For Ken

The weight of being youngest of thirteen
Like starting in the middle of a book
Unaware of what will be and what has been

This brotherhood — primarily of gene
Familiarity that never took
The weight off being youngest of thirteen

Age differences far outside the mean
Busy lives — too oft we overlook
Unaware of what will be and what has been

Roads diverge — picture, please, the scene
We traipse along and nary take a look
At the weight of being youngest of thirteen

Checking in — “Hey! How’ve you been?”
Connections never made and never took
Unaware of what will be and what has been

Substance solace sought when still a teen
Became a gap impossible to brook
The weight of being youngest of thirteen
Unaware of what will be and what has been


My husband’s youngest brother passed away last week, and I’ve really struggled to find words for my feelings.

When I met Ken he was two years old and running naked through the yard, laughing. Bud caught him, scooped him up, and in a move that amazed me at the time, still amazes me today, and told me that Bud would be a great dad someday,  put child and diaper back together in a fraction of a second.

Over the next few years, I played countless games of Strawberry Shortcake In Big Apple City with Ken and his sister, Jeannie. Like every 3 or 4 year old, he cheated to win, because he understood that the point of the game was to get to the Strawberry House, but he didn’t necessarily understand that there were rules involved.

Zaengle family walk — 1984 — Ken on a bike in front

Bud and I married, moved away, started our own family, came back again, and Ken was school age.

By the time he was a teen, our family had expanded and kept expanding. When Kenny made some poor choices, Bud tried to be involved with getting him on the right track — but a 23 year age difference doesn’t make for an ideal brotherly relationship. Lord knows, though, they tried.

And life goes on.

Every family has struggles. And splinters. Ours was no different.

We lost touch.

No, I’ll say it — I blocked him on Facebook because I couldn’t handle the weight of his struggles along with the weight of my own. Does that make me a terrible person? Probably.

But it doesn’t change the fact that we loved him — even though we didn’t know the right way to go about showing it.

I’m sad that Kenny’s gone.

And I’ll treasure the memory of that little boy laughing in the front yard — back when demons weren’t chasing him, only big brothers with diapers.

My sympathy goes to Sarah, Oden, Ellie, and Evan.

Lessons from Tuga

“I suppose I should take a picture of you,” I said to Tuga, pulling him out of my pocket yesterday while I walked around town.

He said nothing, which felt almost like a dare. I dare you to take pictures of a plastic rabbit. Won’t you look foolish!

Ah, but I knew better. I was on the last leg of my walk, going down the path. Nobody walks on the path, especially after it rains because of the mud and it had just rained. I doubted anyone would see me photographing my plastic bunny.

I set him in a dry patch of grass.
img_1299

He laid his ears back and didn’t look happy.

Oh, wait, his ears are always back.

He’s not supposed to be happy.

“Tuga,” I said, “you’re supposed to teach me something this Lent.”

I was hoping for a little more cooperation.

“How about you look out at the river?” I said, moving him a little and stepping back. I was thinking of the scene from Watershed Down where the rabbits must escape across the river.

But the blue sky with its big puffy clouds reflected so beautifully in the water that I took another step back to include it. Tuga, my little sorrowing bunny, all but got lost in the shot.

img_1300

It struck me — isn’t that the way it is with sorrow? In the bigness and busy-ness of life, the sorrowing one can get lost.

I picked him up and tucked him in pocket, knowing I would have to ponder that a little more.

When I reached the stone bridge, I set Tuga on a parapet.img_1301

He looked rather lost in there, too. So small.

That’s when I saw the man on the stone bridge talking on his cell phone. We briefly made eye contact before I grabbed Tuga and stuffed him in my pocket again, hurrying on down the path.

Once again, I was struck by the picture of sorrow. How often do sorrowing people stuff their emotions away because they’re embarrassed or self-conscious?

If nothing else, Tuga is teaching me an awareness for the sorrowful. In my own busyness, I may pass them by, or, in their self-consciousness, they may hide their feelings.

Lord, make me more aware!

 

Shadow and Light

I rotated the ivy the other day.  It was reaching for the window and had turned all its leaves to the sun.

Sometimes I think we’re like plants — craving light, seeking light, pursuing light.

The shadows are okay, though. I’m learning to lean in.

I looked through old pictures for shadow shots. This one caught my eye. The shadow tells us something the shot otherwise wouldn’t reveal.

frame-09-02-2017-08-26-09

These simply accentuate the beauty of the building, especially its columns.

Summer day

Summer day

village-hall

Winter evening

I liked the shadows from the old bridge.

img_0394

And the long leg shadows in a late afternoon sun.img_0736

I was happily looking through lots of old pictures.  Then, I stopped.

In the pictures below, you won’t see the shadows, but I do.

On New Year’s Eve 2004, we played a family game of Scattergories. My brother, Stewart, was there. I could hear his voice, his laugh. He always loved games.

Stewart

Stewart

I felt a lump in my throat looking at Stewart’s picture. We’ll never play games with him again.

Then I saw this — my mother and father consulting on Scattergories.100_1930

They made a good team.grammie-laughing

And had a lot of fun.

That lump in my throat grew.

I miss those days.

But they’re just a shadow now.

Like my ivy, it’s time to turn back to the light.

Howard Talbot

My first job was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. Ticket and souvenir sales were rolled into one department. One lucky girl, often my sister, got to sit in the private ticket booth and read books when she wasn’t busy.  The rest of us worked the ticket window and the souvenir counter.

Howard Talbot hired me.

“Well, hello, young lady,” he said whenever he greeted me, a big smile on his face. He was a genuinely happy man who intimidated me only because he was my boss.

I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he still greeted me the same way.

“Well, hello, young lady,” he said, and smiled that same smile. He was stooped over a walker and I have some gray hair now, but I was transported to the old BBHofF, before they added on and made it big and fancy.

His office was right around the corner from the souvenir shop so we saw him often.

That same summer that I worked for him for the first time, I also had a part-time job working for a researcher at Bassett Hospital. Dr. Ashford was looking at temperature changes in patients in the days before their death. My job was to pull charts of patients who had died in the hospital and retrieve the data about their temperature from the vitals recorded by the nurses.

Between my work at the Hall of Fame and my work at the hospital, I kept busy which was always a good thing for me. By the end of the summer, though, I was tired of working. Both jobs could continue into the school year, although both employers acknowledged that my hours would be less.

The introvert in me loved the aloneness of the research job, so I decided that I needed to tell Mr. Talbot that I wouldn’t be available to work at the Hall of Fame during the winter. The next time I worked, I asked him if I could talk with him for few minutes.

I had mentally rehearsed everything I wanted to say to him. Still, I fidgeted nervously in the chair opposite his desk after he called me into his office.

“Well, young lady,” he said with a smile, “what can I do for you?”

“I’ve really enjoyed working at the Hall of Fame this summer,” I told him.

He nodded at me encouragingly.

“And you know I’ve also been doing some work for Dr. Ashford,” I said. Dr. Ashford lived just around the corner from the Talbots.

He nodded again.

“So the summer has been ludicrous,” I said.

He stopped nodding. He looked at me. I thought that maybe he didn’t understand the big word I had used.

“You know, I made a lot of money,” I explained.

A smile played at the corners of his mouth. It’s a wonder he didn’t burst out laughing.

“I think you mean lucrative,” he said quite seriously, though his eyes twinkled as he watched me.

I’m sure I blushed. I can still feel the redness in my face. I forgot the rest of my speech, and, as a result, ended up working at the Hall of Fame for the next two years.

It really was a fun job.

Howard Talbot passed away a few days ago. Yesterday I went to his calling hours. I told his wife and his children how much I loved the way he always greeted me and called me “young lady,” whether I was 15 or 55.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell them this story. It still makes me blush. And laugh.

But today it might make me cry.

Good-bye, Mr. Talbot. Thanks for the job and the memories. I’m glad I knew you.