CAT ON THE HAT

It might be time for a haircut…

It might be time for a haircut…

“He dropped off some hats too,” the loader operator told me. Ordinarily I’m not overly enthused about a cap, even if it’s free, but this one was different… By “different” I mean my attitude toward one of the baseball caps with the logos on the front. Because this particular “different” one was almost identical to the very first one I’d ever bought for myself.

The years of struggle that I’ve come to cherish blew through my mind like a breath of fresh air. It took me back to the days of barely double digits to count the years I’d been stumbling around this part of the globe – the days of big dreams and desires to contrast my empty pockets.

I somehow managed to scrape together enough money to purchase the object of my longing at the blue collar central store named “Yellow Front”. They were known for selling Levi 501’s cheaper than anyone in town and had a proper selection of hats, the baseball cap kind.

The jet black cap wasn’t ideal for the Arizona sun, but there’s proof that I’ve long been guilty of choosing form before function. It wasn’t so much the deep black that I adored, it was the way the bright mustard colored logo contrasted it. It caught my eye the way a lure does a hungry fish.

I had no idea at the time what the logo meant, not that it mattered, it seemed to go hand in hand with cool… and what could be cooler than a “Cat On The Hat”?

I’d owned plenty of baseball caps with logos from the baseball teams I’d played on, but I’d never seen another cap that rivaled the first one that had the word “CAT” blazed in black letters amidst the golden rectangular patch stitched to the raven cap.

It wouldn’t be too much longer till I learned that “CAT” was the logo for “Caterpillar”; the massive public company that built excavating equipment that was used around the world to shape and form the earth’s crust for what the civilized world called “improvements”.

I had no idea as a boy that I would one day grow up to be smack in the middle of a world that was made up of machines that the old hat represented and ones like it.

I sported that old CAT hat through the years until the sun beat it like a baseball bat and turned it a weathered grey with frayed edges on the bill. But for all the luster that hat had lost, it hadn’t lost its appeal to me. Even when the boss man chided me for not knowing the proper way to turn my cap, and long before it was “cool” to wear it backwards, I wasn’t beginning to be deterred.

It still staggers my mind when I consider how much little things mean to folks that have close to nothing, they appreciate like it’s an art form.

I swim in a world of cynics but can’t point an accusing finger. It seems the more we get the more we take for granted. Occasionally the cynic gets a clinic… Mine was outdoors on a winter afternoon in the southwest desert. My guess is that it wasn’t a coincidence that it happened to be on a job site where the Caterpillar was chewing through the dirt behind me.

I reached out and took the CAT cap from his hand, “I’ll take this one,” I mumbled as I pulled it over my head… backwards… The men were a little surprised by my unfamiliar actions… but then they don’t know the story behind my CAT hat…

That goofy sideways grin that I sometimes couldn’t contain as a kid came back for a visit…

IN REMEMBRANCE

Gerry, Tamara, Diane, and myself, in California the summer before last.

Gerry, Tamara, Diane, and myself, in California the summer before last.

(This post was inked by hand in remembrance of my friend Gerry on January 17th)

My friend died last night…

When my wife answered the phone it was with apprehension, I could tell in her voice. The way she asked, “What?” gave me that feeling of a bowling ball dropping to the bottom of my gut – the type that lands so hard on the hips that your knees almost buckle.

If I had any hope that it wasn’t grim news, it melted into the kitchen floor as my wife did too… knees first.

“But I was just there, his vitals and stats were stable?” she countered the voice on the other end of airwaves back at the hospital.

My wife the nurse had literally just left there and had just walked in the door. She stayed till almost nine o’clock until she was sure Gerry was stable and improving.

We are an odd lot. Our friends live in a country club in a home I built them, that’s how our paths crossed and lives became intertwined. Gerry was a wildly successful lawyer, the kind that could talk his way in or out of anything. He could have sold heaters in the dead of summer in the middle of the desert and have folks whipped into a frenzy and bickering over the last one.

I’ve only met a couple of people in my life that could talk to folks from all walks of life and relate to all of them in a personal way. Gerry could strike a conversation with homeless folks as well as royalty. He’d been just about both at one time or another in his colorful life.

Gerry was also the charismatic person that could say things to people in pure honesty and not have them too offended… He could put together the type of words that I’d never dream of and get away with a smile, the type of words that would get me slapped or punched.

If the old adage, “Behind every good man there’s a good woman”, has merit, then Gerry’s wife, Tamara would be the epitome of that statement.

“You’ve been good to me… better than I deserve… I love you,” was one of the last things Gerry told his loving companion of forty-five years. Tamara told me that through a torrent of tears… I couldn’t help but shed some of my own. For the loss of my friend who treated my family and me like royalty… and for my friend Tamara, who is left to pick up the pieces and push on…

Gerry wasn’t perfect – he’d be the first to tell you that, but then again none of us are…

Based on a conversation Gerry had with my wife shortly before he drew his last breath, I believe I’ll be seeing Gerry again… how soon only God knows.

If we get to wear halos in heaven, you’ll be able to spot Gerry right off… he’ll be the one sporting the fanciest one…

In loving memory of my friend Gerry Sellers.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

k17176742The stout bearded man carried the football in a way that showed he’d had one in his thick hands practically his entire life. He still cradled the ole’ pigskin like it was one of the tools he’d mastered and was at home in his hands.

I smiled as I watched him at the high school football game and considered the similarities in my own life. I can’t say I’ve mastered it, but I truly appreciate strolling across a blank page with a fine pen leaking thoughts in its wake.

Writing for me brings a sense of gratification, a sense of physical and spiritual fulfillment. Then again, so does a football, basketball or baseball too. Simply peddling a bicycle with the wind tickling my face is one of those magical masterings too.

Another one, I guess if forced to choose my favorite, would be the one I spent the most time with. The one I’ve accomplished the most in my life with, even if in a roundabout way. The one the rests in my right hand as if it were made to be there.

This is a tool that meant so much to me in my early adulthood that I actually hung one on the wall of my first home… This instrument was the only thing that I found enough value in, and had so much passion for what it represented to me, that it was the only decoration that adorned my walls in that humble abode.

Some folks hang awards, plaques, paintings, photographs, swords, guns, deer or moose heads, and maybe an occasional shelf for knick knacks. Me? Naw, I hung something on my wall that reminded me of the magic I felt when it was clasped in my hand and action. My wall art was a hammer…

A lot of sun ups and sundowns have come and gone since the days I hung a chrome framing hammer on my wall. It’s been close to the same amount of time since I swung that hammer to put food on the table and gas in  my truck.

The one thing that hasn’t changed in all that time is the way I feel when I hold a heavy hammer in my hand… these days with crooked fingers like the ones my great grandpa sported.

I had the rare occasion to swing a mighty hammer a couple weeks back. It felt good… I guess it’s like ridin’ a bike… The set and sink of a nail in rhythm is like music to my soul… the gratification of mastering a tool… albeit a simple one… but maybe that’s why it feels even more fulfilling.

I can’t say that all the things I’ve done in my life have brought me gratification and pride in accomplishment, some just the opposite, along with the feelings…

The honorable tasks of passion are gifts from God above. Since God made the creation, you know He appreciates the beauty of it and when someone paints pictures of His creation that declares His majesty.

But based on what I know, I’m pretty sure He’s partial to a hammer too…

Especially a chrome one…

PLATFORM SHOES AND COTTON PICKERS

mens-platform-shoes1427“They’re just soft,” he said.

“They are,” I agreed, my mind churning the thoughts over, and added, “But then again we’re softer than the generation before us.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” my oldest brother agreed.

“I guess we did alright though, we came around,” I mumbled while pondering aloud the next generation directly behind us in God’s chronological time line.

My big brother and I know good and well that as strong or tough as we might think we are, we don’t hold a candle to our predecessors. A lot of that has to do with where we come from and bloodlines we hail from.

I’m also keenly aware of the fact that my big brothers had it light years harder than I did… one of the few perks that come with being the youngest I can assure you.

My brothers were years nearer to the days of my dad and his family hailing from the struggling south. They were closer to the days of their family’s bloody hands and knuckles from draggin’ sacks and pickin’ cotton by hand.

It’s hard to imagine how my dad kept his mouth shut when I was coming of age. As I look back on my teenage years, I realize there is zero chance that I would have been able to bite my tongue the way my dad did.

I wasn’t as concerned with survival as the generation before me. I was more concerned with being cool… While we didn’t have much, I didn’t have to pick cotton. Not only that, but my parents didn’t make me quit school to help put beans on the table like my dad did either. It’s hard for a youngster that doesn’t have to struggle through things like that to consider those kinds of notions…

No sir, we had different priorities in my generation. We had more important issues to dwell and stress over. We had things like platform shoes to consider… When I graduated from eighth grade I proudly sported my platform shoes, the ever-popular leisure suit, and of course the long hair slung over to one side of my face so that it cooly covered my right eye.

While my dad was able to keep a lid on his opinion, my brothers were another matter. If their tongues were swords, I’d have bled out before they ran me through the heart.

At the age I was at the time when platforms and leisure suits ruled the day, I couldn’t have been but a few years older than the age my dad had been when he had to go to school… with no shoes at all…

I was a different person some decades later, just a couple of years before God called my dad home to Him. I cherish the conversation we had when my dad told me that he guessed he was one of the last walking cotton pickers. I suppose he was… and I’m proud of him for that, but I’m prouder for the life of honor that my dad strived for and lived. If I’d been a man with the same messed up priorities that saddled me as a kid, my dad wouldn’t have wasted his breath and heart to share something so intimate.

I think about things like that when I consider the next generation. If a person like me could allow God to wrestle away my crown of foolishness with my free will, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance He will the ones who follow in our footsteps too.

GONE WITH THE WIND- LIFE LESSON

gonewithwind460It was late afternoon on the 31st of December, last week. Like most of the years I’ve been given, I try to squeeze every last ounce of the time allotted to me. I was in my office pushing hard up against the end of the year and wringing every last drop of production out of it that I could muster.

I do, however, have a kryptonite that can pull me away from a task quicker than you can say “daddy’s girl”.

For more years than our youngest can remember she’s been going with me to Barnes and Noble. Specifically the one at a place called Kierland Commons that isn’t too far from our house. I dragged her with me when she was young, of course it didn’t take much coercing since she loves all things books like her dad. Now that she’s older she drags me… not that it takes too much in the way of convincing the book hound in me.

That last day of the year was significant for more than just being the 365th of the year, it was a day of dread for my youngest. It was the beginning of more change, and one in particular that she wasn’t remotely looking forward to. Although she’d been reminding me about the significance of that day for some time, I’d forgotten about in my haste of life and work.

“You wanna go to Barnes and Noble with me?” she asked.

I looked up and over the top of my readers, “Uhhh, right now?” I asked.

She looked at me with her stunning brown eyes that landed her the nickname of “Button eyes” when she was little, “Yeah, dad… our Barnes and Noble is closing today, remember?”

I nodded, “That’s right. Yeah, let’s go,” I said with a new sense of priorities and with the melting heart of a daddy.

While my daughter is young, she’s old enough to know when something special is ending, like another year in this life.

We talked about all the times we’d hung out our local bookstore and the times spent walking around the outdoor mall afterward as I drove us to the place she has driven herself regularly to do homework. I’d drink coffee on our walks, she’d swig the sweetened tea in the warm months and hot chocolate in the cold ones.

The grand bookstore was somber. The employees, some of which my daughter knows personally, wore rectangle faces with lips hanging lower at the outside edges. The fifty percent off shelves looked like the Grinch had just made a haul, pre-heart growing that is…

An unprofessional voice came across the PA system, “Good afternoon Barnes and Noble shoppers. Please wrap up your selections and make your way to the checkout station… This Barnes and Noble will be closing in twenty minutes… forever…

“Awwwwe,” my daughter said with a melancholy smile.

“Everything changes, huh, babe?” I said as I thumbed through the $4.99 CD racks.

We got our last drink at the Starbucks inside the vanishing Barnes and Noble, as much for old times sake as anything else…

Every five minutes a new voice would come on the speaker system and thank us for the support over the last twelve years and remind us that in a few precious minutes their store would be gone permanently … like one of the popular books they sold so often titled, “Gone With The Wind”.

You don’t have to look far or wait for a new year to get another life lesson. Things we cherish all change… Only God alone doesn’t…

The lesson from the closing bookstore that my youngest and I had spent so much time together in was easy for me; I was reminded that the best things in this life are measured within the heart and can’t be calculated by a number… or a building.

To be honest, is was never the bookstore… it was always the precious time with my daughter…

Sometimes it takes change and loss to remind us how much we already have. A good reminder to start the new year off with I think.