MY NEIGHBORHOOD

When you grow old with a neighborhood it’s hard to see it objectively. The days of the bright new convenience store that I’d patronize for my morning cup of coffee long ago before the first twinkle of sunlight are long past. My neighborhood was fairly new back then and I settled into the community that I’d call home for decades and still do.

I pulled up to the faded gas pumps with the white needle on my gas gauge swimming in the Red Sea. The once proud concrete is cracked and saturated with oil stains. It’s darker than the surrounding surface which on that occasion would be a misleading title of “black top”.

I really didn’t notice how the elements and time had worn my neighborhood as well as myself until I’d spotted the strolling man make his way across the four-lane street that I’d once used for a shortcut back when it was just a dirt road.

The closely shaved headed man with whiskers to match looked to be around my age. Our eyes locked for a second until he glanced away. The man caught my eye a few moments later when he bent over to pick up something in the parking lot.

Just outside the double glass doors of the convenience store, he hit a gold mine. He picked up a few more small items and slipped one into his mouth, fetched a lighter out of his oversized pants and lit up a partially used cigarette.

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

I took a closer look at the frugal man who was not remotely germ-o-phobic. His clothes must have cost him about as much as his cigarettes. His jeans were much too wide and were cinched around his modest hips in clumps. The blue jeans were fat cuffed at the bottom from too many rolls. His brownish green sweater would have most certainly won him first prize at any ugly Christmas sweater contest.

There wasn’t anything like him around these parts thirty years ago. But then it dawned on me that I’m not anything like I was thirty years ago either. I have cracks and lines like the old streets and sidewalks. And despite all the maintenance, all things wear out. It is the design and process in this fallen world.

I clicked the pump handle over and over until it landed on an even number with no cents behind it, glanced around for the cigarette scrounger, slipped the tired gas pump back into its cradle and headed south.

I spotted the bum looking for more used smokes behind the store.

We’re all wearing out and in search of things to comfort us. Comfort and satisfaction in this flesh are fleeting. We can get rest, not so different than filling up a gas tank, but one day rest or fuel just won’t be enough.

My guess is that the cigarette bum might check out a little earlier, but we all checkout. It’s not a matter of if, but when… yet, more importantly, is Where.

I’ll keep my eye out for the used cigarette chain smoker. He’s not in my neighborhood by chance.

LITTLE THINGS

Folks ’round these parts get pretty happy this time of year. Maybe a better word to sum up their emotions during this season would be relieved. After all, little things mean a lot.

God tilts the earth this time of year to give the earth dwellers on this side of the globe a vacation from the punishing sun. And with it comes the recounting of the changing seasons in our past.

A lot of sights and sounds from childhood that used to carry me back like a time machine have grown old, some memories forgotten. The one constant recounting I cherish is the one that I feel and smell then ride back in time like a space ship happens this time of year.

The desert feels like mild mountain air this time of year. It gets cold enough for the older homes to burn wood in their fireplaces. That coupled with the brisk dusk air find a young version of myself strolling home with my football uniform slung over my shoulder like a knapsack, drinking a soda.

The once-skinny kid always seemed to scrounge enough change for the cheap off brand grape soda from the vending machine just outside the locker room that smelled like perpetual sweat.

I sauntered, barefooted, relishing the still lukewarm sidewalk contrasting the crisp dusk breeze. I inhaled the cool air that was laced with the scent of burning firewood… the same one that still transports me back in time.

Only that younger version of my ears could have heard that puny little sound over the roar of the traffic speeding by on the street I’d just crossed. The same major thoroughfare I crossed at least twice a day under the shadow of the traffic sign that told us specifically not to cross there.

I stopped and listened. After a few seconds, I heard it again. I sunk to a deep squat, arms resting comfortably on my knees, peering under the bushes of a side street just off the intersection. If it would have been much darker I’d have missed the black little furball that was desperately screaming for help.

I don’t recall who taught me to make that quick kissing sound to call animals, but it still works like a

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

champ. The long haired, jet black kitten with the vibrant green eyes warily made his way over to me. I scratched behind his ears for a minute or so then pressed on toward home.

The black kitten followed me like my dog Pee-Wee used to a few short years before that. I picked the little guy up and noticed he didn’t have a collar and knew at his age living next to a main street he wouldn’t last but a day or two.

I’d long since grown up, left home, had my own pets and “Little Kitty” was still keeping my mom and dad company.

As the years pass, so do our pets, the seasons, and our loved ones. Each one is a gift. I’m reminded of that fact often… and every Fall and Spring when I smell the logs burning in the cool desert air… I remember the little things that point to big ones… I listen for that faint sound… and smile.

WINDOW SHOPPING

We sauntered along the old scenic city sidewalks after dinner stopping at each little downtown shop. Some stores were closed, but that didn’t stop our curiosity and window shopping.

The little town saddling route 66 was bustling. Restaurants, bars, hotels, art stores, and even horse drawn carriage rides behind a massive Clydesdale. My wife and mom are more adept shoppers than I am. It seems like women tend to be a little more smitten with ogling objects, even if they don’t really want or need them than men.

I followed the two most important women in my life patiently. They’d show me or point to something and I’d nod thoughtfully with no expression, the way men do after they’ve been worn down by life… and women shopping…

I took a break from a few stores in the cooling Northern Arizona air and people watched and listened. While the window shoppers were doing their thing I strolled over to get a close-up look at the horse that had just dropped his latest fare.

Just west along Route 66 was another store… there’s always another store. “Oh, Floyd! You’ve got to come in here – you’re gonna love it!” my mom said. When people that know you very well say things like that there’s a pretty good chance they’re right.

While my mom, my wife and myself don’t have the exact same taste, we do all share the appreciation and love of art.

Generally, women are famous for their shopping prowess, it just takes the right product to turn men from spectators into passionate participants. It didn’t take a whole lot of time for the reversal of roles to take effect, “Diane – look at this!” I whispered too loudly, “How cool is that?” I asked my wife drinking in the scratchboard art with my eyes the way a thirsty man does water in the Arizona summer.

“Yeah, that’s amazing,” my wife agreed as I went to round up my mom to show her the cowboy sipping a cup-uh-Joe.

The truth is, I wanted that artwork. It wasn’t that much money for a numbered piece of art, but after a lifetime of self-discipline I just couldn’t justify it. I was happy to have been able to see it and appreciate it.

I think that’s one of the issues we as a society face today; many of us believe we have to own or have title and possession of something to enjoy it. We forget the show of God we participate in daily; the majesty of a sunrise and a sunset as well as the birds flying in between cost us nothing. We take for granted the window shopping of God’s creation.

window shopping

The Cowboy Sipping A Cup-Uh-Joe

I’ve come to realize the best things in life can’t be purchased. We have to accept them as the free gifts that they are and if they had a price tag… not one of us could afford it anyway.

Imagine my surprise two months later when my wife smiled and said, “Hang on a second,” then came back in with the Cowboy sipping a cup of coffee for my birthday.

It too makes for fine window shopping. Enjoy…

THE NEXT GENERATIONS

Folks my age and older have a tendency to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to judging and making declarations about the next generations. I’m not saying that some, maybe even most of what is said about them isn’t true, but we rarely stop to consider the world they viewed with wide-eyed wonder when it was their turn.

The things that the next generations have possessed are rarely caused by them…

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

image courtesy of photo bucket.com

I remember my dad telling us about his life on the farm. About pickin’ cotton as the son of a dirt-poor sharecropper. He chuckled as he rarely reminisced his early years and the lack of running water, the shared outhouse, and the JC Penney catalog.

That catalog was a valuable commodity for poor folks. A person, young or old, could flip through the pages and dream of having the finer things in life. They could fantasize about the distant future when they might have running water, fine clothes, and a home that could keep the snow out.

But that was a distant future and life for others. Their life was ripping those dreams out page by page, day by day, to use for what folks with running water and indoor plumbing could afford not to.

A kid from a more privileged upbringing has a hard time relating to other people’s stories from a generation when the standard of living sounded like something from a John Steinbeck novel.

My dad’s older sister lived in the same simple manner the majority of her life. That fact gave my siblings and I a taste of the world and the generation that forged the trail in front of us.

The California desert along the Colorado River is dreadfully hot in the Southwest summertime. Counting my aunt, uncle, and all the cousins, there were nine of them that shared  the outhouse that was about fifty yards from the house. Not nearly far enough when the rare summer breeze kicked up. Using that facility brought a real meaning for what that generation used to describe as, “God-awful”.

I pondered my kin that used it every single day. I thought about my dad’s family of eleven that shared the same type of life. The nine by nine room I shared with my two brothers along with the shower all six of us split time using took on a whole new level of appreciation.

I’ve lamented a time or two over my kids and their perspective on life. They never asked to live in the manner that we’ve provided. The life the next generations know is the one we built and painted for them.

I lay in bed pondering my dreams and prayers. It’s easy to fall into the trap of our answered prayers. We tend to cherish the provision sometimes over the Provider.

I thought of the humble and sweet prayers of the simple man that uttered them in earnest. Then I prayed the words again with the same honesty, “Father, thank you so much for Your protection and provision. For the roof over our heads, for this warm bed.”

I slept like a baby remembering that God loves a humble heart.

May the next generations learn that from Him and this one.

SWALLOWING PILLS

He’s got bad knees, but he doesn’t like swallowing pills. I can sympathize with him. He’s not as fast as he used to be, or brave for that matter, but who is at this age? He limps a little, but so do a lot of us. The difference is that most of us can force ourselves into swallowing pills to help our abused joints. That’s one of the differences between Larry and me.

He goes out of his way to not take glucosamine. He’s stubborn like that. I don’t look forward to swallowing the horse sized pills on a daily basis, but that’s life; we have to do things that we don’t always like. Wisdom tells us to sacrifice some things, like discomfort and taste, for the physical reward is just part of it.

When Larry refuses to take his pill it sometimes makes me irritated. I know it’s best for him, but he only wants to put in his mouth what tastes good. Sometimes when he refuses to take his pill I’m closer to indifferent, “Suit yourself, big guy. I’m only trying to help you, you’re only hurting yourself,” I tell him.

I’ve noticed the things that irritate us about others is often the very thing we’re guilty of or are susceptible to ourselves.

Sometimes I eat things I shouldn’t, things I know aren’t the best choices for my health. Occasionally I eat late when I shouldn’t. Then there are times I’ll pick the steak over the fresh fish, the pasta or rice over the vegetables… and those are just the physical choices I make. The spiritual choices made by my free will aren’t always so different from the physical.

Often I’ll park my carcass in front of the TV instead of picking up the Good Book or writing. I know one, if not poison, can lead to extreme indifference spiritually and the other leads to health and joy and peace spiritually.

I’m guilty of all the things I get so irritated with Larry for. Even worse, I know better; I’m smarter than Larry.

While I’m collecting the vast and varying size pills in the morning to ingest at different times throughout the day, I watch Larry often spit the only pill he has to take all day out onto the floor like an animal.

My wife tends to pamper him and tries to coax him into making the right choice. She wraps the brown joint medicine into a tasty slice of turkey or chicken and gives it to Larry. Sometimes he takes it, other times he eats the meat around the pill and drops it like it’s poison.

and he has to wear diapers...

and he has to wear diapers…

My wife picks it up and tries to fool him again… with marginal success.

When I get mad at Larry I have to remind myself that I too struggle with doing the right things – spiritually and physically. I also have to remind myself that Larry’s a dog. He doesn’t fathom the benefit of swallowing pills and the consequences of free will…

Which puts me and my choices in a pretty incriminating light.