At Twilight

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Location: Midwest, United States

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I’ve been thinking ‘bout all the candles in my life. There have been so many. Too many to count.

I’ve always been rather fond of candles. Mesmerized by flickering flame. The heat. Bewitched by the warm glow.

I’ve lit candles when storms crashed trees to earth. When electricity became nothing more than a hoped-for remembrance.

I’ve lit candles as a precursor to love. Scented they were. I’ve circled tubs with candles galore as a prelude to bathing a beauty. I’ve kissed my way to ecstasy to the scent of vanilla courtesy of a candle-maker’s art.

I’ve read poetry by candlelight.

I’ve experienced poetry by candlelight.

* * *

It was during my first adventure in Paris that I finally accorded candles their rightful due. There were the cathedrals: Notre Dame of the magnificent flying buttresses, Saint-Chapelle of the glowing glass, Sacre Coeur (that glistening white hive where I heard angelic voices unlike any other) and Saint Sulpice, the cathedral of the quaint towers. I visited them all. I prayed within each. How can one NOT pray in places such as these? These cathedrals were hewn from stone by pious hands over the course of decades...centuries. The faith expressed without/within can neither be denied nor dismissed. Regardless of one's theological belief, these truly are holy places. Humans sacrificed and suffered (sometimes died) to elevate those spires to sky.

These are places that cannot be denied. These are places where the soul soars.

And it came to pass that I took to lighting votive candles for those I love in each and every cathedral and church I came to explore. There was a certain order to my ritual. First lit was a candle for my father, then my father-in law (both departed), then my mothers, my lovers, my friends and mentors.

It was no small matter, this lighting of the candles. Each cost me a Euro or two. Each required a prayer. Currency was crammed in poor-box. And the prayers? Well, the prayers took thought and time. My knees can attest to that.

It was thought and time well spent.

* * *

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Fishing Rod

My father and I came to be tightly entwined by fishing line.

* * *

I was five years old, badly sunburned skinny legs hanging off a dubious dock. I held a plastic dime store “rod and reel” in my hands. In the murky water below, dangled a bare hook (said “fisherman” not yet clear on the concept of “bait”).

I’d be hard pressed to guess who was more surprised, that adolescent largemouth bass or the tow-haired boy, as we found ourselves engaged in a battle of survival or conquest. After much shrieking, heart-pounding excitement and tortured anxiety, the bass ended up at my feet. I had become a true fisherman.

My father celebrated my hard-won status.

This constitutes my most vivid childhood memory. It came near the end of our first family vacation, one of only four (poor people don’t vacation much).

* * *

Poor people don’t vacation much, but poor people do go fishing. And so it was that, thereon after, my father would devote two or three weekends each summer to go fishing. With his son.

We didn’t fish for sport. It was more a matter of subsistence. Well, no. Not really. For my father it was something more than that. Something I didn’t understand for many years. For him it was a refuge from toil, an escape from urban grit and harsh reality.

It came to be something even greater than that: a father’s exploration of his own flesh and blood...a son’s divination of his father. But that metamorphosis was decades in the making.

I was pretty much useless as a fishing partner in my early youth. My father only had one rod, one reel and this one son who asked lots of questions and traipsed clumsily (albeit enthusiastically) behind. Even so, he indulged me by inviting me along and he would explain patiently what he was doing, all the whys and ways of a fisherman.

I grew fast. I grew strong. My father brought me a “proper” rod and reel. And I would row the leaky rowboats gladly. There was nothing
I loved more than fishing with my father. And as we watched our bobbing bobbers or flung our lures out onto the water, I would pray that he would be the first to catch a fish. As I came to know, he was praying the same for me.

* * *

There’s no need for me to relate all the “fish stories.” There are many. Those two or three weekends per year added up over the decades. But, understand, those weekends were never about the fish. My father and I had become entwined in fishing line.

We sat in boats and contemplated each other. Delighted in each other. Explored each other’s heart and soul. With every line cast, we came to understand each other, increment by blessed increment.

I came to find my own way in the world. I came to money. I came to my own mistakes, my own successes, my adulthood. As I prospered, I gave back to my father a small fraction of what he had given me. I gifted him with fine rods and finer reels. I gifted him tackle boxes filled with dazzling lures. I brought to him fishing motors and “fish locators” and fishing paraphernalia of every imaginable sort and stripe. It was pure selfishness on my part. I simply wanted to go fishing with my dad.

And fish we did. Weekend after infrequent weekend. Year after year. Decade after decade. It came to be that neither of us could muster much enthusiasm for fishing with anyone other than each other. We each derived great joy from that.

* * *

I’m the sort who likes working with his hands. More so as my career became an intellectual pursuit. In my fourth decade, I decided I wanted to build custom fishing rods. Truth be told, my one desire was to fashion a gift for my father. I took to studying the rod-builder’s craft. I acquired/assembled the tools necessary to accomplish that. I built a few rods for myself, and a few as gifts for others, as I worked towards a respectable proficiency. I was working towards something that meant all the world to me. I embarked on the mightiest challenge of all: to create a fishing rod for my father unlike any other.

I understood his preferences. I knew his favorite colors and the size of his hands. I purchased the finest carbon-fiber rod blank available, gold-plated line guides, gold-plated reel seat, fine line wraps and high-grade cork, walnut and ivory to serve as luxurious inlays. I set myself to the task of shaping/crafting the handle form-fitted to his fingers.
I found the innate spine of the rod blank, carefully calculated the spacing of the line guides and wrapped each one in place with the most intricate line wrappings my own fingers could muster. I then purchased the finest gold-plated spinning reel available.

I presented both to my father one Christmas.

* * *

Years later, we were fishing together near his lakefront retirement home. His lure had snagged on submerged brush. Having lived in poverty for all too many years, the retrieval of a snagged lure was a matter of great import. I worked to position the boat so that he could lever the rod to pull the lure free. The hooks were set deep. He pulled on the rod mightily with no success. He tried harder as I angled the boat in a different direction.

I heard the “snap.”

I turned and saw my father’s face. It was a visage of horror, terrible pain. I swear, his face looked exactly the same as the face I had witnessed that night three years earlier when my parents rushed into the emergency room and saw me lying bloody on a table after my motorcycle accident. Some faces are seared in memory.

And here was that very same visage, again. And a broken fishing rod.

Face ashen, my father was far beyond consolation.

I’ll build you a new rod. I’ll build you something even better” I said.

I’m sorry, so sorry” was all he could say.

I did my best to put his heart at ease the rest of the day and for the remainder of my visit.

What I remember and can never forget, is how much he had come to love that fishing rod.

* * *

He died, unexpectedly, three months later.

* * *

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kitchen Musings

Although I’ve lost a great deal over the course of the past half-decade, I’ve found something precious, too: a renewed joy in cooking.

I’ve spent many a year living alone in my teens and twenties and, now, in my fifties. I always did what I had to do to keep house – vacuuming, laundry, maintenance, washing floors and windows – all the tasks that needed doing got done did. Cooking was never a “task” though. No, cooking was always something much more. It’s a skill, an adventure, a meditation, a sensual pleasure, a grounding and, sometimes (when I cook for others) a gift.

Nowadays I pretty much cook all my own meals. Over the course of this past winter, almost all my meals were prepared in a slow cooker (“crockpot” to us boomers). I love the aromas that fill my home during those frigid, gloomy days when all the windows are shuttered tight. The scents alone are worth the effort.

Given that my slow cooker is in constant use, it stands to reason that I subsist almost exclusively on soups and stews, chili’s, tagines, jambalayas, gumbos and curries. Ah, curries! Oh, how I love the smell of curries! I’m inordinately fond of Thai curries, those magical combinations of sweet coconut and fiery spices. I’ve reveled in yellow, green and red curries galore. (Incidentally, those happen to be the colors of the Lithuanian flag. Coincidence?) But one must not live on Thai curries alone. Oh, no. Indian curries have a cherished place in my heart, too. Cumin and coriander weave their own olfactory magic.

My greatest delight is peeling and grating fresh ginger root.

One cannot cook without ample stores of onions and garlic.

I got a “thing” for mushrooms. You can interpret that in various ways...all valid.

I enjoy saying "paprika."

Allspice and tarragon scare me. In just the right amounts, they add a certain magic to a dish. Add just a wee bit too much and one experiences taste bud hell. Cilantro is third runner-up.

One bay leaf is all it takes. I add two. I’m just greedy that way.

Okra is the wallflower of vegetables. It doesn’t matter how much okra one adds in a recipe. It simply disappears.

Cinnamon and cloves make me happy.

* * *

Saturday, March 13, 2010


It’s late...I hear thunder in the distance.

I haven’t been blinded by lighting yet...this evening (I’ve been blinded often in the past). The storm will come. I feel it.

And there you have it. Storms come. Storms go. Some wreak havoc. Some terrify. Storms are storms. They are what they are and they do what they do.

They’re not much different from all the other notable events in our lives.

A storm is clawing towards me. I feel it.

I also know this: Come Sunday, I’ll twirl my clock’s hands forward one full hour. I’ll revel in the sunlight and the day. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. I’ll tilt my head to the sky (no small feat given that I’ve suffered a murderously painful slipped disc in my lower neck just days ago), and I will sing “Hallelujah”!

I’ll prolly be in pain. Despite that, I’ll be earnest.

And grateful

* * *

* * *

Thursday, March 04, 2010

It's the Oddest Thing

I know I’ve mentioned it before but, hell, I can’t find a reference link this moody night. Sorry.

It’s late. I’m weary.

I remember this: We were hurtling north on the the dark...mesmerized by white stripes. I found myself thinking: “I can forge a life with her”.

She was thinking of another.

* * *

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