Pondering the Pavement

October 5, 2016

Signs of the Father

“Oh, I believe in coincidences. I’ve just never seen one.”
Dannion Brinkley

I AM NOT, NOR WILL I EVER BE, A SOCIAL CREATURE. I’ve never been comfortable with any form of mingling. I’m more than just the brooding form huddled safely in the corner of a room. I prefer to just not show up at all. I’m that oddly placed dish of pickles on a dinner table. You don’t know why it’s there. Yet you pass it around to other equally disinterested guests, all the while knowing no one would miss it if it just wasn’t set out in the first place. I dodge most social functions with a Gold Medal Winning Flair. I can get out of just about any social situation with nearly zero effort. It comes naturally. For example, I once had three separate invitations to Thanksgiving dinner. I got out of all of them scot-free by explaining, “Oh, how thoughtful! But I’ve already been invited to dinner! Thank you so much for thinking of me.” Of course, I didn’t attend anyone’s dinner. I didn’t have to go through the motions of idle banter AND I didn’t have to share leftovers. Win / Win all the way around.

Even someone as expertly gifted at dodging social interaction as me gets painted into a redbaroncorner from time to time. The most recent of these losses came in the form of a wedding aboard The Queen Mary last June. Of course, when I initially received the invitation, my reaction was “Oh, HELL no!” But when I realized the wedding was taking place literally within walking distance of my home I figured I was pretty much screwed. Since the best man was traveling all the way from the east coast, I couldn’t really play the “It’s too far for me to travel” card. Curse you, Airline Travel! Curse you and your commercial conveeeeeeeenience!

Admittedly, my lack of interest in socializing was even lower than usual. My birth father, Everett, had passed away unexpectedly less than three months earlier. I was still dealing with the fallout from that, both emotionally and physically. As the executor of his estate, I had to juggle a wide array of things during that time including, but not limited to, his home & personal effects, fragile overblown egos, high-strung banshee-like emotional outbursts and why he had a plastic container filled with keys that fit absolutely NOTHING in his house. I had to push my own feelings aside (who knew I partook of such things?) and dive head-first into business mode. Which is, of course, a most clever way to not face the music (which, in my dad’s case, would be performed by a trio playing a mouth harp, a set of spoons and comb kazoo).

fullsizerender_1As is my custom in social situations, I rallied a friend to join me for the festivities. The key to surviving this sort of circumstance is to find an extrovert to ever-so-slightly mask your own preferred wallflower existence. However, I could not locate such a individual. Instead, I turned to my dear friend, Mona, who may never speak to me again after reading this. Mona is not just an extrovert. Oh, no. Mona is an extrovert on crack. To the tenth power. With a dash of caffeine. Twice. She gets super excited by anything and finds everyone just gosh darn fascinating:

“Oh, my God! Tell me MORE about your masking tape collection!”

Thanks to Mona and her Perky Persona, I have met people I would have never encountered, seen things that would have stayed hidden from my farsighted baby blues, and experienced situations that would have been passed on to someone else like the aforementioned dish of pickles. I personally prefer to watch such things unfold on TV but, hey, live a little, right?

We donned our gay apparel and made our way to The RMS Queen Mary, permanently dry-docked here in lovely Long Beach, California. Mona was fluttering around like an ADHD kid cut loose in a candy store while I was mostly uncomfortable and bewildered. You see, I was in a situation where I had to wear long pants. LONG PANTS! And, to add insult to injury, I was informed by some misinformed fashionista that Hawaiian shirts do NOT seem to be acceptable attire with a tuxedo. I was in a foreign land where no one spoke my language.

I should mention that Mona is also a medium (we travel in gaggles, you know?). So it shouldn’t come as a shock when I tell you things are bound to happen when you toss two mediums onto a haunted ship. I must admit that the vessel really is a playground for we sensitive sorts. It’s where energy & ectoplasm go on vacation. Mona and I have spent a lot of time aboard the Queen Mary over the years. Mona’s time on board has included taking several ghost tours, mediumship classes, and even photography field trips. In my case, however, I just get lost a lot and have a bitch of a time finding my way to an exit.

dscn0118Mona was dragging me all over the ship like a six-year-old on the search for Santa at Macy’s. She was excitedly pointing out different items of interest while I kept kicking myself for not leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through the corridors. Who’s to say if they would have been a device to find my way out again or just a convenient snack for later in the evening…

At one point during our meandering, we encountered a tall gentleman who is the acting Commodore on the ship. He was smartly dressed in white from head to toe. (FYI: When a medium encounters someone all in white our first inclination is to poke them with a finger to ensure that they’re real. That little stunt has helped me keep my Christmas card list at a VERY manageable level, let me tell ya…) Mona, as is her custom, squealed and hugged the Commodore. They exchanged pleasantries while I mentally marked all the EXIT signs within sight.

He was kind enough to chat a bit and even give us a tidbit of history of the ship—Lord knows I’m a sucker for sugar packet trivia—even though he was wrapping up his shift for the day. While he was talking I happened to glance at his name tag on his smartly pressed lapel: EVERETT. I chuckled to myself as I thought, “What a funny coincidence!”

Oh, Charles, you silly monkey. When will you learn?

The wedding was held outside on the stern of the ship. Despite no one wanting to do The Wave with me as the bride walked down the aisle, the ceremony went off without a hitch—acknowledge pun at your own discretion. All seemed right with the world as we thankfully moved inside for the reception. The groom, who is a writer among other trades, devised a deliciously unique literary theme for the reception. Each party had to search for their place card in a library Dewey Decimal card file. The names of the guests would be at the top, last name first, of course. Below the name one finds the title of a book. This tells you at what table you will be seated. Our table happened to be the Dracula Table (and it did not suck!). We made our way to our table to see the book Dracula by Bram Stoker prominently displayed as part of the centerpiece. Behind the main event was a stack of other seemingly random books. There was a Frankenstein table, a Wizard of Oz table, etc. From my point of view, the setup was nothing short of Nerdy Nirvana.  Of course, the risk of possible paper cuts looming over our fingertips added a flair of exhilaration to the festivities.

dscn0121The best man and his wife sat at our table. Bob and I have been close friends for nearly 40 years. That makes his wife, Shannon, my friend by default, like a step-sibling. Both of them are writers, and more, just like the groom. At one point, she sat down next to me and started talking to me like some kind of normal person. Very weird if you ask me. She said, “Remember those old photos you sent to me?”

I blanked for a moment as I searched my memory banks. All I came up with was some loose change and a green Lego. I shook my head. “Noooo…” was all I could muster.

“You sent me some old black and white snapshots,” she continued, her hand delicately cradling a wine glass. “You found them and thought I’d find them interesting.”

Then it dawned on me. There were several shots of some unknown small town and they were stapled together in one corner. The cars captured in the images clearly eluded to the 1950’s, the era of The Fonz. I had unearthed them while cleaning out one of my mother’s closets. She had no idea why she had them or even where they were taken. Shannon is very interested in West Virginia history so I figured she’d get a kick out of them. Passing the buck for the cost of a couple postage stamps. What will I think of next?

She said, “Well, I’m using one of them in a book I’m writing so you get a photo credit.”

“And I thought I’d never amount to anything!” I replied. She laughed, having no idea I was not even remotely kidding. “Do you have any idea where those pictures were taken? Or are you just using them as generic filler?”

She looked up at me as she sipped her wine. “Yea,” she said. “They were taken in Everettville, West Virginia.”

If I had been the one drinking I would have done a spit take that Danny Thomas would envy. EVERETTVILLE? SERIOUSLY?

Jpeg

A little while later, as Mona was running around befriending everyone on Facebook, I decided to look through the other stray books piled on our table. The ultimate wallflower looking for a book to read at a wedding reception. Jeez… how sad is THAT? I picked the first one up and opened it. I found the name of the previous owner along with a date: Carol Lundly, April 22, 1972. Everett’s youngest sister goes by her middle name, Maxine, but her first name is actually Carol. And April 22nd?  That just happens to be the month and day that I met my birthfather face-to-face for the very first time. I hurried and picked up the next book. The name scrawled inside of it was ‘Helen’, which is the first name of Everett’s oldest sister.

I just sat back in my chair and began to laugh. FYI: No one thinks twice about it if you’re sitting alone and laughing at a table scattered with empty wine glasses. By this time Mona had rejoined Dracula’s Lair. I explained all of the connections to my dad that had popped up throughout the day. She just sat there, smugly grinning. Then I committed the ultimate sin. I asked another medium, “Do you really think it means anything?”

Mona may be tiny but she moves quickly. Her hand slapped the back of my head in a rapid cadence that gave passersby the impression they were hearing The Gettysburg Address in Morse Code. Then, in that angelic little voice of hers, she shrieked, “Do ya THINK?”

Mona’s known for her sensitivity.

Or so I’m told. Ahem.

Leave it to my dad, who collected wives like some people collect stamps, to make his presence known at a wedding. What else should I expect from a man who dared pass away on April Fool’s Day?

If someone had come to me with this exact same story, I would be alongside Mona screaming, “DO YA THINK?” No questions asked. But when it comes to my own signs, my own connections, I end up doubting every single time. Why? I’m always leery that I’m reading too much into something. I don’t want my vivid imagination to run away with me. I don’t want my experiences to be simply ‘wishful thinking.’ That’s one of the reasons my Crew tends to go over the top and slap me around. They want to make sure they have my full attention. The other reason is that they just enjoy abusing me. I think I’m their cardio workout.

The lesson? Simple: acknowledge the signs, the feelings, that you get. Even a simple “coincidence” can be your loved one’s way of reaching out. Give your peeps a shout-out, a thumbs-up, for a job very well done. And know that your loved ones NEVER forget. They NEVER stop loving you. And, most importantly, they NEVER die.

Thanks, Dad, for the reminder… and so much more.

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With my brother, Markis, and our dad in Las Vegas, 2011. The timing of my writing this entry is most fitting as today, October 5, is his 78th birthday. Well, how about that?

Copyright © 2016, Charles A. Filius

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January 10, 2015

Ruth’s Rainbow

Filed under: Uncategorized — cfilius @ 5:36 am
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18410007_mMy mother saves pretty much everything. Asking her to part with a pack of shoestrings or a mismatched handful of thumbtacks is the equivalent of spontaneously listing the highlights of the presidential administration of Millard Fillmore: It’s a noble and even challenging endeavor but it’s just not gonna happen. “I’ll be able to use that one of these days,” she’ll say. So the item is filed away again until some yet undetermined later date when a use can be found. While not proven, I am fairly confident that Amelia Earhart’s plane is tucked away somewhere in the back of my mother’s hall closet.

While rummaging through a few boxes my mother had tucked away for some future archeologist, I recently found the remnants of one of my first grade art projects. It was a large sheet of manila paper, now yellowed and brittle with age (much like myself, whereas I’ve gotten fatter and the sheet of paper seems to be the same size). I had cut two pictures of a car, front and rear views, from some long forgotten magazine and glued them on the piece. The front view, over the years, had fallen off and gone on its merry way, leaving only an ancient dried glue Rorschach test in its place. A band of blue sky was scribbled in crayon across the top of the sheet, a blazing yellow sun beaming from one corner. The empty space between the blue sky and the cars was dotted with a healthy dose of “M” birds in a rainbow of Crayola colors. Beneath it, in black crayon, I scrawled:

RainbowGraphic

Dorothy Parker moved down a chair as I laid claim to my rightful place at the Algonquin Roundtable.

Ruth&CAF

My first photo op with Aunt Ruth, August 1961.

“Her graham cracker pie is the best.” There’s a sentence that’s simplistic in both structure and truth. The truth is always simple. It’s just the way things are. Trust me when I tell you her graham cracker pie was truly the best, hands down. And it, too, was very simple. It consisted of a homemade graham cracker crust which was finely crumbled and held together with melted butter. The pie shell was then packed with a rich, sugary vanilla pudding filling. This round batch of gooey goodness was then topped with a billowing mile-high mound of homemade meringue light enough to host a communal congregation of cherubs. The meringue was browned oh-so-slightly and speckled with little beads of vanilla. My aunt told me the vanilla was “little dots of heaven” and I had no reason to disbelieve her. Everything she created included a little dash of heaven.

Aunt Ruth’s kitchen was an odd vortex, a window into another realm. It was a tiny room, so small you had to look at it twice to make sure you saw it. But whatever she conjured up in that small space was large enough to nourish a Kingdom and its surrounding territories…and, honestly, it often did. Her sugar cookies danced like the Rockettes on your tongue. Each and every one tasted of sheer synchronized perfection. Her chicken pot pie was so astonishingly good that, after years without it, I finally broke down and asked her to send me the recipe. She was tickled pink that I asked and promptly popped it out in the mail. When I opened the envelope I discovered it neatly written on a white index card that boasted a heading across the top: “From the Kitchen of Aunt Ruth.” That was so her. Things had to be done a certain way, the right way, and everything with a little flourish.

My favorite culinary nirvana that emitted from Aunt Ruth’s kitchen (other than her graham cracker pie, of course, which was so good it deserved its own “best of” list on which it was the only entry) was a delectable little morsel she simply called “brown noodles.” What’s that, you ask? Egg noodles cooked in beef broth. That’s it. Seriously, that’s all there was to it. Just egg noodles and broth. But you know what? Only she could make it right. My grandmother made them for me once and it just wasn’t the same. I don’t know HOW one can screw up cooking noodles in beef broth but it happened. My grandmother cooked it and it was “meh.” My aunt cooked it and my tummy petitioned to have a national holiday named in her honor. She had a knack, a special touch perhaps, that defies description.

Again, Aunt Ruth always wanted things to be done in a very specific way. She was always striving to make something lovely even more so. And not just in the kitchen. No, her abilities expanded well beyond the boundaries of the kitchen. While a lone flower can enhance a vase on a table just imagine what a handful of carefully arranged flowers would do! If you gave her a few strands of hay, some sticks and a bucket she would walk away with a beautiful bouquet while anyone else would just have a mound of mangy mulch. A new pair of shoes can accent an outfit but toss in a purse and matching earrings and you’ve got a fashion statement! The lady had style. She had a certain look about her and it spread to anything and everything she enhanced along her way. She could have marked her handiwork by posting a sign reading “RUTH WAS HERE” but it wasn’t necessary. You just knew.

If my aunt and uncle’s home was a living, breathing entity, then the kitchen was the heart. Its pulse could be felt, sensed, in every nook and cranny of the house. There’s a seemingly endless stream of photos of family meals. Countless celebrations recounted and collected via Kodak. The flipping of photos gives an astonishing timeline of fashion, family and mashed potato presentation through the decades. While the faces age and styles change, the look of satisfied happiness does not. And, at the center of it all, was the flawless handiwork of my Aunt Ruth.

Everything had to be done just so. Nothing could or would be discarded or dismissed. Just like her sister, everything was useful. And everything had to look a certain way. From table presentation to personal appearance to the placement of refrigerator magnets. There was no escaping it. She herself often admitted her own concern over what others—strangers included—thought about, well, everything that she did, cooked, cleaned or wore. But, with her distinctive style, the only thing anyone could honestly think was, “Wow! That’ the best!”

AuntRuthBirthday_smAunt Ruth was my partner in crime as I was growing up. She would help me sneak surprise holiday gifts for my mom into the house right under Mom’s nose. Mom was often mystified how her 13-year-old son was able to attain items only available from a store 20 miles away. Clearly, I was already flexing my telekinetic muscles. Aunt Ruth would encourage me to try new selections on a menu. She planted the seeds of my odd love of obnoxiously loud shirts. She encouraged my art, my writing, my theater work in high school and college and, eventually, my own mediumship. After seeing me give a mediumship group demonstration for the first time, she said, “You were born to do that, you know? You were just born to do that.” Yup, she got me. I could be myself around her, eccentric faults and all, and never be questioned. She would encourage me to push the envelope in order to pursue my anything-but-normal dreams. Like a home away from home, she was my Mom away from Mom.

My aunt and uncle’s home was the first family home I entered when I was adopted. I was in their living room before the one I would be sharing with my (NEW & IMPROVED!) Mom and Dad. Hers was the second phone number I ever memorized. Some of my fondest memories growing up were when I was allowed to spend a few days with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bill without my mother or grandparents! Oh, the juvenile nirvana! My stays there always had a particular formula: a visit to Hill’s Department Store and Ace Hardware because they had the best toy departments in town. Mom would give me a spending allowance of $3 for these mad shopping binges. Yes, kiddies, you could get some pretty cool stuff for three bucks back in the pre-Amazon days. This venture would be followed by lunch at either a burger joint or pizza place. This was long before ordering mass produced chemically enhanced food through a flashing marquee from the coziness of your SUV. Then we’d go home where we would play whatever game I bought. She would then make dinner while I read a comic book or watched cartoon animals parade across the TV screen (clearly a precursor to what was lurking down the road for me).

UncleBillBirthday_1971smMy uncle, a local truck driver, often worked late. Sometimes he’d have dinner with us, sometimes not. When he’d come home after I had gone to bed, he’d make a point to come into the room I had commandeered, sit on the bed and talk with me about my day, his day and everything in between. I’d enthusiastically gush over all we’d done that day and he was seemingly hanging on my every blabbering word. He, too, always made me feel not just welcome, but one of his own family.

What seemed like such mundane things then now have such great significance. Funny how that happens, huh?

I always loved watching my aunt and uncle together. My parents divorced when I was very young so I didn’t have the experience of growing up in a two-parent household. Although I grew up in my grandparent’s home and saw them together every day, it just wasn’t the same. Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bill were of my mom’s generation so they gave me clearer idea of just how Team Parent worked. My mother had to pull double duty as both mom and dad so I found my aunt and uncle quite intriguing. I often ogled them as if they were my own little science experiment or a set of sea monkeys I could order from an ad in a comic book. They coordinated and worked together as a team with some duties overlapping and others being separate. The raising of the children was, of course, a team effort, as was care of the home. Uncle Bill handled the mind-numbing task of mowing the world’s biggest backyard from my adolescent point of view (I swear it was so big it could have had its own representative in the senate!). While he took great care in keeping a neatly trimmed yard, Aunt Ruth made a point to doll up the interior. The beauty of the home they shared was only enhanced by the same grace and love they had for one another. Sure, they squabbled like any couple, but their love was always evident no matter what the situation. She often referred to him as her sweetheart both before and after his death. She had each and every love letter my uncle had written to her while stationed overseas during WWII. Each one ended longingly with, “PS I Love You.” Even at 95 she would blush like a lovelorn teenager when talking about him.

Uncle Bill left us in 1985. Twenty-nine years later I watched his wife draw her last breath in order to rejoin the sweetheart she’d had since she was 15. A love for the ages if there ever was one.

It was fitting that she left us within the cozy confines of the home she established and ran with such love. It is where she wanted to be and, therefore, we did, too. She was surrounded by those she loved—her son & daughter-in-law, her baby sister, one of her six granddaughters & her husband, and an uncharacteristically quiet nephew donning an Hawaiian shirt that could be heard across the street. She was always one to think of others. She would place the comfort and wants of another ahead of her own. That’s why it is particularly fitting that her final act of coherence was to tell each of us, “I love you.” Once again, she did it her own way. The best way.

Her funeral service was held two days before Christmas in the church she loved nearly as much as her own home. Again, her command of doing things “just so” was fully evident. The sanctuary was decked out in full Christmas Pageantry. The serenity and beauty literally defied description. Rows of red and white poinsettia’s lined the alter. Every single petal was perfectly poised and positioned. The lights twinkled in a silent chorus from upon high. Sunshine glistened brightly through the stain glass windows illuminating the church interior as well as its inhabitants. Everyone was bathed in 61 degree sunlight. Yes, 61 degrees in late December. Unheard of in West Virginia. Leave it to my aunt to arrange the best weather! The service and surroundings were, as she often said, “a picture… it’s just a picture.”

Admittedly, I did not focus on the service itself but, instead, the energies joining us. I know she was there — I cannot tell you how often the guest of honor will give me a review of their own funeral — so I did my best to “listen.” It was, of course, difficult. It’s hard to take a clinical approach to a passing when you have such an emotional investment. At one point, I thought, assumedly to myself, “I wonder what it’s like for her right now…”

As clear as a bell, I “heard” Aunt Ruth’s all too familiar voice. In a tone of absolute awe, she simply said, “It’s a rainbow!” I was so stunned at the clarity that I believe I actually gasped. And then I smiled. Leave it to her to give the best answer.

So, like her graham cracker pie, her attire & attitude, her outlook & outreach, Aunt Ruth is, and shall always be, the best.

Copyright © 2015, Charles A. Filius

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