Monday, November 3, 2008

A Place For Me

There is a special place in life, that needs my humble skill,
A certain job I'm meant to do, which no one else can fulfill..

The time will be demanding, the pay is not too good,
And I wouldn't change it for a moment, even if I could....

There is a special place in life, a goal I must attain,
A dream that I must follow because I won't be back again...

There is a mark that I must leave, however small it seems to be...
A legacy of love for those who follow after me...

There is a special place in life, that only I may share...
A little path that bears my name, awaiting me somewhere...

There is a hand that I must hold, a word that I must say,
A smile that I must give, for there are tears to blow away...

There is a special place in life that I was meant to fill...
A sunny spot where flowers grow, upon a windy hill...

There's always a tomorrow and the
best is yet to be, for somewhere

in this world, I know there
is a place for me....

© Grace E Easley

Monday, October 29, 2007

For a Friend on Veteran's Day...

Almost Home ...

I recall the first time I saw Petie. It was about eight years ago this coming week.
As a disabled veteran, I go to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital for treatment of my service-connected disabilities. I had just moved back to Kentucky and needed to renew my prescriptions, so I took the bus downtown to the VA Medical Center. I chose the bus instead of driving due to a big snow the night before and I didn’t want to drive in it. Let somebody else wreck his or her vehicle I reasoned. Besides it was cheaper than driving. I walked the half of a mile to the main road and caught the bus. I shuffled about half way back and took a seat. As the bus pulled away, I pulled my coat tight and tried to get warm again. I looked around as I settled in, to see who else might be on here with me.

There were a couple of kids, maybe in their mid-teens, sitting together a few seats up from me and across the aisle. Just behind the front door sat a little old woman with stockings rolled half way up her legs. I could see her pursing and chewing her lips with toothless gums. Turning her scarf-covered head from one side to the other, she rode in silence, looking out the windows. Her old weathered hands clutched a rather large satchel of a purse and a worn, old umbrella. I felt my eyes twinkle a little as I thought about how little old women all around the world looked the same.

Across the aisle from her, right behind the driver, sat another passenger. He was a slight man; mid-fifties, I would say. He might go 140 pounds soaking wet with his pockets full of change. Like the old woman across the aisle from him, he was missing most of his teeth. He was wearing a pair of pants several sizes too large for him and a dingy old sweatshirt. His faded army field jacket had seen better days and pulled down over his head was a lint-speckled black watch cap. His gaunt features seemed to center around his pale blue eyes and hawk-like nose. I could see his reflection in the large mirror in front of the driver’s head. He never shut up as he leaned across the rail behind the driver’s seat. Her eyes met mine on several occasions with the look of ‘please, God, let him get off at the next stop’.

Well, he didn’t. We rode all the way downtown before he got off to catch the transfer to the VA hospital, the same as me. We smoked as we waited. Assuming familiarity with me, he continued his lecture as I prayed for the arrival of the bus. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t quite right about this guy. I nodded from time to time and smoked in silence. The bus arrived right on time and he scuttled up the steps in a hurried gait. I hung back a bit to allow a buffer of passengers to board behind him and ahead of me.

The seats were all taken and we were standing in the aisles, clutching the overhead rails for balance as we pulled back into traffic. I could hear him continuing his chatter to my rear, somewhat muffled by the other sounds on the bus. "Hell," I thought to myself, "He’s kind of annoying but he ain’t hurting anything." I mentally let his voice drone into the other sounds around me. When we got to the hospital, I was off and quickly headed to my destination and forgot all about him.

When I had finished my business, I hurried through the revolving doors at the main entrance. Checking the bus schedule posted on the board there, I lit a smoke and shrugged up under my coat. Turning my back to the cold wind and snow flurries, I noticed a glass-enclosed waiting area off to the side of the bus stop and quickly made my way over to it and stepped inside. My eyes immediately began to burn from the fog of cigarette smoke and hot air blowing out of an over-head heating duct. But it was still better than being outside. There were about a dozen people there, standing around in small groups of two’s or three’s and quietly talking amongst themselves. Hearing a familiar voice, I looked past a group of guys standing there and saw the little man from the bus earlier. He was sitting alone on the long wooden bench against the back wall talking to no one in particular. One of the guys standing beside me leaned over in my direction and whispered in my ear, "Don’t mind Petie, he’s OK".


Over the next several years, I saw Petie almost every time I came to the VA. Familiarity breeds friendship and over the course of time we developed an odd but comfortable relationship. I found myself half-looking for him each time I came to the hospital, knowing he was around somewhere. I would engage him or him me, as we waited for the bus. I sometimes waited for the bus with him, even on those days that I had driven, just to pass the time with him. There was more than one occasion when several buses would come and go, only to find us sitting under the trees at one of the picnic tables there, sharing stories, thoughts and the occasional joke. Petie loved to fish, he said. And you could have filled the bed of a pick-up truck with all of the whoppers he told me about. The day came when we were both late getting out of appointments and the buses were two hours apart. I offered to run Petie home. He told me where he lived and we pulled out.

He directed me off the expressway and onto the side streets around East Market where we found a parking place. I was going to let him out, but he insisted that I come up and see his place before I left. We locked the truck and started up the sidewalk towards Main. We passed the homeless shelter; with its annex for battered women. Several people standing outside called Petie by name and he acknowledged them with a hello as we walked on. Crossing the street, we came to a little second-hand store and Petie said, "Let’s go inside for a minute." He found the couple who ran the place, told them he was home and we left. I asked about that and he told me that they rented him a room above the old abandoned store we were now in front of. We turned down a narrow alley that led to the rear of the building.

We went up a set of crude steps and to the door of his little place. The landing there overlooked a postage stamp yard of overgrown weeds, dead lawnmowers and an old willow tree with a park bench under it sitting along the fence. We passed through the door into a small hallway created by a stove, fridge and kitchen sink on the left side and a closet and shower stall on the right. The hallway opened up into the only room in the apartment. It was empty except for two plastic milk crates, on one of which rested an old black and white television. He offered the other to me as a seat and he sat down on the single mattress pushed up against the wall.

He said he had only lived here for a short while. The couple we spoke to downstairs are his guardians and handle all of his VA checks. They saw to it that he had a place to stay, something to eat and cigarettes. If he needed anything else, he just told them and they would see to it that he got it. He opened the bag of White Castles we had picked up on the way here. He offered one to me but I declined. He said he had to eat, he was diabetic. I nodded and told him to go on and eat then. He explained to me that was the reason he went to VA every day, for his insulin shot. He could bring it here, but sometimes he forgot to take it. Besides, he enjoyed the trip and the other people at the VA.

We started talking about the service and where all we had been and what all we had done. My record paled in comparison. Petie had been in Vietnam and had been a prisoner of war for almost seven years. He opened a cigar box he kept by the bed there and showed me the things that he had left from his service days; most notable of which was the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge. His eyes glazed with a faraway look as he told me of his ordeals there. He said the Purple Heart was for wounds he received when the helicopter he was in was shot down and he was captured. I wondered at the wounds that Petie had endured that no one will ever see or know about. From time to time as he spoke, he would cant his head to the side and listen to the voices he heard as they pointed out details in the stories that he had overlooked or perhaps forgotten. The voices were always there to remind him and keep his vision of Hell alive and vivid in his mind.


Over the course of time I got to know Petie fairly well through our short sporadic visits. I had bought a little farm in the mean time and was in the process of moving there. I had some old furniture and stuff I was going to give away. I asked Petie if he wanted any of it and told him what I had.

I loaded up a love seat, a big stuffed chair, an end table, a battered old coffee table, a lamp and several other small items he said he wanted or I knew he could use. I told him when I would be there and drove down the alley behind his place until I got to the gate at the rear of the property. There Petie stood waiting on me, a small pile of smashed cigarette butts at his feet. We unloaded the truck and carried the stuff up the awkward stairs and placed it around the room. The whole time Petie talked with excitement, telling me that he too had been a farmer, back before the war. He had grown up on a small farm down in Hart County, not too far from the lake. He said he had tried to go back there after he returned from overseas, but he was not the same man that had left those little hollows and just didn’t fit in there anymore. He knew he was different. He said, "It’s a pretty funny feeling when you don’t even fit in at home anymore." So, scorned by some, pitied by others, he hitchhiked to Louisville and took to the streets. And that is where he had been for almost the last twenty years. Drifting from the streets to the shelters to the halfway houses and back to the streets again. He had struggled with life at its most basic level. He had been locked up, beaten up, robbed and shunned. He finally made it to the VA and they helped him get this little place, a small pension every month and some medical care. He told me that he went to the VA hospital everyday, not so much for the insulin shot, but to be there with those who understood him best; to be there with his family.

I had to go to the VA last February for an appointment, and as always, I looked for Petie. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I waited and watched several buses come and go after I had taken care of my business. Thinking I had missed him, I went inside where he always went to get his insulin and asked about him. Standing there with a little bag holding two flannel shirts I had brought for him, the nurse told me Petie was gone. Gone where? Moved? No, he was gone, dead, I was told. She went on to explain that during the big freeze we had back around Christmas, that Petie had been found sitting on the little bench behind his house frozen to death. Clutched in his hands, on his lap, was a little cigar box with his medals and effects in it.

I had a hard time finding the door through the tears I was fighting back. I went outside and found one of the picnic tables off to the side of the building and just sat down there on the frosted bench in stunned disbelief. It was bitter cold but I didn’t even notice. I wondered if Petie just got tired of being Petie or if he had just drifted off into a dream and gone fishin’.

"Don’t catch ‘em all before I get there, Petie! I’ll soon be comin’ along."

Copyright © 2007 Mike Lawson

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Older Than Dirt

"Hey Dad," one of my kids asked the other day, "What was your favorite fast food when you were growing up ? " "We didn't have fast food when I was growing up," I informed him. "All the food was slow."

"C'mon, seriously. Where did you eat ?"

"It was a place called 'at home,'" I explained. "Grandma cooked every day and when Grandpa got home from work, we sat down together at the dining room table, and if I didn't like what she put on my plate I was allowed to sit there until I did like it."

By this time, the kid was laughing so hard I was afraid he was going to suffer serious internal damage, so I didn't tell him the part about how I had to have permission to leave the table. But here are some other things I would have told him about my childhood if I figured his system could have handled it:

Some parents NEVER owned their own house, wore Levis , set foot on a golf course, traveled out of the country or had a credit card. In their later years they had something called a revolving charge card. The card was good only at Sears Roebuck. Or maybe it was Sears AND Roebuck. Either way, there is no Roebuck anymore. Maybe he died.

My parents never drove me to soccer practice. This was mostly because we never had heard of soccer. I had a bicycle that weighed probably 50 pounds, and only had one speed, (slow). We didn't have a television in our house until I was 11, but my grandparents had one before that. It was, of course, black and white, but they bought a piece of colored plastic to cover the screen. The top third was blue, like the sky, and the bottom third was green, like grass. The middle third was red. It was perfect for programs that had scenes of fire trucks riding across someone's lawn on a sunny day. Some people had a lens taped to the front of the TV to make the picture look larger. I was 13 before I tasted my first pizza, it was called "pizza pie." When I bit into it, I burned the roof of my mouth and the cheese slid off, swung down, plastered itself against my chin and burned that, too. It's still the best pizza I ever had.

We didn't have a car until I was 15. Before that, the only car in our family was my grandfather's Ford. He called it a "machine."

I never had a telephone in my room. The only phone in the house was in the living room and it was on a party line. Before you could dial, you had to listen and make sure some people you didn't know weren't already using the line.

Pizzas were not delivered to our home. But milk was.

All newspapers were delivered by boys and all boys delivered newspapers. I delivered a newspaper, six days a week. It cost 7 cents a paper, of which I got to keep 2 cents. I had to get up at 4 AM every morning.. On Saturday, I had to collect the 42 cents from my customers. My favorite customers were the ones who gave me 50 cents and told me to keep the change. My least favorite customers were the ones who seemed to never be home on collection day.

Movie stars kissed with their mouths shut. At least, they did in the movies. Touching someone else's tongue with yours was called French kissing and they didn't do that in movies. I don't know what they did in French movies. French movies were dirty and we weren't allowed to see them.

If you grew up in a generation before there was fast food, you may want to share some of these memories with your children or grandchildren.. Just don't blame me if they bust a gut laughing.

Growing up isn't what it used to be, is it ?

-author unknown

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's In The Air Again...

When Mother Lights the Fire…

I feel it coming on again
In my spirit and my mind
This affliction comes over me
Each year about this time
With warning signs clear as day
Same thing everytime
You’d think an old hand such as I
Would learn to read the sign

But I miss it as I always do
Caught up in day to day
Before I see it, the time’s at hand
And the Warm Girl’s slipped away
But She leaves for me, a gift She does
For a poor boy’s needs are dire
Nothing leaves me more content
Than when Mother lights the fire

She strikes a match and touches tender
Much smoke but still no flame
A little wilted for their cause
The world remains the same
In one starting spark the colors flow
And spread along the ground
They creep in silence as they go
Without a single sound

The Ironwoods and the Asters
Take the striking blow
Honeysuckle and briar bushes
Are the very next to go
I miss the starting spark, it seems
Busy in life’s quagmire
Somehow I fail to notice
When Mother lights the fire

Looking up the hillside
I see the subtle flame
It can’t be time already
Seems Summer’s hardly came

Pale yellows on the ashes
Timid pinks on sassafras
The dark blood red of sumacs
Orange blazes upon the maples
Burnt yellow of the hickory
Pale reds of dogwoods glow
All of these and many more
When Mother lights the fire

Woods stand in glory
Dressed in best attire
And sing the colors of Autumn
When Mother lights the fire

Copyright © 2007 WML. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Risk Taker

  • To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
  • To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
  • To reach out for another is to risk involvement.
  • To expose feeling is to risk exposing your true self.
  • To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd, is to risk their loss.
  • To love is to risk not being loved in return.
  • To live is to risk dying.
  • To hope is to risk despair.
  • To try is to risk failure.
  • But the risk must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
  • The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing and is nothing.
  • He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
  • Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave, he has forfeited freedom.

Auther unknown