Bittersweet Valentine’s day…

Today is a day of love and romance for many. For me, it is also one of reminiscing for a different reason. My grandmother, who I spent most of my young life living with, was a Valentine’s baby. She was a guide and role model for my life that I could not be who I am without. She would have been 85 this year, but she was taken from us almost 3 years ago. I know in my heart there isn’t much that I could have one to spend more time with her, but I still wish I had had one more day, even one more hour. We celebrated her 82nd birthday at my home, she laughed and joked and we had a grand time. 3 months later i was camped in her room at the nursing home when she took her last breath. The emotion is raw still, especially this time of year. While everyone else is buying roses and chocolates, I think of a very special woman and all the advice and wisdom she imparted to me over the years. A few years before her health started to decline, I worked third shift and would visit with her in the mornings when I got off work. I am sharing something I wrote during that time. There are times now that I still have to fight a tear when I pick up a pack of playing cards.

Spending Time with My Grandma

There are mornings where I have a new pastime.
It involves a visit with my aging grandma.
We sit and talk and play a few hands of cards.
While I talk to her about my work and day,
she listens intently, always with a few kind words,
or a bit of advice to help me on my way.

Staying with my mom, she is right on the way
home from work. This new fun pastime
of mine is sometimes hard to put into words
what it truly means to me. When I visit grandma
she always tells me she misses me every day,
and is quick to bring out the deck of cards.

Her shaking, aged hands shuffle the cards,
everything on the table cleared out of the way.
With school and work I can only visit every few days,
but nothing can take away the joy of my pastime.
The time is precious that I spend with grandma,
and the hours spent is more important than any words.

We pass the time in laughs and exchanging of words,
shuffling, dealing, shuffling, and dealing the cards.
“I am going to beat you this time,” says my grandma,
getting three aces and clearing the cards out of the way.
I think she has as much fun as I do with our pastime.
With excitement I wait for the visits on those days.

When it is time for me to leave at the end of those days,
a sadness creeps into my heart. We put into brief words
the happiness and comfort that comes with our pastime.
The table has been reset, the scorecard and the cards
have been put in the drawer and out of the way.
With a hug I leave, saying, “I love you grandma.”

The time with my grandma on those special days,
will always outweigh the advice or the words,
or the little deck of cards of our favorite pastime.

The year was 1995…

The year was 1995 and I was just entering my teenage years. Boyz II Men and Ace of Base were cleaning up at the American Music Awards, both albums I had on cassette. In fact, the Boyz II Men cassettes might be in my basement in storage. Amazing the silly things we hold onto from our childhood. Baseball had a nasty strike and the nation cried when Christopher Reeve was paralyzed.

That summer I turned 13. My best friend and I spent alot of time at his parent’s farm. Playing video games and chasing cattle. That year I shared a birthday with the release of Batman Forever, a movie that I watched more than once since then. Growing up in South Carolina we were all horrified by Susan Smith murdering her children. As a father now, while I may be disappointed or frustrated at times, I could never fathom harming my child in any way. There has to be a special place of torment in the afterlife for those who harm or kill children like she did.

That fall, Carolina rejoiced as we saw the beginning of our own National Football Team, the Carolina Panthers. I had grown up a Redskins fan thanks to my grandparents being from the Maryland/DC area. For the first time we could say we were rooting for the “home team”. They lost their first game in overtime. I was very disappointed.

That fall saw the publishing of the Unabomber’s manifesto by major newspapers. We also witnessed the Jury deliberation of the OJ Simpson trial. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” becomes a joke used repeatedly across the comedy world, as well as in my little part of the world. While he was later found not guilty, there were no riots in the streets like in recent years with Ferguson and elsewhere. No one seemed to think “taking to the streets” would bring any other sort of justice for a white woman killed by a black male. How anyone thought doing the same when a black male was killed by a white male, is beyond my understanding.

On a lighter note, my home team Carolina Panthers did get their first victory against the NY Jets in October, while I tried to master the French Horn in my 8th grade band. I did manage to take a chair at Regionals so that was something. They also began looking for volunteers for a special advanced college prep program to be started in my school district. While it would mean starting high school without most of my friends (as it was being held at a different school in the district), I was excited for this opportunity. Between my parents moving our family twice during my senior year, I did not complete the International Baccalaureatte, or IB program. I often wonder how different my life might have been if my high school years had not been filled with so much upheaval. I know I would not want to change the course my life has taken as it has brought me to a very happy place. It is still food for thought, and perhaps a short story or something in the future. We shall see.

As the year draws to a close, there were a couple significant events. Toy Story  was the first full length animated film using computer imagery. Something done many times since to mainly Disney and Pixar’s success. Revolutionary changes in computer graphics have shaped the movie special effects industry and given us much to enjoy in the years since. There was also the official end of Desert Storm. While too young to have been involved in any military action, I did have family that participated. Thankfully they all made it home safe. Later in the 2000s, when we returned to the middle east, my little brother would serve two tours of duty in the same regions. I am grateful that he made it home safe as well. I am thankful for all of our military personnel that have served (My grandfather was a marine in WW2 as well), those currently serving, and encourage any who are considering it to go for it. Although I would later begin the process of enlisting in the Air Force as a translator (German was my language in High School), other events would take that route off the map of my life.

The year was 1995, and while probably not the most dramatic year of my life, it was still memorable.

“Hack the Planet”

Dade Murphy: I don’t play well with others.

The Plague: Kid, don’t threaten me. There are worse things than death, and uh, I can do all of them.

The Plague: There is no right and wrong. There’s only fun and boring.

Dade Murphy: Mess with the best, die like the rest.

A recent Daily Post challenge is to take a quote from a movie and make that the title of a post. Unfortunately, I cannot pick just one from one of my favorite movies of all time, Hackers. Here is a little story using the above movie lines.

Charlie sat on his bike near the edge of the woods. The older boys had thought it a joke when he started following them, especially his older brother James. James knew that if his mother found out he left Charlie somewhere unattended, he would be in serious trouble. For that alone he had told his friends to just keep an eye out for his kid brother. Charlie sighed deeply and began to slowly pedal after the laughter of the older boys just inside the tree line. They were already jumping off the natural clay ramps of the trail ahead.

No one remembered when the trails were formed, they had always just been there. It was like a rite of passage when one graduated from the normal flat roads to the rough, hard packed clay of the woodland paths. The natural hills provided ample opportunities for jumping from peak to peak for the more accomplished rider. Charlie was nervous when he came up to the first long circle that his brother and the other older boys were on. This trail doubled back on a sequence of small hills that the boys were trying to clear in one jump. Charlie sat there until the group had moved on towards the relatively flat spaces deeper into the woods.

As he stopped at the top of the first hill, Charlie looked down and trembled visibly. Just then another rider came up the trail behind him. When he looked Charlie paled, it was Derek, the biggest bully in their little subdivision.

“Move kid,” Derek said as he started down the trail in Charlie’s direction.

Charlie was frozen, but he finally got his mouth working at least, which probably wasn’t the smartest move, “Leave me alone or I will get my brother.”

Derek came to a stop next to Charlie and glared at the younger boy. He knew he could pound this little pipsqueak into the ground, but something stopped him. His hands flexing on the grips of his bike, he said instead, “Kid, don’t threaten me. There are worse things than death , and uh, I can do all of them.”  Before he could push off to go down the hill there was a sound of bicycles sliding to a stop behind him.

“Hey, what are you doing to my little brother?” James called to the bigger boy. He was roughly the same age as Derek, but where James was lean, Derek looked built to smash bricks with his fists.

“Nothing. I don’t play well with others. Best you just move on,” Derek adjusted his feet in preparation to pedal off.

“You shouldn’t harass little kids,” James spoke up, walking his bike up the hill towards the bigger teen. When he reached the top he continued speaking, getting between Charlie and Derek. The top of the hill was very crowded with all three of them standing there. “It isn’t right to pick on little kids.”

“There is no right or wrong. There is only fun and boring,” Derek laughed as he shoved James backwards into Charlie, the two brothers tumbling off the side of the hill into a heap in the brush along the trail. Charlie began to cry as Derek pedaled away.

Charlie started crying and James got mad. Sure, he found his little brother annoying at times, but no one else is allowed to harm his little brother. James jumped to his feet, stopping his friends with a look. They backed off as one, seeing the fire in their friend’s eyes. James grabbed his bike and started down the trail towards Derek’s retreating back. James could barely make out the darkly dressed teen as he flitted down the trail. Pedaling hard, James started to gain a little on his quarry.

Looking back, Derek sighed when he saw James straining to catch up with him. He had hoped to have a little fun by shoving the smaller boy around and then get lost in the woods for a little bit where he could smoke in peace. His aunt didn’t care for his habit in her house so he was forced to go elsewhere when he wanted a smoke. He had found several places deep in the woods adjacent to his neighborhood conducive to peace and quiet. As he reached the point where the trail leveled off and ran parallel to the train tracks, Derek slowed down enough to allow James to catch up.

James noticed Derek slow down and braced himself for the bigger teen to stop and face him. When that didn’t happen, James kept pedaling hard. He came up alongside Derek and, mimicking a police pit maneuver, rammed his front tire into the side of Derek’s bike.

Derek was not expecting this. Caught completely off guard he went hard left off the trail. The ground dropped sharply before rising back up at the railroad tracks and he careened down the hill to land face first in the pile of granite rocks at the base of the tracks.

James nearly lost control of his bike himself but recovered to stop and watch the bully crash. He then shouted, “You are right, that was not boring at all. Next time be careful who you pick on.” James began pedaling back towards his friends and little brother.

Derek sat propped against the pile of rocks, sharp edges digging into his back through his t-shirt. He pulled out his cigarettes and lit one. After taking a long pull of the smoke he smiled to himself. “That guy has some serious balls to try that. Maybe he isn’t so bad.” Derek laughed and took another pull from his cigarette.

When James got back to his friends, they had Charlie up on his feet. The younger boy was still brushing dirt from his clothes and looked up, eyes full of concern, when his brother came back into sight. “Is he coming back?” Charlie asked fearfully.

“I don’t think so,” James slid to a stop. “When I left he was lying face first at the bottom of that ramp that goes over towards the train tracks.”

“Really?” Charlie and the other teens were incredulous. Then Charlie said, “You are the best big brother in the whole world.” He threw his arms around James and hugged his brother tight.

James grinned, “You know what they say, mess with the best, die like the rest.” He shared a high five with a couple of his friends and then the boys all headed for the pathway that led back to the street. Their adventure for the day was done.