Father’s D’Oh

Walter: One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony.

—Alien: Covenant (2017)

Let me tell you about my Father’s Day today.

It’s possible—but not likely—that this is my last Father’s Day with one of my kids in the house. Daughter is living the adult life in North Carolina, and now that Wee One has graduated from high school, we have to consider the possibility that she’ll be spending her summers working, or otherwise occupied somewhere other than this immediate area.

So I figured, hey. Let’s do a little day trip, just the three of us. And everybody was good with it, so we packed into the car and headed up to the little town of Gardiners, Pennsylvania. I had two destinations in mind. Up in Gardiners there’s a farm stand called Peter’s, which isn’t a huge deal or anything, but it’s a destination and it’s a reasonable distance from home. We head up I-83 from the city, jump off a few miles after crossing the state line, and from there it’s a bunch of rural and semi-rural roads. So…nice views, rolling hills, just relax and sing along with the radio and gab about whatever, and then buy some strawberries or whatever’s in season (plus a surprise for Daughter next time she visits). AND, as we cruise through the area, there are a bunch of little antique and second-hand stores in between that we can poke in and out of.

Shortly before Peter’s however, in the town of York Springs, there’s a place called Concrete Jungle. It’s a small business dedicated to making, and selling, concrete statues, planters, birdbaths and such for people’s gardens. We’ve been there a few times and picked up a few items for our yard. This isn't ours because, as usual, I'm writing in the middle of the night and can't take a picture. More often than not, when we get something we’re paying a pretty low price for it compared to, say, Home Depot or Lowe’s. (As a For Instance, we purchased a pagoda lantern very much like the one in this picture for about $40; anywhere else it’d be twice that.) So this time around we popped in because we were in the market for a pair of matched planters for the front of the house. And sure enough, we managed to find a couple of nice ones that went for about $50 for the pair. Sweet! They’re plain concrete right now but we can color and then seal them to match the steps. I’d take a photo of them, but they’re still in my trunk. Also, it’s dark outside as I write this.


We picked up some strawberries and a couple of other goodies from Peter’s, then headed home. It was during this leg of the trip that we realized we hadn’t really eaten. As we passed through the town of East Berlin, Wife spotted a pit beef place and suggested we stop in there.

And that’s where things started to go south.

The place is called Hog Wild. It’s set back from the street and fronted by a patio with picnic tables. A few other, smaller tables sat on an elevated platform along one of the walls. The walls surrounding this area are covered with vintage (or, more likely, “vintage”) signs (not a knock, I know you can get a lot of these via catalogs and such). Inside are two or three tables and a service counter. We went inside and pored over the menu for a minute. Wife had a couple of questions because of her allergy, and the guy behind the counter, who turned out to be Rick the owner, was brief but forthcoming with his replies. His attitude seemed to have a little of “these guys aren’t locals; I’m gonna screw with them a little bit” or maybe he was just feeling a little acerbic, I don’t know. But Wife ordered Pit Beef without a roll (again, because allergies) but with onion. Then she asked if there was more than one size of the French fries, and he said, “There’s only one size: small.” So she ordered fries as well, and a lemonade. I was up next and ordered a Pit Beef sandwich with a roll, and with a little bit of onion. He asked if I wanted any barbecue sauce or anything on it, and I said “Oh–sure. I thought I saw it on the table, that’s why I didn’t bring it up.” He told me that it was out there, so I told him not to bother putting it on the sandwich, this way I could experiment with the different sauces out there. I ordered a can of Coke to go with it. Wee One ordered the Smoked Dip, which is essentially a Pit Beef sandwich with a side of Au Jus for dipping, an order of fries that she wanted to split with me, and also a lemonade. Total for these three lunches: $38.11. A little pricey, but OK. However, when I broke out my credit card, he simply pointed over my shoulder to the ATM and told me I could get money from there. Ugh. A little warning before this point would have been nice. I went to the ATM, withdrew $40 (and, of course, paid ATM fees since it’s an out-of-network machine), paid him and we went outside to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait some more. I thought maybe I was just being impatient and not keeping track of the time, but the timestamp on my ATM slip said that I’d taken the money out at 2:10. By this point it was nearly 2:40. I said to Wife, “It doesn’t seem like they’re especially busy and our order wasn’t that complicated; I wonder what’s going on?” Wee One noted that nearly everyone out on the patio was waiting for food, and they’d all been there at least as long as we had.

At about 2:55 our food finally came out. The girl who served us asked Wife about her food sensitivity, because she was having a problem of her own and hadn’t nailed it down yet. Before she walked away, I said, “Can I ask a question? Is a 45-minute wait for the food typical?” This was genuine curiosity on my part; I’d been in plenty of pit beef places and while all of them had some kind of wait, none of them took that long. She looked taken aback by the question, almost as though nobody had ever asked it before. She said, “It’s not fast food!”

I said, “I get that, but I didn’t think you needed to raise the cow first.” Which I admit was a little snotty, but also so hyperbolic that nobody could reasonably think I meant it. Her reply: “I’m not forcing you to eat here.” That’s when I said, “Whoa. All right, then.” and let it go.

After she left, we talked about whether I’d said anything that was truly out of line, and ended up with “eh, not really.” Because here’s the thing: it’s a yes-or-no answer, really: either the answer is “No, but we’re shorthanded/we’re busier than usual/something broke down in the kitchen/whatever” or it’s “Yes, we spend all our effort on each order before moving on to the next/we hand-cut the fries so they take longer/something else.” Going on immediate defense with something like “It’s not fast food” was a little out of left field.

We began to eat our food. My sandwich, which I’d ordered with “a little bit of onion” had nearly as much onion as it did beef, but that’s no tragedy; I took off what I didn’t want and moved along. The food was…fine. It was pit beef; we’re not talking Serious Gourmet stuff here. As we finished our food, Rick himself came out asking if there was a problem with the food. “No,” I said. “The food was fine.”

“OK,” he replied, “because you upset my daughter when she was out here, and—”

Now frankly, I don’t really remember what the rest of his sentence was, because now I’m replaying in my head and I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, all I asked was—”

Unfortunately for me, he was on a roll and told me he didn’t want to hear about my whoa whoa whoas. (Yes, he told me that.) I repeated: “I just asked her whether a 45-minute wait was typical.”

“Do you see all the tables in there?” All three of them? Sure, I guess. That launched him into another tirade about if the food was no good he’d be happy to refund our money and send us on our way. Again I said, “The food was fine.” Now he’s moved on to We don’t need your kind here and I’m going to ask you to leave. I’m literally just sitting there wondering what the hell is going on. At this point the most I can muster up is just “Wow….Wow…” and then “OK.” I stand up and without another word, walk away from the place. Wife and Wee One, who have said very little at this point (because they were just as stunned), also got up and left, but that didn’t stop Rick, oh no. He kept on yelling at us, and at the other customers about us. I didn’t realize at the time he was doing that, because I’d left so directly that I figured that Wife had engaged with him and now he was yelling at her. But nope: they were right behind me and he was still doing his thing as I reached my car, across the street, with the rest of my family pretty much on my heels.

So in the end I really don’t know what set anyone off here. Maybe he was having an especially bad day. Maybe being in a town called East Berlin puts you in a Cold War frame of mind. Maybe when there are few other options for eating in a small town, you can generally get away with stuff like that. Maybe a million things. But the fact is, when you go to a small town, pay $40 for lunch ($2 ATM fee counts, in my book), and get abused out of the blue by the owner, it puts a bad taste in your mouth—you should excuse the expression—for the entire town.

Remember what I said several paragraphs ago about going antiquing as well? There are several places in East Berlin, PA that we had earmarked as potential stops when we were on the way up to Peter’s. Do you think we stopped in any of them on the way back? Not a chance. Our instinct was to get out of town as quickly as possible. But there were a few places that got our attention, and our money…in Thomasville, and Shrewsbury, and a couple of other spots on the way home.

Who’s Next?

Larry The Cable Guy: Anyway, I go to the flower feller, and get her flowers, and a card. And he asks me what this is for. And I tell him my grandma just passed away, hundred and four years old. And he says, "Ooh, a hundred and four? How’d she die?" How’d she die; she’s a hundred and four! She wrecked her Harley up there at BikeWeek!

Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie (2003)


So for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, my grandmother died on July 13. I’d just had a party at my house the day before and we were having dinner when my brother called. He told me that the nurses were at the house and her time was very short; it could be minutes, it could be a couple of days. But it was imminent. While I was making plans to fly down, he called again, telling me it was over.

It took me longer to get to Florida by plane than it would have if I’d just gotten in the car and driven (see previous post for the details), but get there I did. Wife and Daughter followed a day later, and my other brother the day after that.

There were a few details to go over before we could hold the funeral, and we took care of that stuff, but that’s for another post, I think. The toughest part of all this was coming up with something to say at the service. My grandmother had stated explicitly that she wanted me to speak at her funeral, so the pressure was really on, even though I’d done it a few times already. And with so many people in the house, it was tough to get some quiet time to get it written down. I finally finished in the middle of the night, only a few hours before I was scheduled to deliver it, and even in the funeral home I was going back to it and polishing bits of it here and there. So here it is, in all its glory. I very rarely broke away from the words I’d written, which is kind of unusual for me; more often than not I wander away from what I’d written and come back to it. There are a few annotations here in brackets for clarity and/or context.


Well… [Long pause as I looked at my brothers and my cousin]

…I guess it’s just us, now.

I’ve been thinking all week about how you encapsulate a life that’s been so long and seen so much, and it’s nearly impossible. When you go outside later, and you look at the markers on the ground, you see a lot of dates: 1923-2009; 1943-2013, and in between all those dates is a dash. And when you’re standing up here, you’re expected to talk about everything that happened in between, all the stuff represented by the dash. How do I summarize the dash?

Because in the long run, that’s the best I can do, is summarize. And the bottom line is that I can’t help but fail. Because I’m never going to be able to adequately articulate the mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, great-grandmother, daughter, cousin, friend…that she was.

It’s said that grief is the price that we pay for love. My grandmother loved this family with all of her heart, and many of us loved her wholeheartedly in return. And so today, we are all grief-stricken. But we are all full of Grandma’s love and light, and it will travel with us as we continue on in our own lives.

The only thing, I think, that’s genuinely going to capture her is the memories that we have in our hearts.

So, I’m going to do a little bit of that with you today: I’m going to share a few memories I have with you.

There are a few things that have stuck with me for a long time, and will likely stay with me throughout my life. Nana had a way of fooling with people’s heads, but it wasn’t usually malicious. She once made me an egg and cheese omelet and tried to convince me that the Swiss cheese she’s put into it was Mozzarella. "Nothing like some mozzarella," she said, and I agreed that it certainly was nothing like Mozzarella, and left it at that.

When she was trying to sell her house in Kings Park, she was usually baking something. Now, these days when you go house-hunting, the realtors will either bake cookies, or spray the house with baked-cookie smell to fool you into thinking that the place smells extra-homey. She was doing it to keep the kitchen warm, because there were so many problems with the heat in that room. They’d renovated that kitchen; tearing out the walls and discovering that the room was insulated with old corncobs. They replaced the corncobs, they put in TWO steam radiators–one at each end of the room; they put a mud porch on the back door to act as a kind of airlock; they did a lot of things, but in the end it was the use of that big old ceramic-over-steel oven that did the trick. A couple of years later I went back and visited the house, and the new residents asked me if there was ever trouble keeping the kitchen warm. I was still pretty young so playing dumb was my strong suit at that point.

Nana was willing to spoil us like any grandmother would, but she was also ready, willing and able to bring the hammer down when necessary. The story goes that when her son Gerald, who got to be six-foot four, got in trouble with her, she made him sit down so she could beat him with the hairbrush–and god help him if he didn’t. When we were kids her weapon of choice was the wooden spoon. And we didn’t have to be anywhere near the kitchen for that spoon to materialize. We could be in the living room, the bedroom…Walt Disney World…it didn’t seem to matter. Later on, it was the Shoe of Doom, flipped off her foot with deadly accuracy. And once you were struck, it was your job to BRING THE SHOE BACK. And, of course, there was the time she was babysitting all five of her grandchildren and she finally lost all patience, telling everyone, "That’s it–everyone go to bed!" When we asked why we were being sent to bed so early, she told us, "…because I’M tired!"

Let me come back to the "spoiling" thing. Because she didn’t really spoil us; it was just part of her nature to be incredibly generous. She’d give even if you didn’t ask. She gave you her time, she’d give you money, sometimes you’d just find something you might have mentioned needing, sitting there waiting for you. After her husband died, she put in literally thousands of hours volunteering for Hernando Pasco Hospice. They gave to her, so she gave to them. And gave, and gave, and kept on giving. She inspired others to do the same, which means that her daughter Mary also put in a lot of time for the organization. And, chances are, the official count of volunteer hours doesn’t really reflect the amount of time she put in, because even when she couldn’t come in anymore, work was brought to her. She sealed envelopes and prepared ornaments for the Tree of Life while sitting in her chair at home. Maybe it’s because she spent many years in poverty, with a big family that grew up during the Depression, that she learned that sharing always means multiplying rather than losing something. And she gave with love, which means that you invariably wind up with more than you started with.

Despite being from a previous generation, she had a very progressive spirit. Last June, I was in town and we’d gone out to dinner. On the way home there was an ongoing news item about Wendy Davis, who is a state Senator in Texas. On that day, Senator Davis was staging an eleven-hour filibuster to block a bill that would have severely restricted the ability of women to gain access to reproductive health care. When Nana heard about the filibuster, she blurted out, "Good for her!" A few weeks later she came to a party at my house and had a great time chatting with the gay couple that lived across the street. For her, they were just a couple of guys that she had fun engaging with.

She liked parties, and she liked being around people. I remember many a backyard get-together at her house in Kings Park, with the yellow and green colored light bulbs strung from the house to so
me point on the garage roof, and the adults chatting and socializing while the kids climbed the apple tree–easier than one might think–and played on the patio, or among the stand of lilacs, or up in the Ranger Station, which was a 15-foot-high metal monstrosity that wouldn’t make it past the first design round in today’s world.

That string of lights, incidentally, has a spiritual cousin in my back yard.

Thanksgiving dinner could mean over 15 people sitting at tables run end-to-end in a living room that could barely accommodate them because of the room’s shape. As kids, we were luckier because we’d eat at the far end, which was near the enclosed porch. Easy escape!

I remember road trips when we were younger. We’d all pile into the car and we’d go to upstate New York. We saw many natural wonders such as Howe Caverns, the Natural Stone Bridge and Ausable Chasm. We also saw a bunch of the tourist attractions, many of which don’t exist anymore. We would cross the Tappan Zee Bridge, which had the double thrill of being close to the water and having a fun, cool name to it. As we crossed, we’d look for the castle on the far side of the water and make up stories about the people who lived in it. Little did we know that in those days it was the home office of an investment firm. We visited places like Story Town USA, which was a Mother Goose-themed park. We went to Gaslight Village in Lake George, which had a vaudeville theme to it. We saw glass blowers making ornaments in North Pole, NY, which IS still around, although the glass blowers aren’t.

The trips didn’t end after the move to Florida. We got to see a lot of the attractions around here, many of which are either gone or are just a shell of their former selves. Once, on a whim based on an article in the newspaper, we took a trip to Spook Hill, which is located in Lake Wales. Now, Lake Wales is nearly a two-hour drive under the best of circumstances. Spook Hill is a place where ten minutes is about as much time as you’re probably going to want to spend there. And that was pretty much it: two hours out, ten minutes there, two hours back. The bulk of the trip was the trip itself. [Context: Spook Hill is a “gravity hill”, which we didn’t know anything about at the time.]

And I guess that’s the lesson here for all of us. It’s always about the journey, not the destination. We’ve all got the same destination [Looking pointedly at my grandmother at this point]. It’s the trip that we make to get there that makes all the difference.

So…Thank You, Grandma, for all your support and all of your encouragement. Thank you for being a role model who taught us about love, and sacrifice, and keeping the faith.

Not Everyone Remembers Them the One Time A Year…

Western Union Man: Excuse Me! Excuse Me! I have a telegram for one of you ladies from the War Department. Let's see here… boy, I hate these, these are the worst! The least the Army could do is send someone personally, to tell you your husband is dead. Darn, I had the name right here! Well I gotta go back and get this straightened out.
Jimmy Dugan: Wait, just give me the telegram.

A League of Their Own (1992)


…some people can’t help but think of the military on a daily basis.


Ours has been a fortunate family; one grandfather served in the Army, my father was in the Air Force, my uncle was in the Navy (he was stationed aboard the USS Enterprise, and his job was to jump into the ocean to fish people out). My recently-deceased father-in-law was also a Navy man. I’ve got several friends and extended relatives who either themselves have been, or who have children, who have served or are serving in one capacity or another. Despite this, we’ve never had to come face-to-face with a loss based on military service. We haven’t had to deal with the horrors of the Veterans’ Administration snafus (and don’t even bother dragging politics into this, because it’s been going on for many years and it’s essentially a turf war between the VA and the Pentagon). We have had to worry about the telegram coming (nowadays it’s a Casualty Notification Officer arriving in person), but that hasn’t been the case for many years.

So it’s to those of you who still worry on a daily basis, and the ones who grieve for their lost loved ones, that I say Thank You. Because your sacrifice is equally as great as theirs.

Social Insecurity

Jason Stackhouse: Sometimes the right thing to do is the wrong thing.

True Blood, “Evil is Going On” (9/12/10)


Shortly after my mother died, I met with the folks at the funeral home. (Remember, you can’t spell “funeral” without F-U-N!) It turns out that these places offer a few services that you don’t always know about. For instance, they offered to help with any insurance claims we might have, they were willing to ensure that I had plenty of copies of the death certificate, and so on. All for a nominal fee, of course. In fact, I learned later on that the death certificates, for which they charged us $10 each, were rather profitable to the funeral home but only if we ordered more than two. If we only wanted one they’d take a loss; two was the break-even point. After that it was a tidy 25% profit on each one. Anyway, one of the services they offered for free was contacting the Social Security Administration on our behalf, in order to ensure that benefits payments stopped in a timely manner. Great, we said, we’ll take one of those.

Flash-forward to a few weeks later, and I’m at the bank trying to straighten out some financial matters for my grandmother. While I’m there, I ask my Friendly Customer Service Agent if she can look something up for me on my mother’s bank account. “We can’t figure out whether she got a pension from New York State,” I asked. “Can you tell me if anything went into that account on a regular basis besides her Social Security?”

The woman scanned the account before telling me no. “But here’s something odd,” she said. “A payment is processing today—right now. That’s not supposed to happen.” I agreed with her on that point and we concluded our business.

No stupid alt text here; move along. When I got back to the house, I called the Social Security Administration. After wading through several levels of bureaucratic phone tree, I finally landed a human being. Here was his explanation: Social Security pays you retroactively. You survive the month and then they pay you for your achievement. And payments are NOT prorated. So if you die in June, you don’t get even a partial payment in July, even if you die on the last day of the month. The payment that my mother was receiving on June 26th was her May payment. However, she’d already died by the time the payment was processed. “If this were a paper check,” he explained, “she wouldn’t have been able to sign it, because she died a couple of weeks earlier. As a survivor, however, you’re entitled to the payment.” Therefore, SSA would contact the bank to withdraw the money and then re-distribute it to my brothers and me. He promised to send me a form that would stand as a formal request for the money, and enclosed a pre-addressed envelope so that I could send it to the Towson, MD office rather than somewhere in Florida.

He made good on the promise: the form was waiting for me when I returned to Baltimore. Dutifully I filled it out with all kinds of details about myself, my brothers and my grandmother, and mailed it in the Enclosed Envelope to the Towson office.

This past Friday, I logged into the bank’s website to see what was up with the various bank accounts. By this time, they’d appended my name to my mom’s account so I could see that one as well. The problem was, the money was still there. The SSA hadn’t withdrawn it. So I gave them a call, starting with the central SSA number.

One day's mail regarding my mother's estate. The problem with talking to some of these people is that they’re so used to giving you the canned answers that they’re not always listening to your question. The other problem is that many of these people tend to assume that you understand their jargon, so they’ll ask you questions like, “Well, was it the SXV-6721 form or the MUR-2917?” and of course you have no idea, you just filled out the form in the Spaces Indicated and mailed it back. Finally the guy suggested I call the Towson office directly. I called them and got a message saying that the office had closed. At 3:00 PM. Oh, fine: I’ll just come visit on Monday, then. A few minutes later, the mail arrived. In it was a form letter thanking me for submitting the request for undisbursed funds and denying my request because there were no undisbursed funds. So now at least I had something in my hand that I could wave at the Social Security administrators.

When you go to the Towson Social Security office, you have to sign in on a computer terminal by punching in your social security number (“even if you’re here for someone else”) and a printer spits out a ticket with a letter and a number on it, much like you get at the Motor Vehicles office. Mine was L762, and the L’s were up around L758, so there wouldn’t be much wait, I figured. Every once in awhile, a voice would come on the P.A. and announce something like, “K129, Window 7”, and ticket K129 would get up and move to Window 7. However, there was also someone who simply shouted her ticket numbers across the room. Naturally, this is who I got: “L762, Window 16!” came the shout from the polar opposite corner of the waiting area.

The woman at Window 16 was perfectly nice, but she was also locked into the track of offering up the canned answers, even to the point of giving me another form to complete to appeal the decision from Friday’s letter. I finally broke through and said, “I’m not here saying that I’m looking for more money; I’m trying to simplify this situation before the account gets liquefied by my mother’s lawyers and suddenly I have to find a way to reimburse the SSA.” That’s when the “Aha!” look appeared in her eyes, and she decided that she couldn’t help me; I’d have to get shuttled to someone else. “Go sit back down and someone will call your name.”

About ten minutes later I was summoned to Window 4. This woman actually listened carefully to what I had to say, then looked up the record and finally said, “You know what? Just let it go. That money should have come out by now; if it didn’t then I wouldn’t worry about it. It’d just go back to you anyway, based on what you’re telling me.” Well…yeah, I agreed. Me and my brothers. And we were probably going to give it to my grandmother anyway.

So, between June 26 and this past Monday (July 29), I managed to take about three hours’ effort and generate absolutely no change in matters. Your tax dollars at work, friend.

Saying Goodbye.

Rhonda Johnson: Hey, that was a terrific eulogy you gave old man Soderbergh at his memorial service.
GK: Thank you.
Guy Noir: Too bad the old coot couldn’t have been there to hear it.
Yolanda Johnson: Yeah… and to have missed it by just a few days.

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)


I’m starting to turn into the “go-to” guy to speak at funerals. It’s not a task I’m especially enjoying, but I try to do a good job of it.

It started about twenty years ago when my grandfather died. I don’t really know why, but I felt as though I had to say something, and I scribbled some notes on a scrap of paper earlier in the day. That scrap, which I put in the casket with my grandfather, was little more than a bullet list of things I wanted to make sure I said.

I opened that one with a joke; in fact it was my grandfather’s favorite joke. I think I’ve written it here before, but it bears repeating. Remember that I STARTED with this, with no preface:

"There once was a girl from Boston, Mass,
Who went in the water up to her ankles.

It don’t rhyme now, but wait till the tide comes in…”

I remember my mother audibly gasping as she realized what I was saying. I think she thought I was going to launch into a comedy routine. But the point of the joke was that my grandfather could see the humor in nearly everything. He had an interesting way of finding absurdity in situations, and I think I’ve picked that up from him.

When my stepfather died a few years back, I was asked specifically if I’d say something. That one was tougher to do; I had to come up with a more prepared script to work from. It also didn’t have any jokes as such in it, although it did have a few inside references. At the end I remember hearing my aunt say something like, “That was lovely” and, as I returned to my seat, “Nice job.” Unfortunately when she died last fall, I wasn’t able to be on-hand.

My friend Aime died the day after Thanksgiving; scroll back a few posts and you’ll see that story. I knew that I had to say something as the person in the room who probably knew her the longest—excluding relatives, of course. Most of what I said came from the post I did here, although in the church I poured a Jack and Diet Coke, her favorite drink, and toasted her. It was kind of cool to see about thirty hands holding invisible drinks to go with my visible one.

Then my uncle, my mother’s brother, died a couple of months ago. (Yes, this has been a rough year for my family; why do you ask?) And again, I was asked to say something.

So naturally, when all this went down with my mother two weeks ago, I started thinking about what I was going to say. Of my two brothers, I didn’t really think that one of them was going to speak, and the other one would be a toss-up. But as the oldest, I was essentially the lead-off batter anyway. I had to encapsulate a lot of elements. And while I used this site as a means of playing around with a couple of them (some of what follows will definitely look familiar), I didn’t do any serious writing until very late the night before the service.

I was sitting up in bed and Wife was trying to get to sleep. My laptop has a pretty big screen, so it throws a lot of light. So between that and the fact that I couldn’t get comfortable typing where I was, I moved to the living room and started writing. At some point I got stuck and needed some structural help, so I launched my browser and did some quick internet searches. I also opened up Facebook to see what was happening and to post a status update. A FB friend of mine spotted me online and asked me what I was up to. I told him, and he and I chitchatted while I worked on my piece. When I finally got a reasonable draft into place, I asked him to look at it. After a few minutes he came back and said some really nice things. I started sending him changes and subsequent paragraphs, and he had a few suggestions, most of which I incorporated. I got a LOT of compliments on what I said, so I guess I did a good job on this one, However, credit needs to go where it’s due, so I have to say thanks to Chris M. for his late-night help.

Anyway, this is what I said:


Thank you all so much for coming and making time to be with us today.

In a song, John Lennon said "Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans." It wasn’t long after that that he was killed by a deranged fan.

Likewise, my mother was a person whose plans were cut short unexpectedly. And she did have plans:

  • She was pondering buying another home to use part-time so she would have an easier time visiting her other sons.
  • She was looking forward to attending the Pig Roast next month.
  • She recently bought a car and financed it, rather than paying for it outright.
  • The night before she died, she was working on a shopping list.

These aren’t the actions of someone who wasn’t counting on making it through the weekend.

My mom the nekkid babyBut let’s face it: nobody counts on not making it to the next step. We all think that the tree goes on forever, and we’re just going to keep on climbing. And it often takes an event like this for us to realize, Hey–there are no guarantees in this life.

For those of you who couldn’t figure it out just by hearing her speak, my mother was born in New York City. And even though she moved out to Long Island as a child, and lived down here in Florida for over twenty-five years, she still managed to hang on to an accent that would make Fran Drescher say "Hey, dial it back a little, would ya?"

My mom and dad together, about two years ago. It's the last time they saw each other. That's my late friend Aime to the right. She married her high school sweetheart and had her first child while he was deployed in Asia. Another child followed right away, and a third a few years after that. When that marriage ended in divorce, she persevered, working at jobs that paid poorly in order to be more available to us. When we got a little older, she took a better-paying position with a less-conventional schedule. And in between all that, she managed to find love again, this time with a little more permanence attached.

When we were kids, we were short on the money but long on the hugs and the laughs. Something I learned only this week was that she got together with some other moms and formed a group dedicated to clipping and redeeming coupons. She was a class mother when we were in elementary school in the days when that was a thing, she–with the help of the neighbors–constructed elaborate Halloween costumes for us when we wer
e small, she shared her love of pop music with us.

Elton[Note: it was at this point that I went off-script, relaying an anecdote about a game that she and I had when I was ten or eleven years old, where we’d challenge each other to identify the title and artist of the songs on the radio. One time, during a car trip, she got stuck on the title “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and she was essentially stalling, waiting for Elton John to get to the part where he sings the title. As he got there, the car briefly entered a “radio desert” and the radio went all static just long enough to obscure the song title. She was not a happy camper that time.]

Doing the Hospice ThingIn recent years, Mom dedicated a lot of her time to volunteering with the folks at [Hernando Pasco] Hospice. This organization has done a world of good for people, including members of this family, and she gave back to them with the gift of her time. She took a lot of pride in the work that she did, and even though the people she worked with were chronically or terminally ill, she maintained a cheerful demeanor with them that they managed to return.

Mom was very supportive, even if she didn’t necessarily agree with the decisions we were making. She was always proud of her family and was especially excited to see them take the big steps in life. And she was especially proud to see [my daughter] graduate from college a few weeks ago. Come hell or high water–and high water nearly happened for real–she was going to attend that event. And she did. During that time she also told me how proud she was of the fact that [other relative] had scored a high-power internship in New York City.

Wee One, Daughter and Mom, a few weeks ago. She was so happy to see the big strides that [my nephew’s] been making lately, and I think she would have been delighted to see the video of [Wee One] singing the Star Spangled Banner for her 8th grade graduation earlier this week. The bottom line is that when it came to her family, she usually had something positive to say about everyone in it.

Last weekend, this all came to an end, but Mom continued to give. She was an organ donor and because of her, a man in Jacksonville now has a new chance at life. Because of her, two people could receive the gift of renewed sight. Because of her, scientists may learn a little more about diabetes.

Many people will surely miss her, especially us, her family and wonderful friends. I know that whether you called her Mary Rose, Mom, Grandma, Aunt Mary, Grandma Mary, whatever, her memory will live on in the hearts of all the people that she touched during her life.

Quick Exit. Much too Quick.

Rob: Songs at my funeral: "Many Rivers to Cross" by Jimmy Cliff, "Angel" by Aretha Franklin, and I’ve always had this fantasy that some beautiful, tearful woman would insist on "You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" by Gladys Knight. But who would that woman be?

High Fidelity (2000)


A few months ago my friend Aime (it’s pronounced the same was as “Amy”) wasn’t feeling very well. She went to the doctor and got checked out, and the doctor ran a few tests. When they came back, she was pretty startled to learn that what she thought was some discomfort in her back was, in fact, pancreatic cancer. What’s more, she was already at Stage IV. Those of you familiar with cancer probably already know that there aren’t any stages beyond IV, so this wasn’t good. In the case of this particular brand of cancer, it’s not uncommon, because the symptoms don’t usually manifest until it’s pretty far along.

Me, Aime and Wife at her retirement party. That's her sister in the b.g. Aime went through some of the usual steps for getting treatment. She started a chemotherapy regimen and ultimately retired from her job with the school system as a disability retiree. A few weeks later, we threw her a retirement party attended by a small circle of friends of her choosing. That was three weeks ago. In between, there were visits to her house from me and/or Wife, during which we talked about some of her plans for the future, specifically late-stage care and who would take care of her grandson, of whom she had guardianship.

A week after the retirement party, Aime’s brother invited her out to a bar where a friend of his was playing in the band. Because driving was difficult for her, Wife and I picked her up and took her down to the Ram’s Head Tavern to see the band play. The band (called Bushmaster) was pretty good, playing some bluesy rock, and her brother purchased a copy of their CD and gave it to her. About 90 minutes into the evening, she said that she wasn’t feeling well and she needed to get back home. On the ride home, she asked me to play the CD. It was short enough that we were able to hear it twice between the bar and her home. Our goodbyes that evening were brief. She was going to her brother’s for Thanksgiving, and we’d visit her for lunch on Saturday the 24th.

Lunch didn’t happen. I never saw her again.

Aime wasn’t feeling well enough to go to her brother’s, so she spent Thanksgiving at home. On Friday morning her son visited her and then went out on a couple of errands. About two hours later he returned and found her. He called Wife, who stopped her Black Friday shopping immediately—as in, left a pile of stuff on the floor in the middle of the store aisle—and spent the rest of the day with him. I’d been laid low with a horrific back spasm (I’m not prone to these, and suddenly it occurs to me that this may have been a sign from somewhere), and Wee One wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed at home with her.

Despite Aime’s diagnosis, this was a huge surprise. We knew the clock was running, but I don’t think anyone had an idea of just how fast it was going.


Me and AimeI have a couple of friends who I see once in awhile, over a long period of time, but Aime is someone I’ve had frequent contact with since I first met her through America Online’s chat rooms back in 1993. Consequently I considered her to be my oldest friend. It was because of her that I moved to Baltimore when I was dealing with some ghosts and demons of my own up in New York. When I made that move, it was in a car that she’d given to me because she’d gotten another one. It was because of her that I got to see the beauty of southern Utah (and picked up a speeding ticket while I was at it), the showers of the Flying J Truck Stop in Omaha, Nebraska and the St. Louis Arch whipping by at 70 MPH. It’s because she and I shared a rental property for two years that I (and she, for that matter) was able to get the money together to purchase my first home. It was her prodding that led me to bake a couple of obscene cakes about ten years ago, largely so we could embarrass her then-teenage sons. It’s because of her that I keep the house stocked with Jack Daniel’s, in case she wanted a Jack & Diet Coke. And at my parties, she usually did want just that.

Aime had some reach; she had friends in a lot of different places that I don’t think anyone suspected. Aime tended to make friends with lots of people but she wasn’t especially gregarious in a crowd. It was a quiet sort of thing, and she was able to offer up all kinds of support to people who might not get it otherwise. As I scroll through her Facebook wall, I see names and locations from all around the country; people she’d befriended in one way or another and all of whom cite some level of support she’d given them. One of them, in fact, was dealing with her own recent loss of a friend to the same form of cancer and was getting encouragement from Aime.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life that I haven’t had a lot of close-up experience with death; I’ve lost some older relatives, of course, and some other acquaintances who weren’t especially close from either a personal or a distance standpoint, so while it’s not exactly new to me, it’s not something I’ve had much opportunity to get used to. I’ve always been glad that I’m alive and absolutely furious about the fact that I’m going to die, and some of that anger carries over to the fact that I’m moving into a part of my life where it’s going to happen around me more frequently.

This post is feeling pretty disjointed; I think I’m still processing this whole thing. Aime’s been cremated and there’ll be a memorial service later this week, but who knows if the reality will set in by then.

Goodbye, Aime. You’ll be missed by me and by many, many others.

All Aboard!

The Conductor: The thing about trains… it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.

The Polar Express (2004)


Last week, I got an invitation to what sounds like an interesting event.

Polar Express 4DTonight, the National Aquarium, down at the Inner Harbor, is hosting a Meet-and-Tweet of The Polar Express, starring a motion-captured Tom Hanks and numerous, less-famous others. They’re promising this to be a “4-D Experience”. What that means, I don’t know. Could be Smell-O-Vision, could be a guy sneaking up behind and tickling you. The most they’re saying is that there are “special sensory effects”. I imagine that it’s much like the old Captain Eo movie they had down in Walt Disney World several years back. But I guess Wee One and I will find out for sure in a few hours.

Everyone who attends is expected to bring smartphones, cameras, laptops, and so forth, and is expected to live-blog or live-tweet the event. Wee One and I will be doing a little of both: she’ll be commenting via Facebook, and I’ll be live-tweeting (you can follow me @claudecall if you’re so inclined). My tweets will automatically carry over to Facebook, and in another day or so I’ll do a blog post here.

Hope to see you in cyberspace!

Pig Roast 2011!

It's all Good Holy Moley! You need to mark your calendar because it’s time once again for us to build a grill in the alley behind the house and spend an afternoon-into-evening munching barbecue pork and washing it down with quality beverages. And, of course, you’re invited to join in the festivities!
Pig Roast 2011 is taking place on July 16 this year, beginning at 5:00.

As usual, other food will be available for those who don’t like the pig. We can’t emphasize this enough, since a few people have gone the “I can…’t eat this for (insert a reason)” route. You will NOT go hungry because you’re a fussy eater! We do reserve the right to point at you and laugh a little, though.

The “official” start is listed as 5:00, but we realize that some of you will be traveling some distance for this event. You’re more than welcome to come early and “tailgate the pig” with us. Don’t be surprised if we put you to work now and again, though. <wink>

UPDATE 3/17: Joyce and Charlie, our across-the-street neighbors, are once again making their in-ground swimming pool available to youngsters and whomever else wants to play. They do insist that 1) you bring your own towels, and 2) an adult swimmer is on-hand at all times.(You don’t have to be in the pool, just be able to swim.) Which, you know, is only fair.

PigRoast6percentWhiteBackground Kids are welcome to attend but monitoring them is going to be up to you. Unruly children will be fed to the dogs down the block. (Tim, please keep those dogs hungry this time–a couple of kids got away last year!)


Heh. We turn down nothing, but here are the basics:
–You should bring your own adult beverage. There’ll be some here, but no more than enough to get things started.
–If you have a BBQ/Picnic specialty, feel free to volunteer it. Please to be letting us know in advance, though, so we don’t wind up with 75 pounds of potato salad or whatever.
–If you’re at a loss, by all means drop Shannon or me a note. We’ve got a little list…


—From I-95 in either direction:
Take the Beltway Exit 64 (at the north end of town) WEST toward Towson. It’s just a couple of exits to Exit 31 South (Harford Road). About 1-1/4 miles to Orlando Avenue. Turn Left onto Orlando. Then follow the directions below.

—From in Town:
Take Harford Road north until you cross Northern Parkway. (If you’re coming from eastbound Northern Parkway, turn left onto Harford Road.) The fifth available right turn is Orlando Avenue. Turn right onto Orlando. Then follow the directions below.

–The Directions Below: Once on Orlando, go down one long block to Glenoak, turn right. One block and right again onto Woodhome. #3005 is almost all the way back to Harford Road, on the left side.


White Marsh–Rooms average about $130/night. This area is closest to us.
—–Hilton Garden Inn
—–Fairfield Inn & Suites
—–Hampton Inn

Towson–In the $110 range but a 5-10 minute longer drive.
—–Sheraton Baltimore North
—–Best Western (formerlyTowson Place Hotel & Suites)–These guys aren’t taking online reservations but I just heard from someone who called the hotel directly and got a great (i.e. <$100) deal.

Places to AVOID:
—–Comfort Inn, Towson
—–Ramada, Towson
—–Welcome Inn, Parkville

It’s Fun To Stay At The

Señor Chang: [Arriving to class without a shirt] Yes, I was robbed at the YMCA…again.

Community, “Beginner Pottery” (3/18/10)


For those of you who don’t know, Wife’s dad has not been doing excellently in the cancer treatment department. The first round of chemo did a great job, but it didn’t knock out everything. So the next step was something called RICE, which is a chemotherapy cocktail that, as I understand it, can take out a tumor but is never known to be a permanent cure; the tumor will come back. The RICE is essentially a placeholder for the next treatment, which is a bone marrow transplant.

Let me tell you something: donating bone marrow is, to quote Joe Biden, a Big Fucking Deal. They take a big honkin’ needle—I’m pretty sure they wheel this thing out of a separate room—and they have to put it into your pelvis, or your thighbone, or sometimes your sternum, in several places. And they extract the marrow. This isn’t practically painless like donating blood; this hurts like hell by all accounts. What’s more, they have to do it under general anesthesia. So it hurts like hell afterwards. Meanwhile, the recipient goes through something called “marrow ablation” which essentially brings them right up to death’s door and has all kinds of side effects that will last for weeks. This essentially creates room for the transplanted marrow cells to move in and, in theory, take over. This cure is almost worse than the disease.

But if this doesn’t work, it’s going to be pretty much Game Over.

Naturally, the best candidates for donating this sort of transplant come from the immediate family, specifically the children of the recipient. So, Wife and her brother are both in the midst of testing to determine who the better candidate is. I was told a couple of weeks ago that there was an awkward moment when the doctor explained to Wife that, frankly, she weighed too much to be considered a candidate, and she would have to lose a bunch of weight between now and the date of the procedure in order to be able to donate her marrow.

So Wife went to her doctor, explained the situation, and got some directions for how to safely engage in a Crash Diet. Do you know what this means? Yes, it means that Wee One and I are on a diet, as well. Maybe not as extreme as hers, but still. She’s already lost 14 pounds in two weeks’ time; I’ve lost something but I’m not sure what, since I don’t have easy access to a reliable scale.

YMCA Logo which I nicked from their website. Sue me. The other thing that we did was to join the gym, specifically the Parkville YMCA, which opened just a few weeks ago. Because while Wife may be on the overweight side, I would be described by doctors as—and I apologize for the medical terminology—a “fatass” who could also benefit from some exercise. And last night was my first evening at the gym.

A few years back, I tore the meniscus in my left knee. It doesn’t bother me often but every once in awhile I’ll have a moment of OWOWOWGODDAMMITFUCKTHATHURTS which will last for a little while. When I was first diagnosed I did some Physical Therapy, the point of which was to strengthen everything around the knee, thereby giving the joint a little more support. This worked out pretty well and, while I was in PT, I actually lost some weight. (Don’t worry, I gained it back!) So my goal this time around is much the same as when I was in PT: strengthen the leg muscles to support the knee, and if I manage to lose weight in the meantime, well that’s just gravy (you should excuse the expression).

When you go to the YMCA, they have computerized training machines. They look like your typical treadmill, recumbent stationary bike, etc., but they’re connected to a computer program called FitLinxx. So you get on the machine, punch in your FitLinxx number, and away you go. This way, you can track your calories burned, miles run, whatever, through the program. And you’re supposed to be able to track this information through the YMCA’s website. I say “supposed to” because there’s a thing you have to go through to get into the system and they’re kind of backed up, so I can’t get in until next week. But you can use the equipment anyway. The odd thing about this is that, even though you can go a central website to look up your information, the data is still somehow not centralized, which means that while you can go into any YMCA of Central Maryland and use the stuff as a member, you can’t transfer your FitLinxx information from one location to another. So if I’m in, say, Waverly and want to work out there, I’d have to get a separate FitLinxx ID number.

It’s possible that the person who explained the system to me was mistaken, but as I say, I won’t know until next week.

Anyway: I remember some of the things I had to do in PT, so I figured I’d just do that informally until I get set up with the FitLinxx stuff. My first stop was the locker room to get changed. Here’s where I learned that maybe I should buy flip-flops: the floor is kind of wet because of the pool and the showers. It’s also been a long time since I was in a locker room, so let’s face it: I was a little bit shy at first. This was cured almost immediately by the next guy to come in, who thought nothing of taking off his clothes to get into a bathing suit. He was about my size, but it was also clear that he’d lost a LOT of weight. Hell, says I, if he can do it then so can I. And now, out to the machines.

Um...no. It wasn't like this. So I did about 20-ish minutes on the recumbent bike (I accidentally re-set the timer so I’m not sure how long I was on that one), and another 20 on the treadmill. I wasn’t going especially fast on either one (about 13 mph on the bike and something like 2.5 mph on the treadmill), but I’d worked up a little bit of a sweat by the time I was done. Into the shower (another minor trauma), then I went home and celebrated with some ice cream.

Ha, Ha! Just kidding. I did, however, have a bit of cheese, one of those little baby Laughing Cow things in the wax. And a Honey Crisp Apple, because Honey Crisps are awesome.

Next time in (probably tomorrow), I’ll likely do 30 minutes each with a little bit more resistance. Oh, and I’ll make a point of weighing myself on the scale they have, which I didn’t see till I was already on my way out. Wish me luck!