All the Days of My Life

This week brought my 60th birthday and the 27th anniversary of the day that Olga and I said “I do.” These two milestones have me reflecting on the memorable days of my life: both good and bad.  There have certainly been terrible days: Our miscarriage on 1/4/93, losing Dad on 12/30/02, losing my job on 11/10/09, discovering cancer on 10/16/14, finding out I needed open heart surgery on 11/9/17…

But looking back across six decades, the wonderful days vastly outnumber the bad. I started to work on a list of my top ten favorite days:  Picking up Toby in Texas with Juan on 4/12/84; the day the whole family gathered in Fredonia after Ben was born 11/21/86; a memorable fall day in Eureka Springs with the Azzaritos and Ama on 10/17/87; being introduced to Costa Rica by Olga and her family 12/30/90; the day I graduated from UB with my PhD, 5/16/97; the day we met Sabrina 8/4/07; the magical day the kids and I spent at Glacier National Park 7/22/09; picking up Tillie in Busti with Anthony & Bertha 4/28/11; Bob & Christina’s wedding (and Cedar Point honeymoon!) with the whole Foley gang 8/3/14; the final performance of “Hello Dolly” 4/28/18; getting my new job at Alfred 6/22/18, and yesterday – 7/16/19: my surprise 60th birthday party! ….before long the list started to spiral out of control as I thought about vacations, Christmases, weddings, birthday parties, trips, special times and memories with so many of you throughout my sixty trips around the sun.

It was, however, easy to decide on the four-way tie for first place: the four days that my family was assembled.  As much as I cherish the memories of so many special days, there was something so transcendent about these particular four days which sets them apart from the others:

I’m a lover of writing and words, yet I am nonetheless stumped at trying to describe what those days meant to me.  On July 4, 1992, Olga and I gathered with our family and friends and merged our two lives and created a new home. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but she was the common denominator for all four of my favorite days, my partner in all of this, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. On each of November 5, 1994, March 8, 1996, and May 1, 1999 a tiny little bundle of life and love and vulnerability and promise and hope and joy joined us — a LIFE that we created together.  Each of those moments was so magical and mysterious and each would redefine everything that came after it. The wonder of the first time I held those precious little persons has stayed with me even as each stage of parenting has brought its own wonder, challenge, and joy.

Turning 60 is a shock: any pretense of still being young has been obliterated and far more of my days–good and bad–are behind me than are before me. But I continue to count on life having more wonderful days–and no more surgeries–in store for me: I still have quite a few bucket list items I want to accomplish: I hope to have more travel adventures and I’d like for my retirement years reconnecting with old friends (like I got to do yesterday at my party!) Even if I only try to read all the books I’ve bought but not yet read, I’ll need to live several more decades.  (And, if I live to be as old as my great Aunt Susan, I still have 46 years left!) Thanks to all of you dear friends and family for filling my 60th birthday and all the days of my life with love. The memories we share together grow sweeter with each passing year and continue to light my path into the future.

A long day’s journey into night…

When we were growing up, my mom used to recite for us, by memory, the tale of the “Little Small Red Hen” which tells the harrowing story of the hen’s encounter with a villainous wolf, and ends with:

But the Hen lived happily, just as before,
In her dear little house by the wood,
Walking picketty-pecketty,
Working as hard as she could,
"I've had a great many troubles,
I hope they won't happen again.
Anything for a quiet life,"
said the Little Small Red Hen.

My dear little small mom has indeed had a great many troubles, starting with a terrible 1982 car accident that nearly took her life and left her hobbled up. During her recovery she developed a bi-polar disorder, which has caused difficult circumstances in the years since.  My dad died in 2002 and shortly thereafter–living alone–Mom took a terrible head-first tumble down the basement steps in the middle of the night and had another long, hard recovery from that. She remarried in 2007 and had five blissful and loving months with her second husband, Rev. Peoples, but then one morning he had a heart attack and died, leaving her alone again. Her world got smaller, she stopped cooking, her driving worsened, and the four of us worried about her living alone, but she steadfastly refused to leave her dear little house and garden in New Wilmington.  Then in 2017 she became gravely ill and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. She has never been quite the same since. She moved into a senior-care facility and settled as best she could into a little assisted-living apartment. Sally, Billy, and Chris work so diligently to take care of her from 35 minutes away and Mindy is so sweet and thoughtful with lots of cards and gifts and visits.

Mom’s health and memory have declined precipitously this summer and, by last week, she was back in the hospital. I’ve been sitting here with her for six days now: we listen to Gaither homecoming songs on my laptop (yesterday she sang along with Sandi Patty!) and I try to get her talking to keep her with us.  When I asked her to name her beloved grandchildren, she couldn’t reel in a single name from the fog that has settled over her. I tried to coax her into saying her siblings’ names and she eventually got Kay, and then Bruce. Thankfully she still remembers the names of her four kids, and when the doctor came in yesterday she motioned to me and said: “See that guy over there? He’s mine.” 

Raising Mindy, Sally, Billy, and me was the great joy of her life, and she did it beautifully.  I don’t remember her sitting by my crib; feeding me in my high chair; holding my sippy cup; and trying to make sense out of my gibberish, but I know that she did so lovingly. Now, sixty years later, I find myself doing all of those for her. I can barely get her to eat anything these days.  Yesterday there were sweet potatoes for lunch, which she used to love, and which I’ve always hated. She turned up her nose and wouldn’t take a bite. “You made ME try sweet potatoes, so you darn well are going to taste these!” I declared, and we both laughed and she took a tiny nibble.

She fretted all day about wanting to go home, and finding Aunt Mae (who died decades ago,) and grew increasingly frustrated by her inability to find the words she needs. Now I watch her sleeping peacefully, bathed in the afternoon sun, and I feel as if she is slipping away from us both physically and mentally, but then, she has scared us before and somehow bounced back. There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a parent, I know only that I hope her great many troubles are nearly over. I love you, Mom.

Love animals; don’t eat them.

Last November, I celebrated my 30th turkey-free Thanksgiving.  In 1989 I was about to celebrate my 30th birthday and was at least 75 lbs. overweight.  I decided to kick off my thirties by getting healthier. I extreme dieted and started walking and exercising faithfully.  Soon I was down to my desired weight. On a very poorly thought-out whim I decided I would try vegetarianism, figuring that all vegetarians must be thin.  (Of course, in the decades since I’ve come to realize that one can consume only Twinkies and Oreos and still be a vegetarian.) I was single and cooking for myself in those days and I’d always found the handling of raw meat to be fairly sickening, and rarely did so. I’d always preferred to let poor McDonald’s employees handle the cooking of dead animals for me. I started wondering to myself: “What would life look like if I just stopped eating meat?”

In those early days I wasn’t very committed to a vegetarian lifestyle and if I was a guest at someone’s home, or at a nice restaurant, I would go ahead and eat meat, but I never bought it at the grocery store again. To get ideas of what to cook, I subscribed to Vegetarian Times magazine and it was there that I encountered the book that would change my life:  Diet for a New America by John Robbins, heir to the Baskin-Robbins fortune.  Robbins rejected his family’s business and wealth and instead wrote a scathing expose on American factory farming and our unconscionable system of cruelty and suffering inflicted on animals on their way from birth, to a short life of misery, to a terrifying and torturous death in the slaughterhouse.  Robbins (and I) chose not to sit atop that heap of suffering. By the time I’d finished the book, I was a deeply-committed vegetarian who never again (knowingly) ate a bite of meat.

Thirty years later, I have maintained a healthy body weight, but am no longer concerned about–nor motivated by–that.  I’ve come to realize that good health and a positive body image come in all shapes and sizes. Instead I became committed to the philosophy that my food choices should not contribute to the problem of animal suffering in our world. People are always astonished by my vegetarianism,  asking: Don’t you miss meat? Don’t you need more protein? Don’t you crave bacon? No, no, and NO. I stopped eating meat and never looked back and never missed it either.  I’ve lived a full and healthy life and have never once regretted my choice. 18 months ago, when my defective mitral valve was discovered, doctors ran a battery of tests on my coronary health.  After my first angiogram the cardiologist came in and said “Well, it certainly isn’t coronary artery disease; you have astonishingly clear arteries for a man your age…for any age.” I said “Well, I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years.” “Ah, that explains it” he responded.

So today I celebrate thirty years worth of animals that were spared a gruesome death by my food choices.  Forgive my proselytizing, I don’t write this in judgment of anyone else’s diet; we all make the food choices that make sense to us. Rather, I write this to celebrate the anniversary of one of the best choices I ever made for my life and my health.

The American presidency is permanently damaged

It has become impossible for me to imagine how my Trump-supporting Christian friends have been able to reconcile their faith with Trump’s hate-filled words and divisive politics. How do they make room in their conservative theology for this multi-married, promiscuous pussy-grabber who mocked a disabled reporter, a gold star family, and a deceased war hero; this petty, vindictive man who found good in murderous Nazi White Supremacists in Charlottesville; who embraces totalitarian dictators while turning a blind eye to the brutal murder of a Washington Post journalist; who regularly incites his dangerous rallies to violence against the free press—that last bastion protecting our free and democratic republic; this shameful man who sat at the desk of Washington & Lincoln and wrote checks to pay off his porn-star mistresses; and who separated families at the border and put children in cages? Seriously? A “pro-life” judge is worth all of that? What the hell does pro-life even mean anymore at this horrific cost? Has it ever even occurred to you to speak out against him? How about when he compared immigrants to animals or an “infestation?” When he called African nations “shithole countries?”

Trump recently mocked refugees when speaking before the Jewish Federation. Does anyone remember when America turned away 900 Jewish refugee seekers aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939? They were so close to deliverance that they could see the lights of Miami; they wired the US govt. begging for sanctuary, but we sent them back to Germany where many died in concentration camps. So after Trump’s cruel remarks I waited for evangelical Christians to finally renounce him, but I wait in vain: I realize now that there is nothing so oppositional to the teachings of Christ that this despicable man can do which will change the minds of the Christian sheep who follow him. Yes, I get it that you voted for him because you didn’t like Hillary Clinton in 2016, but after you have seen the cruel, divisive, corrupt, and racist ways that Trump behaves and governs, how can you possibly still be supporting this vile person in 2019?

Now Trump announces he will resume his barbaric family separation policy and wants to impose costly fees on asylum applications to try to further deter desperate people from seeking safety in America, because “America is full.” While the Bible is silent on abortion, it could not be any clearer on how we should treat strangers among us–refugees such as the Israelites, the Holy Family, our own ancestors who fled to America, and the Jews aboard the St. Louis: No Donald J. Trump: America is not full. But I am full of sadness, and despair at the Christians who refuse to reject your xenophobic and inhumane policies.

Did you question him at all when we learned that he doesn’t pay taxes? That he loses rather than makes billions? Or when the Mueller report described in detail this deeply corrupt and compromised presidency and Trump’s obstructive efforts to stop any investigation into his campaign and Russian-assisted 2016 electoral win? Are you at all concerned by his assault on the rule of law and our Constitution? I challenge my Trump-supporting friends to re-read the Mueller report and every time you see the name “Donald Trump” substitute “Hillary Clinton” or “Barack Obama” and imagine where we’d be. Forget impeachment; Mitch McConnell would be convening a firing squad. Ronald Reagan’s party is putting up with Russian interference with our free and fair elections–the foundation of our democracy–because it got them the president they wanted. Now that we have established lying, cheating, foreign interference, and governing by tweeting as norms for the White House, it will be nearly impossible for future candidates to go back to playing by any rules of integrity and civility. The American presidency is permanently damaged.

Last week we were treated to Trump’s thoughts on generals. Just as Emperor Hirohito and Osama bin Laden waged war against the United States, so did Robert E. Lee. He presided over the deaths of 360,000 men and boys who gave their lives to defend America. Lee led a hostile power that attacked our country for the right to enslave people in this country based on the color of their skin.  Even Lee’s descendants have called for the removal of the statues. But our “president” defended this traitor and called him a “great general” and sided with the white supremacists who glorify him. Last night was the final straw: when a supporter called out loudly at a Trump rally that we should shoot immigrants, the “president” laughed and made a joke about it. Even if you discard everything else as “fake news” and a vast left-wing conspiracy, if you are a person of faith who can listen to that clip alone and still support him, I can no longer respect you.

Shame on you, Donald J. Trump: for your racist treatment of immigrants, minorities, refugee seekers, and people who are different than we are: they are our fellow human beings.  

Shame on you, Donald J. Trump: your name will be reviled for the generations. 

And shame on those who still support you. You are forever on the wrong side of history.

Greater love has no one than this…

…that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

Today my family is celebrating the birthday of our son; he’s been our joy and delight for the past twenty years and now he’s a senior in college.  Today I also taught a room full of college students studying to be teachers and we had a lively discussion about their plans to be the next generation of educators and their hopes and dreams for their lives and the lives of their students.

Today is also the day that the parents of Riley Howell suffered what no parent should ever have to endure.  And I am sick with grief over what they are facing. Riley was the heroic young man who sacrificed his life at the University of North Carolina by tackling the sniveling cowardly scumbag murderer who thought he was a big man because he had an assault rifle in the sacred halls of learning, and then who mockingly bragged about it as he was arrested.

In that moment, when these two lives collided, Riley Howell showed what he was made of, as did the gunman.  As did our society. Riley should NOT have had to make that courageous choice. He, and all students, should feel and be safe when they are sitting in their classrooms, as should all persons of faith in their houses of worship, and as should all Americans.  Something is deeply wrong with us as a culture.  How did New Zealand respond after the massacre at Christ Church? Their lawmakers passed a ban on most semiautomatic rifles within 30 days of their tragedy.  Twenty years after Columbine and seven years after Sandy Hook, we still have done nothing, other than to continue to allow the NRA to buy our politicians and pick our elected officials.

I pray that our leaders in Congress will find a measure of the raw courage shown by Riley Howell, and finally do the right thing. #Guncontrolnow.

*Photos from the grieving Howell family

They are precious in His sight…

Even as a lover of words, my vocabulary fails me in expressing the frustration, grief, and RAGE I feel about the thousands of families that my nation’s government has torn asunder: children ripped—in some cases permanently—from the arms of their parents. The federal departments overseeing this human rights violation have not kept records and have no plans for reunification. 

The brand of evangelicalism from which I originate has heretofore called itself “pro-life.”  But that is a name which the movement should no longer claim unless it rises up against this outrage. I keep waiting for all of my pro-life friends to come out and vehemently renounce the child separation policy of the Trump administration and insist that our government immediately begin reunifying families, no matter the cost.  You’ve made your voices heard—loudly—against abortion, now how about directing some of that righteous fervor to life outside the womb? Now is the time for Christians to ‘focus on the family.’ This is a travesty of justice and human values on a level I cannot reconcile with what I thought the United States to be, as well as antithetical to the teachings of Christ.  I appeal to every American parent—who has cherished holding your child in your arms—to contact your Congressional representatives and demand that these families be reunited.

These are anguished families who came here seeking that which America has always promised: freedom and the hope of a better life. Instead of giving them that, we took the only thing they had: each other.

I believe you would be hard pressed to find a father, anywhere, who loves his kids more deeply than I. But if I were faced with the choice of having one of my own precious children aborted in the womb, or ripped from my arms… in a foreign country…taken to a detention center… thrown into the foster care system…never to be returned home again?  I would take the former; I would rather they never enter this cruel world in the first place and have to encounter such an evil nation.  God forgive us. #FamiliesBelongTogether

“What else should I have done?”

Yesterday was my rebirthday. I spent last November 20th having open-heart surgery to repair a badly malfunctioning mitral valve. My cardiac rehab specialist told me in February how lucky I’d been.  “The first symptom for a case as bad as yours is often collapse and many don’t live long enough to make it to the operating table.” A combination of luck, providence, and skillful medical care gave me a much happier ending to my story. This Thanksgiving I feel as if I have more for which to be thankful than most do: my family and friends, a wonderful new job that I love, and something that many people don’t get: a second chance at life. A lot of things that seemed really important to me last October didn’t seem very important at all by last December; I was still alive! I’ll be around to see my grandchildren! Poet Mary Oliver asks, “tell me, what else should I have done?” November 20, 2017 gave me the chance to answer that question.

In the past year I joined a couple of facebook support groups for open-heart surgery survivors.  We offer advice and comfort to those about to have/just having had surgery and we celebrate each others’ rebirthdays, or “valveversaries,” as only others who have been through it can really do. One of the groups is called “The Zipper Club” in honor of our matching scars. Before the surgery I dreaded wearing–for the rest of my life–the big ugly scar that would accompany the surgery.  A year later the scar has faded and I ended up not being bothered by it anyway. It feels more like a badge of honor. It’s a souvenir of where I’ve been, and a reminder of where I’m going. 

So this year I celebrate and give thanks for survival. Last year’s Thanksgiving dinner was a hospital tray with my beloved Samantha and JonDavid perched on the sides of my bed. This year I’ll be able to sit down at the big family dinner at my sister’s gracious home, with my two-year-old grand nephew–who will amuse and delight us all with his irrepressible toddler charm–and with my 85-year-old mother–who will probably get mixed up and call her children by her siblings names–and with 30 family members in between.  We’ll eat so much pie for dessert that we’ll go for a walk at the college with some combination of the nine dogs in the family and then come back and giggle and play silly games until we’re ready for more pie. And in those ordinary and extraordinary moments, I’ll pause and become aware of my 59-year-old heart still faithfully pumping away in my chest and I’ll give thanks and celebrate my “one wild and precious life.”

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home; All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin…

(Quotes from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, and “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” by Henry Alford)

Because you taught me…

I’ve come to see my identity, my sense of self, as the sum total of all the encounters I’ve had across nearly six decades: each friend, family member,  student, colleague, and teacher has uniquely touched my life. Most encounters have benefited, taught, or improved me in some small or large way.  Others have wounded or diminished me. An iconic lyric from the Broadway musical, Wicked,  proclaims “because I knew you, I’ve been changed for good.”  In honor of American Education Week (November 12-16, 2018) I’d like to  update it to “because you taught me, I’ve been changed for good.”  

I had forty teachers between kindergarten and 12th grade, and I’ve lost count of the number in college and grad school.  A couple of them were dreadful, most of them were OK, and a few of them were great. I have the great privilege–especially at my age–to be facebook friends with a couple of them, including my second and fifth grade teachers.  I’ve only recently reconnected with my fifth grade teacher, after not having seen or heard from her in 40 years. And something that astonishes me, is how when she “likes” something I post, her approval means a great deal to me…to the little boy inside the man.  I feel like she has stuck a proverbial gold star on my facebook page.  The imprint of a good teacher on our lives is an enduring legacy.

It is the great privilege of my life to work as a college professor, preparing future members  for the ancient and noble tradition of teaching. I like to challenge them to consider the broader enterprise of teaching and of its enormous potential to improve the world at both the micro and macro levels.  We have almost come to take it for granted that teachers will come alongside our children and guide, direct, instruct, and support them. Yet along the way we tend to also ask teachers to take on even greater challenges.  “Dear American teachers: Can you help future generations to pollute less, to abstain from drugs, to treat one another more fairly, to stop bullying, to be less racist, to be better informed citizens, oh, and would you also mind keeping a gun in your desk and stop our children from being shot?”

A year ago, to my great surprise, I found myself lying on an operating table in Virginia having my chest cut open and my defective mitral valve repaired in a complicated, five hour-operation. My surgery was a great success in that my valve was repaired and my life was saved and I’m healthier than ever. My brilliant young surgeon described my condition as a forme fruste, because it was atypical and a confusing puzzle to solve. I think of him as one of my life’s heroes now.  But then I also find myself reflecting on my doctor’s teachers. Who were the ones who inspired him to study hard? And who was the teacher who put an arm around his young shoulders, led him through an experiment, and helped him to recognize his enormous potential in science?  In rare instances, like Helen Keller’s Anne Sullivan, teachers get the recognition they deserve. But more typically they are lost to history. Who were the teachers who helped to shape and form the world’s great artists, scientists, political leaders, authors, and humanitarians?

Who were the teachers who did that for you? Who helped to make you who you are today?  For those of you who are working in America’s classrooms, I salute and thank you. Who are the students who will pass through our doors who may need that word of guidance or encouragement to find their calling and attain their true potential?  If a teacher did that for you, pass along the favor to the next generation. If you lacked that in your life, then be that teacher to someone else that you needed as a child. And for everyone….observe American Education Week by thanking a teacher this week. I believe the old adage, “if you can read this, thank a teacher” should be updated to “if you like who you’ve become, thank a teacher.”  For my part….Thank you Mrs. Riggin, Mrs. Sells, Doc Haltunen, Mrs. Lager, Dr. Lindley, Dr. Sellers and all of the rest of you who made me who I am today. I’m forever grateful.

I resign.

I have always considered myself to be “Pro Life” because I believe that all lives matter: black & white, born & unborn. Further, I believe that some lives are in greater need of care and protection than others.  It has been repeatedly and horrifyingly proven that black lives–particularly young black male lives–are at much greater risk than their white counterparts. Similarly the lives of unborn babies, who cannot speak for themselves, are in greater need of societal protection.  My pro-life stance is so deeply entrenched that I  believe that even animal lives matter and that these defenseless creatures should be protected from the horrifying treatment of modern factory farming which condemns them to wretched living conditions followed by gruesomely painful deaths.  My deepest desire is that all of God’s creatures be safe, loved, and treated kindly. I’ve always longed to find a home in a political party that respects all aspect of life and rejects all forms of violence.

As such, I have longed struggled with placing myself under the umbrella of the pro-life movement which seeks to protect the unborn, but then immediately ignores them once outside the womb. Those same adherents of protecting unborn babies, refuse to fund the programs that benefit babies, children, and unwed mothers: programs such as Headstart, food assistance, and welfare assistance. It also tends to be the same group that refuses to deal with gun violence and takes no action other than “thoughts and prayers” to protect the most vulnerable among us who are sitting ducks in their school classrooms.  I have (barely) hung in there even when the movement went so far as to murder an abortion provider standing at his kitchen sink, and when they have cruelly ignored the anguish of women seeking to end a pregnancy with an abortion by verbally and physically harassing them as they enter abortion clinics.

Now, most recently, the pro-life movement has determined that Brett Kavanaugh MUST be confirmed onto the Supreme Court at all costs, that due process will be ignored, and that his judicial records will be hidden from Congress.  Are we worried at all because a president under serious investigation is attempting to hurriedly place his man on the court? A judge who believes that presidents can’t be subpoenaed and that the Supreme Court erred in US v. Nixon? A judge who has signaled that race can be used to exclude immigrants? Most grievous of all is that the Republican leadership is determined to dismiss charges of past despicable behavior, and instead have chosen to attack the credibility of his accusers. Yesterday, at best, Kavanaugh proved himself to be temperamentally unfit to serve on SCOTUS and at worst he may be a rapist, but we’ll never know, because the Senate Republicans and their base will force him onto the Court, at all costs, before the midterms.  That is why they refuse any attempt to have the matter cleared up with an FBI investigation. If I were an innocent man, wrongly accused, whose good name and family had been “destroyed” I would  INSIST on an investigation to clear my name. Instead I predict that by tonight Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge will be sitting on some deck, overlooking some beach, raising a glass and toasting, “We got away with it!”

I must have missed the part of scriptures–which incidentally do not mention abortion–where it says “Thou shalt ignore EVERYTHING else in this book in order to get the judge you want on the Supreme Court.” Congratulations Pro-Life Movement, you may have won this battle, but you have lost me:  I resign.

The things we brought from Indiana

In the summer of 1968, a big orange Allied moving truck picked up our belongings from our campus housing at Ball State, stopped in Fort Wayne for the household items we had in storage in our house there and made the trip across Ohio to New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, where we would grow up and my parents would live out their lives. 50 years later we are closing up Mom and Dad’s house and disposing of most of their things. Dad died 16 years ago and Mom has moved into an assisted-living facility.

I walked through Mom’s house one last time when I was there in March and collected a few mementos, promising myself I would take no more than would fit in the backseat of my little VW Bug, remembering, after all, that it won’t be all that much longer until my own children are having to sort through my things.  As I looked over the record of their lives and thought about which pieces I would like to have, my choices were not based on value– Mom and Dad never had expensive pieces of furniture, antiques, jewelry, or art–it was instead odd little souvenirs of our lives together, a melmac serving dish, my seventh-grade shop project, Dad’s college yearbook, a couple of memorable toys from my childhood, some piano music and some photographs.  

I found myself thinking about possessions and the role they play in our lives. We were flat broke in 1968, after years of full-time grad school for Dad.  I think we were mostly living on credit cards and money borrowed from my grandfather. Dad and Mom, understandably, dropped a lot of money on the moving van.  And yet, 50 years later, those treasures and accoutrements of life–that they deemed significant enough to make the 300-mile trip to our new home–are all nearly gone. Most of the furniture, all of the appliances, all of the decor, all of the clothes, about 90% of the toys. All that remains of the contents of the moving van are a couple pieces of furniture, a large and useless collection of record albums,  a few books, some favorite toys, and photographs.

Of course, we’ve collected a much larger store of items in the five decades in Pennsylvania and as we’ve moved out, we’ve all left things behind in the old homestead. We’ll divide up the sentimental pieces among the four of us; Mom has a few things at her new residence; we’ll store a few items in Sally’s barn; and the rest will end up in dumpster.  What was the point of all those things? I’m a much bigger packrat than my parents and already have such a large collection of treasures and the ‘stuff’ of life, that it makes a move seem like a logistical impossibility. If anything reminds me of the growing-up years of my children it becomes impossible for me to dispose of; I am attached to those mementos on a cellular level.  My original family lived in seven different homes during my growing-up years, but–and probably because of that–I’ve never moved since we got married. So without a move to force a purging of possessions, I have 26 years of accumulation: a 3000-square foot house and two garages full.

When I was younger, I used to ponder the question of which objects I would grab in the event of a house fire, after the people and pets were safely outside.  That would be a torturous decision for me. The baby books? The negatives for the pre-digital pictures? A box of favorite Christmas decorations? In all likelihood I would burn up while I stood there trying to decide. Do I own my things? Or do they own me? Dad and Mom rented an expensive moving truck for a houseful of things that would all eventually wear out and be thrown away.  My own children will one day have to dispose of my gigantic treasure trove, wondering all the while, “Why in the world did Dad keep THIS?!”

More than anything–when they are going through my things someday–I want my children to realize that they were what mattered and that so many of my “treasures” are associated with them. In the meantime I’m going to work on parting with some of my collection so that I don’t look like an episode of “Hoarders” by the time I’m an old man . And I will strive to remember that plastic bins in the garage cannot store the true treasures of life.