Maybe They *Don’t* Make ‘Em Like They Used To…

Happy Birthday, Dad!Photo: Classic Models

Today is my father-in-law’s natal anniversary. Though I’ve no doubt he sometimes feels his age and then some, as all of us do, he remains marvelously youthful in his wit and charm in general, and like a certain favorite toy car of a somewhat similar production date (one passed around by kids in our family for many happy years), has all the more appeal, truth be told, because of all the stories behind the few dents and scratches.

Not only am I most fortunate among persons in having found life partnership with a best friend who suits me in ways I could never even have imagined, I got a fantastic package deal, his parents being from the beginning the best sort possible. I knew before I met them that they must be rather extraordinary to have produced such a dandy son who really liked, loved, and respected them, so I wasn’t all that nervous about the meeting, a fact all the more remarkable when you consider that I still struggled with a fairly extreme level of persistent anxiety at the time. I was more afraid of meeting my beloved’s then part-time housekeeper, an old-school German lady who clearly thought anyone hanging around with her adopted charge had better meet her rigorous standards. Maybe Irma paved the way to make Mom and Dad Sparks seem that much less intimidating. In any event, from that first time I met them I was quickly falling in love with them, too. In any case, it turned out that I had attached my heart not only to a great life partner but to a great life partner with great parents, who immediately became my parents along with the ones who gave me my birth.Photo: Elegance on Wheels

Our Dad S is a thoughtful, gentle, good-humored, positive person who served honorably in the Army, who with Mom S raised a pair of superb sons, who worked with computers from those early days when a single one still filled a massive, refrigerated room to when they became ever so much smaller yet far more powerful, and even trained for and had a post-“retirement” career as a Myotherapist. He continues to be curious and dedicated enough to keep taking classes, traveling, and beginning new adventures as a seasoned but lively octogenarian. He is indeed a man of a ‘certain vintage’ by now, having had many adventures and being the repository of myriad stories as a result, but never fails to have new tales to add to the inventory because his spirit is so lively.

Most of all, he has as loving and generous a heart as he always did, and makes me hope that he will have not only a lovely and fulfilling birthday celebration (or ten) for his birthday but as many more as possible. He is, after all, a classic.Photo: Classic Good Looks

Tractor Pull

Unlike those romantic beings who imagine farming as a bucolic and sweet, easygoing fairytale of a life, I am thoroughly undone by the thought of a mere day spent living like a farmer. I don’t doubt that those who choose it can find beauty and joy in many times and places therein, but the sheer intensity of labor and the long, relentless hours required for such a way of life would be utterly and overwhelmingly consuming to a weakling like me.

Still, I have tremendous admiration and gratitude for the work that farmers of all kinds perform, and I am far from immune to the attractions of magnificent farm animals, crops and all of the tools and implements and structures that make farming possible. For starters, I would have a pretty meager diet and little to wear if it weren’t for farmers, so I’m very conscious of the gifts and comforts that are mine by virtue of their hard work and the gifts and sacrifices that they and their charges bring to my existence. You should all be thankful for the clothing contributions I receive if for nothing else, given that otherwise you’d be stuck seeing me flouncing around garbed in nothing more than what I could manufacture from leaves and bark, and that’s a frightening thought.

But it’s no surprise that in addition to my love of what farmers and farming do to give me a richer existence in such practical matters, as a visually obsessed person I am also admirer and fan of all of the beauties that are part of the seen aspects of farm life. I know I’ve mentioned this before in many ways, celebrating those subjects and objects that enliven my dreams and strike my fancy among rural locales and sights as well as vintage and battered, heavily used and aged, Stuff. If I’m not obsessed with the loveliness of rural life, I’m at least a serious admirer of its visible characteristics.

Not smallest among these delights are all of the wonderful and sometimes mysterious machines that populate the properties of farmland. I may lack any ounce of desire to operate any of them, not least of all because I know how hideously dangerous many farm machines are, but I do love to see them, whether in action or at rest. The latter, truthfully, is all the more appealing when it’s of a machine that is so long and hard used that it can’t be operated any further no matter how much elbow grease and baling wire is applied, and it now resides as a totem on the front forty, weeds or flowers embracing its long-flat tires and curling up around its blasted motor. When I think of it, perhaps that’s because I like the thought that I will be held in such an embrace, metaphorically, in my old age. In any case, as I wander through the farmlands along the way of my own life’s passage, I do find they have a great pull on my soul.photo

In Rust I Trust

It doesn’t really matter all that much what I’m doing or where I am; two things almost always grab my attentions, whatever I was supposed to be focused on at the moment. Is it a shiny, twinkly, sparkling object? Oh, yeah, that’ll catch my magpie eye. I adore that kind of stuff. But I love its polar opposite, too. I am as easily distracted and attracted by rusty, crusty, crumbling, peeling, decrepit things as by the polished and gleaming ones.

You already knew these things. What can I say? The world is just so ridiculously full of prettiness.photo photo photoIt’s a great source of happiness for me. I’m simple in that way. Among many others.

Memento Quod Vivitis

The longtime artistic tradition of the ‘memento mori‘ has always appealed to me. I think it’s valuable to recognize our mortality and the limitations of our time on this plane to devote to earthly enjoyments, the better to value them fully. Not to mention that I love skeletons and a lot of that stuff so often used symbolically in these works. I’m not disheartened, horrified, or unsettled by death and the subjects surrounding it, under everyday circumstances, in the way that some people are.digital illustration from a photoThe main thing is, I think it’s even more important to (as my guesswork-Latin post title suggests) remember that you’re alive. It’s not enough motivation to live a full, meaningful, rich, purposeful life just to know that you’re going to kick the bucket one day; everybody knows that, and it’s probably not even a majority of our kind that actually give serious thought to being fully present in their lives and making the most of their life spans. I know for certain that I haven’t always been especially good at such things.photoSo I’m rather happy to have an eye-opening, soul-tweaking glimpse of my little collection of death-defying totems, kept in view around my home and work spaces, at any moment when they happen to some into my field of vision. Not a bad way to refocus me and make me feel especially alive.

Huntin’ ‘n’ Fission

I’m told that it’s both fun and useful to have hobbies. There are certainly plenty of books, magazines, news articles, classes, clubs and social organizations devoted to leisure-time pursuits, all of them trumpeting the value of such avocations. Some of them are decidedly age-specific: I haven’t seen a large number of free solo rock climbing promotions aimed at senior citizens, for example. There are hobbies considered preferable to persons of certain economic strata, fitness levels, sexes, nationalities and any number of other identifying categories, some active and some quite passive or spectatorial, some of them expensive to learn and requiring extensive training and practice and others free and simple to master. Regional favorites abound, like, say, noodling (catching catfish by hand), which would be hard to enjoy in desert climates unless you happened to be both a big fan of the sport and dedicated enough to stock your own evaporation-protected pond. Some of the more intellectually stimulating hobbies, like competitively designing robotics for cage fights or nuclear plants for home use, are highly entertaining to their practitioners but utterly escape the attentions of us more modest-brained folk as either too highfalutin or just plain incomprehensible. Sudoku, popular with millions of people cleverer than I am, falls into that too-challenging category for me since I’m so mathematically unfit, but I do like some kinds of word puzzles reasonably well if I’m in that rare mood.

Should I take up golf, having decided to move (when my spouse gets around to retiring) to a place on a golf course partly for its–surprise!–affordability and its location in a great town in a great part of the country, and in no small part as well for its great view into the green and leafy first fairway of the course? That would require my learning which end of the club is the grip and which the head, not to mention a whole bunch of other stuff, and on top of that, paying dearly for the privilege.photoWhile I’m still living in Texas I’d certainly be in a logical place to take up hunting, but that doesn’t appeal to me at all, unless it’s with a camera. For that matter, I’m more inclined to practice target shooting with a longbow, something I’ve enjoyed briefly in the distant past, than with a gun as well, being mighty skittish about those things. Being on the fast track to old age, I could probably pick up something more sedentary like knitting and crocheting if I had the patience. My single brief fishing moment post-childhood actually garnered me a cute little throw-back bass (as a kid I never caught anything but one big scary looking White Sucker that even my older boy cousins wouldn’t touch) and was enjoyed in good company while sipping a fine Texas brew; maybe that should inspire me to get busy with fishing.photoThat’s the thing, though: I just don’t enjoy games and sports, puzzles and pastimes much at all. Whether this arose or was reinforced by my longtime social phobias, perfectionistic fear of being seen as incompetent, dyslexic inability to keep anything I’m doing on a standard track, hilariously hideous sporting skills or any combination thereof is probably irrelevant. You see, there’s no separation of church and state in my life. I spend my days and evenings doing the very things that lots of folk can only do on an occasional basis and to fill their free time.

If I took up drawing, concert-going, reading and writing, cooking, DIY projects, gardening, photography or collecting weird bits of Stuff as a so-called hobby, what would I do with my day job? The truth is simply that I’m a fully fledged frivolous person. If eccentric creative activities and ways of thinking are on the periphery of real life, then I am a bona fide fiction, an imaginary character myself. If on the other hand art is, as I’m convinced it should be, central to existence and well-being, why then I’m just ahead of the curve; I won’t need to retire to any old rocking chair or go in a desperate search for something to keep me occupied, because I already have too many fun and pleasing things to do. Either way, I’m keeping busy.

Life Cycles

digital illustration from a photoSo Much Happens in a Few

So much happens in a few

Stray days, cells changed and borne along

Eternally, while growing strong

And old, and yet, too, growing new,

Dividing in their bubbling streams

The wind and sun of yesterday

And all that with it passed away,

From what are tomorrow’s dreams.

So, too, notes dashed off in haste

And then recalled with cool regret

Or penciled into kind words, yet

Not guaranteed to mend the waste,

Join in the fragile and the small,

Still, pale, inconsequential space

Where in the cycles of our race

So much can happen to us all.photo

Hot Flash Fiction 8: Out of His Family Tree

Beau Bretagne has a twelve-gauge shotgun on the porch and has a ladder-back chair with one short leg, a chair in which he leans against a big old sycamore tree; he has fourteen perfectly good teeth and a wonderful, spotless complete set of the Great Books, and he has read the complete bindings of them more than once. He has the gift of playing the squeezebox in the Gilded Crescent’s Big Dog Zydeco Band so beautifully that dancers have passed out as often from dancing all night as from the vast quantities of moonshine they are drinking at the same time. Beau gets a lot of pleasure out of all this wealth, but most impressively, he has the envy of the entire county ever since he had the brainstorm to name his baby boy Xerxes Junior Bretagne so that he truly has something that no one else in that whole county has. Unless you count Beau’s two cousins Billy-john and Bart, whose sons also share this magnificent combination of names (modified for the Bretagne family’s convenience as XJ2 and XJ3), but since Beau doesn’t count these, why should you?digital illustration from antique photographs

I’ve Always Counted on Good Transportation

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People have always remarked on the elegance of my carriage . . .

Road Tripping

On Friday I will hit the road by after-office evening light,

Hit it so hard it’ll snap up and roll like it’s a window shade,

Because a Friday evening is the sort of thing a road is made

For best—what else can put me in a frame of mind so near to right?—

And Saturday will likely see me tearing up the countryside

At speed, pretending I’ve no brakes except to let coyotes dash

Across (or ease me through the turns so I continue not to crash,

But rather, feel that sideways pull, the curve that makes my world so wide)—

And Sunday I’m still flying fast, and though turned homeward, yet a streak,

Because I must keep breathless joy searing my lungs, tearing my eyes,

Crowning my windy hair as though I’d won the biggest ever prize,

Since all this traveling is what will pull me through another week

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. . . but what I had in mind was always a hot set of wheels . . .

Signs of a Good Trip Ahead

That wonderful invention the GPS is generally a generous gift to a diva of disorientation like me. With my myriad forms of dyslexia all interlocking magically to make it virtually impossible for me to find my way practically anywhere past my own mailbox, it’s nice to have a personal assistant, albeit a computerized one, telling me how to get from Point A to Point B and beyond. And I do love a good road trip, when the opportunity arises.

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You are Here, but There’s No Here Here

But even our GPS (sometimes fondly called Peggy Sue after the lady who first helped us find our way around our new home, town and state) in all her digital wisdom can’t find everything. Sometimes, as on the above-pictured occasion, she has no more clue where her driver and passengers are than they do. And you know, it’s kind of amusing to me. Not only does it amuse me to look at the GPS screen and see it telling me that I am a little red arrow flying through the air in the vastness of uncharted space, but it’s weirdly reassuring to me that my lack of omniscience is far from unique in this world. All the same, I do appreciate Peggy Sue’s selfless assistance when it’s needed and available.photoOn the other hand, there’s plenty to be said for going forward without knowing what comes next. In life, it’s just plain inevitable–prescience of any sort is in mighty short supply. On holiday, going with the flow is often the perfect way to have a rich and full adventure, and even the occasional mishaps stand a chance of being fodder for both present delight and reminiscent hilarity. On the pictured ‘flight’ across uncharted Texas territory, my spouse and I were so happily absorbed in relishing the sights along the unknown way that we both failed to notice one of our other digital auto-assistants signaling us that the supply of petrol was diminishing, until it was seriously questionable whether we’d make it to a gas station before the tank ran dry. We knew we were in the vicinity of Seguin (a place we’d been through a few weeks ago) and crossed our fingers that following the intermittent signs to town would get us to a refilled tank in time. Not only did we make it in time, we had a trip in a time machine on the strength of that refueling. The little bit we’ve seen of Seguin has a remarkably somnolent sense of being stuck in time, and not even strictly one single point in time but rather as though everyone in the whole town has dragged his or her weathered boots every step of the way through its history, and everyone in turn has stopped off at a different spot in the past before picking up speed and rejoining the flow of time. Past and present meander in and out of each other and the buildings and land around Seguin and beckon us, in our turn, to slow down and enjoy the oddity of being off the map and off the tow rope of time simultaneously.

photoWe didn’t stop quite long enough to buy wrestling tickets, mind you, but the lure of the unique and the mystery of moving ahead without any inkling of what might lie ahead kept us rolling along all the happier when we were securely back on a full tank (once we found one of those vintage petrol pumps that was fully functional and deciphered the toothless ramblings of the guy sitting in his lawn chair ‘instructing’ us through our transaction from across the lot). If we hadn’t been to Seguin, we’d never have experienced its time-capsule marvels, potted around wondering how on earth a town that size could survive with so few gas stations, or gotten to see the World’s Largest Pecan, a sculpture on the lawn of City Hall that is probably really about the second or third largest representation of said nut in the US and possibly about the second or third least decorative sculpture (sorry, Seguin!) upon which any town proudly bases a promotional motto. Strange? A tad. Stuff I could easily have lived a long and healthy life without seeing or experiencing? Perhaps. But I’ve no regrets that our particular turns in the road took us there and led us to all of that fun, plenty entertaining even without wrestling tickets.

What Not to Say and When to Say It

I know, I know: I’m remarkably gifted. I have a peculiar talent for saying just the wrong thing at any given opportunity, to the degree that some might think I’d developed a fondness for the flavor of my own toes. I just say what I think, and it’s often not the most politic or informed approach to do so.photoThe upside of the equation is that I have no power or influence, so most of the time there is little danger or harm in my being quite so thoughtless and flippant. Most of the time there isn’t anyone who will take offense or any business that will be tanked by my foolish unedited blundering. Much of the time, it’s as obvious as the dumb things I say that no damage will come of it.antique book page (photo)Still, I know how much power one tiny little word or deed gone astray can have. So I keep trying, knowing that there may be those who think themselves even smaller, weaker and less significant than me and who can be vulnerable to the slightest scratch from an unvarnished remark. If I get lucky, being slow to reveal my dull wits and blunt feelings will become my real trademark and even if no one knows it to thank me I will be able to feel grateful myself for having sidestepped a pointless unkindness. It’s worth a try.photoGood thing everyone’s so generally forgiving, in the meantime.