Father haiku

Dad's last bottle of Old Spice

Amidst the clutter,
Dad’s last bottle of Old Spice.
I’ll wear some today.


NOTES:  One of the most precious mementos I found as we prepared my parents’ home to be sold a couple of years ago was a bottle of my father’s after shave lotion tucked away in a bathroom cabinet.  He must have purchased this particular bottle just before he went into the nursing home because it was still nearly full.

Dad had been an Old Spice man as far back as I could remember, and the rich fragrance stirred up a host of memories.  You see, this last bottle dates back to the 1980s and it smells completely different from today’s weak sauce sold under the Old Spice brand.

Proctor & Gamble bought the Shulton company in 1990 and started changing things.  I noticed that the glass bottles gave way to plastic.  The grey stopper changed to red.  But worst of all, the new owners messed with the formula of the lotion itself.

When I found that old bottle of my Dad’s and took my first whiff, I was shocked at how much stronger and complex it was compared to the modern recipe.

I hadn’t smelled that classic fragrance for decades, and there is something powerful about the olfactory sense that connects us with the past.

Dad had taught me how to shave lathering up his Old Spice shaving mug and soap and brush.  I scratched off my thickening peach fuzz using his heavy-duty razor, the kind that took the old style disposable blades.

Of course, I nicked myself and he had to show me how to staunch the bleeding with an alum stick.  Thank goodness he didn’t use a straight razor.  I probably would have bled to death.

Dad taught me how to change oil and change a tire.  And though he was a master mechanic, he never was able to get me beyond the most basic level of automobile repair.  My fault, not his.

Dad taught me more important things, as well.  Things like keeping your word and doing an honest day’s work.  Things like owning up to your mistakes and saying you’re sorry.

Although the Great Depression short-circuited his education and forced him to drop out of high school to earn a living, he never stopped learning.  He left behind a robust collection of books including the writings of ancient historians and early church fathers.

He took his faith seriously, and didn’t make it too complicated.  The most worn of all his books was his Bible.  It was literally falling apart from use, held together with duct tape.

Of course, as a teenager, I was much too smart to go for my father’s myths and legends.  It was only after pursuing my own path and hitting some rough dead ends that I wound up pretty much where he had been all along.

It was amazing how much wiser the Old Man seemed to me when I was 28 than he did when I was 18.

He taught me perseverance in hard times.  When his one foray into business failed when I was in grade school, he swallowed his pride, got up the next day and went to work for someone else to support his family.

When my brother Bill died in a scuba-diving accident leaving a wife and 3 young kids, my Dad flew halfway across the country to handle matters.  In the midst of what must have been his own inconceivable grief, brought that little family back with him and took care of them until they could get back on their feet.

The most poignant lesson Dad taught me was about faithfulness as demonstrated by how he treated my Mother.  Theirs was not fairytale romance.  When they got married in the depths of the Great Depression, Dad was working on a farm crew for a dollar a day.  He had to talk his boss into giving him Saturday off so he could have the whole weekend for a honeymoon.

They started out dirt poor, and only very gradually worked their way into what might be called the lower middle class.  It was a great day when we moved to town and got central heat and indoor plumbing!

But, to me, theirs was a great love story.   Dad always treated Mom with affection and respect.  There was never any question about his loyalty to her.  And, when Mom eventually began her long slide into dementia, Dad cared for her personally.  And when she finally had to enter a nursing home, he visited her every day and spoon fed her lunch.

So, a couple of times a year, I pull out that grey stopper from Dad’s last bottle of Old Spice and splash some on my face in his honor.  All day long I catch whiffs of bay leaf and clove and cinnamon, and I’m reminded of what it means to be a good man.

 

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Mother’s Day Poem

My first poetic champion

ICE AGE

Dear gentle woman grown so early old,
You’ve all but left us on our lonesome own.
Now after many years to spirit sown,
A creeping glacier scrapes your memory cold.

You, greener days ago, recited verse,
And planted hardy seeds of simple song
That rooted deep, perennial and strong,
To flourish in the shadow of the hearse.

Today your weathered hands no longer know
The jonquil from the mum, nor how to weed.
Today you prattle on without the seed
Of sense, that for so long you toiled to grow.

So now for you I pick this small bouquet,
Out of the garden patch you used to tend,
Now choked with worldly weeds from end to end,
In need of hands to cultivate its clay.


NOTES:

My mother loved poetry.  Her own mother died when she was just a girl, so she dropped out of school to help raise her younger siblings.  She never got to go to high school, but she loved the music of English words artfully strung together.

She read the American classics of the time: Wordsworth, Emerson, Eugene Field, and even that new fellow, Frost.  Some of my earliest memories are of her reading to me from “The Duel” (aka “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat,”) “Lil’ Boy Blue,” and “Hiawatha.”

She filled a buffet drawer scraps of paper bearing homespun verse she had copied by hand, or clipped from the pages of Capper’s Weekly.  After her death, I found her Bible.  It was worn out and held together at the spine with pieces of packing tape.  Tucked amongst the hand-scrawled Bible verses and sermon notes was a tiny piece of paper where she had written this fragment from John Greenleaf Whittier:

Of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest of these, it might have been

In her 70s, Mother began a long, slow journey with Alzheimer’s.  At first we thought she was just getting forgetful, but, in time, we realized she was losing her faculties.  She forgot names and nouns.

Early on, she devised clever strategies to trick us into helping her fill in the missing blanks.  “I’m going to the, um, you know,” she would offer, hoping one of us would bail her out by supplying “the A&P,” or the name of some other destination that had eluded her.

But, in time, she lost the ability to play Guess the Word with anyone.  She slipped away from us and never came back, even though she lived for years neither speaking nor, as far as we could tell, understanding anything spoken to her.  She lived so long probably due to some diligent care at the county nursing home in our small Missouri town, and to the fact my father visited her every day and spoon fed her lunch.

I wrote her a poem, which I read at her funeral.

Parable Haiku

Be as gentle as a dove...
Eurasian collared dove. (Photo courtesy of John Marquand.)

Like the gentle dove
I neither hate nor judge. But …
like the snake, I watch.


Notes: My childhood friend and schoolmate, John Marquand, takes some of the most beautiful photographs I’ve ever seen.  He rises early to get the Colorado morning light, and day after day amazes with remarkable nature photos.

He has become somewhat of a bird  whisperer.  I’ve never seen great blue heron photos like John’s.  But he is not limited to birds.  He somehow manages to make even insects look beautiful

John was kind enough to send me this shot of a Eurasian collared dove to illustrate the haiku.

Thoughtful Christmas Gift

My first haiku with an original illustration. a most wonderful gift from my thoughtful daughter-in-law
My first haiku with an original illustration. a most wonderful gift from my thoughtful daughter-in-law

This Christmas, I received a couple of poetry-related gifts.  The first was an original hand-drawn and illustrated version of a haiku I wrote.

It was done by my talented and thoughtful daughter-in-law, Sarah.  I had written this haiku last year in honor of my late father.

Now, it is I who feel honored and delighted!

This is as close as I’ve ever come to having an authentic version of an original haiku.  The old haiku masters produced total works of art, complete with beautiful hand-lettering and illustrations to complement the poignant words.

The idea for the verse came about while going through my parent’s belongings before getting their house ready to sell.  I came across my father’s old Bible.

It was so well-worn that it was literally being held together by duct tape.

My father never finished high school, and spent his life as a farmer and mechanic.  He didn’t travel, and he had no hobbies except for studying the Bible and ancient times.

He became a bit of an amateur scholar, ordering books on theology and history.  I packed up a few of books to pass along to my scholarly son, but the prized possession from the old house was that Bible.

Now, my prized new possession is this illustrated haiku.

Father’s old Bible
Held together with duct tape.
Now he’s face to face.

Dad was not just interested in history for history’s sake, or out of a mere intellectual curiosity.  He also had a deep faith.  He had seen the difference that God had made in his own father’s life and he believed in Jesus as well.  He did his best to introduce his own children to that faith.

I’ll write about my other poetry-related Christmas present in a subsequent post soon.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Hometown Haiku (and a note for Father’s Day)

The Saline County Courthouse looms above the square in Marshall, Missouri
“Once, it was magic”

A recent trip back to my old hometown prompted some haiku.

Thomas Wolfe may have said “you can’t go home again,” but you actually can. It just won’t be the same as it was.

I’m not sure if there were any satori moments on this trip, but there were pangs of the heart. I’m posting this as a Father’s Day remembrance.

The old hometown seems
Smaller than I remember.
Once, it was magic.

Last time going home,
The old place sitting empty.
Memories and dust.

Mother and Father,
And all three of my brothers.
I alone remain.

Well over sixty
Dad built a barn by himself.
Now it, too, molders.

Father's old Bible
Held together with duct tape

Father’s old Bible
Held together with duct tape.
Now he’s face to face.

(A few years ago, on an earlier visit, my brother and I walked through the town cemetery)

Last time I saw him
We strolled between tombstones.
Now he has his own.

I left to find truth.
Yet here I am seeking scraps.
Scraps of memories.