An Old Friend

It is a 1996 Chevrolet Lumina APV (all purpose vehicle). As this is being written, it has exactly 141,473 miles on it. It is two-tone green and silver with gray cloth interior. Even new, one could not say that this particular invention of General Motors  could be an eye-catcher (except maybe in its odd dust buster look). It came to the family on December 12, 1997 and had 29,996 miles on it.  It has “character marks” all over it as a result of the three kids learning to drive in it. Every external scar has a story behind it. There is the cracked fiberglass on the left rear lower quarter panel added by the daughter backing into a large rock (though she would state most emphatically that the rock had, in fact, attacked her). The most recent scar was from a narrow miss with a rural mail carrier on the front right side. It has been used in countless cross country trips, camping excursions, and innumerable trips to the grocery store. It has even hauled a load or two of compost. The “millineum falcon” as it has been dubbed, has been maintained in perfect unison to the instructions of its manufacturer and has never once failed to do its duty. Despite all my efforts, it shows  the signs of old age. The electric windows will go down but it is a great struggle to get them back up. The automatic sliding door no longer works. The “service antilock” light is on in perpetuity and it is in dire need of shocks and struts. The rack and pinion are showing signs of impending demise, and, as is typical of this make and model, the paint on the top is fading out. She is, however, as sturdy and dependable a steed as she has ever been. This stalwart of American iron never burns a drop of oil, never fails to start, and always stays started. She has occupied the driveway for all these 12+ years and will continue to do so even now in its later years.

It is no longer the primary family transporter, being relugated to serve the last of the siblings in his daily rounds to work and school. Recently, the offspring of the household declared that it could never be sold out of the family, such is its deep connections to all of us. It has been part of the anchor that gives continuity to the family. In its old and odd way, the old friend is part of who we are. That’s the way things ought to be.

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The Driveway

Lorraine Steinbruecker is almost 93 years young. A descendant of German immigrants, she lives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The house she lives in was built by her late husband, Eddie, in 1948. Eddie and his brother built it themselves as well as the house next door. It’s a quaint little house and it’s obvious that Lorraine has been comfortable in body and soul there alongside the many memories of Eddie. She is my wife’s aunt and as fiesty today as she has ever been.

It is the habit of the extended Steinbruecker family to gather at Lorraine’s house on a semi-regular basis. She has at least 30 lawn chairs of various shapes, sizes, colors, and states of repair. They are set out in the driveway while mounds of food are strategically placed around the kitchen and back yard. The beer is in a refrigerator downstairs along with soda for the kids – help yourself. Many a hog has died to keep the extended Steinbruecker family in bratwurst. The “driveway time” lasts for hours. Chairs are moved around in track with the sun, there are no assigned seats, memories are rehashed, and new ones made. I was fortunate to spend a few days with this incredible family recently. Yes, indeed. I married well.

There are no strangers on the driveway. After a bit, you get the feeling you’ve been among these wonderful people forever. Lorraine hovers around trying to feed everybody. Ray, my father-in-law, moves his chair to stay in the sun. Tom, a cousin, presents a lesson on the care and feeding of bratwurst (I listen in rapt attention). My Karen forgets herself in the comfort of the family that she rarely sees. Meanwhile, pockets of conversation all around the driveway reflect the deep love these people have for one another and plans for the future. Only the departure of the sun and emergence of the ubiquitous mosquitoes puts an end to this hallowed time. I am jealous of this family but glad to have been able to experience “the driveway.”

Back in Greenwood, my Karen and I decide to try to duplicate the driveway. Here though, it is the patio. The time is pleasant, but we are missing something. Yes, time builds tradition and intimacy and I am fortunate to call Karen my wife for over 30 years. Yet, we still lack. Ah! Lorraine. We can’t duplicate Lorraine. She is the energy and nervous system that glues “the driveway” together. That accent! “Do you want anything else to eat? A drink? A beer? Lorraine retreats to her chair and her occasional Pabst Blue Ribbon. She listens intently to the sounds of family. Lorraine has a good life.

One of the great mysteries of life

Sometimes people along the way are a source of regret for the encounter. This particularly unfortunate rendezvous was with a woman working at a government hospital in the reception area for new patients. Clearly, there was never a more unhappy woman than this one. Sitting behind a glass wall absolutely insuring her insulation from the great unwashed, she was the poster child for gloom and doom. There were a few holes for hearing and a slot at the bottom to insert the documentation she would so bruskly demand from the unfortunate people cursed with having to deal with her. Her countenance issued the clear message that, you, by your very presence, had hastened the undeserved despair that was her lot in life and you were going to be treated as the scum that you so incontestably are. One leaves her presence knowing that she could brighten any room (or even the universe for that matter) by simply leaving it. Escape from her disapproving gaze could not be faster than it was.

But then there was the medical assistant who would take the vital statistics that will tell your Doctor whether you were sick or well. A grandmotherly type, her little corner of the world was festooned with several pictures of grandchildren. An inquiry was made as to the many pictures on the wall and that launched an enthusiastic verbal narrative on her many children of her children. Throughout that discussion, she was doing the job of taking blood pressure, pulse, and asking all the preliminary questions that would assist the Physician who would be seen at some point. She was gleeful in her pride of these many grandchildren. Incredibly, in the midst of her dissertation on the pride of her family, she included many questions regarding status of health and reason for coming and even one’s own family.  All done with that special quality of gentleness observed only in Grandmothers. The day was much improved by the time spent with her. Oddly enough, this matron of gentle touch and demeanor was within a short rock throw from the queen of occupational wretchedness.

One can’t help but wonder at sadness and happiness all in the same place. One in extreme discontent and the other the very picture of a life fulfilled. It is one of the great mysteries that people will work in a job they detest and, in so doing, impart their gloom to all that encounter her/him. One wonders….

Home

The daughter came home the other night in much less than her normal jovial mood. She had had one of “those days.” Things  at college had not gone well for her. Inquiries were made as to the reason or reasons why she should be at such a level of despondency. She told the tale of car problems and hassles with fellow nursing students and one particularly obstinate professor. Then she boiled all her day down to one statement: “I came home as quick as I could because this is the one place where the people have to love me.“

That really sums it all up, doesn’t it? Home. People HAVE to love you there. No matter how bad the day goes, the people at home are required to love you (It may be a state law).  Home is where everything is where it’s supposed to be. Mom is the best cook on the planet. Dad can fix dang near anything or knows somebody else who can. Big brother will rough up the villain at school. Little brother will get away with anything up to and including homicide.  Sister is, well, she’s sister.  She is from birth intended to be tormented and bothered to her wits end but only by the brother (s). Anybody outside the family says even as much as an ill-spoken word to her risks disappearing for all eternity. It has been thus from the dawn of time.

We would not have it any other way. Home is where you go for good and bad news. Mom and Dad will take pictures of you and your prom date in the front hallway. All the kids will learn to drive in the same car and then throw a fit when Dad wants to get rid of the now battered beater. “It’s family!! You can’t!” Home is where you’ll try to sneak into unnoticed when you get home after curfew, all the while knowing full well Dad will wake up regardless of how quiet you try to be (usually because the beloved “old beater”  has betrayed you). Home is where you go when the days don’t go well. It’s where you go to gather and give strength. It’s where you want and need to be. It’s stability. Continuity. It’s an anchor. It’s laughter and tears and required love.  May it always be thus.

A father’s love

He seemed out of place. Dressed as if he just came from the job sight, he was in blue jeans and a workman’s shirt. He looked tired and a might work worn from the day. His face was weather beaten and his hands were the gnarled hands of a working man. Further, he had a bandage right in the center of his throat, evidence of an apparent operation. He may not have been able to speak as he was never observed to do so. He appeared out of place because he was walking in the crowded food booth area of a small community fair. It was quite warm and everybody around him was in shorts, sandals, and t-shirts. He was dressed for outside labor or maybe factory work. He had a reason to be there though. Clutching to his right hand, a little wide eyed girl was his companion. No doubt his daughter, they walked hand in hand eyeing the various places that were open and inviting them to a helping of fair food.  She was of black hair and cute as a button.  This young lass would pass for four or maybe five years old and her longing for a treat from one of the booths was clearly evident. She made no outward demonstration of her desire but it was clear from the look on her face. Her tired dad though, appeared worried. He gave the impression that he was unsure whether he had enough money to satisfy his daughter’s sweet tooth. He was probably not a man of sufficient livelihood to warrant spending anything on a luxury like a funnel cake.

It was determined that, if he did not get this little girl of his something from one  of the booths, a means would be found to get the money to him (without her knowledge of course) so he could do so. By and by, he was observed getting in a line and the youngster’s yearning was satisfied. It was very, very good to see. There is a father’s satisfaction in seeing his daughter’s desire fulfilled. All father’s know it. Grandfathers know it too. The Creator put it there. Such is the love that the Father has for us.