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Archive for September, 2014

Today Dad finished his good fight. We are all so very, very much better for having had him as our father, our friend, our brother, cousin, uncle, grandfather and husband. Donald Watson Conner, Jr.

 

 

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I wrote this several years ago, and can’t seem to leave it in the past. Perhaps if just one more person is able to read it, it is worth putting it up again. Maybe someone will be a little happier, reminded of a good man, a wonderful relationship, maybe even be challenged to fix something, even forgive, maybe even try one more time.

 

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November 3rd, is my father’s birthday. I am so proud that it is also mine. To share his birthday has always been one of the most personal and unique joys in my life. I enjoy it as much now as I ever did, and I can say I appreciate it more and more as the years go by.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.

Turquoise Lake, outside Leadville, CO – Labor Day, 09. We’re at the “tip of the finger” – the far end of the lake. We were there to skip rocks. This of course, made me a hero. Thanks to my dad for teaching me. That makes him a hero.

– – –

I think of my father every day.

We’re a thousand miles apart, and he still influences me constantly.

I can even sense now, each telephone conversation we have is more important to me than the last. Simply, I am glad to hear his voice. But more importantly, something fulfilling, in part something emotional, happens when I know he wants to hear what I am saying, and I sense that I am anxious to hear what he says.

Dad, Canada, 1979

There is a distinct feeling that goes with it – a sense of relief and connection in some way, perhaps security. I think it is a sense of grounding, reconnecting with home, family – my roots. My dad does that for me. It is clear to me this is largely a function of time (age) and distance. I think also, perhaps – finally – understanding. I think wisdom, too.

Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. There is only one worry in this: I worry he may not know it. I mean to tell him.

My father is a very educated, very well-read, well-rounded man. He’s a doctor, trained in and – being the reluctant retirer, like his father – still occasionally practicing the profession of optometry. Although not literally required of an eye doctor, he has the bedside manner of the finest physician. I have the strongest impression of this nature recur in me every time I sit with him for my own eye exam. The sense of fascination and even security when receiving his care – this care for me, from my own dad – as if I were a “real” patient, has never left me. It’s as strong now as it was when I was a small boy.

It has always made a strong impression on me that while he is a doctor, he has always had “working” hands. Not necessarily rough or hard, but used, bearing the signs – even marks – of constant hard physical work. He’s got woodworking hands, building hands, farmer’s hands, and in recent years, hands put to use raising alpacas and chickens. (You’ll enjoy a visit to their alpaca farm Website, http://www.lookoutfarmalpacas.com) Does that sound like the typical doctor? No, but it sounds like Dr. Conner.

Mother and Dad, Alpacas

I have often joked that I don’t think I have ever seen my dad’s hands without a purple finger or thumbnail. He works. His hands are not what you would think of as doctor’s hands. As a boy I thought, “There isn’t another doctor who does real work like my dad.”

The ready exception to this was my grandfather, Dr. Conner, Sr., who taught my father all this. He was the other doctor with “working hands” that I knew. They shared their optometry practice for more than 30 years. My father described him as his partner and best friend. That’s where he got his working hands. Through companionship, they came to him by way of example, and in the form of a strong work ethic.

My father has passed to me values that I hold dear now, as a husband and father. One is simply to be home. While all of his children would agree he is known throughout our home state and beyond as one of the finest optometrists, even a celebrated figure in his profession, he is much more than that to us. Actually, he is much simpler to us. His professional work is largely peripheral to what we think of on a daily basis and how we see him. We see him as a deeply dedicated father and husband, with all of his interests and energies focused on home and family. In short, we see him as a guy at home. And he has rubbed off – because I feel that constant pull to get home for supper, to be home. Like him, I find my deepest satisfaction there. That is a simple but vital inheritance I value and thank him for.

Not only did my dad teach my brothers and sisters and me to shoot and hunt, but he taught us the joy of and how to appreciate and respect nature. To love and care for the outdoors. To hunt morel mushrooms, to dig sassafras roots and make tea, to recognize the birds on the feeder. To believe in the Whoozit and the Four-legged chicken. The strongest realization I have whenever I am in the wood or the field is that “my dad taught me this”. I have told people innumerable times, “I got it from my dad.” So many things I hold as important – being home with my family, and so many of my interests – our place in Canada, woodworking, photography, hard physical work, being outside, picking blackberries, recognizing poison ivy, identifying a redwing blackbird or a coot, knowing how to work on a car, having a love of history, of the arts (and music in particular), being sentimental – I got these from my dad.

I am certain there are some things he’ll do that I am still more than reluctant to do: Catch a snake for one. My father is brave. I am eight years old. We are in the woods behind our house. He grabs a long stick from the ground, jabs it firmly, though not injuriously at the head of a black snake or water snake I didn’t see, and with lightening speed, his hand is down there, the snake’s head firmly between Dad’s thumb and index finger. He confidently lifts it to eye level, cocks his head slightly, and with a mixture of curiosity and admiration, says, “You wanna feel him?” Well, sure I do, and I do. But I don’t wanna hold him, and I don’t. And I sure wouldn’t catch him. But my dad did.

One evening just last summer my wife yelled to me in a near panic, “Michael, there’s a snake in the backyard! Will you get rid of him?” I went immediately. It was a small garter snake. I immediately – without any hesitation, and without really thinking – picked him up, calmly, slowly – deliberately – by the tail, and looked at him, and said, “He’s just a garter snake. I’ll take him down to the Open Space.” Unlike my father, this was, candidly, the first time I had ever done this.

The snake and I walked the hundred yards down the hill and there, in the tall grass, I let him slip silently away. As I had done the moment I heard my wife’s request, I thought of my dad. I thought of him through the entire episode. I know I didn’t feel the natural comfort, the confidence I knew he did. But what I did, finally, I had learned from him. Ultimately, I believe what I had learned from him was the willingness to do it.

It’s 1970. I am eight years old. I am sitting on the spillway at Van Horn’s lake fishing with my dad and brother, Ty. Dad is helping me gently get the hook out of a Bluegill’s mouth, and get a fresh worm on my hook.

It’s 1967. I can see my dad standing in the kitchen, wearing khaki jeans, a trim white t-shirt tucked in, and Wayfarer sun glasses. He is sporting a crew cut and has a sly but friendly smile on his face. He is 30, and the epitome of cool.

The Eye Exam, Dad and Jace, Dec 2007

Today I see my dad in light blue “dress” jeans and a plaid work shirt, leather gloves on, headed out to the barn to feed the animals with Mother. I see him in a dark green wool sport coat, tie and tan slacks at St. Stephens on Sunday. I see him in his white, short-sleeved Van Huesen permanent press dress shirt and tie, sitting on a small stool next to his exam chair gently questioning a patient, including his seven year old grandson, my son, Jace. “Is it better with 1 or 2?” “1 or 2?” “Better now?” “How ‘bout now? Is it better or worse?” Then finally, “Now this will make it much better, you’ll be able to see it clearly now.” And that’s how I think of him. I expect ultimately, that’s how we’d all like to think of our fathers.

I don’t know everything about my dad, of course. I know much about him though, such as his love for his family, his absolute enjoyment of his home and farm, the things he is involved in the community, the pleasure he draws and responsibility he assumes for our place in Canada, the pride he has in his profession and the dedication he shows to his patients and practice, and the simple pleasure he derives from constantly having a book from the library – World War II novels are a favorite. (What would they do without him?)

I think I have years of questions to ask him. Our Conner history that he knows, questions about his parents, his growing up years as a young boy, his time as an amateur artist, as a photographer (he even developed his own film early on), a high school runner, what he went through before, during, and after divorce, his first dates with Mother.

What was it like in Canada when the cabin was being built? What was really going through his mind as he bravely navigated our small motorboat across the lake in the dark during that incredible, scary storm? Rain pounding down so hard we couldn’t see more than a dozen yards ahead of the boat, the four of us kids huddled – really, crammed – in the bow, wind raging so loud we couldn’t hear, scared nearly to death we’d capsize and drown, except that we could see him there in the stern, his strong hand on the tiller, his face up and forward, looking straight ahead into the storm and across the lake, watching for the first glimpse of the boathouse. The stinging assault of hard rain on his face was of no concern; he would not be deterred nor shaken. As if he were saying to the storm, “Bring it on!” He was brave, and on those occasions, he was quite the hero.

Too, I wonder now about his worries and stresses in life, and the happiest moments. And the hardest ones. We haven’t had these talks. Maybe we have – barely – in small bits and pieces. The more I think of my father in these terms, more fascinated I am.

There really is so much I don’t know. But maybe the here-and-now of each rare visit we have now is enough. But I’d like more. I suspect we all would.

Dad, Canada, 1970

Some few years ago, I arrived home from work, and had a package waiting for me – pictures from my folks after their annual two weeks at the cabin in Canada. Let me interject a bit of clarifying context here: I was not emotionally “spun up” at this moment. I was in “neutral” from an emotional perspective, having had a rather normal, uneventful day at work, and no outstanding issues facing me at home. Nothing was “going on”. The waters were calm, you could say.

I opened the envelope and began perusing the photographs. All the scenes were typical and I knew them well, but never tired of seeing anew: fishing here and there on the lake, poses with the catch. Shots in and about the cabin. Shots of sites visited around the lake, during travels to and from the cabin, and so on. Then, the next picture did it. It was an image of my father sitting on the smooth rock surface at the far tip of the island at the lake. He was turning around, looking at the camera, no doubt responding to Mother: “Don, turn around and look at the camera.” He had a gentle, almost serene smile on his face; a knowing look that said he belonged there. He was obviously happy and content.

The picture really was fine… but in that image, in that pose, with that salt-and-pepper hair that I had not seen for almost two years, I think I saw my grandfather. I was struck with an emotion that I had never experienced before. Crying I had done, to be sure. But the feeling that overwhelmed me – the flood of sensation – I still, even after several years cannot describe and cannot articulate well. I suppose it was a mixture of love and shock, of fear and compassion, of desire to see him or at least talk to him; a feeling of missing and longing. I am still not sure, but it was powerful, and it affected me deeply. It was at that moment I realized a great, but very simple – and I suppose, in retrospect – obvious truth of life. Life moves on and does not stop. It does not wait.

Dad and Jace, Mowing, 2005

My grandfather is gone now, and my father has taken his place. He is now the grandfather and I have taken his place as the father. And my son has taken my place. We have taken our places in life. Someday, no doubt, I will take my father’s place, my son will take my place, and perhaps someday he will have a son who will take his place. And so it goes.

This is as predictable and as powerful as the sun and the change of the seasons. It is the changing of the seasons of life. It can neither be stopped nor altered, nor would we really want it to be. It is an amazing and wondrous thing. It is also terrifying and ominous. It’s good – it’s the way it is supposed to be, as it is inevitable. It is good – full of love and joy, but it is also a bit frightening. It’s all those things, but mostly good. And, at least in our case, this amazing phenomenon of life is laced with love.

I hope it is for you, too.

– – Originally published Father’s Day, 2009

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Blogging101

 

I love my blog. Maybe more than anyone else. Probably. No. In all likelihood. No. It’s beyond that – it’s definitely more than anyone else. aah_rb_logo-whiteleaf

AskAHoosier.com. That’s my blog. You’re reading it right now.

https://askahoosier.wordpress.com/

BLUF. Bottom Line Up Front. If you don’t read anything else, fine. Maybe you’ll get this much, at least, and answer me, help me out on my troubles, and move on. All within about three minutes. On the other hand, maybe you or someone will read the rest of this and identify, even contribute to a longer discussion and we’ll all get more help and encouragement than we expected.

Here they are, up front (almost, anyway…), at the risk of losing everybody reading; at the risk of answering my own challenges – my concerns for my blogging life and my questions – too soon and giving the bottom line too quickly. Frankly, I don’t care. You may have something you need to do. So get it over with right now.

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My challenges (today) are these:

  1. I am not sure re-posting is cool.
  2. Too many words in a blogpost.
  3. Making money with my blog.

 

 

Alright, now – for those who have decided – for the moment – to stay with me a bit longer, here is the expansion on . . . well . . . everything conjured in your mind; or at least my mind, on each of these.

  1. Is re-posting cool?

What if I published something two years ago, or last year, but think it’s worthy all over again? Is it cheap? Too easy? Boring? And worse, irrelevant? And ultimately, so what? It’s my blog, right? If my first intent is selfish, say, to at a minimum practice my writing, then so what. That’s much of what I do at Ask A Hoosier. Let the real professional writers do it better; do it the right way. Let the rest of us do it for ourselves and for the practice. We might even get better at it; maybe even good at it someday. Maybe someday we (and when I say ‘we” I mean “I”) will not even think of re-posting; we’ll develop prolific-ness and write every day and without end. Maybe even be good at it. Maybe.

  1. How much is enough?

I am a wordy guy. It’s miserable. I’m miserable when I think about it. I swear (which I think I should not do), I can’t even get a personal email or LinkedIn response out to somebody in one sentence. I’d swear I can’t do it. You’d swear, “The guy can’t shut up, trim it down and be concise.” If they say a good blog ought to be no more than 700 words, I’m shot. A zillion words minimum is it for me. Usually.

 

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  1. How can I monetize my blog?

I know, I should know this by now. No, I should have been doing this by now. I know. But I haven’t. But take a look: My site address still has “WordPress” in it. I am totally clueless, and admittedly, probably from a basic lack of research on this. I have seen some pretty fancy blogs, and mine (apparently) isn’t one of them. I knocked myself out paying for a logo and that has seemed to be all I could handle. There are several reasons for this. One, I am not [really] a computer guy; I am not e- or IT-savvy; not really. But I kind of wonder if the Peter Principle has come into play: I may have reached the pinnacle of my IT-incompetence. Maybe so. I suspect so. No matter, not really. I still get it done.

But the one thing I haven’t gotten done is make money – selling ads, selling T-shirts, getting set up to accept donations through PayPal. Lazy, maybe, but I don’t think so. Uncertain maybe. But anyway, I haven’t done it yet. I am about to, now that I am 1) a little more experienced, 2) a little braver, and 3) a little poorer, and hence 4) a little bit bolder and don’t care what happens, i.e., what the response is. What are they going to do, after all? Stop reading? Stop buying?

Well, anyway, T-shirts is where I am headed. I have two designs I am sold on, so I am developing those. Watch for them. Then buy one. Please. And yes, I’ve got my head mostly out of the sand: I know I’m not going to get rich selling two different T-shirts. I just have a hankering for this; it’s my thing. You might even say “passion”, so it’s what I am going with. We’ll see where it goes from there. Keep watching. It’s all a work in progress – a live, real-time experiment.

I think this must be the crux of “blogging your passion”.

Of course, it has all to do with what you want to accomplish in the first place; what you’re doing it for in the first place.

Me? I wanted to put something unique in writing. My belief is a fundamental one:

If you don’t tell your story, it will never be told.

That’s it. That’s how I was finally convinced to get started. Sure. I had lots of other thoughts and gurglings inside churning, seemingly burning to get out. I swear, it was biblical. Check out Luke 19:40. With a little bit of inappropriate twist and misinterpretation, I can apply it to my situation. It’s as if the stories I have inside must be told, or at least recorded in some way, documented and made permanent. Paraphrased, “….if you silence us, even the rocks will cry out.”

Terribly paraphrased.

 

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My intent is not to draw you into a biblical discussion (although I do depend on that personally for my grounding and direction). My intent is not to abuse scripture or offend anyone (most anyone) who may be better schooled in the subject than me. My intent – from a selfish view – is to relate to the idea; to identify just where I come from, how and why.

My intent is to say this to my readers:

Your story is unique. It will not be told unless you tell it. Every life, every experience within is uniquely individual and by definition, special. And worthy.

Worthy to be told? To anyone and everyone? Well, from the perspective of public consumption, I don’t care.

I understand the First Rule in Writing is to write every day. I also understand a rule of life is that if one writes – that is, gets it out – it is, at least in theory, therapeutic. That’s where the idea of a diary came from, I suppose. Get it down and get it out. Same for exercise. Get out and move. So what if – this is worst case now – I write for myself, my own sake, and I re-post once in a while. So what? I say do it. Enjoy it. And practice. Then practice and practice some more.

If you want to see what I’m talking about, really, in the flesh, check out AskaHoosier.com. And remember – I have already told you this is a live experiment. And it’s just practice. By the time you’re finished reading this, I will have three more challenges I am wrestling with. I‘ll try not to be afraid to confess them to you. Maybe it will help a little.

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Image credits, top to bottom:

“Blogging 101”: adamweitner.com

My AAH logo: Mark King at Mark King Creative, Muncie, Indiana

“Blog”: Influence Expansion

“How do I make money…?”” Cherry Cross

“Blogging”: Writings on the Wall

 

 

 

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This is the final piece in a five-part series, recalling, from a personal perspective, the days of September 2001 and following.

Continued from Part IV, “Faruq“.

– – –

It was two or three weeks later, maybe more, that I was again listening to National Public Radio on the way home from work. The news was still dominated by the tragedy and what was probably coming next. By this time, the stories were beginning to drill down to the second and third levels – some of the secondary events and background personalities that were beginning to surface. It was then that I heard a report that began with something like, “And now for another story of several individuals the FBI is continuing to try to locate . . .”

They named him precisely.

And it went from there: A pilot based in Nashville . . . disappeared days after the attacks . . . . no trace . . . one of many suspects . . . unaccounted for . . . wanted for questioning . . . the 20th hijacker . . . others not yet identified . . . . . . and on and on.

Man-Silhouette

If there were ever a time when I actually did need to pull my car off to the side of the road, this was it. The problem was, I was sitting in a left turn lane in afternoon rush hour traffic, waiting my turn to get on the highway. There was nowhere I could go. But I felt like I had to go somewhere. I had a rush of emotion, of confusion, of fury. Just like that very day, again I was stunned. But this time there was a new feeling that hit me. I felt betrayed. He talked to me about what now seemed to be this very thing. I was the one he talked to. Me. It was nearly as powerful for me as everything that had happen on September 11th.

The FBI Special Agent-in-Charge who came to Jeppesen to interview me turned out to be a friend and former colleague of mine. In the first year I lived in Denver and while I attended graduate school, I worked an assignment (I was an Air Force Reserve intelligence officer) for the FBI as an intelligence analyst with the Metro Gang Task Force, doing our small part to combat the drug war as it came into the Denver suburbs from California and Mexico. “Carl” was now working in a different division, still in the Denver office, but had clearly performed well and had built on his already high reputation. He was now in white-collar crime but was asked to head up the Denver-area investigation in this global terrorism case. We had not seen each other since the spring of 1995 and it was a bittersweet reunion.

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Because I had an active security clearance, he and I were eventually able to discuss things on a level that others in my position could not. That I happened to be in sales at Jeppesen, knew “Carl”, and had a clearance was altogether coincidental but fortuitous. It was agreed that I would, for a few days, be off my normal sales work at Jeppesen and would put my analyst skills to work on reviewing records, conducting link-analysis and try to come up with some useful conclusions with the advantages of both my previous experience and my knowledge and understanding of Jeppesen database tools. This was a brief task, and investigators moved on quickly; it appeared as though nothing really developed from those efforts. I’ll never know.

In the end, Faruq was deemed to be by all accounts innocent.

As far as the Authorities could determine, he was as so many during those terrible, tragic, and chaotic days. It looked bad for him, but apparently, he was simply just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was reported many weeks later and repeatedly in a type of “where are they now?” report that spanned the national new media outlets in various versions. In all likelihood, he did what many did – he fled the country as fast as he could, not wanting to take a chance at getting caught up in something he was not part of in the first place. I do not know how he did it.

As for me, I have to admit I still harbor my doubts about him.

It was all too close as far as I was concerned, too coincidental to be unrelated. I remain uncertain either way now, and cannot quite say exactly what I believe is true about him. But he is gone now, by all accounts, and that day is past. But not ever completely.

– – –

In these intervening years I have realized I am quite alone it seems, in my perspective on the term “9-11.” This realization was furthered this week when my wife and I watched a wonderfully produced and powerful special program by Fox News, Freedom Rising that attempts to encompass September 11th in its entirety, its centerpiece being the rebuilding in New York.

There are many names now, including the “9/11 Foundation” and the “9/11 Memorial”. The general reference “9/11” has been commonly adopted and is essentially universal.

1WTC_Viewfrom8SpruceStreet_Medium

So, these years later I find myself not quite as committed in my rejection of the term; perhaps even a bit more accepting of it. What results for me is the awareness of a slight sense of disappointment in myself because of it. I know that so much of that is – and was – driven by how I felt at the time, and for the most part, I have not changed in that regard.

It is clear that our feelings – emotions – while incredibly important and so should be given due respect and attention, are real and important, but they must not drive our judgment or decisions. Reality and responsibility must dictate those, regardless of our ever-changing feelings.

The truth remains, and duty remains, regardless of how we feel or what we think.

And so they do, even these eternal years after.

– – –

On May 10th, 2013, the final component to the One World Trade Center spire was placed, and at a height of exactly 1,776 feet, made it the tallest structure in the western hemisphere. Here is a video of that historic event.

World Trade Center

The United States of America has always been about new beginnings – starting over, trying again, creating, building up, and going on. It has been a central part of the fabric of our nation. Every one of us has wanted it or perhaps needed to do that at some point in our lives. Certainly I have.

Each of us individually makes up that fabric. But not just us, but all those who came before us; from those family and friends we know now, who have come here to join us during our own lifetime, to our ancestors who forsook Leiden in the 17th century to embark on a most hazardous journey and yet one full of promise.

Promise – fully the reason they came here. The promise of a new future.

– – –

You may select this link to read the original piece, September 11th, published in September 2009.

More reading about One World Trade Center, here.

You may find information about the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum here.

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You may read about the National Park Service Flight 93 Memorial site here, and support here.

You may read about the official Pentagon 9/11 Memorial here, and support here.

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Sweet Joy: Grandmothers – Part 2

The second in my republished “Grandmothers” series.

Perhaps you will read this, relate to it in some way, and fondly remember your own Grandparents a bit. What incredible, special people they are.

Mama Joy and Daddy Don, circa 1992

She was 91 when she passed away, and she made it clear she was ready to go. She was happy, but she missed my Grandfather, Donald Watson Conner, “Daddy Don” very much, as he had gone a few years before and she was ready. She was a kind, gentle, and quiet spirit, and she was also plain-spoken and pragmatic, even tough, perhaps. My paternal Grandparents were married nearly 61 years.

My grandmother, Muriel Joy, or to us, “Mama Joy” loved birds and so, bird-watching. My memory tells me her favorite bird was the Black-capped Chickadee. Because of this, I see this small, fragile, yet super-active, energetic and happy little bird as the most perfect representation of my Grandmother. To me, they are one and the same. Even now, as I approach the age she was when I was born, when I see or think of a Black-capped Chickadee, I see her. Today, I have her field guide to birds – her bird book – on my bookshelf. As material possessions go, it is one of my most treasured.

I also have a set of seven wood clothes pins she sent me, with colorful paper strips glued to the smooth, flat sides, clipped to a note written on cardstock in green ballpoint pen, “Keep it Closed!” “Keep it Fresh!” These are more valuable to me than most things I own.

And hand-made cards – again, colorful abstract designs or photographs of flowers, cut out of an issue of “Outdoor Indiana” – the cutouts carefully glued to the cover and trimmed with care and thoughtfulness. On the cover or inside there are notes written to accompany a newspaper clipping she knew would be of interest to me. She would write simply, “Be Chipper!”, or “Funny Article!”, or “What Was He Thinking?!”, or “Thought You Would Enjoy Reading This! Happy-Happy!”

Keep these things if you have them, whatever they may be. They do something for us – these things from our Grandparents, people we love. Keep them and treasure them. They do something to help us slow down a bit. They help to remind us, they regulate us, and they calm us. They do something to draw us back in and even for a moment, away from the busier, distracted life that we live, perhaps so far from where we started.

If you have a note from a Grandparent – or anyone you love – keep it, read it.

Then use it as a bookmark in a favorite book.

I keep all such “important papers” in my books. As the books we read often hold so much about life, love, relationships, challenges and trials, great mysteries and great learning – all the stuff life offers, they make a good place for such treasures.

So keep them. Then pass them on to your children and others you love – at the right time – and tell the stories that go with them.

Mama Joy also loved to rake leaves. She hired my brothers and me to rake leaves at their farm, where there are five acres of yard and trees. That’s a lot of leaves. Her love of this particular task I did not – and do not still – share. She had told me at one time all she needed in heaven was a rake.

When I read this at her funeral, I had one of her rakes with me, brought from the barn, and leaned it against her casket as I spoke. Quite unorthodox, I know, but it represented her well. At some point during the funeral, we, her grandchildren even discussed whether or not we should bury the rake with her. We decided not to, believing she would have said we need it at the farm. As I said, she was pragmatic.

Mama Joy, Wakomata Lake, 1976

Sweet Joy

Ours to remember in careful thought…lest we mourn a bit too much.

Her parting – it pains, though just for a while.
The Joy she hath brought floods our memories, our hearts.

Think of the sounds – her voice in that place.
And the work of her hands – became a family garden for us.
Think of her feet and her eyes moving across the expanse –
…her dwelling and thriving these many, many years.

The home they built now is known to us as forever theirs –
– inseparable from them, in spite of their going. …
And gone now only in ways that require our physical senses.
That fount of life, of love, and Joy remains.

Yes, our Joy, Sweet Joy remains – in heart and mind.
And in each other – look ‘round, now to see her.
Sweet Joy is cast in each kind face here – her life inseparable from ours.

Sweet Joy, my Sweet, Sweet Joy, your hand is upon my memory,
and your passions are upon our hearts.
Now – together – we see in our mind’s eye,
you with your groom and your children about.

Your Joy – our Joy is full and complete!

Michael / August 26, 2003

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Callie Dorothy Yeager, circa 1930

Callie Dorothy Yeager, circa 1930

Each of these pieces I wrote some time ago, about my grandmothers, each sometime prior to their respective passings. I knew, with each one, their time was drawing near. I’m sure they knew it, too.
As I had done at each of my Grandfather’s funerals years ago, I wanted to speak to – and on behalf of – our family and friends at my Grandmother’s funerals, and try to express how we all felt about them, how we remembered them, how we loved them.

This is the first piece, written for my mother and siblings about my maternal grandmother, Callie Dorothy Yeager, or simply, Mama Dot. She was just over 99 years young when she died. She and my Grandfather, Edwin Yeager, known to “us kids” as Papa Ed, were married for 63 years.

Perhaps you who read this can relate, and fondly daydream about your own Grandparents a bit as you read.

Right Now’n a Minute

The broom makes that distinct and familiar swish on the concrete. She has sprayed the walk and sweeps it clean. She moves along to observe the ivy bed – there is more to do, of course. He’s across the street, talking to Ralph.

When she’s done, she heads inside to make BLT’s and cottage cheese salad – a half of a canned pear lying on top of the creamy white mound – and iced tea. Then she moves the louvers on the window above the sink out of the way and opens the window.

“Papa Ed, lunch’ll be ready, right now’n a minute.”

Or we would ask, “Mama Dot, when’s supper gonna be ready?”

“Right now’n a minute” was her reply, without fail. And we knew – you might as well go sit down. It’s been done for a while. If we stall, she’ll just command, “You kids get in here and sit down. Dinner’ll be ready, right now’n a minute.” So you might as well go sit down.

Ty and I would sit on the dark front porch enclosed in glass jalousies on three sides, the perfect spot to watch the cars come and go in the night. We would name the brand – and model if we could – by the taillights. The sixties were easier. The dramatic lines of the late 50’s and early 60’s, like the rocket ship-inspired rear fender fins, made it easy.

“Chevy.”

“Which one?”

“’62 Impala.”

“Pretty good.”

Then silence again. Until the next one.

“Some kinda Chrysler.”

“Yup.”

Silence.

“Cadillac, ’66 or ‘67”.

“Pretty good.”

Then Mama Dot pops her head through the doorway. “You boys come get ready for bed. It’ll be time, right now’n a minute.”

“OK.” Then we play this game for a few minutes more. But we know what it really means. So we finish and go.

This phrase of hers was almost always tied to a meal, though it was handily applied to most every situation in life. And while it might have sounded as if it were left open to interpretation, we really knew exactly. It meant now.

She was thrilled to see any one of us come through the door. “Why, land sakes! Is that Kathi? Where have you been?”

Kathi eggs her on. “Oh, I just came to get my mail.”

“You better not!” Mama Dot warns in jest.

Or Mariette is getting ready to leave after a long afternoon of visiting and doing laundry, which, of course culminates in supper, before heading back to the dorm to study. Mama Dot is folding her clothes in the basement. Mariette can hear the sound of her slippers on the steps, and as she comes up, she says, “I’ll be done with the folding, right now’n a minute. Run, give Papa Ed a kiss before you go.” Mariette’s already there.

Many weekends Ty would come in the back, straight from Bloomington, and say, “Well, hello there, Callie!”

“Why, Ty, where’d you come from?” Her smile never waivers, and neither does his. He has her family name – and her heart.

Many times she would wrap her arms around my neck, and clasping her hands together behind my head she would accuse me in a sly tone: “You don’t love me!”

“Oh, Mama Dot! You know you’re my best girlfriend.” And it was true. And she knew it.

The phone would ring, and it would be any one of their life-long friends, calling just to chat. They’d talk for a while, then she’d say, “Olive, I’ve got to go. The kids are gonna be here, right now’n a minute.”

She was filled with joy and contentment with the arrival of Jayne, as though this altered situation of having her one greatest prize in life before her finally made everything good and right. And I guess it did. That’s all it really took to make their world complete.

She lived these last some 13 years without Papa Ed, and though she missed him daily, she was generally content with her world – as much as we could tell, or as much as she would tell. She seemed to live in a state of patient waiting, as if in a final stage, just for a while longer. She was cheery and peaceful, always agreeable and pleasant. She was neighborly and interested in the people around her. We called and wrote and visited, and Mom kept her up to date with the latest pictures and news. She didn’t dwell on Papa Ed, but she waited patiently in devoted anticipation.

Right now’n a minute.
I’ll be there right now’n a minute.
The sun rises slowly in the east.
Through the kitchen window, and through the maples
it sends streams of golden white fingers
to warm a soft and happy face.

It’s early, and her ritual has begun at the window.
It’s early, and the cool morning air whisping through the trees.
The robin’s song and an occasional car going by
are the only sounds outside.
She’ll have breakfast ready, right now’n a minute.
Right now’n a minute, the day will awake.
And her hours will be filled with work and love.

Right now’n a minute, the rest of the world will join her,
though she’s far ahead.
She’s thinking now of the rest of her day,
her joys and tasks commingled.

She knows and loves her place in this world
It is in her husband, and daughter, and grandchildren.
They are her work and her love.

As I speak gently to her, “I’ll see you very soon. I love you. We all love you very much.”
I can almost hear her answer.
Your work is nearly finished.
You’ll be done, right now’n a minute.

The evening of her days has come.
The warming, glowing sun is setting.
She closes the windows and shutters;
the sound and light fade softly and ever so gently.

Her years have been filled, her life has been filled.
Her waiting is nearly done.

She stays for a while longer,
just a little while longer, to hold her daughter’s hand.
Words of love fill her ears.
Dear voices and faces fill her world.
She’ll be there, right now’n a minute.

Perhaps in her mind’s eye, she saw Papa Ed waiting,
and her new day beginning.

With a new morning sunlight streaming,
perhaps she spoke her familiar words once more.
“Right now’n a minute. I’ll be there right now’n a minute.”

Remembering Mama Dot For Mom, Kathi, Ty, and Mariette
– Michael / August 25, 2004

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Beginning in early August 2001, I started a month-long conversation with a pilot of Middle Eastern origin flying a business jet out of Nashville, Tennessee.

Man-Silhouette

I was assisting him with plans for a Nashville-to-Saudi Arabia trip to be made sometime in September. He required what I considered to be standard materials – a trip kit – a one-time purchase – guaranteed to be current (legal) for a relatively short period of time, say, 14 days. He needed this because he was not a regular subscriber to “Jepps”, Jeppesen instrument flight charts, in simplest terms. He would also require electronic NavData for his GPS – Global Positioning System. The trip kit would be in paper, and would be quite a stack.

I’ll call him “Faruq”.

Every “plate” – essentially overhead views and profile views, technical “drawings” – somewhat akin to architectural blueprints – of how to fly an approach into an airport, how to depart from one, and how to fly in between, all with the intent of not hitting or even getting close to anybody else. When printed, they are on what I would call “Bible paper”; a half sheet and of the same type and feel. Electronically, they are displayed through a device on the cockpit instrument panel. Any ten-year-old kid would these days recognize it.

JeppsKBHM122_Not For Nav

Faruq would need the charts for the Eastern United States, Eastern Canada, HI and LO altitude, crossing the Atlantic, Western Europe, and finally the Middle East. His “NavData” would consist of two separate data cards each of which looked like a super-thick plain, black credit card with gold contacts on one end. Then add in the flight planning software. Pretty expensive package, all told; say, four-to-five figures, in the low-several thousands of dollars. As much as it costs, it’s pretty routine for private and business jet operators.

Now, it’s done in a much more integrated, even higher-tech fashion, with more electronics and less paper and other objects to worry about, but the costs are still about the same – high.

– – –

Private Jets: A Guy I Know

A brief interlude, and a bit lighter view of the subject for a moment.

– – –

Guys (they are usually guys…) who own the jets they fly, as many do, or at least fly on, may be  different than most of us, but in many ways, are not so different. It’s that thing about putting your pants on one leg at a time.

I know a guy in Casey, Illinois (about 30 minutes west of my hometown in Indiana) who owns a manufacturing business with a few locations around the country, so, for many reasons, he chooses to own a jet. It’s a Lear 25-something-or-other (I can’t remember exactly now, it’s been too many years) that he keeps in Bloomington, up-state. First, he can afford it. Second, it’s a practical matter for him.

Lear25B_rev1

Who wouldathunk, right there in Casey, of all places, where my aunt Mildred was nurse at the high school for 50 gazillion years. Well, you gotta be from somewhere, and you gotta live somewhere. Might as well be there. I appreciate that he chooses to remain living in his hometown (something I have not done).

I know another guy, I’ll call him “Viktor.” He is a Russian art collector (ancient religious iconography is one of his keenest interests), investor, and philanthropist. He lives in a few places, to include London. So, he also has a jet – A Gulfstream V, if I recall correctly. Huge, expensive, beautiful, yaduh, yaduh, yaduh.

He (and quite a few others) reminds me that immense personal wealth is (or at least can be) a very good thing.

Statistics demonstrate that such people, their trusts and foundations, their direct personal giving and so on contribute with enormous impact. Viktor does. By-and-large, it seems to be their nature. While they can certainly live the way they want (which is by the way, what most people aspire to achieve), they tend to be the financial drivers of positive change in most communities, and they do it freely. I am surely glad for what they are able to do and choose to do.

Viktor once called me to continue working on arrangments for a ’round the world trip.

It was to be partly with his wife and the plan was to mix business and pleasure: Donations and lending of art to various galleries and other philanthropic engagements and some sightseeing, some aircraft business and so on.

It would start in London and on to the heart of Europe then east to Moscow, down to the Persian Gulf, back to several cities in Africa (charitable foundation and art world stuff there), then Brazil, then Dallas or Savannah (again foggy memory) for some extended refresher training in a G5 simulator and an A&P course (Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certification stuff), then New York and finally home to London.

Gulfstream_Aerospace_G-V-SP_Gulfstream_G550_MEL_Vabre

Partly with his wife because he did not want to put her through the solo time while he was getting trained and recertified. That would be sorta like asking your wife to stand in the back yard and watch while you try to assemble then try to use a new weed-whacker. She’s got better stuff to do.

So when he called, he was in Africa – for pure personal fun this time.

He was on safari somewhere, but he was feeling nervous about getting prepared for the Big Trip. So he briefly interrupted his adventure to call and confirm a few details with me. In his thick but (like the British) very intelligent-sounding English, sort of yelling because he didn’t trust his cellphone, he said, “Michael, I am sitting in a jeep looking at an elephant!”

I swear, I pictured nutty old uncle Ernest Hemingway, phone in one hand, Winchester .458 in the other, multitasking with life itself, oblivious to what could happen next – to himself or anyone near him – and having a good time doing it. If I had heard a huge KaBoom! right then and there and a bunch of panicked yelling I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

I liked his Russian English, but he was often frustrated by it. Many times he put his very proper English wife on the phone with me to sort out what he really wanted to say. She replaced his heavily accented and numerous “I’m sorry Michael”‘s with that intoxicating and wonderfully flowing Queen’s English. I truly didn’t care what the words actually were; they could have been made up for all I cared. I just listened in a sort of trance. At that point it was just 8-year-old me lying in bed and Mary Poppins singing something about about tuppens and cough syrup, lulling me to baby-sleep. I could have had her translate Viktor for me for the rest of my life and been pretty happy about it.

Anyway, during that global trip, he ended up calling me from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. He was in the midst of his wealthy, luxuriant frustration, agonizing over a very expensive broken gadget-thingy, and needing another trip kit because now his jaunt was going to be extended by a week or so… IF he could get the very expensive gadget-thingy fixed. He would say his immense wealth was rapidly depleting with his questionable decision to some wear some of his multiple hats.

I asked a simple but rotten question: “How is it?”

His response was pretty down-to-earth and relatable.

“Michael, I am the mechanic, the pilot, the janitor, the caterer, the electronics technician, and sadly, the owner.”

I guess crap feels the same for everyone, regardless of where it comes from.

– – –

That “Faruq” was in need of a Jeppesen Trip Kit was in itself somewhat odd in that virtually every business jet on the planet that regularly flies internationally – which this one did – requires Jeppesen procedures, whether paper or electronic, and Jeppesen electronic NavData for their on-board navigation systems.

Jeppesen is (or at least was at that time) the only producer of such information and electronic data on a worldwide scale. (Other businesses, such as SwissAir, and some governments produce regional information for internal consumption, but nothing on the scale of Jepp). If someone is to fly globally, they have to use Jeppesen.

My memory of all the fine details of this event is not as clear as it was ten years ago; I think my conclusion must have been that this was a newly acquired aircraft and perhaps flying “home” so did not yet require any subscriptions. A trip kit would suffice. So our conversations continued. We spoke regularly – two to three times each week. Eventually, what became the most outstanding aspect of those conversations was the thing that led to a standstill: money.

Normally – routinely – Jepp takes this type call all day long, every day. These people pay right now. If they can afford this aircraft, or if their company deems it necessary to have it, they can pay, and they do. The people who fly on a company aircraft from Seattle to a meeting in Minneapolis or from Teterboro to London, or the guy who flies a family-owned G-4 to the Kamchatka Peninsula to go salmon fishing, or the small but very hard-working, very successful factory owner – say, a foundry or electronic components, or wiring harnesses, or industrial hydraulic pumps – and he’s the guy from Casey.

He owns his Lear because it’s what’s needed and not because it’s fun – and flies from Bloomington to Columbus to Little Rock to Dayton and back home all in two days – they all have established themselves and their businesses financially enough to pay for their flying.

– – –

But not my guy, Faruq.

What first stood out about him was how exceptionally polite and articulate he was. Not that he got the Queen’s English exactly right. Lord knows that we Hoosiers (or maybe just we Hoosiers south of I-70) rarely do that. He had his grammatical foibles, but he handled his english a lot better than I would have handled my Arabic.

It was his presentation that stood out more than anything. And it developed into an upward spiral. The more polite and appreciative he was, the more I enjoyed speaking with him and helping, then, in return, the more pleasant he continued to be. And so it went. But somewhere after our second or third conversation, the calls began to end with projections and anticipations of when and precisely how payment would be wired or a company credit card would be provided.

The plans were clearly stalling for want of “show me the money.”

– – –

By early September the calls were coming almost daily.

He became very apologetic and began searching me for alternative ways to get the materials shipped on time; he had a hard deadline he had to meet. He would say, “We’ve got to go by . . .” or “The boss needs to depart no later than . . ” and he became more and more animated in his expressions over the phone, making it clear this was extremely important and he was becoming desperate, caught in the middle.

But invariably we would end up rehashing the fact that I could not ship anything without full payment. It had arrived at a place that was entirely uncharacteristic of business jet operators.

It was then that again he would apologize profusely and assure me he was doing everything he could to arrange payment but it was difficult. It was clear to me that moving payment from “Saudi to here” would continue to be fraught with snags. For whatever reasons, a credit card couldn’t do it. Cash converted to a cashier’s check couldn’t either. Neither could a wire. So the order never went.

– – –

Our last phone conversation was sometime during the week of September 3-7; I do not recall exactly which day. Faruq expressed the slightest bit of hope that a wire transfer could be made, but he also spoke with what stood out to me as an undertone of resignation, as if he knew the trip he needed to take so badly – or the trip he was under such pressure to complete – would not take place. He was friendly and polite all the while. He thanked me and I thanked him and wished him the best.

Over the weekend, as he occurred to me only as an after-thought, I expected to hear from him Monday, September 10th, but didn’t.

Then of course, it was Tuesday.

– – –

Next week: Part V – Gone and Forever

Logo-Boeing-Company

– – –

Jeppesen “plate” image credit Jeppesen and courtesy The Professional Pilots Rumour Network

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