Monday, January 2, 2017

Merry Christmas 2015!

Merry Christmas 2015!

Another unseasonably-warm December.  Unlike Pearl Harbor 1941, there’s not a nip in the air here.  Temps in the sixties and seventies.  If we ever leave Virginia, here’s hoping it’ll be further south, and may all our Christmases be adobe tan.  I’ve never had to shovel sunlight.

I’ve decided that, if I my employer doesn’t sell me off to a band of Gypsies for a stick of chewing gum before July, 2021, that’s when I’d like to retire.  That day is bound to arrive on schedule, of course -- it’s on the calendar, after all -- but it’s a matter of speculation whether I’ll be here to enjoy it, or to enjoy it while I’m here.  Still, it’s fun to fantasize about it.  What will we do when we retire?  I’ve wondered about maybe… I dunno… a third career?  Writing books or articles?  Find more trombone sections to annoy?  That’s the ‘what’, but how about the ‘where’?  One could do worse than right here in Virginia Beach, but the traffic is wearisome.  Fortunately, there are plenty of bucolic little towns right here in eastern Virginia.  Oklahoma, of all places, is immortalized in song -- "Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain” -- so why not Tidewater Virginia?  “Where the swamp comes seeping through the drain”?  “Where the skeeters tap your jugular vein?”  The tune is catchy, but the lyrics need work.

So this year Debbie and I have taken little weekend drives through our great commonwealth, trying to get a flavor of the place, should we decide to stay somewhat local.  Generally, you can get a lot of bang for your real-estate buck once you leave Virginia Beach.  Smithfield is quaint -- founded in 1648, it’s one of our oldest towns, built around a small creek known as the Pagan River (makes you think there’s got to be a Heathen Mountain or a Lake Infidel somewhere nearby).   My family lived there until I was three; I even remember attending the old Methodist church -- or perhaps more accurately, getting stashed in the nursery. I even remember the time I escaped and went crawling through the congregation looking for my parents.   (“When the big hand hits twelve, we’re making a break for it, boys!”)  Cross the York River and you’re in Gloucester County -- that's where the British soldiers settled who were defeated by George Washington.  They still speak a kind of oddball English dialect known by the locals here as “Guinea” -- as someone of Tangier Island heritage, I can relate.  Then there’s Mathews County, which is where you go once you have completely renounced civilization.  We joke about backwater towns being “out in the Styx”, but Mathews County is so Stygian, all the hound dogs chained to the old Chevys up on blocks in the front yards have three heads.  But all things considered, we’d prefer a town where doing laundry doesn’t require taking it to the river and beating it with a stick.

Retiring elsewhere is still an option.  We visited our friends Kurt and Patty Rauscher this past spring; they gave up the scenic blizzards and alluring tornados of Indiana to brave the warm weather and octogenarian bumper-car traffic of Florida’s Gulf coast -- the locals refer to white-haired drivers as ‘Q-tips’.  I like Florida.  Lizards on your porch.  $2 soft crabs.  Bars with refrigerated ice strips for resting your beer on.  Floridians love their booze -- the barmaid described the local Total Wine shop as “Disneyland for alcoholics”.   Kurt and Patty live on Pine Island, a barrier island adjacent to the Cape Coral, and have a bald eagle’s nest in one of their palm trees.  There’s an old-school charm to the Gulf coast that’s missing from Florida’s Atlantic side.  You half-expect to see Ernest Hemingway pecking on an old manual typewriter, surrounded by cats and empty whiskey bottles.  Debbie and I attended the memorial service for Kurt’s mom, Irene, who was like a second mom to me when I was in high school.  Kurt’s dad, Merle. still looks great at 91 -- he’s a retired Air Force colonel and was a big influence on my choice of the Air Force as the place to serve.

We also visited our friends Sam and Aileen Collins, who live in a little community outside of Tyler, Texas named Hide-a-Way -- and that’s just what it is.  In Hide-a-Way, you can buy an elegant brick rancher, on a golf course, in a gated community, for about $225 grand.  I’d expected East Texas to look flat and dry, with cactuses and dry gulches -- like in the cowboy movies.  But in fact, East Texas looks a lot like Virginia, most of which is slightly hilly and lush with vegetation.  Sam and Aileen were wonderful hosts.  On July 4th, they took us to an Independence Day celebration at an enormous mega-church in Tyler.  I’ve seen big churches before, but this church -- named, I'm not kidding, Green Acres Baptist Church -- took it to a whole new level.  Perched on the third balcony, the air was thin and the pulpit but a distant apparition obscured just a bit by the cirrus clouds drifting below us in the second balcony.  The choir was about five times the size of our church’s entire congregation.  As the patriotic music played, dozens of American cultural icons paraded before us -- Snow White and her dwarfish coterie, Superman and Captain America, circus clowns, baton twirlers…  I joked to Debbie, “Where’s the Uncle Sam guy on stilts?”  She just pointed and said, “There!”  And there he was.  Not quite all American icons were on display -- no fat, bearded guys on Harleys, fedora-wearing gangsters, or Playboy centerfolds -- but this was a church, not a reality series.  Debbie and I learned we love gospel music after hearing a male gospel quartet singing in really tight harmonies.  East Texas seems like the America of fifty years ago, still very faith-oriented and Christ-friendly.  As far as we’re concerned, Green Acres is the place to be.

I enjoyed my strength-training regimen this year -- the best part was finally being able to open ketchup bottles without Debbie’s help.  Unfortunately, last June, I started experiencing shoulder pain.  At first, I thought it was tendonitis and tried fixing it by visiting a physical “terrorist”.  But that bombed.  Finally, one MRI and a head-shaking orthopedic surgeon later, I received sad tidings of great Oy! -- a shoulder operation is scheduled for January 6.  That’s what I get for trying to build my muscles -- you can’t tear a muscle you don’t have.   That’s my theory.

This year has been a more somber than most; we’ve lost a cherished loved one.  Debbie’s father, William Baxter Wallace, spent this past year in a nursing home.  He broke his hip in Jan 2014, and never really recovered -- "failure to thrive” is what the doctors wrote.   He had a number of good days -- flirting with the nurses and actually doing some filing work for them on occasion.  But it soon became apparent he wasn’t getting better and probably wasn’t going to.  The sad day happened on Oct 21.  Bill was a good man, very perceptive, kind-hearted and helpful.  Things I’ll always remember about Bill?  The first time we met, at an Air Force band concert while Debbie and I were on tour in California, I thought he looked like Burl Ives.  Whenever he visited, he did all the carpentry work we needed done, recognizing how hopeless I am with tools.  Bill was a guide at the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum -- a Navy pilot at the tail end of World War II, Bill knew everything there was to know about naval flight.    He had an engineer’s mind and a gentle heart.  And now he is with the Lord.  We miss him.

Debbie just turned “sweet sixty” and the Grinch gave her a European vacation.  We’re heading off shortly to take a Danube River cruise around Hungary and Austria -- it will be my first trip to Europe (Debbie’s been to Switzerland).  May the Lord bless you this Christmas season!

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