Poppy Memorial

Any man can be a father. Not all of them can be dads.

            As the two of you who read this blog may have noticed, I usually follow up a “Dust Bunny” with an “Observation.”  I don’t particularly know why, I just do it.  Maybe it’s an OCD thing.  Not so this week.  Since Father’s Day is in a couple days, I thought I’d offer up an homage to a man who became a father to my brothers, sister, and I.  Too many years have passed since he was in our lives and the only fathers left among us are…us.  Still, we remember those special men who were fathers to us. Incidentally, my brothers and I have found that we’re too old to play wiffleball anymore.

             The idiot in the White House can wait another week, after all.


           “Kids, I’d like you to meet Ray.”

            Reluctantly pulling my eyes away from a Star Trek rerun, I regarded the unfortunate soul standing in our front doorway.

            Raising his right hand, he gave the five of us a cheery, “Hey, guys.”

            Without a word, I nodded and returned once more to the TV.

            As unenthusiastic as my greeting was, it was better than what he got from the others.  My brothers and sister pretended they didn’t hear him or our mother.

            Slowly lowering his hand, Ray turned to our mortified mother and shrugged.

            “Well,” I could hear the irritated edge to Mom’s voice, “we’re going out for a few hours.  Don’t forget, church tomorrow.”

            Fixated on Kirk’s trouble with tribbles, I heard them step to the door.

            Vainly hoping for anything, Ray said, “Nice meeting you.”

            Coldly deciding I wouldn’t give in, I called, “Bye, Mom.”

            I guess you could say our first meeting had gone about as well as Donald Trump at a BLM rally.

            The past few years had been rough for our family.  Even though we didn’t know why, it was plain that something was terribly wrong between our parents.  From muted snarls in the living room to flying ice cube trays in the kitchen, we knew our world was whirling apart.

            Deciding that raising five children on her own was far superior to living with a man who was the embodiment of Ralph Kramden, Archie Bunker, and Fred Flintstone, our mother finally asked our father to leave.  Before she asked for a divorce.

            It wasn’t easy.  She had her hands full, whether fighting with my sister over joy-riding in her boyfriend’s black primer Volkswagen or helping my little brother make papier mache puppets of the Founding Fathers.  Through it all, though, she pulled off the single parent role as well as anyone.

            Even so, it was clear Mom craved more than a life of runny noses and missed homework assignments.   

            Steeling her nerve, she convinced a man at work that dating a woman with five kids really wasn’t much worse than a prostate exam from Edward Scissorhands.

            We kids, on the other hand, treated the newcomer as an invader.  Our father, while given to belching in church and scratching his back with a fork, was still our father.  How dare our mother replace him?

            I’ll give Ray credit.  Ignoring our sullen indifference, he continued to try to foster a relationship with us.  Even after they got married and he became our stepfather, we stubbornly refused to let him get any closer than the milkman.

            Still, Ray would go out of his way to ask us how our day went when he got home from work.  Whenever we struggled with homework, it was he who insisted on helping us.  Rather than bark out commands for yard work, he’d pick up a rake to help us.

            “Wow,” my brother whispered to me one Sunday as we yanked weeds, “I never saw Dad out in the yard when football was on.”

            I watched Ray scoop a handful of muck from underneath a garbage can.  Hmm, come to think of it, neither did I.

            One of the games we played constantly throughout the summer was wiffleball.  From dawn to dusk, my brothers and I smacked a little white ball with a little yellow bat all over the yard.  It wasn’t the World Series, but it wasn’t smoking cigarettes and playing in traffic, either.   

            The only problem with playing as much as we did was that we tore up the yard.  Our constant shuffling on the pitcher’s mound and at the plate had worn the grass away to two rock-hard patches of dirt.

            Needless to say, this drove our mother crazy.

            Of course, we still played, ignoring her pleas that we go to the park.  She never understood that the real fun of wiffleball was that you had to play around backyard obstacles.  Swimming pool, picnic table, trees-all enhanced the fun factor.    

            One afternoon, I was engaged in a heated contest with my brother.  Already jacking one off the dog to the base of the pine tree for a double, he’d sent another whizzing by my head like a rocket-ship.  You could say I was in trouble.

            Suddenly, from inside the house came a shrill, “Are you two playing wiffleball in the yard again?  You’re tearing up the grass!”

            My brother and I looked at each other.  We shrugged, figuring she’d eventually come outside if she was really mad.

            As I began my windup, the back door banged open.  Ray stood on the porch, frowning at the two of us.  Oh, great, I thought, she sent out her muscle.

            Just when we figured the game was over, he held up a three-foot length of broomstick wrapped in electrical tape.

            “Looks like someone needs to teach you two how to play.”

            Ray beat us.  What’s more important, he became part of our family from that day on.

            We all grew up, moved out, and raised families of our own.  Even though we lived in different parts of the country, we never failed to return home to visit our mother and the man who became father to five kids.

            Even when Mom was taken at an insanely early age by cancer, it was Ray, or Poppy as he became known to our kids, who was there for us.  He may have thought onion dip was fancy cuisine and Howard Stern was Masterpiece Theater, but he was the epitome of a real man and father.

            When he succumbed to cancer himself, we were overwhelmed with grief at the loss of someone who had guided us into adulthood and sadness that our own children wouldn’t come to know the man.

            The pain eventually faded, of course, as we all went about our lives.  We still missed them, but life went on.  Life has a funny way of doing that.

            Several summers ago, our families got together for the 4th of July.

            For old time’s sake, we decided to have a wiffleball tournament in my backyard, which I called Poppy Memorial Park.  The games lasted all day and even included my son and daughter, who were the same age as we were when we started playing so long ago.

            Slowed by too many years and too many beers, we couldn’t best the youngsters, especially my son.  As he fired the final out past my wildly flailing bat, he raised his arms in triumph and strode triumphantly to where my wife was setting up supper.

            Pulling her attention from the grill, I heard her shout from the deck, “Look what you did to my lawn!  Couldn’t you go play in the park?”

            I followed her outstretched arm.  The grass where we’d played had worn away to two raw patches of dirt.

            As my eyes began to water, I wondered if she’d mind if I cut up a broomstick.

In case any of you are wondering where I got the idea to tie my shoe in random pictures, it was from Ray.

Sunrise, Sunset

I’d post the actual pictures from their wedding, but my son and daughter would object most vehemently to that. After all, I’m older now. And easier to catch.

            The two of you who read my column last week, Till Unmasking Do Us Part, know where I was Memorial Day weekend.  For the multitude who did not (and probably aren’t reading this, anyway…in which case, how would you know and what’s the point?), I was in Blacksburg, Virginia.  No, I wasn’t drinking beer and roasting weenies (especially my own) in celebration of the unofficial beginning of summer.

            Okay, I was drinking beer.  More than my share, but that’s neither here nor there.

            No, I was at the home of Virginia Tech (NOTE:  unpaid plug for the Hokies) to witness the marriage of my second child to a woman who hasn’t yet come to grips with what kind of family she married into.

            She’ll learn.

            Anyway, as the COVID pandemic begins to loosen its grip (along with the ludicrous face diaper mandates), it was a return to the type of celebration that we had all grown used to.  Sure, there was no dancing or type of rituals you’d normally associate with a wedding reception (e.g., throwing of the bouquet and garter), but it didn’t matter.  Everyone had a great time regardless, lack of a chicken dance notwithstanding.

            Two more family weddings will follow at the ends of June and August.  And, even though they will be held in the asylums of New York and Washington, a good time will no doubt be had by all.  Especially me.  Both my son and daughter are married, don’tcha know.  I can go to these weddings as a guest and not have to be one of the role players of the event.  Not that being father of the bride and father of the groom were onerous tasks, mind you.  It’s just that I had to maintain some some semblance of dignity and gravitas, is all.

            The fact that I won’t be able to stay up all night partying is actually a plus.  The earlier to bed you get, the less partying you do, the better any hangover.

With age comes wisdom. And odd smells.

            Before I continue on with my point (trust me, there will be one.  I think), I must mention  my daughter’s nuptials last September.  Thumped by restrictions wrought by the pandemic, her wedding at an oceanfront hotel in Virginia Beach had to be cancelled.  Instead of a planned grand affair (and grand it would have been), she and her husband said their vows on the actual beach, accompanied by direct family only.

            A lovely event, to be sure. Even though it didn’t come close to being the type of celebration she had planned, I’ve no doubt that in years to come she’ll look back on it with fondness.  I know her mother and I will.  After all, she wed the man she loves and that’s really all that should matter.  Not watching her father mangle the Hokey Pokey.  As funny as that would have been.

            So…both of my kids are married.  I’m now left with the feeling of “Jeez, where’d did the time go?”  I remember ignoring my own parents when they told me that youth is fleeting and that one day I’ll be staring in the mirror, wondering who it is who’s looking back at me.  And what’s up with those eye bags?

            PFFFTTT!  Well, what do the old people know, anyhow?  I’m was in my 20s, don’tcha know, acid jeans, moussed hair, and my own bad self.

            Well, here we are.  The brown hair has turned white, the smooth face has become a road map of wrinkles, and, to tell you the truth, those are eye “suitcases,’ rather than ‘bags.’

            Mind you, there are other signposts to “late middle age” (I refuse to go gently into that good night of senior citizenry and call it that, AMAC membership notwithstanding), but that’s none of your business.  Let’s put it this way, fiber has become my friend, my knees make more noise than a mariachi band, and I generally need a nap after a good fart.

            I remember the terrors of potty training, keeping britches on my daughter, and kindergarten.  Luckily, kindergarten cured that “britches” thing.

            Likewise, the “talk,” first dates, and driving lessons.

            NOTE:  We pause now for this brief story.  At nine o’clock on the night my daughter got her drivers license, she asked me to drive her to the store.  I started to reach for my car keys, hesitated, and said, “Yeah, I’m going to bed.  There’s the keys.”

            I also chuckle when I recall how worried my son was when he fretted he would only be as tall as I. 

Fortunately for him, he favored that part of the family which catered to normal height.

            High school graduations gave way to college graduations which gave way to first jobs and first houses.

            I watched with great pride as, along the way, they became adults in their own right.  My heart would swell, if proper cardiac care wasn’t such a concern nowadays.  If the purpose of life is to give the world something of yourself, someone better than you, well, mission accomplished.

            Although, it wasn’t until I watched our son walk down the aisle that I realized that his mom and I were now the older versions of the flashiest models in the showroom.  Much like Tevye in Fiddler On the Roof , I’m left thinking “Is this the little girl I carried?  Is this the little boy at play?”

            Yes, yes, I know quoting lyrics from an old movie is exactly the type of thing you’d expect from a …ahem…older gentleman.  Shut up.

            Okay, sure, I realize this sounds like a pity party for the young man I once was.  You know, that’s not it at all.  It’s all good because, on the contrary, this is a joyful celebration that my little girl and my little boy have found love.  An added bonus?  While certainly not a requirement, they’ve found it with two remarkable people.  I eagerly look forward to the journeys they will experience as they make their own way through the wonders of lives together.

            I’ve had my turn.  Let’s see what they can do.  I bet they do better.

            Sunrise, sunset.

            Sure, one day, they’ll find themselves in the same spot as I (while people speak of me in the past tense).  They may have kids of their own, they may not.  In any case, however, I hope with all my heart that they will, as do I, look back fondly on lives well-spent. 

            After all, that is the way of things.

            Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not ready to check out just yet.  I still have lots I want to do.

            For instance, I wanna do something about these eye suitcase things.

Till Unmasking Do Us Part

Not the actual wedding party.

                For the two of you who breathlessly await one of these, I apologize.  I was at my son’s wedding in Blacksburg, Virginia this weekend.  Perhaps not surprisingly, a movement is afoot in that small western Virginia town to rename it “Burg of Color.”  Since the college, Virginia Tech, is out for the summer, I think the effort will fail due to an overwhelming amount of brain cells.

                NOTE #1:  I’m kidding, but seriously, would it surprise you?

                NOTE #2:  Incidentally, if you are breathlessly awaiting one of these, might I suggest intensive psychiatric help?

                In any event, it’s been more than three weeks since I wrote anything besides personal checks.  Things have been busy, and I now find myself at my son’s and new daughter-in-law’s house in Richmond, watching their dog.  Who has a remarkable ability of licking himself.  Sigh…if only…

                Anyway, the wedding was a blast.  Happily, nobody got injured or arrested.  This all despite the fact there was an open bar.  There were more than a few hangovers the next morning, I’m sure.  Not me, you understand.  As father of the groom, I held myself to a high standard of gravitas and dignity.

                This was not the case the evening before at the “Welcome Party” held at a local brewery, mind you.  Somewhere that evening, I lost the power of speech.  And my pants.  So there’s that.

                So, what’s the point of this entire screed, you might be asking?  That is, if you’re still with us.

                My point is that I didn’t see a mask the entire wedding.  Okay, sure, the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam (He of the Blackface), rescinded the Commonwealth-wide mask decree the Friday before.  A lot of private businesses are still allowed to require patrons to don the face diaper, though (by the way, I have zero problem with this.  If a private entity wants to go this route, do).

                The only time I saw a proliferation of masks was at our hotel.  That was cool with me, even though quite a few times I just didn’t wear one (same went for a lot of guests).  I kept it with me just in case an employee asked me to throw it on.  No way would I give them any grief about it.  None did.

Wrong mask

                The existence of vaccines has resulted in this shift.  I’d go for the reemergence of common sense, but okay, whatever.  I’m just thrilled to be able to walk around without a piece of cloth hiding my face.  Although, it was nice being able to hide my cold sores and not have to shave on a regular basis.  Still, I’m happy.

                The skeptical among us wonder whether this has anything to do with the Idiot-in-Chief’s botching of just about everything besides eating ice cream and sniffing little girls.  Removing mask directives could be a way to distract people away from the seemingly countless disasters coming from Washington.  Maybe, maybe not.

                Establishments have posted notices that if you have been vaccinated, a mask is not mandatory.  Of course, this requires all people to be honest about their medical status.  Personally, I think that’s placing a whole lot of faith in humanity.  If you doubt that, how many people do you actually think pay attention to “55 MPH” signs?

“I do. Especially on sidewalks. Oops. Pooped myself.”

                To ensure compliance would involve asking folks to produce proof of their vaccinated status.   HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…yeah, good luck with that.  So we’re clear, if ANYone asks whether I got the shot or not (hasn’t happened yet), I’m prepared to answer “Nunya.”

                NOTE #3:  For those who do not know-“None Ya Bidness.”

                I hope to see an increasing number of bare faces in the coming weeks.  I honestly feel that the more people ditch the diaper, the more other people will feel comfortable with ditching the diaper.  Just like before it was mandatory, when people put on masks just to fit in with the crowd, so it will go in the opposite direction.   Although, if I see “mask not required” at the store entrance I have no trouble sticking that nonsense in my pocket.  I’ll admit, though, that some folks may be hesitant to do the same.  That said, I maintain that the more people’s faces you see, the more comfortable you will be joining them.

                Disturbingly, I’m seeing the response to this entire episode becoming political.  My goodness, why?  Is common sense, logic, and critical thought dependent on whether you’re a donkey or an elephant?  For some, it apparently is.

                Likewise with the fact that the states leading the way are largely governed by Republicans, despite being accused of “Neanderthalism” (I made that word up.  Feel free to use it).  Even though places like Florida and Texas have lower reported cases of COVID-19 while eschewing the mask than the sideshows of, say, New York or California, the Left beats the drum that Red States are irresponsible.

                For pity’s sake, numbers don’t lie.  What’s more, the same people who bleated “follow the science” (we won’t get into the fact that science isn’t infallible all the time here.  I’m talking to you, Al Gore) aren’t following the science now since it doesn’t fit in with their narrative.

                Incidentally, what’s even more disturbing?  I wonder how many people wouldn’t be leery about getting the vaccine had Donald Trump been reelected (I won’t get into whether that’s true or not here, either).  Call me cynical, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republican Party would then be leading the charge into shot clinics.

                After all, it was his administration which aggressively green-lit the things in the first place.

                To be seen as a mask-wearer is to be seen as a Republican “Anti-Vaxxer.”  I really wonder what the case would be if the shoe was on the other foot.  Like I said, call me cynical, but I ‘ll bet that many in the Democratic Party would be bitching about the vaccine.

                In other other words, if Ron DeSantis thinks the sun rises in the east, Nancy Pelosi would demand a special commission to determine if it’s so.

                Oh, and if you’re wondering whether I got vaccinated or not?  Nunya.