DARE TO DREAM:

DARE TO DREAM, MARCH 10, 2018

EPISODE 1, 3-10-18:

I was inspired to write a book.

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Shopping in London, and Fish and Chips for lunch.

The summer of 2015

On a very long airplane flight from Honolulu to London, I was inspired to write a book. Hey, I was a pretty good storyteller, and I had a million stories. It can’t be that hard to do, and I was sure it couldn’t take more than a few weeks of late nights and weekends. I’m on it. I finished my lunch and started typing on my Apple laptop. I started a story about an adventure at sea. After a dozen or so pages, I set it aside. It wasn’t what I wanted for my first effort. I then started a tell-all story about the big time construction business. That was too heavy, and I’m not a whistleblower, I discarded that concept, and ordered a chocolate sundae high above the Pacific Ocean for dessert and thought about it. You could do that in first class.

This wasn’t going well. I needed to focus on something I was passionate about, something that would hold my interest start to finish as I wrote. Thirty minutes later, I got it. I would write a story about a slice of my life. I mean what could be more interesting to me, than me? I didn’t know where to start the story? I could start as a child, a young man, a dynamic world-class builder or as an old duffer sitting on the beach in Waikiki, sipping a Mai Tai and reliving my triumphs. My story must, at a minimum, portray me, as the protagonist, battling insurmountable odds and devilish villains to achieve my goal. There must be an adventure, danger, love, humor, challenges and ingenious solutions. Maybe food and drink could be a minor, but common element to the story.

I decided my story would chronicle a thirteen-year-old kid’s ill-conceived plan to escape his abusive father by entering a Catholic Seminary, a boarding school for future priests. I had dozens of true stories and vignettes that met my criteria for a good book. This was going to be fun and a piece of cake. It might also touch on the spiritual, but I wasn’t sure yet. By the time I deplaned at the Heathrow Airport, I had a fifty-page draft of my book, and I was pleased with myself.

Blog, table of contents

HOME PAGE, July 30, 2018

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WHAT’S UP JAKE

Jake reminisces about interesting and funny stuff. Life’s follies and challenges. People who make life interesting, and memorable places he’s visited and the food he has enjoyed.

updated August 1, 2018

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UNUSUAL GLIMPSES OF BOOK WORTHY TALES.

Adventures that haven’t made it into a Jake Winston book yet, but might someday. Thrilling sea stories, and hilarious adventures on the water. Odd, dangerous and humorous Construction stories. Dangerous adventures that men must experience, despite the risks.

Updated July 15, 2018

St PerigrineDARE TO DREAM. STORIES OF INSPIRATION.

updated July 15, 2018

Inspiration is a gift. It lifts us out of the primordial ooze from whence we came. The people and events in this blog inspired me as they will challenge you to step up and be counted. My mother taught me, “Dare to take on the impossible. There is no shame in failing, the only shame is in not trying again and again.”

BOOK WORTHY TALES

BOOK WORTHY TALES, June 1, 2018

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DUTCH HARBOR V

NAKNEK

FISHING THE SOUTH LINE

anchored up crop                                                Naknek River South Channel

When we finished our first half-day of fishing. Harry Jay Follman ordered the net reeled in, spun the Erika Lynn around and headed up the south channel of the Naknek River. The tide was ebbing, and I could just make out the sand and gravel bar that separated us from the town. We joined a small group of vessels seeking shelter behind South Naknek’s high cliffs and anchored up across from one of the canneries.

As I waited for Andy to prepare supper,  I thought about how I came to be a deckhand aboard the Erika Lynn. I remembered watching the first season of The Deadliest Catch on TV and knowing I was hopelessly hooked. The show created a nagging desire to experience the same dangers and adrenalin highs these fishermen routinely encountered on the Bearing Sea. I was determined to one day earn my stripes as a Bad Ass, Bering Sea Fisherman before I left this world. When my longtime friend, Harry Jay Follman, called me a week ago, out of a clear blue sky and said, “Meet me in Naknek, we’re going fishing,” I was ecstatic. My dream had come true.

***

Andy had dinner ready a little before eleven, and we all dug in. Baked sockeye salmon, canned potatoes, and canned peas. When we were about halfway through eating, Mike, who had gulped his food down, abruptly disappeared below leaving the rest of us to enjoy our meal and the discussion of the next day’s adventure. Harry Jay Follman pulled a crumpled up notice out of his pocket which he got at the boatyard and tossed it on the table for all to read.

fastest picker crop crop

LOOKING FOR WORK.

He pointed at me, chuckled, and announced, “If you screw up, Full Share, this guy’s your replacement. Are you guys okay with that? The table erupted in laughter.

Kris said tomorrow’s marine weather forecast was for fair conditions in the morning, but we could expect thirty-knot winds and rain in the afternoon. When we prepared to hit the sack, Harry Jay Follman announced, “It looks like Mike’s asleep in your bunk, Full Share. Do you want me to toss his ass out of there, or you okay with sleeping on the floor?”

The little rascal had pulled a fast one on me. Mike knew there were only four berths and five of us.  I realized the only thing I could do without alienating the crew was to suck it up and sleep on the floor in the main cabin.

“No!  I’m the new guy, the floor works for me.”

It was then I realized why he shot me that brief hostile look at the D & D when we first met.

***

HJF on EL cropAndy was up preparing breakfast at five the next morning. He stepped over me twice and tripped over me once before I decided to get up. The smell of bacon and eggs frying, on the now working stove, woke up the rest of the crew. Harry Jay Follman demanded a cup of black coffee and fired up the engine. Mike went up to the bow, pulled the anchor and we headed back down the Naknek River. I was standing at the stern rail taking a leak, when Mike came down off the bow and confessed, “Sorry about last night, Full Share. I was just going to grab a quick nap, and I was out like a light. It won’t happen again.”

“It’s okay Bro, shit happens.”

                                                         waterfront                                                          Naknek and its Canneries

We left the relatively protected waters across from the Naknek canneries, entered the much rougher Kvichak Bay, and headed to the south line of the Naknek-Kvichak fishing district. Harry Jay Follman hollered, “Jake, come up here, I’m going to explain how this is going down today, and what we want you to do. The fish are coming up from the southwest, past Port Moller, Cold Bay, Ugashik, Egegik, and directly across the south line into the Naknek and Kvichak Rivers a few miles south of here.

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                                     Bristol Bay Districts – Courtesy of ADF&G

“We’ll be fishing the south line all through today’s opening. If we’re successful, and we will be, we stand to capture the lion’s share of the fish. The downside is, we will be competing with the most experienced and ruthless captains up here, in a dog eat dog competition for the fish. This is a serious and sometimes dangerous work, and I want you to know what to expect and what we expect of you.  You’re our backup. You need to jump in there if someone gets hurt on deck, or needs a break. Stay alert, stay safe, and have fun.”

Kris overhead us and joined the conversation, “It takes nerves of steel and plenty of audacity to successfully fish the line. The Erica Lynn, Harry Jay Follman, and a dozen other boats, which are his dog pack, have been the top produces up here for nearly thirty years. The fleet knows this and respect this group of captains, but won’t cut them much slack.”

***

An hour later, Harry Jay Follman bullied his way into a prime position, directly onto the South line at Johnson Hill, along with his dog pack, which were skillfully fending off any intruding vessels. The morning flood tide opening was a few minutes away as Harry Jay Follman approached the spot he intended to drop the nets, and gently nosed another vessel out of his way. He put down his coffee cup and hollered, “Three minutes, Kris! Get ready and when I holler, drop the net.” The Erika Lynn was a few yards over the line as Harry Jay Follman prepared to make his first set, but there were no AF&G anywhere around to do anything about it.

At precisely eight o’clock, all hell broke loose on the south line. The sights and sounds of this big opening were mind-numbing. Four-hundred engines came to life simultaneously, and black clouds of diesel exhaust waifed across the fleet. The noise was deafening. It reminded me of the start of the Indy 500 or the Gold Cup hydroplane race.

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Naknek South Line –  Photo courtesy of YouTube.

We were fishing so close to each other that you could literally jump from boat to boat or net to net. I was speechless as I watched what was going on. Over fifty vessels, including the Erika Lynn, were fishing the face of the south line. As they jockeyed for position to set their hundred and fifty to three hundred fathoms long nets, they crashed into each other, ran over each other’s nets, and cursed one another.

near crash crop cropJust as Kris dropped a hundred-fifty fathom of drift net in the water, Harry Jay Follman spotted the State Trooper’s helicopter off in the distance. He nudged me, “That son of a bitch is headed our way.”

I thought, Oh shit! We’re over the line, and he’s going to nail us. Jay gunned the engine, the Erika Lynn leaped forward and he turned sharply up river pushing a couple of other boats out of his way to drag his errant net back behind the line before the Helicopter spotted his illegal net and hit him with a huge fine.                              Erika Lynn nudging a vessel

chopper chop chopBy the time the Chopper reached us, we were just barely legal. Harry Jay Follman grinned up at the state trooper’s helicopter and gave it a friendly wave as it circled thirty-yards above. This wasn’t the first confrontation between the Erica Lynn and the AF&G, and the officer aboard the chopper was watching us with great interest. This was undoubtedly one of the most exciting events in my life.

 

State Trooper Chopper & below photos – courtesy of YouTube.

CahosThe next group of boats upriver from us was a nightmare of nearly three-hundred vessels, which were also jockeying for position and getting tangled up in each other’s gear. Some very angry fishermen lost a lot of time and valuable gear in the adrenal driven, macho insanity.

The third group of boats, even further up the river, were the more conservative vessels which were content, at least for now, to capture the fish that survived the mayhem and to watch the chaotic shenanigans down at the line.

jake cropWe stayed on the line most of the four-hour opening, but for all the commotion and spent energy, we didn’t catch a lot of fish on the morning flood. When we returned to Naknek and approached Trident’s dock, Harry Jay Follman sent me up to handle the bowline. I was happy to be given an assignment and jumped to it. Trident Seafood off-loaded our embarrassingly small, five-thousand-pound catch, we found a spot to tie-up alongside several other boats and waited for the evening flood tide.

 

 

*** end Episode V ***

Excerpt from “A Cup of Joe”

DUTCH HARBOR IV:

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS TO LAUNCH

D & D cropOn the way back to town, Harry Jay Follman called the boat on his Satellite phone and told Kris and the boys to meet us at the D & D for lunch in an hour. The D & D restaurant was a Naknek landmark for ages but under several different names. There were a bar and restaurant on the main floor and rooms for rent upstairs. I followed my friend into the busy restaurant and over to a corner table, where three fit, badass looking fishermen, dressed in black hoodies, jeans, and rubber boots, were guzzling beer and laughing. I thought, Man, be careful what you wish for. There is no way I can ever pull fish like these muscular hooligans. Harry Jay Follman put his arm on my shoulder, and in a voice loud enough for the dead to hear announced, “Meet our new greenhorn.” Kris looked up, “What’s his name, Skipper?”

Jay laughed, “Just call him Full Share.”

Kris, who seemed to be a happy-go-lucky kid, who just turned thirty, extended his hand and welcomed me aboard with a wide grin. Mike an introspective, wiry, twenty-something ex-state-wrestling-champ just nodded. I sensed there was going to be an issue between us. Andy, a burly fisherman in his late fifties, looked me up and down before saying, “You’re a big one Full Share, glad to have you aboard.”

We slid into the booth beside them and as I picked up a menu, Kris said, “Don’t bother, we already ordered beer and pizza for the table. Their pizza is the best. Harry Jay Follman cleverly wove me into the tall tales, past adventures, joking and teasing that went around the table for nearly an hour. By the time we walked out of the D & D, the crew had accepted me for what I was, the Captain’s friend and a useless greenhorn. If this introduction had not gone well, and the crew resented me, it would have been awkward, or worse, aboard the Erika Lynn.

Kris announced, “We’re headed over to the Naknek Store to load up on groceries. How about you and Full Share giving us a hand.” I said, “I’d love to do that, meet you over there.”

***

storeThe Naknek Trading Co. was the main source of groceries for the fishing fleet. It was more of a warehouse than a Safeway kind of place. Its wide aisles were crammed with shopping carts, fishermen, wives, kids and stock boys frantically refilling the shelves. Kris handed each one of us a different list of items to get and told us to meet up with him in thirty minutes at one of the dozens of checkout counters. We split up and were back in thirty minutes with seven overflowing shopping carts loaded down with frozen food, produce, frozen meats, bread, eggs, bacon sausage, soda pop, canned goods, coffee, spices, dry goods, paper products, talcum powder, aspirin, soap, first aid supplies, candy, chewing tobacco, cigarettes, dry cereal, powdered milk, condiments and magazines. We lined up our seven carts at the checkout counter and put it all on one bill. It came to a little over three-thousand-dollars. We helped load everything onto the one-ton truck they were driving and told them we’d see them the next morning. When Mike responded, “Yeah, see ya tomorrow, Full Share,” I knew it was going to be alright and my dream of fishing the Bristol Bay Run was intact.

***

Harry Jay Follman filled up our afternoon and early evening, showing me around town and visiting his fishing buddies, the fish buyers at the Trident Seafoods Cannery and his friend John, for whom he built the Yard Arm Cannery a few years before. I was having a ball, meeting interesting people, exploring the canneries, and taking dozens of photos.

Eddies cropThat evening we ended up at Eddie’s Fireplace Inn in King Salmon for dinner. Harry Jay Follman was like a local celebrity there. Fishermen kept stopping by our table to say hello, re-introduce themselves and reminisce about good times and adventures they had shared with him. These folks represented the more genteel side of the Bristol Bay fishing fleet. Many of their boats were manned by three generations of family, who favored fishing the vast open waters of the Nushagak River district. Unlike the hard-driving skippers, who fished the line at Egegik and Naknek/Kvichak rivers, they were there to enjoy a safe, summer adventure with family, while making a few bucks doing so.

***

That evening we toured the three other jumping bars in town, Fisherman’s Bar, Hatfield’s Bar and the Red Dog Saloon. I wasn’t all that interested in drinking. I was tired and trying to get over a bothersome case of bronchitis. I had a beer at the crowded Fisherman’s bar.

***

bar 3We moved on to Hatfield’s, which was having a slow night, and got a booth near the bar. Harry Jay Follman discovered a couple of his fishing buddies at the bar and took off as I ordered a beer and looked around. There was a young fisherman passed out at the table to my left and a couple of guys hitting on the waitress. Suddenly the swinging doors burst open and young, handsome, Jake Philip Marlowe, one of the stars on ‘The Dangerous Catch’ TV show, stumbled in. He was fresh out of rehab and stoned out of his mind. He had a cute chick under each arm holding him up and a covey of young girls trailing him. They plopped him down at the table to the right of us and swarmed him. The place slowly started to fill up and come alive as the word got around that Handsome Jake was at Hatfield’s snorting coke and drinking double shots.

***

We ended up at the Red Dog Saloon, where we met up with the crew of the Erika Lynn. We had a beer together, discussed the plan for launching the boat the next day and fishing the mighty Kvichak. I was dead tired, and my bronchitis wasn’t getting any better, I excused myself and climbed the stairs to the bridal suite and crashed.

***

 red dog entranceI was up early the next morning. I left Harry Jay Follman sleeping like a baby in his rack, and entered the Red Dog Saloon’s bar/restaurant and ordered sausage, eggs, hash brown, toast and coffee for breakfast. While waiting for my order, I made one of the toughest decisions of my life. This was day five with bronchitis and it didn’t seem to be getting any better despite all the pills I was popping. I thought it might not be such a good idea to be in the confined quarters of the thirty-two-foot Erika Lynn with a raging case of bronchitis in the company of four other fishermen. I could make the whole crew sick and mess up the fishing season. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I called Alaska Airlines and booked a flight that afternoon back to Honolulu. I’d come all this way, and I would be going home that afternoon never having stepped aboard the boat. I was horribly disappointed.

The barmaid delivered my breakfast, which looked really good, and I dug in. I glanced around the room as I ate. It was a pretty rough crowd of about a dozen or so fishermen, I noticed most everybody seemed to know each other. As I was finishing breakfast, Harry Jay Follman joined me for a cup of coffee. He pointed out a few of the well know fishermen/scoundrels gathered there and relayed a litany of hilarious, stupid crap they had done to earn their nefarious reputations. When he finished telling me a story about “The Crazy Greek,” who sank his own vessel in the Bearing sea with his daughter and himself aboard, I thought, This place reminds me of a scene out of John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel, ‘Cannery Row.’ When I could get in a word edgewise, I told him I was leaving on the afternoon plane. He responded, “Oh, no you’re not! I’ll take you over to the native clinic and get you checked out. Come on, Let’s, go!”

***

We headed over to the Camai Community Health Center, a short drive from the Red Dog, and waited a few minutes until they opened at eight o’clock. When we entered the empty waiting room, the native nurse didn’t seem to be all that happy we were there. She ignored us for several minutes, then asked, “What do you fellows want?”I explained I had bronchitis and I wanted to know if I was contagious because I was about to board a fishing vessel and I didn’t want to make the crew sick. She snarled at me, “Do you live here? Are you a native Alaskan? This is a Federally funded community health facility dedicated to serving the residents of the Borough of Bristol Bay. We don’t encourage the fishing fleet to seek medical treatment here unless it’s an emergency. Is this an emergency, Sir?”

I thought, If this bitch doesn’t let me see the doctor, I’ll be on the afternoon plane out of here. Harry Jay Follman saw I was getting pissed as she looked down her nose at me and rattled on. He interrupted her spiel by tossing both his paramedic and Fire Department ID’s on the counter and politely said, “Mam, I understand all that. This man is under my care. I have deemed this to be an emergency and I have transported him here for immediate treatment. Please admit him if you want to continue to receive Federal funding.” Jay had her, and she knew it, but she wasn’t through messing with us.

She stiffened up and blustered, “Please take a seat.”

I whispered to Harry Jay Follman, “Thanks, Man. I didn’t come all this way to be tossed out of an Indian clinic and take the next bus home.” Although I realized my fishing adventure was in the hands of a yet unseen doctor, who might be even less sympathetic to a fisherman from the lower forty-eight than Nurse Yazzie.

Ten minutes later, a native man came in, approached the counter and asked to see a doctor. We overheard Nurse Yazzie ask if he had an appointment, and he answered, “No.” She immediately swung the door open, smirked at Jay, and told the old man to follow her. She did that twice. I guess to make the point she was in charge there, and we better damn well understand that, or we would be there for a very long time.

She kept us cooling our heels for forty-five minutes before showing us to an exam room, where their only doctor, a young Haole boy from the lower forty-eight, examined me, asked what antibiotic I was taking and for how long? He said, “You have enough antibiotics in you to kill a horse. You’re not going to make anybody sick. Good luck fishing, and be careful out there. I’m pretty sure Nurse Yazzie doesn’t want to see you back here again.” He smiled and wrote me a prescription for ‘just in case.’ (I still have it. A memento of sorts.) I slapped Harry Jay Follman on the back and exclaimed, “Let’s go fishing!”

***

boatyard 2We pulled up to one of the two Naknek boat storage yard, where the Erika Lynn and three hundred other fish boats sat idle ten months out of the year, A dozen or more cabs were lined up on the street. They were disgorging what seemed like an endless stream of fishermen headed for their vessels in the yard below. These guys were a fraction of the over three-thousand crew members that would be boarding those vessels in the next few days. As we entered the yard, I was taken back by the place. I had been in plenty of boat storage yards but never, anything like this. This boatyard covered about ten acres on the bank of the Naknek River just north of town. There were over two-hundred boats up on blocks, preparing to fish the Bristol Bay Salmon run. A hundred boats had already launched and were headed for their favorite fishing grounds.

boatyard 3As the new kid on the block, it was hard for me to grasp what was happening there as we made our way deep into the bowels of this noisy, exciting, muddy place. The best description I could come up with was it was a fisherman’s version of downtown Manhattan, New York. The vessels shut out the sunlight and dwarfed us like New York skyscrapers. I quickly got caught up in the pervasive sense of energy, urgency, and excitement in the air. The sounds of yelling, laughing, cursing, frustration, and anger combined with the sounds and smell of dozens of diesel and gas engines reluctantly coming to life for the first time in a year was exhilarating. It got the adrenaline pumping through my veins, and I thought, This is good!

We managed to avoid hitting the innumerable forklifts, mud-splattered pickups, one-tons, and three-wheeled RV’s loaded down with supplies, nets, and spare parts, which skittered in and out of the narrow soupy gray mud lanes, between row after row of fishing vessels. Several mechanic’s trucks and welding rigs were blocking the lanes as they welded up last minute discovered leaks, or coached recalcitrant engines back to life. We made it to the Erika Lynn and climbed the twenty-foot aluminum ladder up to the rear deck, where we greeted the crew who were stowing provisions for the month-long salmon run. When I climbed aboard I noticed that Kris and Harry Jay Follman were having a serious conversation and pointing to the exhaust stack. I asked, “Now what’s the problem?”

“The boat’s carbon dioxide monitor went off when Kris ran the engine this morning. He’s narrowed down where it’s coming from, but it’s a bit of a job to get at it, and he’s checked with the welding contractors who are tied up until the day after tomorrow. A stack leak is a big deal. It could asphyxiate every one of us in our bunks overnight. I told him to pull the stack shroud and I’d see what I could do about getting a welder over here. We can’t launch the boat until we take care of this.”

I thought, Oh shit! Is this ever going to end? If he doesn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat in the next few hours, I’m not going fishing.\ because I’m leaving in four days.

erika lynn

Harry Jay Follman disappeared down the ladder, and I took a moment to survey the chaos going on around me. Three things caught my eye. There was only one launching vehicle, which was limited to launching four boats an hour. That’s fifty to sixty boats in a long day, so, it would take three or four days to empty out the yard. bear 2There was a gaggle of impatient skippers following the launcher around offering to bribe him with hundred-dollar bills to launch their vessel next. There was a brown bear, which nobody seemed to be concerned about, nosing through one of the dumpsters for yesterday’s pizza.

I don’t know how it came to pass, but Harry Jay Follman returned fifteen minutes later, pulling a Lincoln welding machine behind the pickup. He hollered up at Kris, “You got this machine for one hour, that’s it. Get that damn shroud off and make the weld.” Kris found the leak, a small hole where the stack was rubbing against a loose clamp and welded it up. He started up the engine and checked for leaks. Mission accomplice, we were going fishing.

launcher 2One hour later, the launcher pulled up. Harry Jay Follman hollered, “Mike, take the welder back to the Judith May in aisle three, leave the truck in the parking area, and get your butt back here on the double! We’re out of here.” As the launcher positioned its trailer under the Erika Lynn’s hull, Kris protested,” Hang on! We need another hour or two to put the shroud back together.”

“We don’t have an hour or two, Son. We’re going fishing!

launchI felt the launcher lift the boat and within a minute or two, we were lumbering down the aisle towards the launching ramp with Mike sprinting after us in hot pursuit. The launcher operator hesitated just long enough for Mike to scramble aboard before we descended the boat ramp and splashed into the Naknek River. Harry Jay Follman eased the Erika Lynn away from shore and headed her down the south channel of the Naknek River.  As we passed the F/V Kelly Jane, I got a glimpse of a very hung-over Jake Philip Marlowe on her back deck mending nets.

jake on deck 2

 

 

Within an hour, we were fishing the Mighty Kvichak with two, one-hundred-fifty-foot net trailing our stern. I was finally fishing and that’s what makes me the winner!

 

on deck crop

Harry Jay Follman wants to know, “Where’s the damn fish?”

***

filletAt the end of the day, we baked the first fish we landed on the crotchety oil stove and enjoyed a Bristol Bay opening day tradition. The deep red-crimson color of a fresh caught Bristo Bay salmon is unmatched by any fish I’ve seen and the flavor and texture, OMG!

 

 

*** THE END ***

Stay tuned for the final episode on July 15, 2018

DUTCH HARBOR III

 

red dogIt was a little after noon of my first day in Naknek, Alaska. I had been asleep for about an hour in the bridal suite at the Red Dog Saloon when I heard a knock on the locked door, followed by the door bursting open. I sat up with a jolt. Harry Jay Follman had just blown into town.

red dog roomHe tossed his duffle bag on the other bed and bellowed, “Get up, Jake, we got to get going.”

“Go away!”

“Jake, get up.”

“What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here until five, and I didn’t get any sleep last night.”

“Too bad, neither did I. Let’s go!”

I knew he wasn’t going away, so I stumbled out of bed and pulled on my boots, as he used the bathroom.

“Where we going?”

“I don’t know. We’ll figure it out as we go.”

***

red dog doorWe slammed the door, hoping it would lock, scrambled down the rickety stairs and climbed into the same white 4WD pickup with the nets in the back. We headed southwest through town down Naknek Rd. to where it turned into Peter Pan Rd and ran along the cliffs above Kvichak Bay, (pronounced ‘Que-jack’)

Jay said, “North Pacific Seafoods has a cool 1890’s cannery a couple of mile up the mighty Kvichak River at Pederson Point. You have to see. it.”

As we barreled down the narrow gravel road, the locals riding the popular, three-wheel RV’s moved off the road to let us pass. I said, “Jay, you just missed the turnoff to Pederson point.”

“Relax Pilgrim, that road is for the tourists and girls. I’m not even sure if the side road to the cannery is passable this early in the season. Most of the traffic in and out of Pederson Point is by boat.” I wondered, Okay, how’s that going to work? Before I could ask, we pulled off the road and Jay ordered me out of the truck, “Follow me, we have to find these little white tundra flowers, I don’t know what they’re called but keep a sharp eye. If they are in bloom, the fishing will be good.”

While searching for the ‘good fishing’ flower, I spotted a brown bear digging through the garbage dump.

“Should we make a run for it?”

bear crop“No worries, Mate. He’ll leave us alone if we leave him alone. Concentrate on finding the flower. Several minutes later, we spotted a sprig of white flowers close to the cliff, and then another and another. I asked, “Do we pick them or what?”

“No, we only want to make sure they’re in bloom. It’s bad luck to disturb them.” I took a photo, and we headed back to the truck. As we approached the dump, the bear was waiting for us.

It stood up on its hind legs and growled menacingly. Jay hollered, “Run for the truck! You go to the right, and I’ll go to left.” I was pushing three-hundred pounds, and it was difficult to run on the spongy, thawed tundra. The bear chose to chase me. I was slower and possibly tastier than my physically fit friend. Nearly out of breath, I made it to the truck, with the bear close behind. Jay already had the engine running and the door open as he laughed and yelled, “Move it Jake, or you’re going to be lunch.” When the bear realized I had escaped, he turned his attention to the fishy smelling nets in the truck bed. Jay gunned the engine, and we left a disappointed bear in our dust.

“That’s enough excitement for today. Let’s go back to town and get some lunch.”

Jay’s silent response was to pull off the road for the second time. I thought he was turning around, but that’s not what he had in mind. He followed a faint trail to the edge of the cliff, where he nosed the front wheels right up to the edge and stopped. I thought, This is an excellent view of the bay and beach ninety-feet below us, how sweet.

Jay grinned and said, “Buckle up.”

I yelled, “No, don’t do this, we’re going to die!”

He slammed the truck into 4WD, and down we went, sometimes under control, sometimes not.

When we reached the bottom of this nearly vertical trail to the beach, I was a little shook up and demanded, “What the hell did you do that for? How are we going to get back up there?

“Relax, you want to see the old cannery, don’t you? This is the scenic route to Pederson Point.”

“Jay, let’s not do this. Look around you, Man. There’s a lot of loose sand, muck, and driftwood between us and that old cannery up the river. We’re surely going to get stuck, the tide’s going to take the truck, and we’ll end up walking back to the Red Dog.”

“Yeah, your right, it could get a little dicey. Maybe it would be best if you waited here with the women and children. Buckle up, Bucko! Here we go.”

Jay spun the truck around, and we were off to Pederson Point. He was a sprint car driver in an earlier life and knew all about handling a vehicle on any surface; asphalt, dirt track, sandy beach or in the river; no problem. When the truck bogged down in the sand, he’d grit his teeth, do a double clutch and throw it into reverse, double pop the clutch once more and slam it into first gear as he cranked the wheel to the right or left and we were off and going again. We weaved in and out of the tons of beach debris along the way. If we couldn’t drive over it, we went around it, and that often meant going into the river up to our axles. I was scared at first, but as I gained confidence in Jay’s skill behind the wheel, I relaxed, enjoyed the ride, and even whooped and yelped with glee at the close calls. I was having fun.

As we roared up the beach, spewing gravel and sand behind us, I thought about how I got hooked up with this larger than life character. I recalled meeting him at a pre-bid job walk ten years before in Hawaii. We were deep inside of the Red Hill Mountain at the Navy’s once-secret, WW II Pearl Harbor fuel bunker. Jay and I were there along with a couple of other contractors. We struck up a conversation after the meeting ended. He asked, “Where does this tunnel go?”

“It comes out at ‘Audit one’ on the shores of Pearl Harbor about a mile from here.”

“I have got to see more of this amazing tunnel. Walk down there with me, tell me what you know about it, and I’ll buy you lunch.” He took off before I could answer, and I hurried to catch up with him. He asked about the tunnel’s construction, and what they used the narrow-gauge railroad track for today? I told him the little I knew about it, which was “The Navy imported Chinese laborers to dig the tunnel and fuel storage tank sites by hand a few years before the start of WW II in anticipation of an attack from Japan. A primitive miner’s train like device hauled the excavated dirt and rock out of the tunnel.”

We emerged from the tunnel at Pearl Harbor’s central fuel pumping station. Jay noticed two of the big pumps were running, and asked the officer-in-charge, “Where’s the fuel going, Chief?” The chief pushed open one of the massive bombproof doors and pointed at the aircraft carrier, John Stennis, which was tied up a hundred yards in front of us.

***

beach at ped ptJay slammed on the breaks to allow a family of seals to waddle back into the river, jolting me back to the present. A few minutes later we rounded a bend in the river, and I spotted our quest. We climbed the muddy beach access road leading up to the old cannery, parked, and got out. I was going to kiss the ground we stood on but thought better of it when I realized I was standing in an inch of blue-grey ooze.

cannery 1 crop, cropI was eager to check the place out. The tank farm was nearby and a good place to start. As we passed the tank farm, I stuck my head in the deserted old powerhouse and moved on to the boneyard where they stored all kinds of discarded pipe, electrical gear, tanks, old boilers, pumps and ancient fish processing equipment. The cannery didn’t consider any of this material to be scrap. They knew from experience most anything could one day serve a useful purpose. Until then, it silently awaited its fifteen minutes of fame.

fuselage copyI was surprised to see the fuselage of small plane stored on the roof of one of the warehouses. I wondered what they had in mind for its future.

winchThe juxtaposition of all this junk adjacent to the shiny well-maintained fuel tanks, and modern fish processing equipment reminded me that Alaska fishermen and contractors never throw anything away. When equipment breaks down, it takes weeks to get replacement parts and material. The boats and the canneries run 24/7 during fishing season and necessity has taught these folks to recycle what they have, to keep things running. I thought, If Elizabeth thinks I’m a pack Rat, she ought to see this place.

junk equip blowupWe walked on the timber and plank manways, which kept us out of the spongy tundra and mud, as we explored this intriguing piece of Alaska fishing memorabilia. On our way to check-in at the office, we came across more treasures. I told Jay, “You go on, I’m going to stay here and try to figure out what this piece of machinery does.” I studied this beautiful old relic. I looked it all over, climbed up on top to get a better look at the gears, and took photos to review later. Although I did figure out how it worked, I couldn’t determine what purpose it served back in the day.

 

j onwood walk .     worker's barracks

I caught up with Jay on his way back from the office, and we walked past the cannery workers 1940’s vintage living quarters, where a few early birds were already in residence. The cookhouse, fish processing plant, and warehouse were abuzz with activity in preparation for the run, which was expected to start next week.

dock & pile crop, cropI was excited to have the opportunity to be here. I’m fascinated by Alaska’s history, historical places, events, places, and things, especially those related to fishing and the Japanese attack during WW II. Alaska is the last wild frontier, and this old cannery was a treasure trove of history, as well as a look back in time. I was struck by the fact, that everything was old, wet, made of wood, in some state of disrepair, or rotting away. Someday, all this would be gone.

I’d seen enough of the cannery property and said, “let’s walk out to the dock and see what’s going on out there.”

mavrick4We left the plant and made our way out to the dock. As we got close, Jay exclaimed, “That’s the Maverick from the Dangerous Catch TV show tied up there. Let’s go see who’s aboard.”

“Do you know those guys?”

“Not well, but I’ve met them a time or two. They may not remember me but were all fishermen, and we speak the same language.”

We stood on the edge of the dock, and Jay hollered, “Hello! Anybody aboard the Maverick?” A few minutes later, a crewman appeared on deck and asked, “What can I do for you guys?”

Jay struck up a conversation with the older fisherman, explained we were the Erika Lynn’s crew, and we were up here for the summer run.

He asked, “Who are you fishing for?”

“Trident Seafood.”

After several minutes of fishermen banter, he warmed up to us and asked, “Do you guys want to see the boat?”

That was a no-brainer, we both responded in unison, “Hell yes!”

He mentioned as we clambered aboard, “You just missed the captain, he’s flying to Anchorage this afternoon.”

He insisted we join him for coffee in the galley after he showed us through the boat. He told us they Maverick got in a few days ago, and was here to serve as one of Trident Seafood’s Bristol Bay fish tenders. A tender is like a floating warehouse for freshly caught fish. The individual fishing vessels deliver their catch to the nearby tender’s refrigerated holds and return to fishing. The tender then offloads the fish at the cannery on a regular basis. This arrangement kept the fish boats on the fish without having to return repeatedly to the canneries in Naknek. We bid farewell to our new friend and headed for the truck to find our way back to town after an exciting day.

*** THE END ***

Stay tuned for episode IV.

An excerpt from ‘A Cup of Joe’ by Jake Winston

 

DUTCH HARBOR II

 

shutterstock Alaska AirThe first two and a half hours of my flight to Anchorage, I vacillated between dozing, listening to my tunes, thinking about my past adventures in Alaska, and making some notes for a new book I was writing, “The Raising of the Ruth Ellen.” By the time the flight attendant, Miss Snarly, reached me with round two of the drink cart, it was two-thirty a.m. and I was wide awake. I was sure she was expecting me to beg her for a couple of Boilermakers, but I surprised her by giving her a welcoming smile, ordering black coffee and thanking her profusely for her kindness. I think she suspected I had smuggled a jug aboard, which I didn’t; at least not this time.

As I sipped my coffee, I thought about the people I had met in Alaska over the years. The hearty souls who choose to live and work in the rural Alaska Peninsula. These folks called the North Slope and Arctic Circle home and worked in the oil fields and gold mines. A few adventurous men took up logging and fishing in what was called southeast Alaska. They worked out of Homer, Kodiak, Sitka, and Ketchikan. Their less brave brothers worked in the local sawmills, paper mill, and canneries there. Those whom I met, were a little rough around the edges, but good, industrious men and woman.

The three major Alaska cities are; Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, the state capital.  Businessmen, educators, politicians, government workers, and service industry folks live and work in these more genteel locations. They are fine people, proud to call Alaska their home.

The twelve-hundred-mile long Aleutian chain is a different story. Long ago, the Russians settled there, and these hardy people, known as the Aleuts, established small villages throughout the islands Today, the older natives are cliquish and adhere to the ancient ways, but many of their grandchildren are more Americanized, hipper, and anxious to make money and buy things like their neighbors in the lower forty-eight. Many of them fled the Aleutian chain as young adults and gravitated to Anchorage and Seattle where they found work, mostly in the service industry.

Back in the eighties, the Aleutian Islands were the closest thing to the wild west I had ever experienced, and to a lesser extent, still are today. I flew into Anchorage on June 30, 2014, and spent the night in the Captain Cook Hotel. The next morning, I caught a shuttle over to the Ted Stevens International Airport. Ted Stevens was Alaska’s revered, long-time U.S. Senator and a good friend to the commercial fishing fleet. He was killed in a private plane crash under mysterious conditions in 2010. A fitting way for a true Alaskan hero to meet his maker.

b'fast 1I treated myself to a breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns, and reindeer sausage, in what is now the ‘Norton Sound Seafood House.’ It’s situated in a prime spot for people watching within the main terminal. As I ate, I checked out and categorized the lobby traffic. The folks hurrying by me were much like other lower-forty-eight people like myself. and those who lived and worked in Alaska’s major cities. I bought a gift for my wife, Elizabeth, in the ‘Alaska Mercantile’ gift shop, and descended to the baggage claim level to check in at the PenAir gate.

IMG_5441A native girl moved her duffle bag off the seat next to her. I thanked her and sat down to continue to observe my fellow passengers.  I looked around the small gate. These folks were very different from the passengers upstairs. There were no suits among this crowd. The dominant dress was baseball caps on backward, hoody’s under heavy jackets, jeans and work boots or rubber boots. Today, the demography was equal parts of working white folks, Aleuts, Filipinos, and Peruvians.

I felt an exhilarating affinity to this group. These were the real Alaskans, not those folks upstairs. Many of us in this room had earned our living up here from fishing, construction, and logging. Sometimes under difficult conditions, dangerous situations and in all kinds of weather.

2 kidsI overheard a couple of twenty-year-old kids chatting excitedly about their expectations of spending their first summer in the Aleutians working in one of the canneries. I listened as an older Catholic missionary priest talked about his travels from village to village; sometimes by plane, but also by boat, on foot and even on dog sleds. An old, wizen Aleut woman, with a bandaged foot, waited stoically in her wheelchair to return home from the Anchorage hospital, as her daughter fussed with her blanket.

boardingWhen my fight was called, I got in line and walked out to board the PenAir, Bombardier Q400 prop-jet. Eighty other passengers and I, headed to King Salmon, a wide spot in the road, five miles north of the village of Naknek, population five-hundred-forty full-time residents. The village of Naknek is arguably the crown jewel of the annual Bristol Bay salmon run and what an exciting jewel it is. It’s situated on the Bearing Sea at the head of Bristol Bay.

This was my first trip into Naknek, and my first opportunity to experience the Bristol Bay salmon run as a deckhand.  Harry Jay Follman, my friend, and Hawaii construction partner owns the Erika Lynn, a thirty-two-foot, drift-gillnetter. Jay had successfully fished the annual run for over thirty-five years and I was excited to join him on this trip, although I had no idea what to expect.

Mike, one of the crew from the Erika Lynn was waiting for me when I landed in King Salmon. As we loaded my bag into the back of the beat-up four-wheel-drive, white pickup truck, the two kids, who were on the plane with me, approached and asked, “Could you bring us into Naknek with you? We can’t afford the cab fare.” I nodded, “Okay with me” and Mike said,”Sure, but you have to ride in the back with the nets.” They broke into happy smiles, tossed their stuff into the bed and climbed in.

We dropped the kids off at the Trident Cannery and continued into town. Our next stop was at the LFS Marine Supplies store where I picked up my Alaska commercial fishing license.  From there, it was on to the ‘Red Dog Saloon’ where Jay instructed me to book a room for the night.

IMG_5534When I entered the Red Dog Saloon at ten a.m.,  I was surprised to be standing inside a large, nearly empty bar that reeked of stale beer, whiskey, and cigarettes. I wondered where’s the lobby? The bartender ignored me, as he busied himself behind the bar, but the heavy-set barmaid, who saw my suitcase in hand, got up from doing her nails. “You must be Mr. Winston. Come on over to the bar and I’ll check you in.” She opened the beer stained, guest register, and said. “The only room we have available is the Bridal Suite. I’ll upgrade you for free.” I thanked her and climbed the wooden stairs to the second floor. I entered room eleven of a ten-room hotel and tossed my bag onto one of the two rickety beds. While I was shutting the door, I noticed the inside of the door had been kicked in. Outside of that, it was a decent room with a small deck and fire escape.  I kicked off my shoes and laid on the second bed and waited for my adventure to begin.

*** THE END ***

Stay tuned for episode III

 

Archive, Book Worthy Tales <<<Click here.

 

 

 

 

DARE TO DREAM

DARE TO DREAM, INSPIRATION, June i,2018

July 15, 2018

TUSCANY, ITALY

By Thomas Glanville

Published June 8, 2018

On December 7, 2003, I married Lorraine, my fourth wife and we spent our honeymoon on the ship, Pride of America, cruising around the Hawaiian Islands. When we arrived back home, there was a letter from my son David waiting for us. Inside the envelope was a vinyl map of the world with an arrow lying on top. His message said that we were to tape the pointer to the map at a place in the world that we wanted to visit, and wherever that was; he would send us there. At first, we thought maybe Africa or England, but after we saw the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun”, we chose to go to Tuscany, Italy. We called David and told him our choice. He said, “Since we had to stop in Paris anyway, we should spend at least five days in Paris, and he would make all of the arrangements. He told each of us, “Only bring a backpack, a small carry on, black shoes, and dark clothes. Although you love America and T-Shirts, you don’t want to look like a tourist.”

David called back a couple of hours later and said, you’re booked into Paris with a four-hour layover in Detroit. Then, five days later you’re on a flight to Milan, Italy for ten days in a beautiful villa. We thanked him profusely. That evening I said to Loraine. “Maybe we could get my old friend John to meet us at the Hotel next to the Detroit airport and have a long lunch with us. I haven’t seen him and the kids in years.” Lorraine said, “Sure, that sounds like fun, call him.” I did, and John and Rose were excited to hear from me and couldn’t wait to see us. We agreed to meet at the Airport Hilton around three o’clock.

***

After a ten-hour, red-eye from Honolulu, we landed at Detroit-Metro and walked over to the Hilton. John and Rose were waiting for us in the lobby. We had lunch at the Hotel café and laughed and joked about old times when we used to work together.

I reminded him of the time he told me his house was getting too small for his growing family and he couldn’t afford to buy a bigger house. They had fifteen kids living at home, two-years-old through mid-twenties. I suggested that instead of looking for another house, he should put a second story on the house he has now. He agreed, and a couple of friends from work and I helped him on weekends and evenings. Two months later it was done.

He told the story about the time he invited me over to his parent’s house in a rough Detroit neighborhood. He wanted me to meet his mom and dad and experience a homemade Mexican dinner. We had a great time, they were wonderful people. When I left to go home, my pickup was up on blocks, and all four wheels were missing. We laughed about it this afternoon, but it sure wasn’t funny then. Two hours later, we said goodbye and returned to the airport.

***

eiffle towerWe landed in Paris, got through customs, and were surprised to see David waiting for us at the airport. He had a taxi waiting to take us to a small hotel. Although we couldn’t check in, we could leave our baggage there, David called a taxi and we took off. I was surprised to see the Eiffel Tower just across the street from us. It looked like a series of steel lace tied together. I’d seen pictures of it, but never thought I’d be here staring at it. We took the elevator to the top of the Tower. Wow! What a view of Paris we had from there. We took the elevator down a few decks to a restaurant where we had lunch.

After a delicious lunch, David took us to a fancy chocolate shop in the neighborhood where he often shopped for paintings and all kinds of things. We bought a box of candy and munched on it during the subway ride to the famous Musee du Louvre. It was just across the street where we were staying. 0503181001I held my camera high and took a picture of the Mona Lisa over the heads of a large group of tourists viewing her picture. The attendant yelled at me, “No photos are allowed!” We had a snack in the museum’s café and returned to our hotel.

David told us not to wear sneakers only black walking shoe and black clothes. Do not wear t-shirts or shorts that say “I Heart the USA”. Lorraine wore shoes she said looked like nun shoes. They were great for walking but she did not like them. The first nun she saw with shoes just like hers, they were off, and she bought some sexy red strapped shoes.

When we look in any store windows, we were not to lean or put our hands on the glass. The two things not to do was a sure sign you were a tourist. In France, I guess you do not want to look like a tourist. Just one look at me and you could sure tell I was a tourist.

David and Lorraine wanted to go to the bottom floor of the museum. Not me, I said. “I will just look around down here on the first floor.”  Just people watching was fun. The bottom line for me; I did not like Paris very much.

***

After a five day stay in Paris, it was time to move on to Italy. We showed the customs officer our passports upon landing in the small Italian airport. He asked, “Where are the rest of your bags?”

“There is nothing else!”

“You came from America, and that is all you have? Get outta here!”

The lady at the rental car place had our car and a map waiting for us when we cleared customs. She also gave us explicit directions on how to get to the village of Greve and Le Maurice street, where the two-hundred-year-old villa, Le Maurice, was located. Lorraine selected it because it seemed to have a fascinating history. It was also recommended by the young couple who owned a ‘Make Your Own Wine” store in Kailua. They had just returned from their honeymoon there.

***

hostsWhen we arrived at the villa’s gate, I rang the bell, and the two brothers, Elio and Gian Piero, the owners, welcomed us. After petting their dogs and engaging in some welcoming chatter, we asked, “Can you show us our rooms.”old bldgIt was located just off the patio on the ground floor. It had a large common area, bedroom, and bath, as well as a small kitchen. The furnishings were elegant, and there was a vase of beautiful flowers from their garden on the table. We unpacked and settled in and relaxed. A couple of hours later, refreshed, we went exploring. There were spring flowers in bloom everywhere and the trees were just starting to bud. There was a large vineyard down in the valley, which we planned to visit in a day or two. That evening we sat in the garden and watched a colorful sunset and went to bed tired from our journey.

The first night the old bed had some silk type of sheets on it. We had just gotten in bed and when we pulled the sheet and blanket up we heard a big rip. We looked and the top sheet had a large rip in it. In the morning Lorraine said she had to tell the guys we ripped their sheet. She took out the book with English an Italian words.  When she got to the word that meant rip was on a word that meant broke. We went to breakfast on the first morning she gave the note to Elio He could not figure out what the note said. The French lady who was staying there said,”Let me look.” She looked it over said, “The newlyweds broke the sheet.” Everyone clapped. It took me awhile to get Lorraine out from under the table.

***

Day 1:

At five-thirty, the sun, which was just peeking over the hill, woke me up. After a few minutes, I got up, leaving Lorraine to sleep in late. I grabbed a banana, a bottle of water and left a note saying that I had gone for a walk. Outside it was bright and cold, around fifty degrees, with dew on the vegetation and a light mist hanging over the valley. I left the villa behind and walked up the road, which got steeper as I climbed.

flowersThere was a plethora of wildflowers, mostly poppies, on both sides of the narrow, winding road. If I stopped and peered up the occasional, long cobblestone driveways, I could see the tile roofs of a few homes here and there, which were set way back off the road. Several of the houses had ancient masonry religious shrines with a picture of some lady and a baby where the driveways met the street.  I called these pictures “An Italian mama and baby.”, There were dusty artificial flowers in some of them.

crossAbout a half-mile up the road, there was what appeared to be, an abandoned driveway with a big mound of weed-covered dirt blocking its entrance. The weeds were almost as tall as me, but if I pushed them aside with a stick, I could make out a good sized, red adobe cross.  It was mounted on top of some kind of a masonry structure, which I couldn’t make out. The cross was nearly four-foot-high, and it leaned severely to the right. I wondered, what it was a part of, and why was it in this empty field? I snapped a picture of it and moved on.

A short way farther up the road, there was an ancient stone building that turned out to be the local winery. Its stone walls were covered with flowering vines. There were a dozen stone steps, which were built into the wall, leading to the top of the wall. I’d seen enough for one morning and decided I had best get back to the villa, Lorraine would be up soon. As I passed the abandoned driveway where I discovered the cross, I decided to return the next day to investigate further. I wondered, What else of interest was behind all those weeds and debris?

***

T on porchAfter breakfast, Lorraine and I drove to the little village of Grave. It sported a good sized, town square, which featured a church at one end, several non-descript stores, a bakery and a sidewalk cafe at the other end of the square with two and three-story apartments flanking the square. We bought a large loaf of olive bread and a hunk of cheese at the bakery for supper that night and took off to discover what we could find in the area. We followed the road east for several miles, but there was little of interest except for vineyards and farmland.

***

DAY 2:

The next morning, I was up again at the break of dawn. I left a note, grabbed something to munch on and walked up to the winery. When I reached the cross, I stopped and stared at it. I couldn’t figure out why it was there, and what it was mounted on. When I reached the winery, I turned around and headed back to the villa. When I got to the old driveway in front of the cross, I looked to see if anyone was coming. I was alone, so I walked around the pile of dirt and stepped over the chain blocking the driveway.

shrine front.jpg 8When I flattened the tall grass, I could make out what looked like an old brick structure with this cross on top. I was curious, so I made my way over to it. It was like a shrine of some kind, about eight-foot-square, and ten-foot high.I looked in it and found a painting of an Italian mama, her baby and two angels on the back wall. The top half of the picture was in fair condition, but the bottom part was faded from the sun. There was an old mason jar laying in front of the painting or print; I couldn’t tell which. I wondered who built the shrine and why they would let this once beautiful structure fall into ruin like this? I cleaned up the interior of the shrine, tidied up the area around it, and piled all the trash up behind the bushes.

When I got back to the villa, I told Lorraine what I had found. She asked, “What was it that attracted you to it, and what motivated you to clean the place up?” I thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know.”

***

Day 3:

ThomWhen I got up, I walked up to the winery as usual. When I got as far as the shrine, I entered the property and stood there looking at it for a long time before continuing on to the winery. On the way back, I picked some wildflowers and arranged them in the mason jar, which I had cleaned out, and filled from my water bottle. I also cleaned off the plastic cover protecting the painting from the elements. I thought, Why in the heck am I doing this? This is the first shrine I had ever seen. Loraine was right. Why am I attracted to it, returning again and again, cleaning it up, and even putting fresh flowers before the painting? I still didn’t have the answer to that. After breakfast, we took a long aimless drive. When we came to a road crossing, Loraine would say, “I wonder where that leads to?” I’d respond, “I don’t know, let’s find out. After a few miles, we ran into some horseback riders that waved us down. They ask where is so an so place. We told them “We don’t know, and furthermore, we don’t know where we are.”

Thom2A few miles further we came to what looked like an old castle. The roof had caved in and some of the stone stairs had fallen. There was a big cross that seemed like someone had put there after the castle had crumbled.  We could see that the road continued on across the hills for miles. We hung around for a while then headed back to the villa. Before we left, I stood on top of the hill with my arms in the air just like in the Sound of Music.

***

Day 4:

On our fourth day in Tuscany, I woke up early and walked up to the winery as usual. On my return, I picked a handful of the many flowers of all kinds and colors that were everywhere. When I got to the shrine, I stopped and put the fresh flowers in the mason jar, and remained for a while, wondering why this shrine had me hooked. Was it because we were both old? When I returned to the road, I heard the sound of a motor scooter and stepped off to the side to allow an old man on a motorbike to pass me. I waved good morning to him, and he waved back. A few moments later, an old lady following him on her scooter rounded the curve. I waved at her also, but she gave me a dirty look and continued on.

TowerThat afternoon,  we went to the market.  When we entered the produce area, I saw a notice that stated we had to put on the gloves that were furnished before picking up any fruit or vegetables. I thought that was odd. A lady told us, “Whatever you pick up you can not put back down.” In other words, you touch it, you bought it. We bought lettuce and other things to make a salad and put them in bags.  I walked around the aisles looking for salad dressing, and yelled at Lorraine, ”I wonder where the salad dressing is at?” Suddenly the store went silent, and a French lady said very loud “You can take the American out of America but can’t take the American out of them”.

We just smiled and put our purchases on the checkout counter. The clerk at the register started yelling at us in Italian. We didn’t know what he was all excited about until Someone in line behind us said we were supposed to have weighed the things we bought, selected the picture of the item on the screen, and applied the barcode sticker that popped up to the bag. He led us over to the produce scale babbling in Italian, then he asked in broken English, “Where you from?” Lorraine said, “Hawaii.” He smiled and said, “Oh, okay!” As we left the store, everyone clapped. It seemed we were the show for the day.

***

Day 5:

I slipped out of our room without waking Loraine and headed up the road. I heard the old man’s scooter coming, so I stopped and waited. When he came around the corner, I waved, and he waved back. The old lady was not too far back, I waved at her and just got the same dirty look. I thought if she came by tomorrow, I’d give her a Shaka, the Hawaiian sign for hello and thank you. I walked to the winery and again on the way back I picked some flowers for the shrine. On the way back to the villa I was thinking about the old lady and how I could make her wave or even smile. I wondered if the Shaka sign could possibly mean something dirty in Italy.

After breakfast, we went for a drive. We turned onto the road that meandered up towards the mountains and soon encountered a traffic sign indicating a one lane road ahead. When the light changed, we could continue up that section of road, but the cars coming down had to wait for us. About a half mile up the road, when we made a sharp turn to the left and then to the right, We notice there were people putting up tents in a church parking lot. We found a place to park and learned they were setting up for a big wine tasting event. We followed a brick driveway around to the back of the church where the local wineries were setting up tables in front of a long row of apartments.  There were eleven tables holding bottles with signs describing the types of wines and the wineries they were from.

wineWe walked over to the signup tent where some people were standing around. I paid the fee and they gave us two glasses with ribbons attached to put around our necks. The street was soon filled with happy people. Lorraine met a woman who spoke English, they talked for several minutes and decided to go around to the different tables together and sample the wine. That was fine with me and I said, “See you gals later.”

I walked around for a couple of hours and checked out the other tables on which were displayed local artwork and all kinds of things for sale. I needed a restroom, but I couldn’t find one anywhere close by.   I entered a cafe on the corner and asked if I could use the restroom. The owner said, “No way, my friend, but if you make a reservation for lunch you can use it.” I made a lunch reservation and returned to where Loraine and her new friend were wine tasting. It was 12 o’clock, lunchtime when I found them sitting at a table sampling wine. If I had waited any longer I would have to pull them to the cafe in a wagon. Most folks smell the wine, swirl around in their mouths and spit it out.  Their motto was if it goes in their mouth, it goes down, not out. We had a great lunch and headed back to the villa.

***

Day 6:

wine tasting 2Our sixth morning here was misty and overcast. On the way back from the winery I picked some flowers and again stopped at the shrine. While I was there, something came over me, and I felt compelled to dismantle the shrine, and number the bricks so I could reassemble it on my return to Hawaii. When I returned to the road at the usual hour, I waited for the scooters to pass me. When I heard the sound of a motorbike coming down the hill, I smiled in anticipation. However, I was surprised when the old lady rounded the curve without the old man. I thought maybe he got up late or wasn’t working today. I gave her the shaka sign, and I was rewarded with a big toothy smile and a happy wave. It worked! When I got back to the villa, I told Lorraine I was thinking about bringing the shrine to Hawaii. She smiled and said, “You must be crazy! That would be a huge job. Have you figured out what the attraction is?” I told her, “Maybe part of it is, I just can’t let it fall into ruins, and it’s a shame that no one is taking care of it?”

***

Day 7:

Day seven, I went to the winery as usual. As I was about to turn around, I changed my mind and continued on to explore. The road had some big curves in it. The boys at the villa told me that walking through the narrow curves was dangerous. The cars and trucks drive way too fast. Although they toot their horns going into the curves, it can be hazardous.

Just then I heard honking. I stepped off the road, and a few seconds later a car came around the curve and passed me, at a fast speed.  I could hear the sound of a big rig, blowing its air horn, as it entered the curve. I stepped onto the edge of the road to get out of the way.  I looked down the steep bank at a grove of olive trees and grape vines in the valley below. As the truck approached me, it appeared that its oversize mirrors might clip me. I leaned hard against the cable guardrail, and the truck passed safely

With my weight against the old cable, it snapped, and I tumbled head first.  I landed face down into a clump of tall weeds and thorns, which stopped my fall into the valley thirty feet below. At first, I was afraid to move, for fear of plummeting further into the valley below, but I knew I had to do something. As I wiggled and squirmed into the fetal position, the thorns dug into my head, arms, and shoulders. When I managed to roll over on my back, I spotted the end of the cable close by and grabbed it. I pulled myself out of the thorns and got my head pointed towards the edge of the road. I got up on my knees, and half dragged, half crawled back up to the side of the road.

I was so happy to be safe, I almost forgot that I had left a big red rose for Lorraine behind in the thorns. I said, “I picked that rose for Lorraine and I am not going back without it.” I grabbed the cable and slowly repelled off the hill to reclaim the rose. Back up on the road, I brushed off the leaves, twigs, and thorns and headed for the villa.

On the way back I picked some flowers to put in the jar in the Shrine.

When I got back to the villa, Lorraine exclaimed, “What happened to you? What a sight you are. You have grass in your hair, grass stains on your ripped shirt and trousers and thorns sticking to your clothes.” I gave her the rose and told her the story. She giggled and said, “You should look in the mirror before we go anywhere. I did and had shower and change clothes before going for a drive.

***

Day 8:

I got up at 5 a.m. grabbed a water bottle and a cookie and walked up to toward the winery. The old man and lady drove by on their scooter. I waved and they both waved back with a smile. I plucked some flowers and stopped at the shrine and cleaned up around and inside it. I knew we had only a couple of days left here. I considered taking just one brick if I couldn’t take them all. I searched the clearing, but none were lying about, nor were there any loose ones on the structure.

***

I returned to the villa, after breakfast we drove to one of the nearby walled cities. By the time we got there and parked, we were in need of a restroom. There was this odd-looking metal structure that looked like a spaceship in the center of the parking lot. As we approached it, a door opened, and an elderly couple stepped out. The door closed behind them, and we heard what sounded like a fan, and a pump turning on, followed by the sound of water. When the noise stopped, I could smell the sweet smell an air freshener.

The couple told us it was a restroom and you had to pay to use it. We followed the instructions and put in the coins. The door open and I said, “Ladies first.” The couple interrupted, and told me, “You can both go in together, it’s quite big inside. When we entered, the lights came on, and the door closed and locked. There was a stainless-steel toilet with no seat. I repeated, “Ladies first.” Loraine responded, “No, you go first.” When it was her turn, she sat on the toilet.  and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, it’s cold, and hey, where is the toilet paper?” I told her, “There’s a slot on the wall with a sign showing that you flip the lid up and the toilet paper is right there. I heard the toilet flush. When she got up, she asked, “Where do you wash your hands? “I said, “There are two handholes under the picture of a faucet. Put your hands in there.”

“Something just dropped on my hands, what is it?”

“It’s soapy water, wash your hands in it. The rinse water will come on shortly followed by an air dryer.” When we left the contraption, the self-cleaning racket started. We just smiled at the lady waiting outside and explained that the noise was the restroom cleaning itself. as if we knew it all the time.

shrine close up copy3When we only had two days left in Italy! I got up late, and had breakfast with my sweetheart, instead of walking up to the winery and shrine. When the conversation turned to the shrine, I asked, “What do you think I could take back with me as a remembrance of the shrine?”

“Let’s go to town and buy the perfect flower vase for your shrine. Then, you pick some particularly beautiful flowers to put in it and leave it there overnight. On our last day here, you retrieve the vase, and we’ll bring it back to Hawaii with us as a memory. That way every time you look at the vase, you’ll think of the shrine.”

***

Day 9:

shrine close up copyOn my morning walk, I spotted a bunch of red poppies with a single white one sticking up in the middle, a little higher than the rest. I picked a dozen of them, including the white one, and put them in the memory vase, and placed it at the foot of the painting of the Italian mama and her baby. I cleaned up in and around the shrine again and returned to the villa.

The villa owners invited us, and three other guest couples to share a late dinner with them in their large kitchen on our last night in Italy. I watched Gian make noodles, and Elio cook the main course. There were six bottles of homemade wine on the table, each one a little different, and produced by our hosts. There were several kinds of bread to choose from, and a simple salad dressed with olive oil of course.  The other couples were from different countries, but we all seemed to understand each other well enough. It was a splendid dinner and a wonderful last evening in Italy. Later during the night, about three a.m., a thunderous clap of thunder shook the villa, lightning lit up the sky, and the rain poured down in buckets. It lasted at least an hour or so.

***

Day 10:

I got up at five am as usual. Grabbed a snack and some water and went off to walk to the winery for the last time. It was another misty morning after the storm, and everything smelled fresh and earthy. I said my goodbye to the winery and threw the old man and old lady a kiss as they zoomed by on their scooters.

When I got to the shrine, I was alarmed by the mess I found there. The vase had blown over but didn’t break. The white flower lay crushed, dirty and wilted. The picture was askew on the back wall, but not damaged. I cleaned up the mess and put the fresh roses in the mason jar. I knew this is the last time I would be here. I decided to remove the roses from the jar and lay them directly in front of the painting of my Italian Mama and her baby. I had grown close to but still didn’t know the significance of the art, or who painted the picture which I now thought was maybe Mary, Jesus, and the Angels.

shrine frontalI said my goodbyes, gave my shrine a pat and returned to the villa with the vase in time for breakfast. When we were packed, we left our bags on the porch and made a quick trip to the town center to say Aloha to the shopkeepers we had befriended and polish off some fresh olive bread dipped in olive oil at the bakery. When we returned to the villa.

I told Lorraine, “Something tells me I need to return to the shrine once more.”

When I got there, the first thing I noticed was that someone had been here in my brief absence this morning and cut all of the high grass around the shrine and olive trees, revealing a low stone wall that was hidden before. I went over to the wall and sat down a few yards to the left of the shrine. When I gazed at the painting, I was startled to see a third angel painted into the painting that I had never seen before. It was below the mama and looking up at her. This angel was bright and clear unlike the faded painting surrounding it. When I got up and stood directly in front of the shrine, I could no longer see the third angle. I returned to where I was sitting, and there it was again. I did this several times with the same result. I returned to the villa and excitedly told Lorraine what I saw. She asked, “How could that be?” I said, “Come with me. You have to see this.”

***

We entered the recently cleared courtyard containing the shrine and stood directly in front of the painting. I asked, “How many angels do you see?”

“Two.”

I told her, “Follow me to the stonewall over there and tell me how many angels you see.” Without hesitation, she said, “There is a third angel near the bottom of the painting. Loraine walked back and forth a couple of times and confirmed what she saw. I asked her, Are you sure? You’re not just telling me what you think I want to hear are you?”

“Oh no. I saw it. No question about it. I think that your infatuation with this shrine, and now this, must be some kind of sign from God.”

***

We returned to the villa in silence thinking about what we just saw, yet not understanding it. It wasn’t just the third angel that baffled us, but it was the whole thing. It was the way I was drawn to the shrine, how my infatuation with it grew stronger every day to the point that I took temporary ownership of it and worked diligently to keep it presentable for the Blessed Mother and Jesus who were portrayed in the painting. Then there was the nasty thunderstorm early this morning that wreaked havoc on the shrine but did little damage other than knocking the painting askew and dumping my memorial vase over. I’m surprised the vase didn’t break, and I wonder why only the single white flower wilted and died? That was certainly strange. And who cleared the courtyard this morning. I haven’t seen any other evidence that anybody had been on the property the entire time we were here.

***

We loaded our baggage into the rental car and said goodbye to the boys and the dogs. We stopped for lunch in town and then headed for the airport and home. After we had checked in and got our boarding passes, we had a two-hour wait to board the plane. We looked around the gift shop, where Loraine picked up and thumbed through a coffee table book of famous Italian painters. She poked me and exclaimed, “I found it! Thom, I just found it!”

“What did you find?”

“Look at this picture on page nine-eight. This painting is the same one that hangs in your shrine. It says here that it’s a famous painting of the Madonna and child by Filippo Lippi. The original hangs in the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence. Look here, “There are only two angels in the painting.”

***

It was a long flight back to Hawaii with two stops. When we finally got home and settled in, Lorraine picked up our mail at the post office. On the way home, she sorted through the mail and handed me a letter addressed to me. I recognized the address. It was John’s address, my old pal back in Michigan. I told Lorraine that something must have happened to brother John. They had never written us before.

When I opened the letter, it was from Rose. She wrote that John had passed away at nine a.m. on April twelfth. I knew they were very Catholic and had sent all of the kids to Catholic schools, so I decided it would be appropriate if I wrote her about my recent experience at the shrine. I wrote about everything that happened at the shrine in a long letter, leaving nothing out. I pointed out that the time of John’s death was three a.m. where we were in Tuscany, and that was the very hour of the horrendous thunderstorm.

***

She wrote back that my letter moved her deeply and made her feel better. She just knew that her John was in the arms of the Italian Mama. She added, “You might not believe what I’m about to write, but the day of the funeral I placed fifteen red roses, one for each child, and one white rose for John on his coffin. I am sure that Angel you saw in the painting was John, saying goodbye.”shrine close up copy4

Now it all seems to make sense why the shrine was calling me. God rest Brother John.

*** The End ***

June 15, 2018

Anthony Bourdain is dead!

An inspirational comment

A. Bourdainshutterstock_I was deeply moved when I learned that Anthony Bourdain had left this earth by his own hand on June 8, 2018. I didn’t want to think about it, but I couldn’t push it away, it kept coming back.I asked several close friends, “What do you think about Anthony Bourdain’s death?” They responded with, “What a terrible, selfish thing to do.” “What an ass, he left a twelve-year-old daughter and a significant-other behind to deal with that mess.” “Why? He had everything?” “He’s a coward. I hope he goes straight to hell, good riddance!”. I didn’t want to hear any of that crap. So, when another friend quietly said, “Don’t judge him, until you have walked in his shoes.” That comment intrigued me and I thought, perhaps my friend was right, I need to think this through.

A few days later I was at my dermatologist’s office for a four-hour appointment to remove a small skin cancer. The two surgeries took about a half-hour. I spent the rest of my visit in the waiting room with a dozen other elderly Haole (Hawaiian for foreigner) patients sitting around trying to politely ignore the white gauze patches on each other’s faces. When my thoughts inevitably turned to Mr. Bourdain, I bit the bullet and reluctantly decided to examine my reaction to his death.

Although we had never met, I knew a lot about him from reading his books and watching many of his TV episodes. The two things that shaped my admiration for Anthony Bourdain was his book, “Kitchen Confidential,” a sometimes, hilarious expose of the New York restaurant business. The second was a stunning episode of his “No Reservations” show, filmed in Beirut, Lebanon in 2006 during the Israel-Lebanon war. It was an incredible feat of journalism. As the camera captured the hysteria of bombs falling on Beirut, the show morphed into a tense, real-time war documentary. A fearless, steel-nerved side of Anthony Bourdain emerged, took charge and captured you, as you witnessed his escape to a U.S. Warship. The show won an Emmy.

I admired him, not only for being a world-class storyteller but for his shameless acceptance and portrayal of himself as a working alcoholic and druggie. There were no excuses or explanations forthcoming for his behavior. He lived his life as a fearless free spirit who did what he wanted to do and did so with unmitigated gusto. He wasn’t any boy scout, but then, he wasn’t a devil either. He was Anthony Bourdain living large. He was a cocky, funny, insightful, sometimes foul-mouthed, sometimes outspoken, man of the world and its kitchens. He spoke and wrote what he thought, there were no filters with Anthony. Sure, his comments about the outrageous people and situations he encountered in his life were sometimes unflattering, but he thought that was funny stuff and delivered it as such. Some of the recipients of his barbs characterized him as a mean, angry cynic. I didn’t buy that, Anthony always told it like it was, he let the chips fall where they may, and allowed the truth to entertain.

I recognized glimpses of myself in the way he saw the world, lived his life, spoke, and wrote. I somehow knew that I too had a jillion, entertaining stories to tell and if Anthony Bourdain could shoot from the hip and be successful, so could I. I didn’t need to go to finishing school and re-invent myself as a polished, articulate novelist, I just needed to get my stories out there and I too would do well. Stories filled with humor, enthusiasm, odd characters, and insight. That was the gift that he left me.

Enough of my grousing about dear, dead Anthony, He’s now deader than yesterday’s fried chicken, and will soon be forgotten by all but the few of us whose lives he touched. This story isn’t about Anthony Bourdain, it’s about me and my perspective about suicide. Up until today, I didn’t even want to think about why these folks did what they did. Anthony’s death changed that because I cared about him, and what would become of him in the after-life?

My first encounter with a suicide occurred when I was about twelve. I overheard my parents whispering about my auntie who overdosed and left the world at a young age. My father indicated she was a cowardly, shameful, embarrassment to the family. In 1984, A good friend, and talented physician, Dr. Fredricks, blew his brains out on the beach a block from my office after his morning hospital rounds. In 1994, my friend Jack Temple, who lived next door to Kurt Cobain on the shores of Lake Washington, called and said that young Kurt Cobain committed suicide in his home next door.

lanikaiI was surprised to hear that funny man, Robin Williams, took his own life in 2014. I remembered occasionally seeing him enjoying his morning coffee and reading the newspaper outside of Kailua’s Kalapawai Market. Robin’s Hawaii home was in the exclusive Lanakai neighborhood, just down the street.

As I thought about these folks, it occurred to me they shared a few similar traits. They were all Charismatic, brilliant, hard-working, energetic type “A” personalities. One of the common characteristics they shared was a high level of creativity. They could create something beautiful out of the mundane. Artistic ability was always one of the multiple talents common to each of them. Some were superstars or high-profile celebrities, others shunned notoriety. They used their God-given talents to amass fortunes which separated them from us ordinary folks and allows them complete freedom to do as they please with little or no boundaries. You would think it couldn’t be that tough to be a star; hobnobbing with other celebrities, having tons of money and all kinds of folks clamoring to be your friend. Apparently, there is a dark side which often is an integral part of that lifestyle. Their world is not our world, and maybe that is the double edge sword that causes them to flail out for something which they can neither understand nor achieve.

IMG_0223Drugs and alcohol often fuel successful people’s dark sides. It starts with a harmless gulp of Jack Daniels behind the school, followed by their first puff of Pakalolo, (Marijuana). By the time they have risen to the apex of their careers, the subtle increase in drug and alcohol consumption has inevitably altered their brain’s circuitry. and they are no longer the same person. Mommy dearest is now a bitch. The personal demons that have grasped control of their minds continue to twist and distort reality until it becomes an elusive seductress. Paranoia, unfounded fears, and intense anxiety erode their self-esteem and their lives become a lie. They descend deeper and deeper into an irreversible depression. When they realize the demos are there to stay, they know the future may be even more terrifying than the present. Their search for escape inevitably leads them to consider suicide, seemingly the only way out. Nothing else matters; lovers, family, friends; nothing.

A friend confided in me that he had once seriously considered suicide. He told me, “I was into whiskey, weed, and heroine pretty heavy. I had just lost my job and my longtime girlfriend. She told me she loved me, but I had to choose between her and the drugs. I knew I couldn’t stop the drugging and boozing. I was devastated. I loved her, and my life without her was a waste of breath. Knowing I couldn’t stop the drugging and drinking, I descended into a deep depression. I decided to get high, and off myself. I didn’t dwell on how this would impact my girlfriend, family, and friends. I didn’t care if it wrong, it was my life, and I was going to end it. I was done, it was over, and I was out of here. I passed out before going through with it. The next morning when I woke up, I forgot how pissed off I was.”

Many of these folks who choose suicide, do so in an altered state of mind. So, what becomes of their souls? Where do their souls go? Mary, the Mother of Jesus, emphatically told the Fatima children there is a Heaven, a purgatory, and a hell, and that’s where we go when we die. When I was growing up in the fifties, the church implied that those who choose suicide went to hell. Recently, they have changed their position, and subtlety suggest perhaps that is not necessarily so.

Recently, Pope Francis made this comment regarding suicide, “Some of the victims (of pedophile priests) have been driven to suicide. These deaths weigh on my heart, on my conscience and that of the whole Church. To their families, I offer my feelings of love and pain and humbly, I ask forgiveness.” Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that God is a merciful God and as such, I’m sure mercy, love, and forgiveness will play a role in His reception of the tortured souls who take their own life.

A Catholic Paper printed an article recently about suicide, I paraphrase, “God understands the dark, hopeless place these tormented people inhabit. Some, He will welcome as a mother would welcome her newborn to her breast for the first time.”

I recently learned of a holy woman whom God gave the gift of being able to communicate with souls in purgatory. In regard to suicide, she once wrote, “When people ask me, ‘Are there any souls of those who committed suicide in purgatory?’ I respond, Yes, certainly, but not all are there.”

We all need to be mindful that God created us, and our lives belong to Him, not to us.  Therefore, it was clearly wrong for Anthony Bourdain to take his life, but it’s up to a merciful, all-knowing God to pass judgment on Anthony. We can only pray that God has a place in his house for a master storyteller.

This soliloquy brought a long overdue closure for me on this difficult subject, and I hope it will for those of you who have read it. In the words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”

IMG_0222

 May God have mercy on your soul, Anthony Bourdain!

*** THE END ***

photo credits: Catholic Exchange, Jeannie Ewing

Bill Tammeus, how clergy help…

June 1, 2018

CANCER:
SOMETIMES IT’S A WAKEUP CALL! Part II

I survived the triple bypass, recovered, and they sent me home a few days later. I was doing fine until about a week after I got home when I took a turn for the worse. For no apparent reason, I was having difficulty breathing. My feet and legs were swollen. I was and coughing and wheezing badly. That night I was unable to keep anything in my stomach, including my meds. When my temperature hit a hundred, Elizabeth called the doctor. He told her, “I’ll stop by in the morning. In the meantime, make sure that he’s keeping down his medicine. If his temperature goes any higher, call 911.”

About two a.m., I felt an electric-like jolt shake my upper body. I awoke with a start and curled up in the fetal position. I could feel my body starting to slip over to the other side. It was a weird sensation. My breathing became shallow, and I could feel my pulse rate slowing. I was neither hungry nor thirsty, and the ever-present pain was no longer in the forefront.

sunet orangeI felt a short wave of warmth sweep through my chest, followed by a pleasant, lingering numbness. A sense of calm and peacefulness settled on me. I just wanted to sleep. My brain slowed down time and intertwined reality with shadowy hallucinations until they became one. Defining moments in my life, both good, and bad flooded into my mind, as hundreds, maybe thousands of memories, raced through my mind, each one replacing the previous one in milliseconds, and there was no going back.

My slide into eternity slowed and then stopped. An unpleasant piercing sound interfered with the slideshow in my head and annoyed me. Suddenly, I felt something or somebody shaking me. That annoyed me further. I whispered, “Go away, and leave me alone!”

I was in the very private act of withdrawing from life, and I wanted and needed my space. As the shaking and noise continued, my sense of euphoria slipped away and was replaced by a voice. It was Elizabeth’s voice. I could make out bits and pieces of what she was saying. It sounded like, “Please don’t die. I need you!”

I felt terrible for Elizabeth. I didn’t want to leave her. However, I was pretty sure that I was on my way out, and there was little I could do about it. I opened my eyes a crack, as Elizabeth tugged and pushed me into a sitting position. Despite my weak protestations, she then yanked me out of bed and helped me take a dozen steps into the living room where I dropped in a chair, exhausted.

Elizabeth’s intervention slowed my spiral into the unknown, but it also awakened the pain that was racking my body. She covered me with a quilt, put an ice pack on my brow and forced me to swallow my medicines. All I wanted to do was to return to that twilight zone where there was no pain, and I had gotten a glimpse of my mom. Elizabeth had other ideas. She forced me to stay semi-alert throughout the rest of the night, as she prayed and waited for the dawn and the arrival of the doctor.

shutterstock_Jesus at doorAs the early Monday morning sun rose in the East and lit up the living room, I was slumped in my chair, zonked out on pain medicine and drifting in and out of lucidity. I thought I heard someone knocking at the door. That familiar tap, tap, tap signaled to me that it was Jesus out there knocking on my door once again. It had to be Him. I was apprehensive and fearful, but I knew that I must open the door. I whispered, “Jesus. Please come in!”

I heard a commotion at the door and closed my eyes. Then, He was at my side. Jesus had a distinct, but faint, odor of spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic. I liked that. It broke the ice, and my fear subsided. I didn’t dare to open my eyes. I wasn’t worthy to look Jesus in the eye. It didn’t matter because I could feel His presence. It was a powerful sense of pure love, agape love. I started to tell Him how sorry I was for so many things, but He hushed me. He already knew what was in my heart. There was no need for words. He forgave me for everything, spoken and unspoken. Then, Jesus was gone. I sighed and fell into a deep sleep.

When I woke up a couple of hours later, Elizabeth looked me over carefully and took my temperature without saying anything. When she was satisfied I was all right, she sat next to me and said, “Okay Jake, what happened? You were a little scary this morning.”

“The only thing I remember for sure was that I heard somebody knocking at the door. I knew it was Jesus, and I told Him to come in. I don’t have the words to describe what happened after that. I am now at peace with my Maker. A wonderful sense of joy fills my heart, and my pain is gone. This is the best that I have felt in a week.”

“That was Fr. Michael at the door, Jake. He came by to bless the house. When he saw you slumped in the chair and mumbling to yourself, he was alarmed. He went down to his car and got his little black bag and administered the last rites to you. Do you remember that?”

“No, all I remember is time stopped when Jesus was with me.”

“Fr. Michael also anointed me with the ‘oil of the sick.’ Then he blessed the house and the cats.”

Dr. Moore came by later that morning as he promised. He examined me and told Elizabeth, “Jake appears to be on the mend. His temperature is normal, and he no longer exhibits most of the symptoms that you described over the phone. Did you take him to the ER?”

“No, but his symptoms improved greatly after the parish priest gave him the last rites early this morning.”

“That’s just remarkable. Somebody is certainly watching over your husband. If the symptoms return, call me.”

5-15-18:

CANCER:
SOMETIMES IT’S A WAKEUP CALL!

SES5When I was a young lad, I entered a Catholic seminary where I spent nearly four years studying to be a priest. Late one night, I pleaded with God to give me a sign that I should continue to the priesthood or do something else with my life. I sat in the dark, looking up at the Heavens for three frustrating hours, waiting for His answer. When it was apparent that no response was forthcoming, I concluded that God had no interest in me. I angrily shouted at the heavens, “If you have nothing to say to me my Lord, I’ll have nothing further to say to you either. I’ll see you on judgment day.” I left God and the seminary behind the next morning. For nearly fifty years, I never looked back or uttered a meaningful prayer.  As time passed, I came to understand that it was a mistake to abandon my Maker but I had neither the courage nor the motivation to correct the wrong.

***

In 2012, my doctors discovered I had an advanced stage of prostate cancer. They scheduled me for chemo and radiation therapy, but they made it clear that the prognosis was poor, and I would probably succumb to the disease within two years, sooner if it metastasized. My wife, Elizabeth and I were devastated by the news but it wasn’t our first brush with death. Elizabeth knew what to do. She went to work and got friends, family, and several prayer groups praying for me. I went through the five classic stages of impending death. I first denied it could kill me. Then when I understood that it certainly could, I got angry and yelled at God. “How could you do this to me!” Elizabeth settled me down and saying, “I know that your seminary day’s issues with God still plague you. I have never pried into that, and I’m not going to do so now, but I beg of you, whatever they are, get over them! God may be knocking on your door Jake, let him in! Get down on your knees and pray long and hard to the God you have distanced yourself from these many years if you want to live.” I knew she was right but I wasn’t ready to do that.  I slipped into a depression, accepted the possibility of death, and I hoped that Elizabeth and her prayer groups would prevail without me having to reconcile with my Maker.

***

oysters 2jpgNine months later, we received the results of a PET Scan. I was cancer free or at the very least, my cancer was in remission. Elizabeth and I celebrated the remarkable news with dinner at Hy’s Steakhouse in Honolulu that evening.  We were both ecstatic beyond words.  I toasted Elizabeth and all those whose prayers made this happen.  I knew in my heart that God had rewarded her for storming the Heavens in my behalf  and I was enormously grateful for the mercy He had shown to me, His prodigal son. but I was still not yet ready to return to God.

***

A few months later during lunch with a client at my favorite Italian restaurant, I started experiencing chest pains which I initially attributed to the spaghetti and meatballs. I decided to go home, take some Rolaids and a short nap before returning to work. When I was almost home, I broke out into a cold sweat, and my vision went blurry. I swung into a nearby hospital, checked myself into the emergency room, and called Elizabeth. After a series of tests and a treadmill electrocardiogram, the cardiologist told me I had severely clogged arteries and she was sending me via ambulance to Honolulu General for a triple bypass.

***

The next morning when the orderly came to deliver me to the operating room, Elizabeth asked me if I had made my peace with God yet?

“No! I’m not ready to do that yet.”

“Jake, you promised me that you would and this is the second time Jesus has knocked on your door in less than a year. He wants you back.”

“I know sorry, Love.”

shutterstock_gurneyAs they wheeled me down the hall, it occurred to me that I was nearly a hundred pounds overweight and clearly a poor candidate for heart surgery. I thought, I could die on the operating table in the next few hours. What will become of me?  Is there a place for a reasonably good man like myself, who had issues with his maker and hasn’t said a prayer in fifty years? I didn’t know, but I hoped so. Then I remembered The Blessed Mother had told the children at Fatima there were only three places in the afterlife. There was a Heaven, from whence She came, a purgatory for those souls cleansing their souls in preparation for entry into Heaven, and the fires of Hell, which was the destination of the damned. I didn’t know where I would end up but I was still not ready to let my maker in.

When they rolled me into the operating room, I got my first glimpse of the bright lights over the operating table and the covey of doctors and nurses dressed in blue gowns, caps and masks patiently waiting for my arrival, I panicked. I realized this was the real deal. Death was no longer a fuzzy concept that I spoke of with false bravado; this place and these people presented the stark reality of death and it wasn’t a pretty picture.

I thought about what Elizabeth said; She was right, my foolish, bull-headed estrangement from God had gone on way too long. I needed to squash my pride and somehow summon the courage to seek God’s forgiveness. As the anesthesiologist put his hand on my arm, I thought, hang on, give me a moment; this may be my last chance to end this absurdity.  Then, I felt a brief wave of euphoria sweep over me and everything went black.sunset turtle bay

*** End of part one of two episodes. ***

Stay tuned for part two on June 1st.

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Dreams – Archive