Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gray Anatomy

The other day as my class was walking to lunch, I was looking carefully at one my young friend’s hair.  “You’re hair is really pretty,” I said.  “It’s not really a single color at all.  It’s an interesting mix of colors.”  She smiled and swished her hair around her.  She looked like a model working for a shampoo or hair color company.  “It’s sort of a blondish-reddish-brownish,” I went on.  She’s a swimmer too, and so it has some of the shiny chlorine effects you see with those who spend a lot of time in a pool.

“Thanks,” she said.  “I got it from my parents.  And your hair is,” she paused.  “Grayish, brownish.”

“Really?  Gray is the first word you would use to describe my hair?”

“Sure.”  I went back in line a few children to get the opinion of someone who did not hear our conversation.  “What color would you say my hair is?”

“Um, probably grayish, brownish.”  What was this, a conspiracy?  Back a few more kids in line.

“What color is my hair?”

“Gray.”  Gray?  No other color adjective?  No ‘ish’ to make it not quite so true?

End of the line.  Same question – different kid.

“I’d say,” he paused, taking his chin in his hand, considering my question carefully as we walked.  “Sort of brown.”  Whew!  And then, “With a lot of gray in there.  Sort of mixed up.  Like a salad.” 

It must be true.  Kids don’t lie.  Well, most kids don’t lie.  Not about that kind of thing anyway.  Hmmm.  Gray hair. 

I have seen it coming.  I don’t spend a lot of time in front of the mirror.  I do trim my beard every week or so.  Yes, it is getting very gray.  No.  White.  But I don’t really comb my hair or brush it.  I just run my fingers through it after getting out of the shower or after coming inside from recess.  I don’t really study it.  But, yeah, I have seen it coming from a distance.

Heidi tells me that she likes the gray in my hair.  Distinguished and all that.  But she would have to say that right?  I notice that she has lots of gray hair.  It’s silver and shimmery on her.  It mostly comes out of her crown and falls over the back of her head.  And it does look pretty.   And I don’t have to say that.  She probably won’t read this.

I know lots of people who color their hair.  For some, the coloring is so obvious.  As in, there are NO people that age with THAT color.  Some people try to keep it subtle.  You know, highlights or some soft shade that is pretty close to their former real color.  It’s funny to walk into a hair salon (formerly know as a beauty parlor) and see the folks getting highlights with those odd little caps on their heads with the strands poking through.  They look a little like sea anemone.

I know this guy about my age, probably older, with jet-black hair and beard.  It’s kind of long in the back.  He would look like a pirate with a mullet if he had an eye patch.   With the wrinkles and the chin sag that accompanies most gentlemen my age, the blue-black hair isn’t a good fit. 

Don’t get me wrong.  We all probably do things that wouldn’t occur in nature to make ourselves look and feel better.  I scrape the whiskers off my throat.  If I didn’t, they would probably grow right down my shirt into my chest hair.  There isn’t much of a border there between those two hair countries.  They would form one big hair continent.  I have a pierced ear.  That certainly isn’t natural. 

My dad had brown hair.  He had a little gray in his short sideburns.  And I saw a picture of him with a gray beard that my mom took when they took a trip to Ireland and he didn’t shave for a couple weeks.  When he was a kid one of his nicknames was Red.  But the day he died, at 64, he had brown hair with nary a strand of gray.  He was proud of that hair, proud of the fact that some people thought he colored it or that he was wearing a toupee.  Nope.  All real.

I really don’t care about hair color.  It is what it is.  Comes with the territory and all that.  I am certainly not going to color over it.  And I am really glad that Heidi has no plans to color over hers.  I remember when I first saw the first few strands of gray in Heidi’s hair.  It sort of amazed me.  As in, are we really that old?  Did we really make it this far to have gray hair?  Have we been together that long?  And it takes my breath a way a little.  When we take our evening walks, Heidi is walking with a gray-headed man (I still maintain an ish, but some might not think so). 

When we met, back in 1976, we were slender, our faces were tight, we were light on our feet and our hair was pretty much one color.  Heidi auburn; me brown.  My beard was red.  It happened so gradually you know, this slide from brown to gray(ish).  But it is cool.  Absolutely cool.  Because I am growing gray with the one I have loved for so long.  And she does look at my face.  And it is OK with her.  Just fine.  And I am the lucky one. 

But when I am filling out that little line on the form for hair color at the DMV when I am applying for my new driver’s license?  I’ll probably put brown.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What Can Doctors Say About Guns in SC?

There is a lot to love in South Carolina.  Beautiful sandy beaches - anywhere you are in SC you can’t bee too far from the Atlantic.  The weather, although a little hot and humid in the summer for my taste, is pretty fine.  Global warming aside, in January there are many days that you can be outside in your shirtsleeves and shorts.  The mountains in the northwest corner are another lovely attraction.  Breathtaking fall foliage and cool little lakes, great state parks and forest, forest, forest.  You don’t have to go very far at all to find a leafy green place to hang out, to get away from the city. 

The people here are generally friendly too.  People you don’t even know wave to you, let you in when you are in a bind in traffic, thank you sincerely for whatever.  If you go into a post office, the person behind the counter is likely to ask about your health, your family, your well-being.  I admit that I am not the friendliest person, but when I am out with Heidi and we go into a familiar place such as the bank or a restaurant, the room comes alive.  It’s like being with Norm from Cheers… (Bar Crowd:  NORM!  Sam:  What's new, Normie?  Norm: Terrorists, Sam.  They've taken over my stomach.  They're demanding beer.)  Only it’s, “HEIDI!”

But one thing that that I will never get used to is the zany politics here.  Or the amount of emphasis on citizens being able to own as many of whatever kinds of guns they can get their hands on.  And when politics and guns bridge?  We may cross over from plain-old-ordinary-garden-variety-nuttiness to downright insanity. 

Well, no place is perfect I guess.

Take for example the bill that has 57 lawmakers signing on that would make it illegal for doctors to discuss gun safety with their patients.  Don’t believe it?  Check out last Sunday's State newspaper.  Front page.  Above the fold.  “What?” you ask.  “What about our FIRST AMMENDMENT right to free speech?  What about Big Government intrusion?”  Here are some excerpts from that story.

The bill has stunned some doctors, especially pediatricians, who say they do talk with patients about safety steps to be taken when there’s a gun in the household, to make sure a child isn’t accidentally shot. Besides, they say, they are guaranteed free speech under the First Amendment, just as gun owners have gun rights under the Second Amendment.
“They (gun rights supporters) are trying to get Big Government to come in and dictate what we can and cannot say, while at the same time, they are trying to tell Big Government to stay out of their right to own guns,” said Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a Columbia pediatrician who is president of the S.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In the past 10 years, Greenhouse said, two children who were patients of her pediatric group’s practice were killed in home gun accidents that might have been prevented if more safety procedures had been in place. Since then, she said, she has made it a point to ask patients if guns are in the home and, if the answer is yes, to review a safety checklist.
“No one has ever taken offense, and numerous people have thanked me,” she said. “Many families aren’t aware of all the safety procedures I discuss. And you wouldn’t believe how many children know where their parents’ guns are.”
That’s exactly the kind of doctor-patient conversation that a bill by Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Anderson, would outlaw in South Carolina.
“We don’t want citizens to feel like they are going to be intruded upon whenever they go to a physician,” Putnam said in an interview last week.
Under Putnam’s bill, except in relevant emergency situations, doctors would not be able to ask patients if they have guns. Since many gun safety discussions originate with that question, the bill could stop doctors from initiating conversations about safety.
The reason for the bill, Putnam said, is that he’s trying to protect doctors from any future federal law that might force them to ask patients about gun ownership.
This is like a bad Twilight Zone story to me.  While we are all about individual rights and Constitutional rights; we are so uptight about the reach of Big Government, yet we might deny the free speech of doctors initiating conversations about gun safety with their patients and their young patients’ parents?  And you know who is feeling defensive by this idiocy?  Not Joshua Putnam who sponsored the bill, but Dr. Greenhouse who wants to protect the lives of her patients.  She is quoted in the story as saying that she knows she’ll be criticized by her stance.
One might not think there is a need for doctors to bring up gun safety with their patients, but in the last month in South Carolina there have been 3 children shot to death in gun accidents in their homes.  

• Tmorej Smith, 3, was shot and killed Feb. 1 in his Greenville apartment while he and his sister played with a loaded handgun.
• Easton Brueger, 8, was shot and killed by his father Dec. 30 in his Bennettsville home while his father was cleaning a rifle.
• Sincere Smith, 2, was shot and killed in his Horry County home after he grabbed a loaded handgun sitting on a table.
Sincere Smith

Richland County Sherriff, Leon Lott, called the bill “asinine”.  (The emphasis is mine.)  “Instead of preventing people from talking about gun safety, we should be encouraging more people to speak out.”
Do you think there is a need to discuss gun safety?  In the United States in 2011 there were 851 accidental shooting deaths. 
To Rep. Putnam I’d say, tell the parents of Tmorej Smith, Easton Brueger and Sincere Smith that the unfettered right to own and bear arms is more important than the right of pediatricians to have the free speech guaranteed in our Constitution.
I wonder what the rest of the country will think of this story.  I wonder how Stephen Colbert will play it.  What will the Tea Party think of it?  They are all for free speech, right?  How about Wayne LaPierre (“Guns don’t kill people. Video games, the media and Obama’s budget kill people.”)?  Doesn’t he agree with the first amendment?
I ask this question in all seriousness, how does Rep. Putnam sleep at night?

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Redbud

My mom’s name was Ruthanne O’Keefe – Ruck to her friends.  That’s what my dad always called her.  That what our neighbors and her best friends the Owens’ called her when I was growing up.

It was one of those early childhood things.  Her sister Joan, 7 years her junior, called her that as a toddler.  It stuck.  It was a rather odd nickname.  Whenever she was introduced by that name, eyebrows went up.  She rarely explained the odd handle.  She was just Ruck. 

When my cousins were little they called her AuntRuck – all one word.  It sounded like ant-truck. 

I miss that old Ruck.  Of course I never called her Ruck.  It was always Mom.  I miss my mom.

She was cremated when she died.  She never wanted a funeral or a service.  She never wanted to be viewed or prayed over.  She did not want an urn.  She did not want an obituary.  When it was time for her to go, she knew it.  She did not fight the absolutely inevitable.  “I’m 85,” she said to the Hospice care worker.  “What, do I need to be 86?”  The hospice worker cried. 

I cried too.  I cried for a long time.  She may have thought of that as wasted energy.  But I cried.  Couldn’t help it.  I still cry sometimes.  But those tears are not the same somehow.  Those same tears that once burned at my mom’s loss have become healing.  When I cry now I know that they will disappear.  They’ll sting my eyes and then leave me with memories of her. 

Even though she did not want any kind of memorial service, about a year ago, my brother Dan and sisters Ruthie and Anne met at her house up in Brevard, NC, at her beloved tree house in the mountains.  We stayed at a nearby motel while we took care of her final business.  We hung out on her dock and gazed out at the lovely little mountain lake she loved so well.  We toasted that remarkable, compassionate, kind, artistic, fiery woman.  And we spread her ashes in that lake, in view of her porch where she fed rambunctious raccoons and shy birds and the silly squirrels that chewed mercilessly on her railing. 

Those were some of her best years, and certainly mine as well with her just a few hours away.  I was the lucky one among my sibs.  For we are spread as far north and south and from sea-to-shining-sea as we can be.  For her last 7 or 8 years we were truly best friends.  How lucky is that?

There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think of her.  I still cry sometimes.  And it is good.

Last spring Heidi had a great idea.  We planted a little redbud on the hill behind our home in the woods.  I dug a big hole and busted up that nasty clay soil.  I cut in mulch and mushroom compost.  We spread a handful of my mom’s ashes in there too.  It is a modest little tree.  But it will grow.  When it went dormant last fall, I was little worried about it.  There are little trees that don’t come back for whatever reason.  And it’s not like that tree has any of my mom’s spirit in it.  I am not superstitious.

But some of the carbon from her body has to be nourishing it.  Right? If that tree didn’t come 
back, it wouldn't be like I would think of her any less, right?  It’s silly, I know, but I have been watching that tree a lot lately since everything else has been budding and opening up and pouring out pollen like it’s going out of style.  And I have been anticipating the day when I would see those new little buds opening into those pretty little pink flowers. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Old Guitar

Songs have been written to inanimate objects before.  Nothing new there.  One of my son Colin's favorite singer-songwriters is Paul Baribeau.  He wrote a cool one called "Tablecloth".  Pearl Jam wrote "Spin the Black Circle".  Eddie Vedder sings, Pull it out/A paper sleeve/Oh, my joy/Only you deserve conceit.” It makes me want to to pull out my old vinyl.  Other songs are written from the perspective of inanimate objects.  My favorite is David Wilcox's "Rusty Old American Dream".  "Well I don't look all that ragged for all the time it's been.  But I'm weakened underneath me where my frame is rusted thin.  And this year's sate inspection I just barely passed.  Won't you drive me cross the country boy, this year could be my last."

One of my old favorites (this dates me - totally) is John Denver's "This Old Guitar".  "This old guitar taught me to sing a love song, it taught me how to laugh and how to cry..."  It's corny, but it's my corn.  It came from that special era for me, when I was learning how to play and getting up my nerve to sing in front of my friends (only my closest friends).  It was a hippie song and I could totally relate.  "...It helped me make it through some lonely nights.  What a friend to have on a cold and lonely night."

Here is one that I wrote.  It is very autobiographical - as I guess most songs are.  It is all of the times in my life when I carried an old guitar with me and sang for myself or for others.  Sometimes on my back, sometimes in an old cardboard case.  For my newest guitar I have a nice fairly new hardshell case.  But for my old one, I have this case that is held together with silver duct tape.  All of the hinges and latches are corroded.  My old Seagull guitar fits in there tight.  And while I have rigged up the handle (that is always the first thing to go) the case is still sound.  It'll probably outlive me.  I'll probably will it to my son Colin.  Or give it to my new/old friend Chris when my fingers are too stiff to play anymore.  He'll still have some miles left.   I know the old guitar will.

Old Guitar

You're the beach in the arms of a younger man,
Waves, tears, laughter and sand
You are lovers, tears and lullabies
You are the dark deep woods and quiet sleepy nights

Steel strings, sore fingers and a tired voice
You wash away the worries and the noise

You are campfire nights and smoke in my eyes
You are bare tree limbs and starflung skies
Whistling wind on a high sand dune
You are old folk songs with sweet simple tunes

You are memories of friends long gone
You fill my quiet nights with song

(BRIDGE) Much more than steel and wood
Much more than an empty box
You are snug in that battered old case
With its taped up edges and rusted locks

You're the meadow in a whispering wind
Sometimes only you can make me whole again
You're a brilliant moon on a clear cloudless night
Raindrops, teardrops, dawn's early light

Hot summer night and backporch blues
Folksongs, praisesongs, homegrown songs too
You are soft and forgiving and kind
And when I am wrong, you are fine
With you I can be lonesome but never alone

No - never alone

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Emancipation What?

I think as some folks passed by my blog this past week they thought I hadn't posted anything new. Fact is, there are two posts with similar names to my post of a couple weeks ago.  "Big Yellow Dog" is about our big yellow lab - Sasha.  "Encounter With Yellow Dog" (Parts 1 and 2) is a memoir about this scruffy stray dog I met at a Kmart.

Today, as I was with my after school group, we were talking about the biography project we have underway in my classroom.  Each child was taking a turn sharing about the person they are studying.  One of my kids is studying Abraham Lincoln and was telling about how he had freed the slaves.  I asked if she knew what that document was called that made slavery in the US illegal.

"Hmmm, Apoclomation something?"

"Sort of...

"Apantsamation Condensation!" said another.

"It's Apropomation Condensation, silly," came another attempt.

"Apocolaption Problemation...

"Complimation Mapatation...

"Pondamation Condensation...

"I know it's Condensation something...

"No, that's from science...

"Pransamation Aclimation...

"Epantsimation Aprocolaption...

I didn't get them all, but these were about half of their APPROXIMATION PROCLAMATIONS.

I should have had my phone out recording these because we tickled each other with the attemptamations.  I am not so used to my new technology yet.

Inspired by my photogramation friend Nic, I did have my phone out to snap this picture of some cool clouds the other day.