Old Man Lost

“Shh, old man,” Reggie mumbled to himself as he eyed the TV. “It’s not the end of the world yet.” He leaned closer to the television. “The end of the world hasn’t come yet, for we old soldiers still sit in purgatory uncalled. Surely that devil would call us if he knew we sat at ease.” The TV blared, for Reggie used the sound against the loneliness of his soul.
News reports troubled him: the president declaring war actions, kids dying, no one understanding why killing was so easy for the man, volunteers sent packing as democratic pigeon minders, told they got no business, old people dying and no one caring.

”Hush, Reggie, pray he doesn’t call you. You can barely keep time at a social dance with the old women down in the basement of the church. Not much of a social, all of us left by families that know our minds are going. Not much to be happy for, to care for, to do. Puzzles and number thingy squares. Old women knitting. Women ruminating like cows, no brains left. Young folks and nurses bugging folks to be active. Folks showing us computers, damned machines. Shh, damn it, man, don’t get so upset. Don’t call attention to your dark soul. You don’t want the attention of that type. They bury us with trumpets blowing and our service honored, but there is little honor in what we did. We killed, oh that we served as God willed. Oh, that peace was close, but it ain’t coming.”

The news flooded the room. Missiles launching from planes, children laying dead, yellow gas coating everything. Reggie looked down at his hands. His hands, beautiful hands, that had held a child when it was born, helped it learn to walk, paid with labor to send his child to school, and watched with pride at the start of the Great War III. Strong hands that had served him, that had held his wife as she sobbed at the telegram from the War Department, now sat idle in his lap. Sad hands that watched the news take his wife’s will to live, that buried her.

“Reggie, man, you have to keep quiet, man. Don’t say your thoughts too loudly, or they’ll have you out the door as a traitor. I’m you, you know, still you. I’m me. I was…I am, I get so confused these days.”

He moved the food on his plate around in circles. TV food, the folks next door brought TV food to him each night. They said it was okay he didn’t know them. He hated that. They told him names. They had no faces. The food was placed on his TV tray. One plate, one fork, one spoon, one glass of water. His teeth were worn and so his food was precut, mushed by him into the catsup. He took a bite, swallowed, and took another. Food had no real meaning, it just kept him alive. It all tasted the same.

“When’s it morning, old man, when’s morning coming? Not soon enough. Devils on the TV, devils in church, next it will be devils in my home.”

The door to the room he sat in opened and closed. Reggie didn’t bother looking around.

“What do you want now?” he asked. “You don’t normally come for the dishes. Got something for me?”

Whoever had entered the room hissed at him, “Good evening, Reggie.”

“Don’t know why you bother me every night. I’m an old man. Got a devil for president, a war to begin more wars, ain’t nothing going to ever be okay again.”

“Your pain, it seems worse tonight, Reggie. Shall I take it from you?” The stranger moved to the front of the couch. He pushed the plastic container of pills in front of Reggie.

“Pain means I’m alive. I’m an old man. Ain’t nothing going to matter ever again. Leave me alone. I don’t want nothing from you.” He watched the TV change to a game show. “See they roll that wheel and people guess words. Fools always take too long. You want to watch this show with me? I ain’t about to go out with all that fireworks on the news going on.”

“I can take your pain away, Reggie. I can ease the burden of your heart.” The stranger sat down and rested his hand on Reggie’s knee. “I’m worried about you, Reggie, you don’t do anything but watch that idiot tube. The news will make your heart stop, if you keep watching it.”

“Heart stopped years ago when the wife died.”

“Reggie, all you have to do is tell me that I can take your soul to a different plane. But you have to say it.”

“Hell, you think you’re the devil or something? Take my soul to a plane. A plane to a place where no-one gives a damn. Nah, you get out. I’m not going with no devil. I have my own devils inside me. I live my own hell, don’t need to go to one.”

“Heaven won’t come to you, Reggie, not ever. You’ll never find relief sitting here. Come with me, Reggie, you’ll be warm and with family.”

Reggie watched the wheel spin. “Hey, weirdo, you know that phrase right there? Daniel Webster said it.”

“Fine, Reggie, fine. What’s the phrase?”

Turning to the illusion beside him, Reggie laughed and said, “Get the hell out.” He leaned back in his couch and closed his eyes. “Devil wouldn’t want me, I’m too much of a grumpy old Gus. Close the door as you leave. Damn curmudgeon needs his rest.”

The devil stood and smiled. Reggie was one of his favorites. He could bide his time. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Reggie.”

The Anger, The Crying; I Think Not.

I watch public television all the time. I travel in my mind away from the noise and bluster to places in the world that have frisky lambs, lochs, and waterfalls. I want to be in that world, just for a bit. There are always people who search for the old days, but I don’t want those. Disease, prejudice, a lack of money aren’t quaint or charming. I’m looking for modern charm in places of the world where charm is preserved. I don’t want the crass consumerism, the crowds that leave you without a breath, but I want to see how people get along together, supporting each other, and still taking time out for individuality. I’ve never had much patience for people who raise arguments for the sake of arguing. Arguments make my stomach knot up and my head ache.

Politics always concerns me because people forget that we are a “people” and not just two armies on the battlefield. I watch European governments deal with their parties with relief that there are more than two parties that have seats in power. They change with the whim of the people and sometimes because of events that overwhelm the senses.

They say that the last great generation was that of my grandparents who grew up in a time of strident ideologies that tore families apart, targeted people for genocide, and ripped the surface of the planet apart. People gave all they had to make sure the stridency of hate ended. They believed their sacrifices would protect those who came after from such a fate. Churches gathered resources to protect the innocent. Families gathered supplies and knit socks and hats. The Red Cross had a generosity that today is portioned carefully. Men and women gave their lives, in the military and as civilians. If you had two pots, and your neighbor had none, you shared. Or so the stories tell, and those stories that haven’t been written down or filmed have found a place in the garden of good deeds where you didn’t brag because you did something good. I’ve been told those good people are gone forever, and I’ll tell you know, more are coming up from the shadows where they learned of needs to the bright light where we should again celebrate them…

I live in an area with a high military and government service population. Life is fast-paced here and if you don’t slow down you will never see the good gleaming out in the open. If you are rich, you can take a world stance and be a hero in the public eye. Mrs. Clooney is representing a whole people in a court at Nuremberg, she was the lawyer who recently took the case of the Yadizi people of Northern Iraq. Young girls enslaved, young boys indoctrinated to ISIL, fathers and mothers murdered, what positive could possible come of such a situation? It’s the advocates who agree that there must be a world accountability. But what if you don’t have a lot of money? You don’t have the time? Would you want this happening in your country? We defended these people, so did the Kurds.

There was a couple, both Marines, who took care of things that “needed doing” in the neighborhood and at the school where their children attended. They never did it for the reason of publicity. They did it because it was right. They helped as they could; shoveling snow so that seniors didn’t risk it, rebuilding the crew shed for a high school with materials that were thrown up and now had a chance to serve. They cleaned up after Gradnight celebrations. They stayed busy because they believed community is where things start. They took a lonely neighbor to ball games, invited the neighbors to dinner, and reached out as much as they could.  I was saddened when they went back home.

There are so many volunteers providing meals for the elderly, for the dispossessed. The local market delivered four tractor loads of food last fall to be given to needy families. They’ve kept it up. We have a homeless prevention program that advocates, shelters and guides families back into a position where they can resume their lives in a positive way for themselves. Vets who provide services to animal rescue organizations? Vet clinics who foster kittens for adoption? Lawyers who work with families who can’t afford legal advice? PAL’s organizations who foster, promote and find homes for animals from all volunteer systems? Newman’s Own, where all profits are assigned to help those in need. Teachers who stay late to tutor for free? Ball teams that give back to youth in their cities promoting a healthy lifestyle. There are so many people out there who care. These are the greats of our times.

Communities want the same things: a reduction of pollution, services for those in need, medical treatment, an end to homelessness, respect for our veterans, education for the young, jobs, roads, schools. How did we start arguing about these things?

World War II saw the end of the implementation of the greatest social experiment ever. We took care of our own, we gave the world what was an intense reaction to the behaviors  of totalitarianism and Nazism. Bullies need a target to be better than in order for them to come to power. Roosevelt used an extensive national program to rebuild a nation whose classes didn’t communicate, to find work for those needing work, and to protect a national call to action by all of her members. It wasn’t perfect, but it established a system and a precedent to protect the “Welfare” or wellbeing of the citizens of our Nation. Seniors were given a chance to be fed, housed, and given medical treatment so they didn’t have to work until their dying day. early education came twenty years after.

Goldwater was the first conservative Republican, believing and creating a manifesto to undo the advances that the Roosevelts had brought forward. Simply put, he believed that our society would become weak if we kept “bailing” people out. That was his choice of word, not mine. I know of few, if any at all, that didn’t advance in life, be it from family, a teacher, the military, with a helping hand.

We’re Americans, not something for one and nothing for others. I’ve got MS. Because of it, I won’t have a pension to retire with, so should I be angry with other teachers who will get a pension that they have earned? I don’t think so. Luck has something to do with where we end up. So does due diligence. So does who you can rely on to show you the ropes to get where you want to be. Point is we are one people. E pluribus unum. We’re different, we’re the same, we’re colorful and bland, we believe in one God or not. We can cherish each other because of our uniquenesses and differences. Screaming hate from one party to the next accomplishes nothing.

Let’s get this voting thing done and go back to our work, dreams, and families. Let’s stand as Americans with the right to disagree, but let’s stand together.


The Empty Garden

Brown and barren, the leaves fell
The plane trees lacking color
Unredeemable, except for the seed pods
Which still hang like Christmas tree
Ornaments. Maple leaves red, yellow,
Brown, always the brown asserts
Itself into the color, hinting,
Threatening that the end comes.
Sunsets red, orange, the moon
Rises, Yellow, hazy, plump,
Food for the hunter, gatherer,
Soon virgin white will cover
The stains of life, healing, planting
Seeds of tomorrow’s world.
Teaching with iciness the survival
Of the young, the aged, the storekeeper
In all of the seasons to come.

Saturday’s Bread

Saturday morning smells woke me,
bread, oh bread with your power to awaken the mind,
to settle the soul that Mother still loved us.
The stairs where untrodden
as my nose gathered me to slip through the air,
to round the corners of a life suddenly at ease.
I floated like a cartoon character
following the scent, the smell, and yearning.

Mother would smile and motion to the crusts
and the world became taste.
Yellow butter melted, fresh bread with pockets of air that were
proof one should never argue with your mother
for the kneading was fine and consistent.
Strawberry jam or was it chokeberry jelly,
sweet and sour, warmed by the bread
as it escaped its jar.

Smooth and gentle, easy on the eyes,
but a feast of smells and memories.
Then the oven opened once more,
cinnamon, brown sugar, sweet bread,
the rolls had arrived and heaven was complete.

(For mum, mutti, mom, oh mother, mama and a courageous woman who could make something from naught.)