For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

Monday Poem, A Year and a Day

For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

The barrel is warmed by my hand’s reverent grip,
rounded edges looking improbably soft.
Its walnut stock, marred here and there,
each scratch a story I can never know.

This is my Grandfather’s gun.
A long ago present from a father to his son.

A harsh gift, some would say, viewed through the lens of today’s world.
Yet a tender and well reasoned one for so long ago.

The hours it has spent hanging over his young shoulder.
The woodland glades it has crossed, reflecting the autumn sun.
The ducks and pheasants that have fallen to it,
and the dinners and sandwiches they later became.

I am told it is a good gun. A collector’s piece, now.
I am told of its value, but I know its real worth and I am rich to have it.

This is not my gun.

I am but its steward.

It will be kept clean and dry,
oiled and shining,
just as he kept it.

This is my Grandfather’s gun,
and always shall be.

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Tickets, please

“Hey Kiddo, I have an idea.”

My wife audibly sucked in her breath on the other end of the phone. She’s used to my “ideas” and to her credit, lets me try a fair number of them. The ones that I think wouldn’t pass her scrutiny, I tend to start first and tell her about later… If they work.

“What’s your idea?”
“Do you want to see a show? I’m looking at two seats to see David Sedaris, live. They’re front row, center, balcony.” I held my breath. I love David Sedaris and the chance to hear him read his stuff in person sounded like a lot of fun.

“When is it and where?”

This was tricky. Not only was the show soon, but it was also a two hour drive away. If we were going to be going to see the performance, it would require kid watching.

“Well, it’s on a Thursday and it’s a drive. I think we can pull it off though. What do you say?”

Silence. Then, “Well, if you think we can swing it… Sure. It would be great to get out and do something fun.”

Gleefully, I hung up the phone and punched my credit card number into the computer, reserving two fantastic seats. We were going out. No, not merely out, we were going out to see a show! After nearly three years of small children, the prospect of going out to see something live made me giddy. Though I love my children with all my heart, I’m pretty sure that since Short Stack joined us in 2006 we have seen exactly three movies, gone out to dinner as a couple no more than five times and gone to see a live performance, zero. There’s a song written by the musician Jonathan Coulton that explains this the best I’ve ever heard it put. He wrote it for his first child when she was born and it’s titled, “You Ruined Everything in the Nicest Way” I find the accuracy of that song to be dizzying. But, hey! We were finally going out! This was going to be fun.

hands

I knew that making this happen was going to require some juggling. For starters, the show didn’t begin until eight o’clock. With an almost two hour car trip to get back home, that meant we were looking at eleven-thirty to midnight for our return time. The added rub is that we wouldn’t actually be home. We’d be close but barred from making the last leg. The problem is, we live on an island. It’s not a very big island and it’s not too far off the mainland, but it is surrounded by water and you do need a boat to get you there. We own no boat and every time a storm blows up, I’m eternally grateful for that fact. It does, however, make us dependent on the ferry and the ferry does not run all night.

So, we wouldn’t get to go home, but that’s not the end of the world. A ways down the coast, my Grandfather has a place and as luck would have it, it would be empty on the dates around the show. Now I had a place to go but needed kid watchers. What I needed were parents. Luckily, I have those too! My folks love to be with their grandchildren and watch them most weekends while I try to do industrious things to the house with spinning saws and overpowered drills. Action Girl works Saturdays and Sundays, so if I’m going to be loud and lumber minded, someone’s got to sit on the children. My folks enjoy this and have gotten comfortable watching two munchkins. What they haven’t done is watch them over night and frankly, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Lulu Belle is still a wee-critter and gets up two to four times a night and while Short Stack will sleep right through MOST of the time, if something goes wrong, having both kids up and unhappy at three in the morning is just miserable. So, the plan goes thus:

1: Bring kids to my Grandfather’s house on the mainland.
2: Meet my folks there.
3: Go to show
4: Return to Grandfather’s and spend the night.
5: Go home to our island in the morning.

Perfect!

You know where this is going, don’t you?

The first fly in the ointment was that I’m bad at paying attention. I had gotten the date of the show wrong. As things turned out, if I had actually read it correctly, I would have noticed that it took place two days earlier than I had planned. The next problem was that Action Girl worked that day. She would have to take personal time to make it. Then there was the fact that my parent’s couldn’t watch the kids on Tuesday so I’d need to find a sitter. Then, the last straw was the weather. Snow was forecast, and a lot of it too boot.

I gave up. It wouldn’t happen. If it were just me, I probably would have pushed on through sheer bloody-mindedness and testosterone poisoning but with Action Girl giving me “the look”, I admitted defeat. Now I need to find a buyer for my two wonderful tickets.

Anyone on the island would have the same problem that we had. They wouldn’t be able to get home, so I knew that it would be a long shot. Surely, someone would know someone else and a buyer found. I put out the word and called all my friends who were likely suspects. Nothing. No takers anywhere. Lots and lots of them WANTED to go, but for one reason or another, no one could. I heard a lot of, “Aw, MAN!”s. It was time for Craig’s List. The tickets were offered for face value and I waited for a bite. And waited, and waited. The show was just a few days away now. It was really quiet out there. I had one nibble, but no bites.

It would have been a crime to let the seats go unwarmed by someone’s butt and when a friend who had to pass on the tickets her self, called with a lead, I jumped on it. Her roommate would love to see the show. The problem was, being a poor graduate student she was broke. Was I still interested? With a small wince and a thought about this being the Christmas season, I said, “yes”

As it turned out, her roommate wasn’t just happy, she was ecstatic. In our phone conversation, she told me about how things had been going so miserably wrong for her the last month. There had been few bright spots and mostly trial after trial, capped off with the fact that he car had just died and needed to go into the garage. This was the first thing that had gone right for her in weeks. I smiled, told her where to meet me the next morning and packed the tickets in my bag.

The next day, we rendezvoused and I handed over my dream of a night out with my wife to a stranger who had been beaten down by life of late. She was gleeful, thankful and promised me Christmas cookies, banana bread and a piece of her artwork just as soon as she could make it. With a big hug and a “Merry Christmas” she just about danced off in the freshly falling snow.

I hope she has a great time at the show. I’m betting she will. I’m out the money, but honestly, I feel pretty good. It is Christmas, after all.

I will, however, do my best not to notice when eight o’clock on this Tuesday rolls around.

Dangerous Birthday Presents

Action Girl is not an easy person to buy a gift for.
That’s putting it mildly. She’s fiendishly difficult to buy a gift for, and with her birthday coming up fast, I was in a bit of a panic.

Over the years, I have made progress in working out what she likes for prezzies and what falls flat. Clothes? No way. She’s very particular about clothes. Dustable knick knacks? You’ve got to be kidding. Jewelry? That depends. She likes bracelets but never wears them because “They get in the way and bug me..” Necklaces have the same issue. She likes the idea, but the actual wearing of them is another thing. Rings? No. I don’t cal her “Action Girl” for nothing. Rings are far too delicate and would get crunched or wacked very quickly. Her wedding ring (in fact, the only ring she wears) was actually selected very carefully based on durability and looks. The Durability issue, however, came first during the selection process.

So, that pretty much leaves me with earrings. She loves earrings and she has lots of them. I have been buying her earrings for all sorts of occasions for years now and have followed the progression from ‘long and dangly’ to “posts, only please” and lately, back to ‘long and dangly’ again. The problem is that I almost ALWAYS get her earrings. She always appreciates them but it was starting to feel too easy, to obvious. I needed something new.

I also wanted something that said “I love you” in a new and interesting way. I love spending time with her and we used to do a lot of out door activities together such as mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing, but since the arrival of our kiddos, that’s been pretty much a memory. So, I spent some time thinking about an outdoor sport that we could do, just the two of us, that wouldn’t take too much time and we’d both enjoy. Then I had an idea. It was risky, but I hoped that she would like it.

Yesterday was her birthday. She informed us all that she was turning twenty nine again this year, since it went so well the other times and we made plans to get up at a reasonable hour and do something she enjoys. On the morning, we packed Short Stack and Lulu Belle into the wagon and headed off strawberry picking. Short Stack is still to young to remember doing this last year and we were a bit dubious about how this would work out. We shouldn’t have worried. As soon as he got his empty pint box, he transformed into a dump truck (his favorite thing to be) and made about fifty trips back and forth from us to the quickly filling flat. He dubbed it the “flat bed”. If any activity can involve trucks, he’s happy. Lulu Bell mostly got hoisted along in her car seat and watched clouds and bugs.

We finished up picking and after a quick cleanup to get the strawberry juice off of Short Stack’s face, hands, chest, neck, ears and arms, we headed back. I had told Action Girl that her present was at my shop. I got the obligatory, “You didn’t have to get me anything” speech but there was no way that I’d let her birthday go by with out something given. As we got closer, I got more and more nervous. This was either going to work or really, REALLY bomb. When we pulled in I tried to explain that this was… an unusual gift. It was something that she didn’t need and probably never thought of getting. I explained that I got it because I wanted to spend more time with her and I thought this might be a good way to do that.

Boy, did she look confused and perhaps, just a little bit worried.

I ran in, got it and came out with this…

It’s a M96 Swedish Mauser built in 1917 and it’s in fantastic shape. For those of you who haven’t read the “In a Nut Shell (bag?)” page or missed the other posts I’ve made about firearms, or the fact that the name of the blog comes from two of my favorite fire arms, let me just say, “I love shooting.” Though her upbringing did not involve guns, Action Girl has turned out to be a very good shot. The problem was that the high power stuff I shoot tends to kick her around too much and thus, she doesn’t go with me very often. She likes the little .22 caliber rifles we have but they are really only good to about fifty to seventy yards and for accuracy over distance, you need more power.

My sweet Action Girl… truth be told, is a power junkie. Just ask her. Her idea of a boat is a center console, 25 foot Mako with a couple of 225’s on the back. She can drive any piece of heavy equipment you can name and handle it flawlessly. She drives multi-ton sea going vessels for a living. She, to put it succinctly, likes power.

The Swedish M98 Mauser is nothing to sneeze at. The bullet it fires may be smaller than most of the military cartridges if the day, but at 6.5 millimeters in diameter, it’s still plenty big; just not big enough to bruise your shoulder after a morning at the range. It is also very beautiful, as old rifles go. My hope was that if she had the right rifle and the knowledge that it was hers, then perhaps she would feel compelled to drop the kids with the grandparents and go shooting with me some Sunday mornings.

Big gamble. She was either going to love it or hate it and I was really nervous. I put it in her hands, told her what it was and… a big smile broke across her face. Then she started working out how we could slip away this weekend so she could go and shoot HER rifle! *phew!*

So, we have a ‘date’ this Sunday to go and punch some holes in paper targets at 100 yards. I’ll bring one of my usual rifles and this time, she’ll have her own. I can’t wait. And the best part is, neither can she. I wonder what earrings accessorize best with a rifle?

Lost Memories

So, with Father’s day breathing down our collective necks, it’s time for those of us with the obligation, to start thinking about a gift.

My particular style for finding the perfect Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, anniversary, or birthday gift is to,

A: Remember what day it is, ON the actual day of the intended gift giving, and then…

B: Run around at the last minute like an idiot, trying to find a gift that doesn’t come across as one that wasn’t gathered up at the last minute by an idiot.

I rarely succeed.

Surprise, surprise.

The problem is usually not that I didn’t think of anything in the previous weeks. The problem is more likely to be that I had a bunch of GREAT ideas that would take way more time to get up and running that I actually have, and thus, were shelved.

I’m long on great ideas, short on time and funds. My Mother likes to point out that I should have been born rich; then I could have great ideas and pay others to actually finish them. I think prodominatly, my Mother likes this idea because that would ipso facto, make her rich as well. Hey, if you’re going to play “If I had a million dollars”, you might as well share the fictional wealth!

This brings me to this years brilliant “You don’t have time for this foolishness” gift for Dad.

A few weeks back, my family and I went to visit the old homestead in New Hampshire. While I was there, I spent some quality time rooting around in my old room. In the bottom of a jar of pens, pencils, mummified erasers and dead bugs, I found a long forgotten slide. The image took me a minute to discern. The celluloid was in rough shape after who knows how long knocking around at the bottom of all those writing implements and various types of ick. Then, it came into focus. Not only did I figure out the picture, but I remembered it being taken as well. It’s of me… from long, long ago. In the photo, I’m five and at the family cottage looking over the deck rail with the sun is behind me. As I figured this out, my eyes widened as I vaguely recalled having my Dad call up instructions to me to set my head a certain way and look off in a particular direction. He was an avid amateur photographer and loved trying out “art shots” and new lighting techniques. In this case, I think the desired effect was a sunny halo around my five year old mellon.

The slide is out of focus and I have the feeling that he might have considered it a failed attempt. That might explain how it escaped from its carousel at some point, ending up kicking around in my room. At any rate, I scooped it up and brought it back with us when the vacation was over. I had to bring it to a photo developer to get a scan good enough to attempt to repair the image. When I started working on it, I had confidence in my abilities with Photoshop and thought that it might take an hour. It took a lot longer than I expected. After a three hours, I was starting to think that this, like so many of my great ideas, was going to turn out as yet another “almost finished it” gift. Today, with not much time left, I decided to knuckle down and finish or go blind and loopy trying. It took a lot longer than I thought it would…

But I did it.

I had it printed on eight by twelve, matte paper and I picked up a glass clip style frame for it to go in. I’m very pleased.

It’s hard to get gifts for my folks now. They don’t really need more stuff and the stuff that they want, they go get. My goal is to not get them “dustables” or nick-nacks if at all possible. This will take up some wall space somewhere, but all in all, I think it’s a good Father’s day gift. The fun (and new part) is that I’ll be getting something from my children too!

I’d love a framed picture of my kids.

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