The dog, the paperweight, the house and the tree

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A group of vultures lives near me.

Its roost, a tall tree is dead with few branches but no less intimidating in its starkness against the sky, especially loaded with them, all darkly powerful and ever-watchful.

Vultures are family-oriented and their roosts are known, in some cases, to be more than 100 years old.

Why that tree? It doesn’t seem to have much to offer in its deadliness, but something about it has drawn the birds. At one time, it was alive offering shelter and beauty. It could have been in the family for a hundred years and its death went without notice.

But who knows? Maybe it is better bare and old for finding prey without interference from lofty branches. Regardless, the birds have found value in the tree.

I wonder sometimes why folks value what they do. Things that are very often left behind after they die for others to find.

A recent trip to the Tar River Flea Market, near Rocky Mount, found me wondering about a large display of ceramic figurines including one very stained dog. I wondered what the vendor was thinking, hauling them all in and lining them up or who the owners are.

Who would save them — who would buy them?
But then one of my most beloved treasures came to mind. It is a white paperweight with an eye printed on it in black ink. Years before, when I was but a sapling, I picked it up and said, “Momma, when you die this is all I want.” She said, “Take it now.”

It is proudly displayed in my bedroom next to the sparkly green paperweight with the scorpion, which lost its life for me, forever preserved in some type of liquid under a plastic dome. I took it from my son’s bedroom after he left for college.
 
Before I moved on to other worlds, long ago I grew up in Ohio in a modest home that I found enchanting. I have since sat outside of it and looked from window to window and at the yard, conjuring those voices from long ago of my four siblings and my parents who have all also moved elsewhere.  

Some of those include my then very innocent young brother running the Nazi flag, bestowed upon him by our uncle Richard a veteran of World War II, up our flagpole — too young to know what it meant; my oldest sister sneaking out of her bedroom window to go on dates late at night; and my dad fixing our lawn mower in the kitchen on Easter Sunday.

It was the first time I learned how loud a lawnmower sounds running inside the house after he started it in the kitchen among my mother’s specially prepared ham and holiday feast.

Our two pine trees that were once so small now have outgrown the house and the property. The pale, yellow siding has faded and the red and white work shed that my dad built out back is now gone. The backyard fence that housed so many games of kickball, my momma’s garden and the sweet, green smell of the neat, diagonal rows in which my dad mowed the grass, is also missing.

When my dad was still living that home came up for sale. In a moment of hope I called him up and said, “Dad, let’s buy the house as a time-share.” To which he replied, “Are you drunk?”

It was then that I realized sometimes we are alone in what we love and value. We think that others see it too, but how cold the realization can come when they don’t. Just like that stained ceramic dog, the paperweights, my childhood home and the vultures’ dead tree — approval is not required when we decide something is valuable and worthwhile.

We love what we love; and that is all.

Published in The Herald

Bicycling with Seals & Crofts

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Undoubtedly, the advantages of new technology help us all.

Through developments in medicine, communication, construction and education — we benefit.
While some in this world were born in these modern times — I feel lucky having experienced pre-internet.

Motivated by the threat of boredom, the practiced skillset required to find fun is still in motion. Imaginations were fine-tuned and road-tested with memories of the interconnectivity between activities the most lingering.

A bike — the most valuable component in the plan — was often a shared asset. The first with a friend Laura Hartley, her pedaling and me on the handlebars, singing “King of Nothing” by Seals & Crofts, over and over and over and over again — a first obsession.

A typical day — traveling for miles then stopping at Smiley’s Pizza in Heath, Ohio, for a sundae bar, then riding to her aunt Cindy’s apartment, running up to the hot attic and poring over vintage, bound Life magazines.

Burning inside forever includes the photographs contained in the Dec. 6, 1963, edition of the assassination of President Jon F. Kennedy. The motorcade through downtown Dallas left him shot twice, leaving most Americans in a silent despair — remembering where they were.

The still snapshots came with the shuttering sound of the camera in my mind, as eyes darted from one to the next, examining. Seeing the reaction of First Lady Jacqueline, all dressed up leaning over her bleeding husband, one of the first fearful ideas shattering through my innocent, rose-colored view of the world.

Another bike shared with a friend Susan Price, was a 10-speed with her standing on the pedals driving, while I sat holding on. We were older with our travels including tours by the homes of cute boys or teachers then stopping by Hoback Park, eating the nonpareils on chocolate purchased by the pound from Sears, Roebuck and Co.

The Sears where in third grade my Halloween drawing was one of the few chosen to be painted on one of the large windows. It was also the Sears where we purchased Brach’s malted milk eggs at Easter time and caramel-coated marshmallows wrapped in wax paper — my dad’s favorite; the Sears where my little sister’s best friend soared through on roller skates while being chased by the manager; and where community parades passed by in which my brother, Michael, was a common feature once pulling a rusty, red wagon decorated by American flags, containing our dog Scamper.

It was also the place where my momma dragged me to purchase my first bra when I was shocked to learn — following years of topless freedom, the last memory of which I stood on top of a doghouse, barefoot in pedal-pushers — the repulsion of the daily strapping of tight elastic around my chest. The reality stung, realizing my life had changed — forever.

“Oh , the humanity.”

While considering growing up in a less-advanced time a privilege, looking back sometimes brings sadness. These words written by Bill Lane and Roger Nichols are the first paragraph in my sister, Della’s, Heath High School yearbook.

“Good morning, yesterday
You wake up and time has slipped away
And suddenly it’s hard to find those memories you left behind
Remember, do you remember?”

Reading them always brings the same longing — for Sears, and the bikes, and my parents waiting for me to rush through the door to the smell of apple dumplings cooking on the stove with the sun dwindling into the imminent nightfall, exposing the hope the shimmering stars might bring.

While enjoying the new, I am grateful for those long-ago days at 101 Fieldpoint.

Thanks be to God; and that is all.

Adventures in West Virginia

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Over the weekend I was reminded —

Home is where the heart is. One of those places is West Virginia, inhabiting my son Joey within its majestic beauty.

As the twists and turns of the turnpike brought me closer and closer to my love, I thought of the few places considered essential on my itinerary.

One is the Spring Hill Cemetery towering over the city with its ancient and newly buried. In 1794, Charleston was authorized as a town and until 1869, the municipal cemetery was a small plot next to the Kanawha River on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, according to research.

By 1869, the ground had run out of space, and the city began Spring Hill Cemetery on a hill overlooking Charleston. After more than 130 years, the sprawling grounds have grown to more than 150 acres, marking it West Virginia’s largest cemetery.

Designed by civil engineer A.J. Vosburg, the Old Circle section — my favorite — incorporates thoughtful geometric patterns for the walkways typical of the Victorian era, where I have spent some hours creating stone rubbings. One made its way into a painting, which through a judgment process, landed into a juried exhibit, where at the opening one of my art professors said it was his favorite piece in the show.

The logistics are a bit of a challenge, crossing bridges and one-way streets to the furthest edges of town, holding secrets of the past in what lies beneath. History here is rich and powerful, guarded by the holy statues and monuments of marble.

To the old space I have also brought a tape recorder, part of a paranormal experiment for a research project as a psychology major. Leaning in, Joey and I thought we heard a woman’s voice on the tape, but we still are unsure. We played the three second bit over and over for awhile, scaring folks with the possibility of proof — afterlife exists in Spring Hill Cemetery.

Other memories include a history alive, sitting among the tombstones to hear not once — but twice, the riveting history of the embalming process by a fellow from a local mortuary. Laying out his casketry he shared examples of old, including some wicker caskets once housing bowls of ice under the head, for preservation purposes.

While it is a place of sadness for some, the towering view of the city reminds one of the living, especially when lit by the twinkling lights of the motion below. I also enjoyed many a hike there, hosted by the Handlan Chapter of the Brooks Bird Club, whose members listen and identify birds by their beautiful and unique songs.

Another must stop is the Big Loafer in Huntington, where everything is encased in homemade bread dough and baked to a puffy wonderfulness. The big loafer is more sophisticated, with its meatloaf and tangy sauce, but the smell of yeast is strong when biting into my favorite choice, the simple American cheese sandwich with two ingredients — cheese and the doughy goodness. A sprinkling of salt makes this delicacy the richest in the western world.

Not that it holds a candle to pizza, but between the two — it is a true tug-of-war. Speaking of another stop, Husson’s Pizza, with its thin crust at the point expanding into a thick edge. The sauce is sweet and generously applied for a sweet chorus of banana peppers and pepperoni.

My favorite supposedly haunted Carriage Trail, leading up the Sunrise Mansion in Charleston, is on the list. Folks parking their cars at the bottom benefit from the winding gravel that once carried horse and carriage to the massive overbearing structure. Along the way old steps are visible, once taking folks up the steep incline to the back of the house — dried up, once regal fountains, rot along with the stone walls going up to the road above, skeletal survivals of that once upon a time.

Closing my eyes can bring the sound of clomping hooves, whinnying horses and wagon wheels, scraping along the way. Signs of the past are tucked in, including the first and the spookiest of all — an engraved monument of two lady spies who were tried, found guilty, taken to the site, shot and buried there, then relocated some years later.

It is said the ladies’ spirits roam the trail still, contrasted by a sacred heart of Jesus statue resting peacefully.

The last stop Monday morning, was the best. Gina Puzzuoli, owner of Stray Dog Antiques on Hale Street, opened for a special appointment for us to shop. She is a psychiatrist in Charleston, who opened the magical store, full of books, antiques, clothing, art — you name it. She also passes down her discounts to shoppers, regardless of the item’s value. We purchased an old photograph, a vintage robe dress, a book and a couple of purses.

But the inventory is not the reason to shop there, it is Ms. Gina, enriching our lives with her very presence. She is one of God’s gifts to the world — and then there is my Joey.

Feeling grateful; and that is all.

Published in The Herald

Savoring the summer

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The intense heat, humidity and mosquito have me wanting.

Saying “goodbye” to the summer and “hey” to the crisp fall air is imminent. In my rush, I remember not to forget to appreciate the taste — the tomato, corn, cucumber, sweet pea, zucchini and wild onion.

Thank God for the farmers including the McDonalds selling their sweetness every summer in the form of corn on the cob, or finding full pickup-truck-loads of sugar roadside.

Four minutes in the microwave with the husks on and yes, it is candy, allowing indulgence in my favorite summer food ritual — a forkful of cold, real butter; a sea-salt-sprinkled plate; and the corn — slathering it, licking up the salt and taking a bite with eyes closed is transcendent — my drug of choice.

A like experience comes in the form of tomato bisque made by a friend. The smell of the kitchen and finally — if summer had a taste — this is the one. Tomatoes never died such an honorable death, slowly roasted, skinned and infused with sauteed garlic, salt, pepper and cream.

To be sure, the best ingredient maximizing the robustness of the tomato is fresh basil, mixing Thai sweet, purple and African blue, with the dried bolder spice.

And then there is ratatouille — whole tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, sweet Vidalia onions, peppers, olive oil, basil and garlic — a divine taste of the Mediterranean — turning steak lovers into vegetarians.

An early lesson at farming came as kids when my sisters, brother and I took part in a community garden offered through our church, St. Leonard’s in Heath, Ohio — our plot a teacher of soil enrichment, planting seeds, growing life and finally came the food.

My momma Janice stayed on us for eating the sugar snap peas right out of the pods faster than they were picked, barely leaving any. Resisting them was so difficult sometimes leading to the deceit of eating them and depositing their empty pods in the bucket, giving the appearance the whole vegetable made it home.

Another crop, the evil green bean, came with a beautiful experience. Seeing my granda Volk bring out the bowls on her porch promised an hour of snapping and stringing, a chance to talk slowly, smelling the green on our hands.

I once had an art teacher in West Virginia who shared about the importance of farming and teaching children and grandchildren the skill. He said, “If the world stopped as we know it, at least we would have something to eat.”

With summer on the wane, don’t forget to remember.

My tomatoes are ripening; and that is all.

Published in The Herald


Baseball is beautiful

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Old typewriters have an unmistakable charm, eliciting an intimate relationship.


Their engineering requires a level of physical exchange — an investment leaving when one is finished writing, a feeling of involvement and a longing to return. And its sound — the tapping of the keys, tik-tik-cha-tik-tik-cha-tik-tik-cha-ding.


The noise once competed with the sounds of the announcer, the crack of the ball hitting the bat and the crowds cheering during baseball games, when sports writers took their places in the stands, hammering out the plays.


The 2019 baseball season marked the 150th anniversary of professional baseball, dating back to the 1869 foundation of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first openly all-professional team with 10 salaried players.


Growing up in Ohio, my siblings and I spent many a game in the now razed, circular Riverfront Stadium, when hot dogs and drinks were affordable for a family of seven. One happy baseball memory came from my late dad, Bob, from his orphanage days.


It seems the late great Babe Ruth visited the orphans, taking them jerseys and regaling them with stories of his career as a baseball player. His time spent in St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, in Baltimore, where he was sent in 1902 at age 7, may have instilled in him a soft spot for the orphans.


Ruth was an American professional baseball player, whose career in Major League Baseball spanned 22 seasons, from 1914 through 1935. He began his MLB career as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and then as an outfielder for the New York Yankees. One of his many established MLB records includes 714 home runs.


While he is regarded as one of the greatest sports heroes of all time, to my dad and his friends he was a sweet man bringing them presents.


Time eventually brought a new man into my life — Dave Concepcion. Playing shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds from 1970-1988, he was a five-time winner of the Gold Glove Award. By 1975, he joined Cesar Geronimo, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey Sr. and George Foster in the “Great Eight” starting lineup as part of “The Big Red Machine.” This force of men helped the Reds win the next two World Series titles.


But to me he was a handsome Venezuelan baseball star, sharpening my interest in the game. His final and 19th season came in 1988 and his jersey, No. 13, was retired by the Reds, Aug.5, 2007, in honor of his contributions to the team.


One of many poems my dad shared with us, “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, captures highly descriptive moments like this one, that make people still flock to the stands.
“Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.”


I read now the average MLB ticket price is $50 and the cost of hot dogs and drinks has skyrocketed in most stadiums. While it warms my heart to know that folks still gather there, no time was better in baseball than those early years in Cincinnati.


And oh, to have been a journalist typing from those bleachers.


Tik-tik-cha-tik-tik-cha-tik-tik-cha: and that is all.

Published in The Herald

Daddy’s little girl

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When I was little, I didn’t have to wait long to understand who I was to my
father.

He sang it best through the words of Al Martino’s 1967 classic,
“Daddy’s Little Girl.”

“You’re the end of my rainbow — my pot of gold;
You’re daddy’s little girl, to have and to hold.
A precious gem is what you are — mommy’s bright and shining star.
You’re the spirit of Christmas my star on the tree,
You’re the Easter bunny, to mommy and me.
You’re sugar, you’re spice, you’re everything nice
And you’re daddy’s little girl.”

To be fair — he also sang it to my three sisters, making us all feel special,
but as he sang it to me — I was his only little girl in the world.

Figuring out who my dad was to me is still coming in — even now after his death, I consider.

First, he was a great teacher of all things including virtues, such as
patience, humility, appreciation, loyalty and graciousness.
He taught us these lessons by pointing them out through life’s occurrences, his
examples and during many evening recitations from one of his favorite books,
“The Best Loved Poems of the American People.”

Some of the most memorable are “Annie and Willie’s Prayer” by Mary
A.P. Stanbury; “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra Brooks Welch;
and “I had but 50 Cents” by Anonymous.

Other lessons came through his colorful tales of suspense growing up at St.
Joseph’s Orphanage in Dayton, Ohio, during the Great Depression, where his
ration of sugar was limited. The few times the orphans received pudding or something
sweet, they learned to promptly spit in it to prevent it from being stolen by
another.

And as a result, bypassing the strict nutritious offerings of my
mother’s health-food dietary plan, he managed to slide in the treats of which
he was always so creative in finding, such as hardened pieces of brown sugar,
spoonfuls of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and tiny cups of Karo syrup.

Something else he taught that seems strange to most, is to smell the goodies
before we ate them — which we still do and which we teach everyone to do.
When we started to take a bite he stopped our hands and said, “Look.” And
he would smell it, savoring and appreciating the size, shape and texture before ever knowing its taste.

In addition, dad was also my champion and defender against the critics inside and outside of the family. I was always making clothing — half inspired through Vogue magazines and the other half through thrift store finds. Whenever criticism came, he said, “Stop it — she is a great designer!”

As the breadwinner, he walked to work so my momma could drive. He dressed so sharply, always looking important and respectful in his leather ankle boots, suits, starched shirts, glasses and ties, and often a wide-brimmed black leather hat, adorned with feathers wrapped around the base.

His distinguished manner was sometimes mistaken for other important people. One time during my eighth-grade choir concert, someone said there was a scout in the audience looking for talent. I said, “Where?” And they pointed at my dad.

He was also asked to teach catechism at St. Leonard’s Catholic Church in Heath, Ohio, as the high school students were too rowdy for the volunteering ladies. For that he was given a hand-made wooden cross inscribed with The Bible verse Mark 3:35, “Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother.” It now hangs on my wall.

His teaching style was a little rough around the edges, as he taught God’s word with a long black leather coat, the hat and a cigarette in hand, but the book he knew as part of his rigorous, daily teachings in the orphanage. While he received some criticism of his style from the parents, a trail of high school kids was in and out of our house often, confiding in dad and seeking his advice. How lucky I was that I did not have to leave my home to find him.

Until one day he left me.
And on his way out, we said goodbye through the words of his favorite song, a ballad composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Yip Harburg.

“If happy little bluebirds fly
 Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?”


I love you dad; and that is all.

Published in The Herald

 

Remembering June 6

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“By dawn on June 6, [1944] thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads.

“The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.”

This quote from history.com shares a tiny piece of the tremendous happenings of D-Day.

Some years later on June 6, 1959, my parents, Bob and Janice Kaiser, walked down the aisle of the Immaculate Conception Church where they said their vows, but not before momma passed out from the heat.

And I am sure she never pictured herself getting married on the anniversary of one of the most audacious military campaigns in history. I think it was so my dad — the eternal patriot — would remember their anniversary.

A lifetime later, I found boxes of the letters they exchanged. Reading through, I was taken with their new love and my momma’s innocence and after a few I stopped, realizing I had invaded their secret hot love exchange.

AARP.com shares an article, “Letters From D-Day,” with some excerpts of personal letters coming from that battle to loved ones.

One from a soldier with the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach, recalled what he witnessed to his wife: “In the far away distance, I could hear the rumble of the artillery and the brrrp-brrrp of machine gun fire … We didn’t have a chance to fight back, as we were dropped in the water over our heads. No one’s fault, as the entire beach was strewn with mines. With a stream of lead coming towards us, we were at the mercy of the Germans and we had all to do to reach shore and recuperate. I floated around in water for about one hour and was more dead than alive … Pulled myself together and sought a rifle and around I went, trying to locate my outfit. It didn’t take long to spot them, and was I glad. But gracious Lord, what was left of them, just a handful, about 25 out of 160. The battalion was almost wiped out, 800 casualties out of 1,000 men.”

Another from a son to his mother, shortly after the Normandy landing: “We stopped in the English Channel, and we could see the French coast off in the distance. Two large battle ships are shelling the coast. I see a row of large airships with cables hanging down — there is a smell of gunpowder filling the air … As we hit the beach, the large front door went down. We all walked out on the dry sand, the tide was out … there was a large pool of blood in the sand. Something terrible happened on this beach … Will have to close. I am in a foxhole not far from the channel. I have a raincoat over me to hide the candle. I hear St. Lo is our first town. Mother, I grew up today.”

To all those remembering June 6, 1944, thank you, and may the good Lord bless and keep you. To those who died that day, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.”

And to my momma: thank you for loving my dad.

May he also rest in peace; and that is all.

Published in The Herald.

Respect is earned

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When my son Joey was born the smell of him was so sweetly unique, inhaling him was a common practice. As he grew, the fresh infant smell was replaced with baby food, sweat, deodorant, teen spirit, shaving cream and cologne.

Another intense sensory encounter came from a woman in West Virginia, sharing an experience after losing her son in Iraq, while fighting as a brave soldier.

Sometime after the dreaded knock on the door bringing the notification, receiving her son’s uniform in the mail all neatly packed and cleaned was met with the harsh sting of a new, deeply heartbreaking grief.

“I wanted to smell my son one last time, but they cleaned it,” she said incredulously.

Because my Joey was not lost in a war or battle, I am gratefully without the pain. It is through the grief of others I have the privilege of living freely.

As children, my parents took us to Washington, D.C. There, among the other historical monuments and memorials, I learned for the first time of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery, majestically present. On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I.

The inscription on the back of the tomb reads: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

That may be so, but somewhere someone must have grieved when he didn’t come home, as did my father, the eternal-patriot and Veteran, as he watched the ceremony. The tomb is guarded 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year, and in any weather by volunteer Tomb Guard Sentinels. These sentinels are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia.

My child’s mind and size were instantly enthralled with the giant sentinels’ respect for the unknown soldier in the tomb. Through their stiff posture and pristine uniforms, I was filled with a momentous understanding — they were guarding a most important man.

These formidable opponents aren’t messing around. Their protection of the hero is serious, quiet and respectful, creating in the watcher a building emotion — a caring and honor for a man they never met.

To be sure, the most standout feature of their attire is the sound of their hand-polished shoes. During the changing-of-the-guard ceremony, the guards wear metallic “cheaters” on their shoes, making a metallic clicking sound when they bring their heels together to turn and face the tomb. Research says, this is to honor the first calvary soldier platoon that guarded the tomb, wearing spurs that made a clicking noise when they walked.

Without having the privilege of watching over the tomb, what can one do to honor the sacrifice of those who died serving our country? Some suggestions include displaying the U.S. flag; visiting a national cemetery or memorial; attending a parade; volunteering; making a financial donation; praying for the fallen, their families and our nation; and giving Veterans jobs.

To those parents, spouses, children, friends and family members of those who have lost a soldier, I extend my sincere and heart-felt thanks.

One poet, the late John Maxell Edmonds wrote an epitaph:
“When you go home, tell them of us and say, ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’”

For you I am so grateful; and that is all.

Published in The Herald


Songs are a holiday

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Whenever an extra strong dose of stress hits; this one can heal.

“Tall and tanned and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, each one she passes goes, ‘ah,’
That swings so cool and sways so gently
That when she passes, each one she passes goes, ‘ah.’”

“The Girl from Ipanema” written by Norman Gimbel, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes, when sung by Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, is a straight shot of mellow right into the bloodstream. Each word is a calm, manly well-placed sound, seducing the tension away like a snake charmer.

It was a worldwide hit in the mid-1960s and won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. Loving the song so much, I dug deeper. Ipanema is a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, whose beach at Ipanema became known internationally with the popularity of the song.

The lyrics are inspired by Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, a 17-year-old girl who lived on Montenegro Street in Ipanema, according to research.

I want to be her sometimes.

Another song, “Shambala,” written by Daniel Joseph Moore was sung by B.W. Stevenson in 1973. Liking the song sent me to discover the location of Shambala.

The song is based on a mythical Buddhist kingdom that exists between the Gobi Desert and the Himalaya Mountains. In Shambhala, all of the citizens have achieved enlightenment, so it is the embodiment of Tibetan Buddhist perfection, according to research.

“Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala
Everyone is lucky, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala.”

I want to go there sometimes.

And finally, the song that takes me back on the longest journey is “Delta Dawn,” written by Alex Harvey and Larry Collins.

When my cousin, Carmen, was little, my sisters and I would have her sing it over and over and over again into an old, portable Am/Fm cassette tape stereo. With confidence and increasing volume, she would sing:

“She’s forty-one and her daddy still calls her ‘baby’
All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy
‘Cause she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand
Looking for a mysterious dark-haired man.”

When Tanya Tucker belts out the lyrics, it is in the realm of possibilities that I could be her, without being 41 or living in Brownsville.

Music can take us beyond ordinary perception and experience.

Up for the ride; and that is all.

Published in The Herald

Snake oil and hope

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“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”

These words of journalist and Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist Margaret Mitchell are true — and yet we try. I have fallen under the seductive spell of the daydream, as have others.

However powerful the barrier — walls, electricity, bombs, poisonous vapors, barbed wires and soldiers — they come. From drug smuggling to the desire for a better life — we can’t legislate hope. However, legislation exists to propagate it.

The first modern government-run U.S. lottery was established in Puerto Rico in 1934, followed by New Hampshire in 1964. Since 1964, lotteries have raised more than $502 billion for government programs in the U.S., and more than $100 billion (CAD) in Canada.

Then came the ease of scratch cards in the 1970s, also a major source of lottery revenue. Twinkling jewels, their candy-like allure grabs folks at the cash register, reminding them before they leave in a bold, confident whisper — you can win!

Total ticket sales for fiscal year 2018-19 came in $132.6 million above the estimate, with 31.7% of the excess attributable to online games and 68.3% attributable to instant games, according to the Revenue Estimating Conference reviewing lottery sales and transfers.

And in recent years, the investment is ever ready, with such applications as Lottery.com and Jackpocket for folks to purchase lotteries over their smartphones. Like modern-day snake oil salesmen selling cure-all elixirs in traveling medicine shows, folks driven by hope purchase possibilities the dollar tickets might bring.

I too have drunk the Kool-Aid. Participating so rarely, other hope-fulfilling mental tactics pull through — “I never play so I know I will win.” My mind has gone through the fantasy of having succeeded in purchasing the winning ticket — becoming the heroine and paying off my family’s bills, traveling the world before buying a home to discover the best possible location, and maybe never making the deal — retaining the freedom to simply go.

But the few times I have purchased a losing ticket have resulted in flinging myself on the bed in despair, my dreams dashed with the promise never to play again, preventing the burn of lingering disappointment.

Winning can bring out the best and the worst in people, evoking our full saturation. In the few examples I know it is an outpouring of who they are, such as the kind and responsible teacher, who asked each family member to bring their bills to his home, after which he paid them all. And the lost soul, who continued buying drugs from the cash in his briefcase.  

And sadly, the hope has turned the best people into addicts, gambling away their hard-earned money after every work shift. While the assured odds deter me from being a regular, these words by Dave Loggins keep me in the game — just a little.

“I live in a house that looks out over the ocean

And there’s some starts that fell from the sky

Livin’up on the hill.”

While fighting the shallow, living within these means has assured me — some dreams must be bought.

But just look at what wonderful dreams have come true; and that is all.

Published in The Herald