A Pocket of Resistance: A Moment of Sad, But Happy Memories

As noted in an earlier post, Maureen is celebrating (?) her 64th birthday today. It has already begun to be a lovely day.

i arose early to get some whole beans of my favorite coffee down at Donny’s Cafe co-located with the bicycle shop. i stopped at the grocery and picked up some inexpensive flowers for her and put them on the breakfast table before she awoke. She already has received a call from her brother Danny.

Yet all morning, i have had this sense of something missing. On my early morning ride through the fog i realized what was missing. Every year on every birthday of Maureen, me, our daughters, our grandson, my sister and brother and their families, we would receive a phone call from Lebanon, Tennessee. For us in the Southwest corner, the call would usually arouse us from our slumber. On the other end of the line, two purposefully stilted voices, in a most enjoyable offkey rendition,  would sing “Happy Birthday.”

That was what is missing…and we miss them.

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A Pocket of Resistance: “This Morning,” my reflection

Every once in a while, i read a poem that just flat out resonates with me. Often when this happens, i don’t know why.

When such resonance does occur, i am reminded of my freshman English 101 class at Vanderbilt in the autumn of 1962. The instructor was a graduate student. She was not particularly attractive or unattractive, a long, ungainly woman. i remember her mostly for wearing those very noticeable armpit absorbent pads. i forgot her name long, long ago, but i remember, oh, how i remember our disagreement. 

We were reading a poem from Cleanth Brooks’ and Robert Penn Warren’s Understanding Poetry. She asked us to identify and explain the symbolism of a classic poem. As per usual, i have forgotten the poem, but i’m pretty sure it was a romantic poet, and it would be fitting if it was William Wordsworth, who later became one of my all time favorite poets. In my written assignment and later in class,  i declined her invitation to analyze the poem in terms of symbolism. i professed to admiring the poem for the beauty of the language, the lilt, the way it struck me emotionally. i claimed the poem could have been written by the author whomever it was (oh, i do so hope it was Wordsworth), because he had the idea of the poem, the words, the way they fit, the meter falling into place, and he just found it beautiful as is, just right.

She disagreed disapprovingly, to  put it mildly. i received a “D” on the paper and a “C” in the course, one of the better grades i received in that tumultuous two years and a semester of misguided intentions, poor choice of a major, bizarre hours (20,  19, 21, and 18 hours in the four regular semesters), one hell of a lot of sports events, and even more drinking and partying. After all, i had been set free from restrictions, and by god, i was going to take advantage (Not!) of such freedom.

Upon reflection, it is somewhat ironic that in my estimation, the best piece of writing i ever composed was almost five years later for Dr. Bill Holland at Middle Tennessee. It was a term paper in Holland’s Romantic Literature course, the best course i took in my life. i wrote a comparison of  Wordsworth’s Tintern Abby, and Warren’s The Ballad of Billie Potts, focusing on the similarities of the symbolism of “Time” used in both poems.

Sadly, the two copies i have retained are missing some key pages. i would like to revisit it. i think it would inspire me to improve my writing and do a much better job of organizing and research — after all, my roots are in newspaper journalism, and i create on the fly. Sometimes it’s just pure laziness. i need some inspiration to be better.

But then, i remember old armpit Suzy or whatever the hell her name was, and then…

This morning, i read my “The Writers’ Almanac” daily email. The lead poem by Jo McDougall resonated, caught me off guard, made me wonder, made me think, and i was emotionally involved.

Some things are just right, just right.

This Morning

As I drive into town
the driver in front of me
runs a stop sign.
A pedestrian pulls down his cap.
A man comes out of his house
to sweep the steps.
bright as raspberries.

I turn on the radio.
Somebody tells me
the day is sunny and warm.
A woman laughs

and my daughter steps out of the radio.
Grief spreads in my throat like strep.
I had forgotten, I was happy, I maybe
was humming “You Are My Lucky Star,”
a song I may have invented.
Sometimes a red geranium, a dog,
a stone
will carry me away.
But not for long.
Some memory or another of her
catches up with me and stands
like an old nun behind a desk,
ruler in hand.

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A Pocket of Resistance: Some things were just flat not meant to be and others, in particular a beautiful woman, were meant to be

Tomorrow, my forever bride has a birthday.

In February, a most wonderful woman and her husband visited with friends in San Diego. Another couple, also from Oxford, Ohio, came with the them. The six friends have been getting together at least once a year for a number of years.

Maureen and i joined them for dinner on a Thursday. Sunday, i took this wonderful woman out for coffee at an incredible bakery, Bread and Cie in Hillcrest. i know it’s incredible because Maureen goes out of her way to get their bread. Kathy and i had a wonderful afternoon remembering old times and catching up on our families.

As i have mentioned earlier, Kathy McMahon Klosterman is someone who ran with me in Newport, Rhode Island in 1969. It was a wonderful, care-free, fun and laughing time, still one of the most joyous periods of my life. Ours was truly a platonic relationship. In the early 1970’s, we again met briefly one afternoon in Fort Adams Navy housing when her husband Jim met my wife Kathie and our infant daughter Blythe. Kathy Klosterman and i have recently reconnected on Facebook (so all of you naysayers about that social media can suck it up) and effected our get togethers when she visited her friends.

After we had about two hours of talking over our coffee and tea, i began my what-if game with myself again. A constant with my what-if game is it expands exponentially.

“What if i  had stayed on the Hawkins and not gone to Vietnam. Could the platonic relationship with Kathy have grown into something more?

“What if i had read the signs correctly and not married my first and second wives? Who might i have ended up with in marriage or could i have stayed single as was my intent at the end of the two marriages? ”

“What if i had shunned writing and the Navy as careers and returned home to Lebanon and worked with my father? i would know a lot less about the world, business, management, and leadership, but would i have been wealthier or happier?”

“What if i had kept on driving into Georgia that summer night in 1961 and eloped with that  beautiful Kentucky girl, instead of us mutually agreeing to turn around? How would that have turned out?”

“What would have happened if i had lost my inhibitions, and aggressively pursued my other platonic relationship, Sharry Baird Hager, who i loved since a fourth grade dream?”

“What if i had not heeded my father’s concerns and quit pursuing Kosyko, a beautiful doll-like woman, in Sasebo, Japan?”

“What if i had not backed out of my relationship with Angelina Judea Garcia Garcon? She was one of the most beautiful women i’ve ever met but had been married in the Philippines and consequently, couldn’t leave the country. She lied to me about her age by ten years and forgot to tell me she had two sons until late in the relationship. If i had not called it off, could i have gotten her to the states, and how would that have worked out?”

“What if i hadn’t gone down to Parron Hall to buy those office panels and not met Maureen, would i have pursued my college passion, Susan Butterfield, now Mrs. Brooks, and maybe made a match? Would i be living in Atlanta?”

There are more expansions of the what-if game, but i tire of considering such things. They are gone. They did not work out for many reasons. I remain close friends with a number of these women because we did have something special, and truly cared for each other.

But i did live my life and made my decisions. And it is what it is.

And…i met Maureen. i have raved about Maureen’s beauty, inside and out, her caring for others, the good fit we have on the practical side of things. i am still enthralled with her sense of humor and that beautiful laugh.

i have told stories about how we met, about how we decided to marry, about how we decided to have a second child, about many wonderful things given to me by Maureen. i have written love poems to her. i try to daily let her know how much she means to me.

Perhaps the most magical thing about her is she puts up with me. i think back on two failed marriages, two engagements that didn’t work out, a whole bunch of times i fell in love but no one pulled the trigger.  i don’t think any of those women, most of whom i still love as special friends, could have put up with me.

Maureen and i are different. She is methodical in getting things done, financially responsible, sometimes frenetic in her worry about what could happen. i am haphazard, spur of the moment, unconcerned about finances, laissez faire about what is coming next. After all, being a single Navy commander in San Diego and sailing to the Western Pacific can spoil a man, make him act weird.

But we fit. We laugh often during the day. We stop, hug and kiss without notice often, every day. We enjoy going out. We enjoy staying home. We enjoy each other. We have become each other’s guardian. She finds what i’ve lost on cue. She helps me remember what i forgot. She makes sure i lock the door. i help her when she needs a stronger hand to open something.

She is a sophisticated perfectionist with a heart of gold. She worries too much, but she’s married to me who hardly worries at all. She is a planner. i am spur of the moment. She is thorough. i am, in this sense, a lot like my mother described my father: “a worm in hot ashes.” She is meticulous. i am sloppy. She is neat and orderly, always knowing where to find things. i lose something on a continual basis and can never find what i’m looking for.

She is beautiful. Oh lord, is she beautiful, inside and out, and she cares, is understanding, gets her feelings hurt easily, has an incredible ability to listen and care for people, and deeply loves her family, friends, and, of course, her two cats. She loves my jokes, and that laugh, that crazy laugh. It makes people start to laugh just to hear it, having no idea why they are laughing.

When i think about us and my chequered past, i think of the wonderful women i have met in my lifetime. i have loved many. There are only a few i shouldn’t have loved. i am close friends with many of them, and Maureen has become close to many of them. But upon reflection, Maureen is the only one i believe who would have put up with me for more than thirty-three years. i think i’ll keep her if she will let me.



The photo is from 1982. It was taken in the parking lot of Balboa Park. We were on our way to a concert in the Starlight Bowl, an outside amphitheater. Tommy Dorsey’s band, Sarah Vaughn , and the Modern Jazz Quartet were the performers. It was magic, even with the aircraft on the flight path to Lindbergh Field frequently interrupting the performances.

Afterwards, we went to the Hotel Del Coronado’s boat house on Coronado Bay adjacent to the yacht club. At the time, the boat house was an upscale restaurant. We bypassed the restaurant and moved up the stairs to the second floor, then a bar with Victorian furniture in the lounge area. We sat on a divan  next to the bay window looking out on the Hotel Del.

She had an aperitif (and if i sit here long enough i will remember the name of it) and i had an Armagnac. i think i was in heaven.

Tomorrow, she celebrates her 64th birthday. During the day, we are going to the new San Diego Library, a magnificent structure, and afterwards will have lunch, probably on the bay. In the evening, we are going to our favorite restaurant, The Wine Vault and Bistro, with two of our most favorite friends, Pete and Nancy Toennies.

i will get her something nice and inexpensive. She frowns on expensive gifts for her. Even if the gift ran into six figures, it would not be enough. We met several weeks before her thirty-first birthday. i have told the story of our initial meeting. It was not love at first sight, although there was something in the attraction for both of us. It took both of us a while to figure out it was for real. We both had to make some major decisions about the rest of lives to commit to the change.

It was worth it.

We have grown into unconditional love, not just between the two of us, but for all of those folks we hold dear.

It is easy to love her. i thank her every day, but it’s not enough, never enough.

Happy Birthday, beautiful lady. i am one hell of a lucky man.

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