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One soul departs, and another arrives . . .

One soul departs,

and  another arrives.

I have read the letter that follows many times and each time my heart—my soul, my spirit—soars to incredible heights, and then descends to incredible depths. I know that I am not worthy of those heights, but I would like to believe that I do not deserve to remain at those depths.

I have vowed that in the time I have remaining above ground on this sphere—this earth—I will dedicate my efforts, my will, to live my life in a way that honors my wife, my family, my friends and my God. I hasten to add that I will accord that honor in my own way and not necessarily in ways favored by our society, nor by actions sanctioned by various religious denominations. I know that I cannot undo the things I’ve done in my lifetime that I should not have done, but I can try with all my might to do the things I should do in the time I have left in this realm.

I will begin this writing by saying proudly that I have the finest neighbors anyone could possible have, a beautiful couple that lives just a few feet away on the west side of our house. The husband is a self-employed architect and the wife is an educator-at-large in local school districts. They have two grown sons and a brand-new granddaughter.

My wife was in hospice care, and shortly before she died our neighbor gave her a gold chain with a pendant fashioned into the I Love You symbol in American Sign Language. She expressed her sorrow to my wife for her illness and her sorrow that she could not be with her until the end—her elder son’s wife, living in a distant city, was near child delivery and the doctors anticipated problems with the baby. My wife died before the neighbor left, and the neighbor’s sorrow—her sadness—is eloquently expressed in the letter she gave me before she left.

With her permission I have reproduced the letter and am posting it exactly as written, including the pen-and-ink sentence at the top of the page. She professes little talent for writing, but in my opinion, unlettered and unfettered though my opinion may be, she has a tremendous talent for writing and should pursue that talent, whether as a vocation or as an avocation.

Her letter follows, exactly as written. The first sentence just above the poem—This was in my heart today—was written in ink in the upper margin:

This was in my heart today:

Courage is not the towering oak
That sees storms come and go,
It is the fragile blossom
That opens in the snow.
—Alice MacKenzie Swalm

Dear Mike,

You hurt so deeply…..so, so deeply. You are sad, on top of sad, on top of sad. And all I know to say is, “I’m sorry.” So trite…..it screams out that I can’t even begin to feel your pain. I want to just sit and cry, cry, cry with you. Janie left you for another. That will always break your heart. She left you, she left you…how could she? You were always there for her. Year after year, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, second after second…..you were always there for her. But she left anyway. Gone, gone, gone. You always knew that she would leave you. It never mattered. You would do it all over again if you could. If only you could.

She said that you were a “Good Man.” A good man. A loving man. A caring man. A clever man. A funny man. A loyal man. A knowledgeable  man. An interesting man. But a man all the same. Not perfect, but not a requirement for Janie.

And there lies the real beauty. Janie left room for others to live their own lives. To make their own mistakes. To make their own amends. To write their own stories. To make their own verses and rhymes. To be their own selves. To find their own beauty. To find their own strengths. To find their own weaknesses. No matter where you were in life, whether in the good or the bad, she welcomed you home when you were ready to be home. She didn’t push or prod. She just waited. She knew you would eventually come home. She led by example. Every needle, every probe, every surgery, every bruise, every doctor visit…she said, “Be strong. Be strong, be strong, be strong. It was her battle cry. No words needed. She screamed it out with the softest of cries. So strong…..yet so, so gentle.

I’m your neighbor. I’m just simply a neighbor. How could I be touched this way? For me, death and birth are coming at the same time. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. But here it is, saying choose, choose. Janie’s example said to pick life. Choose life, she said. It is with sadness that I go. Even when I should be filled with bubbling joy. Be strong, she says. Go and be strong.

You are a good neighbor. The best. Be strong. Be strong. Be strong. “Live” she says. Be strong. She will wait for you to come Home.

With Sad, Sad, Sadness,

Your Neighbor, Your Friend,

Kathy

Postscript: At the memorial for my wife, our daughters placed the “I Love You” pendant in their mother’s hands, along with a small card with Biblical quotations given to her many years ago by her sister, Christine. The only other jewelry was a gold chain with a small pendant that I brought home many years ago from a foreign assignment while in the military. The pendant has a French quotation that translates as “I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.”

My neighbor is back home now and back in work harness. Her granddaughter, Caitlan, was delivered successfully by Caesarian surgery. The baby weighed eight pounds and two ounces at birth, and she is healthy, happy and growing by leaps and bounds.

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

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Letter to Dockie, November 1993 . . .

Sixteen years ago I was pulling night-duty at San Antonio’s International Airport, waiting for and working flights coming in from Mexico. Since I had long ago mastered any and all U. S. Customs rules and regulations as they related to my duties, I felt justified in passing the time and staying awake by writing letters to friends and relatives. I began this letter that evening, and added to it over a period of several days and sent it snail-mail on the above date.

November 13,1993

Hi, Dockie and Jackie,

Don’t faint, it’s just me. I realize you folks are not very accustomed to getting letters from me (especially since this is the only one I ever sent you), but the shock should wear off pretty soon. We found the picture of Philip in the flower bush. I mean we found the picture which shows Philip in the flower bush, not that we found it in the flower bush. I figured I would send some words of wisdom along with it. The picture has faded a lot over the years. It was made 18 years ago, so I guess it’s in pretty good shape considering the time that has passed.

I’m working a swing shift at the airport, from 3-11 p.m., and have a lot of free time on my hands. Well, actually I’m not working 3-11 today, I’m working 8-5, but usually I am 3-11. There’s not much to do and I really get bored, so I decided to use the time to write letters and bore the people I send them to.

I’ve written my sisters more since I started working nights than I have in my entire life. I’ve even written Aubrey and Evelyn and Winnie and Clyde and Bill several times. One thing about the letters I need to warn you of—they are long. Writing on a computer is a little like running downhill, eating peanuts or having sex—once you start, it’s hard to stop.

We really had a great time in Georgia, especially at the cookout. Seeing you and Jackie and Jean was a real treat, and seeing that gaggle of kids and grand-kids and in-laws and outlaws was great. Of course, the years weigh a bit heavier when you see that the kids now have kids, and their kids will soon be having kids, and you wonder where the years went. I can remember so clearly us playing jacks in Montgomery. I’m not sure but I think I remember winning, at least some of the games. Tell you what—you and Jackie come on out for a visit, and I’ll buy some jacks and challenge you to a game—I think I can still beat you!

Cindy spent 10 days with us recently, from October 23 until November 2. She left this past Tuesday, but has already bought tickets to return during Christmas. The house sure seemed empty for awhile after she left, and we’re already looking forward to her return in December. She is doing well in her work in Virginia—in fact she will make more than her ol’ pappy this year if she keeps on like she is going. The only problem is that she has learned how to make money, but has not yet learned how to hold on to any of it. When she masters that, she will have it made. Her sister Kelley is running her a close second on that—not in making the money, but in spending it.

I think the people in Mexico are still talking about the visit you and the others made to Laredo. In fact, in Mexican folklore they refer to you as “la senorita loca con la pela rubia y el sombrero gigante,” which means “the crazy lady with the blond hair and the giant hat.” When you folks come out, we’ll try to fit in a trip to the border so you can terrorize the natives some more.

I just got back to my office. One of the ladies I work with is a garage sale freak like me, and we went hunting garage sales. They were supposed to have a giant sale at Trinity Baptist Church today, so we went there first. There were at least 100 cars there, so we figured it would be a great sale, but we couldn’t find where they were set up. We finally asked a motorcycle cop at the corner about it, and he said that the cars were there for a funeral, and that he didn’t know anything about a garage sale. I guess we have sunk to a new low, trying to get a really good bargain at a funeral.

We finally found several small yard sales before we had to return to work. I bought a 35-millimeter slide projector for $2.00. Does it work? I don’t know yet, haven’t tried it, but even if it doesn’t work I’m only out two bucks, and I’ll probably value it at $50 and donate it to Goodwill Industries and take a tax deduction, so how can I lose?

How are the goats doing? Boy, we really have some ritzy relatives—they keep a BMW parked in the yard just so their goats will have something to climb on! Alta and I liked your house, and you have it so nicely decorated. She is still talking about her visit with you. I guess you two sat up and talked all night.

Hope your Cocker Spaniel is alright now. She is a friendly little thing —well, not so little, I guess. And I know now not to blow the horn when I come to visit, or the white elephant will come out and chew off my bumpers. You call him a bulldog, but he’s more elephant-sized than dog-sized.

I told you that the letters are long. You’re probably getting an Excedrin headache from reading this. You know you can always stop and come back to it later if you want to. Of course the news will be that much older by the time you return.

Did we have our patio covered when you were out here? I don’t think we did. Anyhow, it is covered now, and we are going to extend the patio cover across the back of the house, probably about 50 feet all together. Hope to get it finished by the end of November, before the weather turns cold and wet. We had a cold spell last week. The temperature got down to about 27 degrees, but just for a few hours. We put all the plants in the garage and haven’t put them back out yet. Actually we have a 2-cat garage. They stay there at night, and are in and out of the house all day. They are having a ball climbing the ficus trees in the garage.

Took the tom cat (Dumas Walker) to the vet yesterday for his shots. It took three of us to give him the immunizations—two to hold him down and one to use the needle. That cat does not like to go to the vet. We gave him a tranquilizer before we took him in, but all it did was make him mad. I mean he was a real tiger, but normally he is a very gentle and loving cat—spends a lot of his time lying on my chest while I’m watching television. After seeing him in action at the vet’s office yesterday, I don’t feel quite as comfortable having him lying there.

I suppose I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll close. Tell everybody hello for us, and give Jean our love. We know that you have a tough row to hoe, and you are doing it alone. We’ve never been in that situation, but we understand your problems and frustrations, and support you in everything you do.

Lots of love,

Janie and Mike

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2009 in Family, friends, Humor, pets

 

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Never Volunteer: Note for Incoming Military Personnel . . .

NEVER VOLUNTEER . . .

Anyone who joins the US military under any condition and no matter which branch of service, will be bombarded with suggestions and admonitions voiced by “knowledgeable” others. Any listing of such would be interminably long, so here are just a few examples:

ADVICE ON MEDICAL PRACTICES:

Don’t bend over, no matter what the doctor says.

If you do bend over and the doctor places both hands on your shoulders, be afraid—be very afraid.

Watch out for that square needle in the left testicle.

Get ready to ride the silver stallion.

“Riding the silver stallion” is how GIs describe a procedure which requires one, while hanging upside down (a more accurate description would be while hanging “downside up”), to allow the rectal insertion of a long round shiny item similar to a giant ring-sizer. The purpose of this barbaric procedure is, ostensibly, to examine the lower third of the colon to determine if any polyps exist. I believe the procedure may have been replaced by one even more barbaric—it’s called a sigmoidoscopy—one lies on one’s side and allows compressed air to be blown into the colon through the rectal insertion of a flexible tube, again ostensibly to examine the colon for polyps.

ADVICE ON PERSONAL HYGIENE:

Don’t drop the soap in the shower.

If you do drop the soap, don’t pick it up—leave it.

ADVICE ON HOW TO POLICE (CLEAN UP) AN AREA:

If it’s not moving, pick it up.

If you can’t pick it up, paint it.

If you can’t paint it, salute it.

If you can’t salute it, frigate (at least two alternate spellings are available).

ADVICE ON JOINING FORMATIONS FOR DETAIL SELECTION:

To avoid being selected, huddle in the center of the group—stay away from the edges.

To avoid being selected, stay on the edges—do not huddle in the center.

HINT FOR FUTURE SELECTION FORMATIONS:

Any selector worth his salt will alternate his selection methods.

AND THE ADVICE MOST GIVEN TO INCOMING MILITARY PERSONNEL IS:

Never volunteer!

I failed to heed this advice on two memorable occasions early in my military career. The first was in 1949 while I was in a casual status at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois, awaiting starting dates for technical training courses. We casuals fell out (assembled) early each morning to present ourselves for various details, many of which were designed to keep us busy, off the streets and out of trouble while in a casual status. In my first assembly I was the only one who foolishly raised a hand when we were asked if anyone could type—I figured my typing skills would guarantee a cushy day-job in a climate-controlled office.

I was wrong—I spent a very long day at the base motor pool, breaking down vehicle wheels, very large wheels with very large tires, all very worn, very flat or blown out, and then reassembling them with new inner-tubes. (Yes, Virginia—long, long ago in ancient times, vehicle tires were equipped with rubber tubes that had to be inflated with compressed air—said tubes were very susceptible to punctures and blowouts).

In those ancient times, apparently there were no hydraulic helpers available—they either had not been invented, or the United States Air Force motor pools could not afford them, or they simply did not want to use them (with slave labor available, they didn’t really need them).

At times I was tempted, but I managed to avoid volunteering for anything else until June 25, 1950, a day which is so far in the past that an explanation is necessary—on that date units of the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. On that same day the aircraft maintenance personnel of the Eighth Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based at Yokota Air Base, Japan were asked to volunteer to staff a forward aircraft maintenance unit at Taegu Air Base, near the city of Taegu in the southern part of South Korea.

All personnel in Japan, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by family, earned one point per month of the 36 rotation points acquired for rotation back to the states. The carrot extended to us, if we volunteered for duty in Korea, was the promise to award three rotation points for each month spent in the combat zone, effectively limiting our tours to a maximum of one year before rotating back the United States.

Not one member of our squadron maintenance unit who was accompanied by a family member or members volunteered—most unaccompanied members unhesitatingly volunteered (I was in that gullible group). Using our real names, we signed a document to support our action.

Soon after the request for volunteers to participate in the Korean conflict on-site, my squadron relocated to Itazuke AB near Fukuoka, a metropolitan city on the southern island of Kyushu. A pleasant three months passed before our volunteer statements took away the pleasantries—on October 1, 1950 we volunteers, along with our toolboxes, were airlifted to Taegu in a C-119 cargo plane (said flight is the subject of a future posting—watch for it).

So far, so good—at this point we were pleased with our decision to volunteer, but the pleasure was short-lived. Somewhere in the upper echelons of command a decision was made to make Taegu the headquarters for the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, with a cadre of maintenance personnel remaining in Japan to perform certain aircraft inspections and accomplish complicated technical modifications to our aircraft. In answer to your question, “Yes—most of those remaining in Japan were the same non-volunteers who were accompanied by a family member or family members.”

The most significant result of this move (at least to us volunteers) was that, because our headquarters was in the combat zone, the people who did not volunteer—those non-volunteering, accompanied-by-family-members people—those who stayed behind to face the rigors of duty in Japan—would also earn three points per month to apply to the 36 points required for stateside rotation.

I had numerous other opportunities to volunteer during the following 20 years before I retired from the military (for length of service with 22 years plus). I must admit, but not without a certain amount of chagrin, that I volunteered for some of them, but only after considering a long list of pros and cons. A few times I lost the opportunity to volunteer because I spend so much time evaluating those pros and cons—some of the lost opportunities were welcomed—some others were monumental disappointments.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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