Aunt Grace

Schoolroom

The other day I read an article talking about how the teaching of cursive handwriting is being completely abandoned in school, mostly because computers have made it unimportant.  I disagree, but largely because I was taught cursive, and use it primarily in my handwriting.  I can’t imagine how printing could be anywhere close to as efficient as cursive when you have to use pen and paper.

I have never had beautiful handwriting, and I’ve never particularly enjoyed physical writing compared to typing on a keyboard.  Despite this fact, the story of my learning this skill  is an important one in my childhood.  It is a tale involving a discouraging 1st grade teacher, a converted home schoolhouse, and a really old woman. Continue reading “Aunt Grace”

Bicycle

Bicycle

The other day I was called by a single mom and asked to assemble her son’s shiny new bicycle. It was his birthday gift, and the task of building such a thing was a little beyond her comfort level or ability. Since I have known them both for quite some time, and because I have become somewhat of an expert on handyman-type stuff, I was the guy she called.

The project didn’t take me long at all, with my bag of tools and a glass of iced tea. And as I later stood and looked at the completed bike, I thought back about my own memories of my childhood BMX. Continue reading “Bicycle”

Ruby 5

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesRuby

This is the final installment of a multi-part story.  Please click on the article to view full, then click the series link in the area above in order to read the whole story.

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When I went off to college most of my interaction with Ruby stopped.  I was far away from her.  She loved my mom and was fulfilled in her inner-dog.  I would see her from time to time, and she was always as happy as a dog could be for us to visit.  She was also always eager to prove that she knew all of her old tricks.

She was never one to spend a lot of time outside and never one to wander away from home.  Some dogs are always trying to dig their way under the fence, or jump over it—but not Ruby.  She preferred a warm couch to the great outdoors.  This makes it very strange that she got out of the yard one day while I was away at college. Continue reading “Ruby 5”

Ruby 4

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the seriesRuby

This is part 4 of a multi-part story.  Please click on the article to view full, then click the series link in the area above in order to read the whole story.

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Ruby made it through her bout with the disease.  The virus took a lot out of her, but she survived, and she eventually returned to the same pup we’d known before.  There was no doubt that she loved us, in an emotional and committed way.  There was also no doubt that we loved her and would never give her away again.

As her strength returned, I decided that all of her innate talent should not go to waste.  I taught her commands in triplicate, English, German (which I was learning in high school), and hand signals.  She learned all of this effortlessly.  If I told her to stay, or held up my hand fingers up- palm facing her, she would stay for as long as I left her.  Sometimes something would happen and she’d forget, but not usually.  If I got distracted and left her there, sometimes I’d find her hours later asleep in the same spot. Continue reading “Ruby 4”

Ruby 3

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the seriesRuby

This is part 3 of a multi-part story.  Please click on the article to view full, then click the series link in the area above in order to read the whole story.

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Weeks later, one of the women called us and told my mom that they just couldn’t keep Ruby anymore.  She said that it was all just too much for them to handle.  I suspect that I’ll never quite know the truth of the matter.  Had my mom called them?  Had Ruby just refused to acclimate and accept them as a substitute family?  Had they just decided that a dog just wasn’t right for them?  In hindsight, I’m sure they were more cat people.  Or could it be that they knew something that they didn’t want to deal with?  I’ll never know. Continue reading “Ruby 3”

Ruby 2

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the seriesRuby

This is part 2 of a multi-part story.  Please click on the article to view full, then click the series link in the area above in order to read the whole story.

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Ruby quickly became an indispensable part of the family.  She would crawl on top of my back and fall asleep as I lied on the carpet watching TV each night. She would also wake up shortly before I would and start scratching at my door to get in.  My mom would usually get to her before that and would lift her onto my bed.  Ruby would wake me up by repeatedly licking my face.

When she grew big enough, she would jump onto my bed herself and wake me up in the same manner.  Or, she’d just jump repeatedly at the side of the bed making a whining noise until I noticed her.  This mostly happened when I was lying too close to the edge for her to get up there. Continue reading “Ruby 2”

Ruby 1

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesRuby

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When I was about 8 years old I spent all of the paper-route money that I’d saved up on a red wiener-dog puppy.  We named the dachshund Cassie, and she quickly became part of the family.  She was everything a wiener-dog is.  She was loyal and strong-willed, loud, and heat-seeking.  She would wake up every morning at about 7:30, just 5 minutes before the pool equipment came on, begging to be let outside.  She would then spend the next hour chasing the automatic sweeper around the pool barking.  The neighbors must have hated us and we’d tell her to shut up, but she didn’t care.  It was her game, but truly she did despise that thing.  But this little essay isn’t about Cassie. Continue reading “Ruby 1”

Squeegees and Lyrebirds

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I have a wide, white squeegee* in my shower.  Occasionally, although not often enough for me to avoid feeling guilty, I will remember to use this squeegee to get the water off of my shower tiles after bathing.  I suppose that this is intended to keep the shower clean and mildew free, but that isn’t really why I have the squeegee at all.

My grandfather had a similar squeegee in his shower when I was a kid.  The shower was small, but had large mint green tiles.  Nothing else matched that color in the bathroom.  I always wondered if he had the shower done all in green as some secret surprise in an otherwise bland earth-toned bathroom.  People would use the restroom and never know the wonderful secret that lurked hidden behind that frosted glass door.  But I suppose in reality, the shower had always been that color and was just not updated some time before my birth when the bathroom had been remodeled.

I remember when I was a child, old enough to not only take baths but still young enough to be instructed on shower basics, my Granddad told me the importance of the squeegee, and showed me how to use it.  He used meticulously placed downward strokes, with even pressure through the whole motion with the care that my grandfather used in almost everything he did.  It made that beautiful shhthwhack sound that every squeegee makes.  It is a pleasing sound, maybe just to me, but I suspect everyone likes it.

That is why I always have had one in my shower, I suppose.  All because my little brain tape recorder was fed the instruction that after a shower the tile must be dried, and that every shower must contain a squeegee.  When I am in a hotel I often feel a little bit robbed when I don’t see one in the shower.  I don’t know why.  It is obviously the maid’s job to clean it, and that is far more often than anyone’s home shower would get any such attention at all.

I got to thinking about this kind of thing recently while visiting a really odd church on some anonymous Sunday morning.  Some of the people were friendly enough, but the service had a lot of weird things that nobody explained.  They weren’t weird in a cultish way, but in some cultural expressions that they didn’t bother explaining.  It was like celebrating Christmas with a family other than your own, and at dinner they serve Hot Pockets.  Even though it seems really odd, but you feel too shy to ask.

Anyway, during the church service I saw a mid-twenties aged man in the front row.  He had one son with him, probably about 5 years old.  The man got down on his knees in worship and his son knelt quickly down next to him.  The man raised one hand in worship then two, and the son followed suit each time.  The child kept his head pointed toward his dad the whole time so that he wouldn’t miss even some small motion.

He was learning how to worship, and some day 30 years from now, he’ll be in the front row of the church on his knees and he won’t know why, other than that this is the best way to worship God.  It will be stuck in his little recorder, part of his functional DNA, and he also won’t understand why some other dude only worships in the back bobbing his head.

There is this bird in Australia called the Lyrebird.  It is different than the birds that congregate outside my window and wake me up in the morning.  Each spring morning I hear the chip-chirp-cheeee of the Warblers repeatedly until I either submit to the headache or wake up and shower.  But that is the only song that they know.  They do it repeatedly throughout their lives.  They are programmed to sing that.

But the Lyrebird doesn’t do things that way.  He takes the sounds of other birds in his forest and repeats them, weaving them all into his own little song.  He mimics them perfectly.  If he hears a chain saw or a camera, he does those sounds too.  You’d swear it was the real thing.  All these sounds put together into a song.  It is the life of the forest in one medley-remix.  The camera and chainsaw aren’t that melodious by themselves, but the Lyrebird makes it melodious.

I hope I’m kind of like that Lyrebird.  When I swim I think about the time as a child that my dad explained to me how sound travels faster in water than in air.  When I cook I repeat actions I learned long ago from my mom and grandma.  And there is a squeegee in my shower.  I want to believe it is my beautiful song with my own spin on the melody.  I don’t want to be just a Warbler, repeating the same thing endlessly.  I think we are pretty inventive as people, but in a beautiful way, we’re often just repeating the forest sounds of our youth. -Ryan

*I have recently discovered that “squeegee” is a very fun word to spell
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Removed

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the seriesThinking back

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There are times I’ve found myself in moments so surreal that it felt like my experiences were happening remotely, far away from me.  I think everyone has encountered that feeling before, when you seem to be a bystander to your own existence, a fly on the wall watching yourself go through something.

 

Often, these times seem be connected to some great tragedy or hardship.  It is then, when your stomach seems to fall out, like the first great drop of a rollercoaster, or that tingly swing set feeling.  Sweat starts beading from a clammy forehead and your throat goes dry.  But even as you are experiencing this, the camera shifts perspective and in your mind’s eye you are now watching as a spectator. I had a moment like this just a week or so ago, not filled with terror but surreal in its own right.

 

I visited my grandma, my father’s mother, in a convalescent home.  Or maybe it was a rest home…I don’t quite know if there is a difference, or if it matters what we call those places where people end up getting stored as their candles flicker out.  She is by no means ignored the way many people are there.  My relatives, who just aren’t able to provide the degree of care that a Parkinson’s patient requires, visit Grandma Nina almost daily.

 

I’ve watched many of my older relatives pass away, some suddenly and some ever so slowly.  My Aunt Ruby gradually disappeared into the couch over a period of years as the same disease that is taking my grandma gnawed at her body.  I am still not sure which kind of death seems nobler, disappearing overnight or fighting with every breath.  I think the quick version has more appeal to me.  I’d rather remember Aunt Ruby playing her organ or making me a sandwich, than be stuck with the picture that is now her predominant profile in my mind.  I hope that others remember me at my best someday, as well.

 

But with my grandma there in that home I don’t have that choice.  I have very little memory of her at all outside of the other day.  For reasons I won’t discuss here, I haven’t talked to her since early childhood.  When I think back, there are only snippets in my mind of her or my paternal grandpa.  It may be sad, but it is the truth, and I have chosen not to try to deconstruct the reasons why things were the way they were—instead to deal with things as they are now.

 

So there I sat, with a virtual stranger in that place, talking about the weather and birds, and a tree that was blooming nearby.  And I was outside of myself, very far away but wanting to be close…wanting memories that just aren’t there.  And wishing that there was something else, anything I could talk about… something that had more meaning.

 

In the end as I left, she gave me a long slow look—and maybe I returned that gaze, I don’t know.  Her eyes said that she realized she didn’t know if we’d meet again, and that she also wished there was more to talk about than the weather and the birds.  I think maybe, despite me being outside of myself, that presence, us both in that moment was itself just enough. —Ryan

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Apple Juice

Back when I used to watch Saturday Night Live (before the Jamie Foxx episode that permanently changed my mind), there was a skit that for some reason I still can’t stop laughing about. The episode was being hosted by Bryan Cranston, and near the end of the episode where they put the skits that just aren’t very good, he is joined by Fred Armisen in a skit called the Bjelland Brothers.  The skit centers around a song with the lyrics, “I sent a bottle of sparkling apple juice to your house.  Did you get it?”  But, rather than describing it to you in detail, I’ll just embed it below.  Give it a chance…it’ll grow on ya.

So after watching this and having the song in my head, I realized that the chords were really easy, and the next week in youth group, I started by playing this song and getting the kids to sing along.  I doubt that any of the had any idea what this was, but they thought it was funny.   Just like a good shampoo (lather, rinse, repeat) I’ve done it occasionally since, and the teens always think it’s fun.  I doubt that hardly any of them still have any idea what it is from.

As anyone who ever reads this already knows, I recently left youth ministry.  My teens showered me with love in ways that I still can’t put words to.  The most powerful for me are never little trinkets or gift cards (although I do like those), but the teens that tell me how something I did affected their lives, or when they go the extra mile to make me something, or do something creative to honor me.  All of the ways in which they’ve touched my life through the years I’ve known them, and even more as I’ve left will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Tonight I cleaned the last vestiges of clutter from my old office at church.  It was bitter-sweet.  Now there is nothing tangible that ties me back to that building.  As I left, I looked back into my office with a touch of sadness.  After a large part of a decade, it is no longer my place.

When I got home, I carried boxes of books and other office stuff from my car into my home office.  As I carried the last box in, I looked down and saw this on my doorstep.

Bottle of Sparking Apple Juice 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottle of Sparkling Apple Juice 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forrest, I got it.  Thank you