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Bagpipes, burials, blunders & septic tanks . . .

To paraphrase Art Linkletter in his old-time television show, Kids say the darndest things, humor can be found in the darndest places. I received this e-mail recently from a lovely retired couple in Florida that migrated from North to South, legally of course, leaving the winters of Ohio and fleeing for the flora and fauna of Florida, going from icicles to iguanas, from shoveling snow to seeking shade, and apparently living and loving every minute of life in the sunshine state.

I freely admit, with not a smidgen of shame, that I took a few liberties with the original e-mail and in my not-so-humble opinion I approved it immeasurably. In the original e-mail, for example, the bagpipe player said he felt badly about being too late for the graveside services.

No, no, no, never—not no, but hell no! If one feels badly, then one has a deficiency in one’s ability to feel, to exercise the tactile sense of touch. Consider this: Does anyone ever say that they felt goodly about anything? No, they say they felt good, not goodly, about whatever the feeling was that generated how they felt. There were numerous other improvements involving wayward commas, failure to capitalize when needed, attempts to reflect regional dialects of Kentucky and redundant terms such as like I’ve never played before—the word never does not need before.

I rest my case, and I now offer the edited e-mail:

Bagpipes at a funeral . . .

As a bagpiper I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. The departed had no family or friends, and the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in rural Kentucky. I was not familiar with the backwoods and got lost, and being a typical man I didn’t stop for directions.

I finally arrived an hour late and saw that the funeral workers were gone, and the hearse was nowhere in sight. Only the diggers and their equipment remained, and the men were eating lunch in the shade of a nearby tree.

I felt bad about being too late for the ceremony and I apologized to the workers. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and saw that the vault lid was already in place. I didn’t know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and gathered around with their hardhats in hand. I played my heart and soul out for that man with no family and no friends. I played for that homeless man like I’ve never played for anyone.

I played Amazing Grace, and as I played the workers began to weep. They wept and I wept, and we all wept together. When I finished I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car I heard one of the workers say, I have never seen or heard of anything like that, and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.

Apparently I was still lost—it must be a man thing.

Postscript: The internet offers several versions of this story by different bloggers—none are better than this one and some, while not necessarily worse, are not as good as this one—take your pick.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do?

Memories of those words and that question, and memories of Archie Williams, W.C. Fields, Shirley Temple, dirty old men and a certain red-haired office typist—all came together in my thoughts this morning while I reminisced in search of fodder for my blog. If that group has in any way piqued your interest, read on.

I’ll begin with the red-haired office worker, an administrative clerk sitting sideways with legs crossed while operating an old-time word processor, a dinosauristic but cleverly constructed machine that combined mechanical, electrical and manual functions, a machine known as a typewriter. When the machine was operated properly it produced ink impressions, alphabet letters, on white unlined material—paper—a versatile material with many uses, made from wood pulp and commonly used for writing and printing upon but with various other uses and capabilities and sometimes referred to as tissue or tissues, quintessentially used at work, at home and away from home.

Just as an aside, I wonder how many readers will resort to Wikipedia for a definition of the word quintessentially. In the past, one in search of a definition would have referred to another dinosaur, that quaint publication known as a dictionary. Alas, that item is swiftly disappearing from our society, but I have one to which I felt I was entitled. I purloined it from my office when I retired from government service. In fact, I retired twice from government service, first from the military and then from federal law enforcement—the dictionary I brought home on the second retirement was simply a free upgrade of the one from the military.

But I have digressed from my original objective, to tell the story of Archie Williams. For that I apologize and return forthwith and continue towards that objective. From the information given in the first paragraph you, the reader, probably have in mind the image of a young auburn-haired beauty in a mini-skirt seated sideways before an office typewriter with her legs crossed and showing lots of leg, both lower leg and thigh and you would be right—except for the fact that the typist was a young red-haired male member of the United States Air Force, clothed in khaki shirt and trousers showing no leg, belted in blue and shod in black, sporting on his sleeves the three stripes of an Airman First Class, engaged in a spirited conversation with Archie Williams, an Air Force master sergeant, a six-striper similarly clothed who embodied and displayed the unique characteristics of W.C. Fields, an old-time veteran Hollywood comic of black-and-white film fame, in at least one of which films he shared billing with a very young and very precocious Shirley Temple, a child prodigy who tap danced, beautifully and at length while wearing a very short dress, and whose characteristic close-ups revealed curly hair, a cute smile, snow-white legs and significant expanses of white underwear, both front and rear, as she tapped and whirled and smiled enticingly for the camera.

I know, I know—you’re wondering why the previous sentence is so lengthy, nearing 200 words. It’s because I’m trying to equal or surpass the length of the one in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, not the longest sentence in literature but certainly among the longest—1,300 words. Of course, that’s very brief compared to a sentence in Ulysses by James Joyce that has 4,391 words—more or less!

I will digress no more—I’m running out of ink, so I’ll try to finish this posting. I’m reasonably certain that you, the reader, are wondering where this is going so I’ll put your mind at rest. I read an article in a magazine prized by men that in big city theaters that show the old black-and-white movies in certain theaters with Shirley Temple displaying her dancing talent, the major part of the audiences consists of dirty old men. Admittedly, some of the dirty old men simple needed a place to rest or to sleep, and some were addicted to black-and-white movies regardless of their contents—some may in fact have been movie producers, black-listed by Senator McCarthy and forced out of the movie industry—maybe.

My contention is that the dirty old men in the audience felt that the child prodigy was wearing that smile and showing the underwear just for them, and as a result of that feeling they perhaps—alright, probably—reached illegal and unimaginable plateaus of pleasure during the showing, a la Pee-wee Herman.

While I was busy in the Administration Office on a typical working day, I was privy—inadvertently—to a conversation between Archie and the young red-haired leg-crossing sergeant that centered on the typist’s off-duty activities. After quizzing him on those activities Archie told him, in Archie’s replication of W.C. Fields whiningly nasal tone, poetically and in rhyme, You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do? Archie’s height and girth, his stance, his ambulatory movements and his habit of carrying an unlighted cigar all mimicked W.C. Fields. While Archie’s physical characteristics were not controllable, I believe that the cigar and his voice were perhaps props, intended to imitate the old-time actor and indulged in so much over time that they belonged to him and were part of his persona, just as legitimately as they were for W.C. Fields.

When I heard Archie’s question I immediately decided that I had no other business in that office, and I hurriedly relocated so I could satisfactorily react to the question without incurring the enmity of the typist. I never knew the typist’s answer, if in fact he gave an answer, and I did not have the temerity to ask Archie how his talk with the typist was concluded. I did learn later from another source that the typist shared his lodging and his life with an over-the-road non-military truck driver. I find it interesting that in that era I was not aware that my service had either an animus against, or a tolerance for, members with sexual preferences that differed from what traditionally has been our society’s norm—there was no don’t ask, don’t tell policy. At that time, circa 1965, I was in my sixteenth year of military service, and if my service had a problem with such preferences it was never part of my training. Over the years I served during peacetime and wartime with several such persons and had no problems—none at that time and none now.

Archie died in the mid-1960s, and his earthly remains were interred in Fort Sam Houston’s national cemetery here in San Antonio, Texas. Full military services were provided, with taps, rifle volleys and uniformed pallbearers, and I was one of the six men that carried the casket, with Archie safely ensconced inside, a considerable distance through interminable rows of upright grave markers to an open grave, fitted with the mechanical device that would lower the casket.

Archie was a big man that in life would have approached a weight of 250 pounds, perhaps more, and at least partially because of that weight I almost preceded him into the excavation that had been prepared for him alone. As we marched towards the open grave I quickly concluded that he had not been embalmed—had he chosen that mortuary option—not required in Texas—he would have been considerably lighter. Of the six pallbearers, I’ll give you three guesses as to which pallbearer was less tall than the others, and the first two guesses won’t count—not that I am necessarily short, mind you, but I will admit that I was less tall than the others.

My position as we marched Archie, feet first through the rows of white markers, was at the left forward corner of Archie’s casket, the corner closest to his left foot, I am convinced that mine was the heaviest area of the weight we carried, perhaps fitted with a large anvil—perhaps Archie had been a blacksmith in his youth and the anvil was placed as a salutary salute to that profession—he may have suffered from a left club-foot, but I doubt that it would account for the weight at my corner.

Just as we moved the casket to a point directly over the grave and the lowering mechanism, my right foot slipped into the opening and I frantically relinquished my portion of the weight—I became an ex-pallbearer. However, the remaining five pallbearers apparently divided up my former contribution to the operation and held the casket up until I could reposition myself and return to pallbearer status, and we then properly placed the casket, stepped back and snapped to attention, and the ceremony continued and was concluded without further incident. In my haste to return both feet to solid ground, scrambling to avoid being interred with Archie, I soiled the knees of my uniform trousers as I frantically returned to an upright position—the soiling process could have been far worse, I suppose.

I have good reason to visit Fort Sam Houston’s national cemetery these days. I don’t remember where we left Archie some fifty years ago—that’s far too much time for me to be expected to remember his Section and Plot numbers. I have promised myself that I will ask cemetery office personnel for the location of his grave. I want to say hello to him, and I may hear again the question below, the question he addressed to that red-haired typist, and perhaps the typist’s answer to the query—if Archie chooses to confide in me:

You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
 

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Our tombstone inscriptions . . .

Prior to the interment of my wife’s mortal remains in Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery here in San Antonio, I was asked to provide any information that I wanted in addition to the mandatory data required by military regulations. An official of the funeral home said that I would have three lines for our use, each line consisting of a maximum of 15 letters including spaces. After securing agreement from our three daughters, I submitted the following three lines, to be placed below the lines required by regulation. These lines were my original submission:

Cry not for me
I am at home
I wait for thee

Shortly after that submission I was contacted by a cemetery representative, and was told that only two lines were available for my use after the mandatory items were inscribed. After a few minutes of looking at possibilities, I realized that any one of the three lines I had submitted could be deleted. I could remove the first line and the inscription would read:

I am at home
I wait for thee

I could delete the third line and the inscription would read:

Cry not for me
I am at home

And finally, with the second line removed the inscription would read:

Cry not for me
I wait for thee

Again with the agreement of our three daughters, I chose to remove the second line, so the inscription will read:

Cry not for me
I wait for thee

Of course, when my earthly remains are placed with the mortal remains of my wife in our temporal holding place—and I will join her, either sooner or later—her inscription will again need to be formulated, primarily because she will no longer be waiting for me—at that time I shall have arrived.

As for my inscription on the front of the final headstone to be inscribed and erected, I will entrust the inscription to the sensibilities of our three daughters, and I trust that they will be gentle in complying with that responsibility, and unanimous in their decision, whatever it may be—but none of that two out of three stuff!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in death, Family, funeral, health, marriage, Military

 

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Some thoughts from Alyce . . .

The following comment was made by Alyce, a long-time family friend, on my posting entitled A second letter to Janie in el cielo. Click here to read the letter. In that post I acknowledged that writing letters to those that have left this vale of tears and now exist in another realm strains credulity. Alyce’ comment is intended to express her feelings for loved ones she has lost, and to support my method of corresponding with family members I have lost. In my not-so-humble opinion, the comment is beautifully structured and presented—her thoughts come straight from the heart and her words ring true in every respect.

This  is her comment:

When I was a child and someone that I loved died, it was easier for me to accept. I don’t know why exactly. I remember that I was very young when my grandpa died,. My mom and I walked up to the casket and she showed me grandpa, but it didn’t look like him. He had his teeth in and no coveralls on—it was a suit. I pulled on mom’s dress and asked Who is that? She said It’s grandpa, and I said No.

Since I was so small I didn’t quite understand it, but later that day I had questions and mom always had the sweet answers. After explaining the teeth and the suit she said Grandpa is in heaven now with Jesus and happy, no pain, just enjoying the Lord, and I understood and accepted the answers mom gave me. Yes, I was sad because I would not see grandpa make tops and other things with his knife, but he was happy and I knew that someday I would see him again.

As I got older it became harder for me when someone I loved passed away to be with the Lord, probably because I knew as I got older I would someday pass away and leave the loved ones I have on earth, but knowing God’s promise of seeing them again has always comforted me.

I know after my mom died I went to the cemetery a few times, but then I remembered what my mom told me to remember, that she and daddy were not there, and it took me awhile to get it. When I lived in the Valley I would go and place flowers and clean their stone and the stones of others I knew out there. I knew the second they passed on that their soul was with the Lord. Now when I think of them and want to talk to them I do it while driving down the road, or at home sitting in the recliner or wherever I might be. I will always miss them as long as I am breathing, here in my temporary place, but someday I will see them again.

Everyone mourns in so many different ways, and each way should be respected, whether we think it’s the right way or not. That’s why God made each of us different. Oh, to be a child again and think like a child, not complicated!

I wish we could all be like that.

Always remember that God gives us seven days a week and twenty-four hours in each day, and we must choose how to spend the time that God has given us.

Happy New Year to all and may God bless all.

An afterthought: Alyce is employed in one of the most stressful occupations that exist in any society. She works as a Correction Officer in a state facility in South Texas, in close contact with people that are in prison because they look on life from a different aspect than most people, and Alyce would be the first to admit that without God at her back, she could not continue to endure the daily stress under which she labors.

 

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Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Cemetery scene: Having lovingly placed a bouquet of roses at the head of a grave, the visitor to the cemetery watched smilingly as an elderly Oriental man lovingly placed a steaming bowl of rice and chopsticks at the head of a nearby grave, and then asked him at what time he figured his friend would come up to eat the rice. The other man replied, “He will come up at the same time your friend comes up to smell the roses.”

Having set the scene, I will continue with this posting. On this cold blustery day in San Antonio, Texas I traveled twelve miles from my home to Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I placed fresh flowers on the grave of a great lady that was transported from this earthly realm to her just reward in God’s heavenly realm on the evening of Thursday, November 18, 2010 just one month and eight days before her seventy-ninth birthday. Our three daughters were present at her death, at her memorial and her interment, but unforeseen circumstances prevented them from being with me to visit her on this day.

Today is my wife’s birthday. She was born December 26, 1931 on an icy Saturday in a small south Georgia town. We met in 1952 and were married just four months later on a Saturday afternoon on the thirteenth day of December in 1952, and we completed fifty-eight years of marriage thirteen days ago on the thirteenth of this month, December of the year 2010.

To complete the fifty-eight years of marriage I included the days between her death on 18 November and our wedding anniversary date of 13 December. I included those days because we remain married and will always remain married, albeit on a spiritual level rather than on a physical level.

We are separated physically but our spirits are intertwined, an inextricable unity that will never be separated. I refuse to allow our marriage to dissolve simply because we exist in separate realms. Her spirit—her soul—has returned to God from whence it came. She is in heaven with Him and I remain on earth. I am well aware that adherence to our marriage vows will be more difficult for me than for her, but I readily accept the challenge and I will not falter.

I still wear my wedding ring on the ring finger of my left hand, and when I join my wife in the grave that contains her earthly remains—the same grave that will contain mine throughout eternity—that ring will still be in place.  If it should be lost I will replace it, and if that replacement is lost I will purchase another, as many times as necessary. I also wear my wife’s 1949 high school graduation ring on the little finger of my right hand. That one will be a bit more difficult to replace, but I will make the effort should it happen.

Yes, in the same grave—with space at a premium in our national military cemeteries, husbands and wives share the same burial plot. I have no problem with that procedure, nor does my wife. We have discussed it at length over the past several years, and we agreed with the premise that the closer, the better. And on the subject of matter, the contents of our grave constitute mortal material matter only, as do the contents of every grave.

The immortal essence of that matter—the soul, given by the grace of God—was never there, having already gone to its promised reward before the remains were placed beneath the sod—its direction dependent, of course, on certain requirements having been met, a point that should be foremost in how we decide to live our lives.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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The day after Christmas, 2010 . . .

Yesterday was December 25, the Year of Our Lord, 2010. That day was Christmas, the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, hailed, revered and worshiped by Christians as the Son of God and the savior of mankind, One of the Christian Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It was the seventy-eighth Christmas of my life, and the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife near the mid-point of the past century—1952.

I spent all but five of those 58 holidays with my wife. On Christmas Day in 1961 and 1962 I was in West Germany helping my country during our cold war with the Soviet Union, a war that ended in a cold stalemate. That stalemate continues to this day under different names and titles. I was in South Viet Nam on Christmas Day in 1970 and 1971, helping our country lose the war against North Viet Nam.

Just as an aside, I spend Christmas Day in 1950 and 1951 helping our country lose another war, the one ineptly labeled the Korean conflict, a conflict that cost more than 40,000 American lives over four years of fighting, a conflict that ended in a stalemate that exists to this day. Apparently stalemates run in our national history.

Yesterday was the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife, the love of my life. It was only the fifth Christmas that I did not spend with my wife and my family. My wife died last month on the eighteenth day of November, and I spent most of yesterday alone in the house we have lived in for the past twenty-two years, alone with the furniture, decorations, artwork, various collections and photographs, my wife’s clothing and other personal articles, and our memories we accumulated over the past fifty-eight years of our marriage.

I spend most of Christmas day at home, but I accepted an invitation to enjoy a Christmas dinner with one of my three daughters and her family that live nearby. Earlier in the day I visited my wife at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I had planned to place a beautiful plant that our neighbors to the west, the finest next-door neighbors in existence, brought over as a Christmas gift, a beautiful poinsettia. I wanted it to grace my wife’s grave, and I intended to tell her how kind and thoughtful the neighbors were to give us the plant.

I wanted to believe—no, I did believe—that she would know the flowers were there. I realized that the plant would last longer in the home than in the open, subject to heat and cold and lack of moisture, but I felt that its brief life in the open would be better than watching it age and wither in our home—frankly speaking, I do not have a green thumb, and it’s a given that any potted plant will not last long under my tutelage.

I visited my wife without the poinsettia. My previous perfectly plotted perverted poinsettia plan (I really do love alliteration) was abandoned when I stepped outside to check the weather . The air was bitterly cold and a strong blustery wind was blowing, and I realized that the tall poinsettia plant would be lying flat and frozen even before I left the cemetery. I decided to let the plant remain in the home and take its chances with me, with the firm resolve to take flowers to my wife the following day, December 26, the day of her birth in 1932.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, but I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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A brisket for Nephrology . . .

This is a letter to my wife, one of the purest and sweetest beings that God has ever created. Her immortal soul returned to its Creator on Thursday, the eighteenth of November, 2010 at 9:15 in the evening. Immediately after joining Him she left His presence, and anointed with the divine influence of His grace she returned to our mortal world for a few brief moments. Her return is documented and discussed here.

Hi, sweetheart,

I know you’re watching and I’m sure you were part of the annual get-together in the Nephrology Clinic at Brooke Army Medical Center, but I’ll recap the luncheon for you just in case you overlooked some of the folks that attended. It was held on Thursday, December 16, the day that would have been your day for dialysis. You’ll remember that Thursday is the least busy day for the unit. There was only one patient that morning, and I believe that was an in-hospital patient.

All the nurses were there: Gracie, Linda, Irene, Gloria, Jackie, Tammie, Jim, Carver, Henderson and Patti, the Head Nurse, along with Kathy, the dietitian, and Dr. Reynolds, the officer-in-charge of the Clinic. Many of the dialysis patients were there, including the Big Colonel and the Little Colonel. The Big Colonel expressed his sadness at learning of your death, and offered his condolences to me and to our daughters, saying that we and you would always remain in his thoughts and prayers.

Dr. Reynolds welcomed us to the event and asked that we never forget those that are longer with us, specifically naming you and Mrs. Kirk, that beautiful little lady with the short gray hair and the ever-present smile, always commandeering a wheelchair and chauffeured by her husband. She followed you from this realm just a few days after you left us.

Dr. Reynolds introduced the chaplain, and following the chaplain’s brief prayer with blessings on those present and those not present, we lined up at the trough for lunch, and what a spectacular trough it was. The tables stretched at least thirty or forty feet along one wall and each table was loaded—the staff should be enjoying leftovers for several days, probably through the weekend and into next week.

You should be very proud of me because with you beside me, coaching me at every step, I prepared a seven-pound brisket, from HEB of course, and brought it still hot on my arrival at the clinic, along with sauce, chips, bread and four gallons of sweet tea from Bush’s Chicken in Converse—incidentally, there has apparently been a complete change of personnel at that location—I recognized none of the staff there.

Rita met me at the entrance of the hospital with a handcart to help carry everything. I also brought another large framed piece of art to add to our gallery in the clinic. That makes a total of fourteen pieces lining each side of the hallway from the entrance all the way to the dialysis section. I’m told that your “art gallery” is an attraction for other hospital staff and patients and visitors. I know that you and I did not make the donations as a memorial, but it doesn’t hurt that it serves as a memorial to you.

Cindy helped me create gold foil stickers for the pieces, and I placed one on the lower right corner of the glass of each, and I also placed a label on the flat-screen television you donated to the Nephrology Clinic to replace that little dinky tube television that was there. Each of the gold stickers reads, Donated to Nephrology by Janie and Mike Dyer. And just in case you are wondering, Rita still watches The View every morning with religious fervor.

I wish the hallway were a bit longer so I could expand the gallery in your name. I also wish that I could create another Taj Mahal to honor your name and your life, but I’ll have to be satisfied with the Taj Mahal that resides in my heart and in my memories of you and of my life with you. Just as is the original Taj Mahal in India, the Taj Mahal in my heart and memories is a symbol of our eternal love.

I helped the nurses set up the banquet tables (Irene made me don plastic gloves before I could help sanitize the tables). When the signal was given to Come and get it! I joined the long line, loading far more on my plate than necessary, but I admit shamefully that very little was left when I finished. I shared a table with Ernie, his wife and his daughter. You’ll remember Ernie as the camera-bug transplanted to San Antonio from El Paso so his severely handicapped wheel-chair-bound daughter could receive treatment here. He is still following Cindy’s blog and working on his photographic skills.

Unless you were preoccupied in another area, you probably noticed that I visited you in the cemetery that Thursday afternoon. There were few visitors that day, but the machines and their operators were present as always, hard at work maintaining and enhancing the grounds, watering and grooming and planting and preparing new communities for military wives and husbands and for the orphaned children of military families. The perpetual care provided by our government for those families ensures the beauty and the future of one of the largest such cemeteries in the nation.

My visit with you that Thursday afternoon was bitter sweet, as all future visits will be. I accept the sadness that cloaks and permeates each visit, but I exult in the knowledge that the sadness is temporary, because I know that at some time in the future I will join you and our immortal souls will be reunited.

And I know that, in the glorious morning of the Resurrection our bodies will be raised, and become as incorruptible as our souls.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling. I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Mike

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, health, marriage, television, Writing

 

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