Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

Remembering Why We Came

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

In Eudora Welty’s short story “Worn Path,” the elderly African-American grandmother protagonist, Phoenix, has come to the doctor to obtain medicine for her grandson. But, because of senility, she cannot remember why she came!

The nurse tries to tease out of Phoenix her reason for coming.

 “You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix,” the nurse said. “Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over. He isn’t dead, is he?’

At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.

“My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.”

“Forgot?” The nurse frowned. “After you came so far?”

 After coming so far, after working so hard, have we home schoolers forgotten why we came? Do you know why you are starting? Are we at the place where we can get the solution to our problems, but have we forgotten why we came?

My wife Karen and I, while we were home schooling our four children, rarely thought of grand things. We wanted to teach math and English and maybe science (every other day?) and still get to soccer practice on time! We always wanted to teach Spanish too, but, I confess, that “Spanish” was more a kiss and a promise than a reality. I am not extolling my failure, nor am I making excuses, the thing is, we had too many good things to do!

The truth is, our success in home schooling will be more about what we don’t do, than what we do. Our bookshelves are full of curricula, nature kits, and thinking games that we did not have time to do. I am glad we bought them though. A fleeting memory teases my psyche when I look at them, for they are still grace our bookshelves. We hope to use them yet with our grandchildren.

I have some regrets.

I would have climbed more hills with my children.

I live on a farm nestled in the foothills of the Laurel Highlands. The Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands go north up to Lake Erie, South to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. My farm lies halfway between both.

My farm is one of the few in the area that still uses spring water. Seven springs feed a generous cauldron of water above my rambling 1880 Pennsylvania farmhouse, built by practical Mennonites who had no use for inefficient fireplaces and ornate porches.

Next to my springhouse is a hill. I started to climb that hill yesterday. I turned back.

On this hill twenty years ago my children danced up this hill pulling their scratched, plastic sleds behind them. I would join them on top. On that hill we would welcome the moon, say good-bye to the sun. We dodged barbed wire and the angry stares of my wife Karen as we flew down the hill on plastic chariots. We defied fate, relying on gravity and our unmoved neighbor’s pasture to stop us before we crashed into a diminutive pond.

I looked at that hill today but I did not climb it. My children are gone and the springhouse is secure in concrete. Why should I climb that hill?

In our home school we could read about West Virginia. From that hill we could see West Virginia. From that hill, farmers allegedly saw the Flight 93 Crash. It is a place of discovery, wonder, and to me memory. But I have no reason to see West Virginia, 9-11 is in the ancient past. I will not climb that hill. I have no children, no laughter, no unsecured flights into chaos.

I will not climb that hill today.

My children loved that hill. It was a respite from Shakespeare and Milton. They thought it was a ticket to everywhere. Our hill promised unlimited possibility. It was the abode of trophy bucks, soaring bald eagles, and my children’s dreams. In their dreams I found my own. It was Mount Olympus, the home of the gods.

Homeschooling is over at my house. The hill is quiet and serene. And lonely. As I am. It provides a look at what was, what is no more. What will not be again. I will not climb that hill again. Not as long as I live.

This Christmas I will urge my grandchildren to climb that hill. It is time. They are old enough to pull the same sleds as their parents, to the top of that hill, to believe that all is possible, to defy fate and zoom down the hill, into the brush piles that nurture and protect the intrepid and foolish alike.

But I will not join them. Not this year. Never. I no longer believe in unlimited possibilities. But I am glad that there are those who do. I want them to climb the hill, for me, this year. New home schooling families, I want you to climb that hill.

Home schooling is unlimited possibility. Do not lose the joy, the possibilities, that home schooling will unleash. Do not neglect to take a break from calculus to climb that hill.

We often forget why we started doing this thing called home schooling: we wanted to raise a generation of offspring that would advance the Kingdom of God in this time and in this place. Like Granny Phoenix we must not arrive at our destination but forget why we came!

 Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night. “I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming.”

As I reflect on those years, I wonder how often I forgot about why I came. Oh, God, how I wish I had more hills to climb with my children.

It is in the coming that we release our children to go. Do not forget your purpose of this great calling.

We need to remind ourselves about why we are doing what we are doing, why we will do what we will do, in the years ahead. It is a noble and grand vocation, this home schooling of our kids. Too sacred to trust to anyone else. Let’s do it! Let’s gather around our kitchen tables, in our dingy basements, and let us pause to remember where we are going and why we are doing.

“This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”

 And while you are remembering why you are doing what you are doing, don’t forget to build a few windmills with the kids. Climb those hills and look at West Virginia. While you can. And when you do, think of me, and the thousands of home school friends who have come before you. Know that we pray for you, we believe in you. Find your way to those hills again. And climb them for all of us.

I Loved My Old Spring Beds

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I loved my old rusty spring bed with a tight fitted sheet bed in my little room that I shared with my brother Bill. Out our window was an apple tree and an in ground pond that housed overfed, over weight, luminous orange carp. This room remains, even in my memory, even after the room and its house is gone, even in my 58 year, a place of safety, comfort, and domicility. It was the place I came when I was a child and I left as a young man. It was the place I met my oldest brother. Two-year-old Bill met me when I came from Chicot County Memorial Hospital and, I suppose, my care was transferred from Chicot Memorial to my brother’s tutelage. I learned so much in the eight years that we lived in that room.

One vital fact was manifestly evident from the moment I could walk. Our ancient beds, if they were decrepit and old, were to me, the defining moment of my young life. I had my own bed and my own brother. Our little brother, John Hugh, was to come some day, but that was a half a decade away.

The old beds, too, were wonderful creations. They could stand almost any abuse. For one thing, I loved to jump on them. I never remember Bill doing that. It may have felt too risky to his three year old universe for his savvy and composure were already becoming evident. There was no hyperbole in my beloved big brother.

When my big brother was away I would bounce from bed to bed. It seemed like I could bounce to the stars! As fate would have it, his bed facilitated higher jumps that made his divan much more springy than mine. I suspected that my bed, allegedly my dad’s bed, had already been shamelessly broken in by my dad’s mischievousness decades before. Perhaps there was limited spring in every bed and my bed had exhausted much of its quota.

I was you see, preparing for the circus. This was not play to me. I was preparing for the circus.

Last Saturday, after I saved six RC Cola bottle tops—it was easy to do—my Daddy Bobby had a coke machine at his Laundry Dry Cleaning business and reckless employees who obviously did not appreciate the value of a metal RC Cola top—deposited hundreds behind the Laundry. I was able to get enough discarded RC tops to gift Craig, Pip, and almost everyone on South Highway with a free movie pass. My largesse in RC Cola distribution extended even to Dubby Towles, who, I confess, threatened to beat the crap out of me if I did not give him 12.

Dubby Towles’s mind, however, was no match to my brother’s business acumen. Bill could sell anything, negotiate any deal. Bill once negotiated two scooter rides for me from Hershel Parent, and, in another transaction with Dubby Towles, who had threatened to castrate me and his little brother Craig if we did not bring 48 acorns to the school bus stop every morning, somehow persuaded Dubby to desist from pernicious behavior toward Craig and me. Dubby never threatened us again—but I could not help noticing that Dubby sported a new green John Deere hat with a golden tractor on the visor. I remain forever in depth to my dear old brother who in his 8th year saved my manhood!

My friends and I, notwithstanding Dubby Towles, deposited our RC Cola caps with a frowning ticket lady standing behind a glass enclosed station and saw the Saturday morning Malco Theater matinee Walt Disney Toby Tyler. The doorman, the appointed conductor on the amazing imaginary dream train that was the esoteric Malco Theater, opened the door and invited us into the tinsel cathedral that was the Malco Theater. The Malco brought us lands and stories that could never be or happen in quiet, halcyon McGehee, Arkansas.

On this particular Saturday there was a plethora of cinematic offerings. Beside Toby Tyler, a Bugs Bunny and a Popeye the Sailor Man cartoon was showing. I could hear “Whatssss up doc!” as I walked into the cavernous Malco.

Next we were delighted by, my personal favorite, a Three Stooges short feature. And all for 6 RC metal bottle caps!

All of these unexpected gifts were sincerely appreciated. But, truthfully, we bought our 5 cent sour pickles and sat in the sticky, dark Malco theater to see Toby Tyler impress us with his obvious ability to do any trick connected to circus life. Everything else was ancillary if appreciated.

Toby Tyler runs away to the circus—something I fervently wished to do–where he soon befriends Mr. Stubbs, the hilarious chimpanzee. However, the circus isn’t all fun and games when the evil candy vendor, Harry Tupper, convinces Toby that his Aunt Olive and Uncle Daniel don’t love him or want him back. Toby resigns himself to circus life even scoring a much bigger role at the circus. When Toby realizes (with the help of Mr. Stubbs) that Tupper lied to him, and that his aunt and uncle truly love him, Toby leaves the circus to go home. On the way, however, he finds that Mr. Stubbs has followed him. Deciding to take Mr. Stubbs home with him (to keep him safe,) Mr. Stubbs is chased by a hunter’s dog. The hunter accidentally shoots Mr. Stubbs as Harry Tupper hauls Toby back to the circus. This precipitated my second animal rights crisis—only to be rivaled by Bambi when I was reminded that no doubt Uncle Brian murdered Bambi’s mother when he killed a doe the previous winter. It was all I could do to eat the rich, dark venison loins that were diurnally deposited on our supper table.

Toby discovers his Aunt and Uncle are at the circus, with hugs all around. Just before Toby’s big performance for his family, he discovers, surprise, Mr. Stubbs is still alive and well after all, having been brought back to the circus by the hunter. Toby performs on horseback, only to have Mr. Stubbs join him, creating a great new act for the circus.

Along the way I feel in love with Mademoiselle Jeanette and I just knew that I would someday marry a circus queen who sailed through the air with the greatest of ease on trapeze poles. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered my wife of 35 years had never worked at the circus! I married her anyway.

So I jumped from bed to bed like Toby Tyler, listening attentively to make sure I ended my circus practice before my mother, Bill, or, worst of all, Mammy Lee came into my room. I was Toby Tyler. Like George Samsa in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis I went to the movie theater, saw Toby Tyler, and woke up the next morning a circus rider—I remain a circus rider—you might think I am an author. But, no I am a circus rider. If only the world could grasp the import of this metamorphosis.

Mammaw, who owned these beds, and this house, before my parents did, told me, like I said that I was sleeping in my dad’s bed and Bill was sleeping in Uncle Bobby’s bed. I don’t know how she could tell—they looked the same to me—but I was very glad to hear this. Uncle Bobby was a professor at Harvard, or would be soon, and my brother Bill had already purposed to go to Harvard, even when he was 6 1/2 years old. That boy said he was going to Harvard. And he meant it. And he did just that.

I knew he was on his way when he gave his 5 year old brother a quarter and told me to buy 10 McGehee Times. I was to sell them for 50 cents and return 35 cents to him. What a deal! I made 15 cents. That sort of thinking has gotten me in big trouble over the years, but that is another story. Bill gave me the South Second Street paper route that was full of lugubrious widows who inevitably invited me into their homes and plied me with white divinity candy and purple cool aid. I often forgot to charge for the paper. Bill was always patient with me though.

I on the other hand slept in my Dad’s bed whose ambitious extended no farther than King Tut Lake whose cypress knees hid four pound black bass who were the apex of his salutatory magnificent ambition. In fact, in my young life, I had heard so many stories about Buddy Berle, Dad’s hero and fishing buddy, that Mr. Berle had assumed epic proportions in my life. Apparently, Dad had spent 90% of his youth, and 75 % of his adulthood catching bass and crappie with Buddy. He was fond of saying that he would only take an old quilt provided by his Mammy Louise on fishing trips and he and Buddy would take everything else from the land. Except Vienna Sausages and Louisiana Hot Sauce. Dad had a definite weakness for Vienna Sausages and Louisiana Hot Sauce.

I am 59 today and I still wonder what happened. I never became a circus rider, never married the lovely Mademoiselle Jeanette. 6 year old Bill is right. I am hopelessly floundering in credit card debt—Bill once warned me, “You are like Dad. You should stay away from credit cards.” I have no clue how I will pay for my health insurance most days—and my toxic living habits pretty well make that important. Life is that way I suppose. In my weak moments I still ride those ponies with Toby Tyler. But in my more lucid moments I thank God for the life He has given me. If my life doesn’t have much cotton candy it provides other things, more nutritious, and as time has passed more wonderful. Even than the circus. Really.

When I Hurried Downstairs to Enjoy the Cool

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I grew up in a house that demanded more gentility, income, and poise than my self-effacing family could muster. My dad’s vocation was hunting, fishing, and playing baseball with the neighborhood boys—to whom he contributed three. His hobby was running the family business, a mistress who demanded more than his convenient effort. Thus, our house, my grandmother’s house, oozed more elegance and munificence than its creature inhabitants. In short, like a blue blooded thoroughbred, rode by an amateur jockey, our house was more than we could handle. We were outclassed, so to speak, by our domicile and we all knew it.

The kitchen, in our awe-inspiring house beautiful that could have no doubt appeared in Southern Living was strategically placed close enough to the dining room to make food presentation quick and efficient. But it was far enough away to keep the heat from the kitchen, so to speak, literarily and figuratively, from the dining room.  

As the ceiling fans gently shook the cut glass crystal chandeliers, Mammy brought fried eggs, grits, and biscuits to our bountiful, olfactory Shangri La dining room table.

The adults never ate on a small table in the kitchen, like we do in all the houses in which I have lived in my adult life.  It must be a Yankee thing.  The adults always ate their meals—no matter how simple and unpretentious—in the dining room—with starched  1000 count Egyptian white cotton napkins and table cloth  (why not—we owned a laundry after all!).

We kids, though, were only allowed to eat dinner (lunch) on rare occasions but never breakfast.  We ate breakfast in the kitchen.

I loved those times.  The kitchen floor was made of New Orleans street cobblestones, as I mentioned previously, smelled like horse urine when they were warmed.  But the cobblestones, shiny and bright with floor wax generously bestowed by Mammy, felt awfully good on little boy feet.  The cobblestone kitchen floor was only second in line to the veranda blue tile floor.

No one every worried about dropping food on the kitchen floor.  Either Mammy would sweep it up, or another helper or what my mother called “a girl” who twice a week helped Mammy clean, would clean it.  Besides, Mammy had a habit of dropping wet sticky wax on whatever was on the floor so I distinctly saw traces of previous culinary masterpieces on the floor.  Like shellacked pictures on Christmas pictures to Mammaw, Mammy Lee carelessly preserved previous meal excesses by putting generous portions of commercial wax on previous floor messes.  Thus, in effect, our kitchen floor was a museum collage of previous meals we had eaten in the last ten years, or at least all the meals since Mammy Lee ruled our household.

In the right corner under the mixer was a stain from a memorable chili dinner last December.  Mammy’s chili was legendary.  The best in Southeast Arkansas. Carefully preserved by Mammy’s exuberance and wax, the remaining chili still felt good when I saw it. On the other hand, the green English peas under the right edge of the ice box, were a nightmare I would gladly forget.  Somehow Mammy spilled a few peas on the floor and forgot, or chose, to leave it there, even when she waxed the very same corner.  Those green peas were from the same genus and species, from the same meal, as the one I secretly deposited my requisite supply of English peas into my right front jean pocket. “No thank you,” I told my mom. “I am quite satisfied with the English peas I had already received.”  And I was.  The darn things had filled up my pocket!  Unfortunately, though, before I could deposit my treasure in the commode, I forgot about it.  The little rascals resurfaced in Mammy Lee’s Wednesday wash and I must tell you she was not amused.  Yes, I did not enjoy looking at the English pea shrine under our ice box.

Every morning Little Bill had two fried eggs—yolks broken—grizzled edges.  I had two over easy, with running yolk eggs.  We both loved thick bacon with heavy rind.  My big brother Bill was so good to me—he sometimes shared his precious treasure with his little brother—he would yank that sucker out and give it to me to chew.  He is still a generous soul.  John Hugh, on the other hand, inevitable preferred left over cornbread, buttermilk, and copious amounts of sugar.  To top things off Mammy would top everything off with fresh squeezed orange juice—I didn’t know they make it any other way until I went to college.

I don’t know what breakfast was like in the dining room but in the kitchen it was a veritable cornucopia of joy.  We were polite to one another.  We shared our homemade preserves and bacon.  There was a surplus of good feelings and good.  And, by the way, we did not worry about dropping things on the floor—in fact, to assure later good memories, we purposely deposited a few memorable items.  I wonder if that bacon rind is still where I dropped it?

The kitchen was not the dining room.  It taught us that life had limits and ceremony.  But we did not mind.  Life is that way too.  Sometimes the kitchen is not the dining room with crystal chandeliers but it is comfortable and it doesn’t matter much if you drop something on the floor.  Perhaps the price that one pays for pompous circumstance is too much and we should all be happy in the kitchen.  Think about it.

My Story – Part 4

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

For the next couple of days, I want to share my story, my view, and how I can make decisions with commitment.

Yesterday I talked about my surfing experience and how connected you feel with the ocean when riding a wave.

One Sunday after a catching a few waves in the morning I wearily washed ashore to find a group of enthusiastic revellers singing right on the beach. It was very small church that met every Sunday on the beach with an uncomplicated worship agenda led by a guitar. No sound system, no microphone, just voices on a sandy slip looking out across the ocean. The environment was saturated with a genuine love for the wellbeing of others and their community. It didn’t take long for me to become apart of this family.

The pastor announced there was a “he said/she said” meeting at the church. I arrogantly smirked and rolled my eyes at the idea of hearing another typical cheesy rendition on the evils of dating and glorification of courting. But, my Maui family was going therefore so should I.

After an hour or so of hearing exactly what I expected, the pastor’s wife threw a misdirecting bolder at my lofty ideas of what love and marriage mean. She suggested splitting off the men from the ladies allowing her to speak directly to the men and the pastor to speak directly to the ladies. The honest story she told was of how she met her husband.

When she was a young adult she asked the Lord for a sign, that her future husband would greet her with a white rose. As the story goes, the night he was going to ask her, every florist was sold of off all roses except white ones, he searched for hours wanting to give her red roses. But, for the sake of being punctual, he settled angrily for white ones… the rest is the tale that brings them here tonight talking to me, as man and wife.

I didn’t know what to make of this. Believe it and I feel foolish. Blow it off as coincidence, and I feel like I’m limiting God. Embrace it and I feel sacrilegious perhaps even blasphemous. But, she was persistent in us to prayerfully seek God for a sign. I flippantly wrote down my sign and thought no more of it. I was not one to test God. I was not one to believe in the hocus-pocus-slain-in-the-spirit gibberish. I went on my way.

Peter Stobaugh
phone: (814) 659-6501

My Story – Part 3

Friday, February 19th, 2010

For the next couple of days, I want to share my story, my view, and how I can make decisions with commitment.

Yesterday I talked about my first job: working in a coffee shop. I then talked about how much I loved surfing.

Surfing was not about me, I am only an average surfer: it was about the ocean. The vastness of the ocean exposed my insignificance in the literal sense of the world, but there was also an intimate connection. Even as a diminutive speck I felt connected each time a wave rolled by and picked me up.

The experience of riding on a wave has been unequalled by most everything I have experienced since. With each anticipatory paddle into the abyss that is the Pacific Ocean my heart beat faster and faster. The water pulled into a solid liquid wall threatening to crush me with one mistake. And then the moment strikes when everything freezes as I reach the peak of the wave and begin to rush down its face. If I could, I would spend my life in this moment.

Every wave has a certain level of predictability. As they come rolling in from the horizon I learned to spot the large waves in their set. From the way a wave breaks I could predict where the next was to peak. Discerning these nuances were vital in order for me to catch a wave instead of being tossed into the melee of a crashing wave like a sock in a washer, which happened all too often.

In the danger and expanse of my universe, I learned my place. I learned to be humble. Upon my surfboard, a floating speck on the ocean, I began to listen. Unspoken questions of my heart gained a voice and a few answers came. Perhaps the biggest wave of my 17 year-old life, I thought, was what my life was going to look like. I felt like in the ocean of life I had picked my wave and was paddling to catch it. What would I make of this wave? How would I ride it?

A surfer can’t control everything he rides; he can only control how he rides it. Dropping down the face he can carve to the right or left, cut back on the peak or simply take the wave as it comes… the options are limited by only the wave itself.   I viewed my life upon an uncontrollable wave. Picking me up to sweep me into a rush.

Peter Stobaugh
phone: (814) 659-6501

My Story – Part 2

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

For the next couple of days, I want to share my story, my view, and how I can make decisions with commitment.

Yesterday I talked about my last year in home school high school that I spent at a Bible College in Maui, Hawaii.

My first job was at a small beachfront coffee shop. The owner was full of largesse, or stupidity, because he hired me to manage the store without him present.

The first day of managing this café by myself was a disaster. The day started with opening the doors for business at 5 am to get the locals their coffee. With two alarms set, I still managed the to sleep to 6:15 am, ensuring a failing grade for the start of the day.

As I biked down the street in a mental tornado of worries I knew my greatest fear was not of my boss, but rather the barbarians lined up at the door waiting to drink the black life drug called caffeine. Without this potion they were inept to being able to enter back into respectable society. I greeted them before they had their coffee, somehow, managed to navigate through the morning without .

It was a fearsome task distributing coffee every morning, however, every morning was followed by the afternoon. This promised surfing, diving, snorkeling, anything to take me to the ocean…and my favorite sport—surfing.

I love to paddle out on my long-board to a remote surf break to come to rest and watch the waves gather on the horizon. My thoughts always seemed to be clearest on the ocean. It held a power to manifest the splendor of God through his physical creation. Nothing was metaphorical about this moment. It was real, it was dangerous, it was awesome. But it also promised unprecedented adventure for the surfer who could overlook the little, insignificant waves, and wait for the best wave, the awesome wave, the once in a lifetime wave. Which always left me breathless.

Peter Stobaugh
phone: (814) 659-6501

My Story

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

A few weeks ago I shared some insights about a couple of my friends and their views of the world especially in the context of love. For the next couple of days, I want to share my story, my view, and how I can make decisions with commitment.

The easiest question to ask me is “how do you know you love Heather?” Through movies and greeting cards I know my prompted response is “I just know” or an even increasingly popular response is “I don’t know, but I don’t care”.

Here is my effort to break out of that mold and give you more than a prophetic modified food starch shaped heart that says, “be mine”, can.

My story, with Heather, begins without Heather when I was 17 years old. Entering Bible College, I launched out on my own, washing onto the shores of Maui, Hawaii. This little postage stamp of paradise was teeming with sunburned tourists, Post-modernism, and a diverse array of incredible adventures—in short supply in Hollsoppple, PA.

Moving out of my house at only 17 really was easier for me than I thought it would be. As my family counselor pastor dad is fond of saying, I had already experienced a sort of “differentiation” or breaking away. And, besides, he gloated, my mom and he had prepared me just for this day.

Not to imply that I did not enjoy my life under my parents’ house, rather I was confident enough in my independence to move 2,000 miles away without fear of being lost. But I should have been less confident. Looking back, this was not from heroic spirit but probably more of ignorance to responsibilities. Paying first and last months rent and balancing two jobs taught me some maturity and common sense.

Peter Stobaugh
phone: (814) 659-6501

Rutherford, Wilson & Peter continued

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

After thanksgiving Rutherford, Wilson, and I decided to share a press of coffee in quaint Davis Square, Cambridge, MA. Listening to my two friends’ places in life, how different their situations are, but based on the same problem: they don’t know what they want, and they are not alone.

What I’ve discovered is there is an alarming number of people who are getting divorced from their straight-out-of-college spouses, are unable to commit to someone special, or are getting engaged to someone whom loves them but they don’t love. The decision of marriage is a symptom from the font line of the wasteland, America.

Rutherford has fabricated an ideal woman, piece-mealed from the movie Princess Bride and artist Bob Dylan, to compare every girl to. This is his standard to compare Tela also. For Rutherford to love Tela for who she is would be a compromise and would mean he was not living life to the fullest. I question him on this, and he says, “Well, I just don’t really know what I want.”

Wilson is caught in a web where he thinks marriage is simply the next step and he has no idea what he is looking for. He can fall in love with a million women and since Esther is here, why not? She is no different than any of the other girls. I question him on this, and like Rutherford, he replies “Well, I just don’t know really know what I want.” I wonder if the reason they don’t know what they are looking for is because there is something missing in their foundational thinking. Which makes me glad I met my future wife . . .


Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Wilson’s girlfriend was Esther. Unlike Wilson’s truthful buildings, Esther was an innocent imp. Have you ever burned the roof of your mouth on scalding pizza? The pain would go away if you could just stop tonguing the wound. Esther is that wound. She walks into the room and people dive for cover. Her idea of conflict resolution with Wilson was a slammed car door, turned off cell phone, and/or slashing comments. But this made no difference to Wilson.

The beast, love, began to tow; and Wilson longed for the jaws of this ride to close around him like a coffin of security. Commitment to him was another building to find himself in. Here, in the present, loving Esther was a brick, another piece as good as the next to mold a truth that his reality can adapt to.

All his life he found solace in the direction his work took him. Design after design he drafted, each, reflected the truth of who he was so intimately. They provided him with tangible evidence of his worth to offer as a sacrifice to up others, to Esther. Upon his shoulders he bore the responsibility to design and erect this institution of matrimony. After all, everything depends on a white wedding dress, glazed with joyful teardrops, inside the stone church.

Wilson’s life was surrendered to constructing wonder out of the ordinary materials within his reach. He had the right tools. No worries. One material was Church. There in the pews, he meditated on the precise elements to his and Esther’s relationship. Slogging through marriage books, he discovered more passageways to his self-consciousness. Peering into his favorite art by Jackson Pollock, he sought justification for rejecting reason. Esther was as random as a thrown paint-soaked brush, dripping, splashing onto to his canvas. He must learn to accept her for who she is, that is love. He would have been better off if he reread the book of Ephesians.

After one particularly violent encounter with Esther, he grinned at me and said, “A gentleman can live through anything.” But in his eyes this was not what he wanted. In his shoulder’s you could make out the tense unspoken words buried deep in his sinews.

His truth came from his constructions; he could always form his reality around an edifice. The driving force behind all his work was a clear sense of knowing what he wanted. Standing at the base of the Cathedral of Learning, Wilson began to fall apart. Peering up, he knew what he wanted from this building, it was simple: the answers came from within him.

Thinking of Esther, he searched inside himself and was left wanting for answers. Marriage, this institution, was a structure whose roof was mortality. The consequences of committing were too great for him to sustain alone. His work had never asked him to look beyond the tip of a steeple for meaning. Now, he strained to see where the steeple was pointing and saw nothing.

Directionless. Pointless. Unsure of what he wanted from marriage, Wilson surrendered to the beast. He left the cathedral mumbling, “There will be time, to prepare a face to meet the faces that I’ll meet.”

Ring shopping, not out of aspiration, but an apathetic stride. Consequences, commitment, had smudged his view of the world with a yellow fog. A cruel woman intruded into his neat spatial drama, coming and going, jawing of Michelangelo, and pinning him wriggling to the wall.

Just before he proposed, he texted me, saying:

“Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”-T. S. Eliot

Rutherford, Wilson, & Peter

Monday, January 11th, 2010

My next friend, Wilson, is quite the polar opposite of Rutherford. An ambitious architect for a well-respected firm in D.C. Wilson quietly dedicates himself to his work, church, and friends with a dutiful reverence. Growing up alongside him was at times exhausting. Though he accomplished his work to perfection at a fervid pace, his “to do” list never seemed to conclude. Keeping up at this pace would have buried me long ago.

“The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.”- William Faulkner

Rutherford, Wilson, and I used to sneak into the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh to talk about life. Rutherford would blather about a Bennie Maupin’s role as an influential jazz mutireedist. I would be staring out over the city, watching the sun’s rays play among the tall buildings. Wilson, he would be staring down at the structure of the building, muttering what he would change about its design. His eyes revealed the intensity he felt when surveying the minute details of the painstaking work it took to erect such a majestic object.

Looking back, it was days like sitting in the cathedral that he knew he wanted to become an architect. With a jolt, he would come alive with his own ideas, scratching diagrams and images. Utilizing an arsenal of modern techniques and materials, he would demolish purposeless fluff, added to buildings for popular style’s sake, to pragmatically create a new beauty that worshiped avant-garde efficiency.

Being encased in stone and metal, organized and purposefully place, gave him the sense of right. Buildings to him were like a perfect finger pointing to God in a magnificent display of disciplined work. While most people loved reading in parks, Wilson preferred to read in breathtaking buildings. He always felt more alive, more real, more good, sitting in buildings reading or doing his work. He said once to me, with a wink, “Peter, read Hemingway in a well planned building and truth will fall from its rafters.” Thoughts, for Wilson, were only as clear the spatial drama in his sketches of floor plans.