Semi-hillbilly and proud of it

When I three years old, my mom passed away. When I was six, my dad packed up his four kids (ages 9, 8, 6 and 4) and moved us from uber-urban Jersey City, New Jersey to really rural Hagarville, Arkansas. (Population: 300 if you count the cows.)

I like to call it a “reverse Beverly Hillbillies.” (Culturally, anyway… we never were rich.) I guess my dad wanted to get a fresh start of sorts.

I vividly remember the first day we went to our new home in Arkansas. The property was bordered on one side by a dirt road, and on another side by a cow pasture. There was a propane tank near the driveway… I thought it was a submarine. I got burrs in my socks from walking in the ankle-high weeds, and had no idea what they were. In some ways, I felt like I’d landed on another planet.

Like this, only with more chicken coops next door.

We gradually adjusted… I adopted the University of Arkansas Razorbacks as my college sports team, and I even had a slight Arkansas drawl when I moved away to go to college in Cincinnati.

But the “Land of Opportunity” never quite felt like home, mainly because we were “Yankees” and had no relatives within 600 miles in a place where so many of the ties that bind have to do with close kinfolk.

“Seems the land of opportunity for me is just a curse” – John Hiatt in “Tennessee Plates”

However, it was a good place for four motherless kids to grow up. We could be what I like to call “free range children.” Hiking, biking, fishing… exploring the world without adult supervision and learning more about self-reliance.

I’ve only been back once since 1985. Dad’s long gone, my siblings live elsewhere, and the house is slowly being reclaimed by nature (watch out for the burrs!). “There is no there there” as Gertrude Stein famously said.

But I still have a soft spot in my heart for The Natural State. It’s where I went from a boy to a… er, boyish man (and not a “Mannish Boy”).

So when I heard a new tune called “Arkansas” by Chris Stapleton, I got excited. Especially because it rocks.

When I worked as a lifeguard for a couple summers at the city pool in Morrilton, Arkansas, the city employee who managed the pool would switch the radio station playing on the P.A. system from rock to country… and I’d raise holy hell. I remember him telling me “when you get older, you’re gonna like country music.” I still don’t care for mainstream country music (a.k.a. “bro country”) at all, but Stapleton’s not mainstream.

“Arkansas” is on Chris’ new release, which is really good from start to finish. The album is called Starting Over. That reminds me of Arkansas too.

Four on the (flour-covered) floor

Our youngest kid started his first real job this week. (I don’t count the weekly community newpaper route he had for a couple of years, because a parent had to drive him around for that.) He’s 15 and a half now, and he’s working at a restaurant. The same restaurant where his 17-year-old sister works. Oh, and his 19-year-old brother… and his 20-year-old brother as well.

Yes, we’ve got a real pizza parlor pipeline going on. (Uh, not like the hoax one in D.C.) Our oldest even serves as the shift manager a couple of nights a week.

My kids are all gainfully employed. I love it! (So does my wallet!)

Ramundo’s is about five blocks from our house — easy walking distance (although our kids rarely walk it). The business is still doing well during the pandemic (more deliveries, less dine-in), the owners are great folks and they treat their employees well. (“They’re making tons of dough!” #DadJoke)

Photo source: New York Times… that means it’s New York style pizza

There’s only one problem with this pizza payroll situation: some of the pizza slices that are left over at the end of the shift make their way into our house… and into my belly.

I suppose packing on a few extra pizza pounds is a small price to pay for having someone else pay my kids.

(Dis)connected learning

My kids started school this week – two in college, and two in high school. Everyone’s “remote learning.”

I’ve been buried in my basement for five months now, doing the ol’ “working from home” thing during the pandemic. It’s boring. It’s monotonous. It’s drudgery. (Don’t get me wrong, I do feel fortunate to still have a gig in a cratered economy.) But yesterday when I went upstairs and saw three of my kids staring at computer screens, my heart sank. They looked like mini-versions of me, zoning out during a boring meeting.

“Said no actual human ever.”

It’s one thing for an old man like me to be a Zoom Zombie for work. But school should be more lively, and more life-affirming. Their days should be filled with laughter, broken lockers, lunchtime sandwich swaps, PE in a gym with a freshly refinished floor, soccer practice, juvenile jokes (they still get those at home). They should be passing notes in class, and passing their friends in the hallway.

I know (or at least I hope and pray) that this is a temporary situation. And it’s the right call for their physical health. But this is making them old before their time.

C’mon science, let’s find a vaccine…

Wunderkinds

Your thought for the day… nay, thought for a lifetime for any parent, comes from cellist, composer, and conductor, Pablo Casals:

“Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you… You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work—we must all work—to make this world worthy of its children.”

Source: Joys and Sorrows: Reflections by Pablo Casals, page 295

It may be the weekend, but let’s get to work!

The edge of 17

Can it truly be possible that my baby girl is turning 17 today?

Hairstyle = tribute to Robert Smith, lead singer of The Cure

It can’t be. The clock is a liar. The calendar is a thief.

And yet, Leah is 17 today. We’re a week and a half away from the 4th of July, but she’s already made her Declaration of Independence. She’s moved beyond parental obedience… the best we can hope for now is “guidance” as she carves out her own space in the universe.

I hope she remains as kind, caring and empathetic as she’s always been. I hope the sassiness that’s sometimes a mild affront to our current parental sensibilities (insert eyeroll here) morphs into resilience and grit and a healthy dose of skepticism.

I can’t wait to wish her a happy birthday… when she arises at the crack of 3 p.m. (Oh, to be a teen again!)

Release the hounds!

I have two cats. They sleep all day, require zero attention and poop tidily.

My wife, however, has somehow hoodwinked me into allowing two dogs into the house. The first one was a Christmas gift, allegedly for one of our kids, but in hindsight that was just a good cover story. The second one was a service-dog-in-training. We “socialized” him for six months, then he went back to the nonprofit for several months of hardcore training. He didn’t pass the rigorous testing required of service dogs, so we (i.e. my wife) adopted him. I have a sneaking suspicion that my wife waved a raw steak in front of him when he was going through the final test, to ensure that he would drop out.

The dogs require daily walks, like to beg in the kitchen, sleep in our beds, nap on our couches and poop all over the yard.

I’ve told my wife that I’m going to build a big doghouse in the backyard, so the pooches can be outside dogs. But if I actually built it, I have no doubt who would be banished to it, and it wouldn’t be Bibo and Hope.

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