Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You gotta be nuts!

Well that's what my wife said. "Why would you want to own a 38 year old car? And not just any car, but a VW Beetle?" She had a good point. Why? Since buying the car I've been trying to figure that out. For one thing, its fun. For me anyway, its a ton of fun to just drive around in the thing. My first car was a 1954 Bug. I drove that heap back and forth to college and sold it when I went into the Navy. I think secretly I've always wanted to own another one. So there's the nostalgia aspect. Mid-life crisis and all that. Some guys buy motorcycles or campers or sports cars. This ain't no sports car. What appeals to me most I guess is the honesty of the car. It has no pretentions of being anything other then what it is...plain, simple transportation. Also for me its a statement. Its my way of rebelling against the ultra wired vehicles of today. Most cars have so many switches, screens, voices and wi-fi connections they're like a rolling computer. Plus the engines and suspension and everything else about the car is all computer controlled. The driver is just along for the ride and to give a little guidance when there's a corner ahead. But if something goes wrong...you're dead. forget your password our your electronic key or have a hiccup in the onboard computer and you aren't going anywhere. I hate that feeling of helplessness. I've always been an independent sort of cuss. There is not much that can go wrong with a VW that you can't repair on the roadside and at least be able to limp home or make it to a garage. I can only tell you in a general way how a modern car works, but I can tell you exactly how a VW works. I've taken them apart and put them back together, and tuned them up and timed them and adjusted the valves and the carburetor. So I know. And that gives me satisfaction. So maybe I am nuts. A sort of Luddite railing against the wonders of modern transportation, but I know when I go toodling down the road in the VW I have a huge smile on my face. I have no doubt about how it runs and how it gets me from here to there. My old VW had no heat and neither does this one. When we were dating Jean carried a blanket with her in the car in order to keep warm. She does the same thing now. Who says we can't go back in time? We do every time we take a drive and for now we're loving it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shout out for a friend

"A Christmas Thief" written and illustrated by Middy Thomas is finally published and available for purchase. http://thechristmasthief.com/ Maybe just in time for Christmas. This is a childrens' book written by a vibrant, fun loving 80 year old artist. Middy lives in mid-coast Maine and this is her 6th or 7th or 8th book, so she says. Its a delightful story children will relate too and Middy's illustrations bring the characters and action of the story to life. Its a beautiful book. But it makes me wonder if the parents and children who'll read it, have any idea of the work and effort and time that has gone into making this book, or any book? Its a lot of work. But more then that, for a writer or artist (and Middy is both) it seems with each new work, each new creation, the writer or artist gives up a little piece of themselves. They put so much into the act of creating something new and fresh and compelling. There's joy and satisfaction and relief in the end, but the process is often not easy. Books don't just happen. Writing a book is a business, even if you have no intentions of publishing. There are long hours of typing and painting and re-writing involved. And then when you decide to take the work public it becomes even more of an enterprise involving money and taxes and time tables and schedules and compromises and working with other people. It's not easy. I will never forget when "Sandbox Camp Tales" came back from the first editing. I was devastated! I had no idea the readers and editors would make so many changes. How could they? This was my work. Those were my words. I'd written the sentences they way I wanted them to sound. I was stunned. The publisher was matter-of-fact. "They've cleaned up a lot of mistakes and eliminated confusion", she said. "They've killed my book!" I said. She looked at me and rolled her eyes. "Do you want people to be able to read this or not?" she asked. Hard. Cold. Unyielding. "Well, yes...of course." I stammered. "Ok then," she said, "Lets go over the changes." And we began. Reviewing all the changes was agonizing. But there is was. Editing and re-writing is part of the process. Middy told me she was unhappy with the colors. "They didn't come out like the originals," she said. And I knew exactly what she meant. We laughed together. "It's like giving birth," I told her. There's a lot of pain an discomfort but its worth it. Middy said "I suppose so." As I said, "A Christmas Thief" is a beautiful book. It was written and illustrated by a beautiful person.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Into the digital age

Welcome! I hope you have found this blog by following the link embedded in the description of my e-book "Sandbox Camp Tales from a Maine Storyteller." At least that's how we hoped it would work. That readers would find the link and then be curious enough to link to this blog and see what's up. "Sandbox Camp Tales" was actually published in 2008. The ink was hardly dry on the pages before friends began urging me to put my book on Amazon. Well it was for sale on Amazon already, but that's not what they meant. Eventually I caught up on my reading and learned all about "Kindle" and "Nook" and e-readers. Then I read some of the self helps and blogs that told how an author was supposed to properly prepare his text for uploading to KDP. "Kindle Digital Publishing" The more I read the more daunting the process seemed. After all, I am in my 60's and as a early member of the "boomer" generation HTML coding does not come easily. The CD with the book sat in my drawer for three years, until this past fall. I had not forgotten and was all too aware of the explosion that had occurred with e-readers and the iPad. It seemed more important now then ever to get the book published electronically. But how? Then along comes the Maine Writers Alliance in Rockland. I found out they provide a service for encoding and formatting books for uploading to Amazon and Smashwords. Done! With Cheryl's help and expertise we've made it at last. And now you are here wondering no doubt about the book and whether its worth your money and your time. I guess that depends on what you enjoy reading and what kind of mood you are in. Its a simple book. Just a collection of personal and family stories that I finally took the time to embellish and write down. Really that's the genesis of the book. At first I put them in a 3 ring binder to have at the cabin for the enjoyment of family and friends who came to the lake. Then they told me I should see about publishing the stories as a book and the result is "Sandbox Camp Tales." You should know we named our log cabin, the "Sandbox" as it is situated on a sandy beach and that's where we come to play. Hence we called it the "Sandbox." The "tales from a Maine Storyteller" was added by the editor/ publisher. My sons tell me I've written the perfect Maine backhouse reader as each story is just about the right length for reading while spending a few minutes in the privy. I've written in other places that my stories are not much different from the stories of other Maine families or any families that recreate in the outdoors. Its just that I've taken the time to write them down. Almost all of the stories in this collection have been published individually. After I retired I began to write more and worked harder at selling my stories to magazines and papers. Almost all of these pieces have appeared in other magazines. You'll find some reminisces from my childhood growing up here in Maine during the 40's, 50's, and 60's. And you'll find some adventures I've been part of while banging around the woods, lakes and streams of Maine. There are also a few pieces about my family. I like to think some of the stories are thought provoking and others are just long anecdotes told merely for the enjoyment of it. Its like we were all at the "Sandbox Camp" at the end of a beautiful summer day. Its about 8 o'clock and the moon is rising up over the trees on the east side of the lake. Away off across the water the loons call and sing. Their weird songs echo off the surrounding hillsides. Someone kindles a campfire on the beach and as it grows darker they throw on more branches and stumps. The supper dishes are finally done and people are attracted outside to the fire. They bring their beers and folding chairs and cozy up in a circle on the beach while they watch the glowing embers drift upward toward the sky. People speak in low voices and then someone says "You remember when Dad tried making those beanhole beans?" "Yea, that was a mess." "But he didn't give up." "Did you Dad?" And there's my opening and my audience. One after another we tell stories and laugh at our own jokes. Imagine you are there with us sharing in those stories, maybe even telling one or two of your own, and then you'll know what my book is like.
I know you'll enjoy reading the stories.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Time to hang it up?

Its now June 2011 and I wonder if perhaps I shouldn't just delete this blog and wait for another time to create one. It reminds me a little of all this old stuff we now have lying about the house. All these inherited books, pictures, household items, furniture, clothes and tools. None of them have been used for a long time and we won't be using them. My goal is to pass them on or get rid of them. The space in our home is more valuable then these artifacts from our family. If its not something we use at least once or twice a year then we should dump it. Same for the blog, if I visit it only once or twice a year, I should dump it. I guess after all I'm not the blogging type, nor the facebook or twitter type. In the long run, I don't get it. Whenever I read someone's blog or a facebook page it seems like gossip to me. Nonsense, insubstantial prattling by people with apparently nothing better to do with their time. I'm sure they would all say its their way of connecting, of keeping in touch, of staying current with friends. But what did they do before these social networks came on the scene? We grew up without any of these things and somehow it seems like our lives have been more fulfilling then the lives of our children. I'm sure there are people who would say just the opposite that people's lives today are richer and more fulfilling because of these programs and instant communications. I recall when my sister and I received our first bicycles for Christmas and how my father warned us to be prudent and careful when riding. He said there were be a lot of people watching us and that word would get back to him. And he was right. Everyone in town knew who we were and where we lived and who our parents were, and if we had been irresponsible in riding the bikes, our folks would most certainly have heard about it from the neighbors. He knew that and so did we. Our town was a real social network. Except you had to face the person you were talking to. I don't know, I dont' want people to know that much about me and I certainly would not willingly broadcast my intimate or personal information for all the world to see. Nor do I care to know so much about my friends. Writing what you had for breakfast today hardly seems worth the effort to type or to read. So I'm unconvinced. I'm leary of anything that dominates my life and operates by battery. I'd be suspicious of a pace maker. Because it seems just when you need the device or the help the most, the battery dies. It can be frustrating to be so dependant on an inanimate machine. Someone who cared about all this would also be prompt about making entries into his blog. Obviously that's not me. When I have something worthwhile to say maybe I'll return.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dad's Death

Its been a while. But we have been distracted. Dad died on Dec. 3, 2010 and I have not been quite the same since. Not sure why. Rather empty I guess. His was an easy death,
if there is such a thing. I tell everyone he slept through it. Which is true. The Veteran's Home nurse called and said they'd discovered him coughing up blood when they were doing their bed checks. They called the ambulance and sent him to the hospital. We caught up with him in the ER. By then he was in a coma and he never did wake up. I'm not sure if he recognized me. The doctors pronounced him terminal and the desires of the his living will kicked in. We returned him to the Veteran's Home where he had been living since New Years day 2010. Four days later he passed away. He never did awaken. We spent most of every day there at his bedside. I've thought a lot about loosing my Dad. But the more I think about it, the more I have come to realize that I had really begun to let him go out of my life when we took him to the Veteran's Home. We visited him almost every day, but it was like he had become someone else. The old Dad who had been my parent had checked out gradually over the past few years. His dementia and liver disease slowly but inexorably changed him into another person. So I don't feel too bad. He died easily and within a short time. We can all hope for such a gentle passing. Both his mother and father had lived into their nineties and Dad had hoped to do the same. I hope he was not too disappointed. Now we're looking forward to burying him and mom this coming summer. Both were cremated and Dad wanted his ashes to be mixed with her's. Some people think this was a lovely idea and others find it creepy. We never did bury Mom because of this. Dad kept her urn on a pedestal there in the living room beside the television for eleven years waiting for him to also die. The urn just became part of the furniture. However there were friends who stopped visiting because Mom's presence in the room made them uncomfortable. We just vacuumed around it and dusted it off. This summer we'll bury the one urn that holds their ashes and that will bring to an end their love story and life together. Until now I have not written anything about Dad except to alert the relatives and family. There's just a persistent emptiness now in my life. I know the passing of time will cure that. At times like this you do dwell on the nature of death and dying and come around to the notion that there's nothing you can do to change it, so you just accept it and move on. I have this image of a table in a dark room and the table is filled with hundreds of those little votive candles. All burning with a tiny flickering flame. Think of them as us. And very quietly you just moisten your fingers and pinch one wick and the candle goes out. But the affect is hardly noticed. The light barely dimmed. And just as easily you might strike a match and start another one or two candles and no one would ever know. I think death is like that. I suppose also this would be a good time to ponder what comes next. Nothing, I think. Despite what various religions try to teach. I just look at nature and observe the cycles of birth, growth and death and rebirth, and that's good enough for me. Animals and plants decay and return to the earth. People do the same. Its the way life works and we're all a part of the natural world. We spread some of Mom's ashes beside the pond and we'll spread some of Dad's there too. We'll think of them when we see the Lady Slippers bloom in the spring.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Wedding

Well, you don't do that every day. Last Saturday I had the privilege of actually marrying my son and his bride. Pretty awesome. I'll tell you how it came about. Back in the winter he gave her a diamond and she said they would have a fall wedding. Then almost as an afterthought, they said "Dad, you can marry us." Well, yes I could. Maine, South Carolina and Florida allow a Notary Public to solemnize a wedding. Forthwith I submitted the paperwork to become a notary. Paid my fifty bucks and I was "official". Like so many young people these days, the kids were not into religion and merely wanted a simple nonsectarian wedding ceremony. I thought what I would want to tell them and then I searched for some quotes and writers who might fit the occasion. They had decided to be married at our very remote wilderness cabin. That also presented some challenges as the place is not easy to get to and has no paved roads, no running water and no electricity. The wedding party would be limited. Then they had the idea to get married on one weekend and have the reception on the next. Nothing like thinking outside the box. So that's what we did. When I mentioned these plans to my sister, who by the way is very religious, her immediate reaction was a question. "Can you do that?" she asked. "Won't that be a problem? Is that legal?" "Yes it is," I told her. I called the state bureau of statistics and records just to make sure and I was right. Everything would be legal and above board. So far so good.
But you know its kind of a funny feeling to take on such responsibility. I mean, who was I that I should have any authority or moral right to pronounce these two people husband and wife? What gave me the right? Well for one thing, they'd asked me. And for another I was Jeremy's father. And Jean and I owned the camp. In a way I was in charge. I guessed if a ship's captain can perform a wedding then so could I. I wondered if my Maine Guide's License contributed anything to the proceedings? The truth is like many young people these days, Jeremy and Shannon had somewhere in their past days together made a silent commitment to each other and for all practical purposes were husband and wife. My few words and signature on the marriage license would just make it "official". I thought how, in some ways, this whole process is backward. How its so easy to get married and so difficult to get divorced, and I wondered if maybe it should be the other way around. Maybe there were be fewer divorces if more work were done up front ensuring the couples were compatible and level headed about their enterprise? Last Saturday was a lovely fall day. We assembled on the beach of the lake in front of the cabin and we all smiled as the beautiful bride came down the steps to meet her new husband. I read from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea, and then a piece by Robert Fulgham called "Union" and then I asked them "Do you?" and "Do you?" And that was it. "By the power vested in my by the State of Maine I now pronounce you husband and wife." Then there was laughing, and whoops, and clapping and lots and lots of hugging. We'd done it. No, I warrant there aren't too many fathers who can say the did the wedding ceremony for their son. We have some friends who've done the same for their daughter. He and I commiserate over what a rush the whole thing is. Never to be forgotten. Can you imagine the story these kids will be able to tell their children? So, if you get the chance, do it. If your kids should ask you, do it. And if you don't happen to live in Maine, So Carolina or Florida; then maybe you'd move just so you could say "I now pronounce you husband and wife." I'll never forget the moment.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Floating Campfire

I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about a pontoon boat, but now that we have one, my ideas are changing. At first I thought they were just too awkward and clumsy to be much of a boat. Sort of like a floating barn door. Definitely not my idea of a vessel suitable for off shore adventures. But she persisted and I found a used one we could afford. Its twenty feet long and the first comments from the kids was why hadn’t we bought one sooner? I decided what appeals is the sociable aspect of the thing, what I have come to call the floating campfire. The outdoor campfire at our cabin is a gathering place. As the evening draws on someone kindles a fire and as it grows darker and perhaps a little cooler people begin to assemble. They automatically form a circle around the burning fire, being carful to stay out of the drifting woodsmoke. We pull up beach chairs and stumps for seats and people poke at the coals. They stir the burning ashes and throw on more limbs and the fire flares up. Then the talk begins. About the day and what we’ve done and who was where and the swimming and the fishing and the mountain biking. The kids tell stories and ask questions and before we know it old family legends and fables are being told. Someone brings his guitar and plucks a few chords. Maybe it’s a tune we know and people hum along. We draw closer to the fire and shake up the ashes and watch the sparks soar upward amongst the tree branches to take their place in the star -studded night sky. Everyone feels cozy in the circle of firelight. Well at least that’s how I see it, and now we have a similar experience with the pontoon boat. We find it brings people together. In some instances they may all be following their own interests, but for the duration of the cruise, they’re all here and part of the crowd. The floating dance floor allows everyone to come. The young wives sit in the back and read their romance novels. The teenagers sit at the table and eat their snacks and drinks. The two year old sits on the deck and plays with his toys. Three young men on the bow cast lures against the shore looking for the first fish of the day. The oldsters can sit comfortably without being scrunched up. They can get up and walk around and stretch. The engine is not overly loud so people talk and can be heard. Nor do we go fast but merely idle along the shore. The water slaps playfully against the aluminum tubes that are the pontoons. We take turns passing the mixed nuts and the drinks, netting a fish and steering. Now it becomes clear why she wanted the boat. It’s social. Like the campfire it makes a gathering place and encourages people to interact. The teens debate the merits of their favorite singers and song groups. The men laugh together when one cast his lure over the other’s line. The toddler walks back and forth between the mothers in the stern and his father on the bow. Everyone sees the eagle drop from his perch high in the top of a giant pine and fly low over the surface of the pond. We all hear loons when they take up their chorus for the evening. It takes maybe two hours to circle the lake at our rate of speed but no one complains. The girls pull on their hoodies as the evening chill descends. When we get back to the dock there’s just light enough to see the path up to the cabin. His father has to carry the toddler who is now mostly asleep. People speak in whispers as if they don’t want to disrupt the quiet of the evening and the woods. The floating campfire has done its job bringing people all together at the end of the day. Forcing interaction and conversation and togetherness. In a few minutes someone will kindle the other kind of campfire and people will gather round the fireplace. I have to admit she was right. The pontoon boat has been a good buy. It’s brought a whole new dimension to our days at the cabin and the time we are able to spend with our family. Slowly I’m growing somewhat fond of the boat. I never thought I’d like such an awkward craft, but it just proves there’s a place and time for most everything. And right now this pontoon boat is pretty neat.