Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Deer Mom

March 8, 2019

Last summer Mom called late one afternoon to tell me that a fawn had fallen into her swimming pool and was doing laps, unable to get out or touch bottom. Mom’s house is in a wood and there is no fence on the property, so ducks that visit come and go as they please, but most other uninvited guests fatigue and drown before being spotted by the lifeguard. Mom noticed the young deer in distress from her kitchen window and when she went out to see what might be done saw Deer Mom but a few paces away.

Deer Mom was the first thing I noticed as I got out of my truck. Her alarm and sense of helplessness were made apparent by the simple fact that she made no move in retreat. Immediately came to mind events of similar circumstance in the life of me. Kid getting clobbered on the tennis court. Kid in a bad business bind. Kid at a loss in a piano recital.

Much has been written about animal emotions and should the concept come as a surprise, well, something is either wrong with your wiring or your experience of life. You need a dog. Appropriate to this bit is a recent tome on the subject: Mama’s Last Hug – Animal Emotions and What they Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans de Waal. The titular ‘Mama’ was a chimp who on her death bed pulled a human friend close for a last hug. A recent review of the book ends with a similar anecdote, but with the non human half of the pair having been an octopus. (NYT Book Review 3/3/19)

“By examining emotions in (animals and humans), this book puts these in evolutionary context, revealing how their richness, power and utility stretch across species and back into deep time.”… “Emotions are our body’s way of ensuring we do what is best for us… They focus the mind and prepare the body while leaving room for experience and judgement.”

As I approached the pool, my inner big man flashed years back upon a visit to the Seminole Village in Florida were we watched a tribe member swim after an alligator and wrestle it into submission. Deer aren’t carnivores and I thus wasn’t worried about the ripping of flesh, but still wondered about their bite. After herding it into the shallow end, I cornered it and slowly reached for its neck.

Never saw any teeth, but was amazed by the silence of its panic. From time to time I’ve heard the horrific screaming of a rabbit in the claws of an owl and had to guess that evolution has not made deer so enabled – epiphenomenal as the ability might be. I slowly gathered the four legs, lifted the soaking thing to my chest, and made my way to the side of the pool. When I set it upon the deck it was so tired that its feet splayed wide several times plopping it on the sidewalk like a dropped washcloth in a bathtub. Deer Mom took a few steps closer. Finally, firm footing was found, the two rubbed noses, and disappeared in the trees.

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Isn’t that rare?

March 1, 2019

In 1954 Mom took me on a train trip from home in Iowa to visit her aunt in Miami. About the trip she wrote to my father:

“Well I must say the train trip was even better than I anticipated. He was just a gem. Slept most of the first afternoon… Did a funny thing ever happen – You know how sound I sleep. Well, I woke up on the train and there was no Budge. He had crawled over me with his blanket and was sound asleep under the berth. Isn’t that rare?”

Mom always thought that everything I did was wonderful. Who was I to disagree? Jung would have used the term ‘puer aeternus’ to describe my state of mind. ‘…men who have difficulty settling down, are impatient, unrelated, idealistic, given to flights of imagination.’

I have been in food fights. I did swim in beer on the floor of my fraternity in college. I have spent a night in jail. I have told jokes at the expense of everything imaginable. Matter of fact, I usually speak without thinking. Uhm, just a few weeks ago I introduced myself to the attractive young woman in the office across the hall from me.

“I have a lot of neat stuff in my office and I get lonely over there. You should come over and visit sometime.”

Needless to say that when I recounted this recent episode to my wife and kids their eyes rolled. With Mom gone guess I’m going to have to grow up. I’m only sixty-six though. There’s still plenty of time.

Sheet ’em in…

February 22, 2019


Ya, long ago looking forward I figured that by now, sixty-six years into this pilgrimage, I’d feel wise. Perspicacious even. That’s how Dad seemed. That’s how Mom seemed. Grandparents for sure. It has slowly dawned on me though that I know a whole lot less than I thought I would this far along the path. Older then, younger now maybe. I do feel lucky. Hmmm.

Few years back in this space (2/16/13) I recounted the experience of sorting through a trove of old stuff and all of the accompanying emotions that nearly overwhelmed me. Well, I’m at it again and I’m here to tell you that whole new emotions have taken hold. We will have to see how effusive I feel over time, but I will start by reporting that I found the above referenced post printed out and lying upon my mother’s desk. It includes a photo and transcription of a Valentine Mom sent to Dad a few months before my birth.

In another place Doctor Brother and I found love letters recounting the first – chance – encounter of my paternal grandparents. I can’t imagine my grandmother using the salutation “gobs of love”. Letters in German from ancestors in Germany. Letters in English from ancestors in England. All 120+ years old.

Before I came across all that, I started going through my old bedroom which still holds everything I saved (or was saved for me) from birth through the day I got married. Baby book sure. Finger paintings from kindergarten. Lots of those simple cheap Valentines we exchanged in elementary.

First quarter kindergarten: “Budge is a friendly, cooperative child. He seems to enjoy all activities. He responds willingly and cheerfully…” But by second grade: “Budge tries hard to cooperate most of the time…” Gets worse before it gets better.

Like I said, depending upon what I allow myself, or trick myself into revealing, you will go: “OMG! Holy shit! I wonder what is in my folks’ house? Better get after it before my kids do.”

About to give up for the day, I found a collection of Thoreau’s essays girlfriend (now wife) sent to me (“I decided to send you a little prize. This book was my favorite book during my summer in Washington…” ) which includes the following:

“The sail – The play of its pulse so like our own lives. So thin and yet so full of life. So noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective.”

So true. As when two parents discuss a problem in a child’s life there is pure effort. Nothing wasted. But flapping lips, pounding fists, slamming doors do not make for headway.

Sheet ‘em in.

Go Cubs!

February 13, 2019


After 90 full years of pedal to the metal, Gloria de Silva Gierke died on November 6, 2018 in bed just after putting on her glasses, but before selecting a book from her overloaded nightstand.

Memorial services to celebrate her life will be held at 10:30 AM on Tuesday November 20, 2018 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 121 West 12th Street, Davenport, Iowa. The family will greet friends in the Great Hall from 9:00 AM until service time. Memorials may go to The Figge Art Museum,The Quad City Symphony or Trinity Cathedral.

Gloria was born on March 23, 1928 at Cook County Hospital in Chicago where her father was a physician in training. A few years later she was joined by her brother Bud with whom she had a particularly close relationship until his death in 2010. After completing his residency Dr. and Mrs de Silva (Edward and Gretchen) moved their family to Rock Island where he joined his father’s practice. Gloria loved school and attended many, but credited St. Katharine’s for a lifelong love of learning.

As for many of their generation, WWII intervened and Gloria had a trove of interesting memories as her family followed her father’s MASH unit across the country from one army base to another. In Brownwood, Texas she was home coming queen. Upon return to Rock Island she was Queen of the Mardi Gras.

After the War, Gloria attended Northwestern University in Evanston where she was, for a time, pre med, but was graduated with a degree in literature. Thus arose a passion for the arts in all their forms. At about this time she and her brother were devastated by the divorce of their parents. Both parents remarried however and happy new relationships developed all round. The bond between Gloria and Bud greatly strengthened.

On May 1951 she married Glen Gierke less than a year after their first encounter. A few months of unmitigated bliss ensued until June of 1952 when their first child, Budge, was born. Ed arrived in August of 1954 and Peter in January of 1956. Gloria was an unbelievable mother and neighborhood captain tending tirelessly to issues related to hydration and minor loss of blood. Once Peter was in school full time Gloria returned to work as treasurer of the family business, Gierke Robinson Co. Less than a year later her father wrote to her husband of his concerns about Gloria working too hard. Ha. She never took a sick day for the next forty-five years. She would have preferred to step directly from her office and friends there into heaven, but agreed to sell the business in 2014.

Gloria found time to engage in a wide range of pursuits for the good of numerous causes, including her decade plus services on the boards of the Tri City Symphony, St Katharine’s, and Trinity Cathedral.

Through to the very end she nurtured the development of her children, grandchildren, great grand children, and all significant others. They are all very much the better for her hand in their lives. One felt fortunate to be in her orbit.

She would wax proud and powerful about her sons, her great good fortune in Sally, her wonderful grandchildren: Tiana O’Konek (Nathan), Andrew, Abigail (John Farrell), Peter (Jaiyin Hu), and great grandchildren Henry and Nettie O’Konek.

Chief among the many souls she cherished who left before her were son Ed and husband Glen.

Sui Generis. Go Cubs!

Pirouette

January 18, 2014

Ceres Chair

Went to the movies the other night and saw August-Osage County which I just learned was nominated for several Oscars this year.  Hmmm.  Interesting performances, but I just couldn’t relate.  Never interacted with a family so rife with dysfunction.  Film starts off with senior male member of the clan, played by Sam Shepard, taking his own life.  Mother, played by Meryl Streep, drops the f-bomb with great frequency.    If I ever heard my mom utter that epithet I’d know the end to be near.

Sitting there attempting to get comfortable I thought a bit about Shepard.  He’s good in everything and makes memorable the smallest bits of a role.  There’s a personaI connection: I always think of his crooked teeth when I look in the mirror.  Anyway, as you may know he’s also a playwright and something he said about the craft came to mind.  “For me, playwriting is and always has been like making a chair.  Your concerns are balance, form, timing, lights, space, music.  If you don’t have these essentials you might as well be writing a theoretical essay, not a play.”

Well, for me, those concerns weren’t well addressed in that film, but as luck would have it, I got a new chair for Christmas and thus have been given to think about Shepard’s metaphor in relation to the gift and my way in the world.   Visitors to this space will know that I’m a world class daydreamer and should thus expect that facilitation thereof to be important to these ruminations.  Call me VP in charge of staring off into space.

The factors Shepard mentions are all important, but for me light and music stand out. In a chair you ask?  They’re not important for mushroom theory of management* sorts, but reign supreme wherever creativity is important.  And where is it not? I read an article in the Harvard Business Review a while back that described an incipient trend in which job candidates with an MFA were hired over those with an MBA.  They’re better equipped to develop ‘over the horizon’ scenarios.

Light and music in a well wrought play might refer to the manner in which truth about a character, or the plot, or life is revealed.  Think about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid maybe.  Ya, remember when they’re in Bolivia and Strother Martin asks The Kid to demonstrate his marksmanship?  The Redford character first misses the block of wood Martin’d tossed out, Newman winces, but the Kid then says “Can I move?” and with speed, agility, and grace destroys it.

I’m gonna quote myself to bring in a bit of science: “Recent article in the Boston Globe and WSJ describe new research into the emerging field of embodied cognition.  Investigators do indeed believe that movement and gesticulation enhance cerebration.  ‘People think with their bodies, not just their brains… arm movements can affect language comprehension… children are more likely to solve math problems if they are told to gesture with their hands….’”**

Ya gotta move and I can in this new seat like in none before.  I lean forward to type and then back to look at the ceiling or out the window and feel like I’m getting a massage as I stretch.  I think about Dad telling me not to lean back and rock in my chair, and then an article in the New Yorker about how those with Aspergers like to rock and then one in the same issue about how Bill Gates does too.

I quickly became so fond of my new perch that I traced its designer to Germany.    Guy by the name of Wolfgang Deisig.  “A chair should be like a comfortable jacket, you slip into it and it feels good” he says.  Interestingly, for me anyway,  Deisig has had a long relationship with the famed German Vitra firm.  At the Vitra Design Museum near Basel Switzerland recently launched an exhibition about the life and work of architect Louis I Kahn prominent in which is work by his collaborator Anne Tyng about whom I’m deeply engaged in research.

Tyng was fond of psychiatrist Carl Jung who coined the term synchronicity and amazingly enough, that’s just what we have here.    I’ve a long way to go, but look forward to a pirouette from time to time for inspiration and/or celebration.  My chair and I will see this project through to the end together.

Ceres Chair 2

*Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em shit

** See post of January 24, 2008

***Chair is the Ceres by Hon

****Speaking of synchronicity, Ceres is the Roman Goddess of Agriculture-Perfect for this site, no?

I Don’t Get It

January 10, 2014

Big Mac 2

Roy Kroc, the man who made McDonald’s into the purveyor of billions of Big Macs, Royales with Cheese, and reconstituted French Fries once said that “As long as you’re green you’re growing.  As soon as you’re ripe, you rot”.  Look at the photo above and meditate upon that metaphor.

That burger is about fifteen years old.  Recalling how my brother would drive and hour and a half to McDs when he was a geologist in a uranium mine in the middle of nowhere Wyoming I decided to give him one for his birthday many years ago.  Figured I should make sure preparation was up to snuff so took a bite before wrapping it up.

He was thrilled and I was pleased.  I’m older and have always looked out for him and taken pains with instruction related to the Golden Rule.  Imagine then how greatly I was moved when six months later I loosed a ribbon on a box from him and found the same sandwich!

Not to overdo a good thing and drain the exchange of its cathartic potential,  we don’t pass the two patties, special sauce,  sesame seed bun, et al back and forth more often than every several years.  I’d forgotten about it in fact and was thus thrilled to find it in a package for me under the Christmas Tree this year. J

Back to the metaphor.  From the one mouthful, I can attest to its original ripeness, but as you can see there was no subsequent rot to the rest.  No rodent, bug, bacteria, or bit of mold has ever paid it the least attention.  It is not at all fragile.  A recent incredulous visitor knocked it off of my desk by accident and reassembly was a snap.

I don’t get it.  Could McDonald’s have the key to immortality?

Thought I’d Know More

December 13, 2013

Galesburg Rail Yard

Few days after Thanksgiving I dropped son off at train station for him to make his way back to work some six hours north.  We’ve had the pleasure of A fair amount of travel by rail and find it much the most enjoyable means by which to get from A to B.  You can move about, see the countryside, converse face to face, and get a neat nights sleep on longer journeys.  No TSA.

Depot is about forty-five minutes from our home and as per usual I used the time to share nuggets of my accumulated wisdom.   I could tell it was well received because son’s eyes were closed in concentration.   We hugged, I watched him board, and the bullet quickly departed on schedule having only stopped for ten or so minutes.

Wife knew of some sort of special repository in the vicinity and asked for me to find it and bring a load of stuff home.  I followed GPS to where I’d asked it to take me, but found that of the two related locations, I’d made the wrong choice.  Called the place and found that I was close and that the crow’s path would take me by the rail yard you see above.  It is huge.

In no hurry I stopped to survey the scene.  While so doing, for some reason, my mind went back to the advice I’d shared with son.  I remember thinking first that, like most of the time I hold forth, I should pay more attention to myself.  And then, while recalling the wizened faces of elders telling me how best to negotiate life’s labyrinth, realized that back then I figured that the nature of my consciousness would be different by this ripe old age than is in fact my experience of it.

Thought I’d know more, feel like a sage.

Proud to be from Davenport, Iowa!

July 19, 2013

  Col D 1

  Well, for a variety of excellent reasons, I haven’t been able to accomplish much this week and was looking out my window while trying to think of what to do next.  I noticed something white across the river and took up my binoculars to investigate.  White pelicans.  There were never any such birds around these parts when I was young, but now there is a healthy breeding population.   

  They are beautiful to watch in flight, particularly when in flocks.  (I looked it up, groups of pelicans aren’t flocks, they’re pods…)   The birds’ moves are coordinated, mostly, and are slow and elegant.  Not as exciting to watch hunt as their grey cousins however.   When fishing, the former sort of just bob.  The latter, collapse their wings upon spying quarry, point their beaks at dinner, and crash through the water’s surface in pursuit.

  They don’t live around here though and I soon bored watching the white ones lounge about and began to scan upstream.  Came to the house you see above.  It was built by Colonel George Davenport in about 1833 near the site of his first residence, a double wood cabin.  Davenport, after whom the largest city in our metro area is named, had an interesting method of organizing a family.

  He was about twenty-two in 1805 when he married the widow Margaret Lewis who was seventeen years his senior and had two children, William who died shortly thereafter, and Susan who had been born in 1800.  In 1817 Davenport and Susan had their first child, George Jr and in 1823 their second son, Bailey.   Colonel Davenport was also blessed with a daughter, Elizabeth, born to him in 1835 by, uh, one of the family’s indentured servants.

  Like I said, interesting.  Next time I get distracted and look out the window I’ll have to imagine what might have been the nature of dinnertime conversation over there.  Would have been a confusing eight plus place table, with Dad, four children, and everyone else named Mom.   

Stupid Squirrel

June 16, 2013

Father 1

I’ve mentioned this before, but in case you forgot, today is Bloomsday.  You remember, right?  It marks the life and career of James Joyce.  Why the 16th?  Well, Joyce chose the sixteenth of June to be that of the perambulation of the chief protagonist of his groundbreaking novel Ulysses.  Now, mining way down, to the bottom, why  June sixteenth?  If you’ve forgotten, I’m glad you’ve been curious enough to read this far.  That had been the date of his first outing with wife to be Nora Barnacle.

  They had children and Joyce said that children should be raised by love which is convenient because this particular June 16th is also Father’s Day.  Joyce would agree with Swiss child psychologist Alice Miller who looked at child rearing from the opposite perspective.  She wrote that the most pervasive and pernicious crime in modern society is child abuse which is at root of all evil in our world.  Her biographical analysis of Hitler serves her point well.

  I have been fortunate enough to have had both a great dad from whom I solicited advice for the last time the day before he died in 2007 and a great father- in-law (who died just a few months back) to whom I posed a big question nearly thirty six years ago.  The former’s words helped prevent me from electrocuting myself that day and the latter gave his assent to something incredible.  I miss both dearly and think of them every day.   I think they’d agree that men don’t really ‘get’ kids until they have one of their own and know that they would with the Navajo who “think that a baby is fully human when it laughs for the first time*”.

Father to the Man by Tom C Hunley

The OBGYN said babies almost never
arrive right on their due dates, so
the night before my firstborn was due
to make his debut, I went out with the guys
 
until a guilt-twinge convinced me to convince them
to leave the sports bar and watch game six
on my 20-inch rabbit eared, crap TV.  After we
arrived, my wife whispered, “My water broke”
 
as the guys cheered and spilled potato chips
for our little dog to eat up.  I can’t remember
who was playing whom, but someone got called
for a technical, as the crowd made a noise
 
that could have been a quick wind, high-fiving
leaf after leaf after leaf.  I grabbed our suitcase
and told the guys they could stay put, but we
were heading for the hospital and the rest of
 
our lives.  No, we’re out of here, they said.
Part of me wanted to head out with them,
back to the smell of hot wings and microbrews,
then maybe to a night club full of heavy bass
 
and perfume, or just into a beater Ford with a full
ash tray, speeding farther and farther into
the night, into nowhere in particular.  Instead I walked
my wife to our minivan, held her hand as she
 
stepped down from the curb, opened her door,
shut the suitcases into the trunk, and
ran right over that part of me, left it
bleeding and limping like a poor stupid squirrel.
 

*Thanks to Dr Brother for fixing me up with this bit from the 12/20/09 NYT Mag. You would not believe the size of my clippings file.

 
 
 
 

    

Forward

June 10, 2013

Redemption 

On the way to Acadia National Park recently, for another wonderful Artist in Residency, roommate tired of my line of BS and honestly actually told me to go to hell.  Taken somewhat aback, my little black angel Nellie and I went for a walk in search of exercise and relief while my mind drifted (for the umpteenth time) to thoughts of redemption.  And if you follow this space at all you will know that when I saw the sign above thoughts arose related to synchronicity and hope.

  Expecting an assortment of other untethered souls, I soon found that all throughout Maine “Redemption” indicates a venue at which empty bottles can be exchanged for dirty coins.  Oh well, we headed back to the artist supply store where our truck was being laden,  working up our best sorrowful eye routine.  Our artist rolled hers.  Best case scenario.

  Making our way north we stopped at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art to see a remarkable show of pictures and sculptures by “Scandinavia’s most famous living artist” Per Kirkeby.  The Dane’s words greatly informed the experience.  “The point at which art is found is the point where what is intriguing is dangerous.”  I totally buy that.  In every regard.  Art, on an easel or in a life, will not be found – or made – very far from the edge.

  “Where is the border between one and the other way to organize matter?  For a brief moment I saw geology as a worldview… A huge stream of energy and materials, which now and then converge in crystalline structures, a mountain, a church, a brief moment, a breath, a morning mist over the ever-flowing river.  The mountain-building energies were no less cultural than the energies of the church-builders”. 

  Brilliant. Consciousness as a force of nature. Tectonic even.  Those scientists in search of a grand unified theory should start with him.   New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote of Kirkeby’s work: it’s like being: “hit by an abrupt , mildly disorienting spell of self-consciousness, a kind of mental stumble: the Kirkeby effect”.  See?   Just like the slap upside the head with which I was graced by my artist as described above.

  Below you see his “Fram”.  It is at once “a poetic rendition of nature with a great force of color” and a demonstration of Kirkeby’s philosophy that: “A picture without intellectual superstructure is nothing”.  He has said that Fram draws from Caspar David Friedrich’s Das Eismeer (The sea of ice) which you see at bottom.  If you’re not familiar with the latter, make sure to notice the shards of a wrecked ship being crushed by the ice.  Fram means forward and was the name of the vessel used by polar explorer  Fridtjof Nansens between 1893 and 1912.

Fram 3

caspardavidfriedrich_theseaofice

*Quotes, photos, and information from the exhibition catalogue: Per Kirkeby Paintings and Sculpture, Kosinski and Ottmann, Yale, 2012.  The show originated at the Phillips Collection and the only other venue was Bowdoin.  There through Bastille Day