#George

Grandpa Was A Carpenter

My Grandpa Fred was a carpenter.  A union man, husband, father, grandfather, and a Lutheran. Fred grew up in St. Lois on the banks of the Mississippi. Before “the Great War” Grandpa spent springtimes shagging fly balls for the St. Louis Browns. In summer, he would hop a freight train and “go on the bum.” He served as a medic in WWI. Some of his war experiences in Europe where horrific, but he moved past them. He was stoic but cheerful. Grandpa married my divorced Grandma (he was also divorced) during the Depression. They met at a dance in San Bernardino. When she knew they were “getting serious,” she asked him, “Do you like kids?” “Sure.”  “Good, I have a little a boy.” He laughed and she quickly added, “I have a little girl, too.” Grandma and Grandpa raised my Dad and Aunt Jean on his rambling Orange Ranch in Riverside. He was joyful and caring with grandkids or strangers.  Masculine, old fashioned.  As much as anyone he taught me what it means to be a Christian man.

by Nathaniel

Finding Home

The past several months have been difficult for my furry friend, Egon. First, his companion, Lucy, a Ridge-back mix, died of old age. Next, we moved away from the only neighborhood he had ever known. About the time he was (grudgingly) settling in, my wife left for a two-week visit to Portland. The Home Owners Association was scheduled to fumigate our “manor” for termites. I had to move to a hotel. Egon had to move to Grandma’s for a couple of days. He likes Grandma and her pug, Monty. But, by this time he was pretty much “bonkers” from all the changes. When I returned home my neighbor came to the gate. “Your dog is loose.” “No, he’s at my mom’s house.”  We went out to look. Egon ran toward us, then laid panting at my feet. He had escaped, crossed six lanes of traffic on El Toro, and run a mile to come home. Our permanent home is with God.  Also, it is sometimes at the new place you didn’t know you liked.

by Nathaniel

Holy Light

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A new morning light slowly brightens our bedroom as I gaze to my left, past my sleepy spouse, to our secret summer garden. Explosions of daffodil yellow, sky blue, apricot, rose, and conifer illuminate a large abstract painting given to us by our artist friend, Hedy Buzan. Last summer as I was strolling with my guitar through rows of sculptures, ceramics, textiles, crafts, and paintings at a local art festival, I spotted this gorgeous piece by my friend. Later, I took a little break from “working” and sought her out, to tell her how much I loved her new creation. With her typical directness, she asked, “When’s your anniversary?” I slightly stammered, “Um…tomorrow.” “Good. Take this home to Kerry. I’ll give you a receipt.” Every time I enjoy this beautiful painting I am reminded of her loving and generous spirit. Our Creator, the Divine Artist, has gifted us with unfathomable beauty. And the Spirit has graced us with the desire and talents to contribute (in our small way) to the masterpiece.

by Nathaniel

Food and Family

Sharing food with family is like a sacramental experience for me. We rarely have the pleasure of seeing my nephew, my sister’s son. For the last ten years, he has been living and working in Bangkok, Thailand.  He recently married a beautiful young woman called Ae (pronounced “A”). My nephew is called Josh (pronounced “Josh”). Happily, the young couple is taking an extended tour of California.  They came to stay at our home for a few days. The first evening I prepared an Indian feast. The food was tasty, not fantastic. But, we had a wonderful time visiting and just being together as a family. My mom is delighted to have Ae as her new granddaughter. The next day, Ae announced she would make dinner. She is, in addition to being a fashion designer, a masterful cook. That night she prepared the best meal I have ever eaten: Tom Yan, a rich spicy soup with coconut milk and three kinds of mushrooms, Pat Pong curry with lime leaves, jasmine rice, and a surprising avocado salad! Welcome to our family, Ae. Blessings. What’s for breakfast?

by Nathaniel

One Hour Vacations

My friend, Dave, is a seven-string guitar player. Yes, I know. Six strings are more than enough,  but I’ve never been able to disabuse him of his particular heresy. Dave spends much of his time driving the highways to his next gig, then to his students, and maybe another venue, in another town,  late in the evening.  I guess this is why he says, “I take my vacations one hour at a time.” On this morning I drive north on El Toro road toward my twice weekly art festival gig. Verdant grass, still plush from spring rains, and wild trees line the old country road. Bright sumptuous morning! A Mozart trio for piano, clarinet, and viola blasts from my radio. Yo-Yo Ma plays viola on his cello. I make a hard left onto Laguna Canyon Road. Traffic slows to crawl. Road narrows. Walls of the gorge extend dramatically into an azure sky. A perfect Chinese landscape painting. I turn in to park. Mini-vacation is over. Time to play.

by Nathaniel

Holy Puttering

I have been puttering in our new garden. The American definition of puttering is: to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden.  An “ineffective manner”. Sounds so relaxing. Our new house has a sunny spacious courtyard containing our favorite potted plants, a few statues, and my wife’s enormous concrete fountain that she insisted on lugging from our old address. It’s a good thing because the fountain has attracted numerous hummingbirds, a pair of wild canaries, an odd looking red juvenile bird and a kestrel hawk we keep hearing but have not yet seen. I mixed new soil from horticultural sand and rich potting soil that I am adding to our old bonsai trees. My wife and I are engaged in a battle over where our statue of Mary will ultimately rest. I nestle it near the hedges and she drags it to another spot and adds accessory plants. We have down sized our living space, but the Divine Creator continues to gift us with astounding generosity.

by Nathaniel

Leaving and Staying

On a recent weekday morning, as I have thousands of times, I take a half-mile walk from my house, to Saint Edward Church. Mass is over so I say my prayers and walk out to the garden to meditate. The spectacular harbor view is obscured by fog rolling inland from the sea. An electronic fog horn sings out it’s warning– a sad rhythmic alto moan. It suits my melancholy mood. My wife and I have sold our family home. We will leave this beautiful hilltop after twenty years. I sit on a bench near the statue of Guadalupe and reflect on the spiritual journey that started for me on this spot, many years ago.  In this place, in this church, I have made deep and lasting friendships. My faith has been nurtured by generous peers and mentors.  A few of these kind teachers have passed on.  Perhaps we will be reunited one day. But I will come home to this hilltop church, every Sunday, by car instead of on foot. Gratitude fills my heart.

by Nathaniel

Holy (Secular) Books

My Dad was a reporter, a newspaper man, when I was a kid. He was an avid (maybe obsessive) aficionado of the printed word. He loved newspapers and magazines. He loved stories. Especially he loved books. In our house books were sacred objects. My six year old brother, Daniel, counted the books in our living room. About 700. Occasionally on Saturdays (all the stores were closed on Sundays) my Dad and Mom would herd us to the car. At first three kids, then four kids, then five. We would cruise the highways in search of used book stores. They were everywhere back then. My dad was a collector of Western Americana. He trained us to keep an eye out for it. We would drive around for hours until my Mom said, “That’s enough, the kids are hungry!”  After he had checked interminable restaurant menus we would stop and eat. Our favorite place was Philippe’s in L.A.  We arrived home exhausted.  And we all carried to bed a new (used) book.

by Nathaniel