So sometime in May I will drive up to Kansas City and spend some time with the Center High School 50 year reunion committee. I am not an official “member”, but I am and interested observer and part time participant. So I barged in a few months ago… and I am thankful I did, and grateful to be welcomed aboard the Good Ship Yellowjacket 69.
Obviously it is filled with my CHS classmates. people that I have known since I moved to the Boone School district in 5th grade, and some of these folks are nearly friends with each other from the womb. For me it is a round table of folks I have been far more absent from than present. I have moved so many times in my life. I have kept in touch with a handful of my old cohorts, but for the most part, I spend very little social time with anyone from CHS.
That being said, It is a special time to share a table, talk briefly about the past and ponder the schedule for the upcoming event. It is NEVER a time to talk religion or politics, though it is filled with people who would happily discuss, argue and question both. It is just a time to celebrate. Mostly, as I have observed, it is just a group of people who want to celebrate life. And the celebrants have more in common with each other than can be found with almost any other folks that I might encounter in any random gathering at any time in any place, from now until the moment of my last breath. Or so I would guess.
The purpose of the committee is really singular. What can be done to celebrate life, provide venues for smiles and good times. What will attract the most folks to a couple of events so that both the seeker and those being sought can have a really good time with a not some random group of devotees gathering to rejoice as a result of a common experience.
So here is my experience regarding reunions… I have been to a few… Some I really enjoyed… from start to finish…. some I enjoyed for only moments. I am glad I went to all of them… However, rarely did I come away with any meaningful moments. In my earlier days I got to be reunited with Paula, and would visit her when I visited my Mother in Austin. Paula passed several years ago of Cancer. For the most part, I would just spend time with the guys I spent time with decades ago. A poker game at Cal’s house, with Bob, Ric, Curtis, Marco, Don, Joe, a few others… So reunions were just moments in time. Happy moments, but brief and then over.
That was true until the last reunion. My life changed. Two people who were merely moments in my CHS life became two of my besties… It is not easy to make new friends at my age. At OUR age. People from Center have their own lives. I am thankful they do. I am more thankful that Ann and Lynn let me into theirs.
I knew Ann Asel and I knew Lynn Joseph whey I went to Center. I probably spoke to them for nearly and hour. I mean an hour total during our entire 3 years during our shared high school experience. We did not date, we did not have the same circle of friends, Ann and I had Journalism class together I think.
Because of the Last Center Reunion… my life has changed. I have stories to tell, but the relationship started because I had been selling stuff on Ebay for nearly 20 years. I sold some stuff for both of them.. I don’t list anything for them on Ebay any longer, but I drive to Kansas City from Tulsa with some regularity to see these two friends. I love Annie and Lynn. I am shocked.
Maybe you should come to the reunion and get shocked.
By the way, 98.6 degrees, as you know is our average body temperature, while alive. In 1951 the projected life span for men was 65.8 years, for women 71.6 years.
I will be 68.3 at the next reunion. I hope to laugh with you there.
I’m really a bit surprised. I’m surprised because I really didn’t know Carol or Shirley very well. They had become Facebook friends over the last few years. It’s been nearly 50 years since I was in the same room with both of them. So, how long do I need to wait before I get over this kind of departure.? Is there a point in time when this kind of goodbye won’t matter? Seriously I’ve only seen one of these people in the last 50 years at a CHS reunion, and one of them I haven’t seen at all. For the most part all we really had in common “to the colors high above us Gold and Blue.” And yet I am profoundly affected by the recent news of their departures from this plane of existence. I mean how in Heaven’s name can I miss them now when I haven’t missed them for decades But I do miss them now.
I feel like Center High School was my Goldilocks Journey. I’ve talked to people who have had many thoughts and memories regarding their High School experience. I’ve talked to people who have been obsessed with the high school journey, Similar to Al Bundy from Polk High. I know folks who hated their CHS journey. I’ve talked to people who studied really really hard, and I’ve talked to people who didn’t study a lick. I’ve talked to people who went to huge high schools and graduated with thousands of classmates. I talked to people who went to small schools and they attended School with a handful of mates. But Center High School (CHS) was the Goldilocks adventure for me. Not too big. not too small, it was just right. And as I get older it gets just “righter”. But my Band Of living classmates is shrinking in size. How terribly strange.
High School is a unique American Adventure. It is one that people of my age all experienced. Very few private schools in the 60s, Most kids went to a public high school. Therefor, High school is often common ground… So many of us just took the yellow bus. Looking back on my life, it is special because CHS provided a unique band of friends that I knew and explored life with, for nearly a decade. In some cases, I have High School friends who married their High School sweethearts, and remain together to this very day. It is in many ways uniquely American. And for children of the 60’s, for children who are the last of the Baby Boomers, I think High School can be even more special and more unique. But I can only compare it to my own experience. And because of that I hold my years at Center High School in Kansas City Missouri as some of the most precious years of my life.
One of the things that is part, a large part of the shared CHS experience during the 60s is GREAT music. Rock, pop, folk, Motown, soul, R&B. Music to sing to, and dance to, and cry to, and to make-out to, and live life to. I went to the first live music concert when I was in junior high I guess. I mean I saw the Beatles live in September 1964. I Saw The Who in the Shawnee Mission South gymnasium… and Iron Butterfly and the freaking Cowsills on back to back days at Municipal Auditorium in June of 1969. My friends and I treasured our vinyl and Turntables. We knew the WHB top 40 list.
And we “all” sang “Hey Jude” together at OUR assembly…
My musical favorite however, was Simon and Garfunkel. And Paul Simon could write words that were sheer poetry for me. His words touched my heart. I would play his records for hours..Paul Simon affected me profoundly. Simon & Garfunkel we’re best known for songs like the Sounds of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water. They had some great music. And some great lyrics. I became the Boxer…
“In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down or cut him
‘Til he cried out in his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”, but the fighter still remains”
But in the midst of all of the music, and all of the words one quiet little tune became my favorite. It still is my favorite.
Nothing and no other song and has ever touched me it continues to touch me like “Old Friends”. It’s amazing, I tear up even now as I talk about it. It is so much a part of who I am. And the depth of its meaning continues to grow every time I hear it or sing it or recite it There is a a picture of my dog gazing at a park bench. My dear friend Beth commissioned this picture for me, when my best dog friend left me in September, 2017. I posted this song in my blog once before…
My friend Tank, the Georgetown, Texas, Dog Park, 2010..
Old friends, sat on a park bench like bookends…… old friends how terribly strange to be 70. Those phrases have been a part of my heart since 1968. And now more than ever I am moved when I hear about the passing of my Center High School classmates.
When I was still at Center High School it truly was a song line that I listened to often. I don’t know why. How terribly strange to be 70. A few years back my classmates would do a Beatles reprise “When I’m 64.” And when I heard that song I was reminded that it was less than a decade until my life would be terribly strange. And I have to tell you my life is getting stranger.
How terribly strange to be 70. I had No idea what that line would mean… when I first heard this, I was only 17. I have a better understanding now.
And now, how terribly strange not to make it to 70.
Farewell to some very special Yellowjackets.
I hope I see many Gold and Blue lives at the Center Reunion, Fall, 1969. I would love to see some of my terribly strange friends…
So today I decided to do some research. Those of you who know me would also know that I am a shoot from the hip guy. Too often I live my life in the “Fire, Ready, Aim-Mode.” My target today, Santa and Merry Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong… I know Santa….. I have been Santa. At least for a moment or two.
And certainly I have celebrated Christmas. Much of the world has opened a present during the Christmas season. Presents are also opened under the guise of the Holiday Season. But you catch my drift.
But today I have taken aim on Santa and Christmas. And I decided to do it as a believer. Yes I am a believer in Jesus Christ. Yes I have been involved in a relationship with Him for over 50 years. But it is during the Christmas season, “the reason for the season” that I am often most troubled.
I am going to assume you have asked “Why?,” at this moment. And if you haven’t I will ask it for you. It is the reason for the reasoning.
It appears to me, Christmas tends to offend many people. Too much shopping, so much pressure, cards received from folks you did not send to, people exceeding the $20 gift limit during secret Santa, what is the proper denomination on a Starbucks gift card, the family holiday portrait, who to invite to Christmas dinner, how to pay off the credit cards. These are just a few.
But the reoccurring problem, year after year, and decade after decade, it now seems, is to whom may I wish a “Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays?”
Seriously! How the heck is this an issue. Believers and Non, fighting over 2 words. I am going to tell you I know what I say. I don’t think about it. I just do what I do. And this too, I know, not one person has EVER become a Christian in my 50 years of journey because they heard me say Merry Christmas. I don’t believe that one Christian has denounced their faith because and Atheist wished them Happy Holidays.
As for Santa, little kids will outgrow their belief in the Jolly man. Why? Because he is a fictional character of course. Santa is not a life changing kind of guy, unless you are a kid. Everyone learns the truth about Santa some day, one day in life. There is an awakening. And then Christmas or the Holiday continue, it become the seasonal truth.
By the way, I have never outgrown my belief in Jesus. My faith, My choice, My truth.
For those of you who may not know. There is a resource out there called “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.” The short version of what this is. A summary in alphabetical order of EVERY word in EVERY book in the Bible, connected to its original Hebrew or Greek roots. Yes every “a” or “an” or “the” is listed and connected to the verse in which it is found. So you can imagine there are pages of connections to the little words. And fewer references to words like Methuselah or Boaz or Asher. And then there are words that don’t appear in the Bible at all.
There is NO Santa. There is NO Christmas. Never once do these words appear in the Bible. Old Testament or New.
There are however appearances for the word “division.” Division, or dividing, is both and action and a spirit. Division is sometimes necessary, but quite often it is just outright evil.
Romans 16:17-18 (NIV)
17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
So my encouragement to you is to choose carefully how you decide to divide. I have chosen not to care whether you wish me a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays, or nothing at all. That is your choice. I know what mine is.
I pray to Unite. And I pray that you may know Love, Light, and Truth. God is Love. God is Light. God is Truth.
May the real “Reason for the Season” a time of birth, new life, reaching out, traveling and touching, invade and engulf your life. Or you fill in the blanks.
But if you choose to divide…. I say with confidence… it has NOTHING to do with Christmas.
It was so good to see Robert this morning. It’s always a great time to get together to share breakfast to share conversation to share our lives. Robert is one of the Tulsa triumvirate. One of three friends I met in the seventies during my first Tulsa pilgamage, and maintain a relationship with today. Robert, Brad, and Nancy. Three friends that were in high school when I met them in the late 70s and now are just flat-out good good friends
Robert’s the one from out of town. So we don’t get to share face-to-face that often but I’m always blessed when we do. Conversations about what we’re doing, what we’ve done, and what we might do. He’s always busy when he returns to Tulsa so our time together is precious and compacted and usually over coffee at a Starbucks but this morning it was at his hotel over the morning breakfast bar.
Robert and I are frequent conversants on Facebook and occasional conversations are made by the phone. Whatever time it is, it is treasure when we get together and get to spend time face-to-face. Even when we occasionally annoy one another, our time is treasured. And so it was this morning at the Hampton Inn South in Tulsa Oklahoma. 90 minutes of one-on-one time. And our first visit since I lost my beloved dog Tank Fulton. Robert has lost his longtime companion dog Bob named for Bob Newhart several years back. So he was familiar with the loss of a close fur friend Bob, been his dog since he was a Schoolboy.
We talked about my loss and I shared with him that I now understood what it meant when a person has and irreplaceable dog. I was happy to have my other dogs but it’s true you can’t replace a dog that has been 13 year companion.
On a lighter side we talked about creative projects He was involved in. Robert is an actor and has appeared in many movies you have seen and I have seen along with many national commercials. A successful character actor, a writer, a confidante and so much more.
Coincidentally on this Sunday morning in the hotel breakfast area the television was tuned to CBS Sunday Morning. There were stories on the backdrop of the wall as we chatted, really none of them caught my eye nor my attention. And then the story started about Art Garfunkel. Yes the Art Garfunkel of Simon & Garfunkel Fame. The Art Garfunkel of my favorite pop Folk rock Duo the 60s and 70s..
The television was on low-volume so it really didn’t interrupt our conversation but I must admit it provided a distraction for that moment that I just didn’t see coming. A cutaway to Simon & Garfunkel performing one of my favorite songs “Old Friends”..
This was our song. Not Robert’s and my song. But this was the song of my dog journey with Tank Fulton. It became our song one foggy morning at a dog park in Georgetown, Texas…. 2010.
Shared on this blog in 2013.
Old friends sat on a park bench like bookends… Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly…..
And just like that the grief Came Upon me. It was at that moment I knew. No matter what else happened in my life. No matter how many other dogs I spend my life with and loving, Tank could never be replaced.
I would never look into his eyes. I would never smell him again. I would never hold him again. He would never lick my face. I was overcome by the realization of never.
It was at that moment that I realized that grief is my conveyance for navigating the Never.
Through my tears I said it out loud to my friend Robert. A person who cares for me and was ready to listen. And this is what I said.
Tank is irreplaceable. Because no matter what happens in the rest of my life, the likelihood of me having a daily relationship with somebody for 13 years again is unlikely. Even if it were to start today. And Tank was my everyday guy for 13 years. Fred and Shelly have been with me for 4 years, check back in 9 years. And regardless of when the next great companion comes along… on 2 legs or 4, there will never be the connection I had with my wife who died and who was the rescuer of Tank. I will never ever get to live in that connection again. And so today and every day going forward will just be different. Not bad, not sad, not horrible, not filled with regret or tragedy. Just different. And currently there are limited ways to visit this moment in time.
Today I learned how to navigate the Never.
Grief will be a vehicle for that Journey.
At least it was today.
I am really sorry that my dog Tank is dead. I really do miss him
I watched it happen. It happened in my lifetime. It is so commonplace now. It was a conversion experience. It is a conversion experience.
One day all the photo film in the store disappeared.
One day are the vinyl 45rpm records in the jukeboxes around the world were missing.
The Encyclopedia changed its name to Wikipedia.
What is a newspaper?
One day all the land line phones in my house disappeared.
For all intent and purposes, these things are gone.
What’s next? Cars without drivers? Really?
This is not a lament about the good old days. It is a realization that in my lifetime I have seen, we have seen, some serious “deaths” to thing that were once just so common.
After college, in the mid-1970s, I worked in a radio station. Reel to reel tape machines, Carts (cartridge tapes), 2 turntables and thousands of LP Vinyl albums. I was an on air personality and produced radio shows and feature pieces. Working with tape, a splicing block, and a razor blade and splicing tape. It was such fun, and visceral. I could feel the words and music. Listening through headphones to build and edit a “perfect” interview. Cueing up the music to hit a seemless musical sequay from one composition to the next. I did not even know that I was working in an analog format. I was just working and creating.
I am not sure when I became aware of how the digital age began in my life. Nor when I started to experience digital It had to be in the 80s. Was it when I graduated from the cellular bag phone to my first Motorola Razr. Was it when my job converted our order entry systems from a MSI transmission system to my first Toshiba laptop with a 128k processor. I really don’t know, or more accurately I don’t remember. Whenever it was, I remember I did not understand it. It made absolutely no sense to me that I was communicating with a binary system of only 2 digits. How can a “0” and a “1” do all of that work?
I still don’t understand it. I don’t understand how a 1 and 0 can make a picture or be a song, but I do believe it.
1.(of signals or data) expressed as series of the digits 0 and 1, typically represented by values of a physical quantity such as voltage or magnetic polarization.
relating to, using, or storing data or information in the form of digital signals.“digital TV”
involving or relating to the use of computer technology.“the digital revolution”
I do however understand analog.
At least I think I do. I understand the touch experience and physical quantities.
It’s been about 4 weeks. 4 weeks since he died. 4 weeks since my life changed. I tried to prepare for it. I’d already gotten replacement units. I actually was prepared for it. I was prepared for Tank to die. After all dogs die. Everything dies. But this is not about everything. It probably isn’t even about Tank… It is probably about me.
I started sleeping on, by, around, and next to Tank around 2004. He wasn’t even my dog yet… He was soft, and smelled like a hound, and funny and comfortable and caring. He was not a therapy dog, but he would become my therapy dog.
What I have learned?
I don’t mean to be self depricating…. but I truly am a mess. I have been a fairly miserable partner in most of my relationships. I start strong, but finish flat. Nearly every meaningful “in love” with a woman type relationship has ended poorly. I have some long time friendships and am grateful for them. I did not get married until I was 54. I was a widower by age 59. My second marriage lasted only 10 months. I really thought when I was growing up that I would make a spectacular partner. That was not, and is not the case.
I have spent the last decade, since Michelle’s death, researching and revisiting old relationships. I have been motivated to ask for forgiveness. Some of the relationships are from the 60’s. Half a century of knowing I needed to apologize for being an ass. Almost no one who reads this will understand. Well maybe there will be a few accidental visitors. I know who you are. I think I have found all of you. All but Katy. I so wish I could find you. By the way, marriage number 2 was to a woman who was among the long ago relationships which was rekindled on Facebook. I was certain it would be a storybook ending. All it had was an ending.
So why all these relationship ramblings?
My life is filled with regrets. I don’t believe people that say they have a life with no regrets. That makes no sense to me. How can a person not regret hurting someone, or disappointing a partner, or betraying a confidant? Seriously, NO Regrets. Then I don’t believe you. I am thankful for the path my life has taken. I have learned from my bad decisions… at least from some of them. I have a better life because I have had regrets. I don’t live in regret, I live in victory over the bad decisions. But a bad decision…. is still a bad decision. I have grown….but I regret that I hurt someone else on my blessed journey. A journey in which things “fit into a pattern for good.” But not all things are good.
What is the purpose?
For me, there is purpose in the midst of this journey. Well I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, and for all their shortcomings….. and mine. I learned this in my middle school years at Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo. Thank you Rev. Ted Nissen. The first question in the Shorter Westminster Catachism. Most of you will not know this question. But if you Google “what is the chief end of man?” You will learn what I “know.” This line is from Wikipedia…. “The most famous of the questions (known to a great many Presbyterian children) is the first: Q. What is the chief end of man? A.Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
And through this sieve is poured the results of my decisions. If I understand who God is then this is a glorious time in my life. Every day is glorious. At least when I recognize my purpose.
What does it have to do with me now?
Well my today is a sum total of my decisions yesterday. Life experience is a mathematical equation of sorts. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. A series of events that create form and substance. Very rarely is my string of life events just a march in forward progress. The graph of life is a reality. The ups, the downs, “the two steps forward and……….!” See you could finish that phrase without me. Because your life is a graph also. You also have taken “one step back.”
What does this have to do with my dog Tank?
Tank was a forward march dog. He never complained. He was half hound… so he could be a bit hornery if I decided to leave the dog park before he wanted to go. And in his early days if I let him off leash in an unfenced area, he might disappear for up to 90 minutes (but obviously he always came back). And there were occasions that he was not allowed to sleep in a stranger’s house and hence we did not share a bed. But mostly Tank was just a kind, loving, lean in to a new human, hump a new pooch, tolerate a puppy, train a foster, love me without condition, snuggle with me at night kind of dog. We could just sit quietly for hours. In his younger days he would chase a ball for hours… always to bring it back to my hand. He was a good boy. He was what I want to be. A caring loving, move forward kind of friend and companion.
Tank was a dog without regrets, or so it seemed. He glorified life and those around him. Yes I am biased. But those who were blessed to know him, know he was unique among the dog world. He was just one of those dogs. If you needed a hug, he would just give you a hug. He did however hope you would scratch his butt or his ears.
And now he is gone. No new pictures. No more kisses. No visits to the dog park. No sharing my bed. I had no idea just how critical Tank was to my well being. I know now.
For since he left
My nights are
“Today is a good day to die”
And so it was, September 25, 2017.
I don’t mean to be morbid or unfeeling. I am far from unfeeling, but it is a day I planned on since June 16, 2013. The day I adopted Fred. My number 2 dog. Fred, the Basset/Beagle… the Bagle. Adopted because I loved him from the moment I saw his picture on the internet. I had to have a second dog.
I had to have a second dog because too many of my friends like Ann and Steve had shared that when they lost their dog, the pain was so great they knew they could not replace their lost companion. But because of one Canine spirit I had to get a second pooch. One dog had brought me so much joy that I knew I could not let pain prevent me from living each day without a fur baby. And so many of you know who this great spirit is and was. Tank Fulton… the dog I can never replace…
September 25, 2017, a good day to die.
Tank’s final week began on Tuesday, September 18. I called it visiting day. I had seen Tank begin to slow down, though his energy would ebb and flow… He had lost his appetite…
I noticed it for real the month before when we went to Kansas City to visit Annie, and Lynn, and my sister Barb. But Tank was a trooper.. and he did well on the drive up and back, but he would never eat a great big meal again… even when I fixed him steak. But I digress… or maybe I just am remembering.
I rarely kennelled Tank. Not it 13 years. And when I had to leave him since my move to Tulsa… which I rarely did, I entrusted his care to two people. Tank loved Nancy and Beth. and so we went visiting. It was a contrast in styles… he had love for both, but his energy waned as the day lengthened… Nancy first, who saw a boy ready to take on another day, and then Beth who saw an exhausted boy ready to visit the rainbow bridge. I listened to them both… it is why I went visiting. Their love for Tank was known and their opinions are trusted.
And the week passed.
Off to the dog park to visit friends… but sadly we often missed our favorites… Tank would tire quickly. I am most sorry that we missed our special friends there and their furry companions… But we tried, we really tried…
Most of the week we just spent together, resting… the park… well the backyard of Casa Canine was park enough for Tank.
Tank was a dog of great spirit and compassion. And he had eyes that were filled with compassion and life. That is until they were no longer filled with life. And so it was on September 25, 2017
It was a good day to die
The night of September 24, 2017. Tank was restless, pacing the house. I fell asleep knowing he would come to bed… Tank always came to bed, or at the very least the bedside ottoman at the foot of my bed. We rarely slept apart.
September 25, 2017.
Tank was missing. No where in the house. I have a doggy door. So I went to look outside. Tank was in the corner of the side yard, nearly under my window. I do now know how long he had been standing there. But the moment I saw him, I knew. Everyone said I would know. There is no script. But I knew.
Today is a good day to die.
So I made THE appointment and late morning we loaded up to take our final road trip. The park, the drive around, ice cream and hot dogs from QuikTrip (he ate neither), and time alone together in the air conditioned car just remembering.
And by the end of our conversation, Tank’s gums were turning blue. He had been gasping for air for too long. It was time. It was a good day………. to die.
And it truly was time. We arrived at the vet. It was a peaceful and quiet room. We sat together. Then he was taken to get prepped for his moment… to be brought back to out quiet room… but when the injection site was prepared, Tank collapsed. He could not stand another moment… He had given me his all for his final week.
And so as he lay on the table, I carressed and held him. I whispered in his ear. I told him I loved him. I knew he was moments from being with Michelle, the woman who rescued him, the woman who married me and died way too young in 2009. And then Tank was
Fred. FRED FRED FRED…come give me a kiss please
Call me Sam. I was born to travel. I lived a fairly mundane life most of the time. I could sit in the house for hours on end. Content to relax at home. Some might say I was a closet homebody. And all too often it did appear that way.
Get out of the house “they” would say. Go. Do something. Don’t be so lazy. Fulfill your destiny. Go. Go. Go.
And then inspiration hits. A destination. A dream. A driving desire to fill my life with a few changes of underwear and socks and a whatever else might be needed during my time away from home. And I was off to my destination with a dream and a companion.
I do love to travel. I was born it seems to travel. Long trips, short trips, exotic encounters, domestic weekends. Frankly…. the longer the better. I feel purpose during a pilgrimage. It is like a mission accomplished when I finally leave home. I don’t know what takes me so long to finally leave the house. Blame it on my traveling companion I guess. I am not good at leaving and venturing out by myself. I am not afraid, but I am just a bit immobile at times.
But when I move, I am like that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion kind of thing. I really will go anywhere, anytime, and honestly, not that I am unfaithful… but I will go with anyone.
And I could tell you all some stories… don’t get me started. I could talk for hours. OK, get me started… here are a few short snippets regarding my jaunts around the world.
When did this travel thing start for me? Summer Camp on a Greyhound with dozens of high school aged strangers. A bus trip to Colorado and a week in the mountains. The Collegiate Peaks and Mount Princeton and a rustic cabin on the banks of Chalk Creek. I loved to just sit in that cabin and be quiet and listen to the sounds of hundreds of high school campers playing outside during the day. Or when the sun went down, and in the stillness of the night, I could hear the water of Chalk Creek rushing by my cabin on its way to and through the West. And I loved the week. But secretly it was the bus trip that I remember most.
This was my first encounter with a group of strangers. Strangers of every size and color it seemed. It was and incredible experience. There were at least 40 of us on that bus. Crammed in a small moving compartment. It was the first trip of its kind for most of us. And though the highlight of the trip should have been the Colorado Camp. And that camp. And Silver Spurs Ranch was special. But what is my favorite recollection? The trip home. You heard me… the fricken bus ride home. And really after a week in close proximity we were hardly just strangers any longer. An overnight bus ride with now familiar companions. And a special closeness to at least one new friend. I won’t kiss and tell… but I guess I just did. And then we parted, having made our way together to Colorado, and back, and some might say… second base. OK, I would say it. Thank you Greyhound. From that point on… I had to go somewhere and meet new sojourners when I had the chance.
The best somewhere was probably the 2 week European vacation. Two weeks with my companion and no one else. No tour guide. Not another soul going with us. But I knew I would meet some special friends along the way. Oh my. Oh my. What a chance to be filled and be fulfilled. This was not just a sweatshirt and shorts kind of journey. I was a careful carrier of clothes and film and brochures and a journal and special snacks. I was committed to carrying everything I would need and nothing I didn’t.
This trip included my first overseas plane flight. May I say that Newark International airport is a zoo. I was not treated too kindly. And that Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is quite the place to meet up with the friendliest strangers. Everything they say about Amsterdam is true… at least the parts I still remember.
And the European train system. Eurail Train passes are the best. Snuggled tightly in an overnight train compartment, to take a night train from Oslo, Norway, and wake up in Stockholm, Sweden, the next morning. Then repeat the process for Stockholm to Copenhagen. And on and on around Europe.
Well there are many stories I could tell. Vacations in Tahiti. Cancun. Vancouver. The Aloha State. Phoenix, Seattle and New York City. Business in San Francisco and Spokane. And of course the Goodwill Donation Center.
And that is the real start of this story. One day I was taken from my resting spot in the closet or my house to the doors of the Goodwill Donation Center. There I was inspected and cleaned and approved for a trip to the Goodwill Retail Store.
My rebirth, my re-purposed life, my real adventure started at Goodwill. Well it actually started when I left the store. Believe it or not. I actually once stayed at a Goodwill store for several weeks until the adventure began with a new companion. I was taken from this store by my new walkabout buddy. My new best friend found me and fitted me with straps so we would always be together. What a life. I live life anew.
I move around now on shoulders, powered by sneakers. I have the best travel companion ever. No closet life for me.
Call me Sam. My full name is Samsonite. I was born to travel with you.
I will come along for the trip of your life.
I am your servant. I will hold your dirty socks.
No complaints. Whether Planes, Trains, Automobiles….. or sneakers
It is a regular event, one you might expect.
There are those that line up and wait for the doors to open. They are “those” people. The ones that hang out till close, wander the night, and then need to fill their need and wait for the doors to open. They know each other. They are regulars. And they are habitual. As if they have no where else to go. Many appear daily, they are recognized and welcomed, Ahhh the fellowship of this bar.
And this day is special… it is Christmas, and most places are closed… but this place is waiting and ready. This is not your regular bar… This is Iron Gate. It is a food bar, a soup kitchen open on Christmas day, and every day. Their mission statement… Our mission is simple: we feed hungry people.
And on Christmas I said yes to being their Santa Bob.
Santa needs to go the extra mile to touch lives when folks live in tents or under bridges or any place that will allow a person to get a moment of warmth or protection. Comfort is an optional word in the vocabulary of these folks. But Iron Gate is a place of comfort, warmth, nourishment, every morning from 8am-10:30. Food, shelter, a smile, a moment of service to those who are rejected, dejected, infected, unconnected. Iron Gate serves “crackers.” I don’t mean saltines. I mean folks who have fallen through the cracks. The mentally challenged, the disenfranchised, the shopping cart pushers, folks without an address.
This is NOT Cheers. But they all have names.. Not everybody knows all their names… but nearly everyone is know by someone. These are a fragrant people. . . in quality of spirit as well as other ways. And I am sure that Iron Gate is a home for their hope. But the holidays are especially trying for most in need. Rich or poor. But the crackers now hold a special place in my heart.
This is a good place 365 days a year.
Grab a plate. Sit and enjoy. Stay a while. Go back for more. An someone will even smile when they clean up the mess….. no tipping please.
But this day was special. Santa got to sit and watch. He was assisted by his elves, Morey and Giacomo. As always…. the elves did all the work. But Santa gets the headlines. And this is what Santa saw.
Hungry folk, homeless folk, down on their luck folk, down home folk like you and me… but they are folks with few options. If these folks are “milking” the system like I read so often on Facebook, they really SUCK at it. I am absolutely certain that these folks don’t have what I think people who have stuff think they have.
As and aside, I have heard the phrase “there but by the grace of God, go I.” Well let me say, for all you believers out there, those that recite that phrase… someone needs to put some skin on your Jesus. I WAS There. That place. There but by the grace of God go I, and the grace of my beloved friends who opened their home to me and my dog for 18 months. Nearly broke for 18 months while I tried to get back to life after multiple tragedies and bad decisions. Bad decisions made at an age where I should have known better. The result was broke and homeless at age 59, with a van, a dog, and a few hundred bucks. J&G put flesh on their Jesus.. AND A ROOF OVER OUR HEADS. Tank and I will never forget that.
So maybe those panhandlers on the corner are out there milking the system. Maybe they have such an incredible life they just need to stand on a corner with a cardboard sign and hope for $3 more then head to their secret home in the hills and take your quarter to pay the cable bill. Or maybe they will waste it on a smoke or a drink and a moment of comfort, instead of opening a savings account and build for the future. I don’t know what they will do. I do know where there next meal will come from if they want it.
Well this is what Santa saw. He saw survivors. They come in all shades and all sizes… but they all appear to live to survive until tomorrow. And Iron Gate puts just enough flesh on their bodies, and flesh on their Jesus so the crowd that gathers today can return tomorrow. There is no preaching, there is only flesh. Tangible and loving. And because of this, Santa saw the sparkle of hope in the eyes of a grateful crowd.
But Christmas was a special day… There WERE presents. The appearance of the “holy trinity.” And recipients seemed as excited and grateful as a kitten with a new empty cardboard box.
The “holy trinity” of gifts.
Candy, gloves, socks. Sugar, warm, dry. Joyful recipients. No Bah-humbug here. Hark the Herald Angels sing. Gifts received to an hallelujah chorus of thank-yous.
Gifts received by folks who are grateful in the face of such trauma.
The holy trinity. Skin on your Jesus.
Energy, comfortable hands and feet. Blessings. Tears. Laughter. Though there was a small crush of folks trying to get to the head of the receiving line, there was NO unruly outbreak like folks on black Friday fighting over a $5 toaster.
Santa took notes. It is a very short list of things to keep in his sleigh. And I need to get a bumper sticker for the sled.
CAUTION: FREQUENT STOPS FOR SHOPPING CART PEOPLE
And a bag to hold some socks, some gloves, and a roll of lifesavers.
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