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I have a particular fondness for fall. I love the smell of the autumn air and the crisp chill of the mornings. Yes, I also enjoy Halloween and football and pretty leaves and Thanksgiving and all the other stuff. But none of those really hold a candle to my favorite fall activity… snuggling!!

After months hot sticky summer nights where the AC just barely registers, where you can’t get any more naked but yet still wake up in a pool of sweat, and where I get banned from touching my wife because I’m walking furnace, the return of sweater weather is like the return of the sun to the Arctic. The long months of being shunned and alone on my side of the bed are gone, and I again become the best, warmest, most snuggly-wuggly husband in the world.

Yes, folks, I said snuggly-wuggly.

Once the chill air of autumn starts wafting fragrantly through our bedroom windows, I become the space-heater and home hearth that my spouse loves and cherishes. Under a pile of comforter, she burrows into my chest as if she could crawl right in, and I bask in the glory of being the torch that keeps her warm. I’m like a cozy, romantic fireplace you can hug.

She calls me her Huggy-Buggy-Muggy Bear, and I am fine with that. As far as I’m concerned, the Goddess can call me anything she wants.

Yeah, I love fall. Cause I’m warm.

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Scotland 2018

If there were one bad apple on the cart

What would you do

If there were ten bad apples on the cart

Who would you tell

What would you change

The cart or the apples

Or is that just the way it goes

The way things are and have always been

At what point do you overturn the cart

Dump it and start again

“But wait… give the apples a chance

They will all sort themselves out”

But they haven’t, have they

What if there were a hundred bad apples

And the cart was bleeding and broken

What then

Should we give it time

Be patient

Have faith

There has been time, generations of time

Yet the bad apples persist

They have grown large and brash and spiked

With clubs and tanks and gas and bullets

At what point does the cart lose its mandate

We have lost enough

Have waited over long

Sometimes you need to overturn the cart and let it burn

 

This poem is the result of a writer’s group discussion about our current protest culture. We have one African-American in our group and she accused us all of holding back and not participating in the dialog. For myself, a White Male, I felt that I should probably remain silent and support the protest in other ways. How could my voice be welcome? However, she pointed out that as writers we are obligated to provide a voice to those that do not have the language or audience needed. She challenged us to write something that addressed the protests. This poem is what came of my effort.

 

By A W Kearney

 

I miss the stars of yesteryear
Before the emotions
Before the tears
Before the memories
When they were cold and crystal clear

I have found that too much familiarity can be a bad thing. Much of our enjoyment in life comes from our wonder at and awe of the unknown. Exploring and experiencing is life and as long as we can continue to seek new unknowns we can continue enjoying the awe and wonder.

But once we reach the point where everything in our life is familiar or a ‘been there, done that’ moment, we can only look back at our past and remember feeling those things. Like most things, it’s never quite as good as the first time.

I am fortunate to still be in the wonder and awe stage of my life. My wife and I are still exploring the world and chasing new experiences and new knowledge. We like to travel to more and more exotic places and try new foods and activities. I always strive to remain in wonder of the world and of the people around me. I am never bored, there are too many things to do and experience. I don’t watch much television because I have things I want to DO and experience and NONE of them are on television!

However, the excitement of discovery and experience can only survive a limited number of cycles before familiarity sets in. The wonders that once took your breath away can become mundane and ordinary. For example: How many of the people living in Denver still look out at the mountains with bated breathe? I love the mountains and am still in awe of them every time I see them. However, I also don’t see them Every Day!

There are people that actually LIVE IN ROME. What….??!!?! How could they not be in absolute awe of their surroundings every single day of their lives? I mean really?

Answer: They could see them every day of their lives. That’s how.

As I said: Too much familiarity can ruin the surprise or destroy the magic, destroy trust, taint emotion, and temper the awe and wonder of youth. As I get older I sense my wonder slackening. I am surprised by fewer movie twists or horrible news events because I’ve seen so many others. I don’t want to be that cynical old grump that frowns away my last years. I want to explore and wander and look up at the stars and breathlessly wonder at the mysteries of the universe.

PS: My wife and I are traveling to San Francisco on Friday. I’ve never been and am excited to explore. COVID is certain to put a damper on many of the activities we had planned (no Alcatraz, no Winchester House) but there will be plenty of hiking and scenery. And maybe some wine… We’ll see.

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My wife and I are looking for an old house to rebuild and found a 120 year old Queen Anne style house that needs some extreme love. We were able to crawl into the house by way of the fallen back wall. A newer addition had fallen and dragged down the rear wall of the kitchen. The rest of the house is in amazing shape. But what really surprised me were the belongings still in the house.

When people move out, even in a hurry, they take the important stuff like the good furniture, the family pictures, records, and books. But this house still contained good antique furniture filled with dishes and knickknacks, pictures of the family still on the wall, books, records, old bills, closets with clothes still on hangers. It was eerie, to say the least. In the front room was a hospital bed along with a cot in the adjacent room. Some elderly person had been cared for here in…I look at the calendar on the wall…2005. It all seemed much older than that.

But for some reason, they had left almost everything behind. There are personal photos in every room.

The creepiest thing I discovered was in the basement. A room deep in the dank dark dusty basement had been painted pumpkin orange. The rest of the basement was full of discarded furniture, clothes, and other belongings. But this room had been cleaned out and held an old single bed, a small table and single chair. It appeared to have been abandoned at the same time as the rest of the house. It just made me wonder what the family life was like that they would not only live like this but leave it in such a hurry.

In my experience when someone dies, the remaining family sorts through their belongings and disposes of the house and anything they don’t find a home for. But in this case, it was almost as if they simply walked away.

We are seriously considering buying the house as a project, a last home for us. If we do, I want to include pieces of the previous owners as mementos. Yes, that’s kind of weird, but I think there is some mystery to the house, and playing with it could be fun.

“Who’s that in the picture in the corner?”

“We have no idea. It came with the house,” I say with a smirk.

“What’s with Orange Room in the basement?”

“What Orange Room?” I say mysteriously.

Regardless of whether we end up taking the house or not, I got some pretty cool ideas for stories out of the process.

I’m going to take a break from Twitter and F***book for a while. I’ve been so distracted by the BS and stupidity that my fellow Americans are burying themselves in that I couldn’t tear my eyes away. It is much like a car accident and we’re craning our neck to see the gore.

I discovered that you can mute people on that F***book thing. I mute my step-daughter for a month, she’s an anti-masker, pro-Trumper, bigot, so we really didn’t have anything in common anyway. I’ll see her at Thanksgiving. That’ll be fun.

But the end of 2020 can’t come fast enough. I expect Trump to be out on his ass and maybe some kind of progress on the virus. If anything maybe we can at least agree that masks are a good idea. If America votes Trump in for a second term, we deserve to be sold to Russia. There is no excuse for hoodwinked two elections in a row.

Now, to move on to other more calming and enjoyable topics:

  1. I will be posting here more often. I find that I like the quiet in here much better the social media blast I’ve been hanging out in. This is relaxing.
  2. I really, really, really need to finish this damn book. The book is done. I’m now stuck in an editing loop. So, I’ve decided this is the last go-through. I have some specific things to iron out and then I’m going to submit it. I have other things to write.
  3. I’m working on some short fiction that I’ve previously written but never submitted. I really need to get something published.
  4. I’m outlining my next book – ergo, I need to finish the current book!

I’m also really looking forward to some Football. I really don’t want to jinx it, but I don’t hold out much hope on having a season. In my mind, it would be rash and irresponsible to try and play sports in this environment. Go Pack Go!!

There is a line – an indistinct line – between one phase of life and the next. We never see it coming, but only discern it once we’ve passed. I feel that I am on the cusp of such a line. I can feel myself moving from my adult phase to the middle age phase. And it’s not as disconcerting as I expected.

I’ve been a grandfather for ten years, but that fact did not initiate a change in my phase of life. I was an active healthy forties when I became a grandfather. The phase change didn’t happen until just recently. I found that most adults around me were younger than I. And they were looking to me for advice and leadership. Yeah, weird. Also, my children are all adults and I have taken on the role of the older parent, the ‘boomer’ that doesn’t understand anything in this newfangled world. It is very disconcerting and confusing. And I don’t like it.

My new phase in life shook my confidence, even if it was only symbolic. I had the sudden realization that I’m not only getting old, but am old. Ugh!!

When I was young, I always had a ‘someday’ waiting for me. I’ll figure that out someday, or I can afford it someday, or I’ll have time for that someday. I suddenly found myself with fewer somedays.

In years past, I put everything on my todo-someday list, because I always had someday to look forward to. Now, I’m limiting that list, realizing that I no longer have all the somedays I had before or the energy – stamina – drive I once had. So fewer things fit on the list. My PhD in History is still on the maybe list, but my singing career is probably off for good.

I think people react to life changes differently than others. For some, this is when many people go through the proverbial mid-life crisis. I’m not feeling any urge to buy a Porsche or get a mistress or even a tattoo, really. Maybe I’m handling it better than some. I wish my father were around to compare notes with.

I try to imagine his reaction to reaching this point in life and wonder how he handled it. He did not buy Porsche or have a mistress (as far as I know). But what did he go through? How did he handle it? I don’t know. I was unaware of the line at the time and so couldn’t ask. Now I wish I had him around to talk with.

Both my father and grandfather died in their mid-sixties – the grandfather phase.  I’m in the same phase now. However, they were both smokers with high blood pressure. I am neither, therefore in theory I will outlive them and enter a phase of life they never experienced. In contrast, my grandmother lived to be ninety-nine years old. I intend to live to one hundred and twenty. I don’t know what phase that is, but I will be ready.

Now that I am aware of the indistinct lines that separate life’s phases, I will be better prepared when they appear and will embrace them as the mile markers they are meant to be.

I’m sorry about the crappy picture, but I took this years ago on a trip on the Chicago subway system with my wife. Chicago has the best public transportation system in the US in my opinion. It is easy to navigate and doesn’t smell like piss at all.

But we ended up sitting across the aisle from this little button and speaker on one ride and my wife was fascinated by it.

“Could we really talk to the driver?” she asked multiple times.

“Uh, sure…” I said. “Don’t touch it.”

Which, of course, was the wrong thing to say, because now all she could do was stare at. I watched her lick her lips and reach out toward it.

“Don’t touch it.”

“But…”

“You still can’t touch it,” I repeated.

“But I just imagine a little train conductor sitting behind that grill waiting for someone to touch the button,” she said.

You have to understand that my wife and I both have very creative imaginations and tend to let them roam on occasion. Our travels are almost like improv theatre at times.  We let ourselves get crazy. So, I proceeded to play along.

“And do you know what he’s going to tell you?” I said. “Don’t touch the button!”

Yeah, people were looking at us weird, which I think is an accomplishment in Chicago.

She still wants to touch the button.

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My wife, Sheri, thinks a nice yard is relaxing and gives her a place to find contentment. I agree with her, it is relaxing. But having a yard project completed is even more relaxing. In my case I stripped out yard down to dirt and rock and started over. Now we have grass growing, paths completed, flowers planted and replanted, and even a birdbath.

I feel complete and peaceful now. My landlord will also be thrilled. Yes…that is what I said. I spent months of weekend labor and >$1000 on a yard that is not mine. All for the sake of my wife’s sanity and contentment. She has been forced to work from home for two months, while I’ve continued going to my essential industry job every day. I haven’t had any ‘lockdown’ days. So when I get home she is ready to get out or climb the walls. She needed something to spend her pent up energy on and she chose the yard.

I want to make clear that she does NOT have a green thumb, by any means. She likes flowers, and pretty plants, and even vegetable gardens, but she has little skill or luck with them. When we go to our local garden center the ferns and hibiscuses shake and shiver as she approaches. She is the ‘widow-maker’ of ferns. She loves them and waters them and moves them into the sun and out of the sun and talks to them and then they still die. So every spring out trip to the garden center for a new troop of plants is much like a prisoner selection for the gulag. It is a short one way trip. Always.

I’ve joked with her about just planting silk or plastic flowers. Which just makes her laugh. Apparently her grandmother actually did that and even water them. For years, my wife thought they were real. So, I believe that her lack of plant skills is hereditary.

I dislike yard work in any form, so am willing to support her yearly death march to keep her happy. I absolutely do enjoy a good yard and beautiful flowers, so if I have to continue to be the undertaker and bury the corpses of each years batch of volunteers, I will do that. In fact, I will bury whatever I need to to keep the Goddess happy. Mostly because I’m afraid of what other projects or interests she would find to spend her energy on. I have no desire to start square-dancing, or bowling league or stockcar racing or competitive tatooing. I am a simple man that wants a complete yard with as little of my own labor as possible. 

This year has turned into kind of a bust in the no-labor plan, but I do have a nice yard now and a very happy wife. So, overall, mission accomplished.

 

 

 

Once in a while, I like to compare myself to my father at the same age. What did he feel at this point? What were his thoughts? What was he experiencing? What had he accomplished? And then ultimately: How do we compare? Like most kids, my father was my role model, my hero. He was the standard that I was set against.

Now, I see the years behind me as a trail of signposts, allowing me to compare us, my father and I side by side at the same point in our lives. These signposts and comparisons are a way of putting myself in my father’s shoes, so to speak, and wondering how I compare to him. He is my benchmark for being a man and a father. He taught me about hard work, humor, optimism, humbleness, wisdom. So, by attempting to place myself in his shoes, I am trying to fill them and to feel that I deserve them.

However, as my analysis of my father has progressed, I am finding faults and limitations and shortcomings. I’m finding that my memories and the myth/image I built of my father are not standing up to the deeper scrutiny I am giving it. The gilding and luster are rubbing off. It’s like the old saying: “Never meet your heroes.” In my case, it is: “Never look at your heroes too closely.”

It’s proven correct on several occasions. But in this case my father is the hero, the person I looked up to and tried to emulate. But the reminiscing and timeline comparisons have done nothing but show me that my father was fallible and human. We made different decisions and held different opinions.

For example, he was religious and I am not. I think we are the same politically, but miles apart when it comes to books, movies, and art. We both had mechanical skills, I even became an engineer. We were both curious and not afraid to learn something new. And we both married more than once; the second one is always better. We both raised large families, he five boys, and me five girls. I think he was a good father and I hope I compare well. But was he a good man? Am I? That is really the big question. 

He only lived to see sixty-five years. I have never smoked and have better healthcare, so I expect to live far beyond that. In less than ten years I will surpass him and strike out on my own establishing lone signposts with no one to compare to.

I can honestly say that I’ve stood in shoes similar to my father’s. I can say that I’ve been my own man and feel that I could look him in the eye as a near equal. And to me that is saying something. He is still my role model, the origin of my work ethic and sense of humor. But he less a hero and more a peer and good friend. As he should be.

 

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I went to high school in a small town in Northern Minnesota. It was a great place to grow up and taught me the value of hard work and education and getting out. I left soon after graduation, eventually gained a college degree and a career. Since then I’ve continued my education and explored the world. However, like many people, I failed to maintain contact with friends from home or people from my past. I honestly suck at keeping friends. But Facebook and other social media have made it possible to reconnect with people or even to stalk them if you are just curious and unwilling to actually reach out to them.

Lately, Covid-19 and middle age have got me thinking about the old days and old acquaintances. Curiosity eventually led me to Facebook in search of old classmates. A few of them had at least a basic profile and some pictures. It turns out that most have not gone far from home. Most are still in that little town raising kids and hunting and fishing.  Living the Good Life, so to speak. Things haven’t changed much.

It is wonderful to see them with kids and grandkids, looking so mature and happy and in some cases old. Compared to many I seem to be aging well. Good for me.

What struck me most during my look-through of posts from home was the unexpected realization of how far we had drifted in ideology. The Trump flags and assault rifles and racism were surprising. And disappointing. Could these be the same people I knew from the halcyon days of my youth? Could we all have come from the same place that molded what I believe and who I am? It made me question my view of the place and stripped away the whitewash that time had used to cover up the old uglinesses.

I then recalled the homophobia, sexism, the Indian jokes and hatred, and the narrow insulationist thinking. And I remembered why I left. I never belonged there. Not ever.

People will always have disagreements on important issues but I have made a lifelong point of avoiding extreme opinions. I’ve tried to see both sides of an issue in order to meet in the middle. I believe that once you remove the most extreme ideologies we tend to agree on more than we think. We should concentrate on the things we agree on rather than getting angry about what we don’t. There is always a middle ground where we can live as neighbors. But the social media coming out of my hometown doesn’t make me believe that I could find a middle ground there.

I’ve considered going home for a visit, but I have no family there and haven’t been back in almost twenty-five years. I also realize now that I don’t have any friends there really, just people I used to know. I’m not a part of that world anymore and I’m fine with that. I also believe that the part of there that I thought I carried me never really existed or else was chased out of town and forgotten like a gay cousin.

Maybe I’ll visit someday, but I’m in no hurry to put myself through that. Particularly since no one there has reached out to me. Maybe someday.

Or – maybe it’s not that you ‘can’ never go home, but that you never should. Maybe it was never home, to begin with.

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