Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm not a writer but I'm trying to be.

So last week I got the crazy idea to try and write a book.  Now I'm not a writer and haven't had more than one grammar class in all of my schooling (although I loved the class, Dr. Johnson was a cool guy).  I've thrown around the idea to various close friends and family and they have all asked the same question, "What's it going to be about?"  And I answer, "Uh...not really sure.  Things in my life and what I've learned from them."  My wife's response was the best, "Why?  Your life's boring!"  Thanks honey, love you too.  The second biggest question I get is, "What's it going to be called?"  Well, I don't know that either.  The working title is, let's just say, What I Learned As a Townie.  Mostly it's going to be a lot like my blog posts, but longer and hopefully more in depth. So if you get bored, I apologize.

So I think I'll post a new chapter every couple of days, or when I get them done...or initially written. Obviously I'm not a writer, so I don't know what all goes into writing a book, but if it sucks, let me know.

So here it goes...

A great author I read quoted some guy that I can’t remember his name said, “A writer needs to write every day.”  Well, this is my attempt at growing into being a writer.  This is going to be my everyday trials and struggles with life, faith, and family.  I don’t claim to be a writer at all.  I just hope that sometime in the future, the words that I write down have some sort of lasting effect on somebody.   Maybe that person will be me, maybe it’ll be my kids that read it, and maybe someone will stumble along these words with their poor grammar and think it’s important that the masses read them.  Then I’ll sleep on money bags and drink mimosas every morning while I watch my cleaning lady sweep off my patio made of gold.  One can only hope.  So where do I start?  Where does a non-writer start his story?  I guess I’ll have to start at the beginning.

Chapter 1: The Beginning.

I’ve always had a pretty strong conscience.  As far back as I can remember I’ve known right from wrong.  Now that doesn’t mean that I’ve always been able to act the right way.  I’ve done my fair share of stupid things. 
There was the time when I was no more than five.  It was summer time, my older brother JJ, our friend Ellen from down the road and I were in our living room playing.  To be better stated I could probably say that JJ and Ellen were playing and I was tagging along.  It was a common theme growing up.  Being a “townie” in town of 700 doesn’t leave many friends that are your same age.  My class was full of “farmies” that lived outside of town and way more fun shooting guns, riding three-wheelers, and doing things the city cop would tell your parents about.
So I was tagging along with JJ and Ellen.  We were probably watching Nickelodeon or playing Lego’s or something.  My mom, at the time, was a stay at home mom.  She had asked us to do some small chore.  Now I love my mom, I’ve always been a sort of momma’s boy.  And somewhere along the lines of my short life I’d probably seen people worshipping someone (maybe in an Indiana Jones movie).  I apparently thought that my mom was well worth the worship.  She was great, she was my hero, she made the best mac and cheese, and no one could tuck me in quite like her.  So here’s how it all played out.
My mom asked, “Can you guys take the clothes hamper and go take the clothes off the clothes line?”
                JJ, “Aw, do we have to?”
                Mom, “Yes, now go do it before I make you do the dishes too!”
                Me, kneeling down prostrate to my mother, bending at the waist with arms reaching towards the ceiling, bowing over and over again.  “Yes Mom!  We will!  We WILL!”
                Mom, “YOU GO TO YOUR ROOM!  YOU’RE GROUNDED!”
                Me, “But Mom, I’m serious, I didn’t mean…I’m sorry…I was…”  Grounded.
As you can see, not the smartest move in the book.  I was sure I loved my mom.  And I was sure that I was going to go out and take the clothes off the line.  But I just missed the mark in complying with my mom’s request.  Needless to say, I didn’t prostrate myself before her ever again. 
                This wasn’t the last time I’d make an idiot in front of my mom.  Just to be clear, my mom’s a saint.  She’s always had her priorities revolving around our family.  She worked hard corralling me and my two brothers into adulthood.  She was a stay-at-home mom until I was eight or so, then she went to work at the bank.  It was different not having my mom home after school.  We had to find our own snacks and entertain ourselves (maybe better stated as I had to entertain JJ because I could always find something to do on my own, JJ couldn’t).  Which pretty much led to us eating too many Doritos and watching too much TV.  But it was only a couple of years of that before we were into Junior High where after school sports and activities kept us busy until five thirty.
I remember when my mom went to work at the bank.  It was a big deal.  She had worked in a couple banks when JJ and I were younger.  I distinctly remember thinking that my mom was the most important person at the bank.  I’d go up there after school got out, take a mouthful of free gumballs, and sit in awe of my mom, the banker.  We never had a ton of money, but my mom worked at the bank and therefore we might as well have been the kings of the town.  And then when the new bank was built and my mom got her own desk, what’s more kingly than a king?  I don’t know, but that’s how I looked at it.  I’d throw it around the playground like I was bragging about how strong my dad was.  “Oh yeah? Well my mom works at the BANK!”
But my mom wasn’t invincible.  I remember when we got the call about Grandpa Raymond, her father.  It was late one night.  Bryce was still an infant.  My dad was off at some school meeting.  It was dark out and we were upstairs getting ready for bed. 
The phone rang and I ran to pick up the receiver.  It was always sort of exciting answering the phone.  It was hardly ever for me, and at this time of the day it was never for me.  But I still rushed to pick up the phone.  I answered with all the pep a young seven year old could, “Hello?”
                “Is this Kyle?”
                “Is your mother home?”
                “Yeah, hold on a second…MOOOOOOOM!  Phone’s for you!”
My mom came into the room and grabbed the phone.  She too was a little confused as to the call, this late at night.  She quietly answered the phone, “Hello?”
Instantly I could see her body fall.  Not literally, but figuratively, where it seems as the life is slowly draining out of a person and the body shakes as if to keep itself upright.  Her head slouched down as if to brace for the impact.  She finished the call and slowly hung up the phone.  I knew something bad had happened.  I knew something wasn’t wrong.  I knew that my indestructible mom was now at her weakest moment.  She turned to face me and my brothers, her eyes all welled up, tears streaming down her face.  And yet, even in this moment of absolute, utter weakness, she was still a rock.  She calmly asked me and my brothers to go downstairs to the living room; she had something to tell us. 

We all grabbed a spot on the couch, my mom sat across from us on the chair.  She sat crying, but through her tears she was still able to lay the news on us, “Boys, it’s about Grandpa Raymond.  He passed away tonight…”  That was as far as she got before the pain made her swallow her words.  We sat for moments that seemed like an eternity.   We were young boys; we didn’t fully grasp the gravity of the situation.  But we knew that our mom was hurting, and the only thing we could do was cuddle in close and let her squeeze.  It’s amazing the amount of security and peace you feel in your darkest time when there are people you love that are there to hold tight. 
My mom held us close until my dad came home from his meeting.  She let us go and told my dad what had happened.  My dad hugged and kissed my mom and comforted her through the pain.  A short while later he put us in bed.  It was the most silent night I remember growing up.  The mood was so somber and sad one can only tolerate it so many times through their lifetime.   This was the first for me, an unforgettable moment for sure.
I don’t remember a lot about Grandpa Raymond.  I was young.  What I do remember is that he always had a smile on his face and always cared about you.  And he could blow O’s with his cigar smoke.  We’d always ask him to do it. 
We went to his funeral later that week.  He and my grandma weren’t church going people.  He was Protestant and married a Catholic woman and his family had somewhat outcast him because of it.  He was scarred by the church and the hypocrisy within.  So his funeral was in a funeral home and not a church.  Sure I was young, but I remember it vividly.  The funeral was quiet and somber during the ceremony.  I remember being sad, but I didn’t cry.  I remember looking down the pew and seeing my cousin crying as if someone was cutting his leg off.  He is four or five years older than I.  That’s an extra four or five years of memories with my grandpa.  His family also lived closer to my grandpa and grandma, so I’m sure they saw them more and had a closer relationship.  But I remember not crying and trying to cry, and then trying to figure out why it was I didn’t feel the need to cry.  For some reason the quiet, sad funeral didn’t seem real.  It didn’t seem right for my family.  It seemed like this was something out of the norm, it seemed like it wasn’t MY family here being quiet and sad.  My family doesn’t do that. 
Then there came the reception.  All the tears had been cried that needed to be cried and my family, the Raymond’s, woke up again.  Sure everybody was sad; my grandpa was a good man.  He loved people without ceasing.  He loved people because they were people.  His co-workers loved him, his family loved him, and I loved him.  And now he was gone and our memories are what we have of him. 
                My first lesson in loving your neighbor came from him.  Years after the fact, when theology and faith issues became important to me I would look back on this event in my life.  It is the first major memory for me.  It’s been twenty years since he passed and this lesson is still at the core of my faith.  Love without ceasing, love your neighbor.  He taught me (unbeknownst to me) at a very young age that it doesn’t matter who it is, they deserve your love.  Isn’t this the core of who we are as Christians?  As my Bible reads, it’s number two in the two most important things in the Bible.  First there’s love your God, next is love your neighbor. 
The bigger lesson that he’s taught me is to love no matter what.  Like I said before, his family kept him at an arm’s distance because he married a Catholic woman.  It’s a concept that seems so foreign to us in our society.  Marrying or not based on denominational ties?  And then if one would go against those social stigmas, social and familial casting out?  Really?  But yet through all of this, Grandpa Raymond still loved.  There are many today that would blame their upbringing and family life for their current situation.  There are many that would say that they were never taught how to love, therefore how should anyone expect them to love?  Well, Grandpa Raymond proved that moving beyond your life scars is possible.  Not just moving beyond them, but being a better person because of them.  He proved to me that no matter how crappy someone’s life can be, there’s always something better coming.  Call me a silly optimist if you want, but isn’t it true that when we dwell on the garbage of our lives, it consumes us?  So what if we don’t dwell on it anymore?  What Grandpa Raymond taught me was that no matter what life lays in front of us, there is a right way to deal with, get through, and get passed it, and there’s a wrong way.  He found that right way.  I’m sure he had a hard time dealing with the separation from his mom, dad, and siblings.  But that only made him embrace his own family even more. 
                Isn’t this what Paul is talking about in Romans? 
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)
I’m not sure if God called my grandpa to familial separation because of some silly denominational discrimination.  But what I do know is that because his relationship with his parents and siblings was fractured, he was not going to let his family be the same. 
                Back to the funeral, I still wonder why I didn’t feel like crying.  I can’t tell you why my cousin was torn at the seams bawling and I couldn’t muster up the tiniest tear.  I remember trying to cry, trying to get myself to shed some sort of outward, physical sign of the inward sorrow I was feeling.  But I just couldn’t.  For a time I thought that I was incapable of crying, I’d hold it back and swallow it.  I felt guilty for a long time because I couldn’t cry at Grandpa Raymond’s funeral.  But I wonder if he’d want anybody to cry at his funeral.  Sure, funerals are sad, but what are we crying about?  Aren’t we really crying because we don’t have them anymore?  I know it sounds cold, and at age seven I could not have put this together; but I think we’re sad at funerals for slightly selfish reasons.  When in all reality we should celebrate the life that was lived and the continued life they’re living. 
I think this is really what Grandpa Raymond would have wanted.  He would have wanted to come together as a family and rejoice in life.  He would have wanted us to continue loving as he had showed us.  If there’s a better example of love, outside of the Bible, I haven’t seen one.  Sure there’s a time for sorrow and mourning.  But I think Grandpa Raymond would have wanted it to be a very short time, followed by a feast.  Or maybe not, he was a picky eater.  If he wanted a feast in his honor, he would eat beforehand and then take a half bowl of soup at the banquet.  Then he’d sit and tell stories, making people laugh, all the while swirling his soup so it seemed like he was actually eating it.  He’d do this and no one would care, but everyone would have a great time.  It’d be a joyous feast, like the ones we read about in the Bible and old stories like Beowulf.  Everyone would come, be stuffed to the brim, laugh, share stories, and have a great time.  This would be the banquet that Grandpa Raymond would want.  It’s pretty close to how it was at the reception.  Only my grandpa wasn’t there telling the stories.  Everyone else was there to tell stories.  Stories about how, “Grandpa Raymond did this,”  “He helped there,” and, “I can’t believe that he was able to pull off that.”
I’m not sure where Grandpa Raymond sat with God.  I know he loved people like few in this world do.  I know that he went to the Catholic Church with my grandma but never became a Catholic.  I know that there were a lot of tears shed at his funeral.  I know that he was a good man.  I do hope that when I finally get up to the pearly gates that Grandpa Raymond is up there, smoking a big cigar blowing O’s in the smoke.  In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if when I get to heaven, Grandpa Raymond is there with a cigar, telling stories and playing cards with Saint Peter.  Saint Peter would be about busting at his seams and distracted enough for my grandpa to not so subtly table talk with Jesus. 
But I won’t know this for some time now.  What I do know now is that Grandpa Raymond would want me to love without ceasing.  Keep friends close, keep family closer.  It’s the family that’s going to be there for you in the long run.  Sure we’ll have disagreements, but we’re family, we have to be able to look past the troubles.  My mom has never held any of my missteps against me.  It’s not in her blood to keep grudges.  I’ve said some really stupid things to her, all of which I still feel guilty about when I think back on them.  But I think she also learned the same lessons from my grandparents.  When we got the news about Grandpa Raymond, all she wanted to do was to bring us close and hold us tight.  I think maybe that the through the time that she held us tight, she was physically remembering the lessons of Grandpa Raymond.  She lost her father, a good man, but she still had us.  She would hold on tight to us through our upbringing.  Even now that my brothers and I have families of our own, she still hugs tighter than anyone else.  My wife and her may hug with the same tightness, but you’d need scientific instruments to tell for sure and I don’t have the money or know-how to figure something like that out.
So what’s the lesson of this beginning chapter?  Love without ceasing, love your neighbor, and always hold on to your family.

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