Wednesday, February 26, 2014

He Left The Light On

The man woke up in his recliner to find the lamp on and the radar map still buzzing on the TV screen. This winter it seems that's the only thing worth watching when finally getting in from the farm every evening. How much more snow overnight?
But tonight, it was rain. A lot of wet, cold rain, dripping away at the snow. 

He looked up at the clock that hangs on the chimney: 1:42 in the morning. Time for bed. 
He turned off the TV, reached up and switched off the lamp, then walked through the dark house and up the stairway. 
Except the house wasn't dark. 
There was a light on in the kitchen; a dim one. The old fluorescent light that hangs under the cabinet. He could identify that particular light by the faint yellow glow. Every other bulb in the kitchen had been switched to the energy-saving kind, which would have brought a bright, white light to the old house

Nearly to the top of the steps, he stopped and considered the consequences of leaving that one light on. Shutting everything down and locking every door has been his routine for 30+ years. The wasted energy of an unused light. 
He also considered the consequences of his 63-year-old body going back down the steps, across the house, shutting it off, then beginning the snap-crackle-pop of climbing the stairway again. 

Out of character of him to disregard energy costs, he left the light on

The man slept (for what felt like 23 seconds) before his wife woke him, claiming she heard someone knocking at the door downstairs. 
His eyes opened to focus on the digital clock: 2:47 in the morning?
He put on the blue jeans he had taken off not long ago, and walked downstairs through the dark house. 
Except for the light. 
He flipped on the outside light, and through the the wet screen he could see a person and a bicycle. 
In the rain. 
The wet, cold rain, dripping away at the snow.
The person was shivering - shaking - and soaked to the core. 
The biker looked up at the man in the house; he was young. 

The young man was trying to get to his cousin's house, but had been lost for some time now. 
He didn't think he could go much farther. 
He was shaking uncontrollably. 

He had traveled all the way from Oxford, OH. 
More than 11 hours away - should someone walk it. 
He thought he could just ride north then ride parallel with the interstate. 

Forty miles of rolling rural routes via a bicycle on a wet February night.
And he had no idea where he was, or how to get to the gas station where his family claimed they would pick him up.
He needed help. 

Turning around, the man saw the concern on his wife's face. 
"He's frozen....He's someone's son," he said as he walked to the closet and got his coat. And his truck keys. 
Then he took his wallet out of his jeans, leaving it on the counter. 
"I'll be back."

The man put on a toboggan and went out in the pouring rain. 
He loaded the bike into the back of the truck and told the kid to get in. 
"He's someone's son," the wife thought as she watched everything from an upstairs window. The biker could not quit shaking.

Two miles into their journey, out on a black country road, the man stopped the truck and said, "This will only take a minute," as he grabbed a hammer from the console. 
Probably wasn't the best choice of words. 
In the middle of nowhere, with a man he's never met, on a cold rainy night - can you imagine what the young passenger thought?
The man lifted the hood and banged on a few things. 
The heat came on in the cab.  Warm air. Full blasters.
The kid was grateful. 
They both took a sigh of relief as the man climbed back in the truck. 

Through his chittering teeth, the young man revealed that his girlfriend in Oxford had kicked him out. 
He was from California, and didn't have anywhere to go, except the cousin's house in Indiana. But he had to get forty miles on his bike before they would come get him. 
And he got lost in the dark and rain. Completely. 
During the conversation the man learned the location of the cousin's house; just four miles past the gas station which was supposed to be their meeting place. He offered to take the kid directly there; the offer was graciously accepted. 

Miles later, the headlights cut down a side street of the small town and the diesel engine roared into the apartment complex parking lot. At almost 3:30 in the morning, there wasn't a light on anywhere, with the exception of the street. 

The kid thanked the man while reaching for something under his drenched windbreaker. 
"Here - thank you - it's all I can give you. Thank you."
Fourteen soggy dollars. 
The man didn't take the money. But he did ask:
"Why did you choose our house to stop? So far off of any main road between Oxford and Cambridge..."
The young man responded, looking out the windshield:
"It was the only house I could find with a light on."
Dad made it back to BSG that night and climbed back up those stairs, disregarding the light that was still dimly glowing in the kitchen. No use in shutting it off now; he'd be up shortly to check heifers in the calving barn. He actually had to wake Momma to let her know he was home safely and wouldn't be the next subject of Dateline. Not kidding. 

Roll with it. Even if your electric bill may increase $.12 next month. 
In each of your days, remember this: 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Where You Leave Your Boots

I left frigid Indiana late last week for a Tour dé California Agriculture.
A warm, green place full of fruits and nuts. And wine. 
It's interesting and vibrant and eccentric. 
Still, it's not home. 
My frozen (but thawing) heart was still in Indiana. 

I landed in San Francisco and there was someone at the airport anticipating my arrival. 
While holding a "Sankey" sign, he kicked off the conversation by asking: "Indianapolis. You like Luck?" It took a few moments and questions of clarification to realize he was speaking of Andrew.
He kindly carried my bags and loaded everything into the car as I tried to follow his sports questions - but there was a clear language barrier. And I'm not just referencing our origins; this guy knew his sports inside and out...and I so do not. 
In between dodging pedestrians along Fisherman's Wharf, he acknowledged points of interest and continued to ask me about sports in Indiana.
Desperate to change the conversation to anything but sports, I asked him the first thing that came to my mind: "Where are you from?"
"Came from Hong Kong fifteen years ago," he answered, making eye contact with me through the rearview mirror. 
"So, fifteen years; I assume you like it here?"
And that's when I got a broken-english answer I wasn't looking for. 
"Actually if I have good health, good people that love me, all around me, I can live anywhere in the world...."
He continued as I looked at the bay outside the window; so, so far from home:
"You could send me to Texas and I could even be happy there with good health and good people that love me around me."
Even Texas, I laughed to myself. He made it sound like Texas was a most dreadful place.

This man's home is where people love him. 
Words from that stranger really hit home for this gal who knows the forced feeling of trying to make somewhere home, rather than allowing it to become that space. His words took me back to DC. He reminded me that there is a certain peace in making a home your own. 

It may not have the same creaky stairs or  view outside the southwest corner bedroom, but as time changes things, home may change a bit, too. 

Where is home for you?
The place where they took you in, no questions asked?
The house where you sat at the top of the steps every Christmas and waited for the "OK!" to run downstairs?
The place where the person you couldn't love still lives?
The little apartment tucked inside a big city 1,022 miles from home?
The place where you found yourself?
The place you left because time made you?
Where grandma lives?
The place where they accepted you despite your past - but in light of your future?
The place that you didn't know if you'd survive?
The place where you take off your boots at night - maybe several places within a year?
Home can be a lot of places. 
Home is where you make it. 

A few weeks ago I read this from a gal who grew up just three homesteads down from me: 
"The trouble with being blessed to call multiple places home is that a little piece of your heart is always someplace else." - Jessica 
How true that is. 
Home, according to the driver, is where he has good health and good people to love him.

As I write this, I am in a hotel outside Los Angeles. 
And while I feel like I am a world away from the place I call home, I'm reminded that it is up to me to determine where home may be. 

So, in light of the wisdom passed on by the driver in San Francisco, I have clothes strung from the hotel room door all the way to the balcony. 
Bobby pins on the nightstand, sink, TV stand and dresser.
And a row of boots lined against the wall. 

Because while I'm in the land of fruits and nuts, I might as well make myself at home. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Good To The Last Drop

My Escape´sledded down the old farm lane last Friday evening, arriving to the Original Jean's house just before the setting sun drifted below the frigid tree line. It was cold, not looking anything like the photo below; the only green to be found was on the shutters.

It's a grandiose homestead, but on the inside of those walls the conversations are sensible and simple. 
Good or bad.
Wrong or right.
Black or white. 
Or, pink?

Grandma asked me if I wanted coffee and if so, one, two or three?
I replied I'd love a coffee, black, but just one. 
That wasn't what she was asking. 

This is the mug The Original Jean gave me to use. Suggestive??

The Original Jean went on to make a cup of coffee for me from her Keurig machine, then proceeded to use the same K-cup for two more cups of coffee. 
Three mugs filled by the same K-cup. 
I jumped up to advise when I saw her making the second cup without changing the cartridge; weeks shy of 84 years, she knew exactly what she was doing. 
She was serious about getting every last use out of her resources, taking "good to the last drop" quite literally. 
"No sense in wasting it," she said, sipping a cup of coffee that more closely resembled dirty Greens Fork River water. 

Breakfast consisted of a frozen bagel from a bag that had been around a while. I'm 98% certain I was present when The Original purchased the same bag of bagels at Aldi in 1995. Remembering that I'm eating it in the name of science and my dear Jean, I continued to chew my bagel while requesting more spray-on butter. I don't know where my Momma learned to cook, but I'm certain she had to have married into that deal. 
"You don't like it?" Grandma asked, noticing my jaw-full effort. 
"No, it's good," I replied, completely guilty and feeling it.
"No it's not. But the bags almost gone and you're helping me clean out the deep freezer. Don't worry. Carry-out chicken for lunch," she was honest enough to make me laugh aloud. 

In our home:
  • Broccoli rubber bands were an intricate part of every science fair project we ever entered.
  • Soap was never tossed; it was always paired with a larger bar to work for a few more showers. 
  • Rubber boots lasted far after they got their first crack, as plastic grocery bags served as liners for years. 
  • Trash bags were never on the grocery list; to this day, CVS bags and mineral sacks line the bins. 
  • Beef brains, tongue, heart and liver: all parts that provided iron in our young diets. My parents didn't waste any part of the animal we'd raised for food. 
Today, as a wife preparing a meal, that entire list makes me want to gag. But it sure taught me to appreciate a great cut of beef.
Good to the last drop, indeed.

A weekend at The Original Jean's confirmed that she is still living life to the very last drop.  
She doesn't have to suffer through weak recycled K-cups numbers 2 and 3, yet she does in the name of being thrifty. 
She doesn't have to start her day at 5:30 every morning, but she does in case anyone needs her. 
She doesn't have to send Christmas letters to Granddad's old cattle friends scattered across the country, but she does because she knows that would please him. 

I overheard a friend say once, "In reality, I guess we all live beyond our means." 
I disagree with that statement. 
There are still folks who clip coupons long after the farm has been paid off in full and the kids are through college.

Moving past the money, I do wonder how many of us live life with the "good to the last drop" mentality?
Jeans that repurpose when patched. 
Milk cartons turned home for delinquent nails. 
Soup that stretches. 
Minutes that matter. 
Hours that honor.
Days that deliver.
And years that build a life worth living
Are you taking advantage of every opportunity that presents itself?
Should you have gone with your heart, rather than your pocketbook?
I wonder if more times than not I live comfortably - with the stout coffee and New York strip - rather than the beef brains purpose that is requires I stretch beyond my comfort zone to grow into someone worth knowing. 

This week I challenge you to find a resource - person, place or thing - you've wasted and find a way to make it good to the last drop.
Maybe a service project you need to invest more time into. 
Maybe a pivotal email you have left lonely in the drafts folder.  
Maybe that corner of the barn that collects nothing but the outcasts. 
Maybe a person who could be so much more if you just gave them the time.
Maybe it's a simple as being creative in the kitchen and not throwing out that food on the brim of darkness. 

Because let's face it:
If the Original Jean made an entire bag of bagels last 19 years, the least you can do is finish off the Super Bowl leftovers. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reality: The Best Days

This was the first thing that came to my mind as I left 
Hot Head Burritos last Tuesday after a late, lone lunch:

Actually, that's not true. 
My first thought was, "I didn't taste guac on my burrito. Did I pay for extra that?"
Then I thought about inspiration and how it has an incredible ability to sneak up and reveal it's presence in the most unsuspecting places in life: anytime, anywhere

It was almost 2:00, so I didn't have any trouble finding a seat - a whole booth to myself. A man (likely?) in his sixties chose the table just next to my booth minutes later. He laid down the newspaper and pulled his glasses from the top of his head down to his nose. 
"Eat here very much? I love the food. Here or Subway. My two favorite lunch places," he remarked, folding the front page back and straightening the pages. 
Our conversation continued as we talked about local eateries back and forth across the aisle.  He revealed to me that he had been retired for some time, but was a machinist for decades prior to having the fortunate opportunity to retire at 55. Now he spends most of this time visiting with friends around the area, and also spending his summers north of town where he helps on a friend's small farm. I laughed a bit in my head; the way he described his experience on said farm was the same way a child explains the excitement and lessons from summer camp. But for this grown man, I got the feeling that this was exactly how he viewed as his time on the 82-year-old friend's farm. He went on to tell me about summers spent outside of Roundhill, Kentucky on his great Uncle's farm. He spent childhood days there.
The best days, he called them.  

A bit taken back by his openness (Why is he telling me this? I just came here to check Facebook and eat my lunch in peace), I was  trying to maneuver my fingers around a overly-stuffed burrito when the man said something that stopped me. I lost half a pound of pico out of my frail tortilla, but I received something more: 


"Kids these days, they spend their summers in a video game. No idea what's going on around them. No life to speak of. No reality. What is their reality? It's in a TV screen."

I couldn't agree more. Growing up, we weren't allowed to watch cartoons past 6-years-old; instead, we had to go outside and find something to "build character". So you can imagine the exposure - or lack there of - we had to video games. 

They've always intrigued me, in the same way a sleazy talk show does:
I don't want to be any part of it, still I long to understand how people end up in that state, so consumed by something terribly misleading to them. 

Video games do little past fabricate a false sense of reality by giving players a feeling of power and strength that, in reality, doesn't reach past their bedroom door. They allow you to choose your appearance and stature. They create obstacles and enemies that can be annihilated with one swift jolt of the thumb. They sweep you away to a place that doesn't exist; one that takes you far from anything that is real and true. 

Considering everything that our day-to-day lives encompass, video games aren't the only vice that separates us from reality. And kids certainly aren't the only guilty party.

I'm guilty of escaping reality, myself. 

Pinterest: A place where I use imaginary thumbtacks to post recipes I'll never attempt to an imaginary cork board that describes the table setting I will never make out of recycled toilet paper rolls adorning a dinner party I'll never throw because I simply don't live the "dinner party" kind of life. But when I log on, I try to. 

Daytime TV: A place where Americans track love affairs and illegitimate children on shows such as Guiding Light. Strangely, only two different story lines passed across the Guiding Light silver screen from 1952 and 2009, when it went off the air. I wonder why it went off the air? But we grew up with the Spauldings, didn't we? Since then, I haven't met a Reva I trusted. 

Or liked. 
Or any other Reva at all. 

Denial: A place where you willingly go to escape reality because you flat out desire to reject something that is real or true. Maybe because you can't handle it, maybe because you don't want to. The frightful thing about denial is most folks who live in it don't even realize they're a loyal resident.

Upon leaving lunch, I sat in the parking lot and had to ask myself what my reality is. 
Am I living in real time?
What do I fail to acknowledge because I simply don't want to?
What is my vice making me bigger, stronger or worse off than I really am?
What regret is holding me back from the greatest reality I've ever known?
What is my TV screen?

Moving forward, commit to finding your reality. 
And living in it. 
The place that experiences the great and the awful of the here and now. 
The place that accepts things as they are and works to improve them. 
The reality that doesn't require that you ask someone to repeat the question because you were checking the latest status update on an iPad. 
The reality that sees the moment with our own eyes, not a camera phone. 
The reality reminds us that they won't be around forever. 
The reality that quietly, yet profoundly, whispers: 

Reality, as described by my new friend at the burrito joint, is the best days. 
The best days. 
How are you spending yours?