Stitches in Time

Place thread spool on retainer and pull thread through top tensioner than down through the center tensioner before placing the thread between the tensioning plates of the adjustable tensioner, Then feed thread through slacking arm while feeding it through the thread guide and then threading the needle front to back. The slacking arm must be in the raised position as should be the foot, as this will cause the needle to be raised and accessible for threading.  Manually rotate the machine through a stitch cycle and this should engage and raise the free end of the bobbin thread, making the machine ready to sew. Please see Chapter 6 for programming information on stitch patterns.  I read this paragraph three times, looking at the sewing machine in front of me and wishing the manual had pictures. I finally set the little book down and stared at the machine and thought to myself, “If I were a thread, where would I go?”

Thank God for army training, my instincts proved correct because after manipulating my tongue from one side of my mouth to the other, the machine appeared ready to sew. I ran some test fabric through it and was delighted to find that it sewed very nicely. Good old army. The number of skills I got from my four years of active duty are still giving me an edge over situations which could end up intimidation filled failures. The army taught me about sewing machines during parachute rigger school. I spent six weeks in Fort Lee, VA learning how to sew ripstop nylon and nylon webbing. I also learned such complex skills as grommet installation.

The army had two different sized sewing machines. One was a heavy duty version of the Singers that graced many homes back in the 50s and 60s. The other was a behemoth that looked more like a pile driver than a sewing machine. We called it the Chompin’ Mother, and at least one person in every class managed to put the ten penny nail sized needle through a finger by virtue of a moment of inattention. It was used to sew the thick nylon webbing used for strapping on cargo parachutes. However it was equally adept at sewing two pieces of 16th inch steel plate together, as our instructors would gleefully demonstrate. A guy in our class managed to sew his middle and ring fingers together with it, the thread now tied neatly in the middle of the penetrated bones.  But the majority of my military use of sewing machines was with that rip stop nylon, which is lousy stuff to try to sew. It is slippery and wants to bunch up as you sew, and … uh, never mind. I learned to sew in the army, that’s all.

Anyway, it was kind of deja vu, sitting in a pool of light in my darkened room as I was stitching on an army jungle fatigue jacket. I bought a complete jungle fatigue uniform for a costume party, having decided to go as a wounded soldier. It made great camouflage for the wheelchair I’m stuck in. Anyway, the jacket was without any decorations or patches and so I had to put the US Army tape on it, along with my Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Rigger Wings, and Jump Wings. I also had to put a 101st Airborne Screaming Eagle on the left shoulder and an 82nd Airborne Double A on the right. This is actually an authentic representation. Anyway, sewing the patches on made me think about other times patches were sewn to my uniforms. Sometimes at a PX, sometimes by needle and thread done by me, and sometimes sewn by an old Vietnamese woman, a mama-san, in a little streetside booth.

When I got to Vietnam and was moving through Camp Alpha, it was an old woman in a booth who sewed my name tape and my division patch on my brand new jungle fatigues. I remember thinking how cool I thought the new threads were, what with their slanted breast pockets and the thigh pockets large enough to carry a small car. I even thought the jungle boots were cool looking, a kind of combination of boot and hi top sneaker. It was so different from what I was used to, and it had a quality of reinforcing that I was really there, really in the tropics, far away from home. It’s not like there weren’t other indicators, like the tremendous heat and the way so many people were carrying around so many different guns.  When I got up to Phan Rang, the division base, I remember the group of us newbies standing around the armorer’s hootch. This guy was so pissed because I was given a shoulder holster and a .45 caliber automatic along with an M-16. They handed the pistols out to us because we would do air crew work, plying our trade of aerial delivery. Anyway, I had to listen to him complain and try to talk me into letting him try it out, as if he could just step outside and plink off a few rounds. He wasn’t a rigger though, and so we parted company quickly, with me heading off to the rigger compound on the far side of Tan Son Nhut airport, back south in Saigon.

Anyway, here I am now, looking at this uniform and feeling a rush of memories like the wash of a flash flood. So many images, so many thoughts. It somehow shortens the forty-six year span between now and then, yet also doesn’t. In many ways it’s still distant and mist enshrouded, and what I do see a jumble. Like Picasso painted my memories or something. But the thing that stands out the most is the sense of anticipation. There was always a heavy sense of anticipation and excitement when I had patches sewn on my uniforms. They always meant change, and here all this time later, that’s the sense that stands out the most as I reminisce those times.

Even today, as I apply these patches, there is a sense of anticipation and change. The costume party is my son’s wedding reception. And that too causes a whole set of memories to rush at me as I blink at the snapshots my mind displays to me, showing me my children as they grew and became adults. I see their first steps and hear their first words, I see them in their school recitals and playing sports. I see their evolution in a quick moving time lapse. It’s funny how some things can be such exquisite triggers of memory. Uniform patches. Who’da thought they could be so deep?

Coming Home

The plane lifted off and crawled into a fast darkening sky. I watched the lights of San Francisco recede and fall behind until there was nothing to see but blackness. I felt that sad melancholy of  leaving people you love behind as the plane took me back to Spokane. I had just watched my eldest son marry the woman of his dreams, the seedling moments from which the tree of relationship would grow.  Living in Spokane keeps me far from my children; they are scattered from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles and our seeing one another is a rarity, so seeing any of them is always a treat. But seeing all three at once and having the delicious joy of all of them at once was a pleasure that can only be described as exquisite. Interacting with them day to day allowed me to get accustomed to their presence, to have them just a glance away from me, to be able to reach out and put a hand on their shoulder or share a hug was sublime. Leaving them to scatter away and back to their own homes again was a bittersweet heartbreak.

The marriage of a child is so stark a reminder that life does go on, and that we parents are now extended family to the cores of their own. We are peripherals now, rather than a center. It is no longer up to us to make sure of their safety, nutrition and activity, but to merely watch from the sidelines, quietly cheering them as they now take the reins. But for these few days, these relatively short minutes in the grand scheme of life, I had them all back, and while not necessarily tucked beneath my wing, still close at hand. Close enough that the gravitational waves of family love were almost visible.

The recollecting and reminiscing amplified by the appearance of so many characters in the play of their lives, all reprising their roles as they flocked in to watch and celebrate the wedding. The weekend dunked us all in memories and held us under, we reliving the moments that made us laugh or cry or shout as they happened, but are now things to hold in our hands and inspect, turning them over and over as we remember them. So many years of growing a family, only to have life rightfully smash it, sending the pieces flying off in all directions where they would start the process over again. Some day in the future they too will be looking back and remembering.

But the view is not solely backwards. It is a perspective on the present, seeing what my children have become, and feeling so much pride that I wondered if my chest might explode. Stopping to think my way from the first days in the hospital with each of them, our very first meeting, and the ride from there to the present taking so little time. In so many ways it feels like just yesterday that I saw each of them brand new and tiny enough to fit easily into my hands. I see them now as these awesome people, each doing what they set out to do, so much more successful than I. Who could know, even ten years ago that it would be like this? I had the sense they would do fine, but to see it now just adds to my awe at who they have become. Certainly not my babies anymore, they are people having earned the respect of so many. At the wedding I was approached by so many people who just had to meet me, saying how they just had to meet me and shake my hand for bringing such greatness into their lives. How is a father not to slip away to hide the tears of pride in his children?  ”Your son is just awsome! Your daughter is amazing! Your boys are incredible.”

I know this. And so as I sit in this airplane and hear the murmurs of conversation above the rumble of jets and wind, I look out into the blackness and try to keep from jumping up and screaming to be taken back. Not just to San Francisco, but to those first moments of their lives so I can do this all over again. But I know that can’t happen, and with things as they are, with my illness festering away inside me, that this may well have been the last time I might get to see them all in so happy a circumstance. The last time to have them close by and feeling like a proud daddy and basking in their smiling laughter.

When my time is up, there will be something that I know. I will have the knowledge that they will carry on, spreading their wit and humor on and on. And that will make the leaving both that much easier and that much harder. I would want to witness it all. But I am caught in the cycle of life, just as all before me and all who will follow. A part of a process of over and overness; we all ride on the wheel of time. But it’s a worthwhile process, and weekends like this are testament to it. I have to be satisfied because there is no other choice available. I am grateful for this weekend, and all of the days that I spent as a father. I will, though, cherish this weekend especially because I had believed I would never get it, life having taken the turns it did. I am blessed to have the wonderful children I do, and privileged to have been able to take part in their lives.

There is a rumbling noise as the wheels are lowered and there are lights again visible out the window. Even in the dark I can recognize the features of my home town. In a few minutes I will get off the plane and go back to my own house, my own bed, and my own life. The flight has passed so quickly as the memories of the weekend swirled in my head, punctuated by snapshots of the previous thirty years of my life. The very best years, of course, because they were populated by my children. The very best people I know.


Washing the Hog

Subaru advertising is making me nuts. They spend a lot of time trying to associate their cars with warm and loving relationships full of romance and adventure. But it also appears to portray relationships as being like the cars as well; indicating that everything wears out. So here’s one ad showing a man reminiscing his time with a previous girl friend and then shows that while the woman changed, he kept the car. I don’t know if anyone else sees this in those commercials or if it’s just me, but it drives me a little wacky.

With now 60% of all marriages resulting in divorce, perhps the governing bodies in Mexico City have it right by offering licenses for marital contracts of two year terms. At the end of the two years, the couple can go their own way or choose to re-up. I have to wonder why someone would enter into such a relationship; I’m thinking why not just live together. That way, whenever the event comes around that you thought would cause you to be divorced in two years, you can go your separate ways. Of course, it turns the idea of relationsips into the same sort of commodity as a used car ownership.

I always figured that marriage was supposed to be a committment in the long term. To me, there are a few reasons for divorce; infidelity topping the list. I never got the concept of a partner shooting their spouse’s lover, I always figured you should kill the spouse, what with them doing the betraying and all. But apparently these days a lot of reasons suffice to break the bond respresented by the circular band on the third finger of the left hand. Everything from political disagreement to leaving public hairs on the bath soap seems to create solid reasoning for denouement.

I figure that marriage becomes valueless when there is no sense of trust and support for either or both of the parties. So it doesn’t take some particular bad deed to cause a breakup. People can and do grow apart when the mix wasn’t right from the get go, or as a result of character change over time. When one or both people become furniture as far as the other is concerned, then there is no point in the union.

Of course, marriage mens different things to different people. One can’t easily, in my opinion, compare the marriage of high school sweethearts with a marriage arranged by family before the bride or groom was born. Or compared with mail order marriages, marriages of convenience, or shotgun weddings. There are indeed a lot of different brands for this particular product. So maybe I just don’t know enough about the subject to have a valid opinion about it. Then too, I’m divorced myself. But I did have a negative reaction to Subaru’s characterization of wedded relationships being akin to vehicle ownership. That reaction came from somewhere so I must have an opinion anyway.

Then again, I guess it’s a little foolish to have a reaction to advertising, it’s all hogwash anyway.

Thankful Thursday #2

THANK YOU JOE for……………….
Endless driving to dr. appointments,  drinks of water, and deepening dependence.  
Hugs and holding my hand, and masked messages only we can share.
Blessings and  strategic juggling of household chores and children’s activities.
Earning a living while easing my burdens.  More than most men could handle.
Telling me I’m beautiful with my bare head and raw emotions.
Walgreen runs and a package of oreos under my pillow. 
Calming my housewife guilt with a gentle hand; leading me back to lie down.
Phone calls, “just checking on you calls,” and “just because I love you,” calls. 
How do I ever express my gratitude and love for this man that married me over twenty six years ago. 
Covenanting with me and God to be by my side as we began a life and family together.  
Both have given us more than one could imagine.  
Breathtaking mountains to climb and breath “shaking” changes as we race up and
 down this roller-coaster of a life buckled in tightly together.