SWEET, SORT OF, SIXTEEN

I know I was sixteen once upon a time because I have a picture. Just one picture.

1963. I'm in the front, in the middle, arm on my knee.

1963. I’m in the front, in the middle, arm on my knee.

I had  a raging case of hormones. This was the summer after I graduated high school. I would be in college a month later. That’s what you get for skipping years in school.

As for what I was like? I vaguely remember what I did — nothing to be proud of — but I have no memory of what I was thinking. I’m not sure I was thinking at all. It was 52 years ago. Almost exactly.

That’s a long time and the details do get fuzzy.

SEEING THINGS DIFFERENTLY

A Marriage Equality Story, by Rich Paschall

All through senior year of high school, Eddie was telling everyone that he would be going on to college.  He had applied to a four-year university and to a “junior college” just in case he was not accepted or could not afford the university.  He received acceptance from both, a bit to his surprise, actually.

While his parents, Edgar and Marge, were naturally quite pleased at Eddie’s acceptance, they advised him almost immediately that there was little they could do to help with the costs of college.  The best they could do was to allow him to continue to live at home for free and could not do much more.

Eddie got a part-time job in the last semester of high school and a full-time job after graduation.  His parents would not co-sign on a loan for the university and showed great reluctance to do so for the junior college.  Even though Eddie thought he could talk his father into signing for his student loan, he had heard all the nightmare stories about student debt and decided to pass on his dreams.

When the decision to skip school was made final, his parents advised that an 18-year-old with a full-time job was expected to pay rent.  They did not ask a lot of Eddie, but since he was making little over minimum wage, it was impossible for him to save money for school.

Over the next two years, he kept in touch with some friends from high school, made new friends at work and enjoyed the life of a young man without commitments.

One day Eddie expressed his frustration to his good friend Carlos.  They were best buddies since senior of high school started.  Even though they were very close, he had never introduced Carlos to his parents.  He was not sure how they would treat him and he did not want any problems at home or with his buddy.  His friendship with Carlos was too important to risk any disrespect.

“This sucks,” Eddie said choking back tears, “this absolutely sucks.”

“I know,” Carlos replied, “but it won’t suck forever, you’ll see.  We’ll both have better jobs someday and it will all be good.”  Eddie did not appear to be buying it.  “Come on, man, smile a little.”

Carlos made a funny face at Eddie who immediately broke into a big smile.  Eddie was not convinced but at least Carlos knew how to make him smile.

As the first year after high school turned into the second, Eddie’s fortunes were no better off.  Older adults kept telling him he should join the army.  It was the place for young men trying to make their way.  He would be “whipped into shape.”  His father even chimed in that it would “make a man out of you.”  None of them seemed to realize that Eddie did not need to “find his way.” He needed money for school.

As the second post high school year wore on, Eddie figured out how to get money for school.  One day he told Carlos, “I am going to join the army.”  Carlos was stunned.  He could not believe Eddie would go away.  They discussed it for hours until Eddie convinced Carlos it was the only solution.

“Then I will save money the entire time you are gone,” Carlos announced, “and we will go to school together.  I swear I won’t spend a penny I don’t need to spend until you get back.”

Eddie joined the army.  His parents were proud.  Carlos worked hard.  All thought things were finally moving forward for all, although they did not all know one another.

After boot camp, Eddie returned home before being deployed to the middle east.  He lied about his return so he could spend the first day with Carlos.  When he left he promised to write and post pictures on-line and keep everyone up to date.  He worried how he was going to do that and keep his different circles separate.

After his parents moved to Arizona, Eddie’s mom became active on facebook and encouraged Eddie to post pictures of his service.  Although there was much he could not show, he did post some barbecue pictures on facebook that his mother immediately reported all around and commented on each picture.  Eddie was embarrassed and decided never to do that again.  When anyone took pictures with Eddie in the group, he asked that no one tag him in the picture so no one at home could see them.

When he was on leave he would always fly to Chicago first to visit friends, especially Carlos.  Then he would go on to Phoenix and visit his parents who had finally move there for a change of weather.  Eddie spoke little about the service and less about Chicago.  He had come to realize through his mother’s facebook postings and occasional comments to him, that his best course of action to keep peace in the family was to say nothing.

After the service Eddie returned to Chicago, got a job, enrolled in school and became roommates with Carlos.  After saving his money carefully and working as hard as possible, Carlos also enrolled at the junior college, but not in all the same classes as Eddie.  They were chasing different dreams.

On spring break Eddie and Carlos, along with a few other friends, went to New Orleans by train.  One of the boys rented a car upon arrival and they all hung out for a few days.  It was there that Carlos made his move.

“Let’s get married when we go back home,” he said to Eddie.

“What?” his surprised mate responded.

“You are living in sin, you know, if you will not marry me.  I demanded a proper marriage.”  Carlos looked at Eddie with the most serious look he could give him.  Then they both laughed.

“Do you love me?”  Carlos inquired.

“Of course.”

“Then why not?”

City Hall, credit: Chicago architecture.info

City Hall, credit: Chicagoarchitecture.info

When they returned home, they got the license and made their plans.  On a Thursday afternoon, with Carlos’ two sisters joining them, the boys went to city hall.  They were married and the girls took pictures.

Neither Eddie or Carlos had ever been happier.  The sisters had some great pictures and one could not wait to share with friends and family.  She even posted some on facebook and tagged the boys.  Eddie, however, could not think of anyone else he should tell about his happy day who did not already know it.

Related story:  Did You See The Picture?

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015 #17 – THE PHOENIX

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015 #17 – THE PHOENIX

Frisbee Wednesday almost snuck completely past me. Where did the week go? We have been in a family crisis whose focus keeps shifting from humans to dogs and back again.

My family, his family, both families … all interwoven with dogs, old, sick, well, young. Without going into details, it has been very difficult for both of us, but especially rough for Garry who shows the pain less, but feels it more.

nan almost christmas

Meanwhile, the Daily Prompt came up with a suggestion we talk about tattoos. And why not? I’ve got one. It’s even relevant, packed with subtext and meaning. Amidst all the emotional and actual mayhem of life …

BODY ART: THE PHOENIX

I got my tattoo when I was 55. Definitely a late starter. It took me years to figure out what I wanted, then years to find someone I trusted to do it.

A tattoo isn’t a casual thing. Once you’ve got it, it’s got you, too. Unless you go to heroic lengths to rid yourself of it, it’s as much a part of you as … well … your skin.

phoenix tattoo me

I’d been vibrating to the phoenix for a long time. Having had my world collapse a few times and arise from its ashes, I figured it fit. I have phoenix earrings, pendants, and pins. What I didn’t have, was a phoenix as part of me. The younger generation were seriously into “body art” and dragooned me. It wasn’t hard to get me to join since I’d been thinking about it anyway.

My husband was amused, but not buying into the event. His skin would remain pristine. No tattoos, no piercings. He got through the Marine Corps unscathed. He wasn’t giving in now. Garry has a will — more accurately — a won’t — of iron.

I knew what I wanted in general, but needed a design. The tattoo guy and I created a design based on a variety of Phoenix patterns he and I found online and in books. Which make it a one-of-a-kind design. When he sketched it on my left calf, I was surprised it was so big. It covers my entire calf. I had something more petite in mind.

My Tattoo phoenix

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound so. I did it.

When this prompt showed up in this morning’s email, I was delighted. Here is something I could relate to. Then I thought about it.

Taking photographs of the back of one’s left calf is not easy. Not only is the angle difficult, involving significant twisting of your torso into interesting configurations, but unless one is a lot taller than I am, it’s hard to get it in focus — I didn’t, but came close. Software did the rest.

Finally, it came together. My tattoo, in honor of surviving life crises and a brave hope for times to come. A phoenix engulfed in flame.

Phoenix doesn’t have quite enough flames. I always wanted to add more fire. Life got in the way, and now, I never will. My phoenix is happy. Long may he reign.

DID YOU SEE THE PICTURE?

A Marriage Equality Story, by Rich Paschall

When Eddie went into the army, Marge and her husband Edgar decide to leave the Midwest and head for Arizona.  As each year went past, Edgar found the winters difficult and the summers impossible.  When the spring and fall brought allergies on and the summer humidity brought increased breathing difficulty, the decision was easy.  It was time to go south.

Marge received a transfer to a Mesa, Arizona store and Edgar was sure he would find work if only he could breathe easier.  They took their daughter with them although she had reached 21 years of age.  She did not know what she wanted to do in life and a change seemed like a good idea.

Eddie had worked for two years after high school and then decided the army would be his best start in life.  After the army, he would use his benefits to go to college and make his life better.  While in the army, he lost weight, matured and became a handsome young man who made his parents proud.

Even though Marge was a rather conservative type, she learned to use social media and followed along on facebook and twitter hoping to see more of Eddie.  He was on facebook, but actually used it very little.  When he posted some pictures from a Middle East cook out with his fellow soldiers, his proud mother shared the pictures all over the internet.  Eddie did not post much after that.

Marge spent some time each day, and a lot of time on her day off, posting on facebook and reading internet articles.  She would “like” things she thought were good and sometimes comment on postings and news stories.  Although she did not consider herself very political, she did seem to agree more with Republican postings than anything else.  Her friends started avoiding posting political items to her page.  It was better that way.

Whenever Eddie was on leave from the service, he visited friends in Chicago and then went on to Phoenix to see his parents.  When Marge would ask Eddie what he did in Chicago and who he saw, she got vague answers.  Eddie said little about his personal life.  He told next to nothing about friends or the service.  His mother thought it was just a phase that young men go through.  She figured he would tell her a lot more when he got out of the army.

When he was nearing the end of his time in the service, Marge asked Eddie if he would join them Phoenix or return to the Midwest.  He told her he would move to Chicago.

“Chicago!” she exclaimed.  “Why do you want to move there?  It is not safe there.  It is expensive to live and the job market is not the best.  You can get a job here.  I can help you.”

“I want to go to school there,” Eddie explained.  “I have friends there.  I will get a job, don’t worry.”  He spent months assuring his mother he would be fine until the day came when he got his discharge and went to Chicago.

Eddie saw his mother’s facebook postings on a regular basis and that only convinced him to keep his personal life to himself.  He got an apartment, a job and made friends.  He enrolled in a city college with his army benefits and was happy with his life.  He assured his mother that all was well.

After following along on facebook, Marge decided she did not like the direction the country was headed.  She did not like the liberal policies and she would definitely vote a more conservative ticket next time.  It was easy to find friends online who agreed.

One day, an old friend from the Midwest called Marge.  She was excited about the latest news and could not wait to talk to her old friend about it.

“Hello Marge, you must be so excited.  I must tell you I was so surprised.  Did you see the picture they just posted?”

“Picture?” Marge asked.  “What picture? What are you talking about?”

Her old friend just laughed.  “Why, the wedding picture of course!  Did you know they were going to city hall?  Did you know which day it would be?”

“Who are you talking about?” Marge demanded.  A long silence followed while Marge’s friend wondered if the whole matter was actually a secret.  It seems that Eddie was tagged in pictures by others, but he had posted nothing himself.  The friend thought carefully about what to say next.

“Oh, it is something I saw on facebook.  Perhaps you should go look at a few pictures that Eddie is tagged in and we can talk later.  OK?”  After some vague promise to call back soon, the old friend hung up and Marge raced to her computer.

The PC started slowly and facebook seem to take extra long to load up.  It was no different than usual, but this time the wait was maddening.  Finally Marge got online and found the pictures that her old friend referred to.  There was Eddie at City Hall getting married.

Photo by  Giovanni Dall'Orto

Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto

The fact that Eddie married without telling her in advance was upsetting.  The fact that she did not know the other person at all was also upsetting.  But the most surprising part of all was that the groom took another groom.  Her handsome, white, middle class son had married a handsome Hispanic man of about the same age.  In one picture, they were looking deep into one another’s eyes as if they were truly in love.

Marge was stunned.  She had no idea that Eddie was gay or loved the young man she had seen in the photos.  After she stared at the pictures for a while, she started reading back through her facebook posts and “likes” to see if she had said anything negative about Hispanics or gays.

WHAT FAMILY DOESN’T HAVE ITS UPS AND DOWNS?

Eleanor of Aquitaine, “The Lion In Winter” (1968): “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”

Marilyn asked me to write something last night because she was running low on creative juices. I agreed but wasn’t sure what to say because I wasn’t in the best of creative or emotional places.

Yesterday, Marilyn posted a piece featuring photographs of my familyBingo! The light went on.

Family!

Garry Kaity Divot RiverBend

We are in the midst of dealing with our respective families. It’s difficult and challenging. We love them all but brokering some of these situations often leaves us in “loud conversation” with each other. Which is not fair. It isn’t even our drama.

We don’t have Mom and Dad, Gramps or Gramma, Uncles or Aunts to consult for help. We’re it!

July 1963

July 1963

So, I look at the old photos of my family from long, long ago. I wonder how they dealt with these things. They look so young and carefree. I know things were not always easy for them as my brothers and I grew up. I still recall “loud conversations” between Mom and Dad.

1990 in Ireland

1990 in Ireland

I wondered why they didn’t resolve things easily as they did on those family TV shows where father knew best and Ozzie was always at home to deal with family stuff. I even once asked my Mom why our house wasn’t like Donna Reed’s home. You can guess how she replied to me.

Family!

I look at my granddaughter Kaity ready to go off to college. I’m proud of her and wish all the good things in life for her. Like so many grandfathers before me, my memories of a younger Kaity fill my mind. Why didn’t the clock stop?

Why didn’t the clock stop for Marilyn and me when we were younger and healthier with some of those beloved family members still around to talk to us.

Silly and naïve questions, I know. We’re the “old people” now. Family begins with us. It’s disconcerting.

JAMES ZERNDT – THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

UH OH! MOM’S GONE ALL KAFKA!

Mom, now that you are 104 years old, this one’s for you!

Gone Kafka

My mother hated cooking. I always wanted to tell her to relax. We would make our own food. No one would starve if she didn’t make dinner. Mom, go back to your paints, sewing, sculpting. The things you love and do so well.

Not all women were born for the kitchen.