55

Yesterday was Karen’s birthday. She is 55, but tells me her bones feel 65.

She looks 35. I’m a lucky man.

We went to the mall before dinner to check out Dillard’s 30% off of 50% sale where they price things really high then make you do complex math in your head to figure out the real price. After a while, I realize that I don’t need a pair of stylish Dior socks originally $20 but now $7 so I sit on a recliner in the middle of the mall and read 126 Happy Birthday wishes on Karen’s Facebook feed. This is obvious, but she has way more friends than me. Here is one of my favorites:

Happiest of birthdays to one of the best friends in my life. We may not see each other often, but when we do, we are just as goofy as we were in high school. Love you, Karen Mason Taylor!

Kim, you are spot on! She is goofy. Cute, but goofy.

We ate dinner at Laffa, described on the menu as Mediterranean & Middle Eastern. I asked our waitress what was different about the Israeli Cappuccino. She said, “It has a little whipped cream on top.” I replied, “OK, give me the Hot Green Lemon Ginger Honey Tea,” because whipped cream sounded Bavarian and I wanted something more Jewish and with a longer name.

We love the laffa which is a kind of bread. The menu says that laffa is named after the conical oven that is used to make it and that bread is thought of as a gift from God and only the hands should be used to break it because cutting it with a knife would be like raising a sword to God!  If some bread should fall to the ground, it is picked up and symbolically pressed to the lips & forehead as a sign of respect.

We tore Laffa bread with our bare hands and dipped it into West African Hummus-spicy, sweet potato & peanut hummus with a touch of coconut served with curried tehina, balsamic glaze & feta and Muhammara-roasted red pepper spread made with eggplant, walnuts, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic & spices.

There is even advice on the menu from a Jewish grandma which was apparently stolen by my grandma since my people are not as old as the Jewish peoples…(we are Upper Corner White Bread Okies…paternal grandparents northeastern Oklahoma and maternal grandparents northwestern Oklahoma panhandle):

“EAT! You’re skin and bones!”
– Every Jewish grandma’s catchphrase (Along with “take a sweater!”)

We dined with my brother Greg and his wife Jill. I always enjoy our conversations with Greg and Jill. They understand us. We talked about our children who are college age to 28 years old.

Karen is lower right if you need help

Isn’t it interesting how children believe their parents to be fools when they are of “a certain age” and then they pass through vintage moment(s), return to us, and want to hang out, ask for advice, laugh at our jokes (or at least not roll their eyes quite as dramatically)…and yet they are still our children, only smarter than us, better looking, and somehow poised and eloquent and we think it strangely odd?

Except for some moments when they revert to childhood bath hairdos. 

Before dinner, we parked near the Tulsa Performing Arts Center so after the 8:00 showing of the musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, we would have a short walk in the downtown cold and darkness. I brought a stocking cap for the walk from the restaurant to the PAC which any Jewish grandmother would have admired. I told Karen my hat gives me such warmth that I would be happy to sleep outside tonight if I had to. She said that I could still snuggle with her if I wanted which made me glad I married her.

You can never be too careful or plan too well. This is how you get when celebrating birthdays on the downslope of 100 years…as if it matters at this point.

Birthdays change along with us, marking our lives like pencil marks on a door jamb. Some have fat candles, others pin tails on donkeys. This one was fine wine in a vintage oak cask. It was good to stroll along a city street with my girl during the calm of a winter’s evening, basking in the warm glow of family and conversation and a lovely table of food.

Happy birthday my love!

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30 days to change

Studies show that if you repeat something often enough, say 30 days in a row, it becomes part of you. A habit if you will. That’s not really science, I made it up, but it seems true.

I’ve decided to practice this to see if it works. I’ll  give you a report after thirty days. I have many 30 day regimens already planned, but I will begin simply.

My first thought is to change something in my diet, to change my stance from vile hatred to, dare I say, affection. So I’m going to eat something I hate for 30 consecutive days.

Cucumbers…I despise cucumbers.

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For 30 days, I dine on one whole raw cucumber daily. I can’t wait…

 

 

I’m Younger Than That Now

My son texted me last night and said, “We have some really big news.”

This is life; we are born and given a name without our approval, then we fall in love and marry, have children, who then leave and have their own children, and only then are we empowered to rename ourselves.

This is our chance to correct all the misconceptions of the past. I love the idea of second chances. Especially if your last name is Light and your parents named you Bud…you want a do over.

And this is a universal truth across generations. We want a name that highlights our better angels. I remember this about my Grandma Davis who typically cared very little about image and names. But there was one name we didn’t dare call her…granny.

This made for a perfect dare, and my sister prodded me to test the limits one day. I took the dare and called her granny. She hit me over the head with a rolled up Saturday Evening Post. She thought it made her sound old. I thought she was.

But like Dylan singing My Back Pages, “aah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” she must have thought the same thing that my generation thinks…we are younger than that now.

Our age defiance runs deep beginning with simple denial, to the subtle art of requiring our grandchildren to summon us with hip and youthful grand names.

Besides, if we are not naming ourselves, someone will. And it might sound not only old, but strange, for there is danger in allowing a toddler to name grandparents. The danger is that the name will stick like a sharpened #2 pencil thrown into an acoustic ceiling by a rowdy student, requiring a janitor with a ladder to make it go away. Otherwise, it will just hang there forever.

By virtue of the birthright bestowed upon the first grandchild, my daughter had the naming rights to her paternal grandparents. She named them Tampoop and Nammy. One stuck and the other, well, we had to get a ladder and remove it.

But why settle for the prosaic grandfather and grandmother?

The possibilities are endless. I’m thinking about Ace Umpa or Poppa Tart…or something Ukrainian that a baby can easily pronounce. Why not Baba & Gigi?

And the Greeks have wonderfully lyrical grand names…Yaya & Pappoús.

Karen asked me recently what I wanted to be called by a babbling grand. Perhaps I’ll be Bubs. Karen is leaning toward Keke.

And so it will be until the first grandchild changes it to Butts and Kaka. Maybe the old days of grandma and grandpa weren’t so bad after all, but just in case, I’m keeping that ladder handy.

Oh yes, the big news from my son and daughter-in-law. They are parents. We now have our third grand pet, Inola, a tiny furry bundle of Border Collie. I hope she calls me Bubs.

An Unwrapped Christmas

I have received many Christmas gifts, but can only remember a few. Likewise, my wife remembers the magic of Christmas, but not so much specific presents received.

Karen’s father, Thom Mason, worked three jobs to provide a magical Christmas for five children. His third job was bartender and he left a glass tip jar filled with coins under the tree for Santa and each Christmas morning the jar vanished, purportedly carried away in a sleigh by Santa to help pay the North Pole bills. Christmas morning exploded in color, tinsel, lights, and presents under the tree. It was simply magic. 

I no longer struggle to sleep on Christmas Eve. And I have always lived with a sort of Christmas dissonance, a stubborn belief in the magic of Christmas juxtaposed against a mocking cynicism of vapid Hallmark Christmas movies.

I’ve always wondered about Christmas without presents. 

Today we celebrated with only the gift of presence.

There were no gifts.

There was no tree.

Only a shared meal, shared dreams, tears and a prayer of blessing.

This was my favorite Christmas.

No presents, no tree, no lights, only family.

And, we were together at a beach house…which is a kind of present in itself.

So we ate ricotta pancakes and eggs and prosciutto and fried potatoes. And two sets of parents, the old folks in our group of ten, were challenged to tell about our challenges, victories, wants, and wonders for 2018.

And so the parents told stories about their lives and about their dreams and what they wonder about and six children stood over us and prayed a prayer while holding onto us and blessing us. It was Christmas turned upside down, the children wrapping joy as a Christmas blessing. 

I wandered down to the beach to read, my chair facing the sun, my back to the wind, and I watched sandpipers scooting across the beach hunting crabs, and pelicans cruising just inches above the crest of breaking waves. As I listened to the eternal surf break against the shore I thought about how Christmas really is a miracle.

It’s as simple as reading a book with your toes in the sand, hearing God’s presence in the musical constancy of the surf.

It’s Immanuel come near in a way that allows us mortals to see the glory of God without going blind

It’s the magical gift of grace for parents who deserve a lump of coal but get children praying over them.

Merry Christmas!

 

The Man with the Yam

This past Sunday, Preacher Daryl told us that grumbling and complaining is a sin as a friend of mine sunk lower in the pew after posting a Facebook rant about donuts, “Why are there no donuts shops open on Sunday morning?” Which made me think of Garrison Keillor’s story about the man who wrote a check hurriedly as the collection plate was being passed realizing later that he had forgotten to place a decimal in his number and the $100 became $10000. He wondered if he would be struck by lightning if he asked for the check back so he could void it and write another. Which is how most of us feel after grumbling on Facebook. We want our words back, a chance to re-write the check.

How would I ever explain Facebook to my grandparents? Their face book was newspaper clippings on a cork board secured by a push-pin where I once spotted my grandpa holding a gigantic yam. The caption read, “The man with the yam.”

Jesse Suit Tie

The Man with the Yam

I only knew him the last few years of his life, long after his hair had receded like plowed soil blowing hot across the Oklahoma plains. Grandpa Jesse in his youth looked like Henry Fonda in the Grapes of Wrath except with a fishing pole and less angry.  He went to California in the 1950’s to escape the pollen and dust of the Oklahoma Panhandle. He returned from California in the 1960’s when I was a boy.

Jesse Coffee Machine

Grandpa Jesse with his coffee vending machine

That picture of the man with the yam made me think that he was superhuman, all Popeye and spinach, I yam what I yam. Now my wife grows yams and tomatoes and kale and it is hard work making me realize how difficult it must have been to be a farmer, a dairy man with a herd of milk cows on the plains of Oklahoma when hard times were the worst hard times.

Grandpa Jesse married Mildred the year after the stock market crash of 1929, just as drought and perpetual plowing turned winter wheat into desolation and dreams into dust. The dust bowl still impacts how I eat a chicken leg. Grandma Mildred often chastised me for not eating efficiently, taking from my plate a mostly denuded chicken leg and gnawing it down to the gristle as if it were a sin to leave meat on the bone. I think of her still when I eat chicken…and when I begin to grumble about how difficult life is.

Grandma wrote prose like she ate a chicken leg, gnawing the subject down to the marrow,  sharing only the essentials in a letter she penned about her life as if to say modern folks know nothing about multi-tasking. She reduced the birthdays of six children into a single rich sentence.

“When my babies were born, they were delivered by Dr. Smith, who was also a vet and a dentist.”

My grandparents always had an eye on the heavens while living close to the good earth as they plowed it, gardened it, drilled water wells into it, and in the worst times of drought and wind they inhaled it. They made their living on a harsh landscape with the promise of better days. When Grandpa died, I was nine-years old and I remember Grandma Mildred describing his passing to a lady from our church as I walked up the stairs of our home. I was amazed that adults spoke about death and I dreamed of Grandpa for several months after that and once I saw him in the closet by my bed late one night. I was never afraid, but I did wonder if I was nutty or perhaps heaven had a revolving door with hall passes.

One afternoon not long before he died, Grandpa picked me up at school and asked me to help him. I sat beside him in his Ford truck as we drove to Woodland Park where he was working on a house. He said, “Can you stick your arm into that hole in the wall and pull out that wire?” I told him sure. But after trying for several minutes, I gave up. I had failed. He drove me home and as I was getting out of the truck, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter, handed it to me and said, “Thanks.” I walked to the porch and sat down, watching my Grandpa drive away. He never made me feel that I had failed, and the quarter was his way of saying so, gratitude replacing grumbling even in the midst of a failed venture.

Mildred Fishing 2017

Mildred fishing

I’m not aware of any writing that Grandpa passed along, but Grandma wrote about her life for posterity at the behest of her children. Here is part of what she wrote:

My sister Ida and I walked two miles to…school. Mother, in later years, often told me I started out crying and came home crying. The winters were very cold. We also had to help milk cows before we left for school and again at night. As we girls had no older brothers, we worked alongside our Dad doing chores, field work and gardening. Dad always raised hogs and cattle. He would work in the fields until dark and then chores had to be done. I was eighteen years old and going to high school at a state school in Goodwell, Oklahoma when I met my husband to be. My mother’s mother developed cancer in February 1930 and as Mother was her only daughter, she needed to go care for her…I was brought home from school to take Mother’s place caring for Georgie, Essie and Wesley, besides chores, cooking, etc. Grandmother passed away in May. Because of this time out of school, I did not get to graduate from high school. Doctors in those days were not readily available and their knowledge was limited. I suppose they learned a lot of what they knew from reading medical books…

I never heard them complain much, except when I wore my short shorts. Maybe Grandpa complained about hard times to the dairy cows early in the morning while milking them, but Mom and her siblings told me that they never heard their daddy speak ill of another person nor complain to the cows or anyone else. And if he complained or griped about his lot in life, that too must have blown away with the dust. I thought that was remarkable. Maybe she just wasn’t around him enough. Or perhaps there really are people in the world who are like Grandpa…I hope so.

Toronto journal 4: King Lear and the Subterranean Underground

We are going to Hyde Park to see King Lear,” Brandon said. Turns out he said High Park. Which is where we sat, perched high on a hill overlooking the outdoor stage at High Park in north Toronto. My expectations were low but I did carry high expectations in a picnic bag, a sub sandwich giving a measure of hope for enjoyment during the evening performance.

Shakespeare is sometimes difficult to follow. Lots of humor missed but I noticed veterans of Shakespeare in the audience chuckling so it must be funny and I’m just slow to the meaning translating Queen’s English into a slow Okie drawl. The production was performed with members of York University’s Drama and Arts School. York is the University where my son is working on his Masters Thesis on Radar Differential Measurement or something meteorologically spatial.

Anyway, it’s the shape of stuff in the atmosphere before it hits us on the head. He has developed a certain expertise in radar and was recruited to York University by the noted Atmospheric Scientist, Dr. Peter Taylor.

We also met Brandon’s buddies in the program, ZQ, Tim, Kai, and Isaac. My evaluation of Brandon’s friends: they are easy-going and smarter than I am. We are eating at a sports bar and there are several televisions tuned to street motorcycle racing, the kind where the rider turns corners with the bike leaning over sideways and Isaac (17 years old) is asking how the bike makes the turn at such high-speed. Tim, the one the guys jokingly call the savant, is studying atmospheric pollutants and has just returned from the northern Canadian woods where he is downloading data from the atmosphere. Tim pulls out a plain paper notebook and begins to sketch a model of movement at speed describing centrifugal force with mathematics, a simple graph and pencil and paper.

I don’t understand the sketch and I want to snap a picture but don’t want to appear to be a hayseed and make a big deal out of what they take as a mundane mathematical explanation for a visual and visceral sport like motorcycle racing. I wonder if this happens everyday in their world.

We’ve enjoyed the food in Toronto. One can eat at any country in the world when in Toronto. Bahn Mi from Vietnam, Pork Shoulder sandwiches from Cuba, and of course the traditional Canadian meal of Poutine, fries, gravy, cheese curds, yummy.

We’ve had a wonderful trip! We drove through Michigan after crossing the Canadian border at Sarnia, about 30 miles north of Detroit. We listened to the Audiobook version of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann while driving home. It literally wore me out, but it was fascinating. A lot of King Lear in Osage County back in the 1920’s, when the Osage Indians were the richest people per capita in the world and J.Paul Getty and Sinclair and Frank Phillips gathered under the Million Dollar Elm to bid on the Osage Indians’ subterranean kingdom.

The Osage built mansions and drove Cadillacs and succumbed to the foolishness of riches just like most of us do, and then one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The story is an indictment of the prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity. Utterly compelling, but also emotionally draining. The bad guys could just have easily been actors in a Shakespearean tragedy like King Lear…

rascals, eaters of broken meats; base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knaves; lily-livered, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogues.

Bill Shakespeare could really talk some trash.

A few evenings back, we sat with Brandon and Liz watching some old home movies that I had sent off to Legacy Box. They converted our home movies in 8mm and VHS format films into digital which we accessed through wi-fi. We stumbled upon this: Brandon struggling to breathe his first breath. One of the nurses was a good friend, Maresha Scarsdale, and I handed her the video camera. He is purple. Brandon thinks he looks like a purple lizard. Oxygen hasn’t coursed through his body and made him pink yet. I’ve never watched this. I was there, yes, and I held him and marveled then. I’m tearing up again watching and remembering…Brandon is struggling to breath, gurgling cries, his airways still not clear…Ello Stephney, another nurse friend of ours is working on him, clearing out his mouth and nose, and he magically begins to glow pink…he isn’t a lizard, he is human.

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.” ― William Shakespeare, King Lear

We all cry before the blood fills our veins and oxygen brightens our countenance and we nestle in the warmth of human contact, and we determine that the fools and knaves and killers of the flower moon may share the stage, but they won’t rule the story.

Thanks for showing us around Toronto Brandon and Liz. You really put on a great show!

 

New York & Toronto: journal 2

August 24-25, 2017

We drove to the Adirondack Mountains with Toby & Debbie Taylor with plans to kayak the Moose River near the village of Old Forge. We wandered through Old Forge Hardware established in 1900. It’s squeaking groaning oak floors tells stories of those from another time walking these same boards with hunting boots, saddle shoes, and blue leather Mary Janes.

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Dr. Toby Taylor who is 1/256 Cherokee Indian standing next to the drug store indian at Old Forge Hardware store.

On main street there are slabs of oak and red elm and butternut standing at attention like surf boards at the beach awaiting a buyer to transform them into breakfast bar tops. There is a candy shop with mini donuts and chunks of fudge and brown bottles of Saranac Root Beer. We came to kayak, but we never made it, losing ourselves in a 1970’s time warp of batting cages, go carts (yes, Karen cut someone off), an arcade with redemption games like pinball and skee ball, Pac Man, and Galaga, and right next door there is a dairy shack with a roof top ice cream cone where you can get a frozen custard cone rolled in crushed heath bar. I ignored my age all afternoon and acted 14 most of the day.

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according to, Kathleen McMichael Mulligan, this is my mom’s wedding picture with Karen’s Aunt Rose n my Dad Roy Fairbanks n her GMA’s other two sisters Aunt Mary n Aunt Bertha…

We drove west to Syracuse on Friday, then north on Interstate 84 to the Canadian Border crossing at Thousand Islands (salad dressing originated here) and then connecting with Canada’s 401 West.

As we drove north along interstate 84 in upstate New York, I listened to my wife go through a box of old pictures given to her by her sister Debbie after her mom had cleaned them out of the house before moving to Arizona from New Jersey. It felt like listening to Jack Buck call a Cardinals baseball game, very entertaining, but visually I have to create some of the images from verbal reactions and comments from Karen as I drive in a strange land on strange roads. Karen reacts to a picture of herself in a bikini on the roof of Cathcart dorm as a 9th grader visiting Harding University in the late 1970’s and I steal a glance since I would have been a freshman there at the time.

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Thom Mason in his James Dean rebel years. This picture was taken not long after a car wreck. He and some buddies were raiding a farmers watermelon crop and were chased away. In the scramble to escape, he did not sit in his usual seat in the car. Thom’s friend sat in that seat instead. His buddy died in the accident.

While we are still on I-84 in New York, Karen reads a letter written from her mother Anne who was pregnant with Debbie in August 1957. It is addressed to her husband Thom who was serving as an Army Reserve cook at Fort Drum in upstate New York. Karen always wondered about her Dad serving as a cook in the Army, where the love of cooking and making eggs and bacon for his children first began. Karen has always wondered where Fort Drum is. She looks up from her letter and spies a green interstate highway sign not far from the Canadian border just east of Lake Ontario. It’s an exit sign for Fort Drum.