At Twilight

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Location: Midwest, United States

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Long Silence

I believe I was nineteen at the time. That’s a trying age for teens and parents both. More so, if the man-child carries a draft card in his hip pocket with a war raging in Vietnam.

I had asked my Father if he could drive me to the local garage so I could pick up the car I had left there days before. I can’t remember which car that may have been. There had been so many. Back then, you see, I had lots more hair than money. All my cars were clunkers barely clinging to life. Some hung on for a few months. Some a little longer. I did the best I could to nurture these sundry dying beasts in return for a handful of miles...mobility being a prime concern in youth.

My Dad was tired. He was a manual laborer. He wasn’t all that eager to do much more than shower and eat after he came home from work. Even so, he never turned his back on me. I asked for help often. He always helped.

The mechanic emerged from beneath a car. He was wiping his hands with an oily rag as he approached. He turned to my Father and remarked: “That’s a good lookin’ daughter you got there.

As I recall it, my Dad chuckled, nodded and replied: “Yes, I guess she is.”

He glanced at me. I’m not sure what he saw. But what he saw troubled him and his eyes dropped to his feet. I’m not sure just what he saw, but I remember my shock. The unexpected, inexplicable and indefensible hurt.

I’m here to pick up my car” I said to the mechanic. I turned to my Father and muttered: “Thanks. You can go now.”

And so began The Long Silence.

There’s a whole lot I could write about my Father. Given time enough, perhaps I will. But not today. Suffice it for this purpose, I’ll simply say that in all the years previous to this misbegotten day, I had never felt that my Father did not respect or love me. Oh, sure, he had doled out a few (memorable) whuppins and chastisements. Sore butt notwithstanding, I freely admit they were all well deserved.

This was different. Utterly needless and unexpected. More painful than bruises and welts.

It’s not that I hadn’t ever been insulted before. At that time and in that neighborhood disrespect and insults were as common as gravel and salt to any and all who deviated from the “norm.” And the insults were nothing compared to the muggings.

Still. This was different. More painful than any beating I had ever suffered.

This hurt so much that words failed me. I could not speak to him. Couldn’t even look at him. I avoided his presence as best I could. If spoken to, I would simply turn and walk away. And that’s how it was for days, then weeks, on end. The pain took its toll on us both. We suffered in silence. You could see it in our eyes. This was something serious and it was killing us.

I can’t remember how long The Long Silence lasted. Maybe a month. Maybe two. It felt like an eternity.

He approached me one evening, visibly nervous. “I’m sorry” he said. “Please forgive me.”

I hugged him fervently. Forgave him instantly.

All this happened a long, long time ago. In the years that followed, I gave my Father much cause to chastise me (there was the occasional whuppin’ as well). Even so, he never again mocked or insulted me. Never disrespected me. Never once did I not feel his love.

Over the course of that Long Silence, my Father and I had both come to know, in our very marrow, that we held each other precious.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Response...

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Prized Possessions

Kass got me to thinking (if you haven’t met Kass already, you should). Yes, Kass got me to thinking about my prized possessions. I have but two: a pair of scissors that cannot cut and a broken fishing rod. That’s it. Just two prized possessions.

The Scissors

I have a pair of scissors. The carbon steel oxidized to satin black decades ago. They’ve never been sharpened. Not surprisingly, these scissors cannot cut...well...anything. Still. I keep them on my kitchen counter. I look at them each and every day. I glance at them and
I remember...

These scissors, you see, constitute the one and only present my parents received on their wedding day.

They were married in a shabby refugee camp shortly after the War ended in Europe. They had not suffered through the war together. No, in fact, they each faced the horrors alone. But after the war ended, my father set forth to find his intended bride. A woman ten years older than he, the woman he came to adore ten years earlier. The way he found her, the way he suffered, is a tale best left for another day. Find her he did. He fell to his knees (mostly from exhaustion methinks) and proposed. She said “yes” (although she had harbored doubts for many years). They married and became one.

They were married in a refugee camp in the company of the starving (both physically and spiritually). There was neither tuxedo nor wedding gown. There was no banquet (at least not in a conventional sense). The refugees, their only guests and witnesses, ventured into the woods to gather mushrooms and berries. What little they found they boiled and shared.

And so it came to pass that my parents married and celebrated by feasting on a paltry few mushrooms and berries. They received a modest gift to help them on their way, the best their little camp could muster: a pair of scissors.

These scissors-that-cannot-cut rest on my kitchen counter. I let them rest because they’ve earned their respite. Oh, they had cut all manner of materials for decades! Indeed, they had. They cut the locks that cascaded past eyebrows. They cut open letters sent by my grandparents: one exiled to Siberia, the other a widow bereft of her daughters, struggling to survive in Lithuania. These scissors cut fabric by the yard as my mother sewed the clothes my sister and I would wear to church and school. They cut wrapping paper and ribbons. Bandages and gauze. They cut loose threads, tape and twine. Coupons, flowers and snowflakes, too. They cut all manner of things that must be cut to raise a family and make a life.

They were ever-present. They were the most precious present.

They are a prized possession.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Watching the Skaters

We all harbor within us (tattooed somewhere deeply within us) a myriad of associations. A song, a scent, sometimes the oddest thing, transports us to a different time or place or arrow-straight to a specific soul. I cherish my loveliest associations.

I’ve come to be reminded these past three days of a particularly strong association: figure skating and my ex-wife (fishing and my father is, by far, my deepest and strongest).

She was a figure skater in her youth. Quite talented, I’ve been told. By the time we met, those skates had gathered quite a bit of rust and dust in a corner of a closet. She may have set aside her skates, but she never lost her passion for the sport. I could see it in her eyes, hear it in her voice and feel her goosebumps during the Winter Olympics.

I wasn’t all that drawn to figure skating myself. I never learned how to skate. I was a skier. I watched the skiers with the same passion and intensity as my ex exhibited while viewing skaters. We indulged in each other’s preferences as we’d sit together and enjoy these decidedly different athletic endeavors. She came to appreciate what I loved about skiing. I came to appreciate the multi-faceted sport of figure skating.

Funny thing about watching sports on a television screen. No matter how creative the camera-work, no matter how earnestly a program tries to capture the essence of a given sport, it never does. I knew that from watching two-dimensional athletes compete in sports that I, myself, actively pursued. Downhill racing is exciting on a high-def screen. In reality? The experience is gloriously death-defying.

Not long after we met, after spending days glued to our seats relishing the Winter Olympics, after all the medals had been awarded and the TV screen went dark, I purchased front-row tickets for the “Champions’ Tour.” It’s a tradition in the skating world. The medal winners go on tour together to offer others a chance to revel in the sport. I bought tickets to please my wife, knowing she’d be thrilled. It was I who was completely blown away. Figure skaters cut impressive figures on temperature-less ice on a screen. I had come to appreciate the skill, strength, agility and aesthetics essential to the sport. I was absolutely awed by the reality.

Skating viewed on a screen doesn’t even remotely capture the blazing speed. My hair was blown back as a skater flew past. Even the most waifish skater, after charging down the length of the rink, would shower the spectators six rows out with shards of ice as the blades bit to execute a turn or twirl. I never realized the heights to which they’d leap, the distance they could launch a partner...all while careening about at breakneck velocities. I was left weak-kneed, dumbstruck and breathless.

It was through my wife, because of her, with her beside me, that
I experienced awe.

These past few days and for a few days more, I’ll revel in the wonders of the sport. Should a passerby peek through an undraped window, the scene would be simple enough: a solitary man nestled in a chair, watching skaters on a flickering screen. As magnificent an instrument though the human eye may be, it can’t quite see reality in its entirety. If it could, it would see me, with my ex sitting close, watching the skaters as we always had...and will forever.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Time and Experience

Two hearts meet. Collide. Quietly touch. Words are exchanged:

I love you.”

These three words may mean nothing...everything...or any number of infinite variants. Only with time and experience can their significance be divined.

Time and experience are indispensable to anyone trying desperately to understand the truth of words. Words come easy. They do...they
verily drip from the tongue.

I love you” she whispered in my ear.

Just before she disappeared.

Time and experience taught me that I was/am a fool.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Seatbelts as Metaphor

By curious coincidence, my day was filled with unexpected contacts with family, friends and former lovers...

my "seatbelts"...

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Percy Julian

We call it the “Boob Tube” for a reason. Far too much of the fare streamed via electrons directly to our eyeballs is simply mush (at best). Every now and then, though, there comes a program that makes our (OK, OK, MY) synapses snap to attention. And so it was when I came to watch a PBS Nova presentation entitled “Forgotten Genius”.

I had NO idea. In 1972, I spent the year studying organic chemistry.
I had NO idea that a man considered by many to be the world’s greatest chemist lived and worked mere miles from my basement apartment/hovel. That man was Percy Julian.

Doctor Percy Julian.

If only had I known. If only this student of science had known (a biologist who actually minored in chemistry), that one of the most incredible chemists that humanity had EVER produced, was living and working just a few miles away...I would have made a pilgrimage to his door. Fallen to my knees. Kissed the hand that held so many beakers that changed the world, made life better for countless humans and alleviated the suffering of millions.

I had NO idea. In 1972, as I struggled to fathom the intricacies of organic chemistry, Percy Julian had already fathomed a great many. He was the grandson of slaves. His story is of the indefatigable human spirit. His story is of the mind’s genius, the heart’s fallibility and greatness, the grandeur of vision, the challenge of entrepreneurship and the destructive power of blatant bigotry.

He died of cancer in 1975.

DOCTOR Percy Julian. I had NO idea. He changed the world for the better in countless ways. He was a genius denied early opportunity to flourish here in America. He had to move to Vienna, Austria to pursue knowledge and erudition. An academic pursuit denied here, for the most part, to folks of "color".

Dr. Percy Julian, a boy-child who witnessed lynchings, a brilliant student denied a higher education (here in the US of A), a man who overcame far too many obstacles for any man to plausibly overcome...obstacles that destroyed far too many worthy souls.

I wish I had known. I wish that my professors, in 1972, had told me of Dr. Percy Julian’s achievements. My professors were silent. Meanwhile, Dr. Julian’s home in Oak Park, Illinois had been fire-bombed twice. He had been denied countless times in countless ways simply on the basis of the pigmentation of his skin.

Despite that, despite ALL that, Dr. Julian Percy endured, prevailed, achieved.

He was admitted to the National Academy of Science a year after I had earned my Bachelors. He was the first African-American to be so honored. It’s safe to say (absolutely guaranteed) that I will never be the recipient of such accolades. That’s OK by me. I’m no Percy Julian.

I’m not one to advocate that you, the Dear Reader, spent two hours watching a TV program that I found compelling. This is a first, for me. me on this...I truly hope you will take the time to watch this particular program. Take from it what you will. There’s a great deal of fertile ground. Are you longing for a hero? You’ll find one. Are you a science nerd? You’ll be satisfied. Are you an entrepreneur? You’ll find succor. Do you care to learn about Jim Crow? You’ll learn enough to weep. Do you believe in the majesty of the human spirit? You will find reassurance.

Dr. Percy Julian. I wish I could have shaken your hand or, better yet, hugged you.

Tear stream down my cheeks as my finger moves to strike the “Publish Post” tab. Yes, I was THAT moved by what I learned.

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