A Truer Love Story Was Never Told

love story

Thirty-three years ago, sporting leather pants and cowboy boots, I picked up a special young woman for our first date. 

Thankfully, the boots and pants died a quick fashion death.

But that first date turned into many more, 29 years of marriage, two wonderful daughters, a granddaughter (coming soon!), four goofy dogs, more ups than downs, and a love that endures. 

Here is our (mostly) absolutely true love story…

A TRUER LOVE STORY WAS NEVER TOLD

(Originally published in “Chocolate Cows and Purple Cheese, and other tales from the homefront”, available on Amazon) 

Before my last name supplanted hers, my wife hated my guts.

Believe it or not, this is a story of true love, though it is both “Post” and “Anti” Valentine’s Day. Because just after Valentine’s Day in 1985, my life changed.

On February 21, 1985, Kellie became my future. We have spent more than half of our lives together.

That two teens fell in love is neither particularly unique nor especially interesting, until one considers our relationship prior to that first date.

She absolutely despised me.

Kellie and I met our senior year in high school. We were both new to the school, and so didn’t know each other.

As she described me, I was a pompous egomaniac bent on controlling the school, if not the world. In hindsight, she was more right than wrong. Kellie has smoothed my rough edges considerably. But, fully unfurled, I can still be a tough flag to salute.

I certainly had an air of confidence thanks to my involvement in numerous student activities. And I was rightly proud of my several positions of student leadership. But all Kellie saw was overbearing hubris.

We didn’t “meet cute.”

In fact, our first encounters only strengthened her perception of me. I was editor of the student newspaper; she typed copy on the then-new computer system. (Yes, though my children refuse to believe it, we are old enough to remember when there were no computers…)

Kellie also had the added pleasure of watching me fawn daily over my girlfriend du jour.

As most teenagers do at some point in most of their young relationships, I seriously thought I would spend the rest of my life with this young woman.

“The rest of my life” lasted about five months.

Fast forward to the December of my freshman year in college. My faith in women had only recently been restored, but was still fragile, after the aforementioned girlfriend had ripped my heart from its moorings, stomped on and handed back to me the prior spring.

But the lovelorn and common sense are often strangers.

The ex-girlfriend asked me for a ride to a holiday party at a mutual friend’s house. I obliged, thinking that this was her way of re-stoking our past embers. The only fire was in my heart. The only smoke, in my eyes.

The ex-girlfriend merely needed a ride and, to make matters worse, she met another guy at the party.

Luckily for me, Kellie also came to the shindig. Trying to make my ex jealous, I sidled up to Kellie in the ex’s line of sight and planted a holiday smooch on her cheek.

To this day, my wife says that kiss turned everything around. I didn’t think it was particularly innovative or memorable, as kisses go. But, what do I know? I’ve never kissed myself.

Ever the dense man (I understand from many women that that phrase is redundant) I missed her flashing-neon signals of interest for two months.

But we finally went on our first date, a college dance, on February 20, 1985. The next day, I called the three other girls I was haphazardly dating and wished them all a happy life.

Many years later, I am still cynical, sarcastic and doubting. My tongue is only partly in cheek when I say that people are like stray cats. If you keep feeding them, they’ll keep coming around. I don’t like cats, and I tend not to trust most people, at least at first.

But, among countless life lessons my wife has taught me, I have learned from Kellie that most people are very nice if only given a chance. (Cats still irritate me, though.)

Kellie has an amazing vision of the heart, a quality I lack, admire and covet. She saw through my flinty veneer.

But, more than merely being able to see through me, she wanted to see through me. And when I fought her peeking into my soul, she smiled and laughed until I let my guard down.

All these years later, she still laughs at me. Most of the time it is with love in her heart. The other times? Well, let’s just say I often reap what I sow. But I am glad to have her by my side as we plow through life together.

Just don’t tell anyone I said so. I don’t want people to think I’m a nice guy.

 

 

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Disappointment

disappointment

In January, my daughter, Olivia and I visited the Holocaust Museum in Skokie. We are both history and World War II buffs. The tickets were her very thoughtful Christmas gift to me.

Seeing my Facebook post as we waited for the museum to open, a friend directed, “Give me your thoughts.”

Here they are:

The God of the Judeo-Christian tradition created humanity in His/Her/Its image. I believe in that God, whose faith in us has traditionally and theologically far outstripped our faith in Him/Her/It.

However, as I walked through the Holocaust museum, struggling to hold back tears over example after horrific example of the worst kind of inhumanity (thankfully, darkness enshrouds many of the displays), the thought occurred:

Having made such a life-giving, loving, humble gesture, God must be terribly disappointed in us.

To be clear: the historical “Holocaust” — Nazi Germany’s systemic extermination of millions of Jews, Poles, Gypsies and others who did not fit their social/cultural/genetic/political ideal — inspired this poem.

However, it is written in the present tense because the same impulses that fueled the Holocaust of the 20th century are not new and, worse, seem to continue today.

***PLEASE NOTE: I wrote this several weeks before last week’s school shooting in Parklands, Florida. But, if the poem fits…

HOLOCAUST

Am I angry?

How can you even ask when

I see walls painted black with hatred

Brick upon brick built to separate

Cemented with ignorance

Turned out by factories of arrogance

Chimneys that once belched ashen souls

Again spewing red death, choking

Everyone who would try to breathe free

I hear profiteers selling prosperity

At all cost (as long as it isn’t theirs)

Preaching false fantasies of glittering gold

Willing to ransom their souls for much less

Than thirty pieces of silver

I gave everyone a spark of the Divine

A sliver of the holy Soul

Yet you willingly, gladly

Bind yourself to the anchor of rotting flesh

Happily trading Eternity

For a second of passing pleasure

You choose to allow this to be

None of this –

Fear

Suspicion

Bigotry

Genocide

Despair

Division

Self-interest

Greed

Would happen otherwise

You all say Yes!

Or, at least, you don’t say No

You pretend like it will never happen again

Then stand by and look away when it happens again

You are all guilty — if not by decree

Then by complicity

You do all of it in my name

The gall! The hubris!

How dare you claim

To know anything about me

When you ignore

My heart

My tears

My blood

My love

You have monetized and weaponized

Pain and darkness and shame and guilt

Using each to draw apprehensive lines

Creating “Them”

Where only “We”

Existed before

I made it so easy

All you had to do was

Just accept

Just welcome

Just protect

Just care for

Each other

Instead you inflate your ego

Writing my words – then rejecting anyone who doesn’t speak like you

Building my house – then locking out anyone with a different key

Clothing me – then stripping anyone with newer threads

Claiming me – then silencing anyone who dares try to share

Yes! I am angry

How can I not be when

My heart is broken over and over

By the reality of a dream

smashed among the stars

You are not what I hoped for

When I sighed into the heavens

You are not me, nor do you even try to be

Rather, you sing phony Hosannas and

Wave insipid credentials in my face

Too cowardly to look me in the eye

And wipe the tear from my cheek

 

Small, But Mighty

smallbutbig

Like many today, I suspect, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the BIG THINGS around me — the noise, the vitriol, the hubris, the chaos. 

I long for the time, not too long ago, when the world around me seemed a whole lot smaller — more humble, peaceful, manageable.

In that frame of mind I recently unearthed an essay originally written eight years ago on this very topic. Here it is, refreshed just a bit:

Sometimes big is little.

Equally important, little is big.

No, I have not gone off the deep end. At least, not yet.

Rather, this is a simple observation of a complex fact. That we, in our irrepressible, undeniable and self-defining human vanity, often confuse the significance of scale.

Not all that is big, is better. Most of the time, small is superior.

The big things hit us, sometimes, very hard. Politics with a capital “P”. Organized Religion. Finances. Human Suffering. The Economy.

Yet, because of their size, the big things can sometimes seem unreal. They are so large that, ironically, their meaning cannot be seen, too momentous to grasp. To understand. To make meaningful.

Conversely, the small things in life are what really matter. They’re what really impact us — though we often take them for granted, so small that they can seem unimportant.

Peaceful quiet. Uncommitted time. Uncluttered simplicity. Private reflection. Personal accountability. Selfless charity.

Because they have a way of getting inside of our souls, taking up residence in our spirits, and changing who we are, from the inside out.

There is so much Big going on around us that it’s hard to see anything else. Indeed it takes a lot of work sometimes to see the small things hidden in the shadows cast by the Big in life. But that effort to seek makes the finding all the more rewarding and special.

And so, here are some small things for which I am thankful. In a big way. (And I didn’t even really have to look hard for them because – and here’s the real point — they’re right in front of my face every day):

  • A wonderful Shi-tzu. The best 10 pounds of loopy dog that a family could ask for. He sleeps 22 hours a day, yet fills the other two with slobbery love, adventure, and crazy amusement. What more could anyone ask for?
  • The pure joy of stumbling into a great book and the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing any book. Connecting to an author’s ideas, images and visions is magical in a way that nothing else, not even the best movies or plays can duplicate. So much of that connection depends on the reader’s personal commitment that the experience becomes a shared investment, and the rewards that much greater.
  • Vacuuming. The repetitive movement and solitary function are more calming than a bottle of Valium. It is wonderfully easy to get lost in the machine’s loud, whirring cacophony and temporarily disconnect from the rest of the world.
  • A small house. Just enough space to shelter our family, provide roots and context and warmth. Yet, small enough to keep us humble. Life is about so much more than material possessions, like over-sized houses. Anything beyond “need,” is “want.” And “want” can be a slope slick with narcissism.
  • Handmade fleece blankets. Our daughters made them years ago as gifts. Not quite square, a tad too short, some of the felt ties longer than others, yet crafted with childhood’s enthusiasm and pride — and absolutely nothing is warmer.
  • Filling bird feeders. We cannot be God. But feeding His creatures makes us His helpers, which is never a bad thing.
  • Sunny November mornings. I despise winter. So, as life’s wheel spins relentlessly toward wintry death, every scrap of life must be collected and celebrated as the gift that it is. A little warm sunshine in the 11th month serves as a hopeful reminder of what was, and what will come again if only we can survive the next few months of gray cold.
  • Talking with my young adult daughters. Yes, actually talking. About everything, big and small. They are at turns brilliant, frustrating, funny, nerve-wracking, challenging, thoughtful, unaware, insightful, inspiring, self-centered, caring – in other words, the same as nearly any adult.  What’s more, they’re the adults we will contribute to society. Therefore, they are as worthy of our time and attention as any “grownup.” Valuing them now will teach them to value others later.
  • Couch time with my wife. I always want to be close enough to rub a tired foot; laugh together over another stupid joke; mumble “I love you” loud enough for only her ears; and reach over and squeeze her hand, reassured that we share more than a mortgage and a last name. We share time and space, place and purpose.

Now I’m off to enjoy dinner with my family.

Ah! Dinner with family!

Another one of those seemingly-small things that really is so much bigger than it seems.

 

 

 

The Weekly Fruit and Vegetable Report

fruits and vegetabkes

I have never been so excited about kale!

Or pomegranates, avocados, raspberries or even spaghetti squash for that matter.

To clarify: I love to eat. And I’ve always been an enthusiastic fan of fruits and vegetables of all kinds. I even learned to tolerate my wife’s favorite, rutabaga through the course of our 33 years together.

Then, in January 2015, I agreed to do Weight Watchers to support my wife’s efforts to lose a few pounds as we both approached 50. Three years later, I am down sixty pounds. Fruits and vegetables played an integral part in that process which has returned to me some of the pep of youth and erased some of the aches of advancing age.

So, I am a huge proponent (though not as huge as I was three years ago!) of all manner of seeded and non-seeded foods.

Yet I fell in love with fruits and veggies only a few months ago when our oldest daughter started delivering weekly updates on the size of our first grandchild growing inside her.

First it was the size of a poppy seed. Then an apple seed, sweet pea, blueberry (my favorite), a cherry, and on and on.

As I write this, Baby Williams is the size of a kale plant: about 14 inches long and 1.68 pounds.

She (yes, my daughter and son-in-law learned the gender – these parents today have no patience!) is due April 8, 2018, so we still have half the produce aisle to look forward to.

This information is courtesy of an app called “The Bump.” When Emma started sharing her weekly update, I asked if she was reading “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” – an iconic book for new mothers-to-be.

“No Dad, it’s an app,” she laughed, with just the slightest hint of 24-year-old condescension. Emma, like her mom and me, is an avid reader. But she has been raised in the Internet age. A book? How quaint of me to think so!

Truth be told, I don’t much care if she maps her baby’s progress with a book, through an app or by reading tea leaves. The point is, we are going to be grandparents.

(More accurately, and to be fair, we already have four fur grandchildren. We love them all and don’t want to hurt their doggy feelings in case any of them are reading this, but Baby Williams will be our first non-fur grand baby, which is, you know, different.)

The idea of being grandparents is fascinating, thrilling and weird. Fascinating for its possibilities. Thrilling for the fun we expect to have with our grandchild. And weird because most of the grandparents I know are, well, old.

At least they are older than I think of myself and my wife. We are both in our early 50s. Kellie was 26 and I was 27 when we had Emma. Olivia came along two years later.  All four of our parents were in their mid and late 40s when our kids were born, so I guess that’s about right. But it sure feels odd.

Yet, as the cliché goes, age is just a number. What matters is the experience and (hopefully) wisdom that age brings, all of which we can share with our granddaughter.

We cannot wait to teach her all the important things in life.

My wife will teach her how to cook, play “Button, Button”, paint watercolor flowers and birds and do cross stitch.

I am so excited to read “Goodnight, Moon” a million times to her, teach her the beautiful subtlety of baseball, watch her eat her first cherry tomatoes from our garden, and help her understand (as I did with Emma) that no one – not even Michael Jackson or Bruno Mars — can come even remotely close to the purple musical majesty of Prince.

All very important skills and insights that will help – in ways both big and small — any young person to navigate these strange times. And we, as prospective Nana and Papa, are anxious to do our part.

Yet even more important than what we can teach her, is what Baby Williams will teach our daughter and son-in-law.

They will learn that children are difficult. Noisy. Impertinent. Pushy. Demanding. Inconvenient. Snarky. Mean. Heartbreaking. Disappointing. Confounding. And, especially early on and later as teens, downright smelly!

They will also learn that children are bright. Inquisitive. Intuitive. Amazing. Talented. Thoughtful. Insightful. Observant. Inspiring. Breathtaking. Blessings beyond measure.

Parenthood is all about taking everything that Life gives – good, bad and ugly – and making the best of whatever comes. Celebrating the highs. Learning from the lows. Understanding that not everything has to be perfect, not everyone must change the course of human history. But teaching children that everyone must strive to be the best person he or she can be.

Our children may fail, just as we did. But the struggle through the failure is, in many ways and for most of us, its own best reward.

Children are Life itself.

Parenthood is about creating Life, yes. Frankly, that’s the easy part. The hard part is maintaining and shaping and directing Life in ways positive and productive and meaningful, so that this gift is not wasted.

Parenting is both human and divine. It is a tremendous responsibility and opportunity. In our children, God gives us the chance to make everything right. And the grace to forgive when “right” is so far away that it can’t hardly be seen.

Grand-parenting is all of that, plus Time.

Forget the adages about being able to spoil the grand kids rotten, shoving candy in their faces, pouring sweetened drinks down their throats and then turning them back to their parents just as the sugar high kicks in (although, that does have a certain appeal…)

The real magic of grand-parenting is in being able to help our children raise their children by conferring on them the wisdom that survival has taught us.

We do this with hope and faith that in some miniscule way we can help make the world a slightly better place, one child at a time. That’s what I look forward to the most about becoming a grandparent.

That, and listening to “Purple Rain” with my blueberry for the first time.

 

 

 

 

Transition

change

I wrote this poem three years ago as a Christmas gift to my daughters.

They were pushing against the edges of the nest, and I wondered where those changes — as vexing as they were inevitable — left me. 

Three years ago, I was confused and frustrated about my morphing role as “Dad”.

Three years later — thanks largely to my wise wife’s sage counsel  — I know my role is to continue to celebrate and support them as the wonderful young adults that they have become.

Today, with Christmas two days away, I share this to reiterate to them how incredibly proud and grateful I am to be their Dad, whatever that means.

Merry Christmas to all…

TRANSITION

For what am I

If not a part of you?

I, whose eyes became your eyes

So that you could see the sparkle of a star-filled night sky

Learning what is, and believing in what could be

I, whose heart beat for your heart

So that you might know the magic of true love

That you might both receive and share its living power

I, whose hands felt for your hands

So that you could learn the warmth of another’s touch

Human and divine, able to reach the unreachable

I, whose soul sought for your soul

So that you would know and value the spirit of all,

More meaningful than name, color or creed

I, whose humor broke your frown

So that you would feel laughter’s healing balm

And be restored to yourself and each other

I, who would trade my own for the life I gave you

So that you might joyfully raise another high,

Earning salvation upon the wings of sacrifice.

Do I lose my Me, as you gain your You?

Do my eyes lose their sight – or cry with joy for your brilliance?

Does my heart stop beating – or drum louder with pride?

Do my hands remain unused – or clap loudest for your successes?

Does my soul petrify – or happily abide as yours blossoms?

For what am I

If not a part of you?

I am the

Father/Mother/God, who

Dreams and breathes and lives

Through you

With you

In you.

Together

Separate

Regardless,

Forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Facebook edition)

twasA couple years ago, the challenge put to my writers group was to give the Christmas classic our own twist.

With sincere wishes for a Merry Christmas and happy holiday to all, here was mine:

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (Facebook edition)

‘Twas the night before Christmas,

And while the family slept,

I tossed; so I put on my slippers and

down to the computer I quietly crept.

My eyes wired open from too much late night caffeine

I hit the Internet to see what I could gleen,

At what news of the world I could quickly look

I clicked on to the world’s biggest mouth – Facebook.

Round and round my mouse did run,

Me thinking, “This might be fun.

“And if not fun, well then at least

It will help me sleep like a beast.”

When what to my incredulous eyes should appear,

But a misplaced apostrophe – sad, but true, dear.

And then even more grammar errors did make

My poor, old editor’s brain hurt, and heart ache.

Of course, there were the “To’s,” “Two’s” and “Too’s”

So mixed they should have cried “We’re abused!”

Not to mention the “Their’s,” “There’s” and “They’re’s”

Oh, the shame danced like snow in the air.

Contractions, misspellings, and bad usage abounded

For such bad grammar all English students are hounded.

“Who’s to blame?” I pondered, “for this verbal travesty?”

Then came the answer, bright as the moon — technology.

Computers and smart phones and tablets and texts,

And how do kids use such power? To send sexts.

Who needs spelling when you can just “LOL”

If there’s real justice, they’ll go to English Hell.

And not just kids — to make matters even madder;

Many of the adults’ posts were just as badder.

They, too couldn’t properly combine “can” and “not”

Their wrong possessives and plurals gave me the trots.

Then a solution to this conundrum to me did appear

Like a sleigh in the night, led by eight – well, nine — tiny reindeer.

I needed to find Mark, of the Berg of Zucker

And solicit his help with these language suckers.

To him I would say, “Mark, you have billions to spare

“Let’s make some new rules to ensure English, so fair.

“Insist that Facebook users must complete and pass

“A grammar exam after taking a short class.

“And if they fail, they will not get a new password

“And won’t be able to tell the world about their turds.

“This should be threat great enough to curb the abuse

“Of the English language and ensure proper use.”

I reached Zuckerberg – he was in the (online) phone book.

He said he liked my plan, and that he felt like a schnook

For helping to unleash bad grammar on the world

When he merely wanted to embarrass a girl.

As visions of “Affect” and “Effect” rightly used danced in my head,

I smiled joyously for a good deed well done, and went back to bed.

I dreamt of a new day when word choice would again matter

Then awoke to my kids’ cries, creating such a clatter.

As the Holy morning broke the kids tried to post their status

They tried to hit Facebook — but found out that they had no access.

They glared at me, mouths agape with horror as I shared my tale of Christmas Eve night,

“This is my greatest gift,” said I. “Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good write.”

Where God Lives

leaves

Church is good

Church is fine

If you’re looking for

   White bread and red wine

(Too dry and sweet for my liking)

Rather, for me…

In a Sunday morning cup of coffee

Swirling amber peace

In a poet’s inspiration

Simple and pure and true

In my Life’s hand across the table

Fingertips lingering in the divide

In a brisk noon walk

Dry leaves whispering encouragement

In the journey of five hundred pages

Life, death, love and loss in each turn

In the dusk’s gentle solitude

The peace of a yawning day

In the music of friends

Toasting universal bonds

In heaven’s voice, humming to the stars

Promising the grace of a new Tomorrow

 

…is where God lives.

                                                                                                      October 19, 2017