Tag Archives: Nostalgia

The Time is Now

A little over a week ago, as my family and I were preparing to head to Kentucky for the holidays, I received word that my grandmother was not feeling well. I had just spoken with her on her birthday, December 15, and she was in good spirits despite her just having returned from two weeks in the hospital. At 88, she had experienced complications of congestive heart failure.

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My brother, Jared, his daughter Lila and Mammaw on December 13, 2015

Christmas Day, as we were celebrating with my in-laws, word came that my grandmother, “Mammaw” as we called her, was hospitalized again. It did not sound overly serious to anyone, so my mother told me not to worry about it and to just stop by the hospital on our way into town. It was like a less severe repeat of what she had experienced at the end of November.

Right after I learned of this news, the hospital staff administered hydromorphone. Mammaw went to sleep and never woke. She was not yet in severe pain so I question the necessity of the timing of that decision. It’s pointless though, because I cannot change the overall outcome. The doctors had said that her body was simply shutting down and there was nothing left to do but make her feel comfortable and pain-free. That raises another question for another time: What is pain-free? 

My family and I saw her asleep on her death bed. She labored to breathe every 30 seconds or so and you could visibly see her carotid artery pulsing with vigor, diverting lifeblood away from vital organs in order to preserve the brain. The pulse was highly irregular, and her vitals included blood pressure readings so low I didn’t understand how she could still function. This was 36 hours after she had done her last load of laundry, swept the floors and made my grandfather his breakfast. I stood awestruck at biology, and how despite evidence that science can explain everything, some form of higher intelligence was at work. In that moment I realized her body was shutting down right before us, yet life itself was doing its best to hang on to the failing structure. Life, consciousness as we know it, was preparing its next move, whether that be finding a route to another plane or simply halting altogether. In the blink of an eye, mundane tasks become the last things a person does.

When you hear about an anonymous elderly person passing away of natural causes, It’s easy for the general population to feel comfortable in some way. At least the person is not suffering any longer. That person is much older than I, there’s a long time before I’ll face that for my life. They had a good, long run. Sometimes we know the fast pace of our modern lifestyles would conflict greatly with the reduced pace of the elderly, so we plan very short visits or none at all. Meanwhile, nursing homes are filled with scores of lonely people desperately wishing for the connection between their world that time forgot, and The Now that doesn’t want them. They need to feel significant, like they mattered, and that their lives DID happen. This is not a surreal veil pulled over their eyes.

For your own family, you eventually get to the point where you think, “I should talk to them more; they’re not going to be around forever,” thinking with arbitrary abandon that you’ll have another time to visit, to share a meal or a holiday celebration. I took that attitude on December 15 when Mammaw turned 88. I was at work and should have been finishing my lesson plans. I ended the short, five-minute conversation with, “We’ll see you on December 26th.” Well, we saw her. She didn’t see us. I think her soul was already gone.

You’ve heard it preached before, so you know it’s true. Stop what you’re doing and reach out to a loved one. Take that inconvenient weekend trip, make one of your clients wait so you can place a phone call, and maybe cancel some after school stuff for an evening so you can focus on someone who may not be here tomorrow. Make it a person you rarely see, or each week, contact a different friend or relative. The truth is, none of us are guaranteed the next breath. You have no true idea if you’ll ever have a tomorrow.

Your inconvenient moment could be the most uplifting thing your loved one experiences between now and the end of their life.

For Mammaw, she gets to be one of those people who can have the following dates inscribed on her tombstone:

Goldie Phelps. December 15, 1927 – December 27, 2015

That’s 12/15/27 – 12/27/15

I’m no numerologist, but those are intriguing to me.

The minister said she’s celebrating in heaven today. I want that to be true like anyone else, but death makes it difficult on the living.

Please, make the most of NOW in 2016

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A Tribute to a Really Great Car

In January 2002 I bought my first brand new car, a Mazda Protege5. I have kept it for these twelve years but racked up only 158k miles on the odometer. That’s only half its life at a minimum. I’ve spent enough time behind the wheel in that car to have it feel like an extension of my home. So selling it has been… strange.

I’ve been researching new cars since October of last year, just checking out what was available and pricing. I read many reports and reviews hoping to find the one magic bean in the mix, the car that’s SO great, you’d be stupid not to buy one.

I did not find that vehicle. So why did I buy a new one this weekend?

I’m a driving purist. If I have to operate a motor vehicle, I expect it to do exactly what I want it to do. I want to be in complete control over every aspect. I don’t want a car that shifts by itself, I want a third clutch pedal and a stick to row through the gears. Manual transmissions are going the way of cassette decks in cars. No one else seems to want them so almost no one makes a good one anymore. I want it to handle well and steer exactly where I point it. No play in the wheel, just instant response to every bit. In short, I should be driving a $400,000 supercar. Right.

I don’t give a rip about car technology other than how good the stereo sounds. Now you’ll find cars that park themselves, will stop if you get too close to driving through your garage wall, and will warn you that you’re drifting out of your lane because you just couldn’t wait to make that text. There is technology available on cars now that when added to the lack of manual transmissions, enable drivers to get worse and worse.

I absolutely hate the idea of willingly spending large sums of money for a new car just to get something new. It’s partially why I never was interested in anything new over the past dozen years. It’s partially why I intend to keep my next car even longer. I had even set in my mind that I’d never EVER buy another new car simply because they can’t convince me anything is better than what I have.

So what did I go and do? I bought a new car. With an automatic transmission. I feel like I just sold out. I feel as if I betrayed an old friend, stabbed them in the back so to speak, in order to go with the new flashy trend setting post-hipster to a new kind of party, one that will last just as long, but be a bit more subdued, mature if you will. But there’s some practicality in there. A car is an inanimate object. It has no feelings. My old car is starting to need repairs that will cost as much as its worth. Even though it’s always cheaper to keep repairing an old car, it makes little sense to keep putting good money into something that will not retain value any longer. Besides, I’ve already done that. I’ve put more into routine maintenance and repairs than I ever expected to tolerate, based on my first few cars when I was younger. So what’ interesting about this purchase?

I bought the exact same car as I got in 2002. Only this time it’s called a 2014 Mazda3 hatchback s Grand Touring.

Here’s the stupidity of it: It’s the top trim level, with everything except the tech package, and it outperforms my old car in every way, even in the automatic transmission. It approaches the cost of an entry-level BMW. It has standard features that I’d never buy outright but are cool to have. It looks like a work of art and drives like a car that costs twice as much.

Here’s the smart of it: After thorough homework on my part, I was able to tell the dealer was more interested in selling the car than screwing me over on price. I was so dumbstruck by how his price actually came in lower than I expected, that I didn’t even attempt to haggle. I just said, “Duhhh, dat’s a good price!” Then he went on to offer me more for my trade in than it was actually worth by a few hundred dollars. I completely abandoned my rationale which was to collect the information, go back to the internet and use it as leverage between dealers. You know, get them to compete. Instead I decided that since this guy was playing straight, I’d buy. And aside of a backup camera and a heads-up display, there’s no idiotic technology to get in the way.

Most people drive away in their new car. I did not. Mine has to come from Cleveland because they didn’t have the right color. It has to be black, and I don’t like paying extra for that great-looking Mazda red. I’ll take delivery later today, and turn over the oldster. Weirdly enough, It’s after 4 AM and I’ve been awake since 3:30. I can’t sleep for some reason.

Eventually this will all be water under the bridge. I’ll be comfortable in the new car, I’ll eventually forget what it was like to need the clutch pedal, and I’ll grow a little older. I’ve been learning that life is best lived by taking calculated risks, looking forward and not dwelling on the past. I have always failed at the latter, becoming far too sentimental about trivial things.

Ultimately despite the nature of what’s going on here, this car purchase will be helping me be a little less selfish. My wife will be able to share this car instead of having to learn to shift. My son will come of age and learn to drive on this one. I’ll be less likely to drive like a complete maniac, which I’ve been known to do when I can shift precisely and hit the corners hard on twisty roads.

And the stereo sounds phenomenal.

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Release :(part 7)

It is still 2013 in this room where I type these words, but by the time you read them the clock will have ticked over into 2014. 

I conclude my Release posts with part 7, a significant number to me, and at a time of reflection and renewal. 

One year ago I was unemployed and frantically seeking opportunity. That which I sought remains elusive. Although a topic for a different post, it is a sad reality when experienced teachers like myself find ourselves being laid off. It is even sadder when we cannot find new employment due to our experience level and the pay requirements to which people like myself are supposedly entitled. 

Now, I will prepare to file taxes for a year in which I earned income from nine different sources. The combination of those nine do not equal the one income I held previously as a full-time educator. Yes, 2013 was a very depressing year, both economically and emotionally. But I don’t type tonight with a depressing story. That is no longer interesting to me, so I doubt it will be interesting to you.

I write with joy. I do not feel it, but I know it’s there. A year ago I set out to accomplish the goal of providing for my family. Despite bringing in a little more than half the income I once earned, that goal was accomplished. 

It is said that adversity brings triumph. Nowhere does it say that life will be fair, easy, or even go according to our own plan. Good things are built out of bad. Sometimes the old cannot be repaired so it must be destroyed and made new again. 

I found myself networking as much as possible and discovering several part-time employment opportunities, all of which were low on the pay scale, but vey rewarding in their own way. 

In March, my grandmother, Velma Hamm passed away just three weeks shy of her 93rd birthday. She was to me, like a patriarch. Although the mother of my father, she held the patriarchal position in my mind due to her strength, resolve and courage to endure over 30 years of life as a widow on the farm that was the heart of her husband’s livelihood. Her loss is as deeply felt today as it was a month before she passed, when I witnessed her suffering and her inability to retain mental clarity. The dementia worked quickly, taking its toll in just over 18 months from my first observation. The cancer that was found near the end worked even more quickly, completing its macabre task in around two months. 

The farm endured. Each time we went back to her house, I felt her presence despite her residency in the assisted living facility for the final sixteen months. Just being there is all I needed to know she was still alive despite her discarded non-working shell. 

I hated to see it all go at the auction, but sale provided my extended family with a little bit of much needed financial security, temporary as it may be.  Now at the end of 2013, I can reflect back on the moments where I felt the world was collapsing but in reality it was being built up again into something different. 

Many of us can see that a decade ago we were different people, yet we frequently believe that a decade in the future we’ll be much the same as we are now. I have become a different person for a continuous period of time lasting over three years. I am not the same as I was at the end of 2012, nor any year before that. I hope and pray I won’t be the same in another year, or five, or however many I have left. I hope I am different tomorrow than I was today. I believe a new year is not a time to celebrate, or to make resolutions. It is a time for renewal, whereby we reflect on our past and look to the future. I often fail to simply reflect; I dwell on the past, always looking back for where I went wrong. I am learning to look forward and to see where I may have opportunity to become better. 

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Actually, I disagree. It’s OK to look back, just don’t stare. 

You have to look forward in order to cross the rusty old bridge that terrifies you. Like running a gauntlet or a trial by fire, you have to see whats on the other side, know what’s there and realize that sometimes the only way is to go forward when you think you can’t. Besides, that bridge is stronger than you think it is. It might not carry a truck, but it will carry you. 

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On your way across, you get to see things you’d have missed otherwise. 

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Sometimes you come to a tunnel which may have a light at the other end but it’s so bright you can’t really tell what awaits you.

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But around the next corner you find something like this:

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…and you’re reminded of what was once a stable platform of reverence, a reminder that speaks volumes about how our world has diminished the sacred and elevated the profane. 

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You seek an escape because you wish to run away to someplace better, without all the problems you face. I have chased that idea for far too long. It’s that nagging thought that maybe you’ll be happier somewhere else, with someone else, in some other house, with better possessions. When I fall for that, I try to recall the line, “grow where you are planted.”

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Unlike a tree gripping a boulder, we have the freedom to move around in small increments. Like crossing that bridge earlier, you never know when the sun will shine through the trees at just the right spot, and a specific moment. Hopefully when that happens you’ll have the sense to stop the car, grab something that can take pictures and snap away. 

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Live simply. Enjoy life. Don’t wait for the moment to find you. Seek the moment yourself. Sometimes you might have spiritual help. Although I love all of my family members deeply, I shared a spiritual bond with this woman like no one else. I have no other words to explain it. I pray that someday in Heaven, I’ll get to know her husband whom I’ve not seen since I was five. I want to see them in their prime, and I want to hear their stories. Even at age 90, she was a beautiful woman, radiating Christ’s love. I will always maintain that it was her very existence which finally convinced me to be baptized. I’m so thankful she was still of sound mind and health back in 2010 when I plunged under the water, by the hands of one of my best friends, on Mother’s Day. 

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On October 19, 2013, the very last remaining physical items of her Earthly life were removed from our lives. In her kitchen, she kept a decorative pot on the window sill with a plant of some sort. Forgive me, I’m not a botanist. 

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The pot was sold, plant and all. As the sun was setting on what began as a dreary rainy day, I received final confirmation that it was truly all over. 

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I will never forget that which ended in 2013. There are others with similar stories out there and I’m aware of some that are more recent. 2013 was a closing chapter in many ways. I’m just getting started though. This is only a beginning, and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings, for better or for worse. May I be changed into something better, renewed, restored, made new out of the broken pieces. I pray the same for you all. 

And now, the past is released. 

 

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Release :(part 6)

A few miles from my grandmother’s farm is a work of art so profound yet unabashedly simple. It’s a piece of nature that’s all but hidden in complete isolation from the world around it. 

It’s called Indian Falls. If you follow Brumfield Lane as it twists northward from Sugar Creek Pike, you’ll eventually come to a clear spot where you can observe distant hillsides from a point that’s much higher than the landscape below. In current times it’s mostly overgrown with brush and weeds. It was once a local hiking spot for people who knew about it, but it gradually became a place for bored people to cause trouble. Rumors are out there that someone fell from a cliff and died. I know there is at least one car in the bottom that had no way of getting there other than to fall off the same cliff by the clearing in the road. Image

The pictures I’ve posted are from August of 2007 when my dad and I hiked out there. At the time, just a year before the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, a developer had acquired the surrounding land and had planned to build homes with properties joining Indian Falls. It was stated that part of the project would be to clean up and improve access to Indian Falls for the residents. Sadly, that developer went bankrupt as did the plans to revitalize the Falls. 

But what on Earth is so special about this place? Why did I call it a work of art? 

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Well, it’s a tiny section of land where a small creek has cut a narrow gorge that’s more than a few hundred feet deep in places. The creek left stair steps in the limestone at the narrow end so the water falls down over the steps into the wider more open area that eventually ends next to an open field. It’s stunning in its beauty and yet it’s more or less surrounded by farmland. The layers of rock are the very same from which those springs I mentionned in my last post emerge. As far as we knew, it was illegal for my dad and I to be down in there, and we never let my grandmother know we went in. She knew of Indian Falls, had seen it years ago and was convinced that it was so dangerous that few who travel in make it out alive. I believe she was terrified of the place. 

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Yet, there it was, calling to us then as it does now. Every time I drive past it I want to go back in. The hike in there was sketchy as there are plenty of roots, cliffs, rocks, and no improvements such as handrails. One slip, and you’ll either wind up with some bumps and bruises or you’ll slide all the way off the cliff, down to the rocks below. It’s just high enough to be fatal if you slip in the wrong place. 

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But down in the bottom is a scene of near pure tranquility, save for the old piece of Detroit steel left behind by someone who needed to dispose of a car quickly. The car has an odd interesting quality about it itself, all overgrown with vegetation. It doesn’t belong, yet nature keeps trying to take it back. 

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Those stairsteps. Someday I’ll climb those too. In the meantime I’ll just wonder about what lies above them. Some other scene of natural beauty or an empty builder’s lot. 

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Release :(part 5)

Letting go of part of your past sounds so simple in print.

It’s easy to say that I’ll miss the farm or the time spent there with my grandmother over the years. There’s more to the story though.

There are some places in the world which are so important to you that they make all the surrounding areas look better than they are. It was always easy for me to look past the occasional run-down property near the Hamm farm because driving past them meant we weren’t far from our destination. Once we had arrived, part of each trip was getting out and exploring the nearby places of interest. Places which we would never have reason to visit had this farm existed anywhere else. To look at it differently, there are no telling how many inspiring places we never saw simply because my grandmother lived in central Kentucky instead of a place with a vastly different scenery. It was rural, not tropical, no oceans nearby, nor large mountains, and yet it was surrounded by points of interest which all have had a special impact on my life despite their mundane qualities. In this post, I’ll try to capture some of the imagination of a few of the more intriguing aspects of this part of the world, at least those which intrigue me.

If you were to leave the farm and drive down Little Hickman Road in a westerly direction following the creek, you would see random spots above the creek bed which looked like vey small, ancient barns built right into the hillsides. Most of the few that remain are about the size of a large doghouse and more or less deteriorating into oblivion. These are the springhouses that mark spots where water bubbles up from the famous Kentucky limestone.  The ground may look like regular soil, but a few feet down you will find layer upon layer of this limestone which is a geologists dream. Not far, the Kentucky river twists and turns, ebbing its way deeper into the gorge year after year. Very close by are the Palisades, one of the highest regarded natural resources in all of Kentucky.

About a mile from my grandmother’s house is another farm that was once owned by my great-grandfather, Fred Teater. His home was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in the late 1970’s. I remember visiting not long after it had happened. I was about 3 and I’ll never forget standing on the old porch pedestal as my mother studied the charred remains. One chimney still stood at one end, tall and proud like the home that once held its fireplace. The barn and outbuildings remained relatively unscathed, a crowning achievement to the fire dept who could not exactly respond within minutes back then. I remember thinking it was neat and that I normally don’t see things like this. I had no idea what loss was, nor concept of destruction.

Thinking back, I imagine my father felt about this farm as I do about the one we just sold. It had to be devastating.

A few years after the fire, my Great-Grandad sold the farm and moved in with his two daughters, my great aunts, in Nicholasville. The new owners built a modern brick ranch in the spot where the stately old 1800’s farmhouse had been. To this day, the springhouse that was on that property remains at the corner where the road bends. I have never seen inside it. I wonder what the water is like.

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Further down the road, we’ll pass typical and odd-looking things on the way down to the river.

Just past this old springhouse is a property that I could barely tell you anything about other than the bridges across the creek to the property. One is built of old lumber and boards and seems to have withstood everything the world has thrown at it for the past several centuries, and the other looks like a flatbed rail car with the wheels removed.

More rolling wooded landscape will pass until you come to a crest which overlooks the Kentucky river. No matter how many times I’ve seen the river from up there, it always impresses me. It looks bigger than it really is for some reason. It must be an optical illusion, but from up there you feel like you’re on top of a mountain, looking through the trees down to KY River Lock No.8. They Kentucky river has a system of locks & dams in place over the run from the eastern Appalachians to the western mouth at the Ohio. Every dozen miles or so, the river level changes suddenly. Since it was once a major shipping route, the river had lock houses staffed with engineers who would pass boats through the locks at any hour of the day. Now most of the locks sit inoperable. It would be a major source of tourism if the State of Kentucky could ever open up the river to pleasure craft, but those locks would need to operate for it to work. I somehow doubt it would be economical to do so.  Currently, a major project is underway to rebuild the lock & dam system, to bring the century-old infrastructure up to 21st Century code. At Lock No.8, they built an entire cement mixing factory on site. My dad has told me of all the truck traffic going back there over the past several months. We’re talking large multi-axle dump trucks and tanker semis hauling materials down single-lane country roads barely wide enough for two cars to pass smoothly. I know the lock from how it always looked, old and creepy, with a sense of danger about it. Who knows how it will turn out after this project is completed? Here’s a picture of what it looks like if you zoom in with a camera from the hilltop:

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Once you turn around at the dead end and make our way back, after passing the former Fred Teater farm, you’ll pass the old Bruner’s Store. Presently it appears as if the weight of a leaf could cause it to collapse completely. The porch is now long gone and one side makes it appear as if there’s no longer a floor inside. It gives the impression that the structure slid down the hillside and stopped just shy of the road. I remember visiting there back before I was old enough to be in kindergarten, standing on the porch with a Coke. Inside, old men sat around chatting and playing cards. I don’t remember much of Mr. Ira Bruner, but I know he had a big deli meat slicer behind the counter. My dad told me that decades ago when farmers hired extra help to work in the tobacco fields, men would take their lunch breaks at Bruner’s. He’d slice a big thick slab of bologna and slap it between two saltine crackers. Not the kind we get now, but the old-school version with four crackers attached in a larger square the size of a slice of bread. So in a way, eight saltine crackers and a slab of bologna would be your lunch if you were hired to help cut tobacco. I knew one other thing about Ira Bruner. He had a sense of humor. For many years even after his passing across from the old store stood a mailbox atop a 12 foot high post with the label “air mail” painted on the side. I wish it were still there.

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This concludes a substantial bit of the area to the West of my grandmother’s farm. I hope I’ll never lose the appreciation for these things, remnants of a simpler time and slower pace of life.

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Release :(part 4)

My grandfather, Russell Hamm, knew how to build things.

Over the years of the Hamm stewardship of the farm, Russell improved the structures or added them to suit the needs of running the family business. His passing was in 1980 when I was a kindergartener, so I only have a short window of observation with which I can make my own assessment of him. From seeing the countless tools, parts and containers in the garage alone, I figured he could do anything.  It was only when I was older that I started to understand who my grandfather was, as limited as that may be. He was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and was part of the occupation forces in Okinawa after the surrender of Japan. His B-29 and crew could very well have been in line to drop another atomic bomb somewhere had history turned out differently. He taught himself how to play the organ and seemed to thrive on doing things his way, as his own boss.

He built an indoor bathroom and the infrastructure to pump water from the cistern. A detached garage, with room or three cars despite their only having one, was another notable project. I can recall the kitchen remodel done in the late 1970’s which included the addition of the dining room off of the east side of the house. Before he died, one of the last things I remember him doing was rebuilding the wrap around front porch, a job done so well it still looked relatively new more than three decades later.Image

In my mind, however, the crowning achievement was the seven-bent tobacco barn he built on top of the hill behind the house. From my perspective, it had always stood there, stately, guarding over the farm like a proud watchdog. On every visit, there it stood, to the north, up the hill, looking down into the small valley where the house stood safe from harm. My dad would have a different story. He watched it being built. In 1960, he would come home from school and see flatbed trucks of lumber, one after another, hauling their loads up the hill to the worksite. His father would inspect the pieces of wood for quality. I seem to remember being told that for every piece he accepted, he sent several back. More than one truck went on its way carrying the rejected supply with it. Image

The barn was raised quickly after the supplies enabled the framing to be done. It has been said that great architects design structures that appear as though they are part of the natural environment around it. It’s as if once there, they have always been there or meant to be there. This barn gives me that impression, that it was always meant to be there, overlooking the house on one side and the pond on another. Inside on a post near the south end can be seen the carving by my grandfather’s hand, “1960 HAMM”

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Over the years I have seen many a barn in bad shape. Some were leaning, others collapsed, still some wound up as empty spaces where its structure once stood. Not this one. Russell’s barn is still as solid and stately in 2013 as it was more than fifty years ago. Along the way it has seen its share of hardships such as doors blown off their hinges by storms or hardware rusting through. Every one of them were repairable. The only difference is that nowadays, long timber, upwards of 20 feet simply cannot be found. Some of the doors used for air curing of tobacco are now in two sections where one used to suffice. Image

Nowadays the barn stands empty, separated from its once faithful partner. The tobacco may be gone but the barn awaits either its return, or a new teammate with which it will propel the economic stability of a different farming family. Image

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Release :(part 3)

Being a working farm for so many decades, there were always remnants of things lying about that sparked interest and wonder in the mind of a young boy.

Tobacco was the cash crop, but for a time cattle were kept in the back fields and there was always someone mowing and rolling hay. I can recall an old flatbed wagon sitting at the edge of one field, its old tired sunken into the dirt. It was covered with dozens of wooden spears used to hang tobacco in the curing barn. An old rusty mowing attachment sat abandoned in one corner, its blades sticking up like the teeth of some strange monster were all that was left after an epic Godzilla battle. Random tools and equipment parts could be found on the garage work bench and even in the barns. I can remember finding boxes of spark plugs and thermostat pieces in the old Chevy pickup glove box and using them to construct bases for my Star Wars action figures.

Nothing was more intriguing to me than the old dinner bell that stood at the edge of an old concrete slab between the garage and the house. The aged iron bell stood atop a six-foot piece of white painted cedar timber, and as far as I knew was always in that spot. I remember it from my very first visit to the farm back when I must have been barely 3 years old. I remember coming back to the US after living in Greece, when I was about four, that the bell was gone for a time. My grandfather likely had moved it due to a remodeling project he had undertaken. After a while, that bell was back as if it had always been there. I remember being mesmerized by that bell, the shape of it, the fact that you could ring it only if you were tall enough to grab its single arm. Then to remember that at one time it was gone, only to reappear? That made it all the more mysterious.

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As I got older, I was told to stay far away from it since a family of wasps had taken up residence in the underside. Sure enough, their paper nests were visible from the ground and they were working furiously on hatching their young. Of course, as a teenager, that meant I had to ring the daylights out of that thing and run away as fast as I could.

In more recent years, the wasps long gone, the bell had acquired a patina of lychen that married it to its surroundings, most notably the large silver maples whose branches dipped down to almost touching the top of the yoke. It cemented that bell as a permanent fixture at the farmhouse. It belonged there.

Throughout the years, the bell never looked better than at Christmastime when Gran would decorate the entire post with large blue lights and garland. It would welcome us in as we arrived for holiday visits. It knew us. That bell stood as faithful as ever, watching over us and proudly wearing its decorations.

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At the time of the auction, the bell sat on the back of a flatbed trailer, removed from its post, relieved of its duty, appearing lifeless and somewhat sad. It was waiting on a bid, for a new owner to take it and create a new home, to introduce it to a new family, possibly to inspire the imagination of another young child. I will always think of it happening that way. Maybe it’s been cleaned of its lychen, posted atop a new piece of cedar and is now watching over a different family. I almost bid on it myself, but to have won that bid would have meant uprooting a stately old tree in favor of using its dead wood as an art piece. I simply could not have imagined that bell anywhere else. So I’ll remember it for what it was and let its new fate remain a mystery.

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Incidentally, in the weeks before the auction I was rummaging through the garage when I found an old pitchfork. It was covered in rust and cobwebs. It was a forgotten piece, one that I remember vividly from the numerous times in that garage, but one that had been ignored. It sat in its corner for decades, collecting the chemical reactions of its demise. I took it home, scrubbed off the rust, and wiped it with gun oil. The wooden handle turned out to be solid oak and the oil really brought out the hidden grain. The thing looks so good, I almost would rather hang it on the wall instead of use it as a tool. It belongs in the outdoors, in my garage. I have given it a new life. It will help me do yardwork and who knows? Maybe it will inspire more stories of where it’s been and what it’s seen since the hands that built it let it go more than half a century ago.

It seems silly and romantic of me to write affectionate words toward inanimate objects, but these are the product of my imagination. To release these words is to let go of the past, and to move on in a new direction, remembering what brought me here, who I am inside, and how the future should be just as inspiring to me now as it was when I was small.

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How I know the World Ended, Pt.1

It has been said that every memory we have ever had, every single waking experience is locked up inside our minds just waiting to be recalled. Some information is considered incredibly mundane, which is precisely why you can’t find your car keys. But sometimes things are stored with a bit of metadata that tells our brains to keep it ready because someday it will matter. I’m about to put this in context here but I should warn you that although this post deals with my memory recollection, it is in almost no way important. In fact, it will explain a lot about me to some, leave others in a state of confusion, and the rest will simply back away slowly desperately avoiding eye contact. In a few moments you will have the opportunity to peer into my childhood memories in a way which is actually quite disturbing. It deals with music, and will shed some light on why my musical nature is beyond warped. It will also confim some suspicions that I am stark raving mad. So without further adieu, I mention:

THE BUICK TAPE

Right after my family moved back to the United States from Athens, Greece, my family went through a series of changes. I was pulled away from my mediterranean home, my brother grew large enough to drool, bite things and flush random objects down the toilet. My dad also bought a new car. It was a 1980 Buick Century with a (wait for it…) stereo with CASSETTE PLAYER. In order to demonstrate the amazing audio that could be enjoyed while driving, a simple cassette tape was included in the glove box. Over the next couple of years, it became known as the Buick Tape.

Now, this tape wasn’t just played, it was played to DEATH. I still have the cassette, but the iron oxide inside is more or less gone. We played that tape so much, I’m surprised it didn’t make my parents go so far as to fill my bed with tarantulas while they ceremoniously burned the tape with napalm. We played it on every trip back to my grandparents’ house in Kentucky, and almost any time we had to go somewhere taking longer than a few minutes.

At this point the story is pretty straight forward. Most kids love to hear music and when they find something likable, they tend to wear it out. Repetition is the key there, to the point where it irritates other more mature listeners. But the problem was that this tape did not contain what most people would call good music. In fact, most people would take one listen and pray for oversized jetpacking sewer rats to fly in and stab them with sharpened knitting needles than endure the songs contained in the Buick Tape.

You have to remember what kind of music would have been popular with the average Buick owner in the late ’70’s. No, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Rush and the rest were nowhere near this tape. Unfortunately, we have a category of music out there today called Adult Contemporary which serves little purpose than to soothe uptight, stressed-out upper-middle class mall dwellers who may or may not be emotionally frail. Back then, it was called Easy Listening.

The sad part to me as a music person is that Easy Listening was a softer, sleepier collection of tracks that were so sterile they couldn’t possibly contain any artistic value, and the wretched arrangements were remakes of actual good songs. A trend began where good music was deemed too antagonistic for the average person so softer, cheesier versions were created to satisfy a person’s musical cravings without them having to know what they were actually hearing. Remember, Rock ‘n’ Roll was still considered evil. Some artists went for this softer style and created acts such as The Carpenters, Captain & Tenille, and Dan Fogelberg. But at least those performers had some talent and worked with good material.

Now back to where I fit in here. I did not get to listen to much music that was outside the realm of symphonic or classical. I got to hear a lot of crossover stuff in the form of Vangelis, thanks to amazing TV programs like Cosmos and movies such as Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner. The truth was that while other children were hearing various forms of pop and rock music, I came of age hearing orchestras, synthesizers and many layers and textures, including those which are present in the pseudo-disco-easy listening Buick Tape. By the time I enteres first grade, I had heard more Bach than Beatles.

I admit, to this day, I still like the music in the Buick Tape. When I found the mp3’s online, I instantly recalled every sound, even the ones I couldn’t identify back then, but now know are steel guitars or delay pedals. It took me back and other memories started flooding in. I unlocked a drawer in my brain that allowed me to remember that the license plate number of that car was MLB-046. The other car was GSA-624, and eventually we wound up with 624-FRL on another vehicle. But I digress.

So, I thought I was being kept safe from the dangers of rock music? Wrong.

At least one instrumental on the tape is the song “Beth” by Kiss. Since we all know that stands for “Knights In Satan’s Service,” I’m yet again surprised that the cassette remains intact. There is a London Brass version of “Hotel California,” which I was taught was actually a reference to the Church of Satan. One song is by an artist named Evelyn “Champagne” King. How can a wholesome person include an alcoholic beverage in her name?

OK, that last paragraph was a bit facetious and maybe sarcastic.

The point is that I think my parents partly allowed me to keep that tape because of its wholesome, non rock-n-roll properties yet here I am, over 30 years later recalling all of this and making fun of it. Because not only did I eventually discover rock music, I learned that you can’t stifle creativity in any form, even the irritating ones. You can’t shelter a person from good music for very long, and even great music has some appalling qualities at times. You can have new favorites every so often and you can admit to liking some cheese. But music is music. Rhythm, melody and harmony can come together in ways that blow the mind, or cause us to vomit. Sometimes both at the same time. I think the primary reason they let us play the tape is because it got two bratty kids to shut up for the tiring trip from Dayton to Lexington. Ugh. That means that in my youth, I loved some pretty cheesy stuff. And on one stopped me. (Maybe that’s why I still like Mr. Bungle and Tom Waits nowadays.)

So while you’re out there enjoying something good, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the Buick Tape all over again and imagine I’m 6 years old on my way to my Gran’s house.  The music may be awful, but man, it sure relieves some stress. Time to escape.

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