High Five

On July 4th, as the sun began to descend, and various iterations of rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air ascended into the evening sky, a friend of mine said, “I’ll be thankful if I wake up tomorrow morning with the same number of fingers I woke up with this morning.”

I enjoy woodworking. The process of turning a pile of wood into something of need or want is quite satisfying. A bookshelf, a cabin, a chair…things that start as a mere image in your head and take shape to sometimes resemble that image. Sometimes…other times we find ourselves in a state of pensive contemplation, pondering the overestimation of our carpentry skills in front of a backyard fire as the wood from a failed project crackles in agreement. So it goes.

As Samuel Becket wrote in Waiting for Godot, “Ever tried? Ever Failed? No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

The table saw that I turn loose on the majority of the projects I attempt is older than me. It harkens from a time of yore when safety was the responsibility of the operator not the manufacturer. A time before blade guards, anti-kickback pawls…a time when eye-protection was called “squinting”. Leering protection? Deer plugs? What? You’ll have to speak up.

As I said, I enjoy woodworking, but I really enjoy playing the guitar, and the guitar is an instrument that is most efficiently and effectively played with a full set of functioning fingers. Sure, it can be played with less. I once saw a fellow with no arms deftly play an acoustic guitar with his feet, but I prefer to avoid such if at all possible. My toes are appalling.

You may ask, “If your precious fingers are so important to you why don’t you purchase a table saw that was manufactured in the 21st century, one that has more safety features than you can shake a severed finger at?” That is a fair and reasonable question, and I believe I have a fair and quasi-reasonable response.

Firstly, the relic I rely on has character and a sorted past. Two endearing factors for most anything. It resided for the majority of its life at my grandparent’s farm, where it was called into service often by my Uncle Tim (a real carpenter), once by my Grandpa Ardell (a farmer/comedian), and occasionally by myself (a wee lad with nary a bit of adult supervision). During that time, the table saw that now resides in my garage, bit two of the three folks previously mentioned.

Grandpa Ardell, whom I should mention, only had full use of one arm from birth, twisted the doorknob to leave the shop where the table saw resided, with that one good arm, with half as much thumb as he had used to twist the doorknob when he entered. As for me, I was sent scurrying out that same door, up to the farmhouse to have Grandma Rose clear away what seemed like a lot of blood, to a 10-year-old, and fully assess the state of one of my favorite index fingers. As I stood over the kitchen sink, legs wobbling, I fielded questions from my favorite attending physician about why I was using the table saw, and nodding in hardy agreement that, “I should be more careful.”

Merely a flesh wound. A warning shot across the bow.

Lastly, as part of my quasi-reasonable reason for not upgrading to a less malicious table saw, I would like to call upon the Peltzman Effect. As stated in the Journal of Political Economy in 1975, “The Peltzman Effect was first introduced by economist Sam Peltzman in his study titled “The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation”, where he theorized that people are more likely to engage in risky behavior when security measures have been mandated.” I rest my case.

Perhaps that table saw is a wise oracle, a misunderstood guru, not so gently assisting me to find moments of undivided attention in divided times, times where the middle-finger seems to be waggling about with sneering and jeering impunity. Most often a virtual middle-finger, or its equivalent, being safely waggled from afar by someone who would most likely never waggle one in a fellow human’s actual face. Have you heard of the Peltzman Effect?

Each and every time I flip the switch on that table saw, just before I push a piece of wood into those hungry unguarded whirling teeth, I think of my Grandpa’s thumb, the shot across my bow, my Grandma’s ever present plea to “be more careful”, and my guitar, and I am instantaneously fully focused on the task at hand and the fingers attached to those hands.

Thus far, knock on wood, self-congratulatory high-fives have managed to prevail.

Making Hay

Welcome to July. Where June went, I can’t say for sure. It was here one minute, I turned around to ascertain whether or not my bikini line was appropriately manicured for the summer season, and POOF…through a cloud of sparkler smoke, July came prancing in to scribble its story in the air.

Of course, in northwest North Dakota, you have to bide your time until the far side of midnight arrives to usher in sufficient darkness to do any sky scribbling with a sparkler. An extended daylight that we are all well aware will begin to pull back its reach soon enough, so we “make hay while the sun shines.”

I recently spent a few days of that here-and-gone June in Lignite “making hay” with family. Cheered on Avie, my niece, at her t-ball game in Bowbells, cheered some more for Otto and Perry, my nephews, at their baseball games in Stanley and Crosby, lent out my relatively strong back and weak mind to help my sister move furnishings of various shapes and weights, and enjoyed hanging out with mom and dad.

After the baseball games in Crosby concluded, Perry asked his mom, to ask me if “Old Man Joshy Washy would come to their house and play?” When an 8-year-old deems you worthy of entry into their world, you proudly accept and enter wholeheartedly, because 8-year-olds become 25-year-olds as fast as June becomes July. So it goes.

As I played baseball with Otto and Perry, I drifted in and out of the present as little things here and there transported me back to when my son wasn’t about to turn 25. It was one of those long summer nights that you wish could hold the daylight a bit longer, a night where you want nothing more than to “steal a couple more minutes from a darn good day”, as Larry Fleet sang in his song Working Man.

Perry stood poised with his bat, awaiting my pitch, and as the light faded, I heard our outfielder, my brother Gabe, say, “End on a good one.” If you’ve spent any time around baseball, that phrase is something you hear quite often during batting practice. “End on a good one”, it focuses your attention a bit more, it draws you in tighter to the present. “End on a good one”…we should all be so fortunate.

I hope your July moves slower than June, and that you have ample opportunities to make enough hay to get you through the winter or any long dark nights you find yourself in.


As stated on the Robert Pirsig Association website, “April 15th, 2024 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Part novel, part travelogue and part philosophical treatise, the book and its reclusive author shot to overnight meteoric success in 1974. Generations of avid fans have been deeply influenced by the book’s quest for quality and reminder that “the place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands.”

To mark the occasion of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’s 50th anniversary, I am facilitating a Chautauqua to discuss the book and the author at the Rapid City Public Library from 12:00-1:00PM on Saturday August 3rd, 2024. You are all cordially invited to attend and partake in the Chautauqua.

I’ll pause a moment while you excitedly scramble to circle and star the date on your calendar…

What is a Chautauqua? My pals, Merriam-Webster, define Chautauqua as, “Traveling shows and local assemblies that flourished in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that provided popular education combined with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts, and plays.”

Basically, a lyceum. You remember those don’t you? There was nothing better than the announcement of a lyceum during my tenure of a less than studious student at Burke Central. In my aged mind and dusty memory, Mabel Falck’s angelica voice, would politely interrupt whatever the teachers were trying to teach us unteachable knuckleheads via the brown wooden speaker that hung high upon the wall in each of the classrooms with, “Please proceed to the gymnasium for the lyceum.”

Mabel would never use the word “gym” in an official announcement that was projected through brown wooden speakers that hung high upon the wall in each and every classroom. Why did we always look at the brown wooden speaker when a voice made its way through it? Can we hear and comprehend a brown wooden speaker better when we look at it? Many such mysteries pervade and persist.

One distinct memory I have of a lyceum, was when a NASA astronaut graced the wooden floor of the Burke Central Gymnasium when I was in the 3rd grade. The astronaut had a space suit with him that had been used in actual space. Perhaps gymnasium space? He wouldn’t have been lying. Space is space I suppose.

The astronaut asked Sandy Larson, my 3rd grade teacher, “If you could send any of your students to space, who would you send?” As the hands of all the kids completely enamored with all things outer space (you remember them) shot up excitedly, Mrs. Larson, without pause, locked her gaze on me, and said, “Josh” to the astronaut. I assume Mrs. Larson had more than the space in the gymnasium in mind.

So, I got to wear a space suit. It was peaceful in the inner space of that bubble helmet. The sound of my breathing amplified a bit, and the astronauts voice, carrying on about outer space and such, muted some, as I stood, my wee 3rd grade frame wobbling a bit under the weight of the space suit and the gravity of the gymnasium space.

A pivotal portion of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is when the author completely engrosses himself in the contemplation and exploration of “Quality”. What it is? How to recognize it? How to teach it? Questions that eventually drive him insane, or, at the very least, exacerbate the authors schizophrenia to a degree that necessitates his institutionalization and the administration of electrical shock treatment. True story.

A good read that has given me much to mull over through the years, as I drift through this time and this space. A time and space sometime adorned with brown wooden speakers that forever contain, and sometimes project, the voices of memories from another time and another space. So it goes.

As Pirsig wrote, “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.” Enjoy your travels and whatever time and space you find yourself occupying this summer.


Happy June to you. I was thinking the other day that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone sporting a hickey on their neck. Have “love bites”, as they are referred to in Britain, gone out of vogue with teenagers? Nothing against the Brits, but I prefer the word hickey. What do teenagers know about love? Maybe that it bites?

It bites, it gnashes, and it grinds your plaque-free teenage heart, into raw little bits and shards of has been and never will be. Love bites…indeed.

A hickey, as defined by Merriam-Webster (both of whom I doubt ever gave or received such) is “a temporary red mark or bruise on the skin, such as one produced by biting and sucking” or a “Gadget” a dingus…a doodad…a thingamabob…a thingamajig…a whatchamacallit…a doohickey.

Now the gang at Funk & Wagnall, they seem like a hickey crew. Not a neck safe around that bunch of hooligans.

As the father of a daughter, I suppose I’d rather she came home with an arm load of dingus’s than a carotid artery battered and disfigured with “a temporary red mark” from some teenage degenerate. Some young punk with a full head of hair that can pull on knee-high tube socks without farting and gasping.

“Farting & Gasping”, quite a band name. Put that on the marquee and watch the people line up in droves. I’m of the belief that if the Beatles had opted for Farting & Gasping, they wouldn’t have been such a flash in the pan.

Unpopular opinion…I never really cared much for the Beatles. I’m more of a John Prine kind of guy. To each their own. As it should be.

When I was teenage degenerate with a full head of hair, a young punk that could pull on his orange and black BCHS Panther knee-high tube socks with nary a fart nor a gasp, hickeys seemed to be quite prevalent. As did their incestuous cousin, pinch hickeys, which generated the same insinuations, but were harder to explain.

At Burke Central High School, in US History class, circa 1990, Mr. Leonard Savelkoul likened the giving of a hickey to “some Rufus urinating on a tree to mark his territory.” What does an “old man” in polyester pants, who most likely farts and gasps when he laces up his wingtips, know about the world of young people with heads full of hair?

Rufus. Rufus was young. Rufus was insecure. Rufus was jealous. Rufus had a brain that couldn’t think straight under the weight of that luxurious mullet. Rufus was in love. A love, like a temporary red mark fading away under the cover of a turtleneck, a scarf, or God forbid, an ascot. Rufus knows its there. That’s about all he knows. So it goes.

Hickeys, love, dingus’s, tube socks, urinating on a tree, farting and gasping? What’s it all mean? Viktor Frankl always said that the question, “what’s the meaning of life” was too big of a question for any of us to answer. Alternatively, he believed that finding meaning in the moments was more surmountable of a quest to fathom.

Enjoy your moments. Hickeys are temporary…like a full head of hair.

Every Song

I hope you all had a lovely Mother’s Day, or at the very least, a mildly tolerable Sunday. Mildly tolerable doesn’t seem to be too much to ask of a day above ground. Could’ve been worse…could’ve been better. As Shane MacGowan sang in Fairytale of New York, “I could’ve been someone” to which Kirsty MacColl responds, “Well so could anyone.” So it goes.

Keeping with the spirit of Mother’s Day, Shane once sang that song with his mother as part of televised Christmas special on Ireland’s “The Late Late Show”. It’s about as good as one might imagine a mother/son duet to be, when the mother is not a singer, and the son has just spilt a bottle or two of Irish whiskey on his liver.

It occurred 24-years ago, but thanks to YouTube, we can enjoy it for the eternity of our being, or until the AI overlords avert our slack-jawed gaze elsewhere. Whichever comes first.

If the endorsements are lucrative enough, and it’s something the public demands, my mom and I will recreate the whole mess some night at The 109 Club. Those walls have managed to contain worse…so I’ve been told.

About once a month I play guitar and sing old country songs for the residents of Crest View Nursing Home. When your guitar playing is suspect and your voice waivers a bit north and south of perfect pitch, nursing homes are a good place to subject others to your hobby. They’re not going anywhere, and if they do, they’re not going anywhere very fast.

I’ve been visiting Crest View for about 2-years now, and the Director told me that in that time, there has been a dramatic uptick in DNRs requested by the residence. Coincidence? Whatever I can do to ease the suffering.

The residents like Johnny Cash, so I’ve learned a few of his songs to “perform” for them, and despite that, they still like Johnny Cash. The other day I was giving “Five-Feet High and Rising” a shot, and when I got done killing it, one of the residents said, “I remember hearing that sitting by the radio with my parents when I was about 5-years old.”

Music is powerful, even mediocre music. A simple song transported her back 75-years. For a moment she was ushered into the presence of her mom and dad, into the presence of a time a lifetime ago.

Another resident, wheeled in, head slumped, a mind seemingly elsewhere from her immobile body, sits expressionless. This is how I knew her for about a year, and then one day a nurse said, “She used to travel around with a show kind of like Hee-Haw, and her and her sister were the main singers.”

The nurse leaned in close to her and said, “Would you like to sing a song?” Suddenly there was life in her eyes, her chin lifted from her chest, and she sang “Butterflies” in its entirety, just as she had sung it with her sister 70-years ago. At the conclusion of the song, she yodeled a bit, and then went away again. She was there, if only for a while, if only for a song.

This life our mothers gave us is fleeting, enjoy every song.


What is the purpose of car alarms? There is a pickup on campus that seems to be of the sensitive sort, as a wisp of the slightest breeze or the broken, bumpy wind of a moderately impressive fart, seems to set it wailing. On the high plains in the pan handle of Nebraska there is no shortage of wisps of slight breezes, and on a college campus full of healthy bowelled youngsters fueled with questionable cafeteria food there is no shortage of moderately impressive farts.

Most any hour of most any day…HONK…HONK…HONK…HONK…Why? I would hazard a guess that anyone, other than the owner of the sensitive pickup, would be more than happy to be an accomplice to grand theft just to make the HONK…HONK…HONK…HONK…proceed anywhere out of earshot.

As I am firmly atop my noise police soapbox, the HONK…HONK that signifies that a car has been successfully locked via the key fob, seems an unnecessary addition of noise to a universe nary in need of additional noise. How can one fully immerse themselves in the refreshing wisps of breezes, and the always humorous, broken, bumpy wind.

Other than irritating to crotchety cranks with a penchant for the sweet silence of solitude, what is the harm of such auditory intrusions? Well, I’ll tell you! Hold onto your wig, these findings will be so surprisingly terrifying and troubling that your skyward dashing eyebrows may very well knock it askew.

National Geographic recently reported that, “Studies have shown that loud noises can cause caterpillars' dorsal vessels (the insect equivalent of a heart) to beat faster.” THE HUMANITY! The next time you hear a HONK…HONK, think of the poor caterpillars and the accelerated pitter-patter of their wee little hearts.

Think of their stubby appendages, too short to reach and provide a sound dampening respite to their fuzzy ears, leaving them completely at the mercy of the HONK…HONK.

Curious, I Googled, “Do caterpillars have ears?” and it turns out that they have “sound-receiving hairs on their bodies” rather than ears. Hmm? I then Googled, “If caterpillars had ears would their appendages be of sufficient length to reach them and provide a sound dampening respite in the event of a HONK…HONK?”

It seems that this question ascended to an intellectual level beyond that which smarty-pants Google has yet to summit. In a lame and mildly pathetic attempt to save face, Google offered, “According to a new study, some plants can hear caterpillars eating leaves and respond by emitting caterpillar-repelling chemicals.”

In case you are curious, plants don’t have ears. So Google says. Yes…yes…except for corn. Good one.

The National Geographic report didn’t indicate why, or if, a caterpillar is harmed in anyway by the accelerated prancing and lub-dubbing of their little hearts. Perhaps the reader was to assume that such was bad? Perhaps people that sit around listening to caterpillars' hearts with tiny little stethoscopes, while they intermittently blast Metallica through tiny little headphones, just want their mothers to be proud of them for getting their findings published in National Geographic?

“What does your son do?”

“He produces broken, bumpy wind.” So it goes.

Off Trail

A bit of Spring weather found the Black Hills this weekend, prompting many a folk to get out and about in the various manner folks like to get out and about. Hikers, bikers (pedal and the vroom-vroom kind), runners, ATVers, and topless Jeeps (not topless Jeepers) were among the hoards heading for the hills.

It’s nice to see people out enjoying all that the Black Hills has to offer, but it would be even nicer if they’d stay away from my favorite hiking spot. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

There’s a lovely trail system that is only about a 10-minute drive from our house, so rather than walk our dog around the neighborhood tethered to a leash, I prefer to get out into the hills where we can both be untethered.

The majority of the time Wilson and I have the whole area to ourselves, but when I rolled into the trailhead this weekend there were about seven cars scattered about the parking area. There are several different routes one can take from the trailhead, so the chances of running into someone is still fairly remote.

In instances like this, where I know there are several hikers out on the trails, I like to increase the odds of not running into anyone and wander about off-trail. Hiking on a trail is fine and dandy, but I’ve found that I prefer picking a general direction and wandering through the forest in that general direction until a different direction of interest presents itself.

Often, when I hike on a trail, I find that my gaze will inadvertently fixate on the trail, like a beast of burden, head slowly lolling from side-to-side, the miles sliding by largely unnoticed. Whereas traversing hill and dale off-trail, in a largely unspecified direction of my choosing, keeps my mind alert and much more engaged in the moment.

I suppose that whenever personal choice is a part of the equation or actively interjected into a situation, we human types will become more engaged in whatever it is we have been allowed the autonomy to do. When we go off-trail we get to see what we want to see, not what the well-meaning folks that established the trail think we should see. So it goes.

On a recent off-trail stroll, I was reminded of something the writer, Phillip Connors said, “The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble, to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.”

A rambling body, a roaming mind, unguided and untethered from convention. Where might you find yourself?

Jaunty Hair

Irish music, or to be more precise, Irish songs, are a form of musical expression that have been a part of my life for pert near a quarter century. I felt it necessary to express that my allegiance to Irish music is with songs, rather than with tunes, as many lump and bind the two into the same sack of wilted shamrocks and limp leprechauns.

“Tunes”, that which generally fall into the category of “Traditional Irish Music” are the jigs and reels sawed out of fiddles, squeezed out of accordions, plucked out of guitars, and beat out of bodhrans. Foot stomping, hand clapping, table tapping, pint swinging music.

No words, no story, just endless loops of 4/4 or 6/8 time until your feet and hands are swollen, your tables tapped out, and your pint is happily swigged or hopelessly spilt. My wife and my daughter like tunes, my son and I are staunch supporters of songs. To our gentlemanly, yet slightly Neanderthal ears, the tunes all sound the same, and they all last much too long. Like a political speech or a mattress commercial. So it goes.

I apologize. It was cruel and meanspirited of me to compare Irish tunes and purveyors of mattresses to politicians. I don’t “hate” tunes, I just vastly prefer songs. I am tremendously impressed with the dedication and skill that is necessary to play these time-honored tunes, but I can’t keep my gentlemanly, yet slightly Neanderthal mind from thinking, “For the love of leprechauns! When are they going to sing?”

My good friend Paul and I have been singing Irish songs at the Rapid City Library in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day for the past three-years. To ensure that they keep inviting us back, we don’t charge for our performance. “Performance” sounds a bit grand for what Paul and I do. Perhaps, “Facilitators of Frivolity” would be a more accurate description?

Whatever you want to call it, we enjoy ourselves, enjoy sharing these songs, and most of all, enjoy getting people to sing along and maybe go home with the lyrics of “Whiskey Is the Life of Man” or “The Black Velvet Band” stuck in their head. There are less useful things to have stuck in your head…like algebra.

This year, Paul and I had a two-state tour for St. Patrick’s Day. We facilitated frivolity on Friday March 15th, in Chadron, Nebraska, at a nursing home, and then loaded up our tour bus (Toyota) and headed back to Rapid City for our library gig on Saturday March 16th.

The nursing home gig was also enjoyable, and as it is any time I “perform” in a nursing home, very enlightening. I like bringing Paul with to nursing homes, like my mother, he’s good at visiting with anyone about most anything. Paul doing what he’s good at, frees me up to do what I’m good at…observing and pondering. I’m not certain those things constitute really “doing” anything, as they look suspiciously like doing nothing? Can one be good at something that isn’t really doing anything?

As we were setting up for our “performance” a lovely little old lady, with her “hair” cocked a bit like a jaunty hat, said to Paul, “When did you die?” This question caught my attention by the lapels and turned my head as Paul hesitantly replied, “Well…I haven’t yet.” A statement, that seemed to linger on the cusp of a question, as if she might know something that we did not.

She smiled and persisted, “I know, but when did you die?” Paul, rightfully so, seemed to be at a rare loss for words, so I unhelpfully commented, “It’s on the calendar. We’re just not sure of the exact date?” Making unhelpful comments can be added to the list of what I’m good at when Paul and I interact with our adoring fans.

She seemed adequately confused by my unhelpful comment, smiled, and shuffled off to lounge on a couch under a window, while a well-fed tabby cat lay on the back cushions gazing out the window, lazily flittering its tail just above her jaunty hair. Jaunty hair, which now seemed to be positioned so as to shade her eyes from the afternoon sun, and shade her ears from Paul and I.

“When did you die?” Good question.


I have been a professor in the Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Department at Chadron State College for 10-years, a pretty good gig that I feel quite fortunate to have. There are four full-time faculty, and several adjunct instructors, that the various FCS courses are divvied up amongst.

How we divvy the courses up is dependent upon educational background, professional experience, and personal interest. FCS is a rather broad area of study that encompasses early childhood education, nutrition, public health, workplace wellness, gerontology, human services, and a bit of sewing and cooking. A variety of skills, knowledge, and tools we humans can use in an attempt to be well across our lifespan as we crawl, trot, amble, and totter from cradle to grave.

About five years ago, one of our long-time adjuncts retired, leaving the Aging and Death course he had been teaching for many years without an instructor. Yes, there is a course called “Aging and Death”.

I was asked if I would be willing to give the course a go until we could find an adjunct, and five years later, I am still giving it a go. Going in, I never imagined that a class about getting old and dying would become my favorite course. Nor did I imagine that a bunch 20-year-olds would be interested in taking such a class, but it is full every semester.

For the course content, I have gathered information from various much-smarter-than-me-sources to cobble together what I hope to be a semesters worth of useful stuff. Hope…sometimes that’s the only hook left to hang one’s hat on. So it goes.

Us human folk seem to like stories, so the story I try to impart over the course of a semester is summed up with the acronym SCENES.

  • Social Connectivity
  • Cognitive Reserves
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Emotion Navigation
  • Stress Navigation

A movie is composed of various scenes, and if the majority of those scenes are of sufficient quality, the movie as a whole will most likely be enjoyable to watch and deemed a worthwhile investment of your time.

It costs money to go to a movie as well, but money comes and goes, time just goes. If one’s life were a movie, I assume one would want it to be good and to be long, to have sufficient quality and quantity. “Healthspan”, our quality of life, and “lifespan”, our quantity of life, both stand to benefit if we get our SCENES right. Good SCENES, good life.

The three components of healthspan, as expressed by Dr. Peter Attia; 1) Mind, 2) Body, and 3) Spirit, are each impacted, directly and/or indirectly, for better or for worse, dependent upon the quality, or lack thereof, of the SCENES we produce. Whereas, our lifespan, given all of the unknowns that we share space with as we move through life, is a bit more of a crapshoot.

I ask the students to think of themselves as a “Community of Yous” stretching through time. Presumably, one would want the “you” 10…20…30…40…50…or more years from now, to look back at you today appreciatively for the quality SCENES you’ve produced over the years, rather than regretfully.

We spend the semester exploring SCENES, exploring love and loss, exploring grief, exploring death with the hopes of learning how to live better.

Stout Memories

I don’t know for certain if I remember the actual event, or if I think I remember the event because I’ve seen the pictures, and have heard the stories? Sometimes you see pictures and hear stories enough that it all begins to drift together and form what we perceive to be a memory. I don’t know if this is one of those times? I’m not sure it matters.

I suppose the only reason it might matter, to me anyway, is that if it is an actual memory, then it is my first actual memory, and if our lives are simply a composition of our experiences, and the memories of those experiences, then it is where the composition of my first chapter of life began to take shape, and where the composition of my Great-Grandfathers epilogue was nearing an end.

I do know that I was two-years old when my Great-Grandfather, Josef Gins, passed away in 1974. He was 81, born in Durningen, France, during the last decade of the 19th century. Actually, it was Durningen, Germany, when he was born. It is a small border village whose borders have shifted throughout the year’s dependent upon which country claimed victory in the latest war.

It always seemed odd to me that the location of a line on a map was all that was necessary to make him “officially” German at birth rather than “officially” French (like his parents). I have no qualms with either, but if we are to consider stereotypical proclivities and characterizations, I am more likely to knock over a glass of wine while reaching for a stein of beer than vice versa. I also look silly in a beret.

The memory in question, this first possible memory I have of this world, is of me sitting on my Great-Grandpa Josef’s lap, while he sat in his rocking chair and thumbed through a magazine. The very same rocking chair that was incinerated when our log cabin went up in flames a few years back. As David Bowie sang, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

As I was only 2 years old when this “memory” was formed, I am fairly sure that much of it has been filled in by a photograph, but I feel as though I remember seeing him lick his fingers before he turned each page of the magazine. Groundbreaking stuff (sarcasm).

Yes, my first memory, the spot in time where it seems that my tabula rasa was first scribbled upon, is of a small…slightly built…old man, licking his bony finger and turning the pages in magazine. An earth-shaking revelation (also sarcasm).

Perhaps, as two-year olds tend to explore the world with their mouths (filthy little creatures), I was simply impressed upon by the realization of another possible use for that slobbery hole in my face and grubby fingers at the end of my stubby, milky white arms? It’s as if I can hear the brain, encased in that big bobbling head atop that wee little body, say, “Well I’ll be…page turners…that’s what these things are for.”

At any rate, to this day, which is many days removed from that day on Great-Grandpa Gin’s lap, whenever I lick my fingers to turn a page, I think of him. Odd? Possibly. But to simply be “thought of”, in most any context after we are gone, seems to be more desirable than to not pass through anyone’s thoughts ever again.

Perhaps, when I am gone, memories of me will creep into my loved one’s thoughts, riding swiftly upon the thick, noxious odor of a pungently stout, yet silent, fart. As Terrance Mann said in the movie Field of Dreams, “The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”

Like the 3rd-cousin (twice removed) that you were guilted into including in your wedding, the usher of our memory into the minds of others may not be of our choosing. So it goes.