Keepin’ It (Something Like) Real

Let’s begin with something that touches the heart. A story of shared memories … father and daughter … in stop-motion animation. I know, I know, it’s nearly fourteen minutes long, and you are too busy to waste fourteen minutes.

But are you … really … too busy, that is? For nearly a quarter of an hour of imagination and thoughtfulness? This might be one of those moments when your inner child meets up with your adult and the two of you have a great time together.

That’s all I’m going to say about it. I don’t want to come across as brow-beating you into doing something that you don’t want to do. To quote that eminent philosopher Will Smith, that’s just “not indicative of the man I want to be.”

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For those of you who haven’t looked up the location of Montrose CO, we are on the eastern edge of a really vast desert-y area of prehistoric native American ruins. This area includes parts of the states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. If any one of these ruins were in my state of origin, which is Minnesota, they would be centerpieces of intense tourist activity. Because there isn’t anything like them in Minnesota.

But out here there are spots like Hovenweep, miles and miles from any major highway and only a couple of hours from our home, that are amazing and haunting and uncrowded. The visitor can approach the structures, walk between them, try to imagine what life was like here eight hundred years ago.

(To save time, I’ll tell you part of how it was. There was no running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, or fast internet. Nor were there any convenience stores. Just imagine … no C-stores. That means no Cheetos or beef jerky!)

For the incurable romantic that I seem to be at times, visiting Hovenweep was a pilgrimage. It was one of those going back to somewhere I’d never been before sort of times.

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From here on in, when people ask me where my ancestors were from, I am going to answer more truthfully and completely than I’ve done before. Instead of telling such a questioner “Norway,” I am going to say “Africa.” It is true that there are plenty of Floms in Norway, there is even a town with that name. But if you keep probing and going further back in time – we are all of us Africans. Norway was just one of many stopping places that those ancient wanderers came upon and where they set up cave-keeping .

Interesting how different we all look from one another today, when 200,000 years ago we might have had pretty much the same appearance. By the time my ancient forebears got to Norway, they had lost all the color in their skins and become the pale people who inhabit that country today. They had also adopted the habit of eating pallid food, like milk and codfish and herring and white bread, which probably didn’t help any.

Along that epic route from Southern Africa to the Norwegian Sea they also first ran out of spices for their food, and then later forgot that those substances ever existed.

This meant that when you asked a Minnesota homemaker of my mother’s generation whether she had any cumin to add to what you were cooking, the response was likely to be “Whuh?”

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Since Robin’s knee surgery I have noticed a new little swing when she’s walking in front of me.  I plan to have a talk with her surgeon to make him aware that this has occurred, and to tell him that this winsome way of walking had better still be there after she has the other knee done, or there will be consequences.  

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Fever, by Little Willie John

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The first R&B song I ever heard in my sweet short life was “Fever,” by Little Willie John.  It was on a day in 1956 when I had been twirling the radio dial and suddenly – there it was. A door opening into a whole new world of music of which I had been unaware until that day.  A bit later that year along came rock and roll and I was a goner. 

Willie’s own life had its definite ups and downs.  He had a string of hits in the 50s and was acknowledged to be a superb showman. But by the 60s his career was in decline and one night in 1964 he stabbed a man to death in an altercation. John went to prison for manslaughter, where he died in 1968 of pneumonia. 

Posthumously he was elected to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the R&B Hall of Fame, and the Blues Hall of Fame. 

For me personally, he was the man who started it all.  Put my feet smack dab on the Devil’s highway that is rock n’ roll.

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The second man was somebody I saw every week at the AA meeting I regularly attend. Over the past several years we grew to be friends, and I enjoyed hearing his opinions on life in general, not just about the world of recovery. I only learned of his passing when I went to the meeting this past Thursday morning, and when I asked if anyone knew where Phil was, the answer came back “Oh, didn’t you know … he died.”

Death called on two of my friends this past week. One was somebody I hadn’t seen for a very long time, a good man from my past. One of those rare people of whom I had never heard a negative word, not a single one. I wish his family well in coping with their loss.

Stunning, that bit of news. Unexpected, even though he was an older guy, like most of my friends are. There had been no warning, no premonitory tremblings in the Force. A few days before he had been present, and now he wasn’t.

It is the awesome irrevocability of death that hits me every time. There are no second chances, there is no recourse, there are no acts to follow after a brief intermission.

Rationally, little has changed in my life. I saw Phil regularly each week only for an hour or two on Thursday mornings. The rest of the week, or the remaining 166 hours, he was somewhere else. That’s the rational part. But … there was always the possibility of getting together for coffee or for lunch, or there was always the chance that an email message was waiting the next time I turned on my computer. Death has erased those possibilities.

I don’t feel sorry for either of these two friends. They lived long lives and were loved and will be missed by many. Each of us owes the universe one death, and which of us knows what day that debt is to be collected? I do feel for those left behind. It is a commonplace that though the elderly shuffle off this mortal coil every moment of every day, their sudden absence is noted by the rest of us with dismay, as we grieve for what we have lost.

No Expectations, by The Rolling Stones

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4 thoughts on “Keepin’ It (Something Like) Real

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