Hopeless Romantic?

I’m not sure just what it is, but every single time my kids have a school program, I’m trying to hold back tears.

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. 

Fall. Winter. Spring. It doesn’t even matter what time of year it is, I’m like a basket case in my seat as I watch my kids do things that surprise and amaze me, that make me smile and cry all at the same time 

It’s not like these programs are tear-inducing programs. No hint of Hallmark here, but somehow or another, they still find ways of hitting me right in the chest.

Maybe some of it has to do with the fact that during every single program, at least once, I am wishing that my mom and dad were there. But I think it goes way beyond that. I think it stems from the fact that there is pride (not the bad kind) that wells up within me as I see my kids doing things that make them stand out. How can a mom or dad NOT be proud of their kids when they’re doing what kids should be doing? 

I’ll be honest, it’s an emotional time of year for me anyway. All it takes is one song to throw me back about 30 years. I’m transported to my childhood home with smells and sights and sounds that have been eternally etched on my brain. I can picture everything. Christmas tree. Pajamas. Presents. Green rug. Hi-Fi circa 1975 or thereabouts. Evie singing “Come On, Ring Those Bells” from that Hi-Fi stereo, complete with the cracks and pops that only vinyl can offer.

But like I said, I well up any time of year. These kids always blow me away. I guess it’s yet one more picture of grace that I see in my everyday life. I realize just what I have that I don’t deserve. I realize how far short I fall from being who I really wish that I was, and yet my kids still manage to keep plugging along without the help of therapists…..at least for now.

As I sat there on the hard bench of the cafeteria bench watching my middle child perform in his holiday play, I was just blown away. The kid can act. The kid can memorize. The kid can work a room. The kid can make a joke. While my eyes welled up, so did my pride as I thought, “What have I done to deserve this?”

It’s a time of year when you really see the difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots”….at least if you really look around. As much as I keep wanting, it’s a time of year that I am reminded just how blessed that I am 

Here we are, two weeks from Christmas, and I’m blubbering at the sight of an inflatable Rudolph in the neighborhood…..it might just be a LOOOOONNNNNGGGGG 2 weeks!

Deep down inside, I’m a hopeless romantic, but I guess I hide it well. Maybe it’s self-preservation and self-defense, but regardless, there’s way more emotion down deep than most people who just get a casual glance at me would really expect or imagine. I’m fine with that.

There are a lot of things to hope for during this time of year, but my biggest hope is that I can be half the man that my children and wife deserve. I am a blessed man, blessed beyond measure.

Now, let me go find a good Christmas movie to continue with my blubbering!!!

A Perfect Storm Moment

Next month, it will be the three year anniversary of my dad’s death. July marks the five year anniversary of my mom’s death. While time has healed, there are still moments when the pain feels fresh like a newly skinned knee.

I’m not sure if it was just the combination of a lot of things or not, but this morning was a tough morning for me. I dragged myself out of bed and ran six miles, feeling as if I had expended all of the energy I had by the time I walked back up to my front door.

When I walked back into the house, it was still quiet. This “spring ahead” thing is tough on kids (and their parents). I wanted nothing more than to just go back to bed, but I went through the motions of my daily routine. After going to the bus stop with my boys, laying in bed with my daughter watching the Disney Channel, and doing my best to muster up enough energy to move ahead with my day, I finally got out the door.

I’ve saved four voicemails in my cell phone. Two of them are from my mom and two of them are from my dad. There are days that I just need to hear their voices. Their statements are comforting to me and hearing the words “see you soon” always both break and warm my heart simultaneously. It was to those voicemails that I went as I drove to Starbucks this morning.

The messages don’t do the same thing to me that they once did when the pain and hurt was really fresh. I think I’ve come to a place where they actually bring me more hope now than they do despair. The inflections of words, the emotion in my parents’ voices, the love that they shared, all of those things are evidenced within just a few sentences left on a voicemail.

The messages were over and I switched back to listening to music in the car. As I pulled into the parking lot of Stabucks, the song “Cinderella” came on. I don’t think that I fully appreciated that song until I had a daughter. We’ve danced to it a time or two, but just like those voicemails, that song has the ability to rip my heart right out of my chest as I imagine my four year old daughter grown up and me walking her down the aisle on her wedding day.

As the song ended, I just sat there in my car. My eyes were dry, but my heart was aching. Within twenty minute period, I had experienced a swath of emotions. Up, down, all around. To top it off, it’s a rainy day and a Monday. Karen Carpenter sang it well, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” I took to social media and proclaimed that while rainy days and Mondays might get you down, what happens when you have rainy day Mondays?

Within a half an hour, I was cranking along. That’s the nature of the beast, the further away from the situation I get, the better my recovery time.

As I sat in Starbucks listening to the clanking of equipment and the banter of the baristas and patrons around me, I couldn’t help but smile. The rainy days always seem to make the sunny days brighter. The chilly days always seem to make the warmth strike me just a little deeper than before. The moments of pain somehow seem to make the moments of joy last that much longer.

Sure, there’s still pain, there’s still grief, and there’s even still the occasional tears, but the hope that I hold onto in those moments will sustain me and carry me on. Rainy days and Mondays might get me down, but they also help me prepare for what’s ahead, and thinking about that, I just can’t help myself from smiling!

Gaming Together

When I was a kid, we just didn’t have a whole lot of money to enjoy some of the amenities that a lot of my friends had. Personal computers weren’t what they are today. Texas Instruments. Apple. Radio Shack. All of these companies produced computers but they cost a small fortune (for my family) and didn’t offer near the variety that computers and gaming systems offer today.

TI-994A.png

After being pestered by my brother and I for years, my parents finally broke down and scrounged together enough money for us to have a Texas Instruments TI-99-4A. I’m not sure how much my parents paid for it, but I’m sure they made some sacrifices to afford it.

The graphics were horrible, it was slow as molasses in January, you needed to connect it to the TV, and it probably froze frequently. But it was ours, we loved it, and we realized it was a privilege to have it and to play it. We never spent a whole lot of time playing on it, not the way that my kids and other kids today spend hours at a time on one game.

One of my most vivid and cherished memories of my childhood was game night at the Gibson house. As a pastor, my dad would often have to work in the evening. He would have counseling appointments, prayer meeting, more counseling appointments, and an assortment of other commitments that would take him out of the house frequently between Sunday night and Thursday night. The most memorable question to my dad was, “Dad, do you have to go out tonight?” A reply of, “No” to that question was always followed by an inner celebration of sorts for me. I’m pretty sure that among the next questions to escape my mouth was, “Can we play a game?”

Funny, the only game I really remember playing with my dad was Bible Tic Tac Toe. Needless to say, he pretty much won all the time. As he got older (and so did I) I think he migrated to an assortment of other games, most likely due to my mom’s influence. Still, when it came to games, my mom was the expert.

Yahtzee. Uno. Scrabble. Dutch Blitz. The list probably goes on and on, but those were the games that I remembered. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my mom got her love of games from her mother because I can remember playing Scrabble with my mom and grandma for hours. My grandma was a Scrabble fiend, I think she kicked my tail hundreds of time. Her reputation for Scrabble was such that I even remember my brother mentioning her love of the game at her memorial service after she died.

After my parents died, my brother and I went through their stuff and divided it between us. There wasn’t a whole lot of things that had significant monetary value, most of the items had more sentimental value than anything else. Among those belongings were my parents’ games. Having kids of my own, I wanted to have the chance to play some of the very games that I had enjoyed with my parents with my own kids.

It will be three years next month since my dad died and five years in July since my mom died. My kids are getting older, the two oldest being among the best readers in their classes. So, having endured hours and hours of video game playing by my two oldest, I thought that the time had finally come to dig out my parents’ Scrabble game.

I asked my wife where we had stored it and she told me. I’m not sure what was going through her head when I asked her, probably something like, “You can’t be serious!” It seemed a risky proposition to attempt this game with a seven year old, a nine year old, and a four year old (the four year old would be on someone else’s team), but we did it anyway.

The result was much more enjoyable than either of us would have expected. The Scrabble board was utilized much more expansively than either of us would have imagined. Other than the fussings of my four year old (which are fairly typical in anything these days), I think that we all had fun.

family Scrabble

My heart was warm!

Since my kids have been able, we’ve played games with them. Chutes and Ladders. Candyland. Headbandz. Yahtzee. Pie Face! Now we can add Scrabble to that list. And I’ve successfully begun to pass on a family tradition.

It’s funny, it was almost as if I had gone back in time as I played the exact game that I had played for years and years with my mom and grandma. I could almost hear them laughing, taunting, encouraging, and laughing some more. I even found some decades old scraps of paper with scores of played games between me and my grandma. I’m pretty sure she always won.

Yes, my kids still love their gaming system. Yes, they’ll still spend hours on end playing in front of the TV, but I’m really encouraged to know that it’s possible and even enjoyable to take a break from those gaming systems and pull out an old-fashioned game to sit around the kitchen table and laugh together.

After all, the family that games together, stays together, right?

 

Christmas Eve

Christmas with Steve and Jon-1No matter what’s going on in my world, it seems like the moment the calendar turns to December 24th, I become a child again. For as long as I can remember, this has been the case.

There’s something magical that seems to happen for me on Christmas Eve. Memories of Christmases gone by flood my memory, the sounds, the smells, the sights, they all come rushing back into my head. I can hear a song, see a picture, smell a smell, and I’m automatically transported back to my kitchen growing up.

I remember the records my mom would play as she baked and baked her Christmas cookies in the kitchen. She never had the greatest singing voice and she knew it, but there were certain songs that just inspired her to sing like no one was listening. When I hear those songs today, I can almost hear her behind me, singing along.

I think back to the presents that I gave my parents growing up and I can only now fully appreciate just how gracious they were. Clay creations made in school art class. Hamburger patty makers purchased at the local thrift store. Ties for my dad to add to his eternal collection, and despite what they may have thought when they unwrapped those presents, the outward expression that they conveyed to me was that they loved it, regardless of whether or not they were ever going to use it or not.

On Christmas Eve, once we were home from church, my mom would make mulled apple cider on the stove. She would stop by Dunkin’ Donuts on the way home from church because that was a Christmas Eve staple for us, munchkins and cider. As my brother and I got older, we either invited others into our little tradition, or we abandoned it to go be part of other traditions.

As I lay in my bed waiting for the time to be right, I could hear my mom and dad bustling around, wrapping presents, talking as they wrapped, and then they would bring all the presents under the tree. I’m not sure just how much sleep I would get when I was a kid on Christmas Eve. Once everyone else was asleep, I would sneak out of my room quietly and go see what wonders were waiting for me underneath the tree.

The tree….

In our large upstairs living room, we had one of the smallest trees ever. I’m not sure just how my parents came up with their tradition, but this little tree, while not quite as bad as Charlie Brown’s, was a wonder to behold. We never had a live tree in our house, I had too many allergies and Mom never wanted to think about having to clean one up, but here in this large room with cathedral ceilings was a three foot tree that sat atop my mom’s cedar chest. While others who came into our house may have looked at it quizzically, it was what I knew, what I had grown up with and it only seemed normal and like home to me.

Once I arrived to see what was waiting under the tree, I would begin to organize the presents according to recipient. I wanted to make sure that we were poised for maximum efficiency once the morning came. There would be no need for sorting and stopping once we got going, I made sure of that. I wanted to make sure that nothing was missed and that I would be able to tear into those presents without delay.

When I was satisfied that everything was well organized, I would return to my room. I didn’t really try to listen for Santa, I never really believed in him. In fact, when I was four years old, I told everyone in my pre-school class that he didn’t exist. I don’t think the teachers were very happy with me. Four years old and I had already begun my journey of being a contrarian, funny how that works.

Even now, when I stop to think about Christmas Eve, a smile spreads across my face. Mom and Dad are gone and there is still an ache in my insides because of that, but to know all of those Christmas Eves that we shared together just warms my heart.

My family has started our own Christmas Eve traditions. I think they may be a hybrid of a Griswold Christmas Eve and Ralphie’s Christmas Eve from “A Christmas Story,” at least, I’d like to think so. Thankfully, my wife and I don’t subject our kids to pink bunny suits but it has become a Christmas Eve tradition for the kids to all open a new pair of pajamas. No mulled cider and munchkins, just Chinese food after we get home from church.

Today is Christmas Eve, and the moment that I woke up, I felt the excitement building in me. The excitement that I once had to open all of my presents under the tree has now been replaced with an excitement to see my own kids open their presents. I’ll go through this day with that same excitement, anticipating what the next 24 hours will bring. While we’ll see most of our family next week, we will get to spend Christmas Day as I spent many Christmases growing up, driving to my aunt and uncle’s house and seeing some of my cousins.

Things are different, but I don’t think the magic and wonder that I once felt towards Christmas Eve has been diminished. While I can’t wait for our Christmas Eve service tonight, the highlight for me will be at the end of the service when we turn out the lights, light the candles (although they’ll be flashlights since we can’t have open flames in the school where we meet), and begin to softly sing “Silent Night” to end our time together. That will be the crowning moment of the day, celebrating the very thing that we celebrate on Christmas: the birth of Jesus.

I’m excited!

Merry Christmas!

The Force Awakens

force awakensIt’s hard to fully tell just what the Star Wars franchise meant to me growing up. For most, if not all, of my elementary school years, it was a huge part of my childhood. The first movie came out when I was 4 years old, the second when I was 7, and the third when I was 10. I had a Star Wars lunchbox, one of those metal kinds that come with the plastic thermos. I had the plastic guns and even tried on my mom’s knee high boots so that I could look like Han Solo (she wasn’t thrilled about that one). Star Wars was a mainstay to my generation and when we found out that episodes I, II, and III would finally become a reality, we began to dream about all the possibilities.

Needless to say, that didn’t go as expected. While you might agree that Episode III was a worthy effort, there are hardly arguments when criticism is heaped at the first two (if not all three). A generation who had become cynical based on what they were experiencing just found one more reason to maintain that same cynicism. The possibilities that seemed endless had actually ended with a less than stellar result.

Meanwhile, book after book was published about the characters to whom we were introduced in the original series. No one ever wanted to read about Jar Jar, but they could read about Luke, Han, and Leia until the cows come home. Stories were written and it seemed that every fan of Star Wars would be doomed to be left with the bad taste in their mouths after hearing that dumb Gungan speak his backwards form of English. At least Yoda’s backwards speak has an endearing quality to it, Jar Jar’s is just plain annoying.

Enter Disney.

In 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm, the company behind Star Wars, for $4 billion. Some of the greatest loved characters of all time were now being combined together through ownership and many wondered what that might mean for Star Wars.

Well, if Star Wars was second nature to me as a child, it’s hard to describe just what Disney was at the same time. I grew up going to Disney World. I still have the 8MM films that I can play on my projector of our jaunts to Disney World when I was barely the age of my youngest child. While Star Wars was a mainstay in my life as a child, Disney seemed to be a permanent fixture as well, not only to my generation, but to my parents’ generation as well. It had an intergenerational connectivity and quality about it that was rarely seen by others. But we had been burned by Star Wars before and the thought of the House of the Mouse taking over at the helm of Star Wars seemed a bit worrisome.

At first, the connections were subtle. You go to Disney World and you see the hybrid of some of your favorite characters from both Disney and Star Wars. A little kitschy, but not a deal breaker, after all, Lucasfilm began the animated series “The Clone Wars” before Disney had made the deal. Then came the rumors…..rumors of another trilogy.

My son claims that I first mentioned the prospect of another Star Wars trilogy to him around 2010 or so (he claimed that he had been waiting half of his life for “The Force Awakens “ to become a reality and he was born in 2006). In early 2013, rumors that J.J. Abrams (of TVs “Alias” and “Lost” fame) would be directing the first in the new trilogy were confirmed, and the Star Wars universe went a little crazy. What had been dreamed of would become a reality.

Nearly three years later, “The Force Awakens” broke box office records by bringing in a record $238 million on opening weekend. Just two weeks prior to its December 18th release date, I took my oldest son, the one who had been waiting half of his life for this event, to buy tickets at the theater.

Standing there at the theater with my nine year old son, holding tickets to a first run Star Wars film seemed a bit surreal to me. Was this really happening? If it was, would it (could it) live up to the hype? Could millions of fans really be satisfied by the outcome of this? Should it even be attempted?

In 2009, J.J. Abrams had successfully rebooted the Star Trek franchise, overhauling the cast and characters to bring them to a new generation. In geekdom, how would he fare at taking over another beloved franchise, not for a reboot but for a continuation?

When December 18th finally came, when I finally brought my boys to the theater, I wasn’t sure who was more excited. These kids got out of school early for this, not too early, and it was the last day before Christmas break, but early nonetheless. There was excitement in our house all week long. Even our beloved Tinsel Trooper (our own geek version of the Elf on the Shelf) had gotten in on the action. We were excited, there was no doubt about it.

I can’t remember the last movie that I saw in the theater where there was as much clapping throughout as there was in “The Force Awakens.” The familiar “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…..” appeared on the screen and the theater erupted in applause. Familiar characters appeared on the screen and the theater erupted in applause. Even X-wings and Tie Fighters got in on the action, not garnering nearly as much applause as the Millenium Falcon, but still it was applause.

We all say glued to that screen for the just over two hours that the movie ran, and as the final moments of the movie played, as I felt the action slowing to a stop, something inside me welled up. I realized that I was experiencing this with my boys. MY boys. I was sitting in theater, watching Star Wars with my two sons, and we were all seeing it for the first time. My eyes began to well up a little themselves and I put my arms around my boys as we walked towards the exit.

My oldest, always displaying the typical birth order characteristics of an oldest, announced his sheer approval of the film. He was satisfied. My youngest son, also fitting into all of the stereotypes of a middle child, cautiously opined over the film, expressing his approval, but not too much, just enough to still be safe should anyone else have anything not so positive to say about it.

We walked into the night towards our car and I still was processing what had happened both on and off the screen. It was a powerful moment for me, not one that will easily be matched or forgotten, that moment when I experienced this movie with my sons. I couldn’t help but think about my older brother and me walking out of the theater with my mom who had taken us to see the original trilogy’s second two films. The picture in my head made me smile while at the same time caused me to hug my boys just a little bit closer.

“The Force Awakens” was more than a film to me, it was an experience that held so much nostalgia. It’s almost unfair to tack so much weight onto something, but somehow it managed to hold that weight. My boys are still talking about it and I’m feeling the need to see it again with my wife just so that my middle child doesn’t explode at the prospect of keeping everything secret for any length of time. My four year old, she’s still got a little time before she gets there, but once Mommy sees it, for these boys, I think all will be right with the world…….and I just can’t wait!

Open the Gates

2015-01-04 14.56.14Call it the letdown of the holidays. Call it the pent up emotion of the past four years. Call it simple nostalgia working its magic on one who’s a closet sap. Whatever you call it, I have to confess, something happened to me this weekend.

As a child of the 70s, I grew up on vinyl records and 8 track tapes. Vinyl has made a major comeback, but 8 tracks met their demise and haven’t reared their ugly heads since. Not sure who thought of that technology to begin with, but listening to 2 songs at once (unintentionally) was probably not the best end result for what they had expected.

I grew up in a split level house, meaning you come into the front door and can either go upstairs or downstairs. Up the stairs was the living room, an open and spacious room with cathedral ceilings. The faux beams on the ceiling were actually made from Styrofoam, at least that’s what I think they were made of.

A lot happened in that room. As big as it was, it’s a bit ironic that the Christmas tree my parents chose for there was a three foot fake, plastic tree which sat upon a cedar chest that held quilts, blankets, and a sundry of other stuff.

The piano that I grew up playing was in that room, decorated with little nic nacs and ornaments that my mom had acquired over the years. It was still in pristine shape when my parents got rid of it. In all of the 36 years that my parents were in that house, I think they only were on the third generation of furniture in that room. If my mom had had her way, she would probably have had the original furniture; that would have meant she had taken care of it well enough that it didn’t wear out.

In the corner, by the railing next to the drop off that led to the front door, was the stereo. I only remember 2 or 3 of those as well. Mom didn’t like to part with things, not because she grew attached to them, but simply because she was a child of the Depression who cared for things as if you could never replace them. In fact, her family probably never had the money to even consider replacing some of the extraneous stuff that people acquire.

The stereo wasn’t anything special, not even a brand name that I can recall, maybe a Soundesign or something like that. The stereo wasn’t so much the point as was the music that was played upon it. I remember a lot of Andrew Sisters, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and the Carpenters. There were some Christian records by family friends and some obscure performers of the 70s.

I remember so much about sitting in that room, taking in the sounds that Mom would play on that stereo until I began to find some sounds of my own. I remember Christmas mornings with Evie’s “Come On, Ring Those Bells” playing in the background. I remember rainy days and Mondays when I would listen to Karen Carpenter sing about those very two things. When I was homesick in college, I asked Mom to send me a tape of the Carpenters. I think the snap, crackle, and pop of the record’s recording was enough to assuage my aching heart.

Over the years I’ve maintained a healthy little collection of records, nothing compared to the 2000 plus CDs that I have, but enough to not give up hope that I would one day have a turntable upon which to spin these records again.

Through 3 states and nearly 14 years, I’ve carried these records and turntables. Not exactly the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness into the Promised Land, but a journey nonetheless.

While visiting family in Connecticut, my wife discovered some of the record albums from her own childhood and all of a sudden, the impetus to find out how to make this happen became greater for me. I’d put it off before, maybe thinking that my wife wouldn’t be as supportive of the idea. Maybe, now that she had her own little store of nostalgia, she would be more supportive than I thought.

I took to the internet to do what cheapskates like me do best: find a deal!

And find a deal I did.

Just like those credit card commercials from a few years ago, what I found was priceless. Sure, there was a dollar amount associated with the receiver that I bought from a friend, but it was almost like I had purchased a time machine. Just call me “Marty McFly!”

Instantly, I was transported back to that living room, hearing the same sounds. I was fairly unprepared for just how it would hit me. Tears were coming to my eyes and it was hard for me to really understand why. Like I said at the beginning, you might just call it the culmination of the last few years and the last few weeks. The holidays can have that kind of nostalgic affect on me.

So, there I sat, in my own version of a Man Cave, listening to vinyl on my “new” record player and receiver. I couldn’t just do it randomly though. What good DJ (or former DJ) would ever consider randomly picking albums to play.

At first, it was only one song at a time:

Steve Winwood’s “When You See a Chance”

Star Wars “Main Title Theme” (at the request of my middle child)

But then, I had to listen to whole sides:

Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisted” Side 1 (to which my middle child announced to his friend, “This is Bob Dylan” [this writer wipes tear from eye]

Dan Fogelberg’s “Souvenirs” Side 1

Petra’s “Washes Whiter Than” Side 2

And so began my journey into further nostalgia. Here’s to more Sunday afternoons listening to those snaps, crackles, and pops!

The Chair

2014-10-13 07.56.16I have a chair in my media room. It’s not the prettiest chair. While it’s pretty comfortable, there are probably way more comfortable chairs out there. The thing about this chair is that there’s so much more attached to this chair than comfort and aesthetics.

When my wife and I got married, like many young couples, we didn’t have a whole lot. I was working in the engineering field and she was working at our church. I also volunteered at our church, playing in the band and leading music, filling gaps wherever they might be. In all of my time and travels, I met some incredibly gifted people, and among them was a drummer named Steve.

Steve and I became friends as soon as I met him. He was a PK (pastor’s kid) like me, so there was an instant bond there between us. We were musicians who played multiple instruments as well. I think that we were both troubled souls as well, like most musicians, there was a deep longing within us, a restlessness that came out through the creative process of making music.

Steve was real and genuine. There was no pretense to him, and I loved him for that. Life’s too short to cover stuff over with fixings that simply hide what’s really going on inside. Every time that I spent with him, I would stand in awe of his abilities on whichever instrument that he was playing. In fact, on more than one occasion of listening to him play, I wanted to hang up my musician’s clothes and never touch an instrument again. But, alas, I continued.

When I got married, Steve mentioned a chair that he had. He and his wife were getting rid of it. Never one to turn down a handout or free stuff, I willingly accepted his offer. He delivered the chair and it began as just one piece of furniture at the onset of this journey that we call marriage. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.

Steve is gone. He’s been gone for a few years. I can’t remember how long it’s been since we lost him. A bass player friend whom we used to play with all the time informed me of this loss when it happened. I was kind of numb when I heard the news. Two young children and a wife. Incredible skills and abilities. The troubled soul had finally found rest. My only solace was the knowledge that his faith stood throughout all that he had wrestled with and gone through. That solace usually doesn’t take immediate action though, it usually takes some time to set in.

Through more than 13 years of marriage, 3 homes in 3 different states, the chair still remains. There’s something about sitting in it. It brings me back. I can’t help but think of Steve when I sink into the chair. It represents something so much more than a simple chair.

As I looked at it the other day, I thought about the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” When Harry and Sally’s friends, Jess and Marie, are getting married and getting rid of some of their individual stuff, they argue over a wagon wheel coffee table. The coffee table finally goes in the trash after some arguing back and fort

One day, this chair will probably end up in the trash too. It seems inevitable.

But, for now, I’ll milk every minute that I can sit in it. I’ll dream of another time and place, of the times that I enjoyed playing music with my friend. It will serve as a reminder to me of the beginning of my marriage as it was among the first pieces of furniture that we ever hard. It will also serve as a reminder of Steve. Sitting there among my music and instruments, my pictures of Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, I think it kind of feels at home…….but furniture doesn’t really have feelings!

Yard Sales

2014-10-11 08.04.59Our neighborhood holds two community yard sales every year, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. It seems that life has not afforded us the ability to slow down in recent years to actually take part in them. Although they are called “Community Yard Sale” the only thing “community” about them is that the whole community is in on it. In other words, these are the only two times throughout the year that you are allowed to have a yard sale, if you want to have one any other time during the year, you will be in violation of the HOA rules. One other rule of yard sales in our neighborhood: they always seem to be scheduled on days with the crappiest weather!

At any given time in our house we are getting rid of stuff. With three continually growing children, we are always setting aside hand-me-downs for cousins or getting rid of unused toys. My wife and I are always trying to clear the clutter as best as possible by getting rid of unused “stuff” as well. My wife has actually helped me to get a whole lot better about this over the years that we have been married. I hold things too closely, sentimentalizing things that should just remain as stuff.

Over the past year, we have been trying to get “my room” settled and straight. That’s a task that is much easier said than done as I am a collector and the room isn’t that big. So, my wife took to the internet to find a solution for our space problem. Thank God for Pinterest, right? With a large collection of music and movies, it was a tough task to accomplish.

Let’s face it, everyone’s going digital! CDs, DVDs, and Blu Rays are just not flying off of the shelves. People would much rather store stuff in the “Cloud” rather than figure out how to store it all. I started my collection too long ago to try that approach, but it’s a battle.

I’ve put lots of CDs onto my computer to conserve space or make room for more music, I’ve gotten rid of plenty of movies that I just wasn’t going to watch again. But when I’ve tried to get rid of them, I’ve found myself frustrated and depressed as no one wants to buy them. Boxes have been sitting around for months awaiting this yard sale, in hopes that someone might come along who still wants to support this “antiquated” medium of listening to music and watching movies.

As I sat out in our driveway the other day, rain spitting down from the heavens, I surveyed the cornucopia of “stuff” that sat there, slowly getting wetter in the hazy rain. Old children’s toys. Multimedia shelving. CDs and DVDs. I thought to myself, is this stuff really worth it? Is it worth sitting out here on a miserable, rainy Fall day? Did I really value this stuff this much? What did it mean to me?

Things are only valuable if someone else attaches the same value to it that you have? In fact, you can have what seems to be the most valuable thing in the world to you and if nobody else sees and appreciates that same value, it’s not worth as much as you thought it was.

I’ve posted before about the things that I valued most that my parents had left behind (read it here). So many of the things that we value ourselves don’t really have intrinsic value, the value is limited to us. We have experiences that suddenly attach more meaning and value to things than they had before. Our memories are triggered by “stuff” that sells cheap at yard sales. Chances are, there won’t be many people who will find that same value there, unless they’ve had similar experiences with that same stuff. The chances of that happening are pretty slim.

So, as I sat out in the rain, wondering whether or not anyone would think this stuff was actually worth something, one person came. Then another person came. Then another person came. Before I knew it, the value of these things dropped down (who ever comes to a yard sale and pays the asking price for something?) and our driveway was empty.

Well, it was almost empty. The ensuing weather coupled with our shortage of storage in the house and my need to get to another appointment later in the morning led me to throw everything that remained into the car and drive to Goodwill. As I handed the last box to the worker there, I breathed a sigh of relief. Whether I valued these things or not, they were just given away for free (well, I have a receipt that I can deduct from my taxes).

In the end, we made more money (which wasn’t much) at this yard sale than we have in a long time. The stuff is gone, and that’s what matters most, right? Here’s hoping that next time, when there’s a yard sale, that the weather is better and the stuff is just as valuable as it was this time around.

Inevitable Emotion

gibsons circa 1979I start listening to Christmas music fairly early.  I have many reasons why, the first of which is that there’s too much good music to try to listen to in the course of a month.  I also have to start planning for things well in advance in order to not be cramming during the Advent season.  Christmas music also makes me fairly nostalgic.  Not sure if there’s anyone for which that doesn’t happen, but I know what it does to me.  This morning was one of those nostalgic times.

My wife was out at the bus stop with our two boys and my little girl was with me.  I sat down at the piano to start tinkering out a song that was in my head and ran over to the computer to see if I could find a recording of it.  I did and my daughter and I sat at the piano as I plunked out the notes along to the recording.  It was a song called “Sing” by the Carpenters.

It didn’t take long for nostalgia to kick in.  My mom was a big Carpenters fan.  I remember her always talking about Karen Carpenter and the tragedy of losing her at such a young age.  I grew up listening to the Carpenters on vinyl and probably even 8 track (if you were born later than 1980, just go to Wikipedia).  The Carpenters were actually from New Haven, Connecticut, where I worked before I left Connecticut almost 10 years ago.  Among my favorite recordings by them was their Christmas album.  I could be anywhere and hear a song from that album and it immediately take me back to my childhood.

As the computer moved past the song that I was listening to, it moved into songs from the Christmas album.  As I sat there at the piano with my daughter, I pulled her a little bit closer and began to be taken away to a place far away and a time that seemed too long ago.  I thought about Mom and the smells of Christmas.  I thought about her smile.  I thought about how wonderful it would be for my mom to meet my daughter.  As I thought more and more, a smile began to emerge on my face.

The Christmas season holds so many memories for me.  Actually, this whole holiday season is so nostalgic, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.  I have such great memories of so many family gatherings, eating, laughing, watching movies, shedding tears, singing.  It’s hard not to smile when the rush of memories floods into my brain.

This year will be another first for me.  This is the first Christmas without my dad.  Despite the inevitable emotion that’s on the horizon, I’m not dreading it, I’m welcoming it.  For each memory that comes back to me, I have the opportunity to make more with my own children.  Sure, I wish that my parents were here to make memories with my children as well, but I can share those memories with the kids, telling them of times gone by, years past.

I know it will be a hard season, but it will also be a full season.  I’m looking forward to experiencing joy with my family.  Every new season is full of new memories and it’s always good to remember why we celebrate this time of year.  From November until January, it’s really about thankfulness.  I am grateful for all that God has given me, past and present.  I am grateful for the gift that we received so many years ago in Jesus Christ.  I am grateful for that gift that gives new life.  There’s too much to be thankful for to wallow in misery or get caught up feeling sorry for myself.  I’ll just enter this season with expectation, that’s really what Advent is about.  So, here we go.