A Memory

I have very few full sensory memories.  You know the kind:  a memory so vivid, decades later you can still see, feel, smell, hear and taste everything about it. 

Most of the ones I have are related to various traumas, things like fires and death and trucks hauling away possessions because of bankruptcy.  There are happy ones, too – it doesn’t matter that we lost the videotapes of when the kids came off their respective  planes from Korea…the memory is as fresh in my mind as the day it happened.

But one of my most vivid memories is of a winter Saturday many, many years ago. The situation was neither ecstatic or traumatic.  In fact, it was kind of mundane.  Yet, the memory has been popping into my head with regularity lately. 

I was, I think, around 10.  My dad had taken me with him to work.  Many times, during the boom times, his work would carry over into the weekend.  Looking back with the knowledge of a harried parent, I realize that my folks probably had a “childcare situation” that weekend. 

Regardless, I was there at the small machine shop my dad had worked at his entire adult life (in the end, it was almost 40 years).  There were a few other men there as well, but the place felt empty.  It was, really, a big, open warehouse.  It was cold – I remember the place had little heating or air conditioning, if it had anything at all. 

I remember the sounds: WSM played in the background, and at the time my dad HATED country music.  Mixed in were the loud sounds of lathes and grinders and machines being tested.  Every now and then, a curse word would waft around the cavernous building when a machinist made a mistake.

I remember seeing huge stacks of metal beams against one wall.  I remember trying to lift just one side of a single beam, and realizing where my dad’s muscles came from.  There was the small office where the same secretary had worked as long as I could remember. 

When the lathe was running, it was hard not to get a metallic taste in your mouth.

And I really remember a certain smell.  It is fixed in my mind because I have not encountered it since.  It was an odd combination of grease and welding smoke, and the particles that drift into the air when a piece of metal is on the lathe or the milling machine, and stale coffee and cigarettes.

It’s so weird.  35 years later, and I can still smell it like I was there.

I remember being fascinated by what my dad did, and how the other men looked to my father with professional respect, even though looking back, I realize he was not quite 30 yet.  My dad was a very, very good machinist.  Other good machinists could work to tiny tolerances.  Dad could get you to somewhere about .10 mm.  

But, his hands were callused and had been injured more times than any of us could count.  There were many times my dad went to the emergency room because he had run a file or other object through his hand.

He loved it.  He hated it.

And there I was, an impressionable young buck, just watching him work.  The day passed quickly (I think it was a half day), then, we got some lunch (a treat in the days before drive-thrus) and went home.

I did not know at the time that his trade, machining by hand, was dying off.  CNC was already taking over the industry.  I don’t know how my dad’s employer hung on as long as they did (they finally folded in 2000).  I know they had some good men working for them, though.

Memories of that day often come into my mind when I least expect it.

My own kids are junior high age, an age where things like class and station seem like life and death issues.  They are going through many of the things I did at the time.  Most of their peers are the children of professionals: doctors, lawyers, leaders of business, with a country star or two thrown in.

I know they look at me and the life I’ve given them, and find it lacking.  It is a kind of cosmic justice, because I did the same at that age.  I thought my dad was pretty smart for what he did, but real smart people, in my mind, were lawyers and politicians and the kind of people you saw on TV. 

Certainly, they didn’t have working class southern accents or wear shirts with their first name stitched onto a badge.

So, I set out to become one of those people I thought were “smart”.  I took Latin, and joined the debate team and purged my southern accent. 

The latter is one of the few regrets I have in life.

It wasn’t until later, when struggling with a tricky trigonometry problem for well over an hour – my dad overheard my fretting, and immediately did the problem in his head.  He had, and still has, genius in him, but I had so limited my definition of “smart”, I couldn’t see it.

It was later, upon reflection of all of this, that I decided that my one of my missions in life was to find the genius in every person I met.  Let me tell you, if you get to know a person and cannot find their genius, you haven’t looked hard enough.  I have found it in dishwashers and in prisoners.  I’ve even found it in a couple of lawyers I know.

I am convinced that our society’s definition of “smart” is far too limited.  I see it in snarky blog comments about misspelled protest signs, as if mastery of the English language is the only indicator of intelligence which allows the bearer to be worthy of having a say in the ordering of his own life.  I see it in the devaluation of honest work; any job that requires less than a college degree is called a “sh*t job”, and those who work in “trades” or other non-professional jobs are considered victims or unworthy rednecks.

Every time some snotty blogger insults a working class person who dares to ask for a seat at the table and common respect on his own terms, I think of my father, and how my repudiation of him hurt him, and how sorry I am for that time in our relationship.

It’s weird how it all catches up with you, though.  I didn’t become a lawyer, as I had planned.  I ended up becoming a computer programmer, which is my own generation’s version of a skilled trade.  Oftentimes, when complaining about software architects who have given me specifications that I instinctively know will not work, I catch myself saying some of the exact things my dad used to say about engineers.

There is a certain peace in that, knowing your place in the world, and how it fits with where you came from, and being proud of it.

Things I Remember Life Before

You know that survey someone releases every year, focusing on that year’s incoming freshmen and the world they grew up in? It has entries like they “have never known life without DVDs” or something like that.

Well, since I am feeling my years,I thought it would be neat to list the things that are commonplace now that I remember life without.  This should freak out the youngins.  Many of these things MIGHT have existed when I was little, their usage just wasn’t widespread enough for me to remember it. 

I remember life before:

  • DVDs (and their players)  Heck, videocassettes came and went in my youth.
  • CDs
  • Microwaves (we warmed stuff up on the stove).  Popcorn was either popped in a large saucepan, or if you were lucky, Jiffy Pop.
  • Cable TV.  You watched something on the big three (Fox didn’t exist, and PBS – I don’t even think it was called that back then – was for Grandpa).
  • Unleaded gasoline.
  • Cell phones
  • Drip coffee makers (I remember when Joe DiMaggio introduced the first Mr Coffee in the 70’s). Every now and again you can catch me calling it a “peculator”.
  • Airbags
  • Remote controls (I remember some of the first ones.  They call it the “clicker” because at one time remote controls actually clicked.  The child’s job in the 70’swas to get up and change the channel.  Or hold the rabbit ears in that perfect spot to get a reception)
  • Laptops.
  • Whoops, I remember life without home computers.  (Oh, how I loved the TRS-80 and TI-99a when they came out!)
  • Auto emissions standards.
  • The Chzek Republic, a single country called “Germany”, Kazakhstan and any number of independent nations that were founded or re-founded after the Soviet Union fell.
  • Cordless phones.
  • The southern Auto Industry
  • Working class southern people who vote Republican.
  • Rich elites who aren’t Kennedys who vote Democrat.
  • FM Radio (OK, that’s not totally true.  But in the early 70’s, NOBODY listened to FM that I knew of.  All the best stations  – WSM, WLAC, WMAK, WVOL, etc were on AM.
  • MRIs.  If you got hurt, you got an X-Ray.
  • Israel and Egypt at peace.
  • The Opry House.  Shoot, Opryland was another thing that came and went.
  • Jeans in church 🙂
  • Drums and guitars in church (that was for those “holy rollers” as my dad called them)
  • WalMart (at least in Nashville)

Anyway, that’s a good start.  I’m sure some of you other oldsters could come up with more.  Sometimes, when I tell my kids about my childhood, to them it’s like I lived in a cave or something.

Passing of a Nashville Jewel

001

I was horribly saddened to hear about the passing of a family friend, Elizabeth Limor.  I do not know if the Tennessean will have a story eulogizing this incredible woman, but if not, shame on them.  She and her family have been pillars of the Nashville community for years upon years.  To give yourself a little background, I would strongly recommend reading her story as a holocaust survivor.  Others can, and should expound on her memoirs and life story.

I’d like to take a moment, though, to tell how much she meant to me and my family on a more personal level.

Like so many of our friendships, this one came about because Mrs Limor was a patient of Lintilla’s.  Of course, Lintilla hits it off with everyone, plus they also had a personal connection.  Lintilla’s mother was a teacher with the Temple playschool for 13 years and Lintilla spent a few years assisting her.  It just so happened that one of the children that she worked with was one of Mrs. Limor’s grandsons. 

A few years later, Lintilla was working at a rehabilitation facility and encountered Mrs. Limor as a patient.   Needless to say, a bond was made and they remained friends.  Also, as you can see in the photo above, my son stole Elizabeth’s heart (pictured with another former patient of Lintilla’s and good friend of Mrs. Limor’s, Mrs. Inge L.).

Since Lintilla keeps in touch with all of her patients, she was quite pleased when Mrs Limor moved into a community right across the street from our house, literally within walking distance.  This started some wonderful days of visits – Mrs Limor was always generous in inviting our family to her home.  She made the most wonderful dinners (it was here that I discovered that I loved blintzes), and let the kids play with her overflowing supply of stuffed animals (kept, no doubt, to entertain her grandchildren and great-grandchildren).

She was always quick with advice, and although sometimes I had trouble deciphering her still thick accent, the meaning of what she was telling us was never lost.  She gave us signed copies of her book; after reading it, I decided she was the toughest (strongest) person I’d ever met, vowed to quit complaining about how rough I have it (I fail miserably sometimes).   I regret that we lost that book in our house fire and would love to have another copy.

It’s hard to express the gratitude I have to Mrs Limor; she was a grandmotherly figure to my kids when they most needed it.  We are all better off, having known her.

There is a wonderful entry in the online guestbook in memoriam for Mrs Limor.  It says, “Elizabeth loved to collect people. I am honored to be part of her collection. She will always live in my heart.”  This says it better than I could.

Lintilla and I would like to offer our sincerest condolences to Mrs Limor’s family.  She will be missed.

Feel Good Friday: Two Birds With One Stone

I like this one, not only because I can get all nostalgic about 9th grade, but because you youngins’ who came of age in the early 90’s can get all nostalgic for your ‘Reality Bites’ days.

I hate to tell you this, kiddos, but we are approaching 20 year milestones for all the early 90’s events.  Wow.  Not to mention the fact that this song is approaching 30 years old.  Still rocks, though.  My only regret is that this is the “short guitar solo” version.

Anyway, have fun!

Have A Drink There, Big Fella

Lintilla and I have always personalized our marriage – meaning we treat it as if it were a person.  And, in a way, it is.  That is, our marriage is MUCH stronger, more resilient,  and interesting than just the sum of us.  It’s hard to explain, but I believe that other long-marrieds understand what I’m talking about.

We’ve watched it grow – we celebrated when it was old enough to be in a big-boy bed, when it reached kindergarten age, when it was old enough to ride most of the rides at Disney World, when it could drive, when it reached the age that it could serve its country.

Well, as of today, our marriage is old enough to have a drink in all 50 states.  21 years.  Party on, dude! (Or babe – our marriage is really gender-neutral, especially considering how gender-bending the two of us are).

Our anniversaries are usually quite low-key in between the “5” years.  So, we may not even go out to eat tonight (if we don’t I’m making those empanadas I told you about).  I’ll run out and get Lintilla a little something later today.  It’s not that I forgot our anniversary, it’s that we’ve really been too busy to shop for each other.

I do love that woman so.  She has been under the gun lately – uterine cancer, full hysterectomy, ineligible for hormone therapy – meaning those wonderful menopause symptoms are twice as bad, kidney cancer (and a doctor who seems in no hurry to take the tumor out, causing Lintilla much distress), and the latest thing – her joints have just about stopped working.  The doc is going to check her for rheumatoid arthritis.

Through it all, she’s kept her marvelous sense of humor and determination.  She is my inspiration.

Just a quick Lintilla story, to highlight one of the myriad things I love about her.

The hospice she works for recently had a “trouble” patient.  He would not cooperate, he was grouchy all the time, and just downright mean.  Somehow, Lintilla ended up (after several others had tried) with him as a patient.  And at first, he was awful to her as well.  He was an older man, suffering from partial dementia, and wasn’t all “there”.

She asked the family about him; she wanted to know what he had done when he was younger.  Through their conversations, she discovered that the man had been a marine for most of his life.  So, the next time she cared for him, Lintilla changed her tone.  She barked orders at him (in a firm, but nice way) as if she were his commanding officer.

The change in the man was stunning.  He cooperated fully, and started calling Lintilla “sir”.  (Lintilla also called him “sir” – she isn’t very familiar with military protocol).  From then on, he looked forward to Lintilla’s visits.  He mixed up in his mind who he was talking to – a rough officer or a caring female.  He would answer to the orders “Yes, sir!  Right away, sir!  Love you, sir!”

It’s such a sweet story, and only one of so many she can tell. 

I count it the greatest of blessings that a bum like me could snag such a beautiful prize.  Happy anniversary, Lintilla!  Have a drink!

I Only Know Three Chords!

Lintilla and I were reminiscing about Cheech and Chong last night (don’t ask me why).  The kids overheard us, and wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

They’ve now discovered Ear Ache My Eye.

This really isn’t much of a video, but the audio is what’s important here.  I absolutely wore Cheech and Chong’s Wedding Album out back in the day.

Oh, Lord, I pray they don’t ever ask about Richard Pryor! I might be forced to tell them about Little Baby Feets.

The One In Rhode Island

I’m thinking about starting a series of posts defending things that are popular in the real world, yet unpopular in the world of personal blogs.  I swear, there seems to be an incredible peer pressure amongst bloggers to present ourselves as mysterious, tortured geniuses.  I don’t know how else to explain the automatic hatred of anything embraced by the masses (WalMart, Olive Garden), or anything “bubbly”, like Rachel Ray, Kathy Lee Gifford, or Barney.

If you are reading this, I’ve most likely met you in person.  Trust me, you are not the dark, snarky person you present yourself as on your blog.  That’s why I say, it’s peer pressure that causes us to act this way.

When I do get around to defending Olive Garden, I figure there will be a move afoot to bring back crucifixion. 

But for now, I’m going to turn my attention to the Eagles’ 1976 album Hotel California.  It came up on my iPod the other day, and I had to think, “Why do people hate this album so?”.  There are a few legitimate reasons, I think.  Mostly, it was the world’s first glimpse of Don Henley’s insufferable preachiness.  But, even that, in context, was pretty darned good.

This was the first album without founding member Bernie Leadon, and with Joe Walsh.  Some might say that was subtraction by addition (Walsh’s voice annoys me, too), but I think the addition of Walsh helped make the Eagles into a first rate pop-rock band.  Did you know he played organ and electric piano on New Kid In Town?  He filled in organ and synth on many of the tracks.

And, although I consider Don Felder a better guitarist than Walsh, I think together they were dynamic.  The title track really highlights the two of them.  Even with Henley’s bad-poetry lyrics, the song rocks.  I have a soft spot for it because it’s the first song I ever learned to play in B minor.

New Kid in Town has that JD Souther feel to it (co written with Frey and Henley).  It had that particular Eagles style of using a wall of vocal “ahs” as strings.  This was popular at the time; for instance, most of Elton John’s recordings of the time had this same style (“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me”).  It also has that achiness of unrequited love that had worked so well in Tequilla Sunrise.

Life In the Fast Lane rocks, to this day.  It’s got a CLAV part, for cryin’ out loud!  Joe Walsh’s opening riff is easily one of the most recognizable ever recorded (behind Sweet Home Alabama) .  The lyrics are top-notch, and paint a pretty stark picture of life in SoCal in the 70’s.

Wasted Time – oh, how do I love this song?  Sometimes, Henley can turn a phrase better than anyone: 

I could have done so many things, baby
If I could only stop my mind
From wondering what I left behind
And from worryin’ bout this wasted time

Combined with that torch-song melody, it’s heart wrenching. And I love a good heart wrenching.

Victim of Love was one of the few times Henley bothered to play rock drums.  The opening, with halted symbol crashes, is probably the most rockin’ thing the Eagles ever recorded.  And I just love the line “I heard about you and that man”.  I don’t know why, it just makes me happy.

Pretty Maids All in A Row –I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think it’s one of the prettiest songs ever recorded.  Yes, Walsh’s voice is grating, but the melody (probably penned by co-writer Joe Vitale) is just beautiful.  The contrast between the verses and the middle and the chorus is perfect – just the right amount of flats to inject a sweet sadness.   The crescendo is unexpected, and beautiful.  I absolutely love this song.

Try and Love Again was Randy Meisner’s last stand.  Of all the former Eagles, he’s my favorite.  Take It To The Limit is still better, but this one is quite nice as well.

The Last Resort – OK, you either love this one or hate it.  Yes, it’s classic Henley preaching.  Yes, it’s dime store environmentalism, combined with an appalling lack of knowledge of native Americans and how their management of the land was intrusive, not passive.  Yes, it’s 7 and a half minutes long.

But, oh, that opening!  Soft piano, followed by the lyrics

She came from Providence
The one in Rhode Island
Where the Old World shadows hang heavy in the air
She packed her hopes and dreams
Like a refugee
Just as her father came across the sea.

I know it’s easy to hate Henley, but that’s good writing.  The song is filled with poetic flourish throughout.  I really love this line:

They called it Paradise,  The place to be.
They watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea.

I know it sounds hokey, but in context (the song tells a story), it’s beautiful.  Just beautiful.

When my kids want to know about the mid 70’s though pop culture, I’ll show them Rocky, a few episodes of Emergency, and have them listen to Hotel California.

What’s not to love?