Family: Just a dinner table away.

A rare respite on a warm Saturday night. Seems so easy right now but I can’t for the life of me figure out why I don’t sit in the cul-de-sac and write more often. Girl is riding her scooter, Milo T Dog is at my feet, my long lost friend Diet Coke is losing it’s battle with the melting ice. We’re approaching some sort of Norman Rockwell worm hole.

Of course it’s not like the heyday of the Sac. Those were the lazy hazy nights, and some mornings, as we sat out in the darkness night-drinking, fixing American politics and Tennessee Football. That gang is gone now but we have to start anew at some point.

Americana in the South.

So today, at the precipice of the dog days of August, I decided was the day to take a seat and fire off something that’s been buzzing in my head since an old friend passed through town not too long ago.

I’m gonna ask your forgiveness for this obvious point, family is a great thing. A lot of you are aware I had a huge family growing up. And still do. Holidays were great. They still would be if not for the almost 700 miles separation between me and my family in Jersey. I love living in Knoxville but there are time’s I’d rather be in South Jersey. But it’s tough to complain. I’ve been spoiled my whole life. I grew up with seven brothers and sisters. My mom hasn’t skipped a beat and my father lived into his late 80s, sharp as a tack until the moment of truth.

I was born into another big family when we decided to settle in Knoxville and raise our kids there. Staying in the Sac has been one of the better decisions I’ve made. Lifelong friendships have been forged on those weekend nights in the street. But like all things, change is inevitable. Several Sac-ites have moved off, and now my forever Friday golf partner is moving to Arizona to run a church.

Honestly my first thought was how much I’d miss him. A millisecond later my next thought was how great the golfing in Arizona is and when am I slated to visit Amarillo for work again. Arizona is just a quick plane ride from the Panhandle. And I know John would be disappointed in me if I thought otherwise. And a big thanks to those of you who have reached out to check on me. I’m fine. And as John and I both agreed a long time ago, if one of us died on a Monday the other would still tee it up that Friday. And while I’m aware people will not believe this, it’s not the golf. The lunch at Soccer Taco after or the breakfast at Waffle House when we get rained out that makes the Friday meet up so enjoyable. Tough to quantify the last nine or so years breaking bread with the same dude every Friday.

And of course I lucked out again with my work family. New members are added almost daily it seems these days. And as the family “down the plant” gets bigger, and the lunch table more crowded, it keeps getting better. Like I said, spoiled rotten for as long as I can remember.

But the family roaming around my thoughts right now is my military family. Normally I’d say Air Force but now after 22 years in and almost nine retired, it occurred to me my military family not only spans different branches, it spans different countries. Hey Bernie, Go Les Habitants! I’ve been spoiled there too. Not just with great lifelong friendships but with great mentors.

I named four friends/mentors in the bio of this blog. Click on my name next to the link that says Home and you can read about them. A person could not dream up a better start to their military career than I had. That continued on during my time at the NCO Academy. I have no idea why I was granted such advantages, but I was and I’m a better person for it. I can’t imagine the giant ass I would have become without those family members in my life.

Well, yes I can.

Part of that family rolled through Knoxville a week or so ago and immediately extended an invite to dinner to catch up. I had not seen Chief Joseph E Thornell, or JET and his wife Kerry, in a long while. He was the commandant I served under the longest when I was an instructor at the NCO Academy. To this day I cannot call him Joe. Regardless of differences in opinion he will always be my commandant and will always be Chief to me. But more importantly he and Kerry will always be family.

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Birthday time for the then unknown Warden.

In Jersey my whole family spent hours around the dinning room table. That’s where life happened. Witness the birthday of my youngest sister. You may know her by her given name Kathleen. But those special few know her by her real name, The Warden.

That’s me wearing a white belt on November 30th. I was a fashion risk taker even back then. I’m also sub-consciously flipping the bird. The verbalization of that gesture has become the foundation of my vocabulary.

Anyway the point is family’s just don’t eat. They break bread. They commune. The commiserate. The food is so secondary. What’s special about that space in the picture is no matter how old we got, no matter how far we moved away,  when we came to visit we gathered there.

Last Friday I met Chief Thornell and Kerry and some other old friends from my Academy days and we sat ourselves down at the dinner table. Now that table was in Calhoun’s, a restaurant in Maryville TN, but dinner is where the food is.  And family is where the dinner is.

Chief JET

Sorry Chief, still can’t call you Joe.

It was like the years since we’d seen each other never happened. We told old war stories to be sure, but the bonds between all of us showed no signs of time or distance. It seemed to me as I drove home thinking about all of that and paying zero attention to the road, sorry lady at the Kroger intersection, real family is like that.

Time is different for family. Time doesn’t have the same impact, it doesn’t move in the same way. It’s not linear. Time in familial bonds happens all at the same time regardless of distance and frequency. And then time restarts when that family sits down to eat. In fact if it wasn’t for the gray, and or lack of, hair there would be no sign that time had passed between any of us.

The restaurant itself had changed over time. Chief was quick to point out we had all gone to a lunch in this joint way back when it was a Ruby Tuesdays. I remember it as the site where part of my family, who will remain anonymous, Hupp, Stoudt, and Kumes, bet I could not take down the deluxe ice cream cake sundae on the menu. It was the kind that came with four spoons. I said, “Remove the other three my good man as I will be doing desert alone this afternoon.” That was a situation where winning quickly became losing.

Chief Davidson

Chief Davidson on my right. Ramey on my left. Family.

It must be the dinner table. Maybe it’s a time machine that turns back the clock when family members gather round. Honestly the conversation wasn’t even that profound. But the visit with Chief JET and Chief Davidson, my last commandant, and some of the gang from the academy, left me with a feeling of wonder on the ride home. I have been spoiled with some great families in my life time.

Ironically this little weepy screed is the product of time. Surely my age has left me to take stock of my life lived so far. I’m only 50 so I have no designs on the big dirt nap yet. But enough time has passed to take stock of what life has been so far. And so far, no matter where I’ve lived or served, it’s been dinner tables and family.

As far as life goes, that’s not too shabby.

 

 

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You’re throwing out my best work!

I knew it would catch up to me sometime. Honestly I thought it would be him to catch me and not her. She just seemed so indifferent about it all anyway. I really didn’t think she’d care. She never showed much interest at all as far as I could tell. So her reaction was a little surprising.

No matter. The deed was done and I was caught red handed. Not much to say at this point. Her reaction is really the least of the concerns. It’s a trust issue now. The sideways glances and the constant wondering will be my punishment.

Funny really, it’s been going on for some time, a few years at least. But it’s the same old story. I got complacent, got lazy, too comfortable. Let my guard down and I got busted plain and simple. Obviously the relationship will never be the same. My only hope is she’s not damaged from this.

I can tell you it will be a moment I will never forget. The sadness on her face, the slumped shoulders and that phrase that keeps replaying in my mind over and over and over again. “Daddy! You’re throwing out my best work!”

I’m not sure what was worse, the tears welling up in her eyes as if to say How could you do that? Or her feeble attempt to rescue some of her work from the trash, clutching it like a strung out former Disney artist trying to get past the gate guard with some sketches she did on a cocktail napkin, hoping for one last shot.

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This one is safe!

Yeah I’m not proud of throwing out her completed school work. And I owe an apology to her teacher Mrs Givens and her pre-school teachers. They put in the work to get AM to this point. But really, if I’m being honest, I’m more disappointed I got caught.

You know it’s really just a pragmatic thing. Where the hell are we supposed to store every macaroni art or penmanship paper with upper and lower case Ks written on them? Well? Where do you keep it all? You know you’re glad it was me and not you. You all are secretly agreeing with me as you publicly judge.

Look it’s not like she’s dropping the first act of Othello or something. She had to pick four words that started with the letter K and then draw each word. One of the words she picked was Kind. Kind! I asked her how in the world was she was going to draw Kind. Well, screw me cause she did it. And it was good. So yeah it was a great effort, and vitally important to her development. But lets not get crazy, they aren’t clearing room on the roof of the Sistine Chapel for it.

But for the next few days, after she came home from school, she glanced in the kitchen trash can before putting up her backpack. I know it’s not funny but it made me laugh for some reason. Yeah, I’m a chooch. That ain’t exactly breaking news.

So now I burn them in the fire pit.

Haha just kidding. No really, now we have storage boxes, unused, pure as the driven snow, kept as secure as any repository could be, to preserve her works of art and penmanship. I’m now reformed and a new mission has risen from the trash heap as it were.

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Treasures

When we move from this house or I go to the eternal dirt nap that comes for us all, very large trucks will deliver all the boxes that will have kept me from having my own man cave. In my dream, the trucks drive in formation while some weird old time show tune plays in the background.

They pull up to wherever Anne Marie is living, preferably a 3rd floor walk up in Manhattan. The drivers, festooned in the garb of their profession, will move quickly and quietly in perfect unison, much like the Marine Corp Silent Drill Team.

And if there is a God in heaven, the first boxes will break the plane of Anne Marie’s apartment threshold just as her five year old is blasting her for 86ing that newly created Rembrandt, crafted on finger paint day.

The first box will have a note on top that will simply read, “AM: This is why.” And in that moment, as box after box parades into her living space to the back hallway between the kitchen and the guest can, a revelation. A true moment of self reflection in which my little Anne Marie, all grown up with Anne Marie’s of her own, will say the same thing I say now about my old man: The older I get the smarter he gets.

Twas ever thus.

 

50 Years a Memory: Treasures from the Attic

As I may have mentioned, the house I grew up in, the house that was built for us 50 years ago this past July, is on the market. My mom is moving out after the death of my father in 2015 and it’s time to clean the place out. I may also have mentioned we are the only people to ever live in that house and we have accumulated 50 years worth of “stuff”. Well the work has begun and actually nearing its end. My little sister, aka The Warden, is running the show. Sometimes 660 miles is a good distance.

Not gonna lie, the thought of all that work makes me tired. I sheepishly have to admit I have the best of both worlds. I am doing none of the work but getting a lot of the stories and pictures of the stuff they find as la mia famiglia work through 50 years of stuff stuffed into two attics. Here is one of the treasures they found.

Yeah you can say it, I was adorable.

That’s me, your humble author, spring of 1972 I think. Had to be cowboy day in kindergarten or something. I know it’s not first grade. I was sentenced to eight years at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic school for grades 1-8. Hence I would have been in uniform or some type of prison togs or what have you.

That picture, as it turns out was the tip of the iceberg. I really never considered what documents or photos they might find. The bulk of the conversation always centered around the big orange tractor pictured two stories ago, the massive above ground pool filter that favored a small fission reactor, and a conspiracy laced theory that my parents had just tossed my brother’s, now worth a small fortune, collection of baseball cards from their youth in the small downstairs attic. Since their youth occurred in the 1960s there may be some good cards in the pile. Probably gonna be a Capone’s vault type of thing but it’s a fun story.

Micky Mantle’s rookie card aside there was some finds of more significance , at least in my mind. My brother has always had a nose for politics and we have great conversations every time he rolls through Knoxville. Now I know why that is.

A little highbrow but it gets the message across.

Behold, historical documents from his first campaign for public office. Not sure of the date on this but campaign budgets were clearly a little tight then. It’s also unclear from the historical documents recovered from what I believe is the upstairs attic dig, of exactly what the outcome was. There was no evidence of a reelection campaign so I think it’s safe to assume this particular bid at public service went begging.

Maybe one of my sisters or even The Man himself will clarify that and what exactly the Office of Chairman was. Keep in mind what we know about politics now was completely different back then. For all we know Chairman might be Class President. Or it could be chief chalk eraser clapper/cleaner. Hard to say.

There were some other good finds in those attics. At the risk of breaking my arm as I pat myself on the back, here is some evidence of where my love of reading comes from. My kids both howled at this when I explained the play on words. But it was a timely find as Frank is starting to learn the importance of reading well. Not just because it’s smart to do so, but because reading is the key to being good at math and science, two of his favorite subjects currently.

Some subtle irony there if you can see it.

If I remember correctly 1978 would have been 5th grade for me. I do remember my teacher, Mrs Fisher. Even at the rip old age of nine years old I thought she was cute as a button. She was the teacher who figured out I needed glasses. My grades predictably went up from that point. Mrs Fisher was a cool teacher and a large part of my roaring success with reading. Scanning the landscape of Frank’s, and now Anne Marie’s grade school, I take comfort in how many Mrs Fishers I see waiting for them as they progress. Lot of memories in that little card.

Some other cool finds were my dad’s duffle bag and nap sack from his time in the Army. My sister’s leg brace that she wore for a s long as I can remember when we were kids was unearthed. Of course there were more pictures and other things. Mostly more memories.

Here are a few of the pics recovered from the operation.:

That’s us. Must be 1980ish in our living room.

Three generations – one house.

That last one was not found in the attic. That’s just a shot of my Frank and his grandfather Frank, Poppy as they called him. Both with the official name of Francis. Summer of 2010 I think. So if you’re keeping score that’s three generations of Francis’s in our dinning room.

The other pic was clearly found in the attic. That’s the eight of us with our parents in 1981/82 maybe. Not sure the occasion but we are lined up for some reason in our living room at the time.

Final memory from the attic in the only house we ever knew.

Birthday time for the then unknown Warden.

That shot is my childhood. All of us around the dinning room table. The warden was having a birthday. So it’s November 1975 maybe. That’s me sporting the white belt after labor Day. Always the risk taker.

Brace yourself, I’m going nostalgic. Birthdays for us happened around that table. Period. Granted with 8 of us we had a built in party, but the dining room table was our spot. All those trips back to Jersey since I’ve moved to Knoxville end up in that room, sitting around the table telling stories or making fun of someone. Well at least they did. Someone else will get to sit there now. Maybe for another 50 years.

Imagine the stories they’ll share.