Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Faith And Failings

If I were to die today, I don't think anyone, including my family, would have anything of much substance to say about my life. I was, at one time, a semi-gifted musician. I read a lot. I had to explain words I used. To be sure, I loved my mom and my dad, but never really told them that, not even in so many words. And I often wished I hadn't waited until mom was dying to tell her how I felt, that the world was a far better place with her in it. What I didn't do was beg on my knees for her not to leave me. That would've been the "momma's boy" in me talking, not to mention unforgivably unfair to either of us.

We weren't raised to express that kind of affection and endearment openly. We were raised to be stoic and to show family affection by making fun of each other. And believe me, we show each other affection a lot, obviously.

What am I doing? What am I doing, indeed. I hardly know. Right now I'm experiencing two existences at the same time, one down here in Alabama, and one in my head up in Ohio. But I'm not participating in the living of either of those existences, at least not in any real, tenable sense.

My faith, our faith, is a decidedly Lutheran one. It's within us, but rarely shared with others. We are not a proselytizing sort of people. Our blood runs deep with the black-as-night soil of the Iowa plains. But my family has faith, mostly in each other, at least sometimes.

In all of my life I have never experienced so much regret and guilt as I have for the last 2 years. I can't remember if I've shared this with any of you, but I told Jesse that dad would be ashamed of me, of my being miserable at work and at play. Jesse informed me that he wouldn't be ashamed; he'd be frustrated with me. Little comfort, but little is better than none.

So I just went ahead and lied to mom as she lay dying, and told her that I'd be just fine. To make things worse, I think she knew I was lying. Of her five kids I was the one she and dad worried about the most on account of my proclivity to take things so viscerally, so personally. After all, dad had the decency to drop dead in an instant; we had to watch the strongest woman any of us have ever known be reduced to a bag of rotting organs and bones, vomiting every 45 minutes for 8 days.

I'm not looking for sympathy. Er, maybe I am. I don't want you to feel sorry for me; I'm doing that for myself aplenty. I guess I just want you, like for myself, to try to do a better job of... living? Not that you're not doing that already. I guess I'm mostly talking to myself but channeling my dad's voice in order to do it.

Living. What does that even mean anymore?

Okay. Here's a promise I'll make to you and to myself once I finally (hopefully within the next year) move up to Piqua: At every sunset, I'll crack open a reasonably cold beer (or wine, should the moment strike me), and I'll watch that sun set on an acreage of mean size, shape and order, but I'll let the rosy-colored fingers in the dusky west reveal that during the course of this day I worked hard to improve my lot, and my lot, that I'm now one day closer to growing the perfect tomato, that my day was productive, simple, genuine, and hard-won. In the winter I'll build a small fire by the apple tree, with snow on the ground to avoid Pasture Fire 2011!!! In the bleak midsummer that beer won't get chugged 'till close to 8pm, which will be glorious in its way.

It's a start. I owe it to them. But even more so, I owe it to myself. For, indeed, it's within me that the both of them now reside, and if the substance of my life ends up being a sincere story of the lives of my mom and my dad and my family, at long last catalogued and organized and set down with pen and ink with an affection that no instrument yet invented could measure, I would be honored for that to be, in total, my penance, my atonement, and my redemption.

Or I'll just clean toilets and the nursing home. You tell me.

No other son had such remarkable parents, and no other person is more proud, blessed, and grateful to have had the honor to be called their son.

May God bless your people.
Oh may he remember them in their time of trouble,
and at the hour of their taking away.

And God bless you incredibly decent folks. Thanks for listening.

(I.e., Piqua or die. Or both. It's a good fit.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good To Smoke The Green Green Grass Of Home

After our mom's funeral last March, when we were sorting some things out at her West Virginia house, and it had begun to become apparent that I eventually needed to move back to the central Ohio area, Jesse and Al thought that I needed to take mom and dad's John Deere tractor, and that Al would "hold" it until I was able to take delivery.

Then I burned down the northeast pasture Easter Sunday, which Jesse was happy to share with Al.

So yesterday I sent both of them a list of things I plan on trying to get done Memorial Day weekend. This morning I got this email from Al:

The John Deere is now at the Urbana service center. I told them I'd pick it up Memorial weekend. I also told them to put fireproof belts on it, and bulk up the heat shield for re-entry.

Is it any wonder why he's my favorite brother?

Monday, April 12, 2010

2010 Memorial Day Weekend Honey-Do List

Though there's technically no "honey" in this scenario. Yet!


Anyways, I'll drive up Thursday and spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday up north. My goals:

1. Tear up carpet and subflooring in back bedroom to reveal 90-year old pine boards.
2. Clean out trash/brush in the northeast and southeast pastures.
4. Tear out cupboards in "kitchen".
5. Rip off porch on west-facing side of house.
6. RUNNING WATER!!!!!!!!!
7. Get mom's John Deere tractor running. (Al broke it. Again.)
8. Invent the first composting toilet.
9. Oh. Wait.
11. Write a bit about mom and dad every day. Just a bit.
12. Distinguish my west-central Ohio accent from affectatious southern dialect (newly aquired) so as not to be beaten up by the big kids at school.(I.e., Mambo.)

I think that's a good start.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Little House On The Prairie Fire

"Ya think it's too windy to burn?" I asked Jess before he fired up his professional grade Snapper "haymaker" to do the front.

"It's pretty windy. Try to keep it small."

So I sprayed one small portion of the burn pile he, Al and I had amassed the day before, which I had added significantly to this morning, a pile probably 5 feet high of combustible trash, with lighter fluid, and lit it.

It was controlled enough, and I fed it very gradually from around the sides, careful not to get too much burning at the same time. And I was having a very pleasant afternoon of it, thinking of my dad and I burning leaves in the Fall. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday in west-central Ohio.

But then when I shifted the old door that was burning well from an obtuse to an acute angle, that's when things changed fast.

The middle of the pile kind of exploded, and immediately the entire pile was roaring. And then it got bigger. Soon, the unmown and thatchy edges of the burn pile were catching. And not long after, with help from a wind out of the southwest, an army of flames were headed north-by-northeast, invading ultimately my new neighbor's harvested corn field.

I ran all around the fire; it must've been 800 degrees at least. I tried to keep it from spreading, but the more I pounded on the burning edges with my rake and my shoe, the more it seemed almost to get stronger.

Meanwhile, Jess saw what was happening, and he steered his mower around to cut the spreading fire by mowing the thatch between the burning pit and the spread. After he'd done so many times, his mower caught on fire, and he had to stop to put it out.

Oh. Did I mention that we hadn't got the well-house pump working, so we didn't have any running water?

Just to keep from having a massive panic attack, I played Bach fugues in my head.

"Just let it burn itself out," he said calmly. "The wind will change, and the fire will run out of fuel when it hits the new growth. Just keep it out of the corn field."

Which we did. And it did burn itself out.

"Man, Jess, I'm so sorry about your mower."
"It's fine. It's just a belt. It was due for service anyway. Sit down and rest, and drink your water."

I did. Then I looked down at the scorched earth, sullen, and said, "Well, this isn't exactly the beginning I had in mind. Not very auspicious, is it?"
"It's a great beginning. It's a spectacular beginning. What it shouldn't be is a terrible ending."
"You make a good point. If this is some kind of cosmic test of my resolve, I'm not giving up. Thanks."
"In a month all you'll notice is all the new growth coming up from where it burned. No big deal. I won't tell Al or Jane; they'll never know."
"You can tell 'em. I don't mind."

Then Jess, eyes squinting to look across the southeast corner of the adjoining property that holds a decent stand of trees in a wetland area with a small creek, which I'm gonna try to buy as well, and because we were both obviously thinking of him, inadvertently channeled our dad and said, "You know, come to think of it, it just might be too windy to burn after all."

We both just laughed. And he did tell Al. And Jane.

What is this? Am I home? Again? I didn't think we could go home again. Maybe we can? My stomach hurts. I think I'm gonna throw up. Again.