HIS SMILE

Even with the light beaming through the doors behind him, making it hard to see, I recognized him. It was something more than physical, because he didn’t look anything like I remembered him. Maybe it was his smile.

“How you doin’?” I asked as we shook hands.

“Good, good. How are you?” he asked in his Mexican accent.

We exchanged pleasantries and before long we were reminiscing the good old days.

It’s a funny thing about the good old days; not all of us remember them the same way or even recall the same events.

The man worked for me a long time ago, back in the mid nineties. Artie, short for Arturo, was in his mid twenties, I was in my early thirties. I liked Artie right away. He was a hard working man with a good sense of humor. Right up my alley.

Artie was always very inquisitive. Even after all these years he still is. I’d forgotten how inquisitive he was until he reminded me.

Artie speaks excellent English, but I’d forgotten how he stuttered when he got excited.

“Hey, hey, Floyd… you, you, you, remember when, when, when, I, I, first started working for you? Eh, eh, eh, and I didn’t know you. And I asked you how long you worked for the, the, this company?”

My mind raced. And I vaguely recalled it, but noting more than remembering him working with us.

“No,” I smiled, knowing where the conversation was headed.

“You, you told me. Eh, eh, and then I asked you how much they paid you?” Artie was laughing at the punchline only he knew.

“No,” I shook my head and chuckled.

“Yeah, you, you, you told me ‘not enough’!” Artie was belly laughing.

It is in those moments that you remember. I don’t remember what my motives for not telling him who I was at the time.

“Even after you finally told me you were the owner, I, I, didn’t believe you! The, the, then James told me!”

If laughing does extend your life Artie’s gonna have a long one. His laughter was so contagious we stood there in the middle of the plumbing aisle of The Home Depot busting a gut.

Artie was just getting started, “Hey, hey, hey, Floyd. You remember when those guys building those stairs were, were, were taking like three days to build them? Eh, eh, and you told them they were taking too long?”

image courtesy of flicriver.com

“No,” I confessed. I didn’t recall it at all. That’s been an on going problem in business my whole life. Nothing about that has changed in the last thirty years.

“They kept taking like three or four days to build those stairs… and you, you-you told them you could build them in one day. You remember?”

I shook my head. That too was nothing new to who I was back then and still fight not to be now. But those guys were costing me more money than they should have been. They just didn’t know it.

“Yeah, those guys, they didn’t believe you. They were like ‘no way’ he can do that’. And then you came out the next day and, and, I carried the 2×12’s for you and, and we built those stairs in less than a day! You remember that?” Artie was beaming with pride.

“Yeah, I remember. Now that you told me. I’d forgotten all about it,” I admitted.

We talked for thirty minutes. I was reminded of a lot of memories that I’d forgotten. It was good to catch up and laugh. Artie reminded me that I’d taught him that once he’d mastered framing that he’d be able to do anything. He took the basic concepts of plumb, level, and square, and applied them to his own small business.

Artie and I are a lot alike. We’re workers. My blue collar dad and older brothers taught me the value of hard work. And that work is a gift. Even when the world was perfect Adam’s gift was to work the Garden. I still often think of that verse, “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet…”

In a world now where a lot of people are trying to not work, I respect the ones that see it as a gift. Then they use it to provide for their loved ones and even the ones that aren’t working.

Artie and I exchanged numbers and a handshake then finally went our separate ways. I’ve spoken to him a few times since then. We have some jobs that we need reliable man like Artie on. And his smile.

PAIN TO REMEMBER

Repost from October of 2012

She appeared very stoic… Maybe grouchy would be more applicable, but I understood, sort of, where she was coming from… or going to I should say… She was walking up the sidewalk to the place I was just leaving. I hate going there too. Maybe because she’s older she already knows what I’m beginning to figure out?

I suspect the elderly lady that was wearing the winter looking dress in the middle of summer in Arizona has realized after a certain age you cover up to protect yourself from the sun and you don’t leave the dermatologist’s office without pain… Silly me was thinking I’d get a clean bill of health that day. I could almost hear the doctor saying, “It all looks good!” – “See ya’ next time!” I’d smile, thank him graciously and walk light-footed out of his office… maybe even whistling.

pain to remember

The elderly lady probably knew she’d hear the doctor say the same thing to her as he did to me, “Hmmmm… This is pre-cancerous… We’d better take care of this now…” then the pain to remember starts. The grouchy lady has probably heard the same words the doctor shared with me next, “Yeah, that’s not good… too dark… I need to cut that off too.” Great – more pain…

The grouchy gal might have had a knife and freezing equipment that burns like fire used on her more times than I have… I didn’t blame her for the dirty look as I stepped off the sidewalk in front of her to give her the full use of it. The senior lady had that look of a permanent scowl on her face, even with someone showing her respect.

I really didn’t give the grouchy lady too much thought until after I passed her in the rocks and was half way across the parking lot, I heard a loud slap of a hard plastic type of material hitting the ground followed by a startling thud – the sound of flesh and bones hitting concrete.

I quickly turned back around to find the elderly lady on the ground struggling to get up. “Are you alright?” I asked in a loud voice as I started to jog toward her. “Oh – I’m fine!” she answered pleasantly, visibly embarrassed. “Are you sure?” I pressed. “Oh yes – I’m okay!” she was pulling herself to her feet as quickly as possible. I knew she was more embarrassed than anything else as the doctor’s office doors burst open and a couple of nurses ran out to help.

As I studied the older lady’s face while she was still on the ground, a revelation hit me… She looked completely different than she did just seconds before. Not more than five or six seconds previous, she was sporting an experienced scowl on her face, but at the moment I saw her with her long dress gathered about her and she spoke to me, I saw something much different. I saw a beautiful person, regardless of age, she had that look of the innocence of childhood.

She was appreciative of my potential chivalry, it showed in her warm eyes. I wondered if all of us are a little like that lady; taking the magic of life for granted. We too often let it rob our innocence because we’ve seen the act and gift of a day so often. Funny thing… I couldn’t feel a thing that was bleeding and covered in bandages on me while tending to her.

I guess we both found some innocence that day…

BLACK CAT

I think about that black cat this time of year, every year. The mixture of longer shadows, shortening days, and God knockin’ the edge off of the Arizona summer, ensures the memory of that early fall afternoon and the black cat.

It was football season. Two a day summer practices were well behind me and the season that would eventually attract Snowbirds from the other parts of the country to flock here was closing in on us.

It was a Friday, I know that for sure because I had my smelly football uniform stuffed in my tied up jersey that was slung over my back, my socks and tennis shoes along with the other pieces riding along.

The dusk air was cool, but the sidewalk was still warm from the retreating sun. It felt good on my feet. Kids, especially in the desert, just end up with tough feet.

Back then 37th Avenue had a dingy stop sign sunk in the dirt beside the earthen drainage ditch on the north side of a jagged edged two lane Cactus Road. The ditch on the west side was full of grass, weeds and critters and what not on. The other side wasn’t as thick with grass and weeds, but the house on that corner was overgrown with mountain ash bushes. The tiny orange berries were in full bloom and crowding the sidewalk.

As I strolled past the berried bushes I heard a sound. I stopped. I listened. Sure enough I heard it again and it was the faint sound of a cat. I stood listening and heard the soft meow again. I squatted down to peer under the bushes and there he was; the black cat. Except he wasn’t a cat yet, he was still a kitten.

I called him to me with quick multiple kissing sounds and with a little persistence the little guy came to me. I petted him, scratched behind his ears, and rubbed his nose in downward motion. Then I set him back under the bushes. I knew he was in a dangerous spot and his short life was in jeopardy being that close to a busy streets.

I looked back and the little black fur ball with the brilliant green eyes was following me. I picked him up and took him back to the bushes gently. I was two blocks away when I looked back and he was following me again.

sprucecats.com

I scooped him up and started thinking through the tactics I’d try to use to convince my parents to keep the little guy as I walked home. My mom would be easy to convince, my dad, not so much. Trying to impose your will on parents in those days was a tall order, especially for a freshman in high school…

The little black cat spent the rest of his days with my mom. He was still keeping her company years later. He was around when I started driving, graduated, and got married.

I think that sound, taste, or smell, that transports us back in time, back to a different world, is a gift from God. Each season is a gift as well. Pondering ones long gone add to the treasure of the current one.

I don’t know why, but I think fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s due, at least in part, to the fact that I live in the desert and the season that follows a brutal summer is appreciated just a little bit more. Or maybe, at least in part, it’s because this season reminds me of the time I saved that little black cat… and we all need Saving…

GOOD MORNING DEATH

This is a guest post by my good friend Keith Walker. This is a sad and gruesome and true story that happened September of 2016.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to die on the way to work today.” Even without the thought, it still happens. It happened to a man today. He died in the turn lane on 19th Avenue between Greenway and Thunderbird. I don’t know his name. I don’t even know what he lookd like. By the time I got to the accident scene, he no longer had a face. I’m sure I’ll find out his name eventually, but for now I’ll just call him Eddie. 
Eddie is dead.

My wife drives the same route to work every morning. A long roll from N. Phoenix down 19th Avenue to the medical campus on Thomas. It’s a dangerous route. A long stretch of it has been aptly named the “suicide lane” because the turn lane is opened up to south bound rush hour traffic in the morning and north bound traffic in the afternoon. People forget and try to make turns all the time.

The auto insurance industry is kept very busy by this corridor. Strangely, Eddie died before the suicide lane kicked in.
Eddie was a big dude. Probably five foot eight and 250 pounds. He was astride a metallic blue Harley Davidson motorcycle. He was dressed for work, but I don’t know what that means. By the time I got there, you couldn’t tell what his clothes looked like. Too much blood. He wore a half helmet instead of a full helmet. This meant the only part of his body not crushed or mangled was his skull. I don’t know what Eddie was thinking about this morning, but it wasn’t the road. He didn’t see that traffic had come to a stop right in front of him. He was about to collide with a 2007 Toyota Highlander. My wife behind the wheel.

She tried to roll him over but couldn’t. Too big. The four bystanders worried that he shouldn’t be moved at all.A Phoenix policeman appeared on the scene remarkably fast. He saw the blood, snapped on gloves and rolled Eddie over. He stared compressions. She found another pair of gloves in the squad car and tried to clear Eddie’s airway. Beneath all the blood he was the color of a bruised thunderstorm. The helmet strap had constricting his airway. They cut it away and took turns giving compressions. Eddie was so big, she had to crouch in a squat position over his chest in order to pump the heart. 

She couldn’t figure out why the damage to Eddie was so catastrophic. He should have some road rash and maybe a few broken bones, but this . . . dear god. It wasn’t until later, after listening to the witnesses, that she learned what had happened to him.

Eddie never even tried his brakes. He swerved to avoid the Highlander, but didn’t make it. The front wheel of the Harley disappeared under the back bumper and tore it off. It shredded the tire and pushed the axle eight inches forward. The bike whipped around, pulled free and spun down the turn lane. Instead of going end over end, Eddie was thrown perpendicular right into oncoming traffic. A construction worker heading Northbound in his work truck ran him over. The driver had no chance to swerve. To him, it seemed like Eddie dropped out of the sky. Eddie disappeared under the front bumper, rolled and crushed three times underneath the chassis, then spat out from underneath the back bumper. That’s how he lost his face, had his internal organs crushed and found the unexpected exit from this life. 

They continued the compressions for what seemed like forever. Meanwhile, the traffic continued to weave its way around the body. Four Mexican painters working in the front yard of an adjacent property took out their phones and started filming. The paramedics finally arrived and took over the process of cataloging death. More police arrived and cordoned off the scene. The interviews and forensics began.

At one point a well-dressed man wandered through the scene on foot and was almost arrested because he refused to cross to the other side of the street as instructed. Instead, he insisted on walking right through the accident scene. He was put in handcuffs, escorted away and eventually released to get to his work. 

None of this mattered to Eddie. He was gone. That shade of blue had turned to black. It would be his final color. He got up this morning, got dressed, probably ate some breakfast and set out for work. Maybe he was daydreaming of a better life right before his front wheel went under the bumper. Now he was a bloodied shade of night. 

It is impossible to exist by the cliche live every day as though it’s your last. Usually, it isn’t the last day. The days repeat, and as with all things repetitive, the meaning is lost. Until one day the last day does roll around. Then it’s too late. That being said, it might not be a bad idea to say the following greeting and ask the same question at every daybreak.  
Good morning, Death. Will I see you today?

THE WORLD

It’s been pushing fifteen years since I hand picked the trees, bushes, and flowers for my yard. I made sure each one was placed strategically around the yard; front, sides, and back, to make the most of the shade, but more importantly for the tropical oasis that I’d envisioned in my mind – a getaway from the world…

I’ll admit that the selections were a strategic as well as a self serving endeavor. And while I was trying to create an escape from the world, I stumbled into bringing some of the most beautiful parts of this world into my oasis.

The west and east sides of the house, where the morning and afternoon Arizona sun pierces even the toughest dual pane windows, are now massive yellow bells and orange jubilees.

In the backyard, among the same yellow bells and orange jubilees, behind the queen palms and orange trees, is a mixture of bougainvilleas, red and purple, and hibiscus trees.

Hibiscus flowers are my favorite. And I have every color hibiscus God made in my backyard.

For all I accomplished in hiding neighbors yards and road noises, as well as creating an oasis to find solace from the vicious world, probably the best thing I accomplished was creating a home for all the birds and critters that don’t pay rent.

The trees are filled with nests of all types of birds; doves, cactus wrens, sparrows, blackbirds, but mostly my favorites, hummingbirds.

We have hummingbird nests in front, side, and backyards. There’s been more than a couple of seasons when we were flogged by a tiny hummingbird mom trying to get us away from the nest she’d built in the tree under our back patio.

But just like the movie “Field of Dreams”, “Build it and they will come”. The squirrels are winning the battle to take over underneath the spa and boulder water feature. It’s also a losing battle trying to keep the rats from the orange trees. They aren’t pretty, but the baby lizards perform the nighttime dinner show by eating the bugs gathered to the light coming from the windows under the patio.

The pigeons have been in retreat for over a year now since I went on the offensive to rid them from destroying the front of the house. They’ll come back. They always do. I’ll be ready.

Death and destruction are part of this fallen world… and even in a retreat designed for a break from the world, it falls there too.

In Matthew 10:29 I’m reminded that a small bird doesn’t have a lot of value in this world, but they matter to God and He knows when one dies… which means He cares.

With all the birds that live in my yard, I’ve seen many fall. And it reminds me that it’s a fallen world. Children are dying and being abused… evil is real.

We need rest from the world, but even a beautiful oasis can’t bring peace. That only comes from God.