Me to We: Anniversary Memory

By about this time fourteen years ago today, I had already put in a few dark-to-dawn miles on the roads of a sketchy Manchester neighborhood, vacated a hotel room near the Manchester/Bedford border, and scrubbed the Escape’s exterior and interior at a do-it-yourself car wash to pass the time and adrenaline. By now, Bedford’s Panera was finally open to receive me on my third pass, and I was settling into a dark-roast refill, chewing on an everything-with-veggie-cream-cheese and a day and life ahead. I’d already confirmed with the manager the order of bagels and pastries that was a component of tomorrow’s brunch at the house.

I continued the night’s journaling with free-flowing expository including:  What’s it like to wear a ring every day? Do you take it off when you make meatballs?; Man, she’s beautiful.; Will we be able to see Albania from Corfu?; “She’s sure smart, sensitive and creative to juxtapose rehearsal dinner at Fratello’s in the Millyard at the heart of the city, with a reception at a rustic inn adjoining working farms. ‘We can share and show our Texas and New Yorker people the environment we’ve chosen,’ she’d ruminated six months earlier.

Thoughts wandering and wondering, the excitement of love and marriage, (even though I’d suffered through a self-imposed reread of Bonhoeffer’s sobering letter On Love and Marriage hours earlier), as well as great anxiety, not over the wedding itself, but the fact that neither of us was comfortable being center-stage. Surreal chronos(?) kairos(?) as I became aware that Panera was in full-swing, and I could actually barge in on people at the hotel or the inn, who should now be awake. Time to enjoy catching up and killing time.

Finally, I joined the Saturday morning traffic, the southern reaches of Bedford to the northernmost tip of Manchester seemed to take forever. I was, as I remember it, a LITTLE earlier arriving at our home than the agreed upon turning-over-to-the-tux-team-time. Walked around the house to the rear mudroom entrance, I couldn’t even begin to ascend the three steps to reach for the doorknob before I was (greeted) (stared down) by bouncers Sarah (Now) Deterling and Molly Zolas. Catching wafts of aromatic casserole ingredients for the aforementioned brunch, the smiles and happy-day chit chat ended with being shooed away with quick, repetitive wrist-waves-of-backhand dismissiveness like a bridege-and-tunnel-crowd LUMPA bypassing the desperate masses waiting in futility behind the velvet rope-line of the hottest NYC club-du-jour on a Friday night, stupid plans of dropping names and a sawbuck bribe attempt turned to humiliating failure, defeatedly moving on to a yet-unknown location. No way was I crossing that threshold with my bride-to-be on the premises. Seriously, Misty’s support team was amazing. As was mine. Which went something like this:

A while later, trying to chillax’ with best man John D’Amico, in the cozy comforts of Chris Emerson’s study/office/parlor at First Congregational Church, UCC, Manchester. Been there awhile. Guys checking in and out, almost as frequently as me checking the time on my fantabulous new watch, an elegantly gift-wrapped shocker, delivered by one of the ladies-in-matching-dresses team. Yep. Been there awhile. Twiddling thumbs with my best man. Refusing alcohol. Plenty of time. Ten minutes before the starting gun:

“Harold, you’re not gonna believe this.” Shaking head. Pause. “ I forgot the rings.” He laughs lightly.

Having lived with his exceptionally strong Lawn Guy-land humor for a lifetime, I laugh back harder.

“No really. I forgot the rings.”

“Stop. Enough. I get it.”

“Ok. Whatever.” He heh-hehs again. “It may get a little awkward when I’m supposeta hand’em to ya in the ceremony. But, whatever.” He pulls pocket cloth fully outward, slacks and jacket, hanging sloppily and proving the now undeniable –

I’d like to say I was cool and calm and kind and able to kid. Like he was. But, it went more like this. In Chris Emerson’s graceful and tasteful office, the place of pastoral care and love, symbols of Christian Miracle everywhere. Like this:

“Shit! Are you f-in’ kiddin’ me! Unbelievable!” And more.

John, still composed. “What car should I take?’ (We’d limo-ed over.) “I’ll go get them.”

“I’ll go. I can get there quicker. Where are they?”

“At your house. Right where you left them when you kept telling me not to forget them.”

Anyway, a snapshot of the final hours before “ME” would be changed to “WE” infinitely and in ways unforeseen and unmatchable, beyond my wildest imagination. Maybe that Bonhoeffer guy was pretty, pretty, wise. As wise as Larry David, even. “Pre…tty, pre…tty, pre…tty good.”

MSL, Honey.

 

A CPA’s Impulse Buy

 

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Misty with Clementine

2000 (Late in the year): BMW introduces its Mini Cooper, the name and body design derived from the British Motor Company rally car, shortly after the cessation of BMC production.

2002: Misty and Me. Manchester, NH. We pretty quickly know this is the real thing and I thoroughly appreciate Misty’s non-materialism and pragmatism. Personally lacking the latter, she’ll keep me in check. She is also clear-thinking and decisive on most matters– the exception perhaps being anything she might deem a personal extravagance. However, in these early days of Us, not one Mini Cooper is spotted without an exchange similar to:

Mini Coopers are really cute. Don’t you think? Probably fun to drive. I really liked my manual Honda during college.

Yes, they’re pretty cool. You’d look good in one.

2003: My new ride is a Saturn wagon coming off a 3-yr lease with only 12,000 miles. We know the folks are retired, garaged the vehicle, and it’s in pristine condition. We do the transaction through the dealership for a very fair deal. Between the Saturn and the 2002 Ford Escape, we are comfortably  prepared for Sam’s arrival and semi-suburban lifestyle (at least as vehicles are concerned).

2003-2009: Mini Cooper sightings on roads and in driveways accompanied by:

I want one. Do you like that color? But, I think I’d do different stripes and hardtop color.

Yes, dear.

She continues: But it’s really not a practical family car, especially with Sam in a car seat.

We move to Kerrville, Texas during this period. Driving around Kerr, Bexar and Gillespie Counties, a handful of Minis seek new homes via private sale.

What do you think of that one?

Do you want me to stop so you can check it out?

No, the price looks right. In one breath: But private sale makes me a little nervous, but our mechanic can look at it, but it’s really not practical.

As time passes and the grass in hard-to-mow places begins to envelop the roadside Minis’ bodies, we drive by with eyes straight ahead, the silent sadness of their plight palpable. Methinks Misty toggles between these two thoughts: “Good thing we didn’t waste our time. Obviously, something wrong with it.” And, “Well, this is ranch country and big vehicles are practical. Those Minis aren’t made for caliche roads and driveways.”

One day she comes home from work and unsettles me with a semi-faux faux-tantrum. She laughs hysterically, jumps up and down, stomping her feet. Shin splints take up a microsecond in my mind.

No fair! It’s not fair!

Honey, did the IRS roll out code revisions? Wrong-minded regulations at Treasury? I ask.

No! Patrick rolled into the office parking lot in a Mini! He’s got MY car.

I’m sorry, honey. What colors? (I stupidly ask.) Isn’t Patrick kinda tall for a Mini? You’ll look better in yours.

2009: One Tuesday, during my new bi-weekly drive to Austin, with the burnt orange sunrise in the rearview, on the outskirts of Fredericksburg, I feel a brief clunk and disruption in the Saturn’s body. Engine stalls. Dashboard lights up like a Christmas Tree. A Goodfellas tree, with way too many colors and bulbs talking. I’m able to turn over the engine and pull into the Lowe’s lot. In the cab of the tow truck to Kerrville, with the AAA driver as stumped as I am, Misty jokes through the cell phone: Maybe it’s time to test drive a Mini. Later that day, our mechanic stuns us with the news that our Saturn, with 70k miles and nary a dime spent beyond routine maintenance, has had some odd catastrophic event, doesn’t pay to fix, not a manufacturer’s issue.

We go to San Antonio to test drive Minis. She looks inside:

The back is pretty small. We have a tall kid still in a car seat. Sometimes a second kid in a car seat. How will the knees fit?

Yes, dear.

She gets behind the wheel and morphs into a kid at Disney World. She quickly gets over the fact that she hasn’t driven a manual for many years. She shifts carefully, deliberately, and pulls us out of the parking lot and into San Antonio traffic. Like an Earnhardt, she begins moving through  gears smoothly and confidently, playing Pac-man with the traffic on Interstate 410. The salesman in the front passenger seat interrupts his own shpiel a coupla times to remind her of the speed limit. Her smile keeps broadening, and methinks all she’s missing are Italian soft leather handstitched driving shoes and gloves.

It’s really not practical, and we’d have to bring it all the way to San Antonio for service, she says on the drive home. How tight was it in the back?

Not bad, and we’re all short, I say. I agree that the car seat and Sam’s knees probably limit our longer trips to the Escape. We buy a Chevy Equinox at the Kerrville dealership. She mulls, Maybe we’ll reconsider the Mini at some point, and while the Escape still has trade-in value.

At one point I suggest the Clubman, if space is the issue. My bad.

NO! Cooper or nothing! Why would I want a station wagon?!

2013: The Equinox, the non-AWD version, just doesn’t cut it in Maine’s winter conditions. We get a Ford Explorer, a sweet ride, but 180 degrees from a Mini. It seems more practical, somehow.

September 17, 2016: We drop Sam off at Heifer International’s Rutland farm early Saturday morning, where he will experience global poverty with his church youth group. We will head to Manchester, where we will enjoy a bountiful and chef-quality homemade brunch with the Varleys. We know in advance they have commitments later that day. On the ride to Manchvegas, Misty puts her iphone in front of my driving eyes and shows a photo of a light blue certified pre-owned Mini. Do you mind going over to Mini Cooper of Bedford later, to check it out, if we have time? Sounds good, I say. She reiterates a thought we’ve agreed upon before: Sam should learn to drive a manual. It’s important. 3 ½ years until he drives. It’s important and practical to know how to drive a stick. Yes, honey, it is.

It’s a beautiful sunny day, pushing 80 degrees. We overeat and enjoy a nice walk-and-talk with Laura and Sean around Livingston Park and its pond. We leave our friends, pop on over to Bellman’s where we can ooh and aaahh and reminisce while they clean our rings and check Misty’s settings. It’s pushing 4:00 pm for a 5:00 close by the time we get to Bedford and meet our new friend, Leo. The sky blue Mini looks good. As Leo goes to the office for dealer plates and keys, another salesman appears and puts plates on her as a mother and daughter get in. We all laugh as Leo shows us some other cars. Misty drives a couple different models and options. I sit in the passenger seat and thoroughly enjoy her happy experience. She eventually gets into the sky blue 2013, which the girl is no longer interested in, as she’s decided she wants an automatic transmission. We glee-up on our insides, but quickly discover that the upgrades done in 2014 are super noticeable. As Leo said, pre-2014, a little more go-kart. Yup. Still pretty good, but the juxtaposition of the rides is hard to ignore. Misty insists that I give my honest opinion on whether I can live with the orange color of the car that has been customized as if the first owner knew her. It’s your fun car, and it’s growing on me, I say. She insists I drive it then and there. Now I catch on that no laws of physics can slow this momentum.

I know it’s IMPULSIVE. (She is serious when she says this.) But the timing is right. We’ll have appropriate break-in mileage prepping it for Sam.

I love the ride, and while I felt she actually drove it better, I find my reintroduction with manual tran. fun and easy. The dash actually displays the gear and recommended gear, which is almost too much, and Leo concurs that we should ignore that and drive by feel. It is well past 5:00 and all the finance/paperwork folks are gone. Deposit down.

Friday, September 23:  Our insurance agent expresses genuine Happy to Misty on the pending purchase. Misty tells me she asks if we’re retiring the Escape. She then enthusiastically proclaims that Misty has a “pleasure vehicle.” New to both of us,  this is evidently the nomenclature for a personal vehicle beyond the number of drivers in the household.

Saturday, September 23: We shock Sam as we say we’re going to the Varleys and pull into Mini of Bedford. Fifteen minutes later, Clementine’s a family member. Leo gives us the lesson. I drive the Explorer while Misty and Sam take off in Clementine.

Sunday, September 24: I take the Escape for a drive and muster words of assurance. She is beyond retirement age, but is healthy, energetic and maintains an active lifestyle at 170k miles. But methinks she is fully aware that she is in a precarious position as my  CPA carries a “pleasure vehicle” on the household books.

 

Help Hope Happen

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:25

A little girl, maybe three years old,  roamed an ever-slightly-increasing radius from her mom and dad, her infant brother  strapped into a carrier on daddy’s back, perched atop the crowd. Ok, back it up.

Waiting with patience in the advent sensibility is quite a different way of Being than is complacency. On Sunday evening a rally was held in Portland’s Monument Square to affirm in a show of solidarity that  everyday Mainers will not submit to literal or figurative doors, gates, fences or walls being erected to stand in the way of refugees  desperately in need of care and compassion.

Maybe a few hundred Mainers. Maybe a thousand. Maybe if an announcement hadn’t been made at church I would’ve been clueless about the event and been home sipping scotch, watching “60 Minutes,” my ass imprint further indenting the cozy chair cushion, shaking my head at the awful mess of a world.

It’s a week in which Christians inch closer – perhaps like me, often impatient and distracted by the busy-ness – toward the story of a wandering family, a baby born in a barn because finally someone said, well, I guess you can crash here for the night.

It’s a week in which Jews celebrate a festival of lights, a miracle of hope in the midst of a losing battle, the big battle “lost,” but hope found in an underdog revolt.

A little girl, maybe three years old,  roamed an ever-slightly-increasing radius from her mom and dad, her infant brother  strapped into a carrier on daddy’s back, perched atop the crowd. His eyes-wide-with-curiosity would snap even larger with the frequent bursts of applause, the communal exclamation points punctuating microphone declarations. The girl making more new adult friends with her smiles and chin-up stares. Face aglow with the red illuminated light bulbs that framed her white poster board sign,  whose message, written in fine red marker, in a fine-but-newly-found child’s print, read: I welcome refugees

I am grateful to her and her brother and their parents, as they Help Hope Happen.

(“Help Hope Happen” or “Helping Hope Happen” is a phrase I began using about a decade ago. It has been applied as the title to more than one sermon,  short story, and has been incorporated into prayers and missives along the way. It doesn’t exist in a human vacuum, personal or communal, but aspires to recognize that in mutuality with the Great Mystery, people living in love, can change the world, whether we know it or not. Of course, my living it, living into it, is another matter altogether.)

 

Progressive Lenses

I rarely run without my glasses, but when I do, you can bet your lunch money I’ll give at least one friendly wave, “good morning”, or “howdy” to a street sign or a mailbox along the route. I’ve also been known to unintentionally ignore humans working out or walking dogs, who in my blur appear to be street signs or mailboxes. I’m certain I’ve offended friends and colleagues on occasion and perhaps missed life-altering opportunities as I didn’t stop to chat as I passed someone by with no more than a hello, me either not recognizing we’re acquainted or thinking the invaluable soul to be an inanimate object.

Yesterday, I misplaced my wire-frame, semi-retired, around-the-house-and-workout beaters.  I had hastily removed them in order to read aloud from my iPhone while I chased Misty and Sam around the house as they prepared for work and school, respectively. They just want quiet mornings while I have a pressing need to share some early news of the day upon which I can then pontificate. When the time came to return glasses to face, I had forgotten where I’d put them. I looked (and felt) around the usual resting spots to no avail. Retraced my steps and thoughts. No luck. I put on another pair of glasses. Yes, I put on one set of specs in order to find another. Finally, Misty received the lost and found reward.

Since the week before my seventh birthday and second grade, eyeglasses  have been an integral body part from the moment I step out of bed in the morning, and they don’t rest until I am tucked in at night. There are, of course, the few exceptions that include the daily washing (though I wear’em when shaving), swimming (which provides a history of comic and scary anecdotes), and running in the extreme temps of a standard Texas Hill Country summer boil or a typical Maine sting-and-tingle winter day. The former often causes the salty sweat to create an abrasive friction on the bridge of the nose, even to blood at times. The latter can result in fogging blindness caused by the barometric effects of warm breath meeting cold and wet.  I’m either too ambitious to get outside in the dark cold or simply too lazy to apply skiers’ anti-fog wax that never seems to work well for me. (It can’t be that it only works if you’re skiing, can it?)

I even wore my black geek Clark Kent specs in Little League when I played catcher. The comic reality of foul pop-ups leading to the mask flung in one direction, the glasses in another and the ball ending up in a third location kept my catching career brief. Why not contacts, you ask? We’ll save that for another time.

About two years ago it became glaringly obvious to others  and cloudily real to me that I could no longer depend solely on my nearsighted prescription for reading, especially in dimly lit environments. Playing distance and angle games with menus that were printed in seven-point font and presented in conspiratorially dim-lit restaurants became wearisome. And dagnabit, I was not going to ask Misty to read to me! I guess I could’ve just taken up the habit of ordering a daily special from the waiters’ verbal menus. Instead, I twitched and jerked  my arms and hands and  menu to and fro, overhead, in lap, extended to the next table, sometimes placing waiters and stemware in immanent danger. Optometrists  in Texas, and later in Maine, saw the prescriptive opportunity for bifocals or progressive lenses four or five years ago, presented to me as no pressing matter, but as a decision of which I would personally know when the time was right.

Progressive lenses or bifocals?  Bifocal lenses are a considerably smaller upfront investment than progressive lenses. Also, one’s vision adjusts and adapts much more quickly and easily to looking on one side of a visible line on the lens. Progressive lenses are a riskier choice. They’re costlier and they may not work out. Some struggle begrudgingly through their investment and the cosmetic reward. Others abandon them outright; toss’em in the trash and opt for bifocals or two sets of specs.  Yes, there is usually  a longer adjustment period, requiring more effort as there’s no dichotomizing line. They have instead an apparently ambiguous center point that incrementally graduates on either side. A lens that intuitively and pragmatically seems blurrier actually offers a positive outcome. One who views through that kind of lens may have better vision opportunities if they learn to look through them effectively, as they were intended to be used by their creators–hopefully adjusting in most situations to a crisp, clear, view. The progressives seem to be working pretty well for me, though I’ve yet to come close to maximizing their possibilities.