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Spoiler Alert: There’s a potentially gross photo at the bottom of this story, but everyone ends up living happily ever after.

K, ready?

Here goes…

Many years ago – where I grew up, Garter Snakes were pretty common, and one time, as I was cleaning up the tools one day behind the garage my dad and I were building, I heard a rather strange noise rustling in the grass.

I looked around and saw a familiar, though large, garter snake, but there was something a bit different about this one, and I stepped down off the scaffolding and took a closer look.

What I saw made me look quickly at the fading light, run inside, grab the camera, and get a photo before I did what needed to be done next.

See, the snake was stuck… and in a bit of a bind.

And the newt (or salamander, or whatever it is there) was also stuck… and in a bit of a bind…

And neither of them was giving up.

The newt was, in its last act of defiance, not going to die, plain and simple.

So I put the camera down, and pulled the dazed newt out of the snake’s mouth, being careful to not injure either of them more than they were already were – well – worse for wear…

The newt for its part, spent awhile catching its breath.

The snake spent that time eyeing its former dinner and working the kinks out of its jaw.

After some time, they both took a look at each other and each slithered their own way back to their burrow, or nest, or whatever it called home.

And it got me thinking…

There are times when we’re the snake – and we’re just doing what we do, and we get stuck, and can’t figure out how to get out of the situation we’ve gotten ourselves into.

And there are times when we’re the newt – and we’re just minding our own business and find ourselves being eaten alive and have no idea how to get out of the situation, but giving up without a heck of a fight isn’t even an option.

And then there are times – when you’ve got the rare privilege of being able to be in a position to help someone – or more than some “one” – get out of the situation they’re in – and by your position, your experience, your perspective, whatever it is – you’re able to help one – or all of the characters in our little story – the newt and the snake – go on and live happy lives – and without you – without that friend with perspective, with wisdom, with understanding, and with patience – they might just not be here today.

Think about that a bit.

So – for those of you who’ve been the newt, or the snake, or the big guy with the camera he tried to keep from getting newt slime on, allow me to thank you on behalf of newt and snake.

Oh, understand – this is not fiction – this is a true story – the photo below is my proof – but it’s also an allegory – in which many of you reading this may have played one of those parts at some point in someone’s life.

Keep doing that – because somehow – somewhere, you might find yourself smiling when you hear that newt be able to say, because of you, “I got better…”

Take care out there, folks – and don’t forget to take care of each other.

Oh – and here’s the picture…

Snake and Newt

Snake and Newt


Hey all,

I was out in the back yard some time ago and I noticed the Burley bicycle trailer (something like this) cowering from the weather underneath the little tree house I’d made for Michael years ago.  He and I used to go all over the place with that thing… We found that we could pop the wheels off, fold it up and put it in the trunk, then pop the bike on the back of the car, then go someplace fun and go for a long bike ride without having to actually ride *there* to do the ride… It made for a lot more fun (and energy) during the ride itself.

One time, we went to the zoo, just riding from the house – it wasn’t far, but it was up a pretty steep hill – and it seemed a lot harder to get there that time.  He was fine, but I found out that I’d accidentally left our daughter’s french horn in the ‘trunk’ of the trailer behind Michael.  Turns out dragging random brass musical instruments around behind you slows you down when you’re going uphill.  We begged the person at the gate to store it for us while we were at the zoo that day with the animals, and I made sure not to go too fast down the hills on the way home.

Other than the zoo, we went so many places with that bike and trailer…. to the Ballard Locks for picnics, to playgrounds for him to meet people and play, to Discovery Park to ride the trails and pick blackberries.

Michael picking some of the blackberries

Michael picking some of the blackberriesa

We always had a tall flag on the trailer with a little spinning wind sock on it, and it would flutter in the breeze as we went down the road or the trails.  Because that made us stand out a bit, one time a lady saw us in the morning on our way to the playground, and in the afternoon out at Discovery Park (a few miles apart) – and stopped me, wondering, “Do you take him EVERYWHERE in that thing?”

I had to answer both yes and no, and explained how I did ride the bike everywhere, but sometimes used the car to get to ‘everywhere’.  She seemed to appreciate that.

The time that stands out the most is one time when Cindy and Alyssa were out of town… I’m not exactly sure where, but I had no car to get to church in, and so Michael and I decided we’d go to church – well, me to church and him to Sunday School, and we did it on the bike.

From our house, it’s about a mile and a half down hill – which is fun and fast, and then it’s the Burke Gilman trail, which is flat, then we cross the Fremont Bridge (lowest drawbridge in the US, and therefore the busiest).  Then it was up a gentle hill (Florentia Street) for a bit, and then left up a very steep hill (First Avenue) to go on a bicycle, much less a bicycle pulling a trailer with a little boy in it (wisely, we left the French horn at home this time)

What was interesting is that it was so steep that I was in first gear, and each time I pedaled, the front wheel would pop off the ground just a little, so clearly I couldn’t steer with the wheel off the ground, but when the wheel wasn’t on the ground was the only time I had power.  I got going slower and slower until I was making S-turns up the road – going from side to side to build up a little speed, then u-turning up the hill and doing it over again, until I got to an entrance to a parking lot where First Avenue was level.

At that point I was huffing and puffing, and just rode in circles on that level bit of ground for a bit to catch my breath, only to hear a small voice behind me say, “Papa! You Made it!”

I’d completely missed the fact that he was sitting back there watching me.

I’d completely missed the fact that I was being an example to him, just by doing what I was doing.

As hard as I was working, as much as I was struggling to keep us moving – I was unaware that little eyes were on me.

I completely lost whatever lesson there was at church and realized the lesson was right there…

And of course, it got me thinking.

How many times does that happen to us?

How many times are people watching us, silently cheering us on?

And how many times would we keep going just that one extra step if we knew that?

So I’m going to put this out there for you, because there have been times where I’ve been the one cheering people on privately, but there have been other times when I’ve been the one quietly, no, silently cheering someone on…

Without actually telling them.

I’d be quietly watching, hoping for them to succeed in whatever battle they’re fighting.

And I’d want them to win.

I want them to climb that mountain.

I want them to find the balance between powering when they need to move forward, and steering when they need to change direction.

I. Want. Them. To. Win.

So… for me – for you… respond to this.  It can be at the end of this blog, but it doesn’t have to be.  But respond to that someone you’re quietly cheering on, and put in it a note about someone you’re cheering on and why… Doesn’t have to include their name – in fact, it’d be better if you didn’t here… That’d protect their privacy, which would be good, because so many of these battles, climbs, challenges are so private – and then share this with them to actually let them know what you mean.

But be bold and let them know.

You have no idea how much a little bit of encouragement can mean to them in their battle.

Take care, God bless, and thanks.

Tom

 


Many years ago, when I was growing up, my uncle had this arsenal of weapons that we’d occasionally go out and use to shoot at helpless creatures.

The helpless creature of choice we had at the time was – well, a herd of unruly AMF bowling pins from Michigan that occasionally needed to be kept in line, and while other people might shoot at tin cans that would fall over, we’d set up these old bowling pins on a log, shoot at them, and if you hit them ju-u-u-u-st right, they’d explode.

This was cool.

I learned a lot in those days about shooting things.  I learned about gun safety – for example, when shooting a 9 mm semi-automatic, it is a really good idea to hold it with your right hand, and then cup your right hand and the gun in your left.

It makes for steadier aim.

It makes for a better target grouping.

But most importantly, it keeps your left thumb from crossing over your right thumb when shooting.

Why is that important?

Well, your left thumb isn’t supposed to be crossed over like that because when shooting a semi-automatic pistol, the recoil of a bullet firing pushes the slide back, ejecting the just fired shell casing (the thing that held the gunpowder) out the side as it goes, and loading a fresh bullet/casing as a spring inside pushes it back forward.

It is good to learn things like this before pulling the trigger.

Why?

Well…

I remember holding the gun very carefully, I thought…

I remember looking exceptionally cool, I thought…

And I remember aiming, and pulling the trigger very carefully, I thought…

And I remember the sound of the gun going off, along with a tremendous amount of pain as that slide shot back through the first knuckle of my left thumb.

I still have a scar on that knuckle where the slide cut through it.

Now, being guys, especially guys out in the country, our first aid was, well, basic, and limited.  There was the typical male expression of care and concern, along the lines of “Hey Hey HEY! No bleeding on the gun, it makes them rusty.”  And someone produced something vaguely resembling a wadded up paper towel, or a sleeve, or something, and we wrapped the thumb so it would stop bleeding, and so the guns wouldn’t rust.

After we’d finished firing the handguns, we got out the rifles and really started going at the bowling pins, and I have to say that a .223 projectile, when it hits a bowling pin and goes through that outer coat of white laminate and hits the inner core of hardwood, really makes it clear that you’ve hit something.  A .223 is what’s fired by what most of us know as an M-16, the military version of the civilian AR-15.  Phenomenal amounts of powder, itty bitty hunk-o-lead.  It means that the bullet goes out so fast that the bowling pins – well, they fell over, and like I said earlier, if you hit them just right, they exploded.  If you didn’t hit just right, they’d spin a bit, or wobble, but one thing was absolutely certain: if they got hit by the .223 bullets, they were going down.

==

Fast forward about 30 years or so… I was down visiting my mom with my son and found a large box in the garage, labeled AMF, from Muskegon Michigan – and found it was full of old bowling pins.

I was stunned.

These were obviously descendants of the bowling pins we’d been shooting at when I was a teenager.

And I looked at my son… the descendant of the one who’d been shooting at the bowling pins when he’d been a teenager…

And the more I thought about it, the more it just seemed like a neat thing to do – go out to the same old log and shoot at those bowling pins again with my son, and I thought that maybe I’d use my old .22 and my dad’s .22 rifle and pistol, and we’d go see if we could again attempt to control that burgeoning bowling pin population down there.

So we got the rifles that had been stored, unfired for a long time,

…and got the pistol, that had been stored, unfired, for a long time,

…and found some ammo that had been stored, unfired, for a long time…

In fact, as we thought back, that ammo had likely been sitting on the same shelf since the time my dad had bought it.  Come to think of it, it’s entirely possible that the ammunition was as old as my son firing it was.  We didn’t know that fresh ammo was a good thing at the time – it had just been sitting there on that shelf, I mean, that’s where ammo was, right?

(your line: “ri-i-i-ght….”)

So we went up and set up the bowling pins in roughly the same place we’d set them up many years before, but the log we’d put them on earlier had rotted away.  This time we set them up in front of a large pile of dirt and ash, made sure things were clear, and then carefully took turns shooting at them.

I noticed a couple of things right off.

  1. Shooting at bowling pins with a .22 instead of a .223 doesn’t make them explode, it irritates them.
  2. Irritated bowling pins are dangerous.

And it wasn’t quite as satisfying to hit them with the .22 – they didn’t explode – even after quite a bit of firing.  They just wobbled a bit, like Weebles.  We think that shooting at them like this must have just irritated them, because at one point we had just one standing, and I fired at it, and heard this wriiiinnnnnnnnnggggg sound way, way off to the right just like the ricochets you hear in old westerns…

Hmmm… Bowling pins shoot back?

In fact, that was most interesting – we hadn’t ever heard of that in real life before.

I could just imagine the headline… “Man gets into gunfight, with bowling pin.”

“…and loses…”

No, that clearly wouldn’t do.

But later, we realized that this must have been the shot that took the bowling pins from irritated to angry, and, just like the people shooting that day were related to the people who had shot 30 years earlier – it was obvious the bowling pins were related, too…

And as my son, who looked a lot like me at that age, took the next shot – we could almost hear the one bowling pin we’d been shooting at, furious now, say quietly, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die…” – and the bullet that had just been fired out of the rifle came ricocheting back, not hitting anything, but coming closer than anyone would ever want to admit, close enough to make us decide it was time to put the guns away for the day.

We looked closer at the bowling pin.  It was apparent that it had been hit a number of glancing blows on the sides by other bowling pins, but very clearly had been hit by bullets twice, right up at the top.

The .22 bullets with their little bit of powder and little bit of lead, instead of going through the plastic laminate like the .223 bullets had done with a little more lead, and a lot more powder, simply flattened out and bounced back.  The most distinct marks, not even dents, but marks, that the bowling pin had were those right there at the top, not even ½ of an inch apart, and they looked eerily just like little gray eyes, staring back at us.

We learned several valuable lessons that day.

  1. Never shoot at armed bowling pins
  2. If anything you’re shooting at starts shooting back – it’s a good idea to bug your butt out of there.
  3. And last but not least, regardless of whether the bowling pins look like they’re armed, if you hear them even whisper anything about Inigo Montoya, leave them alone.

This visit to the time machine was hard.

A number of years ago, just after our son was born, my parents came to visit and see the new member of the family.  My dad wanted to see what we’d made.  My wife handed our son to me, and as I put my dad’s grandson into his arms, I could feel how he’d held me when I was that age.  I could sense the love, the care, the overwhelming urge to  protect this little bundle of life with every fiber of his being – and see he knew that he would not be able to do that, all while he struggled, in that moment, to understand the balance of holding on and letting go.

And then – as if to put that to rest, just as that thought crossed dad’s mind, my son reached up and held onto dad’s finger, the one that still had the scar from the table saw incident a few years earlier.

Michael holding Dad's hand

Michael holding Dad’s hand

And dad loved it, and let his grandson hold his finger at the beginning of his life, long before he taught him what pulling it did (and the giggles that followed)

And my memories flashed on another image tacked up on the scuffed walls of the time machine.

It was a similar situation, 9 years later – as I stood at my dad’s hospital bed, and saw my son again holding my father’s hand…

Dad holding Michael's hand

Dad holding Michael’s hand

Well, actually – they were holding each others hands.  In this case, my dad held onto his grandson’s hand one last time.

And I’m glad he had those 9 years – though that last year was so hard.

Tomorrow it’ll have been 16 years that he’s been gone, living on in our memories, in our laughter, in our tears.

And… and I still miss him…

Take care, folks – oh – just a reminder – love the folks you’ve got while you’ve got them.


I wandered into the back yard the other day, unlatching the gate, realizing the post the latch was attached to was showing its wear and would need to be replaced soon.

I shut it gently – intending to just sit out there a bit, in the shade of the apple trees, as we’d had a busy summer, and I’d spent very little time out there, so I wanted to enjoy it a little bit while I had the chance.

The one thing those three apple trees, a Red Delicious, a Rome, and a Gravenstein, have in common is that they are apples, and that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

The Red Delicious and Rome ripen in the fall, often in November, and they last forever if the bugs don’t get to them… While they’re still on the tree, they’ll just happily hang out, ripening slowly, for a month or more, and you’ve got all sorts of time to think about what you want to do with them. You could make apple crisp out of them, you could bake them, you could make cider… All sorts of stuff… You’ve got plenty of time to decide.

But the Gravenstein is different.

It ripens first.

In August.

It has a wonderfully crisp texture if you pick the apples at the right time.  However, it has taken me years to understand when that “right” time actually is, that time when it’s just a little tart, with enough zing to it to really make your mouth water and your jaw ache when you bite into it.

You see – as I mentioned, they ripen in August.

Every other year, actually.

What I didn’t mention is that the wonderfully crisp texture I was referring to is available at a specific time in August.

And that time is between 10:38 and 10:42 AM…

On the second Tuesday.

Of August.

Every other year.

What’s become a little annoying in all of this is that I’m often already occupied by something else between 10:38 and 10:42 AM…

On the second Tuesday.

Of August.

Every other year.

And once you get past that – usually around 10:43 AM, the apples start falling – like large, heavy, almost mushy hail.

And then the birds, squirrels, and the odd opossum, and whatever bugs are hungry, have a feast, and pretty soon those apples that once held such promise, are down on the ground, pecked by birds and worms and – well, anything but us.

It’s sunny this afternoon as I write this, and as I shut the gate behind me earlier, I realized, without having to look at the calendar, that we were well past the second Tuesday of August.

I got out the lawn rake and started raking them into a pile where the three trees overlapped so I could toss them into the compost, and this one apple just kind of caught my eye… I was kneeling on the ground, in the shade of the Rome tree, putting them all in a big metal pan, and this one apple stood out like it wanted the attention. It was bright and red, but had obviously been visited by a bird or two, and definitely a few bugs. It would not be a part of any apple crisp, or baked apples, or cider.

Apples

I took a picture of it and some of the other apples amidst the dry grass and the already crinkly leaves while in the shade of the Rome apple tree.

…and it got me thinking.

See, sometimes in life, like with those Rome apples, we’re given opportunities that last a long time… when options are many, and choices are plentiful, and you can make apple crisp, or baked apples, or cider for a long time.

But sometimes, life gives us Gravensteins… they’re absolutely stunning, but unless you’re ready to pick them when they’re ready – whether you’re ready or not, then you lose out on the opportunity.

And that opportunity may be rare, coming only on the second Tuesday.

Of August.

Every other year.

Between 10:38 and 10:42 AM.


I’ve learned a few things in life, and every now and then I get upset with folks – go figure… I’m human.

And if I get upset, I’ve learned that the way to get my way is to stick to the facts, to be polite, but also be firm, and if I’m clearly right, I don’t take no for an answer.

But I’ve also learned that something that can be more fun than getting my way, is to write a nice note to someone – or their boss, and just let them know the story behind what they did for someone, and how that affected people.  In this case, we had a bit of an adventure with our car – and I sent the below note to the folks at Chevron, the brand sold at the one gas station up on top of Snoqualmie Pass.  I’ve edited it just a bit for readability and added some links so you can see where it all happened if you’re curious, but otherwise I’ve left it alone.  I also removed the actual email address I sent it to because I don’t want them getting spammed from here.

That said, join us in the retelling of an adventure we had back in 1997…

From:                                    Tom Roush

Sent:                                     Tuesday, July 15, 1997 1:17 PM

To:                                        <removed>

Subject:                                Re: Dale, at the Chevron on I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass, in Washington

Something pretty impressive happened a couple of weeks ago, and one of your employees was involved, so I thought I’d tell you a little story…

We were taking our daughter and a friend from our home in Seattle to a church camp near Yakima in our venerable 1982 Buick LeSabre Station Wagon (the Land Yacht edition).  It was the parent’s dream trip – kids way the heck in the back jabbering away, but quietly enough so as not to cause any problems, 6 year old munchkin belted securely in the front with us, quietly playing with some toys, luggage in the middle seat.  It was great.  Kind of like you’d expect to see in one of those old ads with the mother and the father and all the kids happily singing in the car while they’re driving down the road (on Chevron gas (little plug there)…

It was looking rosy.

Side note here:  Our car, as big as it is and as many systems as it has, does not have any gauges to tell you the condition of any of those systems.  Thus, instead of having a gauge warning you of potential problems, you have lights telling you of suddenly existing problems after the fact.

But then (dramatic music here) 5 miles from the summit, Michael (who had a beautiful view of the dashboard and the idiot lights thereon) saw this large red light come on with the word “TEMP” on it from his booster seat between his mom and me.  Being the brilliant little boy that he is, he recognized the situation and said, “It’s overheating!”

The message from the light was confirmed by steam blowing up from under the hood.

I pulled over.

We still had about 120 miles to go, much less get back home.

So, with somewhat limited options, we sat there, with a little waterfall on the right and traffic on the left, while the car cooled down…

I did the typical male thing of poking around under the hood.  I got some water from the waterfall to see how hot the engine really was and sprinkled it onto the coolest part (the intake manifold) where it instantly boiled off. Hmm… there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot I could do until the thing cooled down…

So my wife read the funnies in the car, the girls chatted, Michael read a Richard Scarry book.

It could have been better, but it could also have been much worse…

After some time, I started the car, the overheat light flickered out (and there was much rejoicing).

We got going, cranked up the heater to draw heat away from the engine, with the plans of just getting to the top of the pass where we could pull into the gas station to sit and let the car cool off someplace away from the traffic long enough to add some more water and/or antifreeze.

As the “West Summit, 1/2 mile” sign came into view, the overheat light came on again.

It was far more dangerous to pull over there than by the waterfall because the road curved right and the shoulder was almost nonexistent, so I kept going, very slowly, with the idea of just making it to the summit and pulling over at the Chevron station there.

We made it to the exit ramp just as the “check engine” light came on in addition to the overheat one. (Gad I hate those idiot lights!) …  The tension in the car – at least the front seat, was getting a little higher than normal, and Michael noticed it.  The following could not have been scripted any better for timing…

We’re pulling into the station…

Michael: “Well, one of two things can happen…. One, the engine could blow up -“

Cindy:    “Michael, the engine is NOT going to blow u-“

Car:      “BOOOM!!! “

Michael:  “WOW!… Cool!”

Steam shot up on all sides of the hood, between it and the fenders, it and the windshield, out through the radiator…

One does not make an entrance like that – anywhere – without attracting a bit of attention.

I got out, popped the hood, and after clearing the steam out so I could see, realized that most of our upper radiator hose was, well, gone.  Not even ductape could fix this one… (I also noticed that the top of the engine had been steam cleaned to the point where you could eat off it) I wiggled what remained of the hose around and realized my options were simple: “I need to get a radiator hose.” I’d figured I’d go into the store by the gas station, buy a hose, put it on the car, and walk out – well, drive out.

I figured wrong.

Our Buick has an upper radiator hose that was designed by – well, GM… One size on one end, another size on the other end, multiple curves in the middle that have to be…

Just.

So.

And nothing in the store fit.

At all.

I asked one of the ladies behind the counter if there was a car parts store nearby, to which she replied, “Which direction are you going?”

My initial reaction was, “Uh, I’m not right now…”

She understood, and told me there was a parts store in Cle-Elum to the east about 30 miles, and North Bend, to the west about 20 miles.

Hmmmm….

Then she realized that one of their employees lived in North Bend and was starting his shift soon, and, “Would you like us to call him? Maybe he can get the part for you…”

With visions of stranded travelers being taken advantage of by these folks, I agreed that they should call.  They handed me the phone once they got him, and he sounded very businesslike, asking specific enough questions for me to realize he knew precisely what he was talking about, and then hung up, telling me he’d be on his way in about 20 minutes, and to expect him up there in about 45.

It was with this “stranded traveler” feeling that I called the parts store myself to see what the part would cost, and was told it had a suggested price of around 18.00.

Knowing this, I had some idea of what to expect, and with nothing else to do, I spent my time playing with our son while my wife, our daughter, and her friend read their books and chatted in the car.

A little later, Dale came up with a large plastic bag with the exact hose in it that I needed.  I followed him into the store to pay for it, and he handed the receipt over to the folks behind the counter, they charged me the 18.00 plus tax.

I was stunned.

To top it off, they let me pay with a check (we don’t have credit cards) – and I was able to put the hose on the car, fill the radiator with water & antifreeze and go on my way.  We drove carefully, and had a slow, but safe and uneventful trip from there on out.

As it was, our six hour trip turned into a 12 hour trip, but as we drove, we saw other stranded motorists on the freeway, many with tow trucks already there, and realized that without Dale’s help, and without the willing cooperative attitude of the staff and management of the station, our trip would have been much longer, and much more “eventful”.

Whoever’s in charge of those folks, please recognize they are performing a valuable service, and are to be highly commended for what they do, for their honesty, their integrity, and their sheer humanity.

Sincerely,

Tom Roush

As a side note, as I walked out, there was another family stranded up there, their fan motor had burned out, and Dale, in the Chevron station, said he could get another motor for 150.00.  This was thought to be rather expensive, until the other stranded motorist found they go for more than 200.00.

Another small deed for him, another family whose life wasn’t turned upside down.

Sincerely,

Tom Roush

And I sent it off.   I never did hear back from them, but I’d hope someone from on high gave Dale and the team up there a pat on the back or something equally nice.  Come to think of it, I don’t know if Dale is still working up there, I mean, it’s been almost 20 years, but just in case he gets it – there’s a fellow in Seattle – and his family – who are still thankful for that deed of kindness he did those many years ago.

Take care, folks.  Be nice to each other.


I heard the antelopes ricocheting off the elephants as they came stampeding down the hallway to my room.

Eight, maybe ten people skidded to a stop at my doorway, all trying to get at the same time, almost like a Keystone Kops or Three Stooges kind of a thing.

Somewhere a two way radio chirped, “Patient is showing over 300”.

I looked up at all of them, looked around, and asked, “Which patient?”

“Patient is fine, asymptomatic”

“But he’s showing over 300!”

“And he’s sitting here, talking to us.”

Thus began my first bit out of ICU, where I’d been for a few days as a result of some complications of surgery.

Leigh, the charge nurse, took over and said to whoever was on the radio, “He’s okay, I know him.”

And the main reason we’d gotten into this mess was because they’d wanted me out of ICU, and I had to go to the bathroom.

I’d looked around for the nurse call button (because in ICU they don’t want you going to the bathroom without someone there in case you fall), saw that the call button was in a very poorly designed spot, and swung my legs over the side of the bed so I could turn to the left far enough to reach it. They’d just put some kind of a new monitoring system on me about the size of an iPhone, and sure enough, it had transmitted a message to whatever was monitoring me that it was rather annoyed with something.  That message was picked up by someone manning a monitor in another building, who’d called for a “Rapid Response Team” to come tearing down the hall to see why my pulse was reading 300.

They were all baffled – the numbers indicated that I should be anything other than sitting there on the edge of the bed chatting coherently with them, and I had to tell them exactly what happened… “I needed to go to the bathroom, and wanted to push the nurse’s button, but the bed’s so weird you can’t reach it without breaking your arm, so I sat up, swung my legs over, and then heard a herd of elephants racing down the hall.”

“Well, there were some gazelles in there, too” said one of the svelte, non-elephantine members of the medical staff.

I agreed, there were.

They tried to figure out what to do, given that my pulse was clearly showing higher than it had any right to be, and I was still sitting there, chatting with them, coherently…

A few more radio calls were made, the person on the other end was finally, laboriously convinced that I was really, truly, sitting up and alive (I said hi to them on the radio, finally), but someone decided that because of all this I wasn’t actually ready to be out of ICU yet, so they called down, found they were just finishing up cleaning up and sanitizing my room from when I’d been there about a half hour before, and decided to take me back.

So we piled all the personal items back on the bed, just left me on it – they decided to hook up an oxygen tank just in case, and then we all paraded down to the sixth floor where I headed back to room 657, and we sat there – oxygen tank, personal stuff, and me all on the bed, waiting in the hallway till the room aired out from the sanitizing chemicals. It’d look bad, ya know, to have me have lung issues in ICU because of the chemicals they used there…

We worked together to move me out of the non-ICU bed into the ICU one, got me all hooked up to the various monitors, got everything situated, and just as the nurse was leaving the room, I realized that the one thing that had gotten me back there hadn’t happened yet.

I still had to go to the bathroom.

 


Tom, Dad & Michael

Two fathers and two sons… A photo from Father’s Day, 1997

I’ve been pondering here for a little bit, and so I’ll just start this story out with the results of the pondering…

See, it (the pondering) got me thinking…

Father’s day’s tomorrow.

I find myself thinking back on and missing my own dad – how for many years he thought he was a failure – and yet, good came out of those things he thought he’d failed at.

See, some years back, I learned how hard it is to be a parent… How much dedication, love, understanding, and determination it takes to love your kids when you’re trying to understand them, and support them when your memories of the world you grew up in “When you were their age” simply do not mesh with the world they’re growing up in.

In being a parent, I’ve been told you can do it like your parents did, do it the opposite of the way they did, or do something new.

I’ve found that there are things we all want to change from our childhoods, but there are also things we want to keep, traditions we want to pass on, and so on, and I’m still learning which ones are which.

I found myself often wanting to give advice to my kids, but then, since this is Father’s day realized how much I’d wanted my dad to listen to me – just to listen, and realized that that was so much more important…

And so, I try to spend my time listening to my kids when they want to talk.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but all the time, it’s important.

So without writing much more (hah, it’s me… 😉  I’m gonna take you through a little guided tour of fatherhood, and my experiences with it… I just went through this blog – and found myself smiling, laughing, and tearing up just a bit at the stories I’d written over the last few years.  See, my Dad left us about 16 years ago.  He no longer lives with us on this earth, but lives with us in our memories… That transition, for those of you who’ve not gone through it, is astonishingly hard.  Cindy’s dad did the same thing a couple of years ago, and the transition for her, her family, and us, is ongoing.  I think that’s the little bit where you find yourself laughing at things they might have said, memories you might have shared, and then crying at the same time because you miss them and can’t share the story the memory brings forth with them.

So the stories are in the links below – each one with a little intro to what it’s about… They’re not in any particular order other than the order I pulled them out of the blog – so they’re kind of in reverse chronological order as they were published, but not much else, so you can skip around and read whichever story without missing anything.

That said, the stories, about being, or having, or losing, a dad:

…I realized early on that keeping a straight face when you’re being a dad is something that comes with time…  In this case, I had an adventure in plumbing, and can still hear the laughter of both kids as the problem I was dealing with became painfully obvious (like, it hit me in the face obvious).  It still makes me smile, and they got to laugh at their dad (with his permission).

I remember how much I wanted my own dad to listen to me when I was a kid and a young adult.  Those moments were few and far between, and as a result, so absolutely precious in my mind.  I had a chance to listen to my son once where I so very consciously put my mind on “record” because I knew the story he was about to tell was going to be fun.  It actually is the very first story on the blog.

I’ve been asked, more than once, which story is my favorite – and it’s like asking parents which kid is their favorite… They’re all my favorites – for different reasons, but this one, “Hunting for Buried Treasure” keeps bubbling up to the top – because – well, you’ll have to read it… it’s not long, and any more would require a spoiler alert.

I remember how sometimes the dad I saw, (in his role as my dad) and the dad that was (an adult step-son), were two totally different people – I love this story for the sole reason that it showed a side of dad I didn’t know existed at the time, and it was a lot of fun to write.

This next one – just fair warning – it’s got a hankie warning on it for a reason… I think it was the story that started them.  It’s called ‘Letting go of the Saddle’ – and if you can imagine teaching your kid (or being taught by your dad) to ride a bike – there’s a moment, a very special moment, that happens.  It’s repeated throughout your life in different ways – and you’ll play different characters inside this story throughout your life, sometimes simultaneously.  A huge part of this story really felt like it wrote itself and I was just hanging on for the ride.  I remember the story changing about 2/3 of the way through, where my role in it changed – and I realized I was letting go of another saddle, but not one I was ready to let go of. It was a very hard story to write… I’ll leave it at that.

There’s the story, I’m sure you’ve heard, of The Prodigal Son.  I realized that for there to be a Prodigal Son, there had to be a Prodigal Father, this is the story of the Prodigal Father and me sharing the experience of waiting for our sons to come home.

Many years before I became a dad, I was a newspaper photographer, and had the privilege of watching someone else being a dad, and was able to capture the moment, and the very strong lesson, in a 500th of a second from across a parking lot.

I’ve realized that some stories take seconds to happen, but require months or years of pondering before they’re ready to be written.  This one was a little different.  It took years to happen, and a couple of hours to write.  It involved an F-4 Phantom, a cop, and – well, it made me smile then, and still makes me smile now.

One moment that I shared with my father in law was a simple one… a common occurrence in households around the world, but this one had something special in it.  And I miss the gentle soul who was my wife’s dad.

There was a moment, not quite 16 years ago as I write this, that a number of things collided into a storm I was not ready for.  A storm of fatherhood, childhood, memories, time machines, time moving forward, time standing still.  I remember feeling very much like a little boy in an adult body, and I wasn’t ready to be that much of an adult right then.  I remember this story for the cold, both physical and emotional, for the blowing oak leaves, the sound of Taps and a view I’d seen years before and never wanted to see again… If it’s not obvious yet, it has a hankie warning, just so you know.

And for a change of pace, you know the old saying, “Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids”? – Yeah, that’s true… There are other things you get from your kids.  In this case, we’ve actually got three generations involved in this story… My mom’s reaction to something I did, and my reaction as a dad to something my daughter did – and it was the same reaction…

And then – you realize your kids get older – and you realize that some of the lessons change, and some stay the same, and you realize that God gives you chances to both listen to your kids and to help them out.  In this case, again, a situation with my daughter – a couple decades after the above story, a gentle lesson from God, for me, as a dad, on how to be a dad… Occasionally God will present lessons with all the grace of a celestial sledge hammer… This time He used the celestial feather duster (which I appreciated very much)

Some years earlier – the family would go to Michigan for the summer to visit my wife’s side of the family, and in this case, I got to stay home and rat-sit. It was an adventure.

Then there’s the story of bathtime… and a little boy… and his dad.  Oh, and giggles… Can’t forget the giggles…

Some years after the above story, Michael and I had a mad, crushing need to leave town and go on a father-son adventure.  So we did.  We had a fun road trip that involved Mermaids, toast scramblers (the pre-war kind) and the Gates of Mordor…

I learned how important having a hand to hold is – and more importantly, being able to reach up to hold the hand of someone bigger than you..

And how sometimes, not only can you learn a lot from a two year old, but the wisdom that can come from a two year old can be – on multiple levels, completely unadulterated and pure. Oh, and it’s also fun.

And in this story from my dad – I learned a little about man’s inhumanity to man, and how dad learned about it – but also what he did, in his power, to try to combat it, with the realization that some things matter, but an awful lot of things that we think are important actually aren’t.

Another story from dad – this is a long one, but one of my favorites.  Started out as a single dusty sentence I remembered from dad, and after two years of research, I got a story out of it.  Still makes me smile.

Then comes Opa’s story – from WWI.  He’s mom’s dad – and if it weren’t for a piece of Russian shrapnel and some soldiers scavenging for potatoes, you might not be reading this story… Really.

Being a dad means doing a lot of things, and sometimes it means telling a sick munchkin a story.  In this case, I made up a story quite literally on the fly.  Here’s the story – and the ‘behind the scenes’ of telling it.

It’s about a boy…

And a dragon…

Named Fred.

On evenings when Cindy was off with our daughter, I’d often take Michael for drives, bicycle rides, walks, or combinations of all of them.  On one of these we saw something most peculiar in the sky, and I turned my brain on to ‘Record’, and didn’t blink.

Oh… My favorite… Springtime.  ‘Nuff Said… Go read it and smile.

And, a story about a boy and… and a borrowed dog named Pongo.  Pongo was a good dog, and even though he wasn’t ours, Michael got to ‘borrow’ him on his walk home from school.  We haven’t walked down that street in a very long time, in large part because as long as we don’t, in our minds Pongo will still be there.

A lesson I learned from my son, that he didn’t realize he was teaching me… out at Shi Shi beach.

I learned a number of lessons – about shoes, from my daughter – even though she didn’t realize she was teaching me.  We were walking to the bus stop, as fast as we could, because as always, we were running late.  Michael was tucked into my coat (really) and Lys was walking behind me, looking at my red shoes, and proudly watching her two feet, also clad in much smaller Red Converse High Tops, enter and leave her view with every step.  “Look, Papa, I’m two feet behind you!  Get it? Two.. Feet.. Behind you?”  I smiled, and sure enough, she was… Oh, and we caught the bus that day, and the next, and she – well, there’s more to the story – you can read the rest of it here.

Every now and then – you have a story that’s a lot like “Letting go of the Saddle” – only it’s even clearer… In this case, it was my Opa – and this story has a hankie warning.

And last, but not least, I’ve learned, just like being a mom, once a dad, always a dad… the seasons of life come and go, but you’re always dad, or pop, or papa, or daddy.  You hover around being a confidant and an authority figure, between teaching and learning yourself, between laughing with them and crying with them.

Sometimes you spend time on a swingset with your kids, sometimes you spend time in the car with them… Sometimes you agree with them, sometimes not…

But that’s part of life, right?

Oh, and one thing that’s constant…

You always love them.

Always.

 

 

 


Many years ago, there was a little girl who loved red converse high tops.

Then one day, she met a young man and decided that she and her mom would take him out for Pizza, because Mom and Tom rhymed.

And because he had high tops.

They spent a lot of time together, to the point where mom and Tom did more than rhyme, they got married, and the young man slowly started to understand how much the little girl loved the converse high tops.

He taught her how to ride a bicycle, with his high tops on.

Riding rings around Alyssa

Mom took the picture of Tom and Alyssa a few days after Mom & Tom got married.

And he did it wearing his shirt from Sam and Morris’s Market  in Seattle.  This young man, who married her mom (because, among other things, Mom and Tom rhyme), became her papa a few days before her mom took this photo.

One year he did something he’d never done.  He bought two pair of red Converse High Tops, one that was his size, and one that was smaller than any shoes he’d ever remembered buying, so that he and his little girl could both wear their red Converse High Tops and be buddies.

And they did…

Every few years, Papa wore his out…

And every year or so, his little girl would grow out of hers…

But they were loved.

And one day, the papa blinked.

And the little girl grew up.

And she became a young woman.

Years had gone by in the blink of an eye.

And she met a fine young man, who would become her husband.

And he remembered something she had said years earlier.

She had said she wanted to get married in Converse High Tops.

Red Converse High Tops.

And so, on her wedding day, there were fine clothes.

There were suits.

And ties.

And very, very nice dresses.

And there was definitely a wedding dress…

But in the wedding party, there was no leather on anyone’s feet.

You see, Papa had slowly understood how important this was, and had gotten three new pairs of high tops: a new pair for himself, and a new pair for the young man, and especially a new pair for the one who would always be his little girl.

And, as things like this go, that night, she got married to the love of her life.

Photos were taken.

Updates...

…and Facebook was updated.

And just as she had dreamed, she got married in a pair of Red Converse High Tops.

The Bride, her father, and her husband

The Bride, her father, and her husband.

And one day, some years later, while doing some cleaning, the papa found something he hadn’t seen in a long, long time…

A time machine…

And in it were two much smaller, and well-loved Converse.

IMG_8419

And the circle was complete.


I was going through some old photos awhile back from when I was in Sidney, Ohio, and my mind started wandering through the memories.

Going through this one set of negatives (yes, really, and they were black and white, too), I’d been shooting high school baseball – a tournament all the way down in Dayton, and the kids were out there playing, I had been by the field and had watched with everyone, as a storm came in.  While the game was going on, I could see the officials huddled off to one side trying to decide when or if to call the game.  They were paying close attention to the storm.

It turns out that thunderstorms in the Midwest are common, far more than they are here in the Pacific Northwest, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I did have the sense to climb down from the aluminum bleachers I was on as even I knew that lightning struck the highest object first. And, given that I’d been standing on the top bleacher, leaning against the rail at the back – yeah… it was time to come down where it was a little safer.

I’d just gotten to the ground and was standing near the first base line when I heard a loud “Tick” and looked out past the first baseman in time to see a lightning bolt blow a tree apart just past the right field fence.

It was close enough to other things that I could actually gauge the size of the bolt, at least 8 inches across, and the thunder was absolutely instant.

Needless to say, the game was cancelled.  Enough kids get killed by lightning every year that they take it pretty seriously in Ohio, so the kids were running in full tilt before the bits and pieces of the tree even hit the ground.  The parents hustled them to the cars when they got close, and then the rain came pouring down so fast the only thing missing was the Ark…

I got all my camera gear into the car, tossing it onto the passenger’s seat of my ’79 Ford Fairmont, and started the trip up Interstate 75 to the newspaper in Sidney where I’d process the film and get photos ready for the next day’s edition.

The rain, by now, was pretty brutal, and the lighting was constant, to the point where I got to wondering how bright it actually was, so while the traffic was stopped on the freeway, I rummaged around in the camera bag for my light meter that I used to adjust camera settings for Studio Strobe lights, and put it up on the dash.

And then I set it to wait for the next flash.

Which happened about 4 seconds later.

Which, when the light meter was set for ISO 400 film in the camera, registered an f/8.0 aperture.

Consistently.

Meaning if you set the lens to that aperture, the lightning would expose the film perfectly.

Every time.

Which tied in to what they used to say in Grad School: the best way to get a shot was “f/8 and be there” – Because f/8 stopped down the lens enough (think of the lens as squinting) to sharpen things up if you didn’t have the lens completely in focus, but didn’t ‘squint’ so hard that it darkened things to the point you couldn’t see them at all.

And the lightning gave you enough light to take the picture.

Without either of them, neither of them worked.

Hmmm…

f/8 and be there

Even if it’s in the middle of a storm.

Hmmmm…

I pondered some more, but my curiosity satisfied, I put the light meter back in the camera bag and concentrated on traffic, driving, and just plain seeing the taillights in front of me.  It was a pretty bad storm, honestly… Eventually I got back to the paper and developed the film in the darkroom and did indeed get something for the next day’s paper.

I’d have other experiences with lightning later on, at other newspapers, but it was during one moment that’s lost to time that I got to thinking about storms, and specifically thunderstorms, and the lessons they could teach us.

See, when I was little, we lived in Illinois, where the storms were similar to the ones in Ohio.

I knew other kids who were scared of storms, and like them, we’d all head into mom and dad’s bedroom when the thunder woke us up.

But mom didn’t feed the fear at all.  We went there because that bedroom had the best view of the storms, and since dad worked nights, mom would always invite us up onto the bed or over to the window and say, “Ooh, let’s look at the lightning!”

And we did – and we were fascinated with how clear and sharp everything was in that brilliant flash, and how the darker the storm got, the clearer we could see when the lightning hit.

And it got me thinking.

Last December here in Seattle, we lived up to our reputation for rain and got enough of it here in the lowlands in three weeks to overcome a summer’s worth of drought.  The mountains got eight feet of snow in one week.  In fact, there was enough rain out on the Olympic Peninsula to put out a forest fire that had been burning all summer.

It was… a lot of rain.

And the storms in life sometimes come softly – like that snow – you don’t realize it’s an issue until you can’t get out of your driveway, or walk down the street.

Sometimes they come faster – like those rain storms in December where there were days where we had an inch or two of rain a day, for a long time… The land couldn’t soak it up fast enough, and there were consequences, the flooding that happened right away, and landslides that happened later.

But some of those consequences could come almost instantly – with very little or no warning.  Like there would be if you were standing on the top of an aluminum set of bleachers and idly noticed clouds coming in a little faster than you were expecting.

I learned that sometimes, you can be out in the worst weather – and find yourself absolutely terrified by it – but then realize that the lightning in that dark storm gives you a clarity of vision that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

The lightning may be scary, but it’s also amazing in how it clears things up…

And…

…the lightning has struck before, and I – we – we learned from it that time.

Well, those times.

And of course, it all got me thinking some more…

See, I’m going through a storm myself as I write this – and it’s close.  It’s close enough to where the lightning and thunder happen at the same time – and it’s disorienting.

I don’t have the clarity that I’d like to have right now.

There are times when I am flummoxed at where God is during some of these storms. I’ve seen so many variations of answers in all of this that with the other things that have happened in my life  I’m never sure whether to be upset when the answer to a prayer I have isn’t the one I’m expecting…

…or the one I want…

But the answer…

It will come.

I just need to remember the lessons I learned many years ago looking out mom’s bedroom window, and the lessons I learned standing on top of a bunch of aluminum bleachers, and lessons we’ve learned more recently, going through our own storms…

…I guess another way to look at it is you can either be terrified of the lightning or you can let the lightning bring you wisdom and clarity.

Deal with what you can.

When you can.

With the information you have.

And the resources you have.

Hmmmm…

I guess you could add to that:

Don’t worry about the stuff you can’t deal with.  Just work with what you can…

Those of you who read the Bible might be familiar with this verse from Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Hmmm…

So very true.

So instead of focusing so much on the worries of tomorrow…

Be there today.

…instead of focusing on the regrets of yesterday…

Be there today.

It’s far easier to say it than it is to do it, but if you were a photographer,  that’s another way of saying “f/8 and be there

So… I guess the biggest thought in all of this is that I’m not so much waiting for the lightning as much as I’m searching for it.

And the clarity that comes from  a bright flash of lightning in a dark storm.

Take care, folks…

 

Tom Roush

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