Summer’s not a bummer

Happy Summer! June 21 is the Summer Solstice, the official start of summer and the longest day of the year. It’s also the wedding anniversary for my lovely bride and me. That’s not a coincidence. I had to pick a day that I’d remember, and I love Summer so June 21st made sense. (It also helped that the church was available on that date.) I tease Tina all the time that “the longest day of the year” was also “the longest day of my life” – but really we both know it was the luckiest day of my life.

This year is our 20th anniversary. Two full decades. A “score” in Abraham Lincoln’s parlance. 1997 seems like a long time ago (4 kids will do that to you) but it also seems like just yesterday in many ways.

My man John Hiatt captures the daily adventures of married life quite well in this pretty little ditty. It has some great lines, like “I always thought our house was haunted  ’cause nobody said boo to me” and

“Now I’m in my car
I got the radio on
I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back seat
‘Cause they’re bangin’ like Charlie Watts”

But my favorite lines are here:

Time is short and here’s the damn thing about it
You’re gonna die, gonna die for sure
And you can learn to life with love or without it
But there ain’t no cure

While we’re on an Americana jaunt, let’s keep the momentum going with a great duet from Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.

 

Field of Dreams… Cow Pasture of Reality

Last weekend I went back to Arkansas for the first time in nearly 30 years, for a high school reunion. While I was there, I just had to drive past my childhood home in Hagarville, Arkansas (population: 129).  I hadn’t seen it since 1985.

It’s changed a bit.

You can barely see the front of the house from the road in front of it.

And there’s cattle fencing all around the house. Because my dad sold the house to the farmer next door, and when my dad moved out (circa 1999) to live with my older sister in Brooklyn, Farmer Ocil just extended the cow pasture that used to be next to our yard, and used the house to store feed and supplies. Ocil died in 2012, and whoever took over is just letting the place go to seed. So the house is abandoned, and falling down. I had to peek through the overgrowth by the fence line on one side of the house just to try to snap a few photos.

Did it make me sad to see my old childhood home in such a sorry state? Sure. But then again, it was never a showpiece, even in its prime. And in an “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” way, it’s fine. That house served its purpose for many years – as a safe harbor for Herb and his four young kids after his wife died. The yard was a place for us to play football, and basketball, and baseball, and catch frogs (and run from snakes), and feed persimmons to the horses next door. But we outgrew it, went to college in Boston and and Omaha and Cincinnati, and really never looked back.

Who cares if cows (and bulls) are now roaming our old stomping grounds?

The house can fall, but the home lives on. And that’s no b.s.

“Where does it lie this reverie

like a distant land

it shines forever in my heart

we all go home again…”

 

The other Memorial Day

May 30th was my dad’s birthday. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about him on Father’s Day. Since only 2 people knew of this blog’s existence back then, I’m doing a “rerun”:

I think of my own father, Herbert, who also was the father of four. His wife died at age 33, of leukemia, just a few months after the diagnosis. Dad was left to raise four children under the age of 7 all by his lonesome. How do you survive that gut punch, that heartbreak, that total meltdown of your world? In many ways, my dad never did fully recover. But he did the best he could. We moved from Jersey City, NJ to Hagarville, Arkansas – from the big city to the tiniest speck on the map in the foothills of the Ozarks. “Culture shock” doesn’t do it justice. However, it was a great place for us to grow up with a single parent, and has made my life experiences richer.

We were dirt poor, but our dad bestowed gifts upon us that were priceless: kindness, integrity, compassion.

Herb passed away in 2010. I miss him every day. To anyone who has lost a father, this beautiful song by Billy Bragg is for you.

And to add a bit of “bonus footage” to the rerun, there’s another great song about missing your old man below. My friend Tim Condron (check out his Second Takes blog) lost his father, a Norwood, Ohio firefighter, while we were in college together. His dad contracted Hepatitis B on the job, while coming to the aid of an overdose patient.

(You can read the entire article Tim wrote for Cincinnati Magazine here.) Tim and I took several classes together at Xavier, as we were both communications majors. Shortly after his father passed away, Tim put together a video of still photos of his father with this song as the soundtrack. It was one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever seen.

Here’s to you, Herb and Jim, and all the other good dads who are no longer here, yet always present.

 

No cause for alarm(s)

Three of our kids wrapped up their school year yesterday. Our daughter Leah has a Latin exam today (sounds like fun!) and will be finished before noon. That means I’ll have three glorious months of no kiddie wake-up duty.

And if you’ve never tried to wake up a teenager, I suggest you go poke a rattlesnake nest with your bare hands, it’ll be less painful.

Oh sure, I’ll still get up at the crack of dawn. I’m a 52-year-old guy… nature calls early and often for me. But it’ll be nice to have just a few minutes to spare.

Now that the kiddies are ready to sleep in, I just need to work on the kitties

Enjoy your summer!

 

 

End of the (car) line

Our youngest child, Andrew, turned 12 this past Thursday.

Older sister Leah is not impressed.

A week from today, he’ll wrap up 6th grade at Sands Montessori, the same school his three older siblings attended (and the first public Montessori school in the United States!).

We’ve had kids there since 2005, and have made great friends with fellow parents over the years. It’s hard to believe that a week from now, we won’t be “Sands parents” anymore. It’s the end of an era, the closing of another chapter in our lives.

I work from home most Tuesdays, and drop Andrew off at Sands in the morning. I won’t miss the school drop-off line – for some inexplicable reason I fully expect preschoolers and grade schoolers to disgorge from their parents’ cars with the swiftness of WWII GIs leaving their Higgins boat during the D-Day invasion… a sure recipe for frustration.

  

But I’ll really miss my time with Andrew in the morning – waking him at 8 (I call him “Lieutenant Lazybones”), serving him a nutritious breakfast of… whatever sugar-laden cereal happens to be handy…

… listening to music on our three-minute ride to school, giving color commentary on the other cars in line (“look at this one, stopping only halfway through the circle… c’mon, your snowflake can walk an extra 20 feet!”)…

… sending him on his merry way with a quick “love you!”… and getting back a “love you too” because he’s not a jaded teenager yet.

Come August, he’ll be getting on a bus with two of his older siblings, headed to Walnut Hills. He’ll still be my boy, he’ll still be our baby… but baby boy has left the building. And I really miss him.

 

Cinco de Mayo is Quinto maggio to me

I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t feel like celebrating today. Not only is it a dreary day in Cincinnati, but 5/5 was my mom’s birthday. As most of you know, she died when I was quite young. Three years old, to be exact. Leukemia stole her away from her husband and 4 young kids, at the age of 33 (a.k.a. the “Jesus year”).

Let’s get the easy answers out of the way first:

  1. No
  2. No

Sorry, I forgot this isn’t Jeopardy. The questions are:

  1. Do you remember her?
  2. Did your father ever remarry?

Those two questions are usually the ones I get when I tell someone about my mom’s untimely departure from this world. #1 is a lot tougher to wrap my head around. Trust me, I’ve tried my best to remember her, but to no avail. So how do you miss someone that you didn’t really know? It’s a weird feeling, for sure.

I know the time from birth to age three is a crucial period, and so my mom was my first/best teacher. But when I try to conjure up some sort of happy memory, a warm glow from those halcyon days… nothin’.

I’ll tell you what I do know. My mom was a first generation Italian-American.

She too lost her mom young… and a sister as well. She played basketball in high school. (We had her b-ball jersey at our house in Arkansas… long after we moved from Jersey City, where my mom and dad met and married. I studied that jersey like it was the Shroud of Turin.)

When she went into labor with her third child (yours truly), my dad took a route to the hospital that featured a few cobblestone streets… and my mom gave my dad some good-natured grief about that. (The extra bouncing might also help explain why I’m wired differently.) When she was trying to teach me how to tie my shoes, I got mad and kicked off one shoe, and it flew up and cracked one of the window panes in our front door… or at least that’s what my older siblings told me… or something like that. It’s been too long.

 

There’s a Superchunk song call “Void” that expresses my feelings very well:

I look for you
And all I see, all I say
Is a void
All I see, all I say
Is a void
“Pity? Party of one? You’re table’s ready.”
OK, I’ll stop wallowing now. Cinco de Mayo’s for celebrating, right? So rather than focus on the negative space, I’ll celebrate the fact that my mother laid such a strong foundation in our short time together that I do miss her to this day, even if my “miss” is different from most. Diamonds are forever, but so are DNA and “imprinting.”
I’m far from a masterpiece, but my siblings and I are her masterpieces.  Superchunk, bring it home:
Don’t go wait for me,
No, don’t go Wait for me
Because I don’t believe
I don’t believe everything I see
No, I don’t believe
I don’t believe everything I see

16 years of memories

Our second child, Peter, celebrates his 16th birthday today.  Hard to believe. Seems like only yesterday he looked like this:

Peter on June 15th, 2002

HT to my friend Dale Doyle for the wonderful photo – he took some great shots of Peter and our oldest child Gabriel (yes, “Peter Gabriel” but not in that order, and not for that reason, although Peter Gabriel is a great musical artist).

Now Peter’s getting his driving temps:

Peter refusing to smile… because that’s what teenagers do.

I know, “sunrise, sunset…” – I sound like every other parent ever.

Peter’s got a great sense of humor, and I like to tell him about one of my favorite Dave Barry newspaper columns, where he picked up his teenage son at school in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile just to embarrass him.

It’s a funny column – as all Dave Barry columns are. Check it out here. Love the last paragraph:

Of course I did not expect thanks. My reward is the knowledge that some day, somehow, Rob will be a hideous embarrassment to his son. That’s what makes this country great: An older generation passing along a cherished tradition to a younger one, in very much the same way that a row of people at a baseball game will pass along those tasty Oscar Mayer wieners, which by the way also have been shown in laboratory tests to prevent baldness.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/dave-barry/article1934773.html#storylink=cpy
Although the way Peter is wired, I don’t think he’d be embarrassed if I came to pick him up at school in the Wienermobile. Now that he has his temps, he’d want to take the wheel… after attaching his customized sticker to the rear bumper:

ACT now

My oldest child got his ACT score this past weekend.

I’m thrilled for him… and happy for my wallet too. Life is not a standardized test, but fairly or unfairly, how well you do on a standardized test strongly influences scholarship offers.

He’s certainly thought that he’s smarter than his old man for many years now, but this makes it official.

Although I told him that I took the test way back in the 80s, before they dumbed it down.

 

Traveling Music

My wife and two youngest children are on a Spring Break trip out west, with our friend Heather and her two kids. Meanwhile I’m stuck in rainy Cincinnati with our teenage sons. (I’m not bitter.) The way my music-loving mind is wired, every time my wife sends me a photo of their adventures, it makes me think of a song.

They started their trip in Las Vegas (where my Raiders are moving):

So naturally that makes me think of “Viva Las Vegas” – but not the Elvis version, the Shawn Colvin version from the Doc Pomus tribute album (and The Big Lebowski credits).

Next up was the Hoover Dam:

I cannot hear the words “Hoover Dam” without thinking of Sugar’s song by the same name.

They spent some time on Route 66:

Then they headed to the Grand Canyon:

That’s your cue, Drive By Truckers…

They’ve been spending a lot of time in Arizona

That calls for a double-shot, twin spin:

 

Yesterday they were in Sedona:

Great scenery… great tune by Houndmouth too!

And tonight they’ll get to Phoenix.

 

Looks like they’re really enjoying their time way out west:

 

And I am too, vicariously, via the soundtrack in my head.

Mad at Bad Dad

My 13-year-0ld daughter Leah is not what I’d call a “morning person.” I suppose very few teenagers are, but she’s the poster child for pre-dawn sluggishness. And guess who gets to wake her up every school day, at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.? That’s right, her dear old dad. It’s somewhat akin to poking your bare hands into a rattlesnake den, or opening a hornet’s nest with a head-butt. If there’s a right side of the bed for her, we haven’t found it yet.

I try to wake her as gently as possibly, because I know that according to research, teens naturally need a later wake-up schedule. But we’re under the gun if she and her brother are going to catch the school bus at the end of our street at 6:32 (not 6:33… we’ve learned the hard way). Here’s how it usually goes:

6:00 a.m. “Leah, honey, it’s time to wake up…”

6:10 a.m. “Leah, it’s 6:10… I’m going to turn your light on now.”

6:15 a.m. “C’mon Leah, we have to get going.”

6:18 a.m. I stomp up the stairs from the kitchen, and that’s usually her signal to get up and shut her door in my face. I don’t care, because at least she’s up.

But now I have a secret weapon, a brand new musical alarm. It was inspired by my college buddy Vinnie, who used to wake up his teenage daughter Alana by playing the first 12 seconds of Carole King’s “Beautiful” on repeat until she got out of bed.

So I’ve put together my own little morning mashup medley for my precious only daughter, as a reminder that we need to catch the bus:

Yeah, it’s not as sweet and harmonious as a Carole King song, but it gets the job done. Better yet, it combines classic indie rock tunes from the fantastic Royal Crescent Mob and The Replacements (one of my all-time favorite bands) with a snippet from a new song called “Old Friends” from an up-and-coming band out of New Jersey called Pinegrove. (Check out their debut album here.)

Sure, Leah might be psychologically scarred for life, but at least she could turn out to be an indie rock fan!