Pondering the Pavement

April 8, 2016

Heaven’s Kitchen

Filed under: Uncategorized — cfilius @ 12:11 am
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I’ve been trying to come up with a way to describe our dad. My mind reels at the wide array of adjectives swirling through my head. Do you know what I’ve discovered? It’s not an easy task to just “sum up a person.”  Summarizing our dad is like saying the Himalayas are just a couple of hills. When I was a kid, Reader’s Digest—the IDEAL publication for those with ADHD—ran a regular feature entitled, “The Most Unforgettable Person I Ever Met.” Well, let me tell you, if Everett Kitchen is ANYTHING, it is ‘unforgettable.’ His warmth is an inferno. His generosity extends beyond a vanishing point on the far horizon. I could go on and on about his loyalty, his genuine heart, his devotion to family and friends, his sense of humor. All of the traits that we already know so well, and are already missing.

There are several things I will miss, of course. His hugs, for example. He would just engulf you in those massive arms of his. You’d struggle, but only in jest. Once there, you just didn’t want to leave because you were home. Another thing is his “seal of approval.” I’m sure we’ve all heard it at one point or another.

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Everett “Kitch” Kitchen (1938 – 2016)

Someone would ask, “Hey, Kitch, how’s that bowl of chili?”

He’d answer excitedly, “WOOT! I mean to tell ya!”

 “Is this OK?”

“Woot! I mean to tell ya!”

“Isn’t that funny, Kitch?”

“Woot! I mean to tell ya!”

He is his own man with his own style.

His surname couldn’t be any more appropriate. Seriously, what that man could do in a kitchen was something wedged between a miracle and a masterpiece. A stove and a spatula were his brushes while an empty plate and stomach were his canvases. As you can see, I’m quite the accomplished art collector… He did everything in his power to make sure no one left his home hungry. And, if he went to YOUR place, he’d bring the food to you or make it there himself. And, if by some freak of nature, you DID go away hungry… well, it was your own damn fault.

Kitch brought a lot to the table, both literally and figuratively. Whether it is the dinner table or to whatever relationship you had with him. Parent. Family. Friend. Co-worker. Partner in Crime. It didn’t matter because any table setting with him was as beautiful as it was memorable. It overflowed with all and more than you needed, let alone expected. And, if by some random hiccup in the Universe, you couldn’t find what you wanted, then he’d find a way to get it for you.

017He was a father and an unconventional one at that.  He didn’t raise us as a traditional Ward Cleaver sort. But his love for all of us was never hidden or denied. He bubbled over with love and pride for his kids. He was always willing to offer a helping hand, a kind word, a flick on the back of the head if we’d wander too far off the expected path. He gave us room to breathe, to falter, to experience life as WE saw it and to learn from our successes as well as our failures. He always encouraged each of us to stand and evolve on our own, and that included falling as well. He graciously and generously offered advice, encouragement, and unending love. He also had absolutely no problem serving up his completely unedited opinions. His views, like his love, were given freely, without hesitation or reserve, whether you wanted it or not. If you asked him a question you’d better be willing to hear the answer!

I am an adoptee. My birth mother was not in a position to care for me properly. She felt I would have a better chance if she put me up for adoption. My mom who raised me, who is a hair shy of 93 and feisty as ever, has always been upfront with me about my adoption. She was very supportive when I began my search for my biological families—my roots—over 30 years ago (By the way, I began my search when I was 8…). I was 33 years old when I spoke to Everett the very first time. I first spoke to my birth-mother three weeks earlier. I was welcomed by her, and her family, with open arms. However, I honestly believed I would NOT have a relationship with my birth-father. I expected to be denied and turned away. In my experiences, birth fathers are more likely to shun the whole idea while birth mother’s are pretty much the opposite. I had a great reunion with my birth mother so I certainly did not expect lightening to strike twice.

Kitch proved to be the wild card. Lightening struck with a blinding intensity and started a fire that burns brilliantly to this day and beyond. Way to go, Dad…

The first five minutes of our initial phone conversation were cordial. Friendly, but understandably guarded. I explained I didn’t want anything other than some answers, a peek into on my own history. He told me that he would be happy to tell me what he could.

He then asked, “What’s your blood type?”

I fully understood why he asked. We did not have the luxury of having Maury Povich exclaiming, “Everett! You ARE the father!”

Well, he asked so, being the naturally born smart-mouth that I am—thanks, Dad—I simply replied, “My blood type? Red.”

Then we both howled in laughter. This disruption of the sound barrier was immediately met with our abrupt silence. For the first time in my life I heard my laugh echo back at me.

If you know Kitch, you know THE LAUGH. That garish, glass shattering cackle that has been known to make babies cry and land masses shift.

After a moment of silence Kitch said, “This is real, isn’t it?”

I merely answered, “Yea. I guess it is.”

That ended any discussion of blood type right then and there. Paternity proven through laughter. IN YOUR FACE, MAURY!

04_FamilySo, yes, I have the laugh. My brother, Markis, has the laugh. My sister, Carletta, has THE LAUGH. Hearing this laugh spew upward and outward from someone standing a petite five-foot-four is, honestly, just plain spooky!

I don’t mean to stand here and tell you he was perfect. He wasn’t and he’d be the first to admit it. He didn’t even meander in a suburb of the gated community of perfection. He was bull-headed. The man took stubborn to a height that any accomplished mountain climber would covet. He was a cut of the ‘my way or no way’ jib.

On my first visit to his home in Colorado, he had the gall to announce to this City Boy, “We get up at 4 o’clock in the morning around here.”

I replied, “Good to know. When I get up at 10 be sure you tell me all about it.”

See? I got a little more than just his laugh.

If he didn’t like something, whether it be a situation or tuna, he’d let you know about it. He wouldn’t shirk away from his opinion and he respected anyone who did the same. He shot from the hip and ricochets be damned. He told me, more than once, “I always speak my mind… when I can find it.”

He had zero tolerance for anyone who wallowed in their own self-pity. “If you aren’t willing to help yourself,” he said, “how can you face yourself in the mirror?”

I looked at him and said, “I sold my mirrors. They were defective.”

Once again, that laugh echoed in stereo.

He didn’t believe in regrets. Instead, he preferred to own up to what was, focus on what is, and look forward to what may be. An eternal optimist wrapped in a tortilla of sarcasm. Again, unforgettable.

He was a giver. He didn’t ask for anything other than honesty and love in return. He received so much more joy when giving to another than getting a glamorous holiday gift himself.

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In order of appearance: Carletta, Sandra, Charles and Markis.

Honestly, if I had to sum him up, I’d have to say our father is about laughter. He instilled that in all of us. He is about joy. He is about giving. And, I mean to tell ya, he is about food! Preparing AND eating! He is about bringing people together. The turnout today surely proves that. He even managed to wrangle his kids together for the very first time. Talk about being a control freak!

His passing has been such a shock to each and every one of us. How someone so full of life—even BIGGER than life—can be gone so quickly is just a mystery. We’re all still trying to wrap our minds around referring to him in the past tense. My sister, Carletta, summed it up best a few days ago. She stepped groggily out of her bedroom one morning and said, “Do you know what I was supposed to be doing today?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

She simply said, “Not this.”

Boy, Sis, ya got that right.

It’s only fitting that Dad passed ON  April Fool’s Day. If anyone would appreciate the humor it that, it would be him. The real kicker for me is that the very next day, April 2nd, marked the 22nd anniversary of the very first time he and I spoke. The first time I ever heard OUR laugh.

Because of my work as a medium, I know that life never truly ends, that we don’t really die. We simply move on. With that in mind, someone recently asked me, “Where do you think he is now?” Honestly, this is how I picture it: Dad makes his way through a field of billowing clouds of dry ice like we see in so many Hollywood movies. After walking for awhile he finally sees a glowing light off in the distance. Instinctively, he begins to walk toward it. As he draws near the light he is is immediately greeted by a multitude of hyperactive drooling black labs. Amidst the jumping, licking and yelps of excitement, they manage to lead him to this massive set of pearly gates. The gates open effortlessly because they have WD-40 over there. The opening gates resemble what can only be described as large arms reaching out for a loving, long overdue embrace. The kind that he, himself, always gave. As Kitch’s brown eyes adjust to the intense bright light, he finds himself standing in His presence.

The Big Guy standing before The Bigger Guy.

So, Kitch just flashes that crooked smile of his, and simply drawls, “So, did I do OK?”

And God, in whatever form you see Him, in whatever way you believe, looks at Kitch, reflecting that same crooked smile that He, Himself, created, and exclaims, “Woot! I mean to tell ya!”

We love you, Dad.

Eulogy Delivered Thursday, April 7, 2016
Wayne, WV

May 8, 2015

One Mother of a Day for Two

Filed under: Uncategorized — cfilius @ 4:34 am
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Twice the Moms, Twice the Fun

10494314_sWhich came first? The chicken or the egg? The age-old quandary. Either point can be argued. There’s no doubt about that. And, honestly, I don’t believe either answer will ever fully win out over the other. Therefore I’d like to toss my own theory in the philosophical ring o’ fire: no matter which one it was I’m willing to bet that a mother was behind it. Mom’s always there, on some level, within each of us. So why should a chicken or an egg be any different? All signs point to mom, mother, mommie dearest, maw, mumsy… call her what you like but we all know who we’re talking about, don’t we?

As Mother’s Day leaps from the calendar once more, I can’t help but mull over my own mother and her own attempts at steering a nearly rudderless boat through a multitude of choppy seas. Being the mother of an anti-social nerd with a mindset bordering on the unexplainable would have driven anyone weaker to drink. Honestly, I don’t know how Mom got through it. She’s a gutsy broad who loves a challenge and, boy oh boy, did she get one in me. She herself has told me that, as a child, she wasn’t a fan of cartoons. Then her only child becomes a cartoonist. Who says God doesn’t have the wackiest sense of humor EVER? But she pulled it off with a minimum of gray hairs. If she had any nervous breakdowns she had the decency to have them quietly and without fanfare. I once asked her how she managed to not kill me during my teenage years of angst and agony. She simply replied dryly, “Fear of prison.” A wise woman. As the saying goes, “Patience is what you learn when there are too many witnesses.”

Upon reflection that often resembles that of a fun house mirror, I have chosen a couple of my mom’s parenting decisions that I rate as her best and truly wisest. Two moments, plucked from far too many to list, that truly stand out to me as life altering, as well as affecting, moments that helped make me who I am today (Now you know who to blame).

The family—meaning Mom, myself and my grandfather—vacationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia in the summer of 1975. This was our first big trip since the passing of my grandmother just over a year and a half earlier. Needless to say it was a bit odd for all of us. We were still adjusting to the absence of one of our immediate own. The film JAWS was released while we were in Virginia Beach. I begged, pleaded and groveled before my mother in order to let me go see this movie! I all but bribed her but, since I only got a $2.00 allowance every two weeks, I didn’t have a lot of leeway. “If you let me go see this movie now,” I’d say, “I’ll give you a dollar and then another dollar when it’s over!” And that’s how the Wolf of Wall Street was born. Despite throwing myself on the mercy of the court, Mom would have no part of it. “We’ll see it when we get home,” she ruled. Needless to say, I was livid. She was SO MEAN! She never let me do ANYTHING fun! Waaa Waaa and Waaa some more. I pouted, brooded and sulked like a paparazzi that just ran out of film. I’m sure my mother, on the other hand, simply enjoyed the silence. So, as ordered from the Powers Upon High, I waited until we returned home to see the movie that everyone, but me, was talking about.

Oh, Sweet Mother of God. Best decision EVER. In all of history, my mother’s verdict to not let me see JAWS in Virginia Beach ranks right up there with the decision of the first life form to crawl out of the primal ooze in order to walk upon dry land and the universal choice to end disco. If I had gone to see it while AT the beach, I would have NEVER gone NEAR the water again let alone actually IN it. I probably would have stayed on the boardwalk with my grandfather. Who am I kidding? I would have just moved into the backseat of Mom’s Dodge Dart and waited until we went home.

Well played, Mom. Well played indeed.

You must be wondering how she could top that flawless parental veto. “It can’t be done!” you exclaim. “Oh, yes it can,” I coo. And here it is…

My mother was always, from Day One, completely open with me about my adoption. I do not know of a time when I did not know I was adopted. She has told me that she talked to me about it when I was too young to even comprehend what she was saying (yet before my teenage years when I just tuned out everything she said). This simple act of honesty truly made THE biggest difference in my life. This seemingly simple act encompassed my past, my present and my future.

I doubt if I can fully explain the significance of this to someone who is not an adoptee. Little things like recognizing that you have grandma’s eyes to knowing the exact time of your own birth, are just run-of-the-mill snippets of your life that are rarely given a second thought. I was 33 years of age before I found out the time of my birth. I had always been told it was “around five in the morning.” At 33 I discovered it was 4:42am. Big deal, right? For me it was. I stayed up until 4:42am when my 34th birthday—the first after finding my birth family—rolled around. And I’ve met many adoptees who have done the exact same thing.

I was even denied the classic parental lament, “I was in labor for 18 hours with you, ya know!” The best my mom could offer up was, “I got writer’s cramp filling out all of those adoption forms, ya know!” It just doesn’t have the same effect.

Mom easily and effortlessly passed on what little information she had regarding my biological parents. Sadly, the bulk of what she was told, other than the name of my birthmother, was nothing but a tapestry of intentional lies and bullshit. To the state of West Virginia, I was not a human being. I was a product that needed to be moved off the shelf. It’s a wonder that I didn’t have AS SEEN ON TV stamped on my forehead.

Mom gave me all of the paperwork that she had regarding my adoption. This was the first time I saw my birthmother’s signature. Again, something that so many would take for granted. I remember running my finger over it, tracing the line of her pen, thinking this was my first connection with the woman who actually gave birth to me. She had, at one time, touched this piece of paper I now held in my own hands. Shivers went through me. It was finally real.

Less than two months after my 33rd birthday, I spoke to my birthmother for the very first time. Two weeks after that came the first face-to-face meeting and the first barrage of hugs, tears and, of course, laughs. Later that year, my mom hosted a dinner in the home I grew up in for the woman whose home I never knew. Mom played hostess—a roll she has always cherished—to a gaggle of my blood: my birthmother, three of my four siblings from her side, and four of my nieces and nephews. An undertaking that would be both physically and emotionally daunting for your average bear, but not my mom. For her it was just a celebration of a life long journey for, frankly, both of us.

I will tell you this, however… having Dueling Mothers at the dinner table is a bit spooky. I was half expecting to hear “Why aren’t you a doctor?” and “Why aren’t you married yet?” in stereo.

What stood out for me—and still does to this day—is a very small, nearly undetectable moment that I almost didn’t witness. The brood was leaving and saying their goodbyes. The siblings were all outside wrangling kids and insulting one another, as good siblings do. I was standing on the porch, just outside the front storm door. The Mom’s were on the other side of the door, in the living room. I glanced over my shoulder, looking at them through the mesh screen. My birthmother, Joyce, thanked mom for a lovely meal and, of course, my mother thanked her for coming. They hugged and Joyce softly said through tears, “Thank you for taking care of my boy.”

My mom, in a choked voice, replied, “Thank you for having him. I don’t know what I would have done without him.”

Not a dry eye in the house…or on the porch, either.

As a medium, I am privy to some pretty amazing things. I have witnessed countless reunions and connections. I have seen love and humility come together in emotional bursts of light that defy description. But what I saw, and heard, that day truly ranks as the single most beautiful experience of my life. At the time, of course, I had no idea it was only a precursor to what I would observe along my life path as a medium. I often reflect back on that exchange during my own readings. My memory helps ground me. It helps me better understand what is taking place between the sitter and their non-physical visitor.

Spirit always utilizes the card file of memories in my head in order to help me better understand their messages, their intent and, of course, their never-ending love. And, I gotta tell ya, I love it when they bring that particular memory back up to bob around on the surface.

Even my mother’s decision to not let me see JAWS has its own place in the roots of my spiritual work. Spirit gives me what the sitter can handle and nothing more. Spirit passes along information and insight intended for the best of all parties involved. In the big scheme of things my mom was doing the same thing.

I guess you can say Spirit is just one big mother. Wait. That sounded better in my head…

Moms In Stereo: my mom is on the left and my birthmother is on the right.

Moms In Stereo: my mom is on the left and my birthmother is on the right.

I am where, and who, I am today because of the generosity and love of two different women (who eerily look alike, but that’s beside the point). One was brave enough to give me, what she felt, was a chance at a better life than she could provide. The other was strong enough to open her heart to, literally, the unknown, in order to enrich both of our lives. I, on the other hand, just sat there like a lump and bobbed through the waves.

I have two mothers. One is here, the other is in spirit. But, without a shadow of a doubt, both reside within me, my actions & thoughts and, most significantly, my heart. Because, as with the chicken & the egg, “Mom” is always a part of me.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom(s).

Copyright © 2015, Charles A. Filius, All Rights Reserved

August 2, 2012

Rejoicing Joyce

Filed under: Uncategorized — cfilius @ 5:20 am
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Book Portrait “Do you hate me?” Those were the very first words my biological mother ever said to me. Do. You. Hate. Me.

I had already been warned of her sense of humor so, as my grip on the telephone receiver tightened oh-so-slightly, I quickly replied, “That depends. Are you rich?”

Joyce chuckled and answered, “No.”

“Then I hate you,” I said.

And we laughed. Hard.

Joyce and I marveled in the odd quirks that we shared. For example, we had a peculiar fascination with office supplies. We could easily spend hours in Office Depot just roaming the aisles like kids loose in a candy store. Oh, the simple joys of paperclips and hanging folders… We firmly believed that Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies were the perfect food. And we also held to the belief there was nothing nearly as important, or necessary, as laughter. We had never encountered a situation that didn’t scream for a joke. Of course, we couldn’t guarantee anyone else would find something funny but, thankfully, that just didn’t matter. Humor was the way to deal with most of our own tragedies. We saw it as a universal language and we were fluent in it. She was a painfully funny woman. My birthfather is, too, but in an entirely different vein. Joyce once told me that I was such a perfect meld of both of them that I could never deny them even if I wanted to.

When I attended my first family reunion I wore a t-shirt that read “Have your picture taken with the orphan! $5.00! Makes a great gift!” Joyce laughed so hard I thought she was going to fall out of her chair. Never wanting to be one to be outdone she demanded 50% of my profits. “If it weren’t for my initial investment you’d have nothing!” she laughed. Can’t argue with that logic.

She loved helping others. She was often donating time, as well as her exceptional baking skills, to anyone in need. This Joyce-Of-All-Trades would do anything from writing ‘skits’ for her church to helping her nursing home roommate with her hair. Whatever was needed. And it seemed like she was always baking a pie or cake for some sort of shindig or another. I once remarked, “You do a lot for people.”

She smiled shyly and shrugged, “It’s what you’re supposed to do.” Then she burst out laughing and said, “Besides, it gives me an excuse to taste-test the pies I make!” Did I mention we also shared an infectious sweet tooth?

Joyce had been in failing health for quite some time. In October of 2011, she lost her left leg to diabetes. She was blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other. To help protect that eye she would often wear a medicated eye patch. She told me, after her leg surgery, “Well, I have one leg and I’m wearing an eye patch. Looks like I have my Halloween costume all figured out!” I laughed until I cried. There’s no doubt about it, Joyce had a hard life. But she faced it with a smile on her face, laughter in her heart and a pie or two within reach. Whether the pies were for eating or throwing is yet to be fully determined. My guess is it would depend on which would get the bigger laugh.

I exhausted the first 33 years of my life wondering about her. I spent nearly 10 of those years searching for her. And I was only able to share 18 years with her. For those of you keeping score that’s the span of time measuring from birth until high school graduation. In the big scheme of things it’s not even a fraction of the blinking of a bastard’s eye. But I am blessed to have had that time with her. Every. Single. Second.

Joyce made sacrifices for me and my younger brother, Joe. She made choices that were not easy in the hopes of her ‘lost boys’ having better lives than she could possibly provide. If that sort of selflessness isn’t being a mother then I don’t know what is. And you cannot possibly hate that form of generosity. You hear me, Joyce?

She quietly passed, with little fanfare, on July 16th. I last spoke to Joyce the Tuesday before her passing. When I asked her what she was doing in the hospital she gave me an answer that was vintage Joyce. “You know me,” she drawled. “I was bored at the nursing home and just wanted a change of scenery.”

And we laughed. Hard.

How fitting that our last conversation, just as our first, evolved into a joke. Her first words to me spoke of self-imposed guilt. Her final words, “I love you,” were those of self-acceptance and joy. Trust me when I tell you there was a lot of laughter in-between. And for that I am truly grateful.

Copyright © 2012, Charles A. Filius

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