Oh, Now I Understand!

For those who fear that technology is taking control of our lives, or for those who believe that it will solve our problems, I offer this rebuttal. On July 13,2015, my father left me a voicemail message at 7:12 p.m. Microsoft’s advanced interpretive software translated the audio message as follows.

“Jerry this is dad I would today I stood.

There but I live at six days that you called and – to turn the computer loan and I did that in court today – dollars and – yellow drama ray mare and are made it clear – which mum my user name – and after that the password in court I don’t know – I work from do they do on this one sort out in meting renewing it – but if you’ll just let me know what what the deal is I’ll get back something some more either computer loan this cooler green – so in tickled which you’re one of that and I need to get the password.

Out calculator tape is bad seven thank you bye.”

The sad thing is that as I have dealt more with my parents aging, I understood the gist of this message. The sadder thing is that it more adequately represents the quality of our telephone conversations better that I could ever describe them.

When Letters Could Talk

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I treasure letters. I save most personal correspondence I receive. And I try to save drafts of some letters that I send. Fragments of letters encapsulate evidence of the fullness of living. It pains me to imagine chunks of history daily cast away. Still more, it awes me to consider the trillions of stories that were never part of our shared record.

Digital messaging is something we think we cannot live without. I greatly appreciate its speed and convenience. I am grateful that I continue to receive emails – occasionally even containing multiple paragraphs – that approach the detail, color, feeling, and depth of handwritten letters. But they are fewer and fewer. Though I have tried to keep personal email exchanges over for the past twenty years, emails have become more akin to business telegrams than letters. Blogs are really not like letters either, but they can be richer than emails – though less personal. When I write something for what others insist on calling my “blog,” I generally write portions as if they were letters to individuals with whom I am very familiar. Often the messages I send to them in this indirect way are urgent though quiet. Even though I have substantial experience using digital technology for communication, the first time I got a response to a “blog” story from someone I didn’t know, it creeped me out; I felt as if my personal space had been violated in some way. Maybe I am over that to some extent, but in a significant way I am not. I write to people I know. [1]

Despite having little to say most of the time, I endeavor to be both informative and entertaining in my letters. Whether I succeed in achieving either is an open question. I am not a very inventive letter writer in terms of fiction and fantasy, but I am a passable exaggerator.

Recently I found a bundle of letters written in late 1982 and early 1983. They are particularly interesting to me because they illustrate how my wife and I lived before the advent of our son. These paragraphs that you are reading are a sidewinding preface to selected parts of three of those letters.

There is an incident – not mentioned in the letters – that links the first two recipients. It happened as a close friend, my wife, and I leisurely drove back to Nashville from Boston. My wife and I were returning home after travel north to briefly visit our friend. His girlfriend’s parents lived near the water’s edge of eastern Long Island. We had only just met her days before in Boston, and she had returned to her parent’s comfortable house for an extended summer stay. She and her parents put the three of us up for a night to help relieve our drive south.

My friend had a mischievous streak and was a studied deceiver. He delighted in the discomfort of others, especially familiars. As we were driving across Long Island, he casually mentioned, as if it were a slip of his tongue, that his girlfriend’s brother had deep-rooted psychological problems and had recently been found wandering, if not stalking, the beach holding an ax. When we arrived, we met her friendly family, and while we were on the beach, we ran across her younger brother. He did indeed act peculiarly. After dinner and a beach walk, my wife and I returned to our guest accommodations in the basement of the house. The brother’s bedroom was a small side room off of the main basement room, separated only by a flimsy, hollow-core interior door. From the stairwell he had to walk across the room about ten feet from the foot of our double bed to get to his room. That night, after we got in bed, turned out the lights, and began to nod off, he returned home and walked a little too noisily to his room and shut the door. The light remained on for the entire night, and there was occasional shuffling in the room, accented by periodic human utterances. My eyes and ears were alert all that night. I had one of the most fitful sleeps ever, continually glancing at that door with the light seeping from the inch-wide crack at the bottom, listening for signs of imminent attack. We had been warned by our friend not to mention the brother’s condition; so as thoroughly polite and grateful guests, we issued not a hint, before or after our evening, about our planted suspicions, though craving all the while confirmation or denial of our friend’s darkly sketched story. The next day, our friend reluctantly and “innocently” confessed his tale, after hearing of my restless sleep and seeing my haggard eyes. His girlfriend was not amused by his trick or our long-suffering discomfort.

Letter writing and friendship are similar to that story. It’s difficult to sort what is fact from embellishment. Often we don’t really want to know the absolute truth because it would ruin the experience. If we demand only truth and facts, there might be no story – nor life – to speak of.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Since its inception, TennesseeSoul Mate has not been open to external search engines. That polite curtain of modesty is a cellophane barrier I have been unwilling to lift. Thus, though it is open to whoever stumbles upon it, the TennesseeSoul Mate portion of the TennesseeSoul network possesses an imaginary privacy. Otherwise, TennesseeSoul overall is strongly shielded by obscurity, general lack of interest, and too much other stuff to do.

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A Fractured Brotherhood

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Who wasn’t dumb when young? Blessed are they who survive to laugh about it.

The 1960s were not for the faint of heart or overly idealistic. The same caution applies to the story for which these few words feign preface. Thinking of that time brings to mind the term wasted. But the times were wasted in intriguing ways.

Those who find modern society perplexing and unruly surely did not attend a large public university in American in the 1960s. The chaos was both diffuse and acute – and unremitting. Nonetheless, there were core standards that set a pace – even under long, unkempt hair and amid bizarre street-theater antics. We were wackos then as we are now in aging. Still there were, and are, steady limits that continue to yield results and reassurance.

* * *

The recollections associated with this introduction started with a dream about a hunt for a missing person. I began getting visits and phone calls from a disparate group of individuals with little more in common than prolonged proximity to one another long ago in youth. The individuals were roughly equivalent in experience, intelligence, class, wealth, ethnic and social background, and aspirations – but different enough to make interactions among them interesting and unsettling, offering a context for the personal evolution of all involved.

A youthful initiation into the world of intoxicants figures in this account. No serious offenses or accidents derived from said experimentation worse than what I had already accomplished as a very sober, yet equally dull-witted, 16-year-old driver. My first accident occurred two weeks after getting my license. Driving with four or five friends on the way to school, I was hit from my left at an unmarked neighborhood intersection. One friend broke his collar bone. Though the other driver was charged, it was as much my fault as not. The second was about eight months later after being caught downtown at night in a fresh snow storm with a car full of church friends. Of course, no one wore a seat belt; one girl in the lap of another friend hit her tooth on the dashboard. I was not charged, due to the ice, slow speed and minor damage to the other automobile, but I knew it was my fault ultimately. The third time, maybe a year later, while double dating, my engine (in the same car) caught fire in a quiet out-of-the-way suburban neighborhood. To my father’s dismay, the car did not burn up. Still it was damaged enough in my three accidents that my father traded it (rather than me) for a green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible. Finally, I had learned my lesson: there was no way I was going to scratch that beauty.

An excursion in fraternity introduced me to new ways of self-defeat – and maturity.

Memphis is sustained by social and emotional tendrils. Long after I left my college fraternity, a former brother occupied a house near campus with his best friend, who was not our fraternity brother but a party beast beyond any in that organization. When they gave up the house, my uncle and aunt and cousin moved in, and my grandparents moved next door. Within no time, my other two first cousins moved, each with a wife and child, into separate houses within a block of my aunt, uncle, and paternal grandparents. This area of Memphis became a frequent and much-appreciated resting place, especially after I moved into a duplex on the other side of the tracks, closer to the university, about six short blocks away. We all surrounded the location of my old fraternity house. In effect, it was as if over the years of significant events, I had not moved out of the realm of fraternity but rather stretched my links from it to the university and broader world beyond.

This story explores youth and fraternity as a potent, hazardous coupling. Though the subject and the telling may seem small, the personal consequences were enormous. And they live on in countless ways.

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Sinkholes: Pond Swallow in the Swamps

Ponds, objects d’art and all that…

by Airbeebo

As we decide what to move, give away or heave, the object d’art that started yours truly down a long dead-end road surfaced.

It is a piece of grey granite, the top half polished, faceted surfaces of no discernible pattern; the lower half mimics the upper but its finish is the last pass of a surfacing hammer. The granite sits atop a distressed wooden stand approximately half the size of the stone. It is a piece of no particular merit or interest, but it won either second or third place at a Mid-South Fair art contest.

That metastasized into serious delusions of talent, resulting in, among other things, a move to New England.

We have used this object d’art as a somewhat overly large doorstop. Since most of the doors at our new house are pocket doors, its future efficacy is dubious.

Mrs. D. (who has heard its history but am sure does not recall it) opined we should give it to the Salvation Army or the church thrift store. Methinks it would gather dust at either place until some poor soul herniated himself taking it to the dumpster.

A strategy from the past welled up in my tiny little brain. Thirty years ago, when going through my last divorce, my second ex-wife had left a number of her undergraduate efforts in pottery and sculpture behind as she moved on to greener fields. Not wishing to have anything stand in the way of the legal dissolution of our failed marriage, left every one of them exactly where they were the day she left. A day or so after the final decree, loaded them all into the wheelbarrow and dumped them in the small, deep pond behind my high-roofed house in the country.

Tomorrow Mrs. D. is driving to the city to have lunch with former co-workers. Will take the opportunity to dump the above described object d’art into our pond.

Perhaps hundreds of years from now a typically daft academic type will find it and attribute whatever significance the current orthodoxy demands to it – or not.

* * *

Well…yesterday, while Mrs. D. was in town, yours truly took the referenced award-winning doorstop and consigned it to the depths of our pond out by the canal.

Last night as I was coming in from the garage, Mrs. D. was in the foyer and pointing down to the spot once occupied by the award-winning doorstop and inquired of its location.

Advised her of its current location.

“Well. You need to go get it.”

“I thought you wanted it gone, so….”

“I’ve rethought it and now think we should keep it.”

Sixty-six years on this planet, ’50s/’60s parochial-school background, scout training, two failed marriages, quasi-military training, dead-end jobs…have finally learned to keep my mouth shut in some situations.

Looked at her with as normal an expression as possible and merely shrugged my shoulders.

She said nothing more, turned and proceeded down the hall.

It is possible that in the next few days or weeks, may be required to mount a rescue operation – or not. Regardless, will not mention it…ever…and trust this was just a passing fancy.

Out There with John Ealey

I really don’t have anything pithy to add as a lead to this story. It is quite surprising to me how much fun it was to research and put together. It’s good to be reminded of why we labor to do the things we cannot resist doing. I only wish I could capture the magic ingredients that made this piece so rewarding socially as well. Most every member of my Memphis family was drawn into the endeavor, and I think it was almost as pleasurable for them as it was for me.

I found someone who was lost. Actually, what else need be said?

Read it here.

Bloopers & Other Less Harmless Mistakes

All Mistakes (Except a Few [Million])

Over-eager to drop this baby, I could not resist the temptation to publish it today [April 1]. Foolery comes in all shapes and sizes. Life is all mistakes, all the time: some call it evolution, some call it luck, some call it character, and some call it grace. From one fool to a world of them: laugh it off – or sweat it out.

Read it here.

Star Shadows

Life with a Star

More than a chuckle, less than a belly laugh. See what humor has wrought.

For all who aren’t family members or frequent responders: As disappointing as it may be, I don’t seem to be running out of steam. In fact, the longer I do TennesseeSoul, the more I see, remember and want to say in a way that I never have before. I want to give you an opportunity to bailout of alerts about new stories. I will remove you from the notice list unless I hear otherwise from you. Thanks for taking the ride. I can’t fully convey what this has meant to me over the past two and a half years.

For you family members: No such luck! You stay on the list unless you explicitly ask to be removed – and even then I might not do it. As a family member, you are meant to suffer equally.

For non-family members who sometimes comment on stories: I am going to assume that you want to give me a few more attempts to get it right. Therefore, just like family members, you get the good and the bad ladled out until you squeal like a pig.

Read it here.