Thursday, November 20, 2014

Those were the days, my friends

One of the nicest things about cancer (what'd he say?) is the wonderful visits I get from old and new friends. They drop off the nicest, most interesting things, including handmade goodies, shared books and magazines and--believe it or not--some of the coolest items from our own mutual music archives you can imagine. The results leaves me feeling warm and grateful, despite the fact that I do continue to be a bit knackered* from the aforementioned cancer-bug and its treatments.
The first visit came from one of my original bandmates, a bass player named Dale Seifert, an early drummer, named Mark Schueneman, and David Bisshop, who has shared my musical tastes and interest for years.
Mark and Dave knocked on my front door.
"Glad to see you're home. I've got a surprise for you."
I stepped back, thinking Schueneman had a new/old guitar to show me or a piece of the interesting memorabilia he likes to collect.
But no.
Instead of a Flying V or a Grateful Dead poster, it was my old friend Seifert, who I had not laid eyes on for many year.
"We're kidnapping you," said Mark." "Hop in."
So I did.
Our journey took us to Schueneman's home, where he houses his favorite guitars and instruments, plus a music collection that would be most treasured by the guys who played it.
Us.
For the next several hours, I was regaled with a series of recordings featuring many of the guys we both played with over a period of a couple of decades. Thanks to the care Mark took in laying those vintage tracks down, the music was remarkably clear and downright perfect.
Even if the musicians weren't.
It was a true slice of a pie that tasted quite sweet.
Lucky me.
My second piece of the Liverpudian** Invasion came just a few weeks later, when I received a
visit from old music buddy and Star Courier page editor Rocky Stuffelbeam and his wife, Diane, who has been a firm, fast friend since the summer of 1965.  Rocky was one of the guys I met on that strange, fateful day when I joined my first Kewanee garage band. He, plus a tall, good looking lead singer named Dave Canienne, a drummer named Dave Crabtree, and bass player Seifert were the first bandmates in our thrilling adventures up and down Tenney and Main Streets as we worked to become the hottest act on the Kewanee music scene. I had played in public before, most notably with a Galva-based quartet featuring vocalist Rebecca (Johnson) Duytschaver, John White on drums, and LaFayette's own John McKirgan on lead guitar.  But the Kewanee guys seemed more ready to rock, and I was--most definitely--ready to roll.
And so we did.
Along with being a great friend and a talented musician, no matter what he claims, Rocky was a highly organized guy, which was high praise for any high-school kid, anytime. Ergo, he was, apparently put in charge of the most important thing a pick-up band could own.
The set list.  The list of songs the band knew and was ready to play.
Rocky was rambling through a safe deposit box he's had for over forty years not long ago when he found it.
It's even marked as to when and where it was used.
Galva Middle School.
1967.
It contains a comprehensive list of the fifty-nine songs we were prepared to churn out, and even includes a list of the band members, just in case we forgot, I guess.
Some of those hits of the summer of '67 include "Louie, Louie," "Gloria," "Slow Down," "Boys," "Satisfaction," "Twist and Shout," and a song that was a hit anytime we played it, "Little Bit of Soul."
"I probably put it together in study hall, when I was supposed to be studying," noted Rocky.
Rocky gave me that old list on the day he visited, leaving me just to wonder where I'm going to hang it. And Mark shared the old tunes, all neat and downloaded on modern-day discs.
The visits and gifts were great.
The friends are still perfect.


*British slang for tired or exhausted.

**from Liverpool, England and the British music invasion of the 1960s.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On such a winter's day

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
On a winter's day
-California Dreamin', John Phillips & Michelle Phillips

The leaves are brown, the sky is cool, cool grey.
The first glimpses of winter are on their own dark way.
It wasn't long ago when the soft, warm hues of autumn ruled the horizons, fields and forests. Those rolling hills are still touched with the gentle gold-green casts of my favorite season, as farmers work from dawn into dark to bring the harvest home.
Now it's nearly over.
And almost time for the last bright days of summertime color.
Almost time for the soft glowing afternoons of autumn change
Almost time for the icy wintertime grip that promises to hold until March and beyond.
Late at night, I step outside.
I stop. I listen as the first frigid breezes of a long winter's night brush across my frosty cheek.
Further and further away, I hear the yowl of a neighboring cat; the distant howl of some countryside coyote; the far-off yip of a wandering fox.
Closer now, I hear the steamy laughter of children as they await bedtime baths and books and a warm night's sleep. I hear the sound of deep, sweet dreams, of slow, soft breathing from evening until dawn.
Morning comes.
And with it arrives the long-awaited chilly burst of tiny sunrise explosions, glancing and grazing across rooftops towards my bedroom window. I lie back again, then lean forward to breath deep and look again and again.
Safe and warm, I wait for rushing footsteps and little-boy laughter, sliding under quilts and covers for a breakfast made for two.
By the time they leave, the sun is full risen.
The wind blows.
The day is full born.
On such a November day.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When grandpa got the dog on halloween

"There they go," she said, as her hand rested lightly on my shoulder.
"Making their own memories."
It was my young grandsons' first Galva Halloween this year, and they were off to make the best of it.  First had been the stupendous goings-on at Black Hawk College and a super party at their own Visitation School. Now they were about to embark on on a holiday search via the friendly, well-lit streets of our nearby neighborhood.
After the hometown trick-or-treats would be an extra-fun and nurturing All Saints' celebration and hot dog roast at St. John's Church, our home parish.
My cancer-grazed brains and bones have pretty much sidelined me this season, leaving me to watch it all with Annie. She is the amazing rent-a-dog. Annie comes to stay with me from time to time when our neighbor, who minds old Max the killer cat when we're on the road, hits the road herself.  Annie has an outstanding wardrobe, for a dog, at least. Her normal cold-weather garb is a heavy ski sweater with the word "dog" emblazoned on the back, in case onlookers might get confused and mistake her for a large chinchilla or a small polar bear. But for Halloween, she swapped that outfit for a scarf-and-sweater duo with a jolly jack o'lantern motif.
"Oh, look at the cute doggy," said the dozens of trick-or-treaters who began visiting our front door at the beginning of the evening.
Excited at the company, Annie yipped and panted.
They kept coming.
Annie kept yipping and panting.
Finally, I noticed her panting was becoming a little more labored.
Looking a little closer, I noted that my little pal had somehow gotten her front paws paws tangled in the scarf part of her outfit.
Ergo, every time she hopped forward to greet the halloween revelers, she tightened the scarf just an itty-bit more.
Get the picture?
I wasn't sure what to do.
I was afraid that if I called too much attention to the situation, it would somehow be made worse, with desperate administration of the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR, and hasty calls to 911. Moreover, I couldn't help but imagine the lurid descriptions that were bound to be made by Srar-
courier newsroom buddies and headline mavens like Mike Berry, Dave Clark and Rocky Stufflebeam.

"Precious pup poops out in hands of inattentive grandpop."

"'I was just dozing,' says dog murderer'"

and, best of all..

"Don't blame me, blame the costume."

I wasn't quite sure what do do. Finally, I decided to let the resourceful Annie untangle herself from her predicament, a strategy that worked well enough.
 We were, in fact, pretty well crisis-free on the pet front until Sunday afternoon, when my spouse and I were standing in the kitchen along about four o'clock. Max the Wonder Cat sauntered in and looked around the room in a heightened combination of curiosity and irritation.
Max glared at us, then stared back at his food bowl while muttering a series of unflattering cat curses.
"What's up with him?" I asked.
"Oh," she said. "I think he's forgotten about the time change."
So it goes.  And guess what?
They both lived through it.

Page two.

The same cancer-based brain freezes that have made remembering the name of my cat a bit of a challenge from time to time have now begun to make the whole get-up-and-think-of-something-to-write-about rigamarole a bit of a challenge, too.
It doesn't mean I'm quitting.
Slowing down, maybe.
So, let's make a deal.
When I can do it, I will.
When I can't, I won't.
Meanwhile, see you around.
Thanks for listening.
I love you all.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

As seasons change

The leaves have turned golden.
And things have begun to change.
I remember just a few years ago when I heard my kindly spouse say these words,
"Hey, not bad. I even kind of understand what you're talking about."
Surprisingly, she was talking about me.
I had, you see, picked up a writing gig with the Star Courier and I was stumbling through my first volleyball season, an assignment most horrific for a guy with no female children and no personal experience in the game.  It drove me all the way to Googlesearch, looking for handy v-ball terms and rules, just in hopes that I might look (and sound ) a trifle less, well, dumb.
Time passes.
Now it's my son, Patrick, who's working the sports beat for the SC. And, sure enough, it's dear old mom who uttered those loving words.
"I even kind of understand what he's talking about."

Grandson fun.

I think my grandsons get it this year. From the North Carolina pirate outfits they'll be sporting to the school parties and special plans they are looking forward to.  For us, it's just the sheer joy of having them on our doorstep.
Truly a treat, not a trick.
Boo!

Take me out to the ball game.

Baseball.
And the World Series.  
I remember watching and listening
and sneaking a radio into school.
I remember knowing
exactly what was going to happen next,
then realizing I was absolutely wrong.
That's why I loved it. That's why we we love it.
It's baseball.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A long drive north


It's a promise we've been making ourselves for a few months now.
"Let's head north."
To me, "north" means the Lake Superior basin located near Marquette, Michigan. My sister and her family have lived there over 45 years, right on the shores of the largest of the Great Lakes of North American.  It's an amazing place, surrounded by deep, piney woods, cold inland lakes, and rushing rivers and streams.
To me, "north" has meant my first trip to that historic football haven called Lambeau Field, where my dad introduced me to my first-ever glimpse at NFL giants with names like Starr, Taylor, Hornung, Kramer and Lombardi. We did it again this time, as my own son and grandsons got their own close-up look at football history and those guys who wear the green and gold.
You can't talk "north" without talking about that great big lake.
Lake Superior has always been an astonishing place for my sister and family to live.  Pretty darn special for my own blushing bride and me, too, as we spent our first wedded days in a shabby log cabin on the beach, where we battled the mice and struggled to keep the pipes unfrozen on a daily basis. We walked the beach, skied its rugged dunes and watched glorious sunsets nearly every night.
This visit was extra-special, as our own beloved niece announced her upcoming wedding to Jeff, an Upper Peninsula hockey player who loves the lakes, hills, rivers and ice nearly as much as she does. Both my sons, along with my youngest grandsons, plus most of my sisters' family were in attendance.
And my youngest grandson even lost a tooth.
"Let's head north."
It's a promise I'm glad we kept.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Car wars

Root canal.
Clothes shopping.
Sorting socks.
Adjusting my rabbit ears.
Putting away silverware.
Buying a car.
These are the things I hate more than any other.
Happily, my teeth have been just fine, thank you. My wardrobe, while a trifle limited, contains enough pairs of corduroys and khakis, t-shirts, sweatshirts and baggy sweaters to maintain my natty sartorial look. I don't care about socks. TV is dull anyway. Ditto forks and spoons.
But the car thing just about took me to the edge.
After our recent "thousand miles through hell and back" journey from the friendly wilds of North Carolina, I went through a sudden change in attitude regarding our trusty, eight-seat kid-hauler. From a dependable vehicle that I just assumed would start, run and perform all those expected little jobs, the handy old car went suddenly bad, consuming time and money like a junior in high school. It took time. but by the time we got the old girl running again, my attitude toward her was mostly like that expressed towards a cheatin' girlfriend in a bad country song.
Decision:
We needed a new car.
Now, buying a big-time purchase is no small thing in the Sloan household. We don't do it very often, and when we do, "Duck!"
We scanned newspapers, drove slowly through car lots, and searched the internet like a pair of crazy people. We called dealers and visited dealerships, walking through miles of shiny cars, trucks, vans and SUVs looking for the perfect vehicle designed to meet both our needs.
It didn't seem too tough to me.
She wanted an eight-seat grandma-mobile.
I wanted a sports car.
"What about the grandkids?" she cried.
"What about the little !@#!!#," I muttered.
But yes, I understand.
I understand that a family that often consists of at least five, and often upwards of seven or eight, needs room.
So we looked. And we test drove. And we looked some more.
Finally, we decided. Son Patrick found something that caught our collective eye via an internet search of his own. Finally, there will be something to put into that new garage.
A late-model eight-seat SUV-kind-of-a-thing that we both like enough to drive in public.
Plus, we both kind of liked the price, even.
It was a long, long day.
By the time we got home, I was feeling pretty puny. She worried, as she always does, that I had overdone it, what with the whole cancer thingee and everything else that's going on.
"Shoot, honey-pie," I said. "Car shopping is enough to kill anybody all by itself."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A new road to travel

Here's a scary word for you.
Hospice.
Like most folks, my understanding of that term has alway been a trifle gloomy.
Then I found out something else.
It's not, really.
According to the free Merriman-Webster dictionary, it can be defined several different ways.
One, "A place that provides care for people who are dying."
Another, "A facility or program designed to provide a caring environment for meeting the physical and emotional needs of the terminally ill,"
But there's another, older definition of the term that really hits the mark for me:
"A place where travelers can stay."
Now we're talking.
Because, as far as I'm concerned, life, more than anything else, is a journey.
When the clinical trial I made a run at in an effort to sideline the mysterious, aggressive cancer I've battled for the past year or so failed, there were different roads to take.
I could have resumed the chemotherapy treatment I had been undergoing, though its effectiveness had begun to wain.  I could have tried a different version of chemo, but with little hope that it would do much more than set me up with a whole new range of treatment side effects.
Or I could do what I have now chosen to do: Undergo a program of aggressive palliative care that will hopefully work to ease some of effects of the disease itself, while giving me the best possible quality of life.
They call it hospice.
And, yes, I call it life.
And the fact is, life--and living--is what it's all about.
My decision has nothing to do with giving up.
Rather, it has everything to do with taking the road that has always been the one path for me.
A road that is lined, from start to finish, with love, with faith, with truth, and with hope.
I'll see you along the way.