The Read

Jan. 1, 2018

Had a little chuckle making out Christmas cards this year. An address (hey Kate & Anthony) in Jersey was the culprit. Changed from the original name, Orvil, in 1908, Ho-Ho-Kus, (the capitols and hyphens are the correct spelling) was a tribute to the native Indians of the region. Read there’s some disbute as to the meaning, but nicely done on giving American Indians their props, Jersey. My guess was way off, put money on a magic connection, was tempted to finish the address with “Pocus” anyway. Must be kind of a magical place for the Ho-Ho-Kusites, (I kid you not, that’s the legit name,) in 2011 New Jersey Monthy named it the best place to live in the state. Wonder if they still hold the title?   

That research sent me down a rabbit hole looking for funky names, we have quite a few in the ole U.S. of A. Was familiar with the first one that popped up, Accident, Maryland. God forbid you have one while living there, talk about constant geographic salt being poured into a wound. Then there’s always, Hell, Michigan. Can see the signs now, Welcome to Hell. A real hot spot. Can’t take the heat? You can methodically pack up your belongings and move to Boring, Oregon. If a dreary and lackluster existence is too dull, spice things up a bit with a trip to, Intercourse, Pennsylvania. (Not touching that one with a ten foot…moving on. Although you might want to take a quick hop down from there to, Climax, Georgia, just sayin.) Then there’s always the waste related towns, Slickpoo, Idaho, where they recommend wearing shoes with good traction, and the ever urgent, Pee Pee, Ohio; their motto is a no-brainer, Urine a place that warms you all over. Who thought it was a good idea to name a town, Pee Pee? Anotomically, they’re more than just the butt of the joke. If you’re feeling the urge from those towns, you can pass, Gas, Kansas, people say being there is a real relief. When you’re done with all those hit, Embarrass, Minnesota, just to round things out.

Kidding aside, Willy Shakespeare had it right, a rose by any other name smells as sweet. Home is where the heart is, no matter what the moniker on the map. Boogertown, North Carolina might not be picked for the best name award, but pretty sure the residents there, (picture them with wads of Kleenex up their sleeves,) love it all the same. We used to live in a town called Finksburg. Bad name, great town. The kids conquered most of their school days there. It was an idyllic place to grow up. A picturesque country setting with lifelong friends just doors away, we Finksburgians, (yeah, that was just a shot in the dark,) had a home, sweet (smelling,) home. 

For real though, it’s no joke, home is absolutely where the heart is. The place we count on finding our comfort, our peace. For me, it’s wherever my people are. BK just recently moved home from his swinging bachelor pad, (SBP, in the family vernacular,) in Greensboro, North Carolina. His working down there necessitated two homes. For me, I scored a getaway. It was a nice, third floor walkup. Had a great porch, nestled in the upper branches of the trees; offered a bird’s-eye view of the hood. Spent quite a lot of time on that porch, was sad to see it go. The place had a great vibe, it was populated by a cool cluster of neighbors. All ages and nationalities; we were every shade of skin in the spectrum, all just happily doing our own thing. We didn’t get to know anyone personally, but there was always a kind hello. Was there all day without a car a few times and the porch served nicely as entertainment. The predominant scene below, bouncing between the buildings and the trees was happy children playing. Couldn’t have scripted a more peaceful setting. A little Nirvana. Home, at it’s best.

Isn’t that what we all want? A peaceful place to call home. A place to enjoy those we’re drawn to and have no reason to fear those we’re not. A safe place for our families, especially our children. Hometowns and neighborhoods where we can live free from fear. Communities where our shopping malls, theatres, schools and even churches aren’t turned into tombs and given ugly names, like massacre. Finding our hearts is at the root of it all. Turning from those who foster division and instead deciding to rest in reason; we’re all in this together, we should act like it.

Okay, sending you from here down to Arkansas, a place called, Hope. Here’s hoping for a prosperous and peaceful 2018. Here’s hoping our home is where the heart is.

Happy New Year. 

 

 

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Dec. 6, 2017

This is one of those, you-learn-something-new-every-day facts, at least it was a new one by me. Show of hands, how many of you know about, Blue Zones? The term refers to an anthropological model describing the characteristics and environments of locations with the world’s most centenarians. It was first coined in a 2005 National Geographic cover story by Dan Buettner; via some indisputable statistics, Buettner identified five geographic areas on earth with a large concentration of healthy and active people who live well into their 100s. Costa Rica is one of them.

My source of this little known tropical tid bit, the bus driver who ferried us from the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica, to an all-inclusive resort. We just returned from four days at a destination wedding. You may remember from The Read fame, my children from other mothers, Sully and Ashlee. They are now, Mr. & Mrs. M. (Congratulations, kiddos, we couldn’t love you more.)

To explain this incredible connubial excursion, will be employing a triple entendre. (How often does that opportunity show up.) The first one is in the books, the obvious definition, Blue Zones are not only cool and healthy places to live, they’re desirable; who doesn’t want to drink from the fountain of youth? Not a bad destination to plop down.

The second blue zone refers to the waters of our Costa Rican beach, translucent crystal blue, canvased by a floor of tiny white shells. At this particular resort, instead of sand beneath your feet, there are trillions of little broken shells that make up the terrain. Tough to walk on, (it doesn’t hurt, you just sink, the water doesn’t bind it like sand) but what a sight to behold. On the third day there we did a little snorkeling. Very little. The waves were too strong and insisted on muscling us into the rocks, (Shay and BK brought home some nasty scrapes as souvenirs.) Sticking close to the shore was the only safe option. The search for colorful aquatic life was replaced by an astonishing ambient spectacle. Floating on the spirited surface, the delicate white base swirled and danced below in a crystalline concert. Oblivious to the windy world above, with each churn, the only thing you could hear was the tiny shells skipping over each other, chiming a song of tranquility. Truly enchanting; the perfect metaphor for the final blue zone, Sully and Ashlee’s wedding weekend. 

When you look up “true blue” in Webster’s, it describes one who’s loyal, faithful and a constant source of support; no matter what. For me, the perfect description of family. Not always the blood variety, some of those have the name but haven’t really earned it, nope, talking about the people in life who love you unconditionally. The ones who would cut off their right arm for you if they thought it would help. This wedding was populated with that kind of kinfolk. People we could be separated from for long stretches, but it wouldn’t change a thing, the bond is precious and permanent.

A testament to the love Sully, Ashlee and their families have spread, they had over 40 people make the trek to Costa Rica to celebrate their nuptials. The joy of their destination wedding was amplified tenfold by the guests they gathered. The wedding venue, the Pangas Beach Club, was about a half hour from the resort and it was the stuff bridal dreams are made of. With an ancient Banyan tree that sat on the shoreline as their backdrop, Sully and Ashlee said, I do. Did I mention BK, (or his customary moniker for such events, Rev Kev,) performed the ceremony? Had quite a few of us a little wet of eye. After all, this is family, in the truest sense; heartfelt words are easy to come by. BK always puts the best of them together. After the ceremony came convivial pictures at sunset, phenomenal finger food, a divine din din, and then we all danced the night away. When it was time to head back, our busload sang Christmas carols the whole way. A memorable night, to say the least.

This was no ordinary event, think we all felt it, there was a serendipitous quality to the gathering. It was an unexpected gift. Kindness, laughter and love were on the itinerary. Like the magical waters, it was an enchanting journey. Four days together wasn’t enough, none of us wanted to leave. There’s no doubt about it, the wedding party, families and all the guests at this special occasion were in the zone.

The true blue zone; a perfect destination, no matter where you might be.   

 

 

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Nov. 21, 2017

Is it just me or do these things happen to everyone? Strange encounters that poke you in the chest and make you take notice. Maybe it’s the new norm, but if that’s the case, how did we get here?

Now that BK is going to be a bonafide Pennsylvania resident, there are administrative Ts that need crossed. He scored a driver's license but the illusive plates will have to wait for a subsequent visit to the tag & title vendor. What would a PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation – even their name takes forever, couldn’t have a nice succinct MVA, DMV?) requirement be without multiple visits to get it accomplished. Took me three times (40 minute drive) to get my license. Don’t ask.

The establishment that set the stage for this particular tale of whoa, a tag and title storefront that does a little bit of everything involving paperwork for the state of PA, has a cartoon poster on the wall of a woman teaching a PennDOT class of counter assistants. She’s yelling, “You don’t have the right paperwork” with the caption instructing them on how to greet their customers. Good ole PA, at least they know how to laugh at themselves. 

Our visit was no different, we didn’t have the right paperwork. Our title still had a bank address on it, even though we paid the car off years ago. After multiple phone calls to secure faxed proof, we were still there an hour later. (It never happened, their fax machine refused to help us.) A lot can happen in an hour. Unlike the bellowing cartoon figure, our clerk couldn’t have been nicer. Young, adorable, and man did she know her job; cared for a cadre of confused customers like a proficient barista at the world’s busiest Starbucks. And she handled it all with a calm that soothed the annoyed, paperwork challenged beasts. 

One woman, the subject of our story, was sent away in need of tax documents. She was a calm and pleasant person too, unlike a few others who popped in and out. While standing at the counter, filling out additional paperwork, she walked up next to me and said she needed to get the documents of ownership on her home changed to her name, her husband had died two weeks earlier. My heart broke for her. We got into a conversation about how endless all the paperwork is with such a loss. At some point in the exchange, told her I was sorry for her loss. What followed was mind-boggling. She said, with utter conviction, “I’m not, he killed himself, I’m mad.” As, no doubt, the need to unload such events is therapy, she proceeded to tell the story. She and her husband got into a fight, he eventually grabbed his gun, pointed it at her and announced he was going to kill her. Conceiving what he figured was a more cruel option, he said, “No, I’m going to kill myself and make you watch.” He then shot himself in the head. What made the story even more poignant was her question when asked for a photo ID, she wanted to know if she could use her permit-to-carry. The photo was so much better than her driver’s license.

As a military brat, I’m not opposed to the 2nd Amendment. My Dad had a full and locked gun case in our basement, most of them were collector pieces, all of them were functional. But they stayed locked in the case, he never felt the need to wield any of them. Realized after he passed, while helping my Mom clean out his stuff, he had a pistol in his nightstand drawer too. We never knew. That gun never made an appearance, it was there for safety only, he understood the fundamental purpose of the 2nd Amendment. Personally, I want nothing to do with them, believe in the adage, live by the gun, die by the gun. Our fresh widow can verify that axiom.

Just wondering how we got here. Not to be puny, but who’s calling the shots? Do our lives dictate politics or does politics dictate our lives. How has gun ownership and the right-to-carry become the battle cry of our country? The statistics of gun homicide rates in the U.S. compared to every other developed country are obscene, more than double the next lowest country. We also hold the distinction of being the world leader in mass shootings, by a long shot. No other country even comes close. We should be ashamed of ourselves. There is no denying it, our political system has been hijacked, and we’ve allowed it to happen. The 2nd Amendment has become a weapon of mass destruction.

Can imagine how the scenario would have changed if our battling widow and her husband didn’t have guns within reach. An argument would have been just that, instead of a funeral and a bitter legacy.

Wonder what our country’s legacy will be, guess it depends on who calls the shots. 

 

 

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Nov. 9, 2017

Been a while. How goes it? From my end, there’s news, but we’ll get to that. Went back through the mound of half-baked columns I’ve started since I last posted and sifted through fillings to see what was ripe enough to serve. Of course, it’s a topic worthy of dessert, (usually eat mine first; hey, life is short,) luscious laughter.        

There are a select few people in my life who can consistently slay me with a well-placed cheeky comment. Words that from anyone else might be questionable but from this comic cohort usually elicit laughter that refuses to be contained, (guilty of a rather gaudy guffaw, try as I may to squelch it, it’s no use.) These jokesters, (BK and AK head the list, there’s an Oxx in there too,) are observers of life who all recognize that God has a sense of humor. They were obviously given marching orders when issued their flesh-suits, make people laugh, it’s good medicine.

So why don’t we do more of it?

Anyone who pays a modicum of attention to the news has little to laugh about, more like do your damnedest to keep from crying. Several columns ago, made the observation that humor had been kidnapped. It’s more than just that, who stole our decency and concern, our understanding?  The inflammatory and divisive rhetoric from the people we depend on to lead our country is in the line-up as one of the culprits. Makes me wonder if they somehow mistakenly believe that peace between the citizens of our nation is a joke. Not funny guys.   

Would like to circulate this in a government memo, a little yeast leavens all the dough, if it’s rotten, you make bad bread. Hoping that biblical bit of culinary wisdom isn’t too hard for them to understand. We all need to write it in our recipe books, remind ourselves to clear out the stuff that spoils everything. It’s not hard to recognize, it doesn’t build, it tears down. It feeds hatred and division. It covers our world with a darkness that leaves us vulnerable to children being gunned down in, of all places, a church.

Speaking of church, went to one recently with BK down in North Carolina that took me by surprise. Well, not the church, the priest. It was a new place for us, we were running short on time and found a spot closer to his apartment than we usually venture. As far as first impressions go, blew that one entirely. Sitting near the alter, waiting to give the homily, was an older priest. Let’s not mince words here, the dude was ancient. Was convinced I saw him drifting off, either that or his pre-speaking contemplation included a deeply drooping head warm-up. My neck hurt looking at him. Figured the next fifteen minutes was going to be a hot mess. Couldn’t have been more wrong. His was the most clear-headed and spot on sermon I've heard in a very long time. And his priceless instruction came packed with, wait for it…drum-roll…a heaping helping of humor.

This patriarchal pastor had us in stiches, in between hitting us over the funny bone with poignant instruction. He was cracking wise about a Sermonetics, (think that’s what he called it,) class he took in seminary. Recounted a criticism session after a particular student's practice sermon. He explained it was basically a class that polished public speakers through the encouragement and criticism of peers; the primary function was to hone mechanics, had nothing to do with content. Until this occasion. The gist of the story was a fundamental difference of opinion about the young seminarian’s substance. The class squared off on sides and a battle of epic proportions ensued. Helpful criticism turned into denigration, defamation, and condemnation. The professor sat quietly taking it all in for a while, then called for an armistice. 

The argument was about who understood the greatest commandment, one side said it was love of God, the other love of neighbor. After forcing the truce, their prudent prof told them they were all clueless, that love had nothing to do with turning on another human being, so viciously, over an opinion. Check me if I’m delusional, but doesn’t that hit close to our unhappy home of the brave? Our country seems hell-bent on bludgeoning each other over our opinions. And, unfortunately, that ignorance isn’t limited to politics, it’s everywhere, our work places, our neighborhoods, even our own families. We’re no less clueless than the young, ill-tempered seminarians.

His profound directive concluded by recounting the famous wedding fave, the Corinthians instruction about Love. He said more than knowing what it is, it was vital to understand what it is not; it isn’t envious or boastful, it doesn’t dishonor others, it’s not easily angered and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. As old as my new favorite priest is, his teacher must be long dead. Too bad, he has my vote. That’s some fruitful yeast.

Ah, the interlude for news, told you we’d get to it. Our long wait to sell the house and be reunited in our new digs in North Carolina has come to an end. A real end, it isn’t happening. The man who makes me laugh everyday will be back in my life fulltime, in PA. We’re not going anywhere. BK got a job back in PA, being separated was killing us; especially me, I’ve grown a custom to a certain quota of laughter and my rations were dangerously low. Especially considering the current state of our country.

That brings me to my conclusion, you have to admit, laughter is luscious. It makes everything sweet. Who can laugh their ass off with someone and still walk away mad? Not likely. We need to put it back on the menu. A steady diet of sour, bitter and angry words is starving us of light, leaving us vulnerable to a darkness that will overtake us. Our individual actions feed us as a whole, expose us to the same, what we give is what we will ultimately get. Time to put some nourishing food on the table. And maybe a little background dinner music, can I suggest, Elvis Costello’s, What’s So Funny Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?        

 

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May. 28, 2017

The image accompanying today’s installment is significant on several fronts.  “Through death to life”, the cycle perpetuates.  The original motto for the addiction treatment center, Father Martin’s Ashley, (after his death they changed it,) sums up a recent week of profundity.

Two weeks ago, on Mother’s Day, the patriarch of our family passed away.   US, (the other half of AK, he’s made several appearances on these pages,) was, in every sense of the word, our patriarch.  An uncle to me, by marriage, he has assumed the role of my father-in-law for a great many years.  A man of significant accomplishment, he was one of the pioneers who brought movies into our homes.  In addition to having a hand in the birth of VCRs and pay-per-view, he knew the power of cable TV before it was even off the ground.  The man was a visionary.  His vita is the stuff of legends.  Chairman, President, CEO, he had many titles.  Although it has always garnered universal respect, his stature in the entertainment industry wasn’t the core of his patriarchy from my view, it was the care he took; for all of us.  His love and generosity made you feel protected, you knew he had your back.  He helped BK and I navigate some of life’s most difficult terrain.  The Ashley logo plays a starring role in that journey.

We had hit bottom, with no place to turn and the insurance well run dry, US stepped in and secured a scholarship for BK to the treatment center, Father Martin’s Ashley.  Nestled on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, rebirth picked us up and set us firmly on our feet.  US opened the door, and to this day, 27 years later we have never been sure if the “scholarship” came from Ashley or from US.  We didn’t ask, he wouldn’t have told us anyway.  It was more than enough for him that we were okay and our fledgling family had a future.  

US was a handsome man, always impeccably dressed, pure class.  A man who only got more distinguished with age.  He quietly commanded attention just by entering a room.  In his pocket was always a clean and pressed hanky; a trademark US accouterment.  I never saw it look used, whenever he pulled it out, it was starched and, like him, immaculate.  On the day of his funeral, his daughter Kathie, a no-nonsense beauty, handed each of us in the family one of his hankies.  It was a clutch move, a practical piece of him we could carry with us, (noticed during the funeral, several of us were putting them to use, mine got a work-out.)  BK kept his in his breast pocket, close to his heart, where he said it belonged.

An interesting piece of family history, (that leads me to the later half of the aforementioned profound week,) as a child, at the tender age of 10, BK became US’s Godfather.  US converted to Catholicism as an adult and he chose his youngest nephew to stand with him.  Even then, he lifted the child he would eventually assume as his own.  That bit of kindness established a bond that lasted a lifetime.  When it came time to choose Godparents for our first child, US and AK were shoe-ins.  The circle was complete.  In more ways than one, we asked them to be Shay’s Godparents while we were all attending an Ashley event. 

Last Sunday, one week after Mother’s Day, having flown back from the west coast the day before, BK and I stood next to an alter with our new Goddaughter, Leighton.  A babe in arms, she already has both of us wrapped around her finger.  (Her parents, Sully and Ashley and her big bro, Cohen, have made appearances here before, couldn’t adore them all more.)  Leighton's baptism was the perfect way to enclose the current circle.

From one loving Godfather to another, it was a comforting sphere.  We arrived at the church early and were ushered to the nursery, where mom and dad were corralling the kids before the service.  Happy to have some private time with them, we walked in to find poor Leighton on the losing end of an allergic reaction.  Her precious little face was swollen on one side, her crystal blue eyes barely slits, and her nose was running like a spigot.  BK put his hand to his heart, there it was, the hanky.  US would not have been happier to share his soft, saving grace with another of his Godfather’s children.  BK pulled out the hanky and gave it to Leighton’s mom, a square piece of cotton from heaven.  Or, at least, from a man who now resides there.   

My love and respect for US knows no bounds, he gave us our life back.  Through death to life, indeed.  The Ashley leaves will always be a favorite of mine.  They remind me that death finds it’s way to life again.  Rebirth is not only possible, but the natural order of things.  Especially when the roots are profound love and generosity.  

Thank you, US, rest in peace.  

 

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