Memories from a Georgia Cotton Field…

The bracken and small trees have overgrown the banks and begun to cover the top of the berm if you look closely you can still see the glint of steel tracks embedded in the coarse grass, the creosote ties have splintered and rotted no longer holding the rails in tight straight lines. The cotton fields extend on either side for hundreds of acres the red Georgia dirt baking in the late September sun – the bolls now dry and brown have split, their sharp claws clinging to the silky puffs loathe to give them up. The memories of a lonesome steam whistle mingle with the sharp cracks of the whips and the soft moans that linger in the quiet stillness of a fading afternoon.

Adelaide wipes her brow with the back of a hand, her mahogany skin’s a crisscross pattern of scars and creases never quite healed from the hundred sharp cuts the bolls inflict – the shadow of the overseer approaches and she bends back to her task hurrying forward hoping to avoid sharp sting of the leather through her thin cotton dress. She steals a glance over, Billy still lay where he had fallen, no amount of whipping was going to raise him up and they’d left him as an example to the rest of them, the men would bury him later but not now no now was for pickin’ 200 pounds didn’t come easy the second time through a field.

The green machines lumber along voraciously scavenging the white puffs in front of them, small strays play across the ground in their wake as they march forward. Along the tree line long bales wrapped tight in plastic keep the cotton from escaping, large enough to fill a tractor trailer they wait patiently for the long bed trucks to carry them onward. Gone are the picking bags, the cotton baskets at field’s end, the crack of the overseer’s whip – but the cotton remains and the soft glint of a steel track – and the memories of another day…

Author’s Note: I was traveling through Georgia this past weekend, past many a cotton field and old train bed… they spoke to me of times long past, but not forgotten.

Remembering 9/11

I have been meaning to write a follow up piece on 9/11 for many years, but I honestly somehow never seem to be able to properly capture how I feel about it, but I am going to give it another try this year.

It was October 2001 and I was flying back to Tampa after attending the memorial for my cousin Gary when I first tried to write down how I felt about 9/11, he had last been seen on the 92nd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I watched that tower come down on television not knowing he was working there, but knowing I had family and friends in the city. If you grew up in NY or NJ the Trade Center was the very symbol of the City, it towered over everything, casting a shadow into the very consciousness of those who lived there.  I had been in those towers as a boy with my Father, and had attended a number of business meetings there as an adult; to see them in ruins I honestly was unable to wrap my mind around it. That was a difficult time, my kids were young and didn’t really understand the magnitude of what had happened, my Uncle Ray and his family were deep in their grieving, and the smoke was still rising over the NYC skyline as I flew home that chilly October afternoon.  We had begun to rally together as a country, but there was a palpable underlying anxiety as well, soldiers patrolling airports, the constant crush of media coverage and the feeling that things were never going to be the same.

We have all come to know more about the events of that fateful day than any of us probably care to, the fingers have been pointed, the conspiracies debated, wars continue to be fought over it, governments overthrown, and even some Old Testament justice delivered by Seal Team Six, and in spite of it all I still miss my cousin.

So sixteen years later I still wonder why, was anything really accomplished on either side, how many must we kill of theirs, how many need to be beheaded by this latest incarnation of radicalism and in the end will any of it really matter? I think we all know the answer as this supposed war of faith has been raging for centuries with no abatement in sight and no real answers either.

For me the very saddest part of this is that we all believe what we believe but somehow that isn’t enough for any of us, we feel obligated to propagate our belief system as the superior form of faith, philosophy, or even denomination and these beliefs of ours in their most radical form require the conversion or extinction of those that don’t believe as we do. How it’s possible to reconcile this with any positive interpretation of spirituality escapes me.

Many of my friends and family have visited the 9/11 Memorial, they say it’s a special place, a solemn place, that the spirits walk there and I am sure it’s true, but I have not visited. I want to, I have even made my travel reservations, but something holds me back and although I am sure I will eventually make it there and I will close my eyes and speak with my cousin we will share a laugh and the memories of long ago, but not yet, no the sadness is still too deep, too real, and the loss has not faded to a point where I can face it yet. So, till then I look at the pictures, listen to the stories of those who make the pilgrimage, and I miss my cousin.

Author’s Note:

I am posting this a day early as we are expecting to high winds and loss of power as #IRMA enters the Tampa Bay area later today and tonight.

9/11

Written on 10/29/01 on a flight from Newark, NJ to Tampa FL

Although it has only been a little more than six weeks since September 11th time plays on my emotions, some days it seems as if it were yesterday and others as if many months have passed. Even so, the memories do not seem to fade. In many ways, the whole series of events did not seem real as it unfolded across my TV screen. I guess a part of me is still trying not to acknowledge the broad ramifications of that day.

I watch my children as they laugh and move past the news of the day. I wonder what unforeseen impact this will have on their young lives. My daughter, seven and still full of a precious innocence, struggles to grasp what it means that so many people lost their lives for no apparent reason. I sense their confusion when I struggle to hold back tears.

This weekend I brought the family with me to New Jersey. A trip that would normally be filled with anticipation and excitement was subdued and anxious. It wasn’t just that we were attending my cousin’s memorial, Gary was last seen on the 92nd floor of WTC Tower II, but I was struck by the lost innocence of America. Soldiers at security check points, a mixture of fear and suspicion in my fellow travelers, a sense of anxiety blanketed all of us.

As I sit next to my daughter on the flight home, I play back the past few days. The fierce determination of my Uncle Ray to be strong for his family, he is a rock to hold onto. A man who has worked hard for more than forty years earning his living every day as an integral part of the fabric of this country, now strangled by emotions that are impossible to understand and harder still to control. My cousins desperately trying to come to terms with the loss of a big brother and best friend. I see Gary’s friends and co-workers, some survivors themselves, as they slowly parade through the day. Somehow, I feel outside, watching a filmstrip that doesn’t end and can’t be stopped.

I remember Gary and I growing up together, weekends at our Grandmother’s, and his visits to our farm. We were like brothers, but now that seems like a lifetime ago. I watch my children play with his daughter Jessica and I wish I had made the effort to stay close, to have found a way to reconnect with him as adults. My uncle and I desperately try to catch up the years, but with only a few brief hours, it is difficult. I feel a gentle reassurance though that this family will find its way through and will gather again unto each other. We have lost so many in the past few years. My Mother, Father, Grandmother, and now Gary. As we hold each other close, I believe we all know that we can no longer afford the assumption of tomorrow. We have paid the price of our apathy and it is dearly heavy.

This morning I drove to the city with my family. I pointed out where their grandfather had grown up, and then Ellis Island where their Great Grandparents arrived from Italy. I looked upon a skyline that seemed strange without that unique character that is New York. I can remember as a child crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn on the way to Coney Island with my father. I would stare in wonder at the Trade Center Towers as they stretched above the skyline, today nothing but a smoky haze. I searched for a way to describe how wrong it all seemed.

As I travel, home I realize that I had hoped to bring some closure with this trip. I understand now how impossible that is. I find myself settling for tacit acceptance that some losses just can’t and shouldn’t be erased. With this acceptance comes a clearer understanding of the responsibilities I have to both those I hold dearest and those who have become a part of my life.

Those of you who know me well understand the passion I approach life with. I now have a new found vibrancy and respect for those moments we all share and the experiences that are waiting for us. I look forward to catching up with my family and growing to know new friends. I take a moment to pause and savor the unique wonder that is life. I can’t fill the loss of my cousin or those who perished with him, but I, for one, will not squander the gift they have given me, the renewal of an apathetic spirit and the rekindling of a passion for life.

Author’s Note:

I am posting this a day early as we prepare for the assault of #IRMA – locally we are expecting 100MPH winds and loss of electricity for 3 or more days…

Memories from 1984

It’s late 1984 and I am holed up in the freshman dorm on the East Campus of Duke University slaving over some awful English Comp paper on my IBM Selectric II, oh that was one sweet typewriter let me tell you, envy of the floor. The girl down the hall, now a Federal Judge, is confidently relaxed cause she is way better prepared for exams then I will ever be. I take a quick break and attempt to iron the triple creases on my Navy ROTC shirt, nothing easy about this on one of those small table top style mini ironing boards, and yes they measured our creases with a ruler.

The hell with it I think, time to break out the Häagen-Daz Vanilla Swiss Almond, I deserve it after all that typing. No worries though morning PT will definitely take care of the indulgence. Across the hall the Texas soccer playboys are trying to learn how to match colors on their newly pressed outfits… its a bitch living without your personal valet. Duke is a different environment, the brilliant, the brilliant super rich, the foreign super rich, and the rest of us struggling to survive. Crank up the Tom Petty, a little air guitar, couple more bites of ice-cream, and back to it…

You know the funny thing is I still play a mean air guitar, love my Vanilla Swiss Almond and can iron like a MFer…  I miss that IBM – but typing on my wireless keyboard and watching the words appear on the screen in front of me – well that’s just magic…

#Firstdayofschool

This is for all the weeping parents out there… sending their precious one(s) to school today, suck it up buttercup they are going to be fine, no seriously…

Love an empty nester!

Okay having said that let me redeem myself a little by posting up a piece I wrote about five years ago when I dropped my daughter off at college and found myself blubbering the next day… which I will vehemently deny by the way!

Hopes Dreams Transitions…

I am up early for a Saturday, sipping a cup of fresh made coffee and thinking back over it all. I dropped my daughter off at college yesterday and marked a bittersweet milestone, yes I know quite the overused word in my opinion and honestly it’s lost the significance it once had. A milestone should symbolize a major achievement, the completion of a great effort or undertaking… not just a simple “I made it to the finish line so look at me…” No a milestone infers challenges, obstacles, setbacks and having exercised the will and perseverance to have overcome them. As parents can we count those first steps are children take into adulthood as a milestone? It matters not the path be it the military, college or the job-market those first few steps embody all the hopes, dreams and wishes we have for them. Read more ›

CEREAL

I was partaking in a bit of nostalgia last night around midnight, you guessed it a bowl of cereal. I’m sitting in the dark of my dining room spoon in hand, the ice-cold milk splashing over my golden flakes and nut clusters – I pause a moment before plunging my spoon in for that first cold, crunchy, sweet and perfect bite.

I remember being a kid at the breakfast table a box of Frosted Flakes bigger than me just out of reach, my small plastic bowl awaiting that avalanche of sweetness. Next to it the gallon jug of whole milk stands with the screw cap – old school. I reach the box with the tip of my fingers rocking it back and forth till I can get a good grip. I finally get it tipped over and the flakes pour into my bowl some escaping onto the table – of course I scoop them into my mouth directly a crunchy appetizer. Ahh now the challenge, tipping that big jug just enough for the milk to pour into my bowl, but not too much oh no not too much. I carefully balance it, tipping, tipping careful now ahhh the liquid splashes in and off the first flakes onto the table, I continue on filling my bowl to the top of the flakes now swimming so deliciously. I glance around, no witnesses, and rapidly wipe the spill up with my napkin. Read more ›

Jake – Chapter 2

Jake stirred as a carelessly discarded candy wrapper brushed against his face swirling into the brush behind him. The cloying sweet oily smell of petroleum distillates carried on the soft breeze, as the fine dust eddied like ripples on a pond, and the lightning teased of the coming rain glinting off the crisscross of tracks. The last splashes of brilliant reds and purples of a gulf coast sunset painted the horizon. In the distance, a heron mourned the fading day and the steady chug of a tanker drifted in and out. A quiet heaviness tinged with a coiled tension waiting to burst forth had settled over the water. Read more ›

Jake – Chapter 1

Jake had been driving since early that morning, the sweet creaminess of caramel coffee having long since been erased by the inhalation of acrid smoke from the cigarettes he had been chain smoking. The miles whispered by as his beat-up Ford truck picked its way across Florida’s I75 toward the Gulf. Affectionately called Alligator Alley, Jake hadn’t seen one since leaving Miami. Just as well, he mused, the son of a bitch would probably have crawled out in front of him; wrecking the remains of what was already a perfectly shitty day.

With the windows down and the day’s heat already starting to pile up, deciding not to fix the truck’s AC was threatening to add to the long list of poor decisions he’d been making lately. It wasn’t just leaving Molly without saying anything either. He had quietly packed up early this morning as the sun shone through the windows haloing her in a golden glow, gently kissed her on the forehead and made his way down the back stairs; his cowardly silence echoing loudly in his ears. Read more ›

Memories of Mom…

A few years ago, I reached the age where I had accumulated more years without my Mother than with her. I lost her when I was a mere 24 not yet old enough to realize how much I was going to need her, nor how much I would end up missing her. At that young age she was still “mom”, you know the “mom” we love but still chafe under as young adults. It isn’t that I took my Mother for granted, I didn’t she taught us that lesson well enough, but I had no idea how much I would miss her and how many times I would need her counsel, her teaching, her understanding, and maybe more than anything those irreplaceable tender moments of a mother’s comfort. Read more ›

The Farm

…My body long since numb from the old John Deere beneath me, the baler hums and thumps behind leaving its squares in a neat row. The sun inches its way toward the tree line and an afternoon breeze has picked up, it carries the sweet smell of cut hay intermingled with the murmurs of the crew tossing bales in the lower fields. My dusty cap wipes a trail across my brow as I watch the dance of maples along the rock wall their broad leaves turning silver backs to me, a forecast of things to come. The dragon flies flit  in and out, teasing, knowing an afternoon storm is coming as time races away… but these are the good days, the days of sun and sweat, hard work and gentle nights, the days before the dark time, before it all went away, before a creeping evil turned all the world grey and stole the magic of the farm…

Authors Note:  I have fond memories of the long days of late summer baling hay on my mother’s horse farm in NE Pennsylvania. She was diagnosed with cancer the winter of my 24th year and passed in the early days of August that next summer – that was many, many years ago, but I can’t pass a freshly baled field without remembering those days on the farm and how much I still miss her…