Photo by Wally Holden on Unsplash
The car I grew up in
Was a 1960 Pontiac Star Chief
Four-door sedan hardtop
In a color my Crayola 64 box called Flesh.
Even at a time when most cars
Came in a wide variety of vibrant colors,
This one stood out.
Not that it was flashy.
My dad would never have a flashy car.
No, this color was like my dad himself,
Solid, utilitarian, not trying to be anything
Other than what it was,
Prizing family over fashion.
Sprawled in the wide bench seat in the back,
My older brother and I would press our noses to the glass
Just to watch the world go by
In a horizontal blur.
Or stand on the hump in the middle
And fold our arms over the front seat
Between Mom and Dad
to watch the road come up to meet us,
the long white line whizzing under the chrome arrowhead
that ornamented the sleek hood.
During the day
We would sing along with Mom and Dad
To all the old standards,
Taking turns picking which song would be next:
“I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,”
“Deep in the Heart of Texas,”
“Don’t Fence Me In,”
“On Top of Old Smokey,”
“From the Halls of Montezuma,”
And my favorite “Give My Regards to Broadway,”
Because it talked of that magical black-and-white place
I saw in the late-night movies
When my Mom would let me stay up to watch with her.
But on nighttime drives
When they thought we were asleep
My parents would sing “their” songs:
“I Love You Truly,”
“Let Me Call You Sweetheart,”
“A Shanty in Old Shantytown.”
Mom’s beautiful soprano carried the tune
And Dad would come in softly to harmonize.
Often they would lean their heads closer
And find each other’s eyes
As they stretched out the final note.
Nat King Cole’s “Rambling Rose”
They sang both day and night.
I think it was the word rambling
That captured their imaginations,
And seemed a perfect accompaniment
to our rambles in the flesh-toned Star Chief.
Daily life for my parents in our small coal mining town
in the four-room apartment above my grandparents
was not easy.
Mom worked school hours in a medical lab,
then cooked, cleaned and cared for us
and anyone else in need of her loving touch.
Dad worked long hours in the lumberyard
where he had been employed since high school,
before and after the war.
After supper, he went out to do the books for several local businesses,
working alone in darkened stores and offices.
Dad was not someone anyone would call a dreamer.
Hard work, responsibility, frugality, caution.
These were the concrete values he lived by.
But every once in a while,
With a twinkle in his eye
He would tell us about his two fantasies:
To go on a big game safari in Africa and,
Just for a time,
To ride the rails like a hobo.
Our excursions in the Star Chief,
particularly the long Sunday drives to the Poconos,
were Mom and Dad’s escape from the routine
and our entertainment.
Often our only destination
Was a roadside overlook
Where we’d enjoy a picnic lunch packed by my mother
Served on a starched cotton tablecloth
Laid carefully over the rough wood of a rest stop table.
These trips didn’t cost anything to speak of
(gas was cheap back then),
But for us they provided untold treasures.
I often wonder if,
Coming around a bend,
My father imagined a tawny lion
Slinking across a field
Or a gazelle in full gallop
Leaping across our path.
Did he look at the countryside rushing past
And imagine he was peering through the slats of a boxcar?
I suppose each of us packed our own dreams
For the ride.
And no matter where we rambled,
That was enough.
Jake: The Best Dog in the World
When I look at you
I see a soft blue-gray haze,
Like the one that hovers over the Great Smoky Mountains,
In the place where your eyes used to be.
You lift your chin
In the way you used to do,
Sensing my presence with your canine radar.
But your imaginary gaze
Misses the mark of my face by a few degrees.
I call your name.
“Jake!” “Come, Jake, come!”
“Come on, Jakey!”
“Come to Mummy!”
Your head cocks left then right
Then left again.
Do you hear something, anything?
Or do your paws pick up the vibrations
Of my vocal cords
Leaving you wondering where the sound went.
If I shout loud enough
And with a high enough pitch
The spark of recognition puts a spring in your step
And you come running.
So I keep up the sound in a steady beat,
A vocal beacon for you to follow
Into my waiting arms.
We never had to teach you
How to catch the treats we tossed in the air.
That was all you!
You’d pass every test –
Higher, further, even a false start to throw off your timing.
But now the bone-shaped kibbles
land on your head or back
Then bounce to the floor
As your clouded eyes search in vain.
Even your nose is failing you,
Unable to detect the scattered pieces.
So we hold them just below your nostrils
And touch them to your waiting mouth
As it opens so eagerly to receive this gift.
We watch as you approach the nearest sofa or chair,
Always wanting to be as close to us as possible.
Your chin feels for the height
As your muscles calculate the effort needed.
“You can do it, Jake,” we say encouragingly.
Then wonder if we are tempting you to your doom.
But we don’t want you to give up
Any more than we want to give up on you.
Today, your old bones meet the challenge
But who knows what tomorrow brings.
Others may make the same claim
But you ARE the best dog in the world;
Sensing our tears before they reach our eyes
And comforting us with a rested chin
Or the slow persistent stroke of your paw,
Letting us smother our grief
In the curls of your soft black fur.
You have been there
For all the losses that have come our way
Giving and receiving love
When we needed it most.
We will be there for you
For whatever time you have left.
But who will be our comfort
When the loss we grieve is yours?
Truly Madly Deeply
Truly Madly Deeply
waiting to feel
that perfect trifecta of love
Where was the lack?
Or was it fear
of losing me
of becoming you
or just fear
of the unknown us?
You must have felt cheated
your love so pure and sure
mine so tentative
equal parts passion and uncertainty
And yet I took the leap
into your welcoming arms
and for a time
let your love lift the two of us
let your wings do all the work
to carry us
on the currents of God’s love
I did not fall
I did not crash and burn
but hung on
when soaring joys carried us upwards
when deep sorrows dragged us down
when I or you or we were too tired to go on
I began to trust
I found my wings
I let myself love
And I discovered
that the difference between flying and falling
is just a matter of perspective
that what is True is that, no matter what,
we have been there for one another for twenty-five years
that what is Mad is that we have chosen, together,
to take leap after crazy leap
that what is Deep is the faith we have
in God and one another
But mostly I discovered
that Truly, Madly, Deeply
are not prerequisites for a good marriage
but the blessings that come from having one.