Saturday, February 25, 2012


I've often said that I've been blessed beyond measure to be born late and still have both parents around for this long. As a newcomer into our family dynamic, with siblings in their teens, I was half a generation behind. It was the era of Nixon's Law and Order, where many Americans approaching their middle years felt out of touch with changing society. Before I started school my folks felt it best to move out into the country where it seems safer, more serene. I moved out at age 25 and then briefly again at 39 to get re-established in Ohio, but they are still there.

It's true, you can never (literally) go "back home" as it's a place that exists within. But for many years I could visit the surroundings and my folks, not perfect, just wonderful. At times I would have moments of acceptance as they age, that someday things would change, whatever that meant.

Just as I was returning from out of state things seemed to be happening rapidly. Dad seemed to be increasingly off-kilter in his decisions and behavior. Mom was understandably aggravated. For my part the anger hit first, and at one moment I actually shouted at him. We needed answers, so we took him to doctors over the winter and confirmed our suspicions. Alzheimer's.

This was a year ago, about the time I had a job offer at an office over an hour away. Mom said "you need to do this, we'll be just fine" and I knew she was right. Still, since then I don't think I've been able to spend more than 24 hours at a time in my hometown.

Last summer I finally had the means to digitize Dad's old home movies and videos. The former covered mainly the stuff I missed, the home I was born into but without really knowing first-hand. The latter began when I was in high school and continued for about ten years.

With the videos, it's easy at first to dismiss the seemingly endless footage of the yard, garden, flowers, and whatever else catches his eye, especially once he retired, since the stuff we tend to watch together are holidays and cookouts and such. But then, as I kept fumbling with the technology I noticed more of the "B" footage, and some of it, says more than I would have imagined.

Dad somehow captured the serenity, the essence, of what I knew as home. We were fortunate, the bills were paid, the pension was coming in and after retirement he got to spend his days doing "garage" projects in the winter and gardening in the warm months, things were so green and lush back then. When the fancy struck he would pick up the camcorder and wander about the yard, narrating at times, but not always. Sometimes you see a snow storm through the windows and can hear the goings on inside the house.

In a way, maybe it's a window into the soul of a man who's hard to read. But having been away a few years and realizing his strength was fading, it's hard to know what to think of that. These scenes are something I'll need to go back to for the rest of my life. It's a window to a special place, a place to which I never can return, but alas, I get to visit at times, precious times, the places, sounds and sights that made me and shaped me.

My earliest memories include weekend afternoon drives with Dad. I still love taking drives in the winter when daylight is scarce. Sometime during my kindergarten year I had a dream of one of those drives. We saw the gas fires at the refinery, maybe sit a few minutes watching planes at the airfield, places of wonder in a world that seemed enormous at the time. I would ask what things were and he would explain in a few words. There didn't need to be many words. Sometimes we'd go to the mall and Arby's. We explored the world around us. That was just right.

But in the dream, my minds eye floated out of the car and I was somehow watching it on a home movie screen, and suddenly an evening sunset cast shadows of our heads onto a colorless floor. Something within my tiny soul ached and I tried to reach for the shadows before they disappeared. But instead, I awoke.

Home is not a memory. It really is a place, more than just a zeitgeist, it lives as a coral reef, and life-enabling to the creatures that rely upon it.

So now, my concept of home is changing, younger generations taking on new roles, but with new rewards, let's not forget. We are an amazing group, full of vitality and laughter. But when we lose someone, or maybe just part of someone, honoring their life and contribution to yours and others is not a mental exercise, but it takes some realizations. Sometimes tough love, sometimes hard decisions, but other times...just looking for the love that's always been there.

Before I came back last month for Mom's birthday I got a call from Dad. He can't drive any more so he asked if I'd pick out a card saying such and such, so I did that on the way. The strength is gone but the things that matter most still are.

Honoring Dad comes down to living by his example. Do what you love, love what you do, help those who need it, and take time to rest, and wherever you are, enjoy the scenery.

This year will be replete with cookouts, laughs and times. But I just thought, it might be good to mix in an afternoon drive here and there, even, if there are only a few words.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


The autumn of 2009 was warm and gradual in southtown Kansas City. I rented a small house in a nice neighbourhood and got to spend most evenings propped up with pillows with a laptop running Linux, trying to solve a problem no one asked me to. I was supporting a small online bookseller that relied upon custom-built software to generate prices, and so one day I realise it could work so much efficiently in Java. 

So, I started porting it from VB to Java, each evening, on a laptop running Linux, next to a cracked-open window with a glass or beer or bourbon sitting on it.  That was back before Facebook games became lame or addictive, depending upon who you ask, and around then it would be time for friends to work on each other's farms. Eventually that game went absolutely nowhere but it fit the moment, along with local TV showing Star Trek TNG each weeknight.

Thanks to some down-home roots there will always be soup beans and ham pumping through these veins, but for the single male, a quarter-can of boiled SPAM in some Van Kamp's Pork N Beans does just fine, no kidding. Fills a bowl and then the soul. Sometimes a dab of cottage cheese would chase it well.

I can't say how long this went on, it was more of a clonal moment, a series of evenings making strides with the code, step by step, closer to a solution, chatting with friends along the way. As it turns out my motivation for doing the Java project was never clear, it just needed to happen.

As with all moments, they are just that, and they must end. This one gave way to a confusing set of events, the company changed hands, and along came one of the harshest winters I'd ever known - literally and figuratively. The ground was covered for weeks in foot-thick frozen snow, the city's prize walking trail rendered useless and I was stuck in that house with not enough work to keep a cat alive.

A few months before, I had pitched the Java version to the company owner and he was probably interested if it could be proven superior, then I would ask for a fee.  But then, I was realising my love for code there in that geeky bliss, and so the longer I kept it up the notion of a direct payoff grew less and less important.

As it turns out, just over a year later I got a real job that's soaked in code, not Java, but close enough.