It’s been seven years since my dad died, and I wish I had better words to express how incomprehensible that still is. All those things you say when someone who was suffering has passed have slowly subsided. I remember him in the most inopportune moments, but there he is.
The things I dig deep within me to say about him are likely going to always fall short. When I slow down enough to notice things like that light pouring into the stairwell in the photo above, I’m reminded that he touched so many lives partly because he knew how to shut up and listen.
He truly was quiet. So few words emanated from him that there was a noticeable hush in the room when people realised he wanted to say something. When I was rather young, I remember he had the saddest smile sometimes. I suppose one of his successes was that the melancholy in his grin appeared to have evaporated. Over the years, it was as if he just didn’t have the time or energy to be maudlin anymore.
There was a soulful singer he introduced me to who sang about the depravity of humanity. Beautiful songs, but really quite dark. Years later, I asked him why he never listened to that artist anymore.
‘I just realised one day that his songs were really depressing,‘ he said. ‘There’s enough sadness in the world – why would I want to dwell on any of that?‘
Yes, why indeed.
This was taken when I was sitting across from my mom at the café across from the Durham Cathedral and the Durham Castle. I’ve been meaning to write more about the particulars of this trip. There was so much we saw and did. You’d be surprised how well Fafa gets around.
The card that says, ‘Its all my parents fault,’ often makes me laugh.
It’s meant to be ironical folks. I blame my parents for very little. I used to, but eventually realised it was a waste of time. At some point one has to simply grow up.
You know what I blame my parents for? How decent I turned out. What a stand up guy I am? That’s Martha Frances and Bill Auvenshine’s doing.
I learned from my dad that you can show up for life. Even when you don’t feel like it. He was the kind of person who was there when he said he was coming. Actually, he was regularly early. And if I was late? It was ok. He had a book to read.
Time was fluid with him. As long as he was punctual, that’s all that mattered.
From my mom? What’d I learn?
You really want to know?
I learned and still learn from her that it’s never too late. Never. Forgiveness is still possible. There’s still hope.
She was a widowed before my birth and a single mom with my brother Michael just a few years later.
Did she blame her parents? She did not.
They did the best they could. Really.
While you break bread with your family this holiday season, cut your folks some slack. They won’t always be around.
Try being grateful for a change. Would it really hurt to try a bit of gratitude?
Pay attention to things written on walls, ok?
Good news! Fafa has arrived in Engaland. She’s sitting here with me now. Here is mi madre:
I took an overnight coach from Victoria Station to Manchester Airport and fetched her. They were working on the tracks, so rather than a train, we had to take a bus to Huddersfield and only then could we continue on with the train to York and then onto Durham.
We’ll be here the next few days & then we’re off to Lindisfarne. This is going to be the right sort of Bon Vivantery.
This might be a bit strange- this blogpost. Yes, I’m aware my writing can be odd on a semiregular basis, so this isn’t necessarily the most shocking opening gambit, but nevertheless…you’ve been warned.
See, I want to ask one of those big questions that blogging really isn’t capable of tackling. This is a novel-sized theme. Many blogging experts, if there is such a thing, insist on the need for concise, clear writing. Nothing wrong with having that as a goal, right?
Some of my favourite writers are anything but concise. Faulkner and Melville get a bad rap for it, but one they probably deserve. It was a different era, you know. Over-explaining was the done thing. In the modern era of literature you had writers, such as Hemingway, attempting to trim the fat and give the reader the most streamlined version of the story.
The conventional wisdom is that blogging should be more like A Farewell to Arms and less like Moby Dick. You probably know some bloviated blogs. Ones you know are good, but reading one of his blogposts is a time commitment.
Here’s a test. If you convince yourself you need a beverage in hand to read someone’s blog, it might be that the posts are too long. I can hear you saying, ‘But lahikmajoe, I always read with a coffee in my hand. That’s no indicator.’
That’s not quite it. Before you read this hypothethical writer’s blog, do you say to yourself, ‘Ok, I know I like this blog, but every single time I read it, I need a libation of a larger-sized than normal,‘ because that’s the sort who are conspiring with the likes of Captain Ahab. Who’re so focused on hunting the White Whale that they have no time for reflection on their method.
I’m going to try and take my own advice on staying brief. My question is simply this: What is home?
For me, it’s those beautiful red dogs pictured above. As long as they’re with me, I’m home. Full-stop. We could live most anywhere and Ella and Louis would be perfectly happy. Their needs are simple. As are mine, which I’m finally beginning to see.
What about you? What do you need for a place to be considered home? Is it a physical need? Do you need, for example, to be near a park or forest?
I know what I said about being long-winded, but blog comments are another story. You’re welcome to write a blog comment as long as you like. See? I’m magnanimous like that.
In Notting Hill in London, there’s a shop, that’s been written about here before called the The Idler Academy of Philosophy Husbandry and Merriment, and I made the voyage to its doors. Upon arrival, I sat amongst the tomes and looked across the room to see the above.
A man wearing a shirt that said ‘Texas is for Lovers‘. A bit innocuous, you say? Well, that’s not quite how I see it.
There certainly are plenty of lovers in Texas, if you want to include all the baby daddies and ne’er-do-well deadbeat fathers that the place is littered with. I can already hear the protests from both Texans and friends of Texans saying things like, ‘But lahikmajoe, what’re you talking about? There are good fathers there in the Land of Lovers, as well.‘
Well, I suppose I’ll give you that.
However, this marketing campaign that the authorities in Texas have devised to make themselves appear more amorous than they really are is not only false advertising, but it’s rather unbecoming. What if a poor, unsuspecting soul were to read the message on that t-shirt and actually make his way to Texas in search of All the Lovers.
Those Texas Lovers of the infamy decreed on the Shirt in Notting Hill.
What about that?
You hadn’t thought of that, had you?
One of the first people I met when I moved to Germany was Dermot. Fantastic person and even better artist. He’s Irish of course. Have you ever met a Dermot who wasn’t?
He is also a woodworker who specialises in lamps. The one above is rather beautiful, isn’t it?
After the last few serious blogposts, I wanted to share a bit of beauty. Life is fleeting. There’s no reason to ignore the preciousness of the littlest things.
If you love someone, don’t hesitate to say it. If you feel alone, reach out. Someone is there for you.
The story of my Dad and me has gotten me thinking about the fragility of our bonds and how essential it is to appreciate what one has while it’s still around.
See, he wasn’t my natural father. Although he was my Dad, I didn’t call him that until I went off to college. Until then he was my mom’s boyfriend and then later her third husband.
The first husband was Ken, Sr, who was my natural father. He died in an auto accident when she was pregnant with me, and unfortunately she remarried quickly thereafter. She was lonely. Husband number two took advantage of her vulnerability, and then when the responsibility of raising me and the son of his who’d arrived in the meantime got to be too much, he Made a New Plan, Stan and Dropped off the Key, Lee.
It’s ok. He was a schmuck. Good riddance and all that.
Then, it was the three of us for a number of years. At some point, my Mom had one of her infamous annual Christmas parties and one of her guests, the son of one of her older friends, fell asleep with her under the Yuletide tree.
Not a bad love story, is it? He never left. Felt so at home, the man moved in almost immediately.
There was only one little problem, and his name was Ken. I wasn’t the most receptive to a new dude in the house. My track record with men was that they stuck around for a bit and then fucked off when the going got rough. It was obvious to me that this was going to happen again. It was only a matter of time.
Well, I might be a decent judge of character in other circumstances, but about this guy I was wrong. He not only stuck around, but he socked away enough Sweet Moolah from Uncle Rico that my Mom really needn’t worry about money from here on out. Not too shabby, eh? I think so.
Bill Auvenshine died six years ago, but sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. He was the gentlest, sweetest man I’ve ever had the honour of having known. When I went to Ohio for school, I saw some of the father figures my college friends had endured, and I realised how lucky I’d had it.
At that point, I stopped the charade that I’d been carrying out all those years. Until then, I’d refer to my parents as ‘My Mom and her husband Bill‘. However, from then on I easily switched over to ‘My Mom and Dad‘.
He told me something when I turned eighteen that I’ll never forget. It showed two undeniable things: he had a dark sense of humour and was a ponderer.
A thinker, if you will.
‘Ken,’ he said, ‘You should enjoy being eighteen, because this is the smartest you’ll ever be. For the rest of your life, you’ll slowly realise how little you really know.‘
I know you can’t force someone to do something they really don’t want to do. You can plead and beg, but if they’re dead set on not doing what they don’t want to do, you’re generally out of luck.
My Mom wanted me to have a father. It was important to her, and she thought this guy would make a good one. As a child, I thought she forced the issue. I felt like accepting the new guy would be some sort of disloyalty to Ken, Sr.
And most importantly, I was sure this new character was there for a while but would eventually tire of us and be on his way.
Once when we were in the car and talking about something unrelated, I made a little snide comment that he’d only stuck around for my Mom’s love but that we (her two sons) were clearly a hassle and a burden, even.
He turned to me with a very serious look on his face, and said, ‘No, Ken. I loved your Mom very much, but I stuck around for you. There had been enough abandonment in your young lives. You needed a Dad and I wanted to be it.‘
Remember what I said at the beginning of all this? About the fragility of bonds between us humans? Well, in that moment he won me over. Not once after that did I ever question his motives. He was my Dad, and that was that.
- Remind them what they’ve done or what they did
- Point out to them that this (their life, their family, everything good and bad that they’ve done) will eventually be forgotten
- Whatever palliative medicine they’re receiving, take it away and no matter how they beg for it, don’t give it back
- Invite each of their enemies over (unexpectedly) for one last little chat
- Make as many references to your plans once the dying person is finally gone
Now, I realise this isn’t the nicest of lists, but I have one very pointed question for those of you who may or may not be offended.
Why are we trying so hard to make things easier for the dying?
Certainly, if they’ve had a good life and made some sort of peace with everyone in it, then the above list will be useless. It won’t touch them. They’re immune from my machinations.
Please don’t think I’ve done any of these things on my list. I’m actually quite pleasant and caring to the people in my life who’re at death’s door. I learned quite a lot while watching my father slowly die of complications related to his diabetes.
He died six years ago last week, and lately my thoughts’ve been swirling around topics of mortality. It’s actually quite understandable.
So, what’d possess me to make such a heartless list of cruelty like the one above? What’s wrong with me?
Well, I’ve got a simple answer for you in the form of a few questions.
Why? Why should I forgive what’s been done to me? What benefit does it serve?
I know a bit about Buddhism, and I know the tenet that carrying around such bitterness is akin to taking poison. Not only am I aware of this, but I even try to practice forgiveness. And most of the time I’m pretty good at it. Most of the time.
But like an irregular French verb, there are always exceptions. And what to do with those? Aren’t there some things that’re unforgivable? I believe that the jury’s still out on that one.
I’ve written plenty here about people who’re no longer with us. Luckily, this isn’t going to be one of those blogposts. This is the opposite. Someone who’s very much still with us.
Martha. Mom. Oma. Church Lady.
She’s been called many things…her brother couldn’t say Martha when he was little, so he called her Fafa. That might be my favourite one of her names. She really is a Fafa, after all.
What’s the occasion? Six months till Christmas? Well, yes. It is that.
On 25 June
In 253, Pope Cornelius was beheaded at Centumcellae. Is that what I’m all worked up about? Far from it. I never much cared for Pope Cornelius.
In 1530, at the Diet of Augsburg, the Augsburg Confession was presented to the Holy Roman Emperor by the Lutheran princes and the Electors of Germany. Could that be it? If you could see my figure, you’d immediately know I’m not much for diets…Diet of Augsburg or otherwise.
In 1910, the Mann Act was passed by the United States Congress, which prohibited interstate transport of females for “immoral purposes.” As Wikipedia tells us, ‘The ambiguous language would be used to selectively prosecute people for years to come.‘ I like this one. This makes me want to transport a female over state lines for immoral purposes. I think that’s what my father did with my mother all those years ago…the origin Lahikmajoe. Immoral purposes, indeed. But that’s not why I’m commemorating the 25th of June. Not by a long shot.
George Orwell was born on 25 June in 1903, and in addition to the death of above-mentioned Pope Cornelius, there was that singer who died several years ago on this day.
None of that is as important as my reason for making such a big deal about this day.
It’s Fafa’s birthday. That lady I was talking about above. She’s been bewildered and confused at this blog when she’s come here.
‘It’s weird,’ she tole me once. That’s when I knew I was on to something. I could almost hear her saying:
‘Why do you talk about such things? Normal people blog about what they ate for breakfast. You’ve always been a bit off.‘
But that’s not what she said. She made mention of being proud and pleased that I was doing things in my life that I really loved. All those things that sound a certain way when you read about someone else saying them, but they mean so much more when it’s your mother saying them to you.
Thanks Fafa. You were a seasoned and wise lady long before your time.
While I was travelling, I had times when I was regularly posting things here (lots of family and galavanting) and on the teablog (tea shops in southern Spain) and on tumblr (when I really didn’t have time to write much), but there were also times when there was just ‘too much living goin’ on around.’ I had to see what I could see. That’s a direct reference to a Lyle Lovett song, so I’ll incude that here:
And there were so many things going on….I’d regularly stumble over to twitter, make oblique references to noteworthy adventures, and then promptly move on to something else. That means I’m planning to periodically return to stories about the trip. If there are photos, I’ll be sure to include them.
For example, the photo at the top of this post demands some sort of explanation. I wish I had one. Those are bagpipes. Real bagpipes. No photoshopping here. And that man is not a Scotsman. He could be Hispanic. Or an American Indian. Or I suppose he could be a Pacific Islander or a number of other possibilities, but I’m going to stop before I dig myself a hole.
He’s not Scottish. That’s my point. He also looks as if he’s been working all day in a blue-collar job still in his work shirt. After a long day in the factory, what else are you going to do but go play your bagpipes on the streets of downtown?
My mother had had a wonderful evening on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, and we went up to street level to make our way back to the hotel. As we turned a corner, there was this guy playing his bagpipes. Like we were at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
But we weren’t. We were in Texas. Now, I should say that I saw bagpipes when I was a kid. It’s not like they don’t let any bagpipes out of Scotland. There are Canadian pipers. And Aussie pipers, as well as Kiwi pipers. There are very serious pipers all over the world.
However, I still think of them as having some sort of connection to Scotland. Your parents are from Aberdeen, or something. This guy’s parents were most likely not from Aberdeen.
Incidentally, bagpipes are called a Dudelsack in German. I know some of you who will almost certainly appreciate that little tidbit.