Inspiring Moment: Valiant Orchid and My Orchid Story

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on May 27, 2013

Inspiring Moment: Valiant Orchid

I usually don’t link a story to my weekly Inspiring Moment posts, but this photo so perfectly illustrates my reflections about my aging father from just a little over a year ago that it seems fitting.

As an update, my father is still with us, although quite deteriorated over the past 12 months. We hold out hope, yet know that eventually that last blossom will fall.

Father’s Day Remembered

Written by John Paul Carter on June 21, 2012

After all the wonderful Memory of Dad stories that we published last week in honor of Father’s Day, I couldn’t resist one last one. It’s courtesy of one of our frequent guest columnists, John Paul Carter, an ordained minister who pens a column entitled, “Notes From the Journey,” for the Weatherford Democrat newspaper near Fort Worth, Texas. Thanks, as always, John Paul!

From the time I was 14, my parents insisted that I find a summer job. By the time I entered Baylor in 1956, I had labored as a grocery-sacker, soda-jerk, shipping clerk, and metal worker. At the time, although I did my work well, I saw little connection between it and my future vocation as a minister.

As my sophomore year at Baylor drew to a close, having failed again to find a summer church position, I hired on as a counselor at the Dallas Big Brothers’ Camp Tammi Babi. The wilderness campsite was located in the rugged cedar-brakes near Cedar Hill (later the home of Northwood Institute).

It consisted of a base camp (dining hall and swimming pool) and several outlying campsites, each housing 8 boys and 2 counselors who lived in tents, cooked most of their meals over a wood fire, and “roughed it” for a month at a time.

I had lived in the city all my life, never been a Boy Scout, and only been camping once or twice. Looking back, I’m not sure who was more desperate, me for a job or the camp director for counselors.

Before the boys arrived for camp, we were required to complete a grueling, two week orientation during which we prepared the campsites and ourselves. There was a thick counselor’s manual to be mastered, new outdoor skills to be learned, and lots of back-breaking labor – all in 100 degree weather.

What had I gotten myself into?

The first Sunday at camp was Father’s Day and we were allowed to go home to do our laundry and enjoy a few hours in air-conditioning with our families before taking up our cross again. None of us lingered at the front gate that morning and some of us doubted we would return!

As soon as I got home, I began to describe my ordeal to my father – sleeping on a cot in a hot tent, digging latrines and fire-pits out of solid rock, exhausting heat, snakes, spiders, horseflies, and very little pay.

I painted a miserable picture and asked his permission to quit and search for another job.

Daddy listened patiently and was sympathetic to my plight. After a brief silence, he said, “I want you to go back out there and give it your best for one more week. Then, if you still feel the same way, come home and I’ll help you find another job.”

Reluctantly, I agreed.

To my amazement, after another week of hard work with the other counselors, I wanted to stay and spend the next two months in the cedars as “Chief Paul” with a bunch of eight-year-old boys I’d never met before.

Although I couldn’t imagine it at the time, that summer turned out to be one of the best times of my life. I learned more about life, survival, grown-ups, children, myself, and nature than I ever would have learned in a church – lessons that have lasted a lifetime.

Surely God was where I didn’t expect him and I almost missed it!

That summer might not ever have been, had it not been for my dad.

As he often did, Daddy listened, understood, encouraged, gently guided, and then let me make my own decision.

That’s why, on Father’s Day, over fifty years later, I still give thanks for my dad!

 

Memory of Dad: Prince Albert in a Can

Written by Jean Hartley on June 17, 2012

Military-officer Daddy and toddler Jean holding hands

 

Part 1

Recently I spied a red Prince Albert tobacco can in a cigar showcase and my throat tightened.

Suddenly I was back in high school doing dumb telephone pranks.

“Do you have Prince Albert in cans? You better let him out before he suffocates.”

Fifty years later that red can evoked powerful memories of, “. . .if only.”

In the 1940s we lived in a big house in Indianapolis, Indiana. I remember sitting on my Daddy’s lap in the worn winged-back chair listening to the Motorola radio sputtering out news from the front. We heard Churchill exhorting Londoners to keep up their courage during the Blitz.

Relaxing in the fading light of day, Daddy stirred the ice cubes in his evening bourbon and water with his finger. When my mother wasn’t looking, he let me chew the melting ice with its sharp alcohol bite.

The bourbon’s companion was either a cigar or pipe. When he smoked his Roi Tan cigar, he would ask me,”You like music?”

I knew what came next but could not resist the game. “Well, here’s a band,” he’d say as he slipped a paper cigar ring onto my finger.

I can still smell the Prince Albert crimp-cut tobacco as Daddy packed the loose shreds into his pipe bowl.

When we walked together I always hung on to his little finger. From my ground view I saw the highly polished leather riding boots, dove-grey jodhpurs, and a Sam Brown belt with holstered pistol, usual attire for Army officers in pre -World War II days.

The eagle insignia for the rank of Colonel sat on his shoulder epaulets, replaced later with the single silver star for Brigadier General.

Long after his polo and riding days were over, Daddy still carried a riding crop and wore jodhpurs.

Later he carried a cane, not for a physical need but for the Field Marshall Montgomery image.

Clinking ice, pungent pipe tobacco, and polished leather are vivid Daddy sounds and smells.

Part 2

In 1943 Daddy returned to our small French-speaking Louisiana town as a decorated war hero after 25 years of Army service. A parade honored the Cajun country boy who became a general.

I adored my Daddy but there were a few things I had trouble forgiving. He told me stories at bedtime about when he was a little girl, which I believed.

I don’t remember when I discovered the truth, but I always wanted to know “why” the little-girl charade? I remember his answer, “Cher, meant no harm. Thought you would like a girl story better. Forgive me?”

I always forgave him, but wondered about the other tales of stolen watermelons floating down the bayou.

Those romantic stories sounded like Huckleberry-Finn adventures. Were those fibs too?

“I knew our Division would soon leave for North Africa. Just wanted to comfort you, hold you before the good-night time.”

What about the promise to build a two-story dollhouse with electric lights, miniature furniture, and little family dolls with movable arms and legs?

The memory of his voice is still clear.

“Don’t know why I promised you things I knew I couldn’t deliver. Maybe I wanted to create reasons to come home to.”

Years later when I was all grown up and didn’t cry over lost doll houses, I saw rows of colorful campaign ribbons pinned above his left pocket representing medals awarded for gallantry in World War II. Among them were the highly valued Croix de Guerre and the French Legion of Honor.

Although I did not grasp the significance of these honors, I loved to trace my fingers over the campaign ribbons as Daddy told war stories.

Soon the V-mails and Stars and Stripes newspapers were packed away to yellow with time. After graduate school, I fled to the West Coast with others searching for the coffee houses of the Beat Generation.

My phone conversations home were brief – our family did not believe in extravagant long-distance calls. I assumed we would have time for more chats and visits but death took Daddy too soon at only 68 years.

I lost my precious last five minutes.

Part 3

During late-night hours I often replay old memory tapes.

I curl up in Daddy’s lap in the wing-back chair and ask again about the watermelons . . . and the dollhouse.

I know we will sit together by the Motorola for eternity, smell the aromatic Prince Albert, and clink ice cubes laced with bourbon.

Editor’s Note: This beautifully written story was submitted by Jean Hartley, a polio survivor who serves as coordinator for Disabled Adventures Hawaii, a nonprofit organization that “connects people with limited mobility on-line to accessible activities on the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.” Jean also blogs at Stories About Disability. Thank you so much, Jean! 

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Dad

Memory of Dad: Dads Always Find Out

Written by Randi Levin on June 14, 2012

I have many memories of my Dad.

My story begins on my very first night of grad school, once class was let out.

My class was on a military base. The front license plate on my car was missing, so MP’s pulled me over.

Long story short they arrested me and kept me for many hours in a cell being told, “No phone call, no this or that–just sit there!”

All I could think about was, “There goes my graduate degree, and OMG how am I am going to explain this to my Dad?”

At the end of their shift,  I was driven back to my car. Nothing happened and nothing was ever said to my parents.

And yes, I could still go to graduate school. Thank goodness!

***

Just about 30 years later, Dad was ill and slowly dying, Mom was battling cancer, and I had several careers.

Needless to say, I was visiting my parents quite often, primarily to spend precious time with Dad.

One night there was some movie on the TV, I sat on the couch reading and watching and he did the same from his chair.

All of a sudden, some innocent people were swept away and locked in a military jail.

And then, out of nowhere. my dad looked right into my eyes and said, “It doesn’t feel so good to be locked up in a military jail does it, Babe?”

I mumbled some answer, yet at that moment I knew that he knew what had happened so many years back.

I didn’t say anything related and he went back to his book and movie.

How he knew I didn’t know. But trust that Dads always find out and know much more about us than we could ever imagine!

To this day I still miss him. . .

Editor’s Note: Randi Levin is a cookbook author/publisher in Colorado who specializes in high-altitude cooking and baking. 

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Dad

Memory of Dad: I’m Sorry I Didn’t Listen

Written by Kevin Huhn on June 13, 2012

The first thing I would do is hug him and tell him how sorry I was for not listening to his wisdom.

I was 26 when my Dad passed away from a sudden heart attack. He was 52 and was so well respected in Montreal, Québec, in the travel industry.

He did so much making sure that I was given all that he didn’t have, while, at the same, making sure I learned great lessons of how to treat people, how to be in certain environments, and what to do with my life as I got older.

By no means was he rich financially, but he was wealthy with relationships, especially with my mom.

He adored her and taught me how to be a good husband and father. . .problem was, it took me years to learn about how to do it.

Today I am 48. And, in my dreams, I talk to him about the things I have done/not done.

I did not get to say goodbye when he died. I was in another city at a sales meeting and got a call that he had passed away a few hours earlier.

I can remember walking into my Mom’s house, and just breaking down there, and then again at the cemetary.

For anyone who has a relationship with a parent (that they feel is a good one). . .I urge them to hug them, listen to them, and really feel the presence of them.

I sometimes wonder what would I have been like had he still been around.

Then again, his passing is what maybe helped me grow up.

Editor’s Note: This Memory of Dad (MoD) was written by Kevin Huhn, an author based in Ontario, Canada.

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Dad

Memory of Dad: Thank You for Being Proud of Me

Written by Skip Press on June 11, 2012

Toddler Skip Press and his father, Lloyd 

My father, Lloyd Press, had a lot of problems, and some of them got inflicted on me.

He spent some time in the state mental institution when I was 15, and my mother divorced him.

I wanted to know why he had his problems, and I embarked on a lifelong examination of the mind, religions, and healing modalities.

Perhaps it even spurred my writing–my 46th book (most written in my own name)–comes out this August.

The last time I saw my father, he told me he was proud of me.

That’s the memory I live with.

Editor’s Note: This Memory of Dad was written by Skip Press, a prolific Hollywood screenwriter and author. 

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Dad

A Jar Full of Bullets

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on April 5, 2012

Sue and Colon Johnson

 

My darling father-in-law, Arthur Colon Johnson (known as A.C. to most; Colon to me), and I hit it off from the moment we met more than 30 years ago.

Like my wonderful husband Spencer, he was a tall drink of water (as they say in Texas, where he was born, raised, lived most of his life, and died)–6′ 4″ and 160 pounds soaking wet.

Perhaps it was the fact that we were both writers–me professionally and him a never-published, but still-believed-he-might-one-day-be sort of writer whose work included a fair amount of Louis L’Amour-inspired western ramblings, a smattering of mysteries, and a bunch of plain, ol’ tall tales.

Colon could spin a yarn longer than almost anybody I ever knew. Half the time you knew he was lying through his teeth, but just in case he wasn’t, you had to keep listening.

Colon and his wife, (known as Bobbie Sue to most; Sue to me), spent the last three years of their lives in a nursing home just a few blocks from their small, dark, 1980s-era trailer home that seemed to grow backyard sheds and storage areas as quickly as Colon could construct them.

Toward the end of their lives, Sue suffered a series of mini-strokes, broke her hip, and eventually lost her memory completely. She knew Colon was in the bed beside her, but often referred to him as “her.”

During those final long, sad years of her life, Sue never recognized us when we’d come to visit.

On the other hand, Colon always came alive whenever he knew we were on the way from Seattle. In fact, on four occasions when we visited, he was supposedly on death’s door. Once we got there, he made miraculous recoveries, much to our (and his selfless caregivers’) relief.

The fifth time he was at death’s door, he had broken his hip after falling in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom.

“Take care of Sue,” he said to the nursing-home staff before he got into the ambulance.

After being examined at the hospital, his doctor encouraged mending the joint, even though  his heart was weak.

He was on his way to the operating room, in the elevator with his baby sister, Mary Ruth. He squeezed her hand, told her he loved her, and died with a smile on his face.

We always thought he just didn’t want to undergo another operation and months of rehabilitation. Strong man that he was, he’d simply decided it was his time to go. . .

***

After Sue and Colon went into the nursing home, Spencer and I had to clean out the trailer and all the storage sheds, something that was a true labor of love as the mercury was sitting near 90 degrees that weekend in the “big, little town” known as Itasca, Texas, and we both hate to be out of doors on grass.

Spencer’s cousin, John Paul Carter (who is a frequent guest columnist on Five More Minutes With), and wife, Carole, came down from their home in Weatherford, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, to help us clear out a lifetime of “treasures.”

When the four of us told Colon we were going to be cleaning out the trailer, he got very serious and said we had to look for the jar full of “treasure” he’d hidden in a very secure place.

He described a cement tube he’d sawed in half and topped with a wooden wagon wheel to make a “table” he used for additional storage in the trailer’s carport. He said the wagon wheel was very heavy–it would probably take two people to lift it–so we were glad we had Spencer and John Paul to handle that job.

Once the top was off, Colon promised we’d find all sorts of “good stuff” within. I hate to admit it, but I think that dollar signs of what the treasure might be danced in all of our heads.

After the four of us had spent an appropriate amount of time visiting with Colon, we headed back to the trailer to look for the hidden treasure.

As mentioned before, the temperature that day hovered around 90. Under the carport’s metal roof, with nary a breeze blowing, it seemed closer to 100.

As Spencer and John Paul found the hand-made table and cleared off spent containers of motor oil and antifreeze and dried up cans of paint, Carole and I looked on, full of hope.

It was not an easy task to remove the wooden wagon wheel. . .lots of bad words ensued from both men. . .Carole and I laughed at the display of profanity and frustration. . .

Finally, we held our collective breath. . .Spencer reached into the depths of the cement cylinder. . .and pulled out. . .a jar full of bullets!

We broke into a fit of laughter. The discovery was so like Colon!

Tall tales, bullets he’d undoubtedly collected in the military during several tours of duty in the Marines and Merchant Marines during World War II, a grimy jar to protect his “treasure.”

It was so perfect.

Epilogue

Years later, John Paul and I were e-mailing back and forth and I asked him if he still had the jar full of bullets. His reply?

“I still have the jar of bullets sitting on the table in my shop. It makes me smile when I see them. If Colon is watching, he probably wonders why I haven’t put them in my safe-deposit box!”

One Last Conversation with Dad

Written by Charles Price on April 2, 2012

This story was submitted by my new friend, Charles Price, who co-owns and blogs for The Taste of Oregon website in Eugene, Oregon. I met Charles at fellow writer Crescent Dragonwagon’s recent Deep Feast writers’ workshop in Seattle. We hit it off immediately, and after a series of Facebook messages, discovered we are both alums of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas!

Charles sent this beautifully written story about his father, along with two nostalgic photos. I welcome Charles to the Five More Minutes With family, and know you will appreciate his thoughtful words as much as I do. Thanks, Charles!

One Last Conversation with Dad

“Dad”…………………. “Dad!”

Hearing myself say “Dad” just now was much easier than I expected. I’m so grateful that you can hear me call you Dad and feel so right with it. The last time I said your name to your face I was calling you “Daddy” and just beginning to feel awkward with that.

On the day you left us, Jimmy Chapin and I were casually strolling home from school on an otherwise beautiful March afternoon. I noticed Mr. Tucker’s 1955 Pontiac coming toward us. He didn’t pass and wave. As he slowed and pulled toward us, the first thing I saw was my mother crying. This isn’t good, I thought.

Mr. Tucker opened the back door and I got in. A handkerchief was passed over the front seat. “Your Daddy’s dead!” my mother said as best she could.

I was 12 and you were a mere 52. I was on the brink of my teens and then……… a blink and you were gone. Forever!

Wait….WAIT! We’re not through. NO! NO! NO! I cried in my mind.

Then the voices arrived…..so many voices. I never really heard voices as such; it was more of a constant humming that blurred my reality.

Everything about this day was different. Time slowed down. My swollen eyes were like magnifying glasses, selectively enlarging this and that at random. My hearing was like that, too.

Then a deep, cold, and thundering voice boomed through the chaos in my head, “He’s gone! Dead! Deal with it! It’s your fault and you know it!”

All those times I was so angry with you that I mentally wished you dead began swirling about my mind like ghosts with gossamer fingers pointed at me. I began crying uncontrollably and could no longer see through the tears.

The events of your last day with us are engraved in my memory in minute detail, frozen forever for me to visit anytime.

We made it through the weekend, your funeral, into the grieving, and eventually the healing.

Do you remember the day you came home from work, and I invited you into the backyard to see something I had made? I had taken some bricks I found in the garage and, with the help of a shovel, made shallow holes so the bricks rested flush with the surface of the ground in four places, diamond-shaped. It was my juvenile “Field of Dreams.” I was about 9 and wanted to play baseball with you.

Sometime in the week before, I was goaded into playing softball with the boys in the neighborhood. I said yes in a desperate attempt to quiet their questioning my masculinity. And after all, who needed them for that?  I was doing a terrific job on my own.

Am I out of my mind? I thought. I’ve stepped into something that will prove forever my ineptitude with sports.

My tormentors were eager to put me on the spot. I don’t know what happened to me but when I stepped up to bat, I hit that ball dead on and knocked it clear over Mrs. Darby’s roof and beyond. I know I didn’t gloat, but I’m sure I puffed up a bit.

I remember how much you loved music and wish you could have experienced my musical years. I was a budding clarinetist when you passed on. Even my choice of clarinet was based on my fear of sports. My first choice was violin but marching bands don’t use violins. Marching bands are, however, a substitute for gym class and sports. Safety in the clarinet!

I know you remember how well I did in school; straight A’s for six years in a row. My only blemish was a negative check in “self control” somewhere in there. Me, caught out of control? Me, who could go to parties and no one would know I was there? Oh well, must’ve been a sudden urge for attention and so unlike me….at least then.

It would be years before I would even notice that my fall from A’s to B’s, C’s, and worse happened right after your death.

During those years, my feelings for you grew cold, buried deep in resentment. I had enough on you to resent you for the rest of my life. My feelings were easily hurt, and you knew just where those buttons were. I thought your spankings were hard and cruel. I resented your weekend drinking, and felt embarrassed to be seen with you. You were also older than my friends’ fathers. Their moms and dads were in their 30s. I hated you! No wonder I was gay, with an example like you.

You were my excuse for all my shortcomings. After all, how could a person with a father like you succeed?

Pretending to be straight when you’re not is like walking a tightrope; one slip and your weakness is exposed. I convinced myself that I was merely in a phase that would pass on when I met the “right” girl. Surprise, Charles, it’s not a phase. It’s very real. Get used to it!

It would be about another twenty years before I chose to do something different about my life. I was in my late 30s and having a mid-life crisis. One of my very dearest friends, Barbara Grove, had recently attended a multi-weekend self-help workshop, which was then called The Life Training. Now it’s called More To Life.

I explained to her the depth of my despair and asked if this would be good for me. “Most assuredly,” she told me.

There was (and is) nothing religious about this course, even though two Episcopal priests created it. It is, however, deeply spiritual.

There was a great deal of sharing, which scared me to death. There’s no way I’m going to let strangers see the crap in my heart, my unworthiness, and ultimately that I am a freak.

I stayed with it for both weekends as I had promised Barbara. I spent much of the workshop dealing with my issues with you, Dad. I was given a process where I could express my deep anger for you in a safe way that harmed no one. My, my, my – just expressing the anger freed up a fresh space big enough to fill with something of value: the truth.

With the help of other processes, I uncovered the truth about you:

  • You did the best you could with what you had
  • You loved your family, including me
  • Like everyone on this earth, you had your own mental dragons to slay
  • You were, simply put, as you were – perfection – the perfect father for me

It was at this time that I got a grasp on forgiveness and its power to release self-inflicted shackles. I left the training much more whole. However, it would another twelve years before I had an epiphany and busted my shackles of resentment for you forever.

It was my own 52nd year. Vic, my lifemate since 1990, and I had relocated to Baltimore from Texas. It was a beautiful fall afternoon; I was on the floor of the living room in the middle of yet another forgiveness process with you. This one was deep and with an extra large helping of emotion. Just at the conclusion, an image of you appeared before my mind’s eye. It was the same image I conjured up during all the processes I had done before. Only this time, it was captioned:

“I deserve a loving place in your heart.”

I heard you! And so, Dad, you have it.

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Dad

My Orchid

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on March 22, 2012

I keep a fresh orchid in plain view in my office, strategically positioned on a granite wing wall in front of my computer, as a calming influence and also for inspiration as I think and write.

It’s a cheapie from Trader Joe’s that usually costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.99 to $10.99. I figure these orchids last several months. So, compared to cut flowers, especially during the winter months when they are so expensive, the orchids are actually very cost-effective alternative since they last a lot longer.

This week, as invariably happens, my current orchid–a purple beauty–began to drop its blossoms. It happens slowly and stealthily at first, one blossom here, another one there.

Finding a withered blossom always causes me a twinge of pain.

And once the orchid goes into free fall during its death march, I might find two or three blossoms in the course of the day. They turn up on the floor, on the blood-red granite slab, or the Asian-inspired wooden pedestal upon which my orchid sits.

The other day, about the same time as I noticed my orchid was down to one surviving blossom, I received an e-mail from my 89-year-old father.

My father has been battling bladder cancer for over a year. Lately it’s been an unsettling pattern of catheter in, catheter out; catheter in, catheter out.

Now, it seems, my father’s whole world revolves around whether or not he can urinate.

As I stared at my orchid stubbornly clinging to life with one single blossom dangling tenuously, it occurred to me that, in so many ways, my father’s aging process parallels that of one of my orchids.

Over the years, his body has weakened, his glory days long gone.

First the eyes began to go when he went through a series of contact lenses and glasses and finally could no longer see well enough to operate on the inner ear.

Much later came the hearing aids, a particularly difficult solution for him to stomach since he was once a renowned ear, nose, and throat doctor.

Then his legs began acting up with restless-leg syndrome and edema. He went through went several degrees of walkers, ultimately ending up with a very expensive model he fondly referred to as “the Bentley.” His caregivers even ordered him one of those motorized scooters so widely advertised on television, but he never did learn how to maneuver it very well, so it sat mostly unused in the hallway.

And now the final indignity. . .having to rely on a bag for something as elemental and basic as peeing.

After the latest catheter in/catheter out episode, I remarked at how brave Dad was to have faced so much medical adversity.

He responded with a thought-provoking quote from a Civil-War prisoner that says, “Live in hope if I die in despair.”

Ultimately, with every one of my orchids, the last blossom falls to earth. And I am left with only a slender green stalk rising toward the sky, a few bright-green leaves at the plant’s base, and memories of a brilliant bunch of blossoms that once was.

When it’s my father’s time, I will treasure my memories of him much like I remember the beautiful blossoms on my orchids—memories of a life well lived.

 

Last Words with My Mother, Father, and Granny

Written by Deb Bailey on April 20, 2011

To my mother: I would tell her I forgive her for all the meanness she inflicted upon me in my life.

And that she is a great-grandmother now. LOL– she would have a fit.

To my beloved father: I would say I am going to miss you every day of my life.

My dreams are with you because my heart aches for you daily.

I try and live from your teachings and strive daily to be a good example to my children and grand-baby as you were to me.

I miss you and love you dad…

To my Granny: I miss you very much, and I know you are with me every day.

I feel your prescence and know you watch over me.

I miss you and love you.

Note: Deb Bailey is CEO of Power Women Magazine & Radio Show.