Putting our Heads Together

Putting our Heads Together
I don't think he sees me

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Collage 2017

Each year is a collage of images, and feelings. They roll over you with the regularity of tides, tossing you about in its foam. This has been a year that has both challenged and rewarded us as a family. Tears of sadness and joy have been shed in mingled measures, but we have come to year's end stronger and with smiles of hope.

2017 started with the loss of our friend, Marc. Friend doesn’t cover it. He was family. We loved him dearly and he left us. It hurt. It still hurts. His husband Dennis left us five years ago, and our love for Dennis which could exist also through Marc has simply turned into ache with the both of them together and not with us. This end of an epoch in our lives has taken a strong toll and has dominated this year just trying to contextualize it (because the pain will never lessen, though it is finding its place). It was our son, Michael, that informed us of Marc’s death, and Michael stepped up as a man and helped lead all of us who loved Marc so as executor of Marc’s estate. We said our final goodbye to Marc this summer in Michigan with Michael and Nikki, Haley and her husband Mike, and our grandson Russell. It was hardest to be there with Russell, who was saying goodbye to his Godfather whom he loved deeply. Still the event was marked by the joy of the gathering of new friends and old, and people we have come to know as family. Stories and smiles were shared over food and drinks in Marc’s parents’ yard. There is a catharsis in storytelling that eases grief.

As ever the world does not stand still simply because you want it to stop. And God placed a joy in the midst of the grief. Haley’s family came together and spread their wings for Russell’s graduation from Colorado Springs Christian School. Our grandson of 18 years, who my wife and I (his GiGi and Bumpa) have watched, and held, and loved since his birth, was in the blink of an eye a high school graduate. After graduation Russell got a summer job with the Broadmoor Hotel (5 star) working on the landscape crew out at Seven Falls. I have talked to his supervisor and took great pride in her report of his strong work ethic and how readily he made friends with his team. Russell selected Colorado State University for college and moved up there in August. Last night nearly brought happy tears as I was texting with Russell and realized that he was wrapping up his first semester at CSU. Meanwhile, Haley went into extreme mom-mode and directed her son’s graduation festivities, and spearheaded his college prep (Target never knew what hit it!). Since August, whenever we talk to Haley, it is never long before she asks if we have talked to Russell lately because she hadn’t heard from him in two days. Her husband Mike has been a prince throughout the year being strength when strength was needed, being comforting when comforting was called for, and being raw labor for the prodigious to-do lists that Haley produced in this hectic year. They both seem to be adapting to the empty-nest well. They go out, have been to concerts (most recently Lady Gaga), and host gatherings. From this side of the empty nest, I remember far fewer smiles adjusting to the hollowing of our home. More power to you, Haley and Mike.

Then there was Michael (now Michael and Nikki, but I will cover that). No one has thrown us for a loop this past year like he has. He started the year anchoring us and others as he guided Marc’s family and estate while we mourned. In the spring, he and Nikki had us up to their home in Denver along with Haley and crew, and gave Jean-Marie and I a card. Puzzled we opened it to find an ultrasound photo and the word “surprise”. We were to be grandparents again! In time we were to find out the baby would be a grandson. Upon his birth 12 October 2017, he would take the name Bennett Stephen Sampson (the middle name being shared with myself and Nikki’s dad, an honor that I will not ever be able to describe or repay). He would be beautiful, and he would steal his GiGi and Bumpa’s heart from the minute he was born. Not to be outdone by the shock of the news of a new grandchild, a couple of weeks later Michael and Nikki hit us with the awe that they were moving in the summer to Charleston and purchasing Marc’s home. But Michael and Nikki were not done with the surprises yet. At Russell’s graduation ceremony, Michael sat next to his mom and casually showed her his left hand that was sporting a handsome new ring. Michael and Nikki had gotten married quietly in Denver in a civil ceremony so they could start this new phase in their growing life together as husband and wife. In the span of four months Michael and Nikki gave us one hell of a roller coaster ride: A new grandson, YAY! Moving to Charleston OHNO! Having the best daughter-in-law ever, YAY! Michael and Nikki, we look forward to all the time we can spend with your family, and ask only to take 2018 a bit easier on us, you have left us exhausted!

All the while, our daughter Louise and her husband Jeff have been forging their life in the mountains of Colorado in the town of Como. As a life lesson to all of us, they have chosen quality of life over the more material options. The careers they had were taking a toll on both, and so they made a change to enjoy life and each other at a slower pace. Louise and Jeff have good jobs with the county, and live in a lovely cabin that is warm, happy, and eclectic – much like its owners. Jeff dotes on Louise, and most recently has built her a meditation hut. His love is more than I could have ever asked for Louise (and it takes a load off a father and mother’s shoulders). Louise has been cooking, hiking, and fishing with Jeff, and building her spirituality. She laughs and loves more freely than I have ever seen her. I envy the choices that Louise and Jeff have made. As can be seen, the brevity of this paragraph is a wonderful statement to the simplicity Louise and Jeff have achieved.

All this and more have flooded, swamped, and elevated Jean-Marie and I this year. We have made new friends in the wake of losing our dearest one. We have the wonderful dichotomy of two grandsons 18 years apart in their lives. And have added to that the symmetry by being named Godparents to our niece Sarah and her husband Mike’s new arrival William. The symmetry comes in the form of William being our second Godson. Our first Godson is our nephew Sam, a wonderful young man, high school senior, football player with a full ride to Western Kentucky, who is18 years older than William. We cherish our role as Godparents and are blessed that Sarah and Mike entrusted us with this honor. Jean-Marie and I have also traveled much this year, to Michigan for Marc’s funeral, to Athens (Georgia not Greece) for William’s baptism, to Chattanooga to watch Godson number 1 play football (and to get our eardrums burst by Sam's mom’s cheerleading), to Memphis to attend the wedding of our nephew Christopher, and to Charleston to greet and be captivated by our grandson Bennett. We also said goodbye to our little dog of 17 years, Sailor. Sailor, you were your own man and a curmudgeon after my own heart. I still feel you walking on me in bed. You will never be far from our smiles. Through the roiling surf of 2017, Jean-Marie and I have buoyed, hugged, and loved each other constantly. Jean-Marie and I have children and their spouses that leave us in awe, a grandson that grows in strength and character constantly it seems, a new grandson that we cannot possibly get enough of, and blessings in our sorrows and joys that we thank God for.

Thank you, 2017. 2018 we await your tides and have no idea what will wash ashore.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sailor on Leave

No life springs fully formed from the womb of its mother. There are back stories and then memory built upon memory before any fullness is attained. Its no different for Sailor. His story begins before his birth when we said goodbye to Angel.

In 2000, after 14 years, my first dog Angel passed. She was with me almost from my earliest moments in Colorado, rescued from the Pueblo Humane Society at the age of 2. She was with me through my brief first marriage, through reinstated bachelorhood, through meeting and marrying Jean-Marie. Truth be told, Jean-Marie's youngest Louise adopted and claimed Angel for her own before I moved in with the family. Angel's death was difficult on all of us. A couple of months after Angel left us, Jean-Marie made the “innocent” request of wanting me to go to the Colorado Springs Humane Society to just “look” at the doggies. I was not thrilled with the idea, I was still hurting from Angel, and I was suspicious of Jean-Marie’s motives. But we came away from that visit empty handed although I did accidently allowed that I found a Maltese there cute.

That slip of the tongue lead to Sailor joining our clan. He was a pup of a Maltese from a breeder in Cañon City. Jean-Marie had seen the litter advertised in the paper, called, and then asked me if she could have one of the puppies for her birthday that August. She said the breeder had told her the pup she wanted would come with papers, but was not show-worthy because he would likely be large for his breed. So we were getting him on sale! We were practically making money! I can never say no to Jean-Marie…never.

A deal was struck with the breeder to meet at the Highway 115 Truck Stop, so that I didn’t have to drive all the way to Cañon City. It all had the feeling of a drug deal going down at that lonely sun burnt location awash in dust devils and smelling of dry earth and diesel fumes. I handed the man an envelope of cash, he passed to me a small cardboard box containing a tiny white furry creature and a strip of wash cloth. He told me the puppy didn’t have a name yet, but that they called him Tongue Man, because his tongue poked out of his mouth most of the time.  Then he climbed into his pickup and waved as his tires squealed away in a cloud of dust. I turned back to our old beat up van that Jean-Marie and I used for floral delivery, and climbed in with this new family member, and headed north up 115 towards the Springs.

During that drive, the puppy wriggled from his box and managed to climb up onto my shoulder for the drive to his forever family, tongue out. I no longer remember how he got the name Sailor, but I think it is safe to place all the credit on Jean-Marie for that. It fit him in some way.

Sailor was not really a people person. In some ways he was like a cat, allowing just enough attention from a person to let him know that he was liked, and then he would  aloofly move off claiming a type of ownership to world about him. When later we got Stovie, a Humane Society dog – called an Australian Shepherd, looking like a Jack Russell, and eventually growing to a statuesque 90 pounds - Sailor tolerated her, but never quite cottoned to her. They maintained their own space, and 13 pound sailor without question became the Alpha dog in the house – that includes being my boss as well.

When Stovie passed, Sailor simply took the extra space to naturally be an expansion of his domain. He was a self-contained, self-assured, and commanding ball of white. He was our companion, our friend, and the boss of me.

When he would play with us, it was a game of toss and fetch with the promise of a treat at the end of the play. He quickly got the idea that one fetch of the gnarled little stuffed bear was enough for a treat. He would chase it, pick up, drop it, then run into the kitchen and wait. When we stonewalled, and insisted he needed to exercise a bit more before earning that treat, he just stopped playing altogether. Food was a driving force with him, but no matter how much he loved to eat, he would never let food be his master.

His old age was defined by a matured grumpiness that made him a classic curmudgeon. His active periods grew shorter and shorter, and his nap times grew longer and longer. He kept shunning proffered affection, because affection had to be on his begrudging terms. When we went to bed (he slept with us…or us with him is probably more like it), he would be sure to be curled up against me or my wife. He was always most comfortable being the initiator of contact. It was his way.

This 10th of October 2017 at the age of 17, almost his whole life spent with us, marked his passing. He had lost the last of his bounce, given up what smiles he could muster, was in pain from arthritis, and was slowly yielding to dispassionate and uncaring dementia. It was his time, not our choice. Dr. Wilhoit of Bijou Animal Hospital (the doctor who knew him best) was attending physician. Jean-Marie and I offered what comfort we could to Sailor as we cried while Sailor took his leave. We now sit wet-cheeked holding each other, and thinking of him. We love you sailor, we feel you in your absence, and we remember you for so many things.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Political times are difficult these days. I watch and follow them. I listen and learn. I fear. I fear. I fear.

But how to comment? The difficulty is that if I address the NFL questions, I miss out on the larger topic of race. If I delve into that larger topic, I ignore Puerto Rico. If I dive into Puerto Rico, I forget about health care. If I chase health care, I miss tax reform. If I discuss tax reform, I leave North Korea on an island, in the middle of the water, and that water is an ocean, and it is a big ocean.

I look at all these and so much more and I reel, stagger, stumble, fall. In a daze on the ground, I realize that these topics are a distraction. That one covers for another, that to focus on one is to chase a shadow while other shadows scamper about diverting attention and energy.

I look to the constitution and find beauty in its offerings, its flexibility, its existence as a living document to make itself available to change and inclusion. But it also sows the seeds of its potential downfall. The openness it permits allows for nooks and crannies, that can be exploited by wedges.

President Trump has shown himself to be a master of wedges. In a recent speech in Alabama he said, “I brand people, that’s what I do, I brand people.”  He does far more than that. His gift for naming extends to casting expersions and doubts. What is really happening here is that we have elected a president who finds gaps then drives wedges.

As a boy, I helped my father split firewood. My father being who he was had a lot of logs for us to split and save for winters. If memory serves me, he had logs for far more winters than we would see together as a family of seven before empty nesting would set in. I loved splitting logs with dad. He would bring out the sledge hammer and his wedge, and he taught be to drive the wedge into the log and cause a rift and eventually a split. That wedge and those rifts come back to me now all too vibrantly.

We have been foolish to overestimate the progress of race relations in this country, we have been complacent in how we perceive our journalism, and we would rather think that we have nestled into our classes than see that divisions abound.

President Trump is a genius in his egocentrism. He sees all of this and more, and he sees it in the only context that he really perceives anything – himself. In his ceaseless defense of self, he has carefully selected wedges, and driven them into the heart of America in a rhythm of his own choosing.

Through the NFL he has driven a wedge between people and the safe haven of sports where we live our fantasies and hold onto teams as if they were religious icons. While we have been seeking the simple joy that our favorites are national champions or world champions or just heroes that we can carry on broad shoulders into our dreams, President Trump has made them into constitutional threats.

Through race, President Trump has exploited the fragile delusion that things are better than they are. He has exploited the subtly growing rifts to be viewed as an attack on veterans instead of a protest of inequality, and that new arrivals to this land are stealing desired jobs and wages while milking the economy and funneling in gang members and drugs. He takes a wedge and seats it firmly in the earth to push apart our trust in media, and using similar wedges to drive gaps between the populace and the congress, as-well-as between the people and the judiciary.

If you remove our heroes, if you remove our trust in the legislature, if you take away a belief that the judiciary is a necessary balancing force, if you destroy our judgement regarding the fourth estate, if you reinstate African Americans and Latinos as the insidious enemy, what is there left to believe in? The answer is obvious, inescapable, and far more scary than I would dare imagine. Our only refuge is President Trump, and that sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship.

When a leader intentionally works at stripping the bonds of society from any political and moral groundings than his or herself, they are working toward a dictatorship. They are trying to establish a government driven by a single individual instead of the constitutionality mandated by separations of power.

It is October, Halloween is coming. I was hoping to be cowered by ghost and ghoulies, to have my pulse raised by wonderful superstition and myth. Instead, I sit afraid of something much greater, my own government.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Summer Dominoes

It’s been an interesting summer. I have been alternating between worry and pride over our grandson going off to Colorado State University. Naturally this would lead me to thinking back on my own time at Clemson. By coincidence over the summer, I was contacted through LinkedIn by Connor Davis who lives just up the road in Monument. He is an incoming freshman this year to my alma mater. His brother had graduated from there and I believe ran Cross Country and Track. Conner was very excited to be headed off to Clemson. He set himself a project of interviewing as many Clemson alumni as he could in the area (and along his drive to South Carolina) and finding out why they loved the school. The link above is the interview I gave.

As I sat in a local coffee shop being filmed by Conner and his father, I found myself saying that I fell in love with Clemson not for the school itself, but for my friends that I made. This surprised me as I love the school and particularly the Mechanical Engineering and Math departments. I found most professors to be kind, helpful, and engaged with the students (don't ask me about Ernesto Suarez or a particular physics proffesor). And dorm life in Johnstone Dormitory was a blast. But instead of talking about the university, I talked about trying out for (and ultimately failing to make) the Cross Country team.

This experience lead me to Ian Davidson (introduced to me by Coach Colson as someone who could help me find people to train with). Ian was a Clemson graduate, former Cross Country runner, and legend (to me at least) in the South Carolina running community. Ian is a great person who immediately took me into his circle, introducing me to other runners some of whom had run for Clemson when they were students, others that hadn’t, and others that were still in school. It was running with them that really made me love my time at Clemson. Those friendships were and are something incredibly special to me.

It wasn’t long after meeting Ian that he introduced me to Eddie Pennebaker who at the time was a school teacher and his soon to be wife Julie Brown who worked in the registrar’s office. Eddie became my partner in crime (both in the running and friendship sense), and if I wasn’t on campus or in a bar I was over at Eddie and Julie’s apartment. That is not to say I wouldn't be found in a bar with Eddie and Julie. Eddie and Ian introduced me to a cast of others whose orbits I fell into as well. These are the characters of my college years: Steve Figueroa, Tommy “Pooh Bear” Williams, Dr. Don Lattore, Tim Stewart, Joe Hammond, Dr. Keith Allen, and Dave “Geerman” Geer. Together we became the Outta Control Track Club (OCTC or OCCT/OTCC/OTTC if you were Pooh Bear). We were a good group of runners, knocking back the miles, knocking back more than our share of beer, and sharing so many good times.

I could tell you a thousand stories of our group. The friendly rivalries with the Clemson Cross Country Team and the Greenville Track Club, mid-week “meetings” at the Study Hall bar where the goal seemed to be drink beer and see who could make me laugh hard enough to fall off my chair, and the many runs and trails and gatherings we held. But I will only bore you with one of those stories that sprang to mind this week as I drifted back to Clemson – The T L Hannah Band Run.

There was a race at T L Hannah High in nearby Anderson, South Carolina (proceeds obviously benefitting the T L Hannah Yellow Jacket Marching Band). Steve Figueroa, Eddy Pennebaker, and I donned our OCTC colors (black and blue baby!) and headed off for Anderson that Saturday morning. I hazily remember the race itself, the road, passing people, being passed, but I do know the three of us all did well. Eddie won the race, Steve won his age group, and I won mine. We were drinking light beer and awaiting the award ceremony when the race director finally came to the mic, and this is where the day became memorable.

The race director began going through gender and age group awards, and for the first and only time I can remember a race director mispronounced all our names. Steve Figueroa was called to the podium as Steve Figeria, Eddie made his way to get his trophy as Eddie Penbauker, and in the ultimate butchery of the day I answered to Teexer Hardel. To this day, when I talk to Eddie he will call me Mr. Hardel, Teexer, or Tex. Perhaps you had to be there but I think of it as universally hilarious.

I am fascinated by how memory works. My grandson leaving us for college primes its pump, a new friend sets it in motion, and then things start tumbling. Without knowing exactly how, I find myself at once in Clemson, in Anderson, in Colorado Springs, and up at CSU. All the years a mix in my head. The summer has sped by and Russell is now enjoying an entirely new experience at Fort Collins which we look forward to hearing about and having him share with us. I hope he has his own version of my college experience. The summer won’t last much longer, but with my memories I can be anywhen and anywhere, and that’s something.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Reflecting Pools

I have never liked my birthday. Not for fear of getting older, or leaving things to the past as the always unknown future beckoned. I think it was the attention, I don’t like the attention. I have always enjoyed celebrating those around me much more than celebrating myself. Also, there is the fact that I am an observer and it doesn’t feel right to be observed. Still there is no feeling on earth so good as knowing my life is populated by so many intelligent, loving, and fun friends and family.

The blink of an eye that has been the last 55 years has come at a price. I am missing so much of my childhood. The tide of time that flows behind starts out a full river from today, but when it hits my first 15 years it has shallowed and is broken by water rounded stones and sandbars. My early years exist as little more than countless unconnected tidal pools. Still, the reflections found in these pools do provide insight into who I am, how I came to be.

For the past 32 years I have worked in the rail industry as consultant and researcher. A result more of lucky happenstance than choosing. But I have a certain love of trains in my earliest days. I have pictures of me playing with toy train sets, there is a film that has me whirling some coupled rail cars above my head when I was just a toddler. There was a story my father told me over and over of me mimicking his hand gestures and sound effects when showing how a grade crossing worked when I was just in a high chair. And then finally, memories I will always cherish are those of going to the train station to pick up my grandmother when she would visit for holidays in the 60’s. What I do remember most about that is looking down the track and seeing the parallel rails merge in the far distance and thinking that is where Connecticut must be.

There are images in my mind of sneaking into my parent’s bedroom when they were not around. I would look around and sometimes snoop in Daddy’s things. Mainly I went in there for the security it provided to me. Being among Mom’s and Dad’s possession, the bed they slept in, the toiletries they groomed with brought me to the bedrock that was their love and support. It made me feel safe. Such memories often have bitter sweet ties, because it also brings back the time we small children were gathered about our parents in the living room as they told us that they were separating, and even though they got back together, their bedroom, my bedrock never felt quite as concrete.

I remember the birthdays of others when I was growing up. As a small person once, Mom was taking me to John Wilson’s birthday party. We had gone to Eckerds Drugs and picked out what I thought was a neat toy for John and wrapped it up. On the way to the party I cried because I couldn’t keep the toy and had to give it away to my friend. There was a birthday of my best friend Ben Lovejoy one year where in tribute to our favorite SNL skit, I made for him a model of George and Yortek’s (two very wild and crazy guys) industrial vacuum cleaner, and gave him a Hulk-head bank with a mock check for one million dollars to put in it. When I told my father about these gifts, he was genuinely shocked and told me that even written on scrap paper the check I had drawn was legal tender. I never worried, Ben knows I am good for it.

There are a million more fragments that have formed me. Recollections of sailing, vacationing at Calloway Gardens, playing baseball and football with the Griffiths next store, visiting grandparents and cousins in Atlanta, seeing ball games, stealing through the woods and swamp that were so close to our home, the vine kingdom, running through culverts, laughing, running with packs of friends on the warm, humid nights in South Carolina. There were the fears that helped mold me like my early (and not completely resolved) fear of heights, frightened of being sent to Vietnam because my draft lottery number was 5 (even though I was only 7), fear of the police looking for me after some insensitive adult yelled at me and threatened me because I was putting dirt clods on the road and watching cars run over them. My life to me is an impossibly complicated puzzle of countless pieces, that have assembled into a life I am blessed by and could never have imagined. In observing others, I guess I hope to make sense of the observations I see in me. Then again, miraculous outcomes are made to be accepted and not explained.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

18 Years

This week the relatives descend and the friends gather.  Our daughter Haley will be at full furious trhottle. All activity will reach its climax on Friday when our grandson, Russell, graduates high school from Colorado Springs Christian School.  Jean-Marie and I are all in for the festivities, but for the moment I just want to relax with my thoughts and enjoy the peace of the past.

This past begins almost nineteen years ago when Russell was sheltered in his mother’s womb as she was sheltered beneath our roof. First time motherhood can be a scary thing to face, and we wanted to support Haley without taking charge or becoming a crutch.  Jean-Marie came up with the idea of turning our old detached two-car garage (25’x25’) into a cottage that Haley could live in and be the independent mom she wanted and needed to be, but with love and support only fifty feet away.  It was a small space, and designing it into a home was no small feat.  I would love to say I helped, that I put my engineering skills to architectural use, but that would be a lie.  The brain trust of Jean-Marie and Marc and Dennis attacked the problem with a passion.  Ideas were floated back and forth, sketches developed and tossed, until one evening at a restaurant it all came to together and the final plan was etched onto a paper napkin.

Russell was born and came home from the hospital to that warm and lovely cottage. In the blink of an eye, mother and father were mystically transubstantiated to our grandparent identities of GiGi and Bumpa as surely as host and wine become flesh and blood. I feel the name GiGi reflects my wife’s vitality and spirit.  I feel my name Bumpa (so conferred upon me by Russell’s Godfather his beloved Uncle Marc) accurately captures my roundness – and I have no complaints.

Russell lived fifty feet away for his first five years. Five years that spoiled GiGi and I greatly. Though (with one rare exception) he has never lived further than fifteen minutes from us, the difference between a few feet away and a few miles away has always felt huge. As huge as the eighteen years we have shared and witnessed with Russell.

For eighteen years, our hearts have ached with love for this young man. They are eighteen years of full memories that have passed in an instant. I can still feel the weight of him as a baby on my chest as we napped on the sofa.  I can still see his small infant’s hand blindly searching the edge of my desk trying to feel for my phone as I worked and he scooted around my office in his walker. I see him well behaved and helping (as best as a child can) his GiGi as we delivered flowers to a wedding or party. I smile as I remember trying to explain to Russell that I could not take him to the Christmas Parade because I had thrown my back out and could not drive (he dropped to his little knees and cried, “Bumpa, I am so humiliated!”). I see him as Cub Scout, and Weeblo, and Boy Scout. I see us when called upon taking him to and picking him up from elementary school, middle school, and high school (the same high school that is releasing him this Friday to his academic future). I see my little buddy grow before my mind’s eye until he now stands above me, smiling.

I can’t write down all that I remember, there is not enough room. And I do not expect you the reader to expend your valuable patience for such a deluge as written by a middle-aged man who sees time continually speeding up about him. The ending to this blog will be the same regardless of how many words are piled on top of it. So in conclusion, in this time of quiet reflection, GiGi and Bumpa thank our daughter Haley for raising a young man so well, for making the right choices, for making the necessary sacrifices, and giving her son as solid a footing as anyone could ask for.  We love you.

To Mike, Haley’s husband, GiGi and Bumpa thank you for a being a role model. Helping to teach Russell not only how to work hard, but also teaching him some of the manly arts involved as household handyman. We have watched you as a loving husband and loving step-father. We have watched you proudly as mentor and friend to our grandson. We love you.

Russell, our grandson, GiGi and Bumpa could never be able to express in words that are more eloquent than our smiles or tears of joy to say how much we love you, how proud we are of you, how much we look forward to your future. From the moment you began to talk, you were a person of astounding vocabulary. From the first puzzle you put together, you evinced a mind that was agile and flexible. From the first gift you gave, you proved yourself thoughtful and loving and caring. There is a renaissance man within you, a maturity beyond your years, a versatility of talents that are inspiring, and love that is both gentle and fierce. Before us we no longer see the crawling child. We see now the tall handsome young man going off to Colorado State University and out into the world. Please know we will always be here for you no matter what. Your GiGi and Bumpa love you.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Television has done the imagination no favors.  As my wife lies in an operating room having her appendix removed, I picture a dark space defined by fields of bright lights, rimmed by squeaks and beeps and rhythmic oxygen machines while the surgeon through the miracle of laparoscopy plays a video game to remove the offending organ.

Things like infected appendexes never seem to occur during normal business hours.  They wait for the cover of dark to reveal their dirty deeds.  They bide the creeping of hours when a clock is in sight, then cause the hands to advance at some dizzying rate when you are distracted to claim more dark territory, more isolation.  Things like this force your hand when you should be clothed in peace in the company of sleeping dogs.

As I write, the hospital’s hallowed halls are hollow and still.  The only disturbance the hum of HVAC and the occasional whine of some squeaky wheeled object in nocturnal transit from A to B.  The silence affords wandering thoughts and devout prayer.

Mickey says when the little hand is on 4 and the big hand is on 12, it means I still have an hour before Dr. Khan finds me to deliver the expected news of health regained through a surgical exorcism of Jean-Marie’s possessed organ.  The hours may have cheated in transit between 8:30 and 1:30, but now they repent that dishonesty creeping three-legged through this waiting.

I sit in this waiting room alone.  The space filled by shadows and half light and the sound of the scrawl of my pen.  When the room is filled, voices stay hushed out of respect of the waiting of others.  Alone I am hushed in respect to the void I find myself in, silently praying the rosary for the warrior/surgeon to conquer the dragon in the video game he plays.  Appendectomies are routine things, I know this.  Yet I am bound by unbidden gravity.  Fifty minutes now until the surgeon.  I am haunted by the quiet clock that cannot even show me the respect of ticking seconds in its glacial pace. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017


I think there are houses that get lonely.  I imagine Marc and Den’s James Island home is such a place.  We knew Marc and Den in two houses in Colorado Springs, their rented beach house at Folly, and finally their home on Godber.  Each house a home by virtue of love, memories, and their wonderful encompassing natures. 

Godber was different than any place we had seen them in.  I recall the warm cottage in Old Colorado (a section of Springs) with its wrap around porch and odd neighbors who at one time had a deer hanging and dressed from a tree in their backyard for a week.  We spent more time at their next home on Bijou which was a larger place.  The thought of their Victorian home makes me smile and tear.  They gave their Godson, Russell (our grandson), his first “big boy” bed there.  Marc often told of Russell’s first night in that bed, Russell’s first night without a crib.  He said that late at night, he and Den were lying in bed, and as he was sleeping lightly the pad of small feet woke him up.  Marc peeked and saw Russell standing there in the dark, looking toward them but trying not to disturb them.  Russell then turned around and padded back to sleep.  Apparently Russell just needed the security of seeing Marc and Den there in this brave new world without slats.  There were many parties on Bijou that we attended.  At one of which I asked Jean-Marie to marry me for the first time.  She yelled for Marc’s help, to which he told her it was her problem.  Thanks, Marc.  It took me three years to get up the courage to ask her again.  It was a house characteristically full of life even when it held death as when they provided a room, comfort, and love to their dear friend Rick who was dying of AIDS.  During that time the house always had people there, helping Marc and Den care for and love Rick.  When we visited with Rick, because of the sanctuary and community provided by Marc and Den we could focus on Rick and not circumstances. 

Marc and Den’s first South Carolina home on Folly was my least favorite house.  It was a beautiful house that came furnished, and as such lacked their personality.  It does have one memorable event attached to it for me.  During a visit around Easter, Jean-Marie and Den had a late night of conversation, laughter, and general bonding over candy Peeps and Cointreau.  I won’t say any more. 

When they moved to Godber, we were there to join new friends in moving things in and setting up house.  I didn’t hold out much hope for the house.  It was a solid practical house, a house with good bones.  But it was a basic brick rancher and did not carry the more timeless personality of their Colorado Springs homes.  I was wrong though.  House became home as they filled it with the memories and moments cherished over their lifetime together.  Pictures and paintings went up on the wall.  In no time, people that so easily shared their smiles with Marc and Den over the years (including our own) were smiling a greeting to all who entered Godber.  Knick Knacks were placed on shelves, antiques took up their positions, statues stood guard, and memories quickly defined and warmed the space that Marc and Den had taken as their blank canvas. 

Godber became a nexus for life as was typical of the pair.  What resonates most to me are the quiet family moments that we took part in on our many trips to Charleston to visit Marc and Den.  Not long after Marc and Den were in Godber, Dennis with longtime friend Chris Vinley in tow, drove to Alabama to retrieve Dennis’s mother and bring her to live in the cottage behind the house.  Dennis and his mother would share a ritual of early morning cigarettes and coffee out on the brick patio until she passed.  The small elderly dog Penny came with Dennis’s mom and ended up outliving them both.  What amazed me about Penny was that she could not have lived a more pampered life, yet given the opportunity she would totter under the gate and take off down the driveway.  As the world’s slowest animal, you only had an hour or two to react before Penny reached the end of the driveway and the wide world.  I retrieved Penny a time or two as I imagine many friends of Marc and Den did.  The brick patio was its own world, we would sit about the teak garden table just talking and drinking and laughing on countless occasions on countless visits.  Each visit we would enter Godber and were always greeted with the same hospitality that started with Marc telling us what room we would be sleeping in, and with Dennis taking our drink order.  Den would make the first round, after that we were on our own. 

Over the years there were so many celebrations and parties at Godber.  Jean-Marie and I were at one (it could have been Marc’s birthday), where there was a pig roasting in the driveway with an elderly neighbor attentively sopping it with sauce (a task he was paid for with a bottle of vodka).  Marc’s niece Jamie was married in the spralling backyard ten years ago this April.  Dennis’s life was celebrated in the same backyard with Marc joining the band to sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. 

The importance of this congregation of life hit me hardest as I spoke separately with our son Michael, Marc’s niece Jamie, and the dear Trisha Mae - long time renter and friend from the cottage out back of Godber.  When Marc passed, our son as executor flew down on a red eye to begin the mechanical process of death.  He stayed at Godber, and worked with Marc’s family to; among other things, set up a memorial service at Marc’s church with following reception at Godber.  Michael told me how it felt to have the gathering and how the empty house transformed when love was invited back in.  One night, with Michael and Marc’s family at the house they had a fire going in the fire place and they lit the outdoor fire pit, made drinks, and talked into the night.  I could hear Jamie’s voice over the phone soften and smile as she expressed how important that moment of life and light was in the house that no longer held Marc.  Of that same night, Trisha told me it was the night she returned from holiday in her native Virginia where she had been when Marc died.  She told me how much longer the ride was made as she carried this sense of dread of coming home to a cold and dark Godber.  Pulling up into the driveway she saw the house alight and heard the voices of this family gathering and all her fears were dispelled. 

I think some houses can feel lonely.  That they can is a tribute to the love and life that made them a home.  Godber is such a house.  It was as much an extension of Marc and Den as were Marc and Den’s smiles and loving embrace of family and friends.  Godber was more than a framework for brick and mortar, it was the framework for the lives of two men who opened their doors (both actual and metaphorical) to anyone that needed them.  And though Godber is destined to forget its sorrow through some unknown redefinition by resale, the haven it has been will live with the memories of my missing friends.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Heart of the Moment

In my life there have been two major influences that have opened love's door for me. The first and dearest, the one that fills me with passion and completeness with each breath she takes is my wife. The other has been the couple of Marc Edwards and Dennis Haddock - forever thought of as Marc and Den. To me, Marc and Den were the definition of love. They are both gone now. That is to say, they are both together again.

I want to tell the tale of how Marc and Den met. I apologize in advance for how clumsily I do it. The true sweetness of it could only be achieved by listening to Marc tell their story. Each time I heard it, the breath would go out of Marc's voice, his eyes would darken passionately with the memory of it, and you could tell just a few sentences in that he was no longer talking so much as reliving the moment. At the time of their meeting it was the eighties and Marc worked at the West Bank Club in Chicago as Catering Manager. Dennis showed up to the Club one day to interview for a job. For Marc it was love at first sight as something inside him melted away, and he could barely speak. So paralyzed was he by this first meeting with Dennis, that he had to run and get his assistant asking her to do the interview because he just couldn't think straight around Dennis.

That random stroke of lightening ignited something that would not stop burning. After some time, Marc and Den moved to Colorado Springs where we would join their lives. Jean-Marie met them long before meeting me. Marc was a partner in the very successful Food Designers catering company and Dennis was working at the Antlers Hotel when my wife was well on her way to being one of the best wedding and special events florists in town. As happens with Marc and Den, their friendship with Jean-Marie quickly deepened. So when I started dating my future wife, Marc and Den had us over to dinner to size me up. That part I did not know. What I did know was that the food would likely be exotic and spectacular because of Marc's line of work. I remember that night sitting in their lovely candlelit dining room sharing wine and conversation with a meal of pot roast and steamed broccoli. Perfect. I had a wonderful time, and only found out much later that the initial impression I rated was a lukewarm, "He's ok, but we just don't see it, J-M."  Luckily for me, Marc and Den gave second chances.

Over the years, Jean-Marie and I shared many meals, parties, and vacations with Marc and Den. When Marc and Den were planning to simplify their lives and were plotting their exit strategy from Colorado Springs, Jean-Marie and I joined them on trips to Charleston and Savannah to help them decide where they wanted to live. Though they ended up in my beloved Charleston, the Savannah trip held the most memories for me. Images from the trip bring easy smiles:  Dennis poking fun at me when we were at a bar and the barman kept "checking" me out, Dennis and I napping in the backseat of the car from the airport to the hotel (time often found Dennis and I napping), Marc hungover in the back of the convertible parked in the Southern Summer sun as the rest of us visited a garden shop (Den parked in the sun on purpose because he was miffed that Marc drank so much the night before). The sweetest memory of that trip came late one night at the hotel. Jean-Marie left the room to get ice and ran into Marc and Dennis kissing in the hall. Marc and Den were so embarrassed at getting caught!  She wasn't, and I wouldn't have been. I loved how Jean-Marie giggled when she told me what happened. Marc and Den were married and been together a lot of years at that point, and to still show that passion and youthful innocence about their love was simply beautiful.

Marc and Den were so adaptable as a couple. Charleston and semi-retirement did not go as planned when Marc did not realize the money out of his business that he had expected. Still they spent their first year in a beach house as promised, then hit the ground running. They found jobs and fell in love with the city. Dennis went about tending gardens, first at a church, then at a garden center, and finally the lush grounds of the stately College of Charleston. Marc worked briefly in a flower shop before moving back into work where he could make a difference. This started with Camp Happy Days where he was Director of Development for a cancer camp for children. From there he moved onto Senior Director of Development at the Charleston Animal Society (how he prevented Den from adopting all of animals himself I will never know). It was while there that Den was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Marc's world was turned on its head. It was so painful to see what Den's illness did to Marc. It was also an honor to witness how Marc's love allowed Marc to push through all his own anguish and pain to tenderly guide Den through the maze of treatments and provide Den the gentle daily care he required.

After Dennis died, Marc's friends and family rallied around him, but he was inconsolable. There was a light in him that passed along with Den. Eventually Marc re-entered the land of the living even if ghost-like. As best he could, he returned to the friends he loved as counselor, advocate, and port because that is who he was. He moved from the Charleston Animal Society to Low Country AIDS Services, where he could more directly help that neglected community. He would talk often to our children and our grandson. Jean-Marie would call him regularly and they would talk about hurts and joys, and sometimes nothing at all just hear each other's voice. I would hop on the phone with him (though I am horrible on the phone), and we would joke and we would laugh. I wish I could hear that laugh again. We would also see him as often we could.

The last time we were with him was over Thanksgiving just this past year. One day we were in the kitchen cooking, drinking, and listening to a CD of Marc at his first cabaret recital. There we were with the beautiful voice of Marc singing the standards in the background of our conversation and something hit me. I turned to Marc and said to him that I did not know how he could have performed without breaking down, because what we were listening to was simply a love letter to Dennis. Marc just shrugged, eyes wet with held back tears.

Not long after that visit, Marc's broken heart caught up to him. He completed the greatest love story I am likely to know when he rejoined Dennis. Both Marc and Den did many fine and noble things in their lives. They were leaders in the community, they were strong shoulders in weak times, they were an example for us all. More than anything else that I learned from them or shared with them, how they so openly defined love with both passion and innocence is what I will cherish the most, and will forever pay forward.

Friday, January 27, 2017

How Marc Stole Our Children

It is unsurprising that my thoughts keep going to Marc since his death (they went there when he was alive as well – Marc was that kind of important).  In over two decades of having known him, there is a broad tapestry of many colors and leagues of yarn woven about him.  Marc becomes impossible to describe trying to take in the scope of him.  When I do attempt, I am overcome and the tears flow.  Better to take him in parts, vignettes of memory and insight.  Perhaps in pieces the whole can be seen through gentler tears.
                I have said it often in recent weeks, that Marc loved so fully that there were those he didn’t just befriend, he adopted.  My family and I were adopted, baptized, anointed, and given permanent lodging in his heart, and we reciprocated without hesitation.
                Jean-Marie knew Marc before I did.  Once introduced I went through the scrutiny of being “He’s nice, but I don’t see why you’re with him, Jean-Marie,” to being welcomed with hugs, to finally being immersed.  As our lives intertwined, Marc’s embrace widened to take in our three children.  He developed his own relationships with them and became their Uncle Marc.  It was far from the typical “be kind to the kids of your friends.”  Our children were quickly assimilated as individuals into Marc’s love.
                I remember there was a time during our youngest daughter’s teenage years when she was having a problem with me.  I think it had to do with a boy, but I am unsure and the exact issue does not matter anyway.  She had talked to Uncle Marc and Uncle Den about it, and they listened, and they advised.  They also took exception with me for whatever Louise had told them.  We got into somewhat heated discussions on why I was wrong (particularly Dennis, but Marc was firm in his calmer style as well).  You would think that I would have been offended by that.  But I wasn’t, it in fact did not affect our friendship at all.  I did not agree with their opinions, but I took it mainly to be a difference in parenting styles.  I think “parenting styles” is accurate, Marc did not take being an uncle lightly, and we would have it no other way.
                Over the years when we would be sitting around talking about the kids with Mark, he would work into each conversation a line I quickly came to love, “You know, Haley (or Michael or Louise) tell me things that they don’t tell you – and that I would never share – but I can say…”  He relished his status with our children, and we felt blessed that they had Marc to turn to and talk with and get advice from.  He became an implied safety net for them, and at times a welcome intermediary between our children and us.
                When Dennis died, our son Michael was in Charleston visiting and was there for Dennis’s passing.  His presence and strength for Marc in that time of the immediacy of Dennis’s death elevated their relationship to a level Jean-Marie and I were not privy to, but were thankful for.  It was Marc clinging to something solid when his legs and heart could not bear himself up, and there may be no one more solid than our son Michael.  During this time, we would see Marc and talk to Marc on the phone and he would say, “I know he’s your Michael, but he is also MY Michael.”  And that spoke volumes, and that was as it should be.
                We have been blessed in so many ways over the years of being family with Marc.  One of the largest blessings has been having him as Uncle Marc, by having him as our grandson’s God Father.  This has brought Jean-Marie and I so many smiles over the years as he stole our children and grandson and made them his own.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Resolute New Year

Sitting at Starbucks I look to my right and see a man about twenty years my senior with grey wispy hair peering through glasses at his laptop screen while his pale and thin-skinned fingers scroll and type.  I turn back to inking my New Year’s blog with fountain pen in hand, now feeling like a scribe to some indeterminate age or perhaps just to my ego as a writer.
I find at the turn of each year, that looking into the future is like looking in a mirror – there is a very limited view of what is before you, and excellent vision of what lies behind.  I don’t know what to expect, not many of us do.  Perhaps that is why we write down our resolutions, to set goals in order to set the future.  I have done this, and almost always failed at this.  It is why I have stopped setting resolutions.
I also feel like learning from that clarified past I see in the mirror, gives me an idea what to do and not to do in my future without constraining the wonders of chance.  It is the same thought process I apply to having a bucket list.  Of course there are things I would like to do in my life, but I feel if I focus on certain things too much I might not notice the essential spirit of the journey I am living.
It is not as if I am going through the world with blinders, so much as going through the world with my eyes wide to see as much as possible.  I don’t begrudge the resolution writers or the list makers.  It simply isn’t me.  I am thankful for the strength to face whatever future I may have, grateful that in the spaces that make up majority of life I have my wife, children, dogs, and friends about to share it, and I look at the roof over my head counting my blessing that cold nights are made less cold and hot days more bearable for having it there.  What I have to offer as a New Year’s tribute is that I will face the challenges before me with an eye on my past mistakes, I will flow with change rather than fight it, I will work to be a better person to help make a small part of this world a better place, and I will take my wife’s hand and look into her eyes as we smile our way into 2017 and the many years ahead.  God bless and Happy New Year.