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New Years Eve

Posted by anadyr Dec 28, 2017

Just ten bucks a head.  Not much considering it paid for fun, music, drinks, even breakfasts after midnight.  Dinner was included, a buffet I think, but it was a long time ago. 

            We needed money for other things, like living expenses in an apartment furnished with aluminum lawn chairs, S & H Green Stamp lamps, and assorted hand-me-downs.  Our dining room table was a cast-off from the junior high school cafeteria, repainted gunmetal gray, very large, very round.

            The affair was at the same place where we’d had our wedding reception, River in Washington.  Yes, the wedding. It was a wonderful day in July 1970. We’d gotten married at the National Cathedral, that imposing but unfinished gothic edifice built on the highest hill in Washington.  We made the 200 guests go by car along serpentine streets of the capital to the reception at Bolling.  In those days, guards were friendlier; gates less restrictive. They waived you through.

That was only a year and a half before, a day in a place of splendor, a moment in time. Five members of the US Air Force Band moonlighted as orchestra for our first dance.  We drank Dom Perignon champagne, maybe a tad too much. It was giddy, exhilarating, the kind of day that needs to be remembered with fondness, with happiness, with love.

            Now it was December 31st, New Year’s Eve. Snow was in the forecast. We had a joke that TV snow predictions meant dry pavement.  Wrong this time, it really came down, and wet. I followed a city snow plow along the parkway, the defroster and heater in our red four door Ford Maverick barely keeping the windshield wipers from freezing. I rubbed the inside of the windows with my scratchy woolen glove, hoping to see better.

            We slid in into the “ANY SECOND LIEUTENANT” parking space in front of the officer’s club.  Smack dab right next to the generals. 

As I handed our coats to the checker, I heard my name paged over the intercom. “Phone call for General Denk,” the voice said officiously.  Sheepishly, I headed for the phone, picked it up and said, “this is, well, this is Roger Denk.” It was a friend, also coming to the party, telling me that he’d be a little late. They needed to plow his street, so he could get to the main roads to get over the river.  The people around me looked suspicious, and I’m sure I looked guilty.

            We ate, drank, danced, then made a stab at eating bacon and eggs, and incredibly, made it home in a blinding snowstorm, this time without the snowplow in front of us. Tuning that Am radio and cranking it up, we sang along with Carole King’s, “It’s too late.” Our heated breath fogged the windows. It was about two in the morning when we turned off the bedside lamp, the S&H Green Stamp one, and drifted off to an alcohol-assisted sleep.

It was now January 1st, 1972.  The war in Vietnam was supposed to be winding down, but the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam meant to bring them to the Paris Peace Talks would happen almost a year later. Nixon’s visit to China would happen in a month, but Watergate was still six months ahead in the distance. Anti-war protests had calmed down, and the streets were filled with shoppers getting after after-Christmas bargains.  We looked forward to those Twentieth Modern Olympic games in Munich.

There’s a box camera snapshot of me at that party, the New Year’s Eve one.  I’m smoking a large cigar, wearing one oRoger NYE.jpgf those silly paper and plastic top hats that people don for the occasion, looking as raffish as you can look with a military haircut and a PX suit.  It was a time when we celebrated being alive, being poor, and being in love.  Yes, it was a good party, and it was going to be a good new year.

anadyr

It's a Wonderlul Life

Posted by anadyr Dec 25, 2017

life.jpgIt sure is. Having family nearby is marvelous any time but especially at this time of the year. Friends too, and of course, those who have passed on are really foremost in our minds.

 

I can still see my mother's eyes, and her kindness, even when she was suffering from acute dementia, when she laid her hand on mine and said, "you should meet my son, you'd really like him." It was a touching moment, one that crept into my mind today, almost five years later. She was 92 when she passed away.

 

I recall my dad's stern, tough love, which in the end, I was grateful for. He'd been through a lot, and welcomed any hints that he was right when he took a chance.  I belatedly gave him that reinforcement, almost too late to make a difference, but in the final weeks of his life, we erased all the bad feelings of our common time together. He was 75 when he died.

 

I see my siblings differently than I used to, forgetting the problems that we shared, or didn't share. I told them I regret my insouciance, and my pettiness.

 

I meet people at church, many of whom are recovering from an addiction, and I talk to them, trying to understand, but, in the end, just listening.

 

It's not just Christmas that makes this happen; it's the realization that I have at best a couple decades left. I can't predict the future, but I can try to make amends for the past, even a little.

anadyr

Snow

Posted by anadyr Dec 23, 2017

Salt stung my eyes as I jogged beside the tidal basin.  I plodded on, marking time for the inevitable tourist traffic, drivers who would not see me in my bright yellow running shorts and white tee shirt as I tried to cross Boundary Channel Drive.  It was late March, a day to be alone with my thoughts. Cherry blossoms bursting, the air warming, the days longer—the season was starting.

            Out of nowhere, a cab, one of the many that seem to own Washington’s streets, took aim on me. He honked, yelling something in Arabic I did not understand.

I got to the gym early, earlier than usual, running across the Potomac River on the Fourteenth Street Bridge, I avoided the expansion bolt that had tripped me up a year before, ripping the flesh on my knee as I splayed out on the concrete. No one stopped to help.

In a blinding snowstorm an Air Florida passenger jet would hit this same bridge nine months later.  Heroes stepped forward that day, ordinary people, risking their lives to save strangers.  It was a measure of hope.  We all felt good that people could give so much.  Sweet irony:  I rode to work on the subway every day with people who never looked at each other, never spoke.  I wondered if they would step forward.

            My stride slowed, my breath came harder. This would be a long run, one that seemed to make sense, perfect for my mental health. No one could reach me here. I was losing steam.

Crossing Independence Avenue, I heard sirens. Loud airplanes and sirens were DC’s background music. Police cars roared off in the distance, heading up 16th Street at double time. The noise faded into the distance, and I was once again listening to my own heartbeat, brushing the sweat from my face with my arm.  It would be a warm day, in spite of the overcast and early morning drizzle.

I stepped from the shower, getting ready for a round of meetings that at the time seemed important.  We had a standing joke: never enough time to do something well, always time to do it over. The locker next to mine was empty, unusual for the rush hour at the Pentagon. 

I decided not to eat lunch, trudged back to my office, gym bag going home for it’s weekly laundry.  Guards glanced at my pass. Nobody was roaming the halls.  My friend, Bill, who ran the blind man’s stand stood at his doorway, looking for customers, for answers.

I pushed my combination into the cipher lock; still hot from the shower I sat down to tackle the phone messages lying on my desk. Hot air was blowing from the ventilation grille over my head.

My secretary ran in, “Reagan’s been shot,” she said, “and they’re taking him to the hospital.”

“God,” I said, “how did it happen?”

“Not sure,” she said, and left me alone.

We had no radio, no TV in the office.  Phones our only source of contact with the outside world. I picked up the receiver, no dial tone. Everybody else had the same idea. The system crashed.

The State of the Union address comes every January.  A recovered President Reagan stood erect at the podium. The audience was hushed as he introduced the man, an unlikely hero, who dove in the icy Potomac River to save lives.  Lenny Skutnick, I think, he was.  Emotions ran high. A survivor and a hero. Lenny was our everyman, our hope. We dabbed at our eyes, took short breaths, applauded as hard as we could.

Next morning, I sat alone on the crowded subway, deafened by the silence.

 

anadyr

Homeless Veterans

Posted by anadyr Dec 17, 2017

There are a lot of homeless vets out there, and while the VA is trying to do something about the problem, it is not easy to fix. I saw a sixty year old man today, holding a cardboard sign, saying he was homeless and a veteran, and needed money.  As I approached he became hostile, shouted something incomprehensible, apparently shouting at demons bothering him. It was a full fledged meltdown, and he shouted at everyone passing by in the parking lot.

 

I was not sure if he was under the influence of some drug, liquid or pills, and not really communicative with me. Funny how people ignore these guys and sometimes, women.  Several of us considered calling the police, but other than yelling and wandering, he was not hurting anyone but himself.

 

It's Christmas, I should have intervened, but I didn't.  Maybe someday I would want someone, anyone, to do the same for me, if I were in that place.

anadyr

The December flight to LA

Posted by anadyr Dec 16, 2017

Winter, Christmas coming. a last minute business trip from Monterey to LA and then a change of planes, LA to DC, Dulles, for only one day. It was nineteen eighty-something, and the call from the boys back east was curt, and nasty. NO arguments, just get here.  Last minute booking, I ended up with just carry on and a ticket, an boarded the United flight. My ticket showed a middle seat but the gate agent changed that to First Class, the Shakespeare Seat, 2B (or not to be). I was the only person in the forward cabin, and watched a steady stream of coach fliers pass by with a look of envy ot disgust or both on their haggard faces. I had never had a chance to practice the F.C. stare that real payers for the seat have.

 

The door was closing and I was there alone in the relative calm of the four row space of First on the plane, A bored flight attendant had the mic to her lips ready to give the cross-check word.  Suddenly the door stopped and was opened again.

 

DH.jpgIn walked Clint Eastwood, in the flesh, and of course, he sat down in seat 2A, nest to me, for some reason. I was looking ahead when he said, as if he were Harry Callahan and in sotto voce, "don't talk to me!" The flight attendant also heard that; she never approached us, even to check on our seat belts or drink orders, as if we had one.

 

The flight attendant sat down in her jump seat and studied her fingernails for takeoff. The flight lasted just over an hour. We taxied to a stop, and Clint stood, and walked past me to the door, turned And said, "thanks for not talking to me!" and left the plane. I got up, hauled my coat and bag and walked into the terminal thanking my luckiest star that he had not pulled a Magnum on me during the flight, asking me if I felt lucky!

 

Several years later I ran into him at the Pebble Beach's Beach and Tennis Club. We shook hands and he said, "you know, I was just kiddin' right?"

 

I resisted trying out a Dirty Harry retort, (Go ahead, make my day, or whatever) but I was glad he remembered our chance encounter at Monterey airport that winter day. I've seen him age (yeah, like I have not!) around town, met his former wife, eaten at Mission Ranch and seen him there, and he's never repeated that "don't talk to me" line.

 

I got it the first time, thanks.

anadyr

Christmas by the shore

Posted by anadyr Dec 16, 2017

tree.jpgMonterey California was founded by Saint Junipero Serra a couple centuries ago, in 1770, but was visited by Spanish explorers in 1520.  Native people were here for thousands of years before that. It's been our home for 30 years, and while we've seen a lot of changes, not all for the better here, it remains a place that we like, if not love. After decades in overcrowded Washington DC, we loved the chance to throttle back and enjoy the peace and quiet, sea lions barking notwithstanding.

 

Walking the shore in the early morning is a great tonic for anything.  Watching the American Avocets comb the shore for food puts the world in prospective.

 

In many ways, Monterey remains a small fishing village with a tourist problem.  Plenty of commercial fishermen still work from the docks here, and the distinct Sicilian accents are hard to miss, even their loud, expletive-filled arguments.  The town has resisted change for changes sake. Old historic Adobes were saved from the wrecking ball in the 1960's, including the place that Robert Louis Stevenson stayed writing Treasure Island.  John Steinbeck, once reviled as a professional writer by the 'Montereyans,' is now sanctified, and listed among the greatest residents in this little town of 30,000 people.

 

Cannery Row, which he immortalized, remains "a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and ***** houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses...."

 

Here's to John  and to Monterey this holiday season. It's not so bad after all.

anadyr

Twelve Perfect Innings

Posted by anadyr Dec 14, 2017

He was a pitcher for the 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates, a man named Harvey Haddix. One May evening he pitched 12 perfect innings, perhaps the most perfect of perfect games ever pitched.  And I heard it on my Westinghouse transistor radio.

HH.jpg

anadyr

Sunset at Clint's Place

Posted by anadyr Dec 9, 2017

At the Mission Ranch in Carmel on a nice December evening.

 

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anadyr

Coloring Opinions

Posted by anadyr Dec 8, 2017

The world changes; the world stays the same. On a business trip long ago to meet with the Defense Ministry of West Germany, in Hardthöhe, the headquarters of the Bundesministerium der Verteidigung. Lots of meetings, some gatherings with officials, mostly military and a scattering of civilians. I was on my own.

 

Germany was in a perpetual state of cold and damp weather, almost bone chilling, but getting used to it took time and effort. Cold weather gear outside, overheated buildings inside. It was never comfortable.

 

My escort was a young man who worked in the Defense Attaché’s office in the US Embassy, Mike. We waited together for embassy cars to pick us up, for the now routine need to show our official ids, and the bomb checks of the vehicle. We got to know each other, even chatted about how we got here and where we’d been. It made the time pass more quickly. Mike was fluent in German, making my feeble attempt to speak the language irrelevant.

 

Mike became a good friend, and I wished I could have met him earlier, after college.  He went in the Navy, got stationed in Germany, and spent time assigned to the US Embassy in Bonn. 

 

After a day of meetings, we decided that we’d do local things: drink good German beer and perhaps eat some Rouladen. He and I walked into a local Bier Haus, and while he wore his dark dress blue woolen Navy uniform. In dim light that uniform looks black.  He wore the rank of Ensign, two bars, “railroad tracks” we called them on each point of his collar.  Mike’s closely cropped blonde hair finished the look—the look that made most of the middle-aged men in the German bar stop and stare.  Some daubed at their eyes, offered to buy Mike a beer.

 

He thanked them, said no, we turned and left.  Mike is a Jew, A Czech Jew who together with his parents survived the camps, and then worked through the resettlement camps, finally to this country, on their way out of the hell that was post-war Europe. 

 

He found no pleasure in their confusion, or in his ability to be something, someone else.

 

He’s a hero in my eyes.

anadyr

Paying it Forward

Posted by anadyr Dec 8, 2017

Every one of has been to outdoor markets both here and abroad. Maybe you recall as I do, strolling after midnight along the Seine perusing food stalls and passing trinket sellers, practicing haggling skills as interior monologues. Was there ever a gooey grilled cheese sandwich as good, or fattening?  Or, like me, maybe you see yourself surrounded by agitated sellers on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, wishing my Catalan language skills were better than zero. Name a third world country and think of that market, of the dirt, the smells, and the prices.

 

But I digress, as is my usual technique. AS we know, life can be tense around the Christmas holidays, and sadly, there is no one else to blame.  We’d been rushing here and there, getting everything ready for visitors and parties.  No sooner had we gotten back from an errand when we discovered some forgotten item, and with that look of “what-else-can-go-wrong?” on our faces, headed back to the car, and off to the market—again. It was a running joke in our family.  Our almost never used cell minutes burned away as we called with last minute needs at the market.

 

          We’ve got another kind of market, but not the third world type.  No haggling allowed, you just need a lot of patience. You enter the small parking lot with trepidation, hoping that the person in front of you will, in fact, turn in the direction their turn signal blinker is pointing, and then make it quickly.  The trick is to find a legal space among the diagonally parked, outside the lines hordes.

 

          It was in such a marketplace that my wife, on one of those many holiday errands found true peace and understanding.  I’d just come back from the grocery store, so it was her turn. We needed just a few things, and Trader Joe’s, or “T.J.s” as the cognoscenti call it, was the place to go.  This store, now owned by a German firm, was then just good old T.J.s.

 

She returned within a half hour. “I had an interesting experience at T.J.s,” she said unloading the three or four items that she’d bought.

 

          “And….” I asked, concentrating on something else.

 

          “I found a parking space, amazingly, and not too far from the door, and made it back with no near misses.” She smiled, waiting for my congratulations. “Well, there was a line with only three people ahead of me, and…”

 

          “And,” I interrupted, “they all moved out of the way so you could be the one to pay first?”

 

          “Hardly, but let me explain.”  She wasn’t smiling. Time to listen and learn, I thought to myself.

 

          “I’ve got the mental picture in my head so tell me what happened?”  I wiped my flour-covered hands on my stylish, manly cooking apron, dropping most of the white powder on the kitchen floor. A Pillsbury weather event.

          “Well, you know how the T.J.s cashier takes your items and removes them from the cart, and once you’re standing at the credit card thingy, he swipes and scans your stuff and totals it up?”

 

          “With you so far,” I said, losing interest in this conversation and worried that my cream cheese was getting too soft. I resisted touching it.

 

          “Well, there was an older woman in front of me with a large order, she had a full cart. I noticed that the checker kept scanning my stuff as if it was with her order—my stuff—so I told him to stop.”

 

          Now she had my attention and I was interested—hot cream cheese be damned! “And?”

 

          “The cashier said to me, ‘That lady in front of you asked me to add your items to her order, and told me that she’d pay for it.  Didn’t give a reason--just asked me to do it.”

 

          “And, so did you speak with this lady? Did you know her?”  I stooped to pick up some flour.

 

          “Yes. I walked over to her and thanked her, she was a nice person, not rich, not poor, just average, kinda like us.”

 

          “Wow,” I said.  “What did she say?”

 

          “She just told me that she liked to do nice things for people, and this was one way to help a total stranger.”

 

          “Amazing,” I said. “Did you get her name?”

 

          “No, I didn’t but she did say that she hoped that I’d do the same for someone else.”

 

          “That’s sweet,” I answered. “So, I guess you paid for the person standing behind you in line?  Keep the pay-it-forward thing going and all that?”

 

          “Are you kidding?” My wife almost shouted. “That guy had a full cart of stuff!”

 

          Like I said, life can be tense around the holidays.

 

anadyr

Sacred Places

Posted by anadyr Dec 8, 2017

A late fall morning, the kind where you can see your breath, where you need a scarf and a hat. Breakfast at the Hertie Department Store in Munich was beer, bread and a wurst—very Bavarian.  Lots of shoppers heading here and there, watching for cars and the strassenbahn downtown.  Nearing Christmas, and the holiday spirit was in the air.  Germany—they invented Christmas as we know it (or so they said)

My wife and I wanted to see something new, do something different.  I wanted to avoid another day of shopping; she wanted to avoid sightseeing at medieval churches where we needed to climb unsafe stairs to the top of a tower.

We settled on a spot to visit, a place we’d never been.  It was hard to find—the people we asked looked at us as if we’d be better off anywhere else.  But, seeing that we were determined to do this, we finally found someone who, with our Michelin guidebook and map, showed us a route.

Driving through fields dotted with cows wearing huge cowbells, we wound further into the hinterlands of southern Germany; stopping occasionally to check our bearings, look for a sign that might indicate where we were headed.  The normally obsessive-compulsive German sign makers must have taken a day off for this place, since there appeared to be no location bearing the name.

Finally, in a small suburb we found someone of the age who might know where the place was.  She took us to the curb, pointed, counted the number of streets with us, and sent us on our way.

It was not well marked.  There was a marker there, and a small one at that.  Not a place that folks wanted to be reminded of, I guess, especially these folks.  Only a single barracks stood there, the first of what was row upon row of places built back then.  The iron gate, the one with the rusted sign was still there, testament to the place and the minds that created it.

Inside the wooden building there were a few bunks, but mostly enlarged black and white photographs taken at the place, the facility, as they called it.  The chatter of the few visitors stopped as we entered the small building, the silence deepened as we looked at the photos, understood their meaning.  Many looked away, some cried softly, no one laughed.

We walked slowly, reading the small notations under each of the pictures.  Most of them needed no words, we lingered at each.  A guide told us that the local government and some of the citizens wanted to make the place go away—they did not want to be reminded of it and what happened here.  From the back window we could see the cinder filled outlines of the rest of the barracks that once stood in this camp.  There were plans to rebuild some of them, but didn’t happen.

My wife and I stood hand in hand at the back door to the wooden barracks, but no words came.  I looked at the ground where those buildings were, the ovens in the distance, the rusted sign over the entrance, Arbeit Mach Frei, “Work Sets you Free.”  What supreme arrogance, what supreme evil.

This was a sacred place; more sacred than any I’d visited. It is the concentration camp at Dachau, and if it were torn down it would still be a place where evil lived, where men lost their humanity, but still sacred ground.

anadyr

Nature's Symmetry

Posted by anadyr Dec 7, 2017

In a lowly pine coneDSCN8164.JPG

anadyr

Serendipity

Posted by anadyr Dec 3, 2017

1963-Ford-Galaxie-muscle-and-pony-cars--Car-100925395-ae5e7e284ea2f3b9b7c5b95fd5a11880.jpgMy car’s radiator exploded, steam covered everything. The right front bumper crumpled, the heavy steel hood folding like tissue paper.  I’d just rear-ended a 53-foot long semi tractor-trailer that had pulled out in my lane but going only a third of my speed.  I was waiting for the engine block, the big, cast iron V-8, to come through the firewall and end my life. 

The truck driver, seeing that I’d hit him, gunned his engine so that the inertial force would be less.  I rammed the steering wheel hard, so hard that I flattened it.  I sat there stunned; knowing that my car would go up in flames, unable to move.  The truck driver pulled off the road, me connected to his massive rear bumper, a steel I-beam that showed no damage.

“You OK?” he asked.  “Didn’t you see me?”

I found it hard to speak, my chest hurt a lot.  I nodded, and then slowly climbed out of the crumpled convertible. “I saw you pull out, no signal,” I said my back hurting.

“Car’s totaled,” he said. 

I didn’t look back. 

“You wait for the cops, I’ll see if I can raise them on the radio.”  He returned to his cab, started his engine and with two tugs, disengaged my car from the truck.  I thought he might leave, and I’m sure he would have if a State Trooper had not been traveling the other direction, made a U-turn and come back with lights on.  He pulled in front of the semi, blocking his exit.  Got out of the car, told the truck driver to stay in the cab, then walked up to me.  I was leaning against my car, dazed.

“Hey, Roger, remember me?” he asked.  It was somebody that I’d gone to college with a couple years before.

“Yeah I do,” was the best I could do as an answer.  I leaned against my wrecked car.

“Let me handle this,” he said.  “Get in.”  He led me to his patrol car, and then put the truck driver in the back seat and we sped off to see the Justice of the Peace.  The driver admitted guilt, posted bond, and left with another patrolman.  My friend took me to the bus station, called my folks, and paid for my bus ticket back to Pittsburgh.

I spent a couple weeks at home in back injury rehab.  The United States Marine Corps, to which I had promised my military life, got wind of the accident and I flunked a physical at Bethesda Naval Hospital a month later.  Now discharged from the Marine Reserves the Army took me. In about six months I got a large cash settlement from the trucker’s insurance carrier.  Sudden wealth meant new friends and I was a minor celebrity at work.

One of them was a co-worker, Jane, who had never spoken to me for any length of time. She poked her head to get details about the accident, and then asked if I’d give her a hand.  Normally, that meant lifting or moving something, but I stood unsteadily and asked what.

“Blind date,” Jane said. John,, a fast-talking Navy Lieutenant in the office, had asked her out.  She felt he was too fast for her to go with him alone, but if I’d go along with her roommate as a foursome it might be OK.

“Where?” I asked.

El Bodegon, the Tavern, a Spanish restaurant on 21st Street Northwest in DC.

“OK,” I said with feigned enthusiasm. “As a favor, can John drive?” 

El Bodegon was fun, the kind of place where they pour wine in your mouth directly from the narrow spout of a kidney-shaped bottle. Until you choke. It was a good time, but not a great time.  At the end of the date we shook hands, my blind date and I.

Two years passed, and we saw each other twice, once by accident.  Another night we tried to spend some of my insurance windfall, but that didn’t work well.  I left for Fort Benning, the army, had orders to Vietnam.  She went on to other things including a boyfriend. 

Top-8.bmp.jpgThree years later in July, 1970 we stood at the ornate soaring altar of the Washington National Cathedral, her in a bright white Priscilla of Boston dress, me in a rented gray morning coat. I felt that old twinge from that accident.  She put her hand on my lower back and said, “It’s time.”  The pain went away.

anadyr

Details

Posted by anadyr Dec 3, 2017

Sometimes you feel it’s hopeless.  No, I’m not talking about that kind of despair that makes you think of ending it all, but the bleakness of life in general:  the negative news that fills the air, the sickness and death of good friends and total strangers, even the shortness of a cold winter day.

Life can be exhilarating, it can be dull.  It’s the dullness that makes you introspective, I think; when you’re busy and creative you don’t have time to meander down those dark roads.

The sameness of days leads to bleakness of nights.  It is Christmas, but not a very merry one.  I avoid television news as much as I can. I read the ads, not the front page in the newspaper.  I go to holiday events designed to lift the spirit, but there is something bothering me.  Christmas and then New Year’s parties are canceled because the hosts have come down with the flu. A single cow slaughtered in Washington State makes headlines, and I look carefully at every piece of beef in the meat case, buying none.

A friend discovers that he has cancer--the rapidly growing type.  I see him sitting up in the hospital and he speaks calmly of his faith, that God has given him a good and long life, and he’s prepared.  It makes him smile, and I guess I return that smile.  He’s only a few years older.  I make the comparisons.

Another person tells me about the sadness in his life, the lingering illness, and the pall that hangs over him.  We’re eating lunch and he struggles to hold then move his almost useless arm, the one disabled from a stroke. He needs time to walk up steps, resting when he does.  We talk about his golf game, the trouble he has playing, his rehabilitation, slow and painful. He too is just a few years older. 

A young friend needs a kidney transplant. He’s not much older than our daughter.  His mom tells us his brother is the donor.  It’s set for early February.  He’s still lead singer in his rock band, but he gets tired easily.  We pray that it will go well, for both of them.

A relative, a second cousin, is getting divorced.  Two young kids are involved; there are financial issues to solve.  Other than saying that I am sorry I feel that hopelessness we all feel when we get this kind of news.  Not the stuff that people put in the Christmas letters.

Christmas day here on the California coast is cold, and it rains.  I wonder if the outside lights will short out; if a tree will fall.  They don’t, it doesn’t. Sleep comes with difficulty, the morning too soon. 

This morning, like most, I’m walking along the beach in Carmel.  My jacket collar is turned up against the unforgiving wind, hat pulled low against my forehead.  Coming toward me is a determined man with two crutches, his leg amputated, moving as fast as he can, almost running on his other leg.  He says “good morning.”  I agree, tell him that it is. I stop by a bench, fight back tears, and walk again.

My little friends are waiting for me at home.  Nasty, obnoxious, but they are always there, watching me.  I open the plastic jar, the flurry of feathers and squeaks begin. Pushing open the sliding glass door to the deck, I reach in and pull out three peanuts, placing them in my outstretched hand.. 

The bravest one, a puffy Scrub Jay, flies to me, but instead of just grabbing the nut, stays perched on my outstretched hand, looking at me, turning his head from side to side.  I see his cerulean blue feathers outlined in a delicate dove gray; his eyes are ringed in a delicate white.  There is a white delicate eyebrow painted by a master. The Jay stays there at least thirty seconds, then flies away, peanut in his beak, squawking as he leaves.

CaliforniaScrub-Jay.jpgMiles van der Rohe, the gifted architect, was right, I guess, when he said that God is in the details.