Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Birthday-A Grateful Life

My birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year- the 8th time in my 61 years the two events have intersected. And with a little bit if luck, it will happen again in 2019, 2024, 2030 and if I'm really lucky, in 2041, when I would be 88 years old.

But let's not get too far into the future. I'm going to look forward to this Thanksgiving as if it were my last. Because if I've learned anything In the time I've spent on this earth it's that you can never take anything,  including Thanksgiving, for granted. 

Growing up in a large family, Thanksgiving was a memorable day. Waking up to the smell of a big turkey roasting in the oven or the aroma of homemade pumpkin pie. The touch football game up at McCollough's field. Attempting to sit 10 people around the dining room table which meant two had to share the piano bench because we didn't have 10 chairs.

And then there was the year my Dad decided to ask everyone what they were the thankful for. Bad idea, Dad.  Joe said he was glad to have nice parents (someone kicked him from under the table). I said I was glad I had a saxophone to play. Around the table we went until we came to Jerry, the youngest, who was 4 or 5 at the time. What happened next is family folklore for the ages.

"Jerry, what are you thankful for",  Dad asked.
"My dick", he proclaimed proudly.
"JERRY!" Dad screamed.

Milk was shooting out of Katie's nose. Tony, Joe and I were snickering like Beavis and Buttthead. Even mom couldn't hide her amusement at his antic. Dad remained unamused and didn't appreciate the signs of encouragement coming from the rest of us.

The only one to defend Jerry was Jane, who was the second youngest. "Quit picking on him, he didn't mean it".  Yes he did because he said it again. More roars of approval. Dad, still not finding the humor, took decisive action.

They were both banished to the kitchen table where they finished their meal in shame.

The boys were always assigned clean-up duty which involved the 3 primary roles of wash, dry and put-away. Wash was the job you wanted to avoid--a great big meal means a great big mess and wash meant you had to scrub all the greasy, dirty pots, pans, and plates. Put-away was the best job because you could stand in the kitchen door and watch the beginning of the "Wizard of Oz" and still be on the job.

Not all my Thanksgivings have been the kind I want to reminisce about. 

There was the year I had my Thanksgiving dinner at Denny's.  Yeah, the same Denny's where you get your ham and cheese omelet, not your turkey and dressing. Who eats Thanksgiving dinner at Denny's? I did, that year. Not the best year of my life, but on that day, I had something in common with every other anonymous soul at that Denny's restaurant.

And my first year in Lincoln, newly relocated and relationship-less, when I shared Thanksgiving dinner with a group of people I didn't know.  I had shared at an AA meeting earlier that week that I had no plans for Thanksgiving and the offers came. And rather than sit in my apartment and feel sorry for myself, which would  have been my preferred choice, I accepted the gesture of kindness, awkward and humbling as it was. 

Remember? Yes, I do. Reminisce? Not really.

The turkey has been purchased-it's in the basement freezer and will make the trip to Kansas City on Wednesday night. GK and Steph will cook it up and the house will smell of roast turkey and pumpkin pie just like I remember. Grandchildren and a beagle, enough chairs for everyone, and no one will be banished to the kitchen.

We'll celebrate my 61st birthday after dinner with a piece of pumpkin pie, topped with homemade whipped cream and a candle, I hope. I'll have some helpers to blow out the candle.

I'll remember those we've lost this year and in the past and say a prayer for those whose Thanksgiving may be their last. 

And I'll be grateful.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Christmas Story: The Yips and Cheesy Music

Things were past the point of being serious in our relationship. So when we took a walk around the lake a few blocks from Georgette’s house on that September evening back in 1996, it was no accident that the conversation led where it did.
At the time, I was still renting a one bedroom apartment that sat on the edge of Lincoln’s ghetto (so I was informed) where the place smelled like fish oil from the Vietnamese couple down the hall. I wasn’t spending many nights there anymore other than a character-building night every now and then. We both agreed that we had more than enough character building and that at our stage of life, it was way overrated. Not character per say- but the pursuit of more character.
“I’m ready to move forward. I know enough to know when I’m ready. What do you need?”  she asked.
I had a case of the move-in yips. Like a golfer who gets shaky when he tries to hit a big putt, my yips were well earned. I’d moved in and I’d moved out and quite frankly, I liked moving in better. And I never wanted to move out again. Thus, a case of the yips.  
“Stuff.  A place for my stuff.”
“Can you say more about that?”  OK, I made that part up. Although both of us were employed as counselors at the time, we had agreed to  not using counselor-speak on each other.
The gist of my concern was that I would be moving into home where she had lived for over 20 years, where she raised her children. A home where there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.  Literally and figuratively.  I didn’t want my stuff relegated to boxes on a shelf in the basement. No big deal, I just needed some space to call my own.
“And I want it to be our house, not just your house.” We talked some more. “My hi-fi equipment. My music, it needs a home too.”
“Well, I’m not very territorial” she said, “and it’s important to me that it be your home as much as it has been mine. I’m not big on wires being strewn everywhere so if you can manage that, we’ll do fine”.
And off we went. By the next week I’d given notice on 635 S.20th Apt.2 and we were moving in my stuff. 
 She was true to her word. I’d unload of box of this and that and by the time I got the next box in the door, stuff had already been integrated. I knew there was a reason I loved this woman. I could feel those yips starting to fade away.
It was what happened next that really sealed the deal.
We were in the basement putting up some boxes of what-not that didn’t need to be integrated when I saw a box of old record albums. Being the music geek that I am, I moved towards them.
‘”Do you mind if I dig through these?”
“Oh sure, help yourself. I’m not sure what is in there.”
And then I saw it. At first I thought I was seeing things. This couldn’t be. I mean what are the odds. I’ve never ever known someone who had this album. I was stunned.
Way back when I was in 8th grade, I needed some Christmas music for my little record player. At the local Dahl’s grocery store I discovered an off-label album by the Living Strings titled, “The Spirit of Christmas”. I think I paid $2.25 for it and when I took it home, I fell in love with it.
Perhaps one of the finest, yet cheesy, Christmas albums ever produced. Heavy on strings with nice shadings of woodwinds and percussion, this might be what some refer to as elevator music. Some of the songs had a saxophone doubling the lead string line-that was even more reason to love it. I wore that album out and it became my all-time favorite- so much so that it is always the first record I play as the clock strikes 12:01 am on the day after Thanksgiving. Then I play it again and again and again.
“You have the Living Strings Christmas album?”
“Oh, that old thing? I picked that up when I didn’t have much money and needed something for the holidays.” 
She wasn’t impressed.  Her copy still had the K-mart price tag on it--$2.22 A bargain, I thought.
Georgette's copy with K-mart sticker on it.
“You don’t understand. This is a sign.  A sign that we are supposed to be together. I mean, what are the odds that you and I would both have this album?” 
I was beside myself. She still wasn’t impressed. But that’s beside the point. I was the one with the yips. And the cure for the yips was embedded in the sound of a cheesy Christmas album.
It was a sign from above, I said .  A coincidence? I think not. Our life together for the past 17 years has been proof of that. We are both breaking records (and not the Living Strings record, mind you) every day.
On Thanksgiving evening this year as the clock strikes midnight, all Living Strings fans around the world (all 25 of us) will christen the Christmas season once again with the sounds of side one, track one of the “Spirit of Christmas”  and know that all is right in the world.

Post script- Over the years I have purchased back-up copies of this album on Ebay and have discovered several other Living String holiday recordings, all recorded in England in the mid-to-late 1960’s. And just a couple of years ago, the estate of the man responsible for the Living Strings released a re-mastered CD of two of the albums, nearly 45 years after their original release.
 I also discovered a website ( dedicated to the Living Strings and the “Spirit of Christmas” album by a fan who proclaims it as the “best Christmas album ever recorded”. But don’t take his word for it- here is a link to You Tube where you can hear the entire album and judge for yourself.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I Am My Father's Son

November 15, 2013

Today was my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 88 if he was still alive but he passed away in 2003, several months after his 3rd open heart surgery. As I was sorting through some old photographs of him, I came across the eulogy that I delivered for him at his service.  I was immediately drawn back in time, not only to that day in San Diego, when I stood before a small gathering of family, but across the years of my life that were marked by an up and down struggle to gain his approval. 
My Dad and I 

Spring 1974

Mom called me and said she needed my help. “Your father is in trouble. He got into a fight and I think he broke a rib. He thinks his apartment is bugged. I need you to go see him so you can find out what is going on. I may need you to help me testify at a commitment hearing.” 

Music school and work were occupying most of my time so I was unaware how things had unraveled. I think I knew that Dad was struggling with the separation.  Mom was having regular contact with him and she was concerned enough about his behavior and mental state that she was ready to go get a court order to have him committed. 

The Commodore Hotel was not the kind of hotel you checked into if you were visiting the city--people lived there. It was on Grand Avenue in Des Moines, not far from where we lived in a nice neighborhood. The first time I visited him at the Commodore after he moved in, I noticed the smell. The old carpet, the musty apartment building smell, slightly colored by whatever someone was cooking in the next apartment. The halls were narrow and the lighting was dim. There was a piano bar in the lower level where Dad had been spending time. The place gave me the creeps.

I went to see him the next evening. When I knocked on the door and he asked me who it was, I could hear in his voice that something was amiss. He invited me in and we sat and attempted some small-talk. He had a black-eye and I could tell he was hurt.  Somewhere in our conversation he said something about his phones being tapped. When I asked him about his eye, he said a guy in the bar downstairs had provoked him. My memory of anything else we talked about is unclear, but I remember being shocked and scared-this was not my Dad as I knew him. He was in trouble, big trouble.

The next day I went with Mom down to County Mental Health Department where we met with a case worker. She asked me to describe what I saw and heard. Based on what I told her and what my mother had also provided, she told us that they would commit him to a local mental hospital because  he seemed to be a danger to himself and that he would be evaluated and offered treatment. "The sheriff's deputies will come to get him. You can meet them there if you'd like, but no family needs to be present, it's up to you."

Mom encouraged me to go because there was no way she was going. So I went along with my brother Joe and my middle sister Katie.  The three apostles.  The thought of deputies escorting your Dad out of his hotel room and taking him to a mental hospital without anyone being there seemed wrong. But I'm not really sure why we went.

When the deputies got there, they told us what would happen. They would knock on the door, identify themselves and go into his apartment. Hopefully he would cooperate, but either way, they told us they would handcuff him. 

I could feel heart racing as they knocked on the door. We stood just down the hall out of sight in case he looked out. "Sheriff's deputies, Mr. Kingkade, may we come in?" The door opened and they walked in closing the door behind them. The silence was deafening. I was praying that he wouldn't resist, that there wouldn't be a scuffle. Time stood still. What seemed like forever was probably no more than ten minutes, maybe five. Then the door opened.

Dad was led out by one of the deputies who had a hand on his arm. His arms were pulled back and as he walked by, you could see the handcuffs holding his hands together. That was bad enough-seeing your Dad handcuffed. But what happened next I will never forget. The look. The angry stare that went right through me. The look of betrayal.

I had disappointed Dad before. As a 14 year old, I was caught stealing  a 45 record from the neighborhood grocery store and he was called to bring me home. "You drug my good name through the muck and the mire" as he berated me when we got home.

This look was like no one I had ever experienced before.  Like Judas Iscariot, I had betrayed my father. As far as I knew, the worst sin an oldest son could commit would be to betray his father. Torn between the responsibility to support my mother and to protect my father from himself, I had committed a mortal sin.

For the longest time after that day, I couldn't talk about that moment. As far I was concerned, it was the worst moment of my life. 

Dad spent several weeks in the hospital and was administered shock treatments to pull him out of a deep depression, the first of 3 times in his life that would occur. I found out that he lost his short-term memory as a result of the treatment  and we  never spoke of that moment or how he got to the hospital or who there waiting outside the door. Never. Dad got better, bit by bit, and I went back to music school. But his life challenges and my relationship with him were not done being tested. 

I'm not a religious person, but sometimes when I'm out running, the playlist on my IPod will cue up a Van Morrison tune. I can hear the lyric coming and I smile as I look to the sky remembering the journey I've been on and knowing  that God has shined his light on me.

When I had the courage to go and be there that day, God shined his light on me. When dad fought back again and again, God shined his light on him.
Dad with our first grandson Reese in San Doego
And when I stood before my siblings and delivered his eulogy 29 years later, God shined his light on all of us.

"Whenever God shines his light on me
Opens up my eyes so I can see.
When I  look up in the darkest night
I know everything's going to be alright."

"In deep confusion, in great despair
When I reach out for him he is there.
When I am lonely as I can be
I know that God shines his light on me."
Van Morrison

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Broken Life Chapter 2

Observations and Reflections on a Christmas Letter

This letter was written by my mother in 1970 and I have an original copy of it. Why I ended up with it I don’t really know, but I’ve had a knack of collecting items and artifacts over the years without any idea of how and why I might use them someday.  Today, one year after the death of my mother, I find myself telling the story of her life, our family’s story and my life.  This letter provides not only some insight into what life was like for us in 1970 but also how my mother viewed the family.

Mom was a writer by training and occupation. I’ve not changed a word or punctuation mark of the original-you are reading it as if it was sent to you back in 1970.

We can’t quite believe it, but two weeks before Christmas we have our shopping done, packages wrapped and tree decorated. We so enjoy our surprising organization, we decided to make sure our cards, too, were mailed before Christmas. Therefore—a mass-produced letter.
1970 has been an interesting year. Don has been president of Des Moines Typographical Union since May of 1969. The union has a full-time sec.-treas., and the president, he was once told, signs checks and presides at meetings. It was apparent from the first month of his term of office that this was a bit understated. Finally, last summer, with three contracts to negotiate, assorted arbitrations and problems to deal with, the union voted that Don take a leave of absence from the Register and Tribune and work full-time for the union for 6 months. Contract negotiations with the Meredith Publishing and the Register and Tribune are going on, and both are a departure from former years. The R&T seemingly has regressed to a level of labor-management relations popular 50 years ago. At this point it is difficult to be optimistic that an honorable contract is possible, but even our horoscopes can’t tell us for sure. Although he has problem upon problem, Don does enjoy the work. Right On!
For two years now I have been with Dial Financial Corp. as a writer-editor, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of the job. Along with two company publications, I have a wide range of writing assignments, most of which include lay-out and typographic design. The major product now is a re-design of a series of training booklets on the company’s new computer system, which I am re-writing and jazzing up for marketing purposes. Most people aren’t turned on by computer systems, but I enjoy trying to make Dial’s understandable.
Shelley is 19, spent a year at college away from home, now works and lives in an apartment, trying to decide what she wants to do. She is a lovely girl and enjoys her independence.
Dan is 18, has registered for the draft unenthusiastically, and will go to Drake University here next fall to study music (draft willing). This vocation has persisted since grade school—we feel he is lucky to be able to make a career of something he enjoys so much. He works at McDonalds as top hamburger chef.
Tony, is 16, is the only person who can fix anything, so he’s very busy. Between his repair jobs he sandwiches in a high school schedule of English, Soc. Studies, 3rd year French, math physics and band. And he works at a neighborhood drug store.
Joe, 15 plays basketball, bowls and watches TV. He probably has perfect pitch, plays the baritone very well. Everyone likes Joe and he is fortunate to have a personality and disposition that are hard to equal. Katie will be 14 Christmas eve. She is at the age we used to deplore (13-14), but we hardly notice any more. She is, like Joe, very adaptable---and very determined.  Because of Katie, we have cats—currently tow mammoth yellow cats. They just wander in, Katie hides them in her room and we have them forever.
Tom is 12, a fine student, carries a paper route which he threatens to quit once a week.  When we insisted he continue, he reminded us of the child labor laws. Tom can quote them just as well as he can reel off the number and dates of tidal waves in Japan and the latest figures on hog production in Iowa. Jane is 10, a delightful age, but then Janie has always been a very pleasant child. She plays the piano, accomplishes her schoolwork quietly and efficiently and when Tony doesn’t get around to fixing something, she does it. 
Jerry is 8 and as the youngest, he tries harder. We get reports from school he always tries to be “first in line.” He is an expert at needling Tom, and with his loud voice can always be heard above the family commotion. (We didn’t ever think we’d hear the SST.) He loves math and does special problems, because he says, “I always finish mine first.”
We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in June. I called Don to say I thought we deserved a medal. He replied, “My God, at least a drink!” we have been fortunate in that the children seem to walk down the middle of the road (a position that normally doesn’t appeal to us, but in this context is a relief), and we really don’t experience the generation gap.
From all of us, to all of you
A very happy Christmas and New Year
And Peace!

My thoughts as I read this today  (43 years later):
It is probably no accident that my Dad gets the most air time, or that he is the first to be talked about. Today, it seems, most of these holiday letters are all about the children with the parents mentioned at the end, and then briefly, if at all. Dad’s work with the union was evolving and becoming more important. Mom’s work was also important to her but  it was taking a back seat to his work and I think she came to resent the stress and focus his work took.  The use of the term “right on!” gives some clues to her activist mentality.
Mom’s description of my older sister, Shelley, stands out for the bland and non-descript way that she describes her. Shelley, who I am quite fond of and am very close to, was anything but non-descript. Mom always held Shelley to a different standard than she did her other children. She was overly critical of her and in spite of her feminist inclinations, seemed to have difficulty embracing who Shelley was. In the summer of 1970, Shelley had moved back to Des Moines after a year away at college and moved into an apartment with a friend, choosing to work for a while. You would have thought the world was going to come to an end. And to top it off, she and some of her friends went to a rock festival in NE Iowa known as “Wadena”,  Iowa's version of Woodstock, and when Mom and Dad heard about this they threatened to disown her. Now, does that sound liberal or open-minded to you? I suppose what she wrote was the best she could do, but it speaks volumes. To me, it reeks of disappointment and that, even today, makes me sad. Sad because Shelley, more than any other sibling, sacrificed to make Mom a part of a family. And it was Shelley, who in the last month of Mom's life, cared for her and paid a high price to do so. 
Then come the boys, me included, and if you don’t detect a tone of favoritism and “can do no wrong” then you need to read it again. Where there are few details written about Shelley, there are all kinds of detail with the boys, at least for Tony and I.  I was very aware that there was different set of rules for the boys than there were for my older sister.  Pretty much everything I did was OK. No curfew, no interest in my girlfriend- “Why can’t you be like Danny?"is what Shelley said she heard or felt.
Not lost on me is the fact the oldest 3 children get their own paragraph, while the next 4 have to share a paragraph.  Seems like the farther down in the birth order you were, the more you were lumped together and not given the same quality or quantity of attention.  Although my experiences and opinions are my own, I wonder if my younger siblings feel the same way.  I will give it up her though, she was a good writer. The humorous and nuanced way she describes each of them gives some insight into her sense of humor. She seemed to enjoy our idiosyncrasies.
And Jerry, the baby of the family, also nick-named “The Little Nipper”, brings up the rear. He gets his own paragraph and rightfully so.  I’m quite sure his experience growing up in this family and mine were nowhere close.
The closing paragraph is probably most revealing when I think about what was to transpire. The reference to “at least a drink”, referring to us as “the children” and not being fond of walking down the middle of the road are all a foreshadowing of things to come. 

And that it ended with the word Peace is nothing less than ironic.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Simple Gifts

It is a beautiful fall day here-sunny, cool with light winds. A beautiful day to make music. A beautiful day for a band concert.

While running on the trail early today, it dawned on me that I've been playing the saxophone for 50 years. A milestone. 50 years. Wow.

For 50 years, I've been going off to band rehearsals , a gig, a concert, some gathering of musicians who shared love of music and performing. Concert bands, jazz bands, duets and quartets, all kinds of ensembles. 

In junior high school,  I formed a combo we called "The Burnished Brass" and we modeled ourselves after Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

In college, I recorded a 45 with a local soul band in a recording studio up in Minneapolis. 

I led my college marching band onto the field at Lambeau Stadium in Green Bay for a Packers game in front of a national TV audience back when they used to show bands on TV.

I played in and conducted school bands and adult bands and performed under the baton of some of the finest band conductors of the day.

For 10 years, I taught young people the art of making music and playing an instrument.

And I've sat side by side with fellow musicians and band nerds in countless hours of rehearsals and performances as we made music together.

Music has been my identity,  my salvation,  my creative outlet and my occupation at times during these 50 years. Playing the saxophone is central to the story of my life.

Today, I celebrate 50 years of playing the saxophone and I can't think of a better way to do that than to play in our community band, performing concert band literature.

Simple gifts that last a lifetime. Music is a gift. And the blessings of that gift are not lost on me today.

My first lesson book dated 7/10/63

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Broken Life

When she died, she was alone in the ICU,  in a city she didn't live in. There was no funeral. She was cremated and her ashes were disposed of by the crematorium. No obituary was written. Friends were not contacted because there were none remaining other than the virtual faceless people on the chat rooms she frequented. There was no will, no house or apartment to sort through, just a few boxes of things-a laptop and an electric 3 wheeled tricycle that was still in a shipping crate, left at my sister's house in New Jersey.

Who was this woman and how did she end up in this situation? After all, she bore 8 children, 7 who were still alive at the time of her passing.

She was my mother. I was reminded of her just past week why my older sister sent me an e-mail in which she said, " I finally figured out a plan for Mom's bike. I'm donating it to the Trenton Rescue Mission, an organization that helps homeless people. I think Mom would be pleased especially since she was an advocate of programs for homeless people. If you recall, she spent a night in a D.C. jail in the late 80's or early 90's after laying down in the rotunda of our nation's capital to support services for homeless people. Just seems like the right thing to do."

I do recall that she spent a night in a D.C. jail. And I recall when she used to read to me as a little boy. I recall when she used to make us oatmeal on cold winter mornings and when she'd talk with me about politics, civil rights and the women's movement. And I recall when it all began to change.

My parents were typical of the post WWII generation of young couples, full of hope and optimism. It wasn't long after they married that they had their first child in August of 1950. I followed my sister, Shelley 15 months later.  Then came another, and another, and another and by April 1962, there 5 boys and 3 girls. Our house was crowded and noisy, but  full of adventure and wonderment at the same time. Mom worked part-time off and on in the 50's and shortly after we moved from a county seat town in Iowa to Des Moines in 1960, she began working full-time. By the mid-60's my father and mother were both working the evening shift at the newspaper- Dad as a Linotype operator, Mom as a proofreader. There was a steady stream of babysitters who attempted to care for us on the nights they both worked. We ran most of them off. There was Mrs. Hotchkiss, who made us watch Lawrence Welk and tried to read the bible to us. And Mrs. Robinson, a kind black woman who rode the bus to our street only to have Chang, the next door neighbor's pug, bark and growl at her as she walked by. Mom was horrified that this "racist pug , who never got off it's ass for anything", would embarrass her like that. It wasn't old Chang  that ran Mrs. Robinson off, it was all of us incorrigible Kingkade kids.

 The  older children took care of the younger children and we all did our share of household chores. Mom tried to organize by coming up with elaborate written plans and schedules. That never lasted very long.  We would barter and bargain away all our assignments to a point where nobody knew what anybody else was supposed to be doing . Frustrated, she would eventually tire of the effort and give in. The house was always a mess and there were heaps of undone laundry in the basement and the linoleum floors where sticky and caked with dropped food. There were days when Mom would check out and sleep half the day or retreat to her bedroom to read, leaving the rest of the us to run amok. And run amok we did. Who could blame her, I remember thinking, at the time.

There were also the times when she would read to us...the Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, the Christmas Carol. Saturdays meant a trip to Bookmobile or even better, the downtown library. When Mom wasn't chasing and tending to children, she had her nose in a book. The oldest of us took piano lessons, had our pictures taken and got to do many of the things that first born males and females got to do. Our birthdays were celebrated and holidays were always a big deal.  Education was encouraged and supported. Looking back, I know now that what I experienced as a young child and what my younger siblings experienced in the years to come were not the same. Things were slowly changing and not always for the better.
A  Sunday in 1965, after Mass

Dad was a Catholic and insisted on us attending Mass every Sunday. Because he worked the late shift at the newspaper, he slept in Sunday morning which meant we attended the 12 noon high mass. A typical Sunday had the kids getting up early and watching whatever was on TV while our parents slept. We made our own breakfast, went outside to play, got dirty and started commotion that woke them up and made them really cranky. Dad would try to round everybody up to get to church at noon, Mom would grumble and stay home. We'd arrive late and all 8 or 9 of us would pile into the last available pew, usually at the front of the church. Some Sundays, Dad's parents, who lived in Ames, would drop in unannounced about the time we were returning from church. This irritated Mom and she would let dad know how she felt in no uncertain terms after his parents headed home. 

Things really started to change when she and Dad both started working days and would stop off at the T & T Lounge downtown to have cocktails and dinner before heading home. There were nights when everyone at home had to fend for themselves. Times were changing, there was social unrest in the air. Mom started back to school to finish her degree. She declared that she was a "women's libber" (her words). She and my Dad fought more and the house became more chaotic. We were all growing up and pushing the limits, me included. My Dad and I banged heads. Mom and Shelley, my older sister, did the same. Mom and Dad would have pretty intense battles and we would hide in the basement or escape out into the neighborhood. When the battles wound down, everyone just simply resumed their role in the drama, as if it had never occurred. The rules around the house that I was raised on as a young boy were no longer the same.

And yet, I admired and respected her for her intellect, her passion and her activist energy. She openly wept when Martin Luther King was shot, woke me up to talk when the news of Bobby Kennedy's assassination broke. She encouraged me to get involved in youth politics and I ended up working in several political campaigns as a teenager. When I was drafted in the fall of 1971 just as I was heading off to music school, mom was my biggest advocate in helping me find a way around that dilemma. We rarely got into skirmishes and more often than not, I felt she was my advocate.

In 1970, mom wrote a Christmas letter, the kind you put in your Christmas cards. It describes what she, my dad and all of the 8 children are doing. She closes it by saying, "Don and I had our 20 year anniversary this year. I told him we ought to go out and celebrate it. He responded that we at least ought to have a drink."  

The next several years are a little murky as I was immersed in college life and living off-campus. Every now and then I would stop by the house on a week night to check my mail or do a load of laundry. What I would discover unsettled me-a house left unattended, my younger siblings running wild in the neighborhood, no signs of adult supervision. Sometimes, mom and dad were still downtown at the tavern and other times they were secluded upstairs in their dormer bedroom, having cocktails, oblivious to the world downstairs.  

In the fall of 1973, mom was featured in the local paper in an article about 5 women who cab-pooled to work . It's a charming article and paints a picture of a big family with 3 cars and competing transportation needs resulting in her need to cab-pool.
The article closes by talking about the cab driver's thoughts on the women in his taxi:

Pat's cab is empty now of fares and he speaks of the women in an affectionate, paternal fashion. "Nice gals," he says. "Now, Rita's a women's libber, but we have a good time."

I remember being amused by his comments at the time. But underneath the story of a modern working woman with a husband and 8 children was a woman who was growing more restless and unhappy by the day.

With Mom immersed in work and her activist pursuits, and Dad, now working full-time for the printer's union and knee deep in labor issues, the house on 35th was a different place than I had left it. It was becoming  more unpredictable and chaotic. Trouble was brewing- I could sense it every time I walked in the front door. It became easier to stay away and my casual drop-ins became less frequent. 

In 1974, during my junior year in college, I ran into Mom in an aisle at the local grocery store one night.   "Oh by the way, your father and I are getting are separating. He's moving into the Commodore Hotel. I just can't deal with it anymore".  I didn't know what to think but I'm sure somewhere deep inside, I was afraid. 

Things would never be the same again.  This family, born out of the optimism that defined the early 1950's, was about to implode.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dan's-Life Savings Time

Did you set your clocks back an hour on Saturday night? Or did you start to make the rounds through the house only to get thrown into a funk when you came to the coffee maker and couldn't remember how the damned thing worked?  "Screw it",  I said. I'll just do the math in my head every time I see a clock that isn't set right. Nah, that gets old, better get the manual out. Damn, where's the manual?

It didn't really go that way at our house. I don't remember changing any clocks, but somebody did, including the coffee maker. I just had to change the clock in my car. Yeah, I know, I got off easy.

This whole Daylight Savings Time ritual we go through twice a year is kind of a joke if you think about it. Time is time- you can't really save it. You can only spend it. And you only get so much time  in your life, so even if you somehow manage to save it, you can only spend it as it occurs--minute by minute.

But what if there was such a thing as personal time-savings accounts where you could save time now then use it later when you want to. Mine would be called Dan's-life Savings Time.  Kind of like a  401k for time.You get to save time by avoiding activities or behaviors that are a waste of your time early in your life (when you think you have all the time in the world) and use it later in your life (when time is running out). Here's how it would work:

Let's say I got invited to a party in college that I didn't think would be much fun so I decide not to go. Instead, I just sat home and did nothing. Later,  I heard from people who attended that the party was a bust. The party lasted 4 hours so I got to put 4 hours in my savings bank. After earning  interest, I now have 344 hours that I can use at the age 61, to do something I really want to do.

Here's another scenario: Instead of spending hours worrying if I would pass an important test, or if my sick friend would pull through their surgery (" it's just an open-heart, they're a dime a dozen these days"), I'd spend my time doing nothing else like staring at the ceiling  or cracking my knuckles. Again, time saved equals time to be spent later.

I think I'm on to something.

Too bad I didn't think about this sooner though. After all, it's 2013, not 1974. I'm 61, not 21. My work career is winding down not ramping up. My body is like a high-mileage runs good, but could be expensive to repair.

And come to think of it, I've never been one to sit around and do nothing. Even when I wasn't sure what to do, I did something. And I'd like to think that while I can't go back and re-allocate time, I can certainly make better use of the time I have left.

Like setting the clocks back an hour in the fall and forward in the spring.

"Honey, where's the manual for that damn coffee maker?"