  Hugging me good bye when you left me on campus, you had tears in your eyes.  Standing there by the gaping maw of that empty LeSabre trunk, you cried and I was stunned. It was game changer.

It was never possible to have a phone conversation with you, you passed the phone to Mom.  It was on the breaks from school that I found my Dad.  We talked and you started telling me a few things, teasers.  I had found myself during college and in so doing, lost my fear.  Those were precious years, but neither of us knew we were in the elimination round.  There should have been more speed. I was able to catch a glimpse of what you had endured, what you had climbed out of.  A surface scratched.

Your sickness started sometime in the 70’s.  Your silence and anger masking what must have been debilitating pain.  None of us knew what you suffered, you didn’t let us in.  After that first major episode, there were ups and downs medically.  When you had passed the ten year mark, you were safe, isn’t that the rule?  By the time my life was gaining momentum, focusing, yours was veering off course.

I married in 1986. As I prepared to walk down the aisle on your arm, you gave me a chance to back out.  Maybe you knew something I didn’t; maybe you just wanted to keep your newly found baby girl.  You were so handsome that day, no indication of the time bomb going off in your chest. Ten short days and you were gone.

I have a tendency to shift the scraps of knowledge I have about you to try and build a complete, or a more complete, picture.  The game I play to try to wrap my arms around a wraith.  The picture always stays slightly out of focus. Lately I’ve been learning to let go.  It isn’t easy.  Sometimes there’s a great comfort in hanging on to these painful scraps, especially when they’re all you have.

In the end, I know you loved me.  You gave to me all that wasn’t given to you as a child, and so much more.  You sacrificed, you loved.  I benefitted.  I have had opportunities and experiences you wouldn’t even dream of. Your tough love made me strong, resilient, independent.  Prepared me for even tougher days ahead.

I love you.