Category Archives: Junesboy

Funeralville III

The Queen of England died recently.

Perhaps you heard.

She was an admirable lady of 96, an inspirational, if mostly symbolic ruler of an empire who could open a flower show or diagnose a faulty carburetor and fix that blighter.

She became Queen the year I finally achieved successfully sleeping quietly through the night, to my parents’ relief. Thus, she’s the only Queen of England I’ve known, though, frankly speaking, I’ve had no urgent need for a “Mum” at all. I had my Mom.

My Mom died last week.

I doubt you heard…and that’s as she probably wished it.

At the end of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, Willie Loman’s wife posits at Willie’s graveside; “Attention must be paid.” The first time I saw the play, I remember smirking silently at that line; “My Mom would beg to differ.”

In John Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW, Flora points out; “Some people don’t want to put themselves forward.” That……that…………

I don’t know why.

She was an admirable lady of 94, a suddenly widowed (at 44) mother of three schoolgirls and a hippie actor/son. She fixed those blighters too.

I remember…

…We would sit in the kitchen around that yellow-topped table and listen to the UK basketball games on the radio (televised games had yet to be invented). Mom would have her pad and pencil. She would keep meticulous score. She would know precisely how many points Cotton Nash and Dan Issel, and Mike Pratt and Scotty Baesler had scored. It was important. School spirit was a fine thing, but hard facts ruled the day.

…The day she mildly explained to my Little League coach who had failed to put me in that day’s game, that he was sequestering a future Hall-of-Fame first-baseman on his bench to his team’s detriment. I started the next game, though I still await that Hall-of-Fame invite. That day I learned the power of advocacy and persuasion. Don’t confront…form a discussion group.

…Before I started first grade, we would hike every Tuesday five blocks to the bookmobile, check-out our maximum ten books and hike back. We would haunt bookstores and thrift shops with book piles. Before I could read, I would “read” these picture books and make up stories to fit the pictures. I had been promised by my Mom that when I started school they would teach me to read. I returned home angry from my first day of school because I still couldn’t read.

No.

My Mom didn’t have a parade of black Range Rovers through the streets of Edinburgh, or guns, or cannons, or horses, or military uniforms of centuries of history, or choirs…and that’s as she probably wished it.

I fear her memorial will be in the rider’s seat of my car when I’m driving alone. There’s always a book there, in case I get stuck at a slow drive-through, or a train crossing, or simply a longish red traffic light.

I think she would have wished that too.

What! A!! Show!!!

Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of Janie and Roger gettin’ hitched for the first time.

Of course we’ve been married over a dozen times…to each other! Every time we are honored to attend our friends’ weddings, it becomes our wedding. During each ceremony, hands are held (shyly…can you believe it?), and vows are rediscovered with sideways glances (slyly…you can’t make this up).

34 instant years…

How shall we mark the occasion?

Well, many might think it’s a paltry plan. We have shared head colds (negative test) the last week and both of us are just a mite puny. We’ll probably stay in, order in, and reflect a bit on how fortunate we’ve been to find each other and how perspicacious we’ve been in knowing quickly that we had found each other.

After 30 years, retirement and the pandemic have driven us indoors, reduced our social interactions, and focused our attentions inward and toward each other. The connection was strong and is now even stronger. LeGuin and Kazantzakis would not be surprised.

But I always am.

Always.

Darlin’, after 34 years it feels like this is where we came in.

Can we stay and watch this show again?

I wanna be sure I don’t miss a thing.

The Gadget Queen & the Dangling Conversation

I think it was about ten years ago.

Janie, the Gadget Queen, came home with a new ornament for the Christmas tree and began to install it. Three days and two outside independent contractors later, it was hung, swingin’ on an artificial pre-lit branch, hard-wired, synced, registered to vote, and fully protected by warranty from all annoying phone calls. It was a porcelain mouse with a porcelain top hat and porcelain conductor’s baton sitting in rabid anticipation on an open porcelain songbook. The sucker must weigh five pounds. When it dangles on its branch, the whole tree leans into a non-existent wind.

A protocol was soon established.

  1. I enter the living room and say in the most natural and un-sheepish voice I can muster; “Hello, Mr. Christmas.”
  2. The ornament answers with an enthusiasm I cannot fathom; “Well, hello to you! If you’d like to see what I can do, just say; ‘Play a carol’ or ‘Lights on.’”
  3. I quickly and meekly say; “Lights on.” Mr. Christmas’s renditions of traditional Christmas carols are harsh betrayals of the spirit of the season that rival those of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the 101 Mantovani Strings. They are to be avoided.
  4. The tree instantly blazes with pre-lit illumination and Mr. Christmas chirps; “Ta Da-a-a-h! If you’d like me to do anything else, simply say; ‘Hello, Mr. Christmas.’”
  5. Then I slide under my electrically heated throw (a Janie gadget), with my synced morning paper (an electronic facsimile of the Lexington Herald-Leader downloaded on my Kindle…another Janie discovery), with my cuppa coffee Janie programmed the night before on yet another whiz-bang contraption she found. I ponder the subtle differences from memories of my first thirty years on the planet…and ponder a few choice suggestions for Mr. Christmas as to what else he might do.

But…

…to be honest…

…I kinda like the guy…

…mostly because of the amusing soliloquies he inspires from Janie.

If, perchance, Janie arrives in Mr. Christmas’s sphere of influence before I, she sings out; “Hello, Mr. Christmas!” to no effect. She then repeats the magic phrase into a silence. She then croons seductively; “Hello-o-o, Mr. Christmas…” Nothing. She barks it, shouts it, drawls it, accents it (British, Irish, Scottish), translates it (French, Spanish, Greek, Urdu, Latin-Classic and Pig). Nothing works. It is entertaining at first and then becomes triumphant when I call from the next room; “Hello, Mr. Christmas”, and the arboreal firmament shimmers and Janie simmers.

To quote that great motivator of men, Strother Martin; “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

This surreal reality show has unfolded now for ten years.

I hope it continues as long as he doesn’t play carols.

The Urge for Going

With apologies and thanks to Joni Mitchell and Michel LeGrand…

“I’d like to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so,

But she’s got the urge to going so I guess she’ll have to go…”  –Joni Mitchell.

I walked through our small back yard yesterday and I felt the urge for going. The day lilies are of course long gone. The knock-out roses are finally bowing to the inevitable. My playpen of cleome, bronze fennel, autumn sedum, shiso, and spiderwort has hunkered down, hoping to be overlooked by the random angry gods of Winter.

“…summertime was falling down and Winter was closing in

Now the warriors of Winter…they gave a cold triumphant shout,

And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out.” –Mitchell.

I’ve bitterly raked the leaves from the birches next door. I’ve chopped the spent estival splendors. I’ve shut down the pond’s fountain/birdbath. The bewildered frogs have retreated to the sleepy, frigid depths. The myriad tadpoles are struggling to fathom their first frost and consider the question of mortality for the first time. They’ve got the urge for going, but don’t where to go. I have no assurances to offer them: it’s my first winter with pollywogs myself.

The hummingbirds have fled like the fickle, mesmerizing, gypsy, bouncing dots that they are. They’ve got the urge for going and they’re gone.

The trumpet-vine hedge is embarrassed by its nakedness; bare vines overreaching the sky annexed to become a Casbah-like warren for tiny wintering birds. The arrogant trumpet has got the urge for going but has roots…and responsibilities. Where would those tiny birds find their hygge?

“When the sun turns traitor cold

And all trees are shivering in a naked row,

I get the urge for going, but I never seem to go.” – Mitchell.

Why? I suppose I could.

Michel LeGrand offers an answer;

“Beneath the deepest snows the secret of the rose

Is merely that it knows you must believe in Spring.

So in a world of snow, of things that come and go,

Where what you think you know you can’t be certain of,

You must believe in Spring…

And love.”

Last night, actually this morning, I awoke at 3:45. I crept out to the cold-compromised backyard, by the amphibian-befuddled pond. The sky was brilliant and clear. I shuffled back to bed and awakened Janie. She rolled out of bed and rolled into a blanket. We and our devoted star-gazing pup Chloe stood, huddled in the cold to see the lunar eclipse.

It was fine.

I suspect I will always have the urge to flee the dark and the cold, but I will never go.

I have a standing appointment with Spring…

…and love.

Feel So Near

Dougie MacLean tells of an island in Scotland; small, barren, isolated to th

e lack-o-mercies of the winds.

<<< You’ll find me sitting at this table with my friend Finn and my friend John…we may take a glass together. The whisky makes it all so clear. I feel so near to the howling of the wind – feel so near to the crashing of the waves – feel so near to the flowers in the field – feel so near. >>>

Janie and I live in a green bubble, mostly sheltered from crashings and howlings, yet the song resonates.

I farm a lot these days.

That’s a joke that only Janie and I know.

Sorry.

I dead-head and seasonally prune roses. I think it helps.

I whack and wreak violence on the trumpet vine. I think it helps.

I water the petunias, begonias, bougainvillea, impatiens, and coleus. I know that helps.

I kneel and crawl and claw at pyramid-scheme grasses that try to drain the resource bank accounts of Janie’s day-lilies.

I croon encouragement to the robust efforts of the cleome, sedum, shiso, and bronze fennel gifted to me by Becky Johnson. I keenly feel that responsibility.

I harvest and return the errant game balls of various sizes that have evaded the best efforts of the six-year-old that lives behind us. Sometimes I launch a sphere towards the youngster’s goal. Calipari has not yet called.

Yes, I farm, but far from diligently.

What I do diligently is take plentiful breaks. The kitten (a sworn but un-diligent killer of critters that stumble into her maw) and I sit, still and attentive.

Cardinals scold. Frogs croak, bark, and squeak. Sirens wail. Cicadas ratchet. Hummers whir-r-r. Copters whirl.

We feel so near…

<<< The old man looks out to the island. He says this place is endless here. There’s no real distance here to mention… There’s no distance to the spirits of the living – no distance to spirits of the dead.

I feel so near to the howling of the wind – feel so near to the crashing of the waves – feel so near to the flowers in the field – feel so near. >>>

I feel so near.

Sh-h-h-h-h.

Wanted: Tree Planters

It doesn’t take long to plant a tree, but after you’ve done it, you’ll have a goodly wait till you get the full benefit of what you’ve planted. When I was in my twenties and thirties I planted trees and shrubs. Then I sat back and waited.

I had time.

Planting trees was a selfish act. It was for me.

I had time.

Now…maybe not so much time.

I planted trees where I could see the result.

I had time.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

I had time.

Now…maybe…

I’ve visited places that people gush about; Arizona, Alaska, Mexico… I liked ‘em, but there were few trees and of few varieties. I missed my trees.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

Hollies, tupelos, dogwoods, chincopin oaks, ginkgos, maples, magnolias, spruce, birches…

I cherish them all.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

Now, at this certain age, I know planting trees is for the pleasure of others. I will still plant them. They still fill me with hope for what will come. It is still a selfish act.

A year ago, I saw hooligans and terrorists rampaging in our nation’s capitol.

I didn’t see any tree planters.

Tree planters have hope.

Hope planters…that’s what I really meant to say.

Meal-Planning in the Time of the Cholera

… or a kind of compulsory tailgating.

I’m gonna steal this term from my friend Tyler Madison. He used to live quite near to Commonwealth Stadium (as do Janie and I). During home football games, we get barricaded by game traffic and can’t easily leave the house. This mostly pleasant imprisonment initiates a scouring of the pantry for sustenance. Sometimes the results are, shall we say…creative?

These internal foraging skills have served us in good stead during this year of “sheltering at home” (euphemism for “occasionally being too lazy to go out”).

Hunting and gathering in the wilds of the kitchen cabinets…

Tonight we were, shall we say…fortunate?

Janie had recently made a Trader Joe’s run. With demonic glee, she announced the night’s menu;

  • Asparagus Risotto.
  • Misto alla Griglia (Marinated Grilled Eggplant & Zucchini)
  • Garlic Naan (Indian Bread)

Wow.

Just wow.

Be still my bleating tummy.

I have a couple of thoughts about this roster of edibles. Tonight’s meal is comprised 100% of delicacies I had never heard of much less eaten until;

  1. I was deep into my twenties. Growing up, my dad considered a meal pretty much complete as long as it contained pork chops, brown beans, and fried potatoes. You could add more if you wished, but those dishes were basic sustenance.
  2. It would not have surprised me to find that this meal was accompanied by a disclaimer; “No animals were hurt or destroyed by this meal”.

Now, all that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the feast.

I am a lucky guy.

Frogs and Dogs

I posted a picture of the knot of frogs that inhabits our little pond. That’s what a group of frogs is called. I’m inordinately proud to know that.

I like the frogs.

One night recently, our wonder pup, Chloe, cornered the largest frog who had wandered a few feet away from the safety of the water. I had to intercede and provide the frog with a corridor to safety. There was a hop, a dive, and a splash – all was well. Chloe gave me a glare that screamed; “I don’t know you anymore.”

I like the dog, too.

The frog was being a frog; venturesome and stupid.

The dog was being a dog; a gleeful hunter.

Let them be what they are. Value them for what they are.

Sure they have their limitations, but as frogs and dogs, they’re jes’ fine.

Those limitations however, as charming as they are, are limitations. They prevent me from asking/hiring/electing them to be something other than frogs and dogs. For example, I believe Chloe’s penchant for chasing squirrels would make her unsuitable for driving my car and the frog’s constantly damp condition would render it unwise to assign electrical repair needs to him/her.

Nor would I nominate or elect either of them to be President.

But…as dogs and frogs…I like ‘em jes’ fine.

Christmas Whackers

I got tools for Christmas.

I’m sorry. I shoulda warned you before I said that. You might have been standing in a place where it’s hazardous to faint.

But it’s true.

My personal foundations are shaken. I’m questioning every tenet by which I’ve navigated the years. How has it come to this? Tools…and all the expectations and assumptions that accompany them…given to me…whose past attempted claims to the adjective “handy” were usually rebuffed and ridiculed with cause decent, and alas….

Janie gave me tools for Christmas.

She has followed and encouraged my perennial struggle to rein in the sly and raging ambitions of the trumpet vine under which we live. She understands my frustration when the vine soars high above my reach and threatens to initiate unholy congress with the overhead wires that power our house and allow our home to communicate with the rest of the planet. She knows of my aesthetic dissatisfaction with the ugly dead arm of a high branch on our 40-year-old dogwood. She senses my fear that the lower branches of the tupelos out front are scaring the strollers in our neighborhood.

Thanks to her, I now have new armaments to aid my battle.

I now have a wicked, 12-inch tree handsaw with apocalyptic teeth that devours with utter disdain bark, pith, pulp, and small student vehicles parked illegally.

I now have an extension that will allow me to clip twigs and branches from another area code.

Great…I think.

Chloe, the pup of wonder, worries that, these new weapons in my hands might lead to the wrong limbs being severed.

Janie coos “You missed one there, cowboy.”

I’m a lucky guy.

Whackers for Christmas.

Ouch.

I Could Not Be Happier

Today I was driving through a beautiful neighborhood on a sunny, 70-degree day in Lexington. The trees were autumnally spectacular. I was on my way to a spacious outdoor courtyard to meet a half dozen geezer theatre friends for a socially distanced brunch. I have worked and played and laughed with this group for over 250 years combined. We used to meet with some regularity until covid drove us into our burrows. This was to be our first assemblage in eight months.

I could not be happier…I thought.

Then the phone rang.

It was the wife of one of the geezers, herself a friend of more decades than it would be polite to specify.

“Rodge! Tell my husband to turn on his phone!”

“Julieanne, is something wrong?”

“Just tell him to turn on his damn phone! Biden won! He won! They just called Pennsylvania!!”

I hung up and drove on. The phone dinged with a text. It was from my wife, Janie; an emoji of a champagne bottle launching its cork.

I arrived at the brunch, ridiculed my occasionally Luddite friend for walking around with a useless phone in his pocket, and announced the electoral headline in spontaneous duet with our hostess as she emerged from the house having just learned the same news. Champagne flowed and flowery toasts were deployed. Old friends were reunited. Old stories were told again. Our laughter rocked the world.

I could not be happier…………I thought.

But there was something missing.

At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Then I thought back to election night, 2016.

I went to bed that election night stunned and morose. The momentum and the arithmetic was undeniable: Donald Trump was gonna win.

Janie had already gone to bed. I didn’t wake her with the news.

The next morning, as she learned the result, I watched the subsequent waves of incredulity, indignation, sadness, fear, and finally anger.

“What do we do to fix this?”

We were together for the bad news.

We should be together for the good news.

I excused myself from my jolly brunch brotherhood and headed home.

Janie met me at the door. There was a hug and a kiss. Champagne flowed and the toast, though not flowery, was precise and jubilant; “Now we can begin.”

I could not be happier…………………………this time I know.