A Naked Sunfish Holiday Tradition
Cheer from Aunt Edith
late Uncle Wes lived with my Aunt Edith for most of his adult
life...although I’m sure it seemed like an eternity to him.
He worked for the Bethlehem Steel Company in Baltimore for thirty
years until he retired. He worked the night shift getting off
around 7 a.m. when he would come home for dinner. In the summer
when it was warm...and Baltimore can get very, very humid...he
would go to a movie matinee in an air conditioned theater and
sleep. If you knew my Aunt Edith you would assume what I did...even
as a child...and that was that Uncle Wes worked nights and went
to matinees to get away from his wife. He never said much. He
was a slight, wiry man of few words. And the few words he almost
always uttered were, “For Chrissakes Edith! SHUDD UPP!!”
man was almost incidental by nature. One time...after he retired
and he and Aunt Edith moved back to the Cleveland area...my brothers
and I were helping him put a refrigerator in a backyard shed because
there was no room for it in the trailer they were moving into.
After much jostling my brothers and I closed the shed door and
thought we were finished. From her perch (as supervisor of course)
Aunt Edith looked at the three of us with bewilderment and asked,
“Where the HELL is Wes?” And after exchanging confused
glances we heard muffled sounds coming from behind the fridge
in the shed. “MMMPPPHH!!! Hey!! HHMMPPHHFFF!!!” We
quickly opened the shed door, moved aside the refrigerator and
liberated Uncle Wes. My brothers and I were all embarrassed and
each, in turn, apologized profusely for our insensitive behavior.
Aunt Edith broke into the humility with a shriek of, “What
the HELL were you doing in there?” Which prompted Uncle
Wes to ... once again ... chant his mantra. “For Chrissakes
Edith!! SHUDD UPP!!” They were quite the loving couple.
Their last name was Crabtree. I am not making this up.
soon was diagnosed with lung cancer. Thirty years in the steel
mills and 2 packs a day of Chesterfield non-filters caught up
with him. The last time I saw him he was lying on the couch in
their trailer smoking the aforementioned brand of cigarettes,
quite literally coughing his lungs out ... or what was left of
them. “I TOLD him to quit those goddamned things years ago.
“ Aunt Edith offered for my contemplation. To which Uncle
Wes replied sarcastically (yep, you guessed it) “Cough cough
... For Chrissakes HACK! HACK! Edith!!! SHUDD UPPP!!!” These
were the final words I heard my uncle ever say and we all joked
at the funeral that these very words were more than likely chiseled
into his headstone.
few years after Wes passed, my brother and his new wife were having
their very first Christmas and invited everyone over...including
Aunt Edith. My parents were there along with my siblings and their
families. This included my brother Jim’s 9 year old adopted
son Matt. Matt the Brat was what my father called him. I thought
this surprisingly subtle for my Dad. If I knew where Matt is today...and
thank God I do not ... I would have to guess some one killed him
or he’s in jail convicted of several murders. I honestly
don’t care so long as he’s nowhere near me. So Matt
the Brat is playing with one of the toys some one so graciously
gave him and he broke it. This kid could break anything he got
his hands on. But in a moment of diplomacy my father (affectionately
known as Snook) said, “They don’t make anything any
good any more!!” To which...in the spirit of the season
Aunt Edith quipped, “You’re right Snook!! Everything
IS SHIT!!!” Wel l... happy holidays to you too Aunt Edith.
Inside my head I distinctly heard a voice from my past reply,
“For Chrissakes Edith!! SHUDD UPPP!”
know...there are lots of reasons to go through life believing
that “everything is shit.” There are days when it
certainly seems true to me. I have my days when Sartre’s
“Hell is other people” could easily be the thought
of the day. But...unlike Aunt Edith...I don’t want to spend
a big chunk of my life living alone in a trailer. And when I think
of this particular Christmas it strikes me how most of them blur
into each other...with the exception of a few. And this is one
of them I distinctly remember. As much as family...and sometimes
even friends ... can annoy a person ... especially at this time
of year ... I have come to realize that even some one like Aunt
Edith helped make me who I have become. I mean that in a positive
way. Imagine ... Aunt Edith’s negativity was so over the
top it MADE me consider the positive. I have no idea how she became
so bitter. My father did shortly before he died also. Yet they
both, particularly Snook, had a positive influence. They were
there. Unlike today when some people are not.
holiday season...regardless of which one you celebrate...take
the time to savor those around you...even if they drive you nuts.
They may not...for whatever reason...be there next year. And in
some strange way, which will surprise you, their absence will
make you miss them. I guarantee it. (a possible exception to this
uplifting message might be Matt the Brat) And you might consider
that next year YOU might not be here. So I suppose my holiday
message may seem bittersweet to most...but that’s how I
see it. And if anyone feels the need to take issue with my views
then I encourage you to speak up LOUDLY...’cause I’ve
got one thing and one thing only to say to you.
When I was five
I became aware that
December days were played
like a game of moral dice
against an Advent calendar
where each day was marked
with little paper flaps
and since Santa was
always keeping lists
like a roly-poly bully
who lurked in winter's
shadowy chill and mist
and I knew that
he could watch me
through the TV set.
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I ordinarily do not write piecemeal. But since I have a 4-month Maltese puppy named Freddie Gesundheit nipping at my heels I may have to. I am reminded of the time my friend Diane was telling me about how hectic her life was now that she had not one … but two young boys BOUNCING around the house.
“I have friends who are always talking to me about their vacations … weekend excursion … and all I really want is TEN MINUTES ALONE IN THE BATHROOM!”
I now believe I can relate a little more sensitively about her situation. Except … I can put an excitedly out of control Freddie in a crate and not get sent to jail.
But this story isn’t about Freddie. There will be plenty of stories in the future. I want to tell a tale about Henri, a dear little Bichon my wife Yvonne and I shared our lives with for 17 years.
Henri came to live with us in the autumn of 1998. He was a precocious pup, rambunctious and adorable. And while most of the mutts I had known in my life thought they were human … Henri seemed to believe Yvonne and I were dogs. He was leader of the pack of course.
I was working for The Ohio State University Libraries back then and one of the best perks of that gig was meeting all the international students here studying. Yvonne and I decided to have a small group over for dinner to welcome them to America. So we invited 4 or 5 young women, all from vast parts of Asia. Two of these ladies I knew relatively well. Amelia was also a writer and a budding documentary film producer. She was of Chinese descent and grew up in Indonesia. Interestingly she had been raised Buddhist but recently converted to Catholicism (I think mostly for social reasons). Shali was a young Muslim woman from Malaysia who worked directly for me in the library. I believe she was studying business. I spent a lot of time around Shali and we became friends. I learned a lot from her. And I can still picture her striding into the circulation department dressed in blue jeans, a Metallica t-shirt with her ever-present Hijab modestly covering her hair.
This international group came over one Saturday night in October 1998. The excitement of 5 teenage students from around the globe fawning over a Bichon puppy was intense. The girls took turns holding a wiggling Henri and squealing with delight as he gave them kisses. Shali, however, kept some distance and smiled warmly at the scene.
It was a delightful, interesting and friendly evening … sometimes accentuated by the learning process provided by cultural and language differences. And as we sat around the dining room table after dinner … the girls still giggling and passing the pooch to each other … Amelia smiled broadly at Shali and said, “Don’t you want to hold Henri?” Shali smiled and politely replied, “No … no thank you.”
I could see Shali was subtly conflicted … but firm in her repose nonetheless.
Amelia again flashed her wide smile and added, “It is because of the Prophet Muhammad is it not?”
Quietly and with dignity Shali simply said “yes”.
At the time … and now I realize because of some ignorance on my part … I found the scene humorous. And on a certain level I suppose it is … perhaps. Over the years the memory has taken on a deeper meaning to me.
In July of 2015 Henri passed away … 2 days after his 17th birthday. Yvonne and I both realize dogs can only occupy a specific space in your lifetime. Henri gave us so much joy … so much unconditional love … for 17 years. But accepting the reality doesn’t make a devoted canine friend’s death any easier. We both are not ashamed to admit that we grieved openly … still do … even with a new puppy chomping on my socks.
I was obvious in my despair on FaceBook as well. A lot of folks understand … dog people … those who knew Henri … those who see the love in a pet’s eyes ... the loss. And I was immensely happy … delightfully surprised … to receive messages from both Amelia and Shali. Each friend remembered that night many years ago when Henri brought a smile, laughter and joy to a table of young women far from their homes. Both wrote eloquently about the love of a puppy … the look in Henri’s eyes that crossed cultural differences … a night when a little squirming puppy brought us all together … no matter our beliefs …
… whether we held him or not.
Two Guys Practicing Boxing Moves on High Street
Deli Lama Dichotomy
Teetering on the precipice before the deli counter at Lucky's Market ... feeling like The Stranger ... I heard a voice ask if I needed help. Knowing that I indeed did ... we all do .... I responded in the voice's direction "I'm looking for a vegetarian side for tonight’s meal.”
Raising myself upright I noticed the familiar friendly smile of Amy ... who years ago toiled for me at the library in indentured intellectual obscurity.
"Do you want humor? Or darkness?" was her somewhat smart-alecky … yet knowing response. Then was quickly whisked off in her existential suffering.
In the deli case ... next to the Rhinoceros Ragu a la Ionesco ... (which I have no taste for) ... was an empty bowl... once I assumed brimming with what the label announced as Neitzsche Salad.
Peering into the empty abyss of said bowl … until I felt uneasy ... as if the abyss was peering back at me ... I hastened myself to another aisle.
There I chose a box of rice pilaf.
Editor: This story is 65 % in the realm of the physical.