Walking Distance

When I was 9 years old I had a favorite paperback book called “Stories from the Twilight Zone”, a book of short stories based on the skin and bones for sketches produced on the TV program of the same name.
I had a favorite called “Walking Distance”, the story of a tired middle aged business man that leaves the big city one weekend and simply drives in an effort to get away from his job and the Rat Race in general.
His car breaks down and he gets towed to a local garage for repairs when he sees a road sign for the town he grew up in years ago.
He asks how far it is to the town and is told, “It’s walking distance.”
He enters the Twilight Zone and walks into his hometown of 40 years ago where his mother and father are still alive.

It’s funny that I was falling for these kinds of tender stories when I was ten.
Yeah, I was a weird kid, huh?
Much of my writing loosely falls into the same sentimental category. Go figure.
I started thinking about the last good day I had with my mother and father, sadly the memory has vanished deep into the recesses of my own scattered mind.
The ‘moment’ did happen though when I came to a realization that I could never get those moments back; accepting the idea was painfully difficult but I knew it had to be done.
It occurred to me that I began saying goodbye to the individual pieces of both of them, various facets of their personalities, phrases they often used and the stories they loved to tell.

I remember fruitlessly trying to pull my mother back into my world with my “remember when” queries that all too quickly lost their magical powers.
If I’ve learned anything at all from their tragic situation it’s that life is about seizing moments, grabbing them by whatever means possible and never ever letting them go.
I only wish I’d realized that fifteen years ago, wish I’d accepted their fates sooner, if that makes sense.
But I’m only human and I desperately wanted to believe otherwise.
If I could have several more hours with both of them it would be spent on the back deck of the Goodbye House’.
It would be a warm but comfortable summer night with nothing but a cricket soundtrack and a deep, orange creamsicle sunset off to the West.
My father would be standing by the grill wearing his signature wrinkled Bermuda shorts (or were they seersucker? God forbid), sans shirt with his pot belly exposed to the world with a can of Busch beer in his hand as he flipped burgers and hot dogs.
My mother would be flitting around the kitchen like some culinary Tasmanian devil putting the finishing touches on one of her ‘signature’ desserts.
We wouldn’t be talking about anything in particular; it would just be like it once was.
But it would be different to me because I would mentally file away and lock every smile, every laugh, and every taste and smell living inside that one bittersweet summer evening.
And I would remember all of it again, if I had one more chance.
Maybe the truth of the matter is that those memories are never very far away; in fact they’re easily accessible because wherever I am, ‘home’ is always close by.
Actually, it’s walking distance . . .

~m

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A Beautiful Goodbye

It was in this post that I mentioned a moment of clarity that I’d experienced with my mother when she was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.
I like to think that there are times in our lives when, for whatever the reason, we are deserving of a small gift of the soul; something that catches us off guard and lifts the spirit; an experience that simply says, ‘carry on’.
If you’ve visited Smoke and Mirrors before and have read any of my writing, you could conceivably finish this post for me.
I think.

Lately, I have been keeping close tabs on my father (my sister, as well) for reasons I have chosen to keep private.
That said, I visited him last Sunday around noontime to feed him lunch.
He tends to eat well whenever my sister and I feed him simply because we’re able to be patient. It’s a wonderful feeling to know he’ll nap the afternoon away with a belly full of food and that we had a small part in it.

He ate well for me on Sunday: pot roast, mashed potatoes w/gravy, vegetables and the softest dinner roll I’ve ever held in my hand.
I wasn’t sure if he would even finish his dessert but the bastard ate all the Banana Cream Pie and didn’t even ask if I wanted any.
(I tried it and yes, it was very good)

I cleaned him up and we sat by the window in his room.
A slice of winter sunshine found him and I think he enjoyed the warmth of it.
I spoke with a few of the nurses on the floor who told me that he’d had a very good night.

“Walter? Oh, no problems with him. Sweet man.”

With my questions answered and my father fed, I went back to his room and bent down so we were face-to-face, and kissed his forehead.

“I love you, Dad.”

He just stared at me.

“I know, I know,” I said, “You love me too, right?”

He lifted his tired hand, smiled and gently stroked my cheek.
No words were exchanged but no words were really necessary.
For a brief second, my father was really ‘there‘.

When moments like this happen you have to soak them in because they’re oh, so rare.
It’s the stuff of the soul.
Small gifts, my sister said.
Maybe they’re not quite as small as I’d originally thought.
I walked out of the nursing home and felt the winter sun on my face and I smiled because it felt a bit warmer than it usually does.
Maybe that was a gift as well . . .

~m

the memory of Him

I realized something unsettling and bit surprising after the last visit with my father.

I’m having some difficulty in loving what’s left of him.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold his worn and trembling hands, maybe rub his back if the situation allows but inside I feel almost nothing. And it bothers me, and hurts the soul.

Everything I loved about my father was on the inside – I understand that, but in some ways, I feel hypocritical and shallow for going through motions that seemingly resemble love. But for now, I love the “memory” of him.
I used to love the way he signed his name: Walter Murphy – clear, precise, orderly; bold black hand-written lines that typified his organizational mind, his once brilliant mind.
Even when my mother would guilt him into making a tossed salad for a camp cook-out, you could tell by the way it was put together that my father had made it.
I love the fact that he was a man that loved his family passionately, though we were only shown glimpses of that paternal love.
He used to laugh so hard sometimes that tears would trickle down his cheeks, affecting my mother in such a way that she would usually pee her pants from watching him laugh. They were made for each other, I think.
Living inside a disease like Alzheimer’s has as many advantages as disadvantages; life goes on and you subconsciously forget about the pain.
But like the snow in the winter and the falling leaves of autumn, time doesn’t forget.
It taps you on the shoulder in subtle ways, maybe to help us remember what once was.
I visited Moonbeam’s blog last night and was incredibly moved by this post.
I understood its content and felt its bittersweet sorrow.

Unlike Moonbeam’s post, this one wasn’t difficult to write because it was written many years ago.
I think I’ve edited the damn thing ad nauseum. On the inside . . .
Sometimes it just takes a tap on the shoulder to put it down on paper.
Thanks for the tap, Moonbeam.
And Dad?
Maybe I’ll see you in my dreams tonight . . .

~michael

Recipes of the heart

It was a cold, brisk November night several weeks ago that Pamela and I went out to dinner (a rare occasion), not an expensive “date” by any means; a burger and a shared salad along with a few Shipyard Pumpkin Ales which were quite good, one or two and you’ve had your fill of this delicately spiced brew.
Maybe it was the up and coming holidays that turned on the “memory” faucet for me but for some reason I began thinking about my mother. (big surprise, huh?)
When I think about her, I really miss talking to her.
I wonder if that feeling will ever stop?
The two just go together, I guess.

It was no surprise that I found myself on Sunday afternoon making a big pot of Beef Stew, a recipe that I adopted from her.
The simple act of cooking something she used to make brings her back to me, in a quiet and introspective kind of way.
She’s almost standing next to me in the kitchen and to be honest, I love it.
Strange, huh? Not really.
After Thanksgiving dinner, I found a great seat on our “way too comfortable” living room couch and joined my daughters while they watched “Ratatouille”, the Disney flick (and a real good one at that).
I’m not giving anything away regarding the movie but now and then souls and memories intersect for reasons unknown.
This simple children’s movie spoke to me deeply.
Sheesh. It’s Dizzney.
Go figure. (one scene in particular)
Should you ever care to watch it, maybe you’ll understand where I’m coming from, maybe not.
I’ll just say that special dishes are such a beautiful and lasting thing in terms of our deepest fields of memory.
Our minds literally refuse to forget the special foods we ate and loved as children.
They bring us back.
Way back.

It was no surprise to me that the beef stew came out as good as it did.
The simple act of re-creating a recipe my mom once made me feel so good.
Maybe she had more to do with the end result of the beef stew than I did.
I like to think of it that way, anyway . . .

~m

ps.
My mom’s beef stew recipe is up for grabs for anyone that wants it.
If there’s enough interest, I’ll post it here at S&M.

Not enough love in the world

I found a crumpled piece of paper on the train the other day and could see there was some writing on it. Being the perpetually inquisitive one, I picked it up and flattened it out.

It read:
I watched you sleeping
you’re beautiful

A simple, eloquent and somewhat heartbreaking note rolled into one (kind of disturbing, as well).
I wondered about its recipient as well as its author and how long this obsession had been going on. You just don’t see someone one day and write a note like this. This has been quietly simmering for sometime.

I’ve watched people sleeping on the train and more often than not, it ain’t pretty.

This must have been a very different scenario. Admiring someone from afar but never getting close enough to touch must be a terrible kind of living hell.

Maybe these two people knew one another but one of them couldn’t seem to bridge the impossible chasm between them for reasons unknown.
Six words rich in meaning written on a carelessly dropped (and crumpled) piece of paper. To me, it smacks of a significant sense of loss and incompleteness for both parties involved. The note isn’t the issue here as much as the story hidden deep within the text.

I told my wife about it and she wondered if the note was even delivered or if its author crumpled and dropped it, a thought that hadn’t even occurred to me.
Words like this have a weight and possibility to them and I can’t imagine not letting them reach home.

I think back to the number of times I gazed at Pamela from a distance, afraid to approach her for fear of rejection and embarrassment.
I know I fell in love with her face long before I knew her soul. Needless to say, we run deeper than the oceans.

And though the waters are much rougher these days than we’d both like, I consider myself a lucky one; my message in a bottle was ultimately delivered and read and I thank God my words found the still waters of acceptance.
I’ll never know any more about that crumpled note, but I wanted to give it some light hoping in some small way that it too, might someday find its way home.

~m