Doodling with Snoopy

My wife travels with me and my golf partner, Shawn Barker…not because she loves golf or me. She simply loves the surroundings and the free time alone spent wandering places like Flagstaff and Monterey and Santa Rosa. After a yoga session in Santa Rosa this past week, she sat in a coffee shop alone and a man across the aisle sat with his dog. Karen wore sunglasses but no makeup, and was still sweaty from hot yoga. The man looked over at Karen and said, “That’s the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.” The man finished his coffee, got up and slowly walked past Karen’s table and he said to the dog, “Yep, most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.”

Which made me feel good because I’ve always wanted to be married to the most beautiful women in the world.

This is why I want to be a travel writer when I grow up, not because of sumptuous food or remarkable scenery,

Crepeville Sacramento
Crepe with Prawns, mushrooms, peppers, and pesto in Sacramento

but simply because when we travel, we meet people and discover stories and those stories spin around my brain like moths around a lamp at midnight. I write like a child doodling because the flurrying moths inside my head can only escape through the point of a pencil onto paper. 

This makes sense to me as I affectionately call my eldest daughter noodles and she calls me doodles. Maybe she calls me that simply because it rhymes with noodles, but now I know the deeper reason. I doodle.  

My favorite doodler hails from Santa Rosa, California, where we vacationed. His name is Charles Schultz, and he doodled Charlie Brown and Linus and Snoopy and an entire neighborhood of children who heard all grown up words as simply a muted trombone played by a jazz musician…wahwahwahwahwahwah…which is remarkably artistic. Karen and I are not artists, but we are doodlers, and we have a go-to doodle, a solitary subject each time we feel the need to draw.

Mine is Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown
I drew this much better in 4th grade



Karen’s is a flop-eared puppy.

Puppy dog doodle Karen
Karen’s doodle dog


Four days in Santa Rosa gave us the opportunity to see the majestic redwoods

Redwood vertical
This redwood is taller than a football field is long

 

and countless rows of grapes traversing the Sonoma County hills, and to hear stories about the man who inspired my artless doodle, Charles Schultz. Since I have always loved the Peanuts comic strip as well as the animated cartoon, it was a joy to meet a tennis partner of Mr. Schultz on our trip to Sonoma County.

Redwood and Karen
This redwood is taller, wider, and older than my wife…but not prettier


Dean James has a welcoming face that looks like a sun-faded catchers mitt and kind learned eyes that twinkle like stars when he tells stories about Sparky, as his close friends refer to Mr. Schultz. Dean swims every morning at 5 A.M. and is an avid tennis player who often played with Sparky.

Dean was also a well-known professional golfer who used to work at the Oakmont Golf Club. He started his professional career in Utah at the Alpine Country Club in 1959, then went to such locales as the Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club.                                                                                                                                     

Golf Mayacama hole 2
Mayacama Golf Club Hole 2

While playing golf at Mayacama, on the final hole, while I prepared to hit a hybrid to the green from 215 yards, a doe and fawn ambled onto the green and the fawn brusquely lunged underneath her mother to suckle while I waited for the green to clear. The mother shook off the fawn as if to say, “You’ve had your fill,” and I hit a high draw onto the lower plateau of the green. Dean told us that Mr. Schultz owned these 1,600 acres of rolling hills north of Santa Rosa.  He sold it and Jack Nicklaus then designed and built the Mayacama golf course.

There is a signature par five hole with a lovely high vista and a series of hair pin trails. Dean said, “A Stanford Heisman quarterback drove off that cart trail and into a steep thorny ravine but I can’t think of his name.” I could only remember one Heisman quarterback from Stanford, so I said, “Jim Plunkett?” Dean’s eyes lit up and he said, “Yes, Jim Plunkett!”

Dean told us that in 1967, trying to qualify for the Bing Crosby golf championship at Pebble Beach, he three-putted the final hole to miss qualifying by one shot. But he got to play Pebble Beach after all, when Charles Schultz subsequently asked his tennis buddy to play with him in the pro-am at the Crosby. He did for several years then was replaced on Schultz team by the golf legend Johnny Miller. Dean graduated from BYU and knew Mr. Miller, who also graduated from BYU and was also a friend of Mr. Schultz. Charles Schultz died 18 years ago and Dean told us about a conversation with Johnny Miller regarding the eulogy. Dean said to Johnny, “You are a tv golf announcer, you should do the eulogy.” Mr. Miller told Dean, “No, you do it.” And so Dean spoke at the eulogy along with Billie Jean King at Mr. Schultz memorial.

One day Dean was playing doubles with Sparky and Dean missed a couple shots into the net. Dean slammed his racquet into the right net support shattering it into a useless heap of leather, string, and fiberglass. Schultz reminded Dean of that outburst from time to time…until one day Dean opened the paper and saw this Peanuts strip:

snoopy tennis
The comic strip inspired by Dean James

Dean James still has a copy of this comic strip autographed by Charles Schultz.

That’s a pretty cool doodle!

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Midnight Confession

Word.

 

Word is a strange word…the longer you stare at it, the odder it becomes.

Stranger still is the moment you hear correct words in a song after many years of singing the wrong words.

Karen was making a Margherita pizza last night while singing Midnight Confession, a song by The Grass Roots from 1968. I love that song, although I never knew the hook line.

The sound of your footsteps, Telling me that you’re near, Your soft gentle motion, babe, It brings out a need in me that nobody hears, except, In my midnight confessions, when I tell all the world that I love you…

At various times in the past 40 years, instead of midnight confessions, I have heard the words…

in my imagination

in morning at confession

in my denied confections

Misheard lyrics are difficult to remove from memory, like trying to rid your inner jukebox of Love Shack by the B-52’s. Wrong words and kitschy tunes won’t leave without a fight. But, when the real lyrics are revealed, the song sounds different because we aren’t imposing our own meaning upon the original.  When Karen and I suddenly discovered the right words, we sang it out loud in the kitchen. We had to purge the old idea and restore the original…in my midnight confession, when i tell all the world that I love you…which really seems to go well with a Margherita pizza and someone you love.

Another song from the Sixties, The Boxer, by Simon and Garfunkel, speaks of mumbles and words that we want to hear…

“I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises.
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest”

Human nature is to hear words we want to hear. Even when we can’t understand them, there they are, deep within us, waiting to break out, and once we hear and comprehend, they are no longer misheard lyrics. The truth, once hidden, is now revealed and the meaning transformed.

Harmony of word and melody is not only human, it is divine. In fact, the very idea of Word and Song goes back to a couple of verses in the Bible.

“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth…”

There is lyricism and poetry repeated throughout Genesis chapter 1.

And God said…

And the evening and the morning were…

And God saw that it was good…

And God saw that it was very good…

Love spoke and animated the universe. The Word spoke and words became matter and the creation song… beauty, love, and relationship…began to shape the heart of humanity like a three-step waltz. 

This is why we sing in the kitchen…maybe this is generally why humans sing at all…because we understand words more deeply when they are set to music. To paraphrase Genesis 1…

In the beginning was the song of Creation and it was beautiful, as melody and harmony animated the universe in 3/4 time. 

If creation then is song, there must be words, otherwise all the songs we sing are jests and mumbles. There is another lyrical text from the Gospel of John that looks back at creation.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” 

The Lyric was always there.

The Word went looking for a choir.

There is a song heard daily in nature. It is the song of the loon on a New Hampshire lake, the roll of thunder echoing off granite in Colorado, it is the surf beating measures against coastal rocks at Cape Horn, the approaching percussion of bison hooves on the Oklahoma plains.

The universe is singing a song that rhymes. It makes me want to sing while hiking with my son or making a pizza with my wife.

And to pay attention…to the lyrics, the notes, the entire symphony.

I hear it has a pretty good finale.

The Tiny Home in Our Driveway

There are two kinds of people in the world. (there are more than that, but let’s not nitpick)

People who love to stay home and people who love to wander.

Home people nest and settle in for the long haul as nostalgia rules the day.

Wanderers are restless horizon watchers who understand that to be a stranger in a strange land is to be right at home.

What makes people long for home?

Why are others infected with wanderlust?

The neighbors believe we’ve spaced out with a symbol of wanderlust, a tiny home jacked up on a trailer in our driveway, partially obscuring the entry to our front door. 

We were driving to dinner last night and Karen said, “I thought wanderlust was spelled wonderlust and I didn’t know that it means a longing to travel.” I told her it was ok, that one doesn’t frequently hear wanderlust used in a sentence.  

Wanderlust is more true of my children than for me. They love to travel in this stage of their DINK lives (double-income-no-kids).

Wanderlust is perhaps the reason for the tiny home in our driveway. Brandon and Liz will move in soon…

So rather than accumulate mortgages and children and homes on fixed foundations, they are building mobility. Our children don’t own cars…they fly in jets and take buses, trains, and Uber. They’ve traded hamburger and fries for Meshana Skara from Bulgaria and Schnitzel from Germany.

This ticket to a simpler life is almost complete. Soon, Inola the dog will move in with our son Brandon and daughter-in-law, Elizabeth. In case you are wondering if they’ve lost their minds, here are 5 thoughtful reasons to build a tiny home: 

SPACE

1-2-3-4-5

Simple Life    

Minimalism is back…if it ever really left, and it’s the idea that you have all this clutter in your life but does all the stuff make life better?  To downsize your living environment allows the pursuit of other passions and shared adventures.

Place becomes larger and the world smaller 

Living in a mansion can make you a citizen of nobility, but tiny living makes one a citizen of mobility. This desire to see the world reminds me of Maya Angelou’s comment, “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place.” You’ve broken the bonds of parochialism. In a sense, simple living makes your home larger because your footprints extend further into the world. You have more economic resources to move about, see the sights, and eat strange food. This movement isn’t just for the young. This reassessment of residential economics applies to empty nesters and retirees who find value in these same ideas.

Adventure 

Tiny home folks are tapping into a style of living that might be considered more adventurous than being one of 300 in an apartment project or a suburban development with lawn mowers buzzing all weekend.

Cool Factor 

I asked my son, Brandon, “Why don’t you just buy an Airstream trailer. Then you can be retro-hip and mobile?” He said that they didn’t want a trailer. It’s the hip factor. Well, tiny homes do have their own television shows…and they are kind of jazzy if you are into that sort of thing.

Environment 

My son is a Meteorologist who specializes in wind studies. His graduate degree is from York University in Toronto, Canada, where they are more aware of climate change than in my cloistered prairie universe. So he asked if we could build one for him and I said sure. Crosby Stills and Nash sang a song with the lyric, “Teach your parents well.” It’s a song about generations listening to on another. And so I try to listen. I just spoke with a 35 year old friend who vacationed at Glacier National Park in Montana and I asked him what he thought of the glaciers. He told me that they are stunningly beautiful and then the sad part…they are half melted away…and so younger generations are serious about caring for this good earth. What can I do that is radically significant to impact the environment by walking softer and doing so daily in a way that doesn’t require a daily decision. You only have to do it once….build it that is. It seems palatable to me…other than the composting toilet!

Brandon works for the National Weather Service (NOAA) in Norman, OK where they will locate their tiny home sometime in September. Here is a sneak preview!

IMG_0004
Shiplap interior walls

 

Running with Lightning

Tuesday we hiked up to St. Mary’s waterfall. After a 3 mile hike including 1,000 feet of vertical rise, we drank cold water pouring down the face of the granite.

Sheila: I should have had some protein this morning.

That was right after Lauren and Karen startled two young men and a young woman who had built a sort of cold water mountain pool at the foot of the falls. When I bested the final boulder, this young man was pulling on his boxers. There is something about nature at 9,500 feet than makes young men lose their senses and their clothing in a sort of back-to-nature euphoria.

I looked up at the mountain to the west. My son taught me to look at the sky. Brandon is an atmospheric scientist…a meteorologist. He specializes in wind profiling and works for the National Weather Service in Norman, OK. Once when Brandon was about 10 years old, we sat on a peak in Arkansas watching a thunderstorm wrap around the mountain.

I thought of that as we made our way back down the mountain, listening to the sounds of atmospheric indigestion at 9,500 feet elevation. Lightning crackled in the pines chasing us all the way down to the parking lot just as rain hit our windshield. Karen hasn’t run that much since Sadie Hawkins date night at church camp.

Yesterday was one of those days that I kept looking up at the sky even in the midst of fear as we walked across a steel suspension bridge with lightning crackling all around.

After sharing some pictures, my son commented, “Mountain weather is the best.”

We walked out of the Royal Gorge Theater after watching a history of the Royal Gorge and were welcomed by a rolling thunder and brilliant lightning.
Royal Gorge National Park was ravaged by fire in 2013. Most of the park buildings were destroyed by the fire but the bridge, other than a small section of walk boards, remained intact.
We crossed the Royal Gorge Bridge motivated by bolts of lighting. We alternated between fear and awe, running and stopping to take pictures as sheer energy swept down the mountain.
Original cables foundations have been replaced and improved.
Rain has descended from the heights every afternoon for the past five days in Colorado.
The Arkansas River is about 1,000 feet below my feet on it’s way past my house in Oklahoma. Even with a couple of days head start, the water flowing below my feet will not arrive in Oklahoma before we do.
One of two main suspension cables that weigh around 300 tons each.  John F. Kennedy Mountain is a prominent peak to the southwest.
State flags line the bridge deck. Guess which one this is? The answer underneath the next picture.
(The state flag in the previous picture? Rhode Island)
A view from underneath…the cable struts below the deck keep the bridge stable in high winds.

Mom

Mom read to us on vacations

Captive children

Encased in steel and glass

Across the vast bosom of America

Teaching us about life at 70 mph

Mom June 24 2018

She read in unruffled tones

Stories measured with wisdom

Planting a family in the rich loam

of words and deeds and

songs about Jesus

She was our creative force

our moral fiber

our uncommon wisdom

She had no GPS

Although there was a compass with true north

And she drove us where we needed be

Chauffeur

Artist

Teacher

Cook

Cheerleader

Coach

Lighthouse

She came from waving wheat

and hardscrabble farms

Using Army-sized pots

To prepare food and hospitality

For the masses and the lonely

A baker of cinnamon rolls

A nurse to the hurting

A healer of the broken

A Mom for the ages

Happy Birthday Mom!

She Will Have Her Own Song

U2 opened it’s 2018 world tour in Tulsa of all places…not Dublin or New York. Which meant I had to go, especially since my buddy Doug Sanders bought me a ticket. Doug and I are musical brothers…we both like U2 and Springsteen.

Temporary street signs that say “No Name” were posted on this street fronting the BOK Center in anticipation of U2’s concert…alas, they did NOT play “Where the Streets Have No Name” during the concert.

Going to a concert is like going to the zoo…so many sights, sounds, smells, and leopard print. We arrived two hours early and there were thousands of fans queued outside the BOK arena as police lined the streets, their turret lights soundlessly swirling expectation into the downtown evening air.

We sat above main stage right not far from a lady who paid $360 for her ticket. She attended the 1983 U2 concert at the Brady Theater in Tulsa and she still has the $10 ticket stub.

Whether it’s $10 or $360, people will come, because they still haven’t found what they are looking for…and, if they were looking for the Joshua Tree in this set list, it was nowhere to be found. Not one song from The JoshuaTree, although Acrobat, from Achtung Baby, was played for the first time in a live concert.

Bono wore John Lennon granny glasses and he talked a lot…or was he preaching like Billy Graham?

The big screen split the arena showing video and some MTV-type cartoon shots like this

Larry Mullen, Jr. electrified the arena with a snare drum strut down the center runway connecting a round stage on the south end of the arena and a square stage on the north end in the rat-a-tat-tat opening to Sunday, Bloody Sunday.

David Howell Evans, the Edge was…well he was the Edge…brilliant as usual, creating riffs like no other. He is my favorite guitar player.

And if I could play bass, I would play like Adam Clayton, slightly awkward and physically inhibited, staying in the background giving substance to melody, fingers floating gracefully.

https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/u2/2018/bok-center-tulsa-ok-13ec656d.html

The concert was fantastic but getting there is another story…park for 20 bucks, walk this way, stand in this line, empty your pockets, go through the metal detector, up the ramp, climb over seats, step on feet, here we are. Now wait another hour until 8:00…and then another 40 minutes until the real beginning, as security struggles to upload the crowd into the arena delaying the first riffs of “Love is All We Have Left.” And when it’s over, we walk through a rain shower and tornado warnings to our car with a headache and ringing ears.

It was enough to make me wonder why I go to concerts. But I go…

I go to recover lost moments, to steal back memory from the tree of life like a kid plucking apples in an orchard on a rickety ladder.

chicago 2 album cover
My favorite Chicago Album …Chicago 2

I remember my first concert, (unless you count Up With People) the Chicago Transit Authority, just down the street at the Tulsa Civic Center, listening to 25 or 6 to 4 and Beginnings as a 14-year old in the midst of the doobie hip and slightly elevated, long-haired mystics who seemed like insiders to the sanctum of rhythmic nirvana yet unknown to me. They danced and swayed in the aisles singing Beginnings:

Time passes much too quickly

When we’re together laughing

Something was happening here and I felt left behind, just outside the door to an inner room. There were horns and bongos, bass that rattled my gut, harmony that raised hair on my arms.

Here’s the thing…you don’t usually find music that moves you, it somehow finds you.

And once it finds you, you want to be in the room with the throng of the broken-hearted and the euphoric, drifting above the mundane, no longer alone in your solitary room with headphones.

Although it is not all magical. Sometimes it’s just life…like the moment at a 2009 U2 concert which featured an opening act, the Black Eyed Peas. We sat in the midst of a group of baby boomers and my brother stood up…alone…in the midst of a thousand concertgoers in our section and sang with the Peas…

I want it,

Myspace is your space, Facebook is that new place

Dip, divin’ socializing,

I’ll be out in cyberspace

And he turned around after singing alone among the middle-aged settled and seated explaining, “I have kids!”

U2 Joshua Tree Cover

I first really heard the music of U2 on a pastoral highway in upstate New York while driving to Utica where my brother was to be married in the early summer of 1987. I was listening to The Joshua Tree on cassette tape. I can still see the pastoral upstate New York countryside listening to…

I believe in the Kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one

…and I remember, as a survivor of the disco age, that someone was writing music that I believed. It seemed true. So, I go to concerts to see the brush strokes of the painter, to hear the sonic walls of the drummer, to feel the soaring hope of the guitar, amplified by a voice in full wail.

I heard Born to Run for the first time on AM radio…in a 1970 Dodge Charger prefaced by a misguided DJ telling me that Springsteen is the next Elvis.

Later, in New Jersey on a lunch break with office mates, driving the White Horse Pike to the King of Pizza, Springsteen’s Thunder Road came on the radio and four CPA’s sang at full throttle, “roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair…” We were one, bullet-proof and lifted above the drudgery of ledgers to a gathered place, even if it was only a moment, we had escaped, everyday despair brushed aside by the fire of harmonic emotion. We go to concerts to reclaim those moments. 

So I go to hear music, but I also go to be inspired by story and poetry, and to recover those flashes of inspiration, moments in my life when I heard a song for the first time and it surprised me, like a sudden storm overhead, if I can steal a line from Joe Posnanski.

Born to Run Album Cover

My friend Doug emailed me an article by  Mr. Posnanski who writes about hearing Born to Run for the first time. It helped inspire Mr. Posnanski to be a writer:

I’d listened to many rock and roll songs before Born to Run, so many, but I did not hear them… in my room, with the broken-frame bed…the Nerf hoop, the boxes of baseball cards in the corner, the broken down stereo and Chris Evert calendar stapled to the door, I could feel my heart blast through my chest and my mind go supersonic and all that teenage lunacy…I was going to be a famous musician and ride around the country in a double-decker bus — and the basic fact that I played no instrument and could not carry a tune did not seem a particularly troublesome hurdle. That’s a great thing about being a child. To dream you only need dreams. Reality is a distant storm cloud; it barely registers. Then, suddenly, the storm cloud is overhead, lightning and thundering, and it’s hard to concentrate on dreams — they spark and flicker and go out like trick candle.

There’s such a powerful longing when you’re young … to escape from your parents, to escape from your town, to escape from your chains, to escape from yourself. All I heard in Born to Run was the last of those, a chance to escape from the awkwardness and the ugliness and the sheer boredom of who I was. The crazy thing about Born to Run is that you can tell there’s something Bruce knows: They ain’t gonna make it. The kid. Wendy. They’re not going to make it. But making it isn’t the point. Endeavoring is the point. Trying is the point. Running is the point. They weren’t born to just accept the awkwardness and ugliness and boredom. No. They were born to run. I can’t tell you that I became a writer because of “Born to Run,” but I can tell you I would listen to Born to Run again and again in those moments I sought courage…

The song doesn’t sound dangerous now. It sounds like an old friend.

And that’s what I hear in Born to Run now. The kid I was, against odds and everyone’s better judgment, did try to become a writer. I know how scared he was. I know how defeated he felt. I remember how sure he was that he would fail miserably and horribly. I can see him — see myself — in that little apartment bedroom, listening to Born to Run, hunching over a spiral notebook and writing page after page of awful poetry and gimmicky short stories and pointless sports columns. Sometimes, I run across one of those old notebooks, and I cringe as I read the words but I’m also proud of that kid. He didn’t know. He was a scared and lonely rider.

I listen to Bruce sing that song now, and we’re all older, and he gets to that part, my favorite part:

“Someday girl, I don’t know when

“We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go

And we’ll walk in the sun.”

“I love that part,” I tell my own daughter, Elizabeth, who is 14. She shrugs. That’s the beauty of rock and roll. She will have her own song.    Joe Posnanski

http://joeposnanski.com/born-to-run/

Kathryn & the Sycamore

We pulled our car into the driveway, narrowly missing a huge sycamore tree while striking the curb with the front wheel, and I told Karen that one can guess the age of a particular house by the width of the driveway. This house was from the Leave it to Beaver era.

karen-lauren-picasso-2018-okc-e1524698160114.jpg

Dinner at Picasso’s in OKC with Lauren, Beck, and Karen

Nowadays, these mid-century Edmond, Oklahoma houses are being transformed into California Craftsman Bungalows by youthful attention to the style du jour. Although, Kathryn’s home is pretty much as it was in the 1950’s, except for the sunroom added to the back of the house, where she spends her time watching the OKC Thunder on television and planning her 98th birthday party.

Kathryn loves sports and she tells me the Oklahoma City Thunder need to devote more effort to offensive rebounding. I watched the game later that night and thought, she’s absolutely right. She is an athlete after all. Although now her knees hurt and she has a soft brace around one knee as she recounts her exploits playing tennis as a young woman. She once came to Wann, Oklahoma, not far from where I live, to stay for a few weeks in the summer because her cousin lived there and they had a tennis court.

We went to Edmond to see babies. We also went to visit with Nanny, the grandmother of our son-in-law, Beck. The babies are the daughters of good friends. Beck’s grandmother, Kathryn Lyon Martin, once an Oklahoma A&M Redskin Beauty, has grown stately and majestic for 98 years, along with the sycamores of her middle America neighborhood.

kathryn martin young

Kathryn spent three years in the 50’s living and working at Tinker Air Force base while her husband Marshall served in Korea. But most of her adult life has been spent in this home in Edmond.

The babies we visited were incredibly cute. I made faces at Eloise and Ramsie the whole time and tried to make them like me, but that’s a tall order. I didn’t make any faces at Kathryn, but I did say yes when she asked me if I wanted a cookie. I always say yes to 98-year-old grandmothers who ask me if I want a cookie, knowing it won’t be as good as Karen’s cookies. I just do it to help them recover some of that old memory.

And the memory of this home and a life that once revolved around food and kitchen and children in the backyard and neighbor kids coming inside to ask for a cookie. I don’t want to be a smart alek (even though I am) like Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver:

June Cleaver: Eddie, would you care to stay for dinner? We’re having roast beef.

Eddie Haskell: No thank you, Mrs. Cleaver. I really must be getting home. We’re having pigeon pie this evening.

So I always say yes to cookies from grandmothers.

Kathryn still lives in the same home where neighbor kids came to play in the backyard unencumbered by fences that now restrict passage from yard to yard. There is a heavy round pipe swing in the southeast corner of the backyard and I imagine many swing set rules being violated, children falling in the grass laughing, crying, bruised, yet happy.

Life was different then. Not necessarily better, just less regulated.

She grew up in Geary, OK where there wasn’t much to do in a small town. So she would go to Catholic Mass with the neighbors even though she wasn’t Catholic. And when they left town, it was an event with life changing possibilities. Kathryn told us about a 1926 road trip to North Dakota when she was 6 years old. Her Mom and Aunt were driving a Ford, and I’m picturing the old coupe with the rumble seat. They went around a curve somewhere south of the Dakotas and lost Kathryn as she slid off the back trunk and fell head over toes into a borrow ditch. After a quick visit to the hospital, she was proclaimed fit, and they continued down the road.

Sensing an opportunity to gather perspective from someone who has seen a lot of history, I asked Kathryn about what events really shaped her, what was memorable to her. I was thinking three-character moments like 9-11 or JFK or FDR, but instead she shared a story about skinning cats.

beck & kathryn

old man & girl kathryn martin
Kathryn Martin was an artist…this is one of many pictures she painted after the children were gone, while Marshall was on the golf course

Which meant something entirely different years ago, and as Kathryn told the story, I watched my daughter, a cat lover, turn a shade of gray.

But skinning cats doesn’t mean that…it means just hanging upside down from a tree limb and flipping yourself through your own arms, or other crazy such flipping and jumping about. Which is what Kathryn was doing one day with her little brother and he was underneath a slab of wood when Kathryn flipped over onto the wood and it fell down onto her brother breaking his leg.

I was looking for deep meaning and got skinning a cat with a brother’s broken leg…which seems more real and American anyway. 

Beck and Lauren have a long-haired gray cat named Smokey. Kathryn’s husband Marshall was nicknamed Smokey, and Kathryn told us a story about a gray cat getting caught in the wall and birthing a litter. One of the cats was called Gray ball. Kathryn said, “Smoke tied some rags together and fished them down the wall but he couldn’t get the cat out…” So a fireman cut a hole in the wall. And so Smokey who tried to get a gray cat out of a hollow in the wall is now the great-grandfather of a gray-haired cat living in Denver with his grandson. 

The world has changed a lot in 98 years. Kathryn spread her limbs like the sycamore as she listened to FDR on the radio and saw the headlines of VE day. She wondered about her husband in Korea for three years and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. She experienced the birth of radio, television, air travel, interstate highways, several gray cats, and four children. She grew with that sycamore, in her neighborhood filled with children swinging and playing in that great backyard without a fence. 

We live in a digital world that’s full of firewalls and privacy fences. We hear a lot of talk about privacy these days. But we sometimes trade our unfenced backyards for the security of lives never shared. Life sometimes seems virtual, a digital world of ones and zeros. There is something rich and authentic about living in the moment, skinning cats and flying into ditches, and knowing at the age of 98 just what the Thunder need to win.

Kathryn’s life along with that sycamore tree seem very real. I enjoyed listening to her stories and viewing her pictures and paintings. Her reality is analog, a continuous stream of stories and experience, backyard swings and old sycamore trees and children playing and cats trapped in walls and broken legs and flying from a car into a ditch somewhere south of the Dakotas.

Talking to Kathryn made me think of Virginia Woolf who wrote this about memory:

Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world…may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the under linen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.

Memory exposes our family linen to the gale winds of life and we find out how much our linen looks like everyone else’s. That gives us comfort. For at some time in each of our lives, we’ve felt beautiful and broken, guilty and redeemed, welcome in our neighborhoods and tossed into a ditch. This is life.

Happy Birthday Kathryn! Thanks for telling your stories and painting your pictures and raising your family and serving your country. 

You’ve helped bring us all a little closer to home.