Basement Archiology.

I know that using the TV as a babysitter is not going to win me “Parent of the Year,” but there are moments where there just aren’t a lot of other options. To be fair to myself, I don’t actually own a television and haven’t for well over a decade. What I do have though is a laptop and my own personal “Leaning Tower of Pisa” built entirely out of the kid’s DVDs and the empty cases in which they are supposed to be put neatly away. I do my best, but the cases often do far less of a job protecting the movies that came in them than duty as coasters for either my coffee or beer, depending on what time of day you happen to catch me. Either way, provided that a disk remains relatively scratch free, popping one in will buy me about a half hour of productivity as Short Stack and Lulu Belle learn about something wholesome and educational. Thus far, I haven’t mistaken a Miffy DVD for say… The Guns of Navarone or Big Trouble in Little China, but I could see that happening eventually. THAT will be a fun time to explain.

Being the Christmas Season and I, being a sucker for the trappings thereof, I’ve been slowly tarting up the house with the trapping of the Holiday. It’s something that I get form my Mom and though the gene isn’t as strong with me as it is with her, it’s there nonetheless. Her house is always decorated like something out of a children’s book and it was magical to watch the transformation happen as a child. As a kid, I just assumed that everyone’s Mom went bonkers with the seasonal decorations and cookie making. I’ve since learned that’s not the case, so I do what I can with my own meager attempts to carry the torch for the sake of my own children’s holiday memories. The DVD that the kids were now successfully glued to gave me the chance I needed to do some rooting in the boxes that lurked in darker corners beneath the house.

Let me explain my house, just briefly. It’s small. No. It’s VERY small. We have exactly one closet in the entire structure and that is crammed to the bursting point with coats and boots. When we moved in here seven years ago, it was only a summer camp with no pretensions of being anything but that. It sat on posts and scoffed at the notion of insulation. I’ve spent the last seven years and a wheelbarrow full of cash changing all that. We now mostly have insulation in the walls and ceilings, but most importantly enough, we also have a basement. A FULL basement that is about seven and a half feet high at its shortest and nearly nine and a half at its highest.

It is also, do to the lack of storage anywhere else in the house, packed to the point of horror/hilarity. Finding anything down there requires persistence, the ability to balance on one foot for extended periods of time and very strong arms so you can carefully tilt four stacked boxes at once so you can peek into the fifth one. This can often result in something that Action Girl and I refer to as a “stuffalanche.”

With the few moments I had and the baby monitor turned up all the way and clipped to my belt, I moved boxes and totes in an effort to find a missing piece in my Christmas preparations. I didn’t find it, naturally, but as is often the case when I go spelunking through boxes of odds and ends, long forgotten, I did find something else that made me stop cold.

A rapidly disintegrating cardboard box spilled its contents at my feet, and among the old pay stubs, bank statements and notes to my self to do things in 2006, I saw a red binder.

My red binder.

THE red binder.

Once, I had a business that was based some distance from my house. It was a drive to get there and though it was hell on my car and the gas I burned up was impressive, it did give me one thing that I don’t really have any more. Solitude. I’d leave in the morning for work and since Action Girl works mostly night shifts, she’s be too groggy to be calling me as I drove on my commute. Content to leave the radio off, I’d spend that time in my car just letting my mind wander and observe things as I whipped by. It was a very nice way to start the day, to be honest.

One day as I trundled along the highway, I started to compose a little poem in my head. By the time I made it to work, I had worked most of it out and was pretty happy with it. Once my coat was hung up and the lights turned on, I sat down and scribbled it on a bit of lined paper. The next day, I did it again. Then again. I really grew to enjoy what quickly transformed into a morning ritual, and though I did not write something everyday, I did put my mind to it pretty often. By the end of the year, I had quite a little pile of prose. I’m hardly the one to judge its quality in the world of poetry, but it was good to me.

At some point, I got concerned about the scraps of paper with all that work and thinking poured onto them and decided I needed to transfer it all to my computer. I put them all in a red binder and brought them home. Then we lifted the house and the binder disappeared.

Normally, I’d not be too concerned about this. My attitude about these things tends to be, “Hey, it’s got to be here somewhere.” and I’m usually correct. This time though, I was worried. Very worried. After the house was picked up, had a basement put in and plopped back down on it’s new underpinning, my Father-in-law had come over and “helped” This is a dangerous thing. Though he has a good heart and the nervous industry that most twenty year old do not, he also has a very bad and well earned reputation for throwing things out that do not belong to him or that no person in their right mind would toss, all without clearance from the owner. Here I’m thinking about the bag of nuts and bolts that held my table saw bench together. No joke.

Long after the visit, I discovered that he had “helpfully” cleaned up an area in the house that, though I admit it, was knee deep in… stuff and debris, it also contained my binder of poems. It had been hastily put there with everything else during the house construction and was going to be dealt with… later… whenever that would be. When I looked at the spot now, it was empty. I knew he had also been to the dump at least twice during his time here. My heart sank. I never asked him if he saw it. I didn’t want him to feel guilty for only trying to help.

I actually wrote one last poem about my book of poetry moldering away under piles of trash at the city landfill, and then I didn’t write again. For whatever reason, the spirit to write poetry just sort of went dormant for me. I tried here and there over the years, but it just didn’t flow like it did before. Not having the commute to quietly reflect anymore, no doubt was a major impact, but thinking of a year’s worth of writing, gone for good also killed the joy.

With a lightning fast snatch that would have caught a fish by surprised, I grabbed it with both hands before it disappeared once again. Eye’s wide, I fearfully examined the open edge of the binder to look without really looking. I had other red binders like this one. It could easily be filled with receipts or old product information, long since irrelevant. No. It wasn’t that.

A smile spreading across my face, I opened it up to see sheet after sheet of hand written thoughts and personal observations. A year’s worth of thinking and writing. I scanned quickly and then snapped it shut and hugged it to my chest, eyes held tight.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” was all I could say.

The little spy speaker on my waist told me that the show upstairs was coming to an end and thus too, my ability to remain here any longer. Holding the long lost binder under my arm, I headed back to the living room where Short Stack immediately burst into a long and accurate description of the show they just watched as Lulu Belle scurried off in search of a lucky stuffed animal with whom to have tea. I listened with half an ear as I made a new home for my memories in a safe and easy to remember location upstairs.

I still have a lot of Christmas-ing to do around the house and that’s the main priority for me, but it will be over soon as well. Once it is, and the kids are tucked into bed, I have some transcribing to do. I don’t know what is in store for me present-wise this Christmas, but I’m already as happy as I could be. What was lost is found and with the distance of time, I’ll be reading these again with new eyes as I type away in the night.

Merry Christmas to me!

Oh, Sugarbunnies!

I had almost completed my first week of kindergarten at St. Joseph’s Catholic school and I had a question for my Mother.

“Mom. I head some words at school and wondered if they were bad. Can I tell you what they were?”

My mother put down what she was doing and looked at me. “Yes, you can tell me the words you heard at school. It’s alright.”

With permission granted, I happily ran through an extensive and well rounded list of epithets and interjections that one would normally associate with bars and pool halls rather than Mrs. Jobin’s AM kindergarten class. As my mother sucked in a long breath, he eyebrows rose up her forehead as if she was inflating. “Yes,” she added as evenly as she could, “those are bad words.”

I was thrilled to have my assumptions affirmed and before the special moment was lost, asked, “Does Dad know any worse ones?”

“No. Your father doesn’t use that kind of language.” Was the reply. Happy for what I had but wishing I had found more, I left the kitchen and headed out into my five year old world to hunt down what ever knowledge I could find. After all, I had some swear words in my quiver now!

swearing

The best part of this conversation to me wasn’t the fact that I had been sent to a religious school and immediately discovered the world of blue language, but rather my mother’s response to if Dad hand any other gems that I might not yet know about. My Father, though a good and kind man, was also a platoon sergeant and must have been at the nexus of foul language for much of the time he was in uniform. Oh, if I had only known.

My Kindergarten discoveries were not however, my first dip into the swearing pool. The very first cuss word to escape my little mouth was a time honored favorite. It rhymes with “fit.” I don’t recall what made me say it, but I’ve been told about the conversation that occurred after I said it. Dad looked up and my Mother and simply uttered, “He didn’t learn it from me!” Dad had worked very, very hard at cleaning up what he said at home since when he was at the barracks, swearing was a necessary part of every sentence. You didn’t ask some one to pass the salt. You asked then to pass the fu**ing salt. You didn’t get into the jeep, but rather got into the godd**n jeep. Not using the swear word would have been like serving a burger with out the ketchup. He lived in fear of sitting down to dinner with his wife, child or in-laws of and asking for the “d**n gravy.”

No, my initial venture into the world of expletives came, much to her embarrassment, from my very straight laced Mom. The fecal swear was perhaps her one real vice. It was not used loosely about the house but came out only in once geographical local, and from this it derived it’s nickname. We referred to it as “the kitchen word” and when you heard it, you knew that things were not going well in there. Often, it was used following the sound of pots and pans hitting the floor.

My Mother has never been the swearing type and her mother, famously in family lore, once castigated her for using “Bull Tickies” when something didn’t work right. She glared at her adult daughter and replied sharply, “That’s pretty close to something I don’t like!” Grandma was hardly unfamiliar with swearing in the house she grew up in and reportedly, when he Father let loose with his ultimate, “God D*mn it all to Hell”, you knew that he had reached the end of whatever rope he was currently hanging from. To this day, that particular sentence still carried weight within the family.

Having apparently taken her Mother’s admonishment to heart, my Mom came up with her own fill-in swear. One that could never be tisked at by Gramma: Sugarbunnies.

This wasn’t the family’s first foray into renaming dirty words. For what ever reason, my Grandmother, the same one who wasn’t fond of “Bull Tickies” decided that she needed to come up with something else to call poop. For some strange reason, she settled on “Bunkie.”

I have no idea why.

What it meant though was that I grew up surrounded by an extensive family of aunts, uncles and cosigns who all used the word, “bunkie” to describe a bowel movement. It was normal to hear and for one of my more rambunctious cosigns, served as his vehicle for his first full on tirade. Confronted one day by our Grandfather and having been told by him in no uncertain terms that things were not, in fact, going to go the way he was demanding, the young and aggrieved party squared his jaw and told Gramp, “Your name is Bunkie and you live on Bunkie Street!”

This, naturally lead to peels of laughter. Not what he was hoping for. Later that week, my parents made a fake street sign reading, “Bunkie Street,” placed it at the end of their road and took a photo to give as a gift to my Grandparents. It was well received.

I have worked hard at keeping my own language in a realm that would keep both my Mother and Grandmother happy with me and for the most part, I succeed. I do slip from time to time, but it’s fairly rare. I never thought of my lack of swearing as terribly noticeable, and as it turned out, it isn’t… until I swear.

The time that struck this home to me was back in college. My roommate at the time was of the “thick” variety and had a habit of doing knuckleheaded things. Sometimes to me, sometimes to others. He wasn’t bad, just numb. One night, I had come home to find that he had ruined some of my things though his all to often, careless behavior. I had liked these things he had ruined and was justifiably mad. I had also had a really rotten day. Apparently, the other folks on the hall were so caught off guard by my litany of swearing and vitriol that one of them was dispatched to find my roommate and instruct him that he was not to come home that night, lest he loose a major body part or several quarts of blood. Now, I’m not the violent type and I truly doubt that many would find me imposing but these fellows whom I lived with were so caught off guard by the nice, quiet guy letting loose with his best profanity that they the consensus was that I had snapped. From this episode, I learned that swearing needs to be used carefully. Measure it out and place it well and your point will carry that much more weight. Just don’t do it when Gandma is within earshot.

Working by my self for years made keeping my language clean pretty easy for me. Action Girl has had a rougher time. She works as a sea captain, longshoreman and is a card carrying Teamster. The vocabulary of a sailor is a colorful thing and it has taken a good deal of effort, discipline and glares from me over the dinner table, lest Short Stack catch on, to keep her more dynamic speech in check. She works hard at it and I’ve become an excellent covert glarer.

My Mom also has worked hard to overwrite “the kitchen word” with “Sugarbunnies” and she has pretty much succeeded. It tumbles off her tongue without a thought and now, Short Stack has picked up on it. He thinks it’s hilarious. As she stands in the counter making a meal, she drops a fork to the floor and utters an exasperated sigh. Short Stack is making a pass thought the kitchen at the time with his toy dump truck and stops to examine the fork and the situation. He looks up at his Grandmother and in true Short Stack fashion, asks a question.

“Gramma. Why did you not say ‘Sugarbunnies’?”

With a little luck, he should be swear free until Kindergarten. Then all bets are off.

Stewardship of a Friend

I hope I won’t be tossing too much of a wet blanket on things with this story but I’m writing this entry as more of a catharsis than a literary exercise. More than anything, I just want to get some of the emotion off my shoulders. Tomorrow morning, I will be putting an old and deeply loved pet to sleep. I’ve only done this once before and I’m dreading doing it again.

It’s been a rough year or so for pets in our house. A few months ago, I told the story of Peanut, the mouse and his discovery in a box at my shop. He was a good little mouse and though the extent of our interactions could be boiled down to feeding and cleaning his cage, I liked having him around and miss seeing his antics. For a mouse, he was ancient and finding that he had passed away in his cage one evening was hardly a shock. Tomorrow will be something totally different. It’s time to say good bye to my cat, Sylvester and he’s been with me a long, long time.

Action Girl and I wound up with Sylvester and his sister some time back around 1995. The road that went from my place to her apartment also wound by the local animal shelter and every time we drove by she would try to talk me into stopping. One day, weakened by home made pancakes and sweet talk, I pulled the car in. As we looked at the various cats in their sad little cells, I noticed that each one had a card next to it. The card detailed the name of the cat, its age and what it did well with, such as other cats, dogs, kids, etc. One little black and white cat sitting in his little cage caught my eye. The card said that his name was Sylvester, which is hardly original for a black and white cat, I’ll grant you. What was interesting was what it said he did well with.

“I do well with _Misty_”

As I looked to my left, there sat a scared looking calico who was, sure enough, named Misty. We decided to test drive them in the petting room and Sylvester quickly proved him self to be a lover. What he wanted to do was play, rub and purr. He was a great self promoter and I had no doubt that I had just found my new cat. Misty, on the other hand, hid under the chair. When we asked about them we were informed that they had been brought in together by a woman who had become allergic. Because they were brother and sister, the shelter really wanted them to go to the same home. The problem was that they were already past their time at the facility. This was not a non-euthanizing shelter. The woman who were were looking with said that there was someone who wanted Sylvester, but not Misty. They had hung on to them a bit longer in the hopes that they could still be placed together and both saved. We were hooked and took them both. We actually were ushered out a side door since shortly after filling out the adoption paperwork, the woman who wanted just Sylvester had come in the front. We were told that she would not be pleased.

doink

Oddly enough, we changed Misty’s name to Jade but kept Sylvester as is. He immediately proved himself a great cat and his antics would send us into peals of laughter. Jade, on the other hand, clearly wanted to be a single cat. She simply did not want to be part of a two cat show and took it out on her clownish counterpart. A short time later, she found her way to my folks house and lives there now, fat, old and happy to have all the love and affection. Sylvester has been with us ever since, squeaking his paws on the wood floors as he tore around the house at top speed. Along the way, we picked up a Maine Coon Cat named Beeswax and the two of them became best buddies. They kind of reminded me of the Odd Couple. Beeswax as Oscar and Sylvester as Felix. They made life a lot of fun and we enjoyed their company if not the lost space on the bed. They’ve moved to many new homes as we have tried to find our spot in the world.

The last addition to the fuzzy side of the family was our third cat, Owlie. A fluffy little fool who, being far younger than the other two, took over the difficult stage work of keeping us laughing and gave the other two old men a chance to kick back and heckle from the box seats.

For a while, we were a three cat household. That, for the size of our house and the fact that they were all indoor cats only was just too many cats. Someone was always underfoot, puking on something or shedding on your new coat. Then you toss an infant into the mix, and things were really getting crowded. We loved them all though. Then about a year and a half ago, Beeswax started to fail. He had been a huge cat, weighing in at over twenty pounds without an ounce of fat on him. In a few months, he had lost a lot of mass and rapidly went down hill. He was fourteen and on his way out in a long, drawn out illness. It was the first time I had to help a pet go. He couldn’t do it with out me. So, as an adult and father, I took our wonderful Beeswax down to the vet and he passed quietly and painlessly away in my arms. I heard his heart’s last beat. I was a wreck for the rest of the day.

That was over a year ago and now, it’s time for Sylvester to go and meet his friend. I had noticed that something was wrong a few months ago. It was one of those things that only a long term friend would have known. Even though outwardly he looked fine, I could tell that things were not right. Even after this summer’s routine checkup at the vet’s this which he passed with flying colors, I knew he wasn’t his old self. Over the last week, things have fallen apart. His coat wasn’t being cleaned, his appetite dropped and then, he started to stumble. He’s lost a lot of weight and a blood test that we had done confirmed it. Acute kidney failure. For him, there’s no turning back. He’s dehydrated, week and feels sick. He’s still a lover though and will purr at the lightest touch.

vester
(Sylester In younger and healthier days)

Tomorrow at ten, we’ll get a home visit from the vet. He’ll pass away on his favorite pillow on our couch. Short Stack will be away at pre-school, but I’ll be sure he gives ‘Vester a kiss goodbye before he heads off to play. It will be hard to explain later, but I’ll tell him that he’s with Beeswax now. There are some who would say that animals have no souls. I know this cat’s soul. He’s bared it to me for seventeen years, just as I’ve bared mine to him. I’ve breathed his breath and he’s soaked up my love.

I’ll miss you terribly, my friend. I know it’s your time to leave and we both knew it was coming. It doesn’t make it any easier, though. You’re the best black and white cat there is.

Standing on Tradition

There is no point in me denying that I’m a hopeless romantic. Freely, I will admit to having a rose tinted view of things that I have done or seen in the past. Hind sight might be 20/20, but perception can be heavily altered when viewed through the filter of nostalgia. The bad times fall away and only the interesting and fun tend to float to the surface; especially if that reflected time is of the simplicity of youth, now being viewed from under the worries of adulthood, covering us like a heavy bearskin on a hot summer day.

Such are my memories of primary school. I was fortunate enough to spend the first seven years of my scholastic life at Saint Joseph’s, a fairly small, private, Catholic school in south western New Hampshire. The building its self matched pretty closely to what most of you are thinking when I say “Catholic School”. Built of red brick with concrete, decorative touches, the structure was two stories tall and monolithic in appearance. Inside, the rooms had impossibly high ceilings with plasterwork that rounded flawlessly down to the vertical and became walls, creating a beautiful vaulted feel. The windows were of the type that were so common in the schools of old. Huge expanses of glass made up of dozens of individual, leaky panes with an opening portion at the bottom. These are never seen in public buildings anymore, all having long since been bricked up or covered over with depressing slabs of plywood in an effort to reduce heating bills with the added effect of sentencing the occupants to life under blinking florescent tubes.

The steps leading up to the massive, oak double doors are huge slabs of granite and though the thousands upon thousands of small feet from generations past barely shows, the black internal stairs are deeply rutted on either side, looking for all the world like they have been shaped by two endless waterfalls, now run dry. I can clearly recall walking them and wondering how many others had climbed them. Even as a little kid with the requisite lack of enthusiasm for all things scholastic, I had a very special fondness for this place. There was a lot to feel good about when it came to my attendance. My Mom had gone here as did all her sisters. Not only that, but this was my Grandfather’s school as well. The impossibly old and venerable man who I revered as the head of the extended family had been just another small boy here, walking these exact stairs just like I did. It was a fantastic thought.

There were no uniforms to wear, but dress code was closely adhered to. No jeans, no sneakers, No shorts and undershirts were just that; to be worn under a shirt. Decorated t-shirts were not acceptable attire. For what it was, the code was quite lax, really. Ties were not required for the boys and skirts, though often worn by the girls, were not mandated over slacks. Every kid simply had two drawers in their room: school clothes and play clothes and never the twain did meet. We thought nothing of it and to my knowledge, no one ever chafed under the rule.

The first floor contained the smaller grades, going from kindergarten up to second. Even with the expansive rooms and unreachable ceilings, it was a friendly place and made you feel safe. Every morning after attendance we would pile out into the hall way and sit down on the floor, one small butt per linoleum square, and the teachers would start the daily program. This was usually made up of announcements for upcoming special events, kids birthdays, or simply talking about the changing seasons. It was always concluded with songs and heartfelt prayer. That was my morning routine. Quite a nice way to start the day, if you ask me.

Upstairs, were the higher grades. Third and fourth, a small but well run library, the music room and the principal’s office took up the space. I believe that the administration for the entire school was simply the principal and his secretary. As I recall, the secretary also doubled as the receptionist and school announcer. No councilors, no vice principals, no department of redundancy department. It was all overseen by one principal, the school secretary and the teachers. I might also add that it ran very, very smoothly.

The central hallway off the second floor let to the “big kids” wing. There were swinging, double doors to this hallway and they were always closed. We feared it. They might as well have scrawled, “Here be giants!” over the doors. Little kids had no reason to be there and we craned our necks in tense curiosity to get a peek through the glass when walking single file, to the library. When they opened with a groan, we jumped and moved faster.

The day I was finally old enough to walk through those squeaking gates was memorable. It was a very literal right of passage. Nothing remarkable was down there of course. Just fifth and sixth grades, but it had grown huge in our imaginations over the last five years. Below these class rooms on the first floor was our double duty gym/auditorium where I had the chance to humiliate my self both on the basket ball court and the stage. It was a place for equal opportunity childhood embarrassment. Ah, the memories.

The last important part of this place was the church. Across a shared parking lot is the cornerstone Catholic church for the city. Every Wednesday, we would line up and head over for an hour or so for a private… well, I was going to say lesson, but it was somewhere between a lesson and a mass. What ever it was, it meant that I didn’t have to go to spend my precious Sunday afternoons in a classroom, and for that, I shall always be thankful.

With one exception (there’s always one, isn’t there), I had wonderful teachers there and over all, received a really top notch education at St. Joe’s. The school was never wealthy and I vividly remember cracks in the plasterwork and a finicky boiler that sometimes didn’t heat the place as it should have, but I never minded that. The tuition was not expensive but it was there and need to be paid. It was a sacrifice which all of our classmate’s parents made and I think it made us better students in the process.

There were no school vouchers, there was no support from the government and I firmly believe that it made the place better. They were beholden to no one except their beliefs and the parent’s of the students. If a student was a bad behavior, they were gone, and gone permanently. I wonder what ever happened to Shawn “The Toy Smasher”? He was history by second grade. Elitist? No, I don’t think so. It was a place of rules though, and if a kid couldn’t follow them, well… That was your problem, not theirs.

A lot of things have changed as time has marched along. First, there was my own personal break from The Church. A decision that was not made lightly. I harbor the institution no ill will but it no longer fits my world view. I do, however, miss the place it occupied in my life, though. I’ve also moved away. This is something that really eats at me sometimes because I would like nothing more then to see my own children get dressed up and head off to this wonderful place. They would be the fourth generation to do so in my family and the missed opportunity leaves me sad sometimes.

The last change is a happy one though. Not only is Saint Joseph’s School still there, but it had expanded to seventh and eighth grade as well. I have no idea where they have made the rooms, but it pleases me to know that it’s healthy and vibrant. On an impromptu visit I made a year or so ago, I noted that much is the same and much has been improved. The peeling paint and cracked plaster has been repaired beautifully and the stage where I had stood in school productions long past has seen a complete refurbishing. The massive and leaky windows were replaced with equally massive, brand new expanses of glass and steel, changing the look not one bit.

I will be sure to bring the kids there someday, just to show them where Great Grandpa, Grandma, and their Dad spent so much time in their youth. I doubt very seriously that they will ever have the chance to attend school there but hey, you can’t have everything.

Every tradition meets its end sometime and from that end, new ones begin.

Holy men and Humor

I have a good friend who I’ve known for many years now. He’s a great guy, as is his family and I only wish we still lived in the same area. Back when I lived in New Hampshire the two of us used to get together fairly frequently and waste hefty amounts of time enjoying bizarre and eclectic movies or quizzing each other about ridiculous minutia of dubious fact. We both have a particular love of the obscure, and if you can serve that obscurity up with nice, big side dishes of history and silliness, so much the better. We’ve had a lot of fun trying to “out bizarre” each other with strange and edifying material collected from the bottom of old, moldy trunks, long forgotten in half collapsed barns. Needless to say, I always enjoy getting email from him. For this blog, I’ll refer to him simply as “Number 6” for reasons that make perfect sense to me and anyone else who knows him. I’ve been keeping an eye out for a black blazer with white trimmed lapels for him but so far, no luck.

It was Number 6 who emailed me the link to “The Elders” web site. He also sent me a picture, titled “A Couple of Real Jokers”. The photo was taken at a discussion involving not only the Dali Lama, but also the Bishop, Desmond Tutu. In the picture, The Dali Lama is pointing at Bishop Tutu in a conspiratorial kind of way and both are laughing. I have profound respect for these two men and would have LOVED to be in the audience, or at the very least, watched it on TV. I think the predominant reason that I like these two individuals so much is their sense of humor and humility, not to mention the honor in which they live their lives.

Now here’s the thing. I have great respect for these two public figures. Number 6 however, sent me the picture with the question, “What do you suppose was so funny?”, and this is where my brain switches to “default” mode. For me, “default” is “silly mode”. High brow it’s not, but my instant reaction was…

I couldn’t resist.

What I hope… and I think I’m right here, is that the two honorable gentlemen in question would find it funny too. I like to think they would…

I would, anyway.

The Elder Gods.

A friend of mine sent me a link that really made me stop and ponder. It’s called “The Elders” and the idea is to have a group of almost unanimously respected elder statesman-type people who can operate as a kind of “In my day, you didn’t get to do that. So stop it, straighten up and fly right.”, kind of manner.

On the surface, I really like the idea. The thought of having a group of people who’ve “seen it all” and can impart their knowledge to our reluctant leaders sounds good. It’s would be the global governmental equivalent of going telling on your parents to Gramma and Grampa. Pretty much, anything that makes our world leaders uncomfortable and itchy is something that I can get behind. Accountability is a GOOD thing.

The down side is obvious. The Elders can’t do anything other than shame governments and movements. They control nothing other than influence, which I’ll grant you, does have some kick when used properly. What would be a real hoot would be if they could some how threaten to cut them out of their will like a real cantankerous old patriarch/matriarch. “No, you can’t get my money/brain until you start treating your women/ethically different citizens/neighbors better.”

Hey… Isn’t that what we, the 1st world nations, are supposed to be doing anyway? Hmmmm.

Anyway. The friend who sent the link to me asked if I could think of any one else who should be included as an Elder. His bid was for the Dali Lama, who I do think is a great choice, if not super-duper tricky (what with the whole China-Tibet thing).

And since we’re tossing in a whole “Holy Man” variable with the Dali Lama, why not take it to the next level and just go ahead and elect Gods directly? The rule would have to be that they can’t run for the office. It would need to be foisted on individuals. That and no organized campaigning, just a person by person vote. Personally, I love the idea! Oh… And they should look good in flowing robes.

So my choice is Walter Cronkite. If we could elect our Elders and Gods… I think he’d be right at the top on the list for me. Talk about having seen it all. Plus, I think he’d look good on church ceilings. What do you think?

Walter for God in 2009!

House hold gods

Having been raised a Roman Catholic and attending a grand total of eleven years of Catholic school, I pretty much feel like I’ve already gotten in enough organized religion in my life to last me until I slip my particular surly bonds. I’m no longer what my Grandmother called “in the Church”. In actuality, I can’t say that I can even see it back over the horizon any more. It would be impressive and tough sounding of me to say that I had some sort of major “get me out of here!” moment with organized faith. Something where I tell them all to hang, put on my headphones and strode defiantly out the door and snarkily strode down Damnation Alley but it didn’t happen like that for me. It was more like I noticed the sun filtering trough a crack in the half open door and caught a glimpse of the trees and fields just out side and as everyone else bowed their heads, I edged out into the fresh air. I’ve never really looked back and have always been happy with my choice. I’m also not much of a joiner. That didn’t hurt either.

Since the organized religion thing isn’t my cup of tea, I’ve sort of found my own way over the years. I consider my self to be a fairly spiritual person and being a sort of arm chair student of history, I’ve enjoyed doing my own study of religious beliefs and customs as I’ve gone along. When you look at belief systems and religious myths from around the world with (what I hope is) a unbiased eye, no one’s practices or belief structures are any more unbelievable than any one else’s. On the face of it, they are all somewhat… odd to believe in from any out sider’s point of view, and some can seem very odd if from a radically different culture.

Some beliefs or rituals though, even if thousands of years out of date can really resonate with us even now. Or at least, they can with me. We visited a friend of ours in France some time ago and had a lovely trip. His house is in the Ardèche, just above the more famous Provence. This region is very dry, scrubby and chocked full of Roman ruins. While we were there, It got me thinking a lot of what it must have been like to live there as a citizen of the Roman Empire and what their lives were like, specifically at home. This started me thinking about House Gods.

Every house had many small shrines for various gods and offerings and thanks were brought to them often.
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It kept the house safe and in harmony, so they believed, and I for one have no reason to deride them for their beliefs. My particular religious ancestors didn’t do so well with the Romans for quite a long time, unless you include them in the entertainment industry. Even still, Colosseum work wasn’t exactly a career. Still though, I really do like the idea of the House Hold Gods. It’s… quaint, homespun, private; and that appeals to me greatly. One of the reasons I “left” the Church all those years ago was that it seemed remote and secretive. I also chafed at being told what exactly to believe. If you thought otherwise, you were bad. Not much fun really. The idea of a smaller house god, a god that you could get miffed at and have it out with, appeals directly to my Libertarian streak. A god that you could bargain with appeals to my logical side. I also think it made people far more respectful of their dwellings and how they were kept. Not a bad thing at all.

I think were missing out with the loss of our little house gods. How often have you tried to cajole your car keys out of their hiding place or bargained with an appliance to work again. Just think. If you had your house gods, at least you’d know who to talk to about the problem. And if they ever seemed uncooperative… they wouldn’t say “no” to a slice of that cheese cake you’ve got in the fridge.

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