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

November 21, 2015

Gabriel’s Return

GabeDanielleApplesI’ve easily read thousands of people over my years as a working medium. And, by sheer logic, I’ve connected with even more spirits. For the most part the souls I’ve encountered—both of the pulse-steady and pulse-impaired variety—have melted into one colossal blob. It’s nothing personal, I assure you. Seriously, do you remember each and every person, upright or not, that you encounter?

I always explain to my sitters that I rarely retain any information brought forth in a reading. It’s the difference between telling your own story as opposed to telling the tale of another. You recall the vivid details of your own life but only bits and pieces of the tale of another. Some highlights will stand out along the way. Something that strikes your funny bone, makes your stomach turn or even makes the hair on your neck stand on end, turn white and then fall out. Our lives are the Main Feature while everyone else’s is merely a pre-matinee trailer. I bet THAT realization makes you feel so gosh-darn special.

Don’t let this worry you. The vast majority of the ones I remember are because it’s something really funny, weird or, honestly, just plain stupid. What’s that? You want an example? Well, OK, if you insist…

I vividly recall a time when I informed a sitter, “Your father is here.”

She immediately jumped in feet first to correct me. “No, he’s not!” she exclaimed. “He’s dead!”

After a very well-timed pause, I said dryly, “How closely did you read my business card?” Trust me when I tell you she turned a shade of red that I will never forget.

I once connected with a man who passed tragically at only 50. He was engaged and already to start another chapter in his life as a married man. I felt a huge slam in my chest, the sign given to indicate a massive heart attack. I relayed this information to his fiancé. She exclaimed, “Oh, yes, he DID have a heart attack! He was sitting on the toilet and just fell over dead!”

I heard the Spirit say, “Oh, great. You had to tell him THAT, didn’t you?” At the end of the session he showed me an innocent looking item—I won’t say what—indicating it was something he loved and it meant a lot to him. I was clueless as to what he was really saying. She screamed, “Oh, my GOD! I can’t believe he’d bring THAT up!” She was laughing so hard I thought she was going to have her own coronary. The mysterious item in question, while a commonplace thing, is also slang for a very specific sex act. One, I then discovered, was a favorite in his repertoire. As she calmed herself down, her late fiancé said, “That’ll teach her to tell people I died taking a crap.” I’m not forgetting that one no matter how much I try.

So, as you can see, some stick out in my mind. There are also a few who make quite an impact on me. Not only on my career as a medium, but simply as a human being. They go beyond the call of duty to remind us of the strength of unconditional and unending love.

I have had those in Spirit assist me in readings for individuals they didn’t even know in life. They have helped the other spirits make a better connection with me. They have shown up to serve as an example of what another soul was truly about in their own life. In essence, I help them and they help me. And, of course, all connections originate from one place and for one purpose: Love.

Out of all of the Spirits I have happily encountered, I have to say that a man by the name of Gabriel has claimed a secure spot in the top five. Look up “determination” in Webster’s and you will likely find “See Gabriel” as the singular definition.

I first encountered Gabriel on a flight to Wisconsin in 2014. He literally stalked me across half the country, making his presence unmistakable time and time again. He kept piling it on until I finally found myself with his fiancé, Danielle, and her mother at one of my group demonstrations. I wrote about it all so others could absorb the experience and his powerful message. You can refresh your memory by clicking here to read it once again.

* * *

I am often directed by Spirit to purchase small trinkets and bring them to my group demonstrations. I never know who will receive the item. It is soul-ly up to “them”. I’m Spirit’s Vanna White. They turn on the light and I just reveal the letter. Fortunately, Spirit makes this very affordable by leading me to area Thrift Shops or homes of vacationing families who don’t bother turning on their security systems. They send me off on these little scavenger hunts in my hometown as well as cities and centers where I am traveling. I merely walk into the brick and mortar building and wander around until something strikes me. I am not sure how I know what to pick up. I can’t describe it any better than saying, “I just know.” I don’t get anything clairsentiently or clairvoyantly. It’s a feeling of all knowing that I personally refer to as “Clair-YuhHuh.”

My annual trek to Wisconsin has made me quite familiar with the Dime and Dollar Thrift Store, a fun little shop in Stevens Point. I know the lay of the land quite well now. If my cast-in-stone routine was any more predictable, the world would use it, and not the sun, to check their clocks. My normal route takes me through the glass door and passed the display case doubling as a checkout counter on the right. My first stop is a rack of bric-a-brac on the left. I circle it with the same dogged determination as I hover over a bin of chocolate pudding at any semi-respectful buffet.  Something will just grab my attention and I grab it in return. It’s almost as if it flashes at me, like one of those Instamatic Camera Cubes from the 70’s. I then circle off to the right to graze through any CD’s that have, for any range of reasons, found themselves there. Retreating to the back room, I swoop down on every book I can find strewn over a span of several mismatched bookshelves. Then I flip through a bin of LP’s just so I can feel really old. A walk on the wild geriatric side will bring you right back to earth whenever you’re feeling exceptionally good about yourself.

With the Bay City Rollers echoing in my head, I will meander through small electronics and kitchen accessories. Then I wrap everything up looking through a hodgepodge of tumblers and coffee mugs. I see everything from #1 TEACHER to DOLLYWOOD OR BUST spewing before me like a marquee on crack. I will then take my haul, no more than 2 or 3 items, and amble my way back to the checkout counter. A couple bucks later and I’m the temporary caretaker of the bounty until each is passed on to the intended recipient.

My latest sparing shopping spree, however, paid no attention to my well-crafted routine. Upon entering, I made an immediate sharp left and found myself immersed in a jungle of book bags, clothing and doilies. I was in foreign territory. Clothing? Really? If you know me then you know my sense of fashion makes no sense. I own two pairs of shoes for crying out loud. TWO. And I cannot, for the life of me, fathom why anyone would EVER need a third. I buy a pair of sneakers. I wear them every day so they last about a year and a few months. When they show their signs of wear-and-tear, I buy an identical pair to replace them. I own four denim long-sleeve shirts. They’re identical. Variety is not in my spice rack, lemme tell ya.

So, completely out of my element, wondering if I need a passport, I took a 360 degree view of my surroundings. I figured I was there for a reason so off I trudged into the sea of racks and hangers. Turning a corner, I spied a backpack on the floor leaning against a chrome set of shelves. This grabbed my attention because my own needs replacing. I picked it up and gave it a once-over. I placed it back on the floor while making a mental note to ponder the purchase prior to my departure.

I returned to my traditional pathway and, indeed, was lead to two items along the way. Remaining true to myself, I sought out the backpack once more. I placed my soon to be purchased items on a shelf in front of me, paying no attention to its contents, and turned my focus on the backpack once more. I picked it up and inspected it with more scrutiny. The bubble of my initial inspection burst with a deafening dose of disappointment within a few seconds. Holes, frayed straps and a cracked coating joined in a rousing harmonious chorus of the “Don’t Buy ‘Dis, Dufus” Boogie.

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I shrugged as I bent down to return it to the floor once again. In mid-bend I glanced up to see a stack of well-worn satchels staring me down. I dropped the backpack as my jaw fell open. My eyes widened as I remained frozen in the hunched over position. I then uttered the only thing an enlightened sort like myself can in a moment like this… “Well, son of a bitch.” Emblazoned in black marker across the side of a bag was the name GABRIEL. I straightened up and just laughed aloud. Of all the bags in the stack of 10 or more, only ONE had a name written on it.

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I knew Danielle was planning to attend my second group demo the next evening. I loved the fact that I already had a story for her. Sometimes Spirit just makes my job all the easier with stunts like this! I snapped a photo of the bag as I said, “Thanks, Gabe!” I then retrieved my other items from the shelf above my head. It was only then that I realized that I had placed them on top of a large crystal dish. Not just any dish, you know? It was in the shape of a heart. I picked it up and gazed into it, slack jawed. Then I heard Gabe say, in a most serious tone, “Give it to her with my love and my blessing.”

I shook my head in wonder. No matter how many times I experience moments like this, I am always blown away. There’s nothing routine about this! I nodded and said, “You got it, dude.” My California Surfer Guide sneaks out from time to time…

I take my responsibility to Spirit very seriously. Unlike many mediums, however, I manage to have a lot of fun with it. I gave Gabriel my word and that IS my bond. If my tongue happens to be firmly planted in my cheek while I carry out my welcomed obligation, then so be it. (Cue diabolical twirling of my mustache) Little did I know at the time, but I was going to have to really work a bit to pull this one off. I hate when They make me sweat.

Saturday came and went. The sold out demo was a rousing success. An evening of both healing laughter and tears brought everyone together. There was only one little hiccup in this otherwise perfect evening: Danielle was a no-show. I was quite perplexed, as was Gabriel, I’m sure. Danielle’s punctuality was never questioned. If she said she was going to be there, she was going to be there. She may burst through the door at the last second but, by Golly, she was THERE. But not this time. Once I returned to my lodging, I emailed her just to ensure all was well. The email went unanswered. So, I lugged her heart to my next group demonstration. Again, she didn’t show up. I drove to my home away from home, entered my room and was immediately greeted by Gabriel’s tell-tale cigarette smoke. “Dude,” I said aloud, “Get her here! I don’t know what to do!” The smoke dissipated and I finally calmed myself enough to catch some Z’s.

I took a couple of days off from my rigorous schedule to visit a dear (live) friend near Chicago. While there, I received an email from Danielle. Way to go, Gabe! Something came up at the last minute and she was unable to attend. She asked for info on my other appearances and events. She assured me that she would attend one of them.

Again, she was as visible as Big Foot. And, yes, I found myself accosted by cigarette smoke. Oh, joy. The dead are, if anything, determined…and dead. After my final group gathering, on November 3, I sent her a text asking if she could meet me for breakfast the next morning. I told her I only had one day left in town and it was imperative that I see her. I didn’t tell her, but I really didn’t want to continue my journey with this Pig-Pen cloud of smoke hovering over me the whole time. She promptly agreed to our getting together over syrup and powdered sugar at ten the next morning. I had reached the end of my patience with Gabriel’s second-world-second-hand smoke. I guess you can say I just couldn’t HACK it.

Ahem.

I snagged a table in the back of the South Point Restaurant. I love this local diner. You get a gluttonous mound of food nearly obliterating your plate from view for a price that makes you look for the Fonz in the corner. They’ve also dedicated an entire wall to the miracle of bacon. I’m on board with anyone who worships Meat Candy.

Danielle dashed in with her twinkling eyes and a smile that can make you forget ANYTHING has ever been wrong in this, or any, life. After a hug and a laugh, we scanned the menus and placed our orders (both of which would piss off any cardiologist worth their weight in lard). Once the formalities were cast aside, and I knew we wouldn’t be interrupted by a waitress hell-bent on refilling any and all containers on our table, I proceeded to the heart of the matter. I ran through the whole story. My trek to the Dime and Dollar, my diverted route inside, the backpack. Everything. Her doe-like eyes widened even more when I showed her the photo of Gabriel’s bag (I honestly didn’t think they COULD get any wider!). Then I saw the very same windows of her soul glisten slightly when I handed her the crystal heart. I didn’t permit my gaze to linger beyond a cursory glance. That was their moment, just between them.

GabeDanielle01aShe sat there, looking at it, running her fingers around the edge, retracing the shape in her own heart. Then she smiled. She looked up at me and said, “You have NO idea what this means.” She nodded her head slightly. “You see, I collect cut crystal exactly like this. And, in my whole collection, I don’t have anything like this one.” She held it up with her right hand and waved it slightly. “I understand the message, too. His telling me he gives his blessing…you see, I met someone. I met him ON Valentine’s Day.” She smiled again. “I’ve always said I knew Gabe sent him to me. It ALL makes sense.” She returned her smiling eyes to the crystal heart and, for a moment, to Gabriel. And I haven’t smelled his smoke since.

Again, we don’t die. And, logic tells us, that if WE don’t die then our love certainly can’t, either. For whatever reason, Gabriel chose me. He sought me out and entrusted me, of all people, to help him help his lady love. He has an open-door policy with me. This sort of access is my equivalent of joining the Five-Timer’s Club on SNL. He has joined the ranks of other Spirits that I hold near and dear. I’ve never met any of them in the physical but I sure feel like I know them now. Gabriel is now hobnobbing with Jason, Alex, David and, my forever #1 gal, Dana. They have all allowed me to observe such perfect examples of unending love and I am grateful beyond words. And I cannot think of a better time to acknowledge that gratitude as Thanksgiving approaches.

Take a moment to acknowledge the loves in your life, both here and there. They never leave us. As long as there is love there is that eternal connection. Send them your prayers, your gratitude, your hugs, your laughter, your high-fives. Express it in any way you want and it IS received with open arms and crystal hearts.

It’s an honor, Gabe. Truly an honor. And I thank you.

 

Copyright © 2015 C A Filius, All Rights Reserved

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

November 20, 2014

The Impact of Brevity

Filed under: Uncategorized — cfilius @ 6:04 am
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On November 19, 1968, my mother, her friend Madeline and I were out for the day. Well, they were out and about for the day and I was dragged along because, like any 7 year old, I had no choice in the matter. The M&M’s, Mom & Madeline, sat on the front seat of Mom’s white Chevy Impala, with my mother’s usual death grip on the steering wheel. I lodged myself just below the lone radio speaker awkwardly implanted in the middle of the back seat. Every time she’d hit a pothole the back of my head would bounce on the hard plastic speaker casing and I would just giggle to myself. That explains a lot if you think about it… I wasn’t wearing a seat belt because it was the 60’s and seat belts were more decorative than anything else in those days. It was a unique era. Smoking was still oh-so-very-cool, cat-eye glasses were all the rage, Adorn Hair Spray was best bought in bulk and seat belts were just a quaint fad that would go, one would assume, the way of Stretch Armstrong and the Kodak Flash Cube. Jeez, I’m showing my age.

ANYWAY…

For whatever reason, we ended up at the home of friends of Madeline’s. The Kniceley clan consisted of a husband, wife, and a passel of kids. The husband worked the night shift as a coal miner at the Farmington Number 9 Mine. I played with the other kids as Mrs. Kniceley played hostess to Madeline and my mom. At one point, while nursing a glass of milk, I walked into the family living room and saw Mr. Kniceley resting on the sofa. The TV was on but he wasn’t facing it. He was dressed in his work clothes, his feet clad in heavy light colored socks, and his work boots were placed neatly on the floor by the plaid sofa. He lifted his head, smiled and said, “Hi” to me. I responded in same and toddled out of the room. I was clearly the same engaging conversationalist at that age as I am now…

One of the Kniceley kids, over the course of the evening, gave me a silly football player doll-like-thing. It was about 9” tall, FarmingtonFootballlean & lanky with totally flat feet. It was encased in a soft cloth uniform supported by a flimsy internal wire skeletal frame which allowed me to bend him into absurd positions, sort of like Gumby. It couldn’t stand on its own. I don’t even remember why they gave it to me. I assume they found it as useless as I did, so they dumped it onto some unsuspecting kid.

In the early hours of the next day, November 20, the Farmington #9 Mine blew up. It was worst mine disaster in the state and one of the worst in the country. The explosion was felt where I lived, in a town about 12 miles away. I remember our house shaking in the wake of the blast, the windows rattling in unison. 99 miners were initially inside. They managed to rescue 21 but 78 were lost. Mr. Kniceley was one of those who perished. This tragedy occurred in 1968 but his body was not recovered until 1972. There are approximately 19 still entombed in the old shafts.

I still have that football player doll. I would never want to part with it. That moment in time truly hit me hard. I only saw the man for a brief minute but I can still remember him in vivid detail. Whenever I hear of a mine disaster anywhere in the world my mind flashes back to that night and that man. The speed in which a life can be taken is a solemn reminder of the brevity of it all. Life can be staggering and overwhelming at times. No doubt about that. We have to remember that, no matter what, life is a precious gift. It may not always seem that way, of course. There are days when you’re handed a stupid football figure but, when some time passes, you realize it can still be cherished even among the tragedies. My recommendation? Embrace it all.

KniceleyTombstonePhoto courtesy of Katina Peters

Copyright © 2014, Charles A. Filius

September 11, 2014

Even In the Darkest Times We Will Shine Through

Filed under: spirituality — cfilius @ 3:26 pm
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Copyright © 2001, Charles A. Filius

You will always remember where you were on that September morning more than a decade ago. That morning when all of our lives changed. The maddening range of emotions, the realization of the devastation, the quiet mourning both public and private.

As the anniversary approaches it is truly safe to say that emotions are running high. It’s hard not to experience the need to reflect on what has happened over the past decade, not only as citizens of the world but in our own personal lives as well. As I hear all of the stories regarding the events of 9/11 I can’t help but wonder about those that we are NOT hearing. We hear reports of the phone calls to loved ones with a final “I love you.” How do you sum up so much passion in a few short moments filled with uncertainty and fear? Why do we sometimes only return to a place of love when we face some form of finality?

What about those that did not get that last comforting message? Take a moment to think about the ones who, sadly, had cross words with a loved one prior to that morning or the individual whose last words were merely routine and indifferent. “Don’t forget to pick up milk on your way home.”

So many times we forget to let our loved ones know what they mean to us; how we cherish them in our lives and the fact their voice can be as sacred to us as their touch. How often do you whisk out of a room or end a telephone call with a habitual, “Later!” We assume we will be seeing that person again. September 11, 2001, made us realize that that isn’t always the case.

Not on this level of existence anyway…

This thought pattern lead me to a note written to me several years ago by a past love. Although written well over 20 years ago I find it most fitting considering the circumstances and I want to share it with you now. I hope she doesn’t mind…

“My soul needs to see you, to hear your words, feel your touch. It’s been a lifetime since we’ve exchanged voices. Come to me; find me and tell me you are thinking of me just one more time.”

Don’t let a lifetime pass between exchanges. Cherish those you love and make sure they know it. And, never, under any circumstance, ever lose your humanity.

God Bless the World. No Exceptions.

Peace.

 

 

“We think too much and feel too little.
More than machinery we need humanity.
More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.
Without those qualities life will be violent and all will be lost.”

– Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin

September 7, 2013

Carved In Stone

ImageI have always had a love of cemeteries. If you know me, even slightly, then you know this little personal morsel. As a child, I would spy a graveyard from the confines of my grandfather’s Buick and demand he stop the car so I could check it out. He would say, “But we don’t know anyone buried there!” Oh, please. Like that was a credible reason. And, of course, he wouldn’t stop. Grownups just didn’t get me. To this day, if I spot a cemetery along any given route, I will stop and wander through for a bit. I cannot pinpoint my fixation to any solitary thing. I find them comforting and peaceful as well as just plain fascinating. Each and every resting place serves as slivers of living—pardon the fully intentional pun—history, brief glimpses into people you may not know but yet share a common element: mourning a loss. The grave often gives us a chance to reflect upon and celebrate the life of the person interred. I experience such warmth when I spot graves that are brightly decorated, often with random, yet very personal, bits and pieces.

I have seen final resting places decorated with everything from margarita glasses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to bottles of India Ink and cow-themed wind chimes. I’ve seen the small grave of a little one gone too soon blanketed with an array of their beloved toys. A grandfather’s love of fishing was easily proven with a rod & reel attached to his headstone. The woman whose blatant love of casinos was shared in an epitaph, chiseled forever in granite, for all to see: ‘I’d rather be in Vegas.’ Tears of sadness and joy, mixed together, simultaneously grasping the loss while finding comfort in what made each person unique. How do you wish to be remembered? Words or actions? Collections or recollections? I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that I have a thought or two for my own…

Robert, my Master Guide, once described the physical life as a yardstick (apologies to my metric fans out there). “One’s life covers allllll this space,” he said, spreading his hands over the full three foot span. “And yet, when one has passed, so many only focus on this tiny sliver,” he continued indicating the very end of the stick. “All that was measured prior cannot be forgotten. Do not permit the grief to block out the true evidence of the life lived and shared. It is all measured.”

I understand the pain of loss. We all do. It is inevitable. And, frankly, you need to mourn, to grieve. Sadness, just as joy, is vital to the human experience. You cannot raise yourself above it for it is part of what makes you human. While the initial loss can be devastating we can often find comfort in the memories, allllll those other moments that filled the space prior to death, as Robert pointed out. While I deeply mourned the loss of a dear friend, I find myself, time and time again, recalling our last Thanksgiving together. It was nothing short of a modern retelling of a classic 1930’s screwball comedy. That memory alone has carried me through some rough patches.

I find that Spirit often utilizes humor in their communications with us. Recalling a funny incident, relaying a comment that is “just so like them.” It not only gives you evidence of their continued existence, but it also gives you inspiration to heal, move forward, and smile as you think about them. Some believe dealings with Spirit are to be solemn proceedings; void of what I feel is the true human touch. Sorry, but I disagree. As noted psychic Hans Christian King has said, “They’re not deity’s people. They’re just plain folk.” Respond to them now as you did when they were here: with love and laughter.

“There is no moment or memory that is too small. Just take the time to allow the light to shine divinely and watch it all grow within your heart, your soul. This light will surely enhance even the smallest of gardens, providing you with shade and comfort from this day onward.”

– Robert

Copyright © 2013, Charles A. Filius

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