Monday, January 31, 2011
A Poem for Carole...
3:47 pm cst
From The Garden
I used to think
that earth was dirty,
that the dirty soil was bad and spoiled the
took for granted.
yet, now, older and riper,
I see the smudges of life
on her jeans, and smell
the rich loam that
wraps around her fingernails,
and being alive I know
that the dirtiness was a lie;
dirt was the realness which
my life lacked, and I have
her to thank...
as we prepare our rose garden together,
I plan,... and I dig deep
wells that will hug the cloth-wrapped
roses, and she quietly covers
the sleeping buds with soft dirt
and daily tends to each one
with her special love...
I, the impetus, fail to continue
and she, the catalyst, fails
in His infinite wisdom and
mercy, He has spliced us together
like a master gardener creates
a new rose from the waste of
two lesser seeds...
from the garden I look back
to see what changed in me,
and looking down at my dirty
hands, I touch her lightly and
know that she is the change...
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Composers notes on the Episcopal Mass...
The Episcopal Mass In Memoriam of Gay Witmer...
9:49 am cst
Last year in a furious frenzy of 13 days, I composed a full Mass for the memory of Gay Witmer. I have always loved
the liturgy of the words from the Episcopal Mass, and have often thought of setting them to music for orchestra and choir.
The passing of Mama Gay was the impetus that surged this music up from the "groans that words cannot express." The
primary melody is one that just "came to me" while I played extemporaneously at her funeral service for 15 minutes
during a PowerPoint slide show of her life in pictures. The education thatI received from my "musical-simpleton"
brothers-in-law paid off with the extraction of this extremely simple melody. I heard in the recent award-winning movie, Crazy
Heart, that the "best melodies always sound like they've been written before. That's how you know it's a
great one, because it already sounds like it's been written before." This was spoken by the drunken songwriter portrayed
by Jeff Bridges as he played a NEW simple melody to his lover. The melodic theme in this Mass is much like that, with my own
questioning that surely this one has been written before! This first "Introit" is the opening instrumental interlude
to open the Mass. There is no singing in this portion, only the quiet meditative reflection that most people engage in as
they enter the holy space, kneel, and reflect on the glories and shortfalls of their past week.
This is the opening choral section that the congregation sings across the world in various Episcopal and Catholic
churches every Sunday morning. The words are simple and packed with truth>>>
Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie
Christe eleison, Christe eleison, Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison
words timidly and boldly concurrently speak, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." These are calming
words for the truly penitent, and frightful words for the blindingly prideful...
The Glory... This
movement is the traditional "Gloria" that so many composers have scored to music. I envision a wonderful baritone
soloist call out at the beginning, "Glory be, glory be to God on high!!" The movement consists of the soloists ping-ponging
with the chorus the various lines of poetry from this ancient hymn of words>>>
Glory be to God on high, and
on earth peace, good will towards men.
We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorify thee, we give thanks
thee for thy great glory,
O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.
O Lord, the only-begotten
Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the
Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God
the Father, have mercy upon us.
For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ, with the Holy
Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
The Creed... This movement was very
difficult for me. Not only was the length of so many words a challenge, but also the content of the Nicene Creed that solidified
the Christian faith in the fourth century was very dear to me. I know from study and various speakers that this meeting was
a struggle for the church. What to keep as the sacred "word of God" and what to discard as the "noise
in the bustle" of the first couple of centuries of this new vision of God touching humanity. I immediately invented the
concept of having a very strained and atonal beginning that was purely instrumental. The orchestra fighting with each other
over what key the piece should be in, like the various camps of Paul, and Peter, and Mary, and other now vanished camps from
history. What exactly should we as Christians believe? What is the primary focus that we can solidify as a church of believers?
As the strained orchestra comes to a conclusion in the introduction, the piano comes in with a rolling and soothing simplicity.
Then out of the peace come the basic words, "We believe in God!" The remaining words are>>
in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in
one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true
God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and
the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the
dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Confession... At every service, there is a
beautiful time where each person kneels and offers a full confession. The church has a beautiful poem of contrition, but there
is also a time for personal and silent confession. Symbolically, I wanted to create a sense of uncertainty in the choir because
of this potentially awkward time in the service when the congregation is wrestling with their own thoughts and deeds. For
this, I composed in the non-standard rhythm of 5/4 rather than the norm of 4/4 or the purity of 3/4 ascribed to in the medieval
ages. Because of the Trinity, the time signature of 3/4 was considered the most Holy. In the 19th century, the 3/4 time signature
was more often utilized with swash-buckling beer drinking songs and romantic waltzes! At the end of this movement, I playfully
interposed the theme of the Big Ben chime from London that clocks around the world have tuned on the hour for centuries...
as if to say, "time is up for the past, now it's time for the present..." The words for this section are>>
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and
by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will, and walk in thy ways, to the glory of thy Name.
This is a simple tune that I wrote for the congregation to sing. This is the beginning of the most intimate section
of the service, where the mystery of the Eucharist calls out. Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the
company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying..." Somewhere in this moment,
the bread becomes the body and the wine becomes the blood, and the congregation calls out in unison the beautiful words from
the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah wrote these prophetic words centuries before the realization of God coming and touching the heart
of Man so personally. Musically, I wanted to keep this simple and just allow the congregation to sing along at this
point. The words for this movement are>>>
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts: Heaven and earth are full of
Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the
The Prayer... This is the Lord's Prayer that so many composers have set to music.
The melody from this movement is actually from a meditation that I composed on the first minutes upon moving into our current
and beautiful residence. The movers had just set up the grand piano, and I sat down looking out through the six 8'x10'
windows comprising our new sunroom and began to play. Like the gift of the melody from Mom's funeral, I was given
a melody. This is a more complex melody and I scored this for a soloist to belt out at the beginning, then allowing the choir
to sing the simpler melodies that I composed later. My wife, Carole, has graciously commented, "that my music is difficult,
but beautiful when done well. There are many cogs in the wheels of your harmonies and interwoven melodies that require excellence
in performance." This is one of those moments where precision is required for the true magnificence to shine forth! The
words for this familiar hymn are>>>
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come,
thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Lamb Of God... This
movement is sung just as the priest blesses the "host" of the bread and wine and announces, "Christ our Passover
is sacrificed for us." The congregation answers, "Therefore, let us keep the feast, Alleluia!" Again,
I wanted a song that the congregation could sing, and thus the simplicity. The words for this section are>>
of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the
world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.
Humble Access... This movement is the most precious to me, as I love the humility of the passage of these words from
the congregation and the priest. The words are spoken immediately prior to partaking in the feast of communion. Most
churches no longer use this portion in the service as this is from the Rite One of the prayer book and most churches use the
"newer" Rite Two version. I have always loved the words that whisper from the timid hearts that we cannot believe
that the Lord and God of the Universe is inviting us to such an intimate affair. The apologetic nature of the words seems
to disguise the fact that we are indeed worthy to come to this table. And the truth is that we are worthy, not by any actions
that we do or do not do, but by the grace of God himself. By his mercy, the priest is able to say just before this, "that
all who partake of this Holy Communion may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, and
be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction." The strained music of this movement is intentional, as the strings,
the clarinet, and the flute wind aimlessly around the table of tonality. Because of the difficulty of this passage, I composed
this for a Baritone soloist to carry the words that we all speak at this time in the service>>>
We do not presume
to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.
But thou art the same Lord whose property is
always to have mercy.
Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ,
drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
The Blessing... This is
the final movement of the Mass, and fully develops the main theme that the Introit introduced. This is the theme that I believe
God spoke to me during my Mom's funeral service as I played the piano in quiet tribute to her. Starting with smooth legato
strings, they eventually land on a pizzicato uttering where I am trying to illustrate the picturesque amblings of a carriage
from the 18th century....wheels spinning as the people drive away from the church in a horse drawn carriage. The background
of the spinning ostinato notes rumble playfully underneath the simple melody sung by a Tenor soloist, speaking the words of
the priest. These last words from the priest praise forth a special blessing that each one of us may take through the week.
This food and drink that we have had, these words from the Word of God, these intimate relationships that we nurture...all
of this should be remembered as we slosh through the week in our business of "busy-ness." Let us not forget the
glory that we just encountered, the cherished moment of being touched by God. This is the Strength of the Christian faith,
that "Something on Sunday Works on Monday," and that we grow in wisdom, faith, and righteousness because of our
personal relationship with God. These words are a blessing to all>>>
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord;
blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
be amongst you, and remain with you always.
us go forth in the name of Christ.
Thanks be to God.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.
Thanks be to God.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The Clearing Out...
9:44 am cst
In 2009, I lost both of my parents as they passed on into the hands
of God. After selling their home, I had to do the final clearing out of their personal "stuff" in the home.
Many of you have had to do this for your own parent or loved one, perhaps, and know the difficult decisions that one must
make as you go through a myriad of various items in someone else's belongings...
A big plastic
blue bin, filled with sand... There were about a dozen of these blue containers, ready to hold the stuff accumulated...
that we all accumulate... till the end comes and we realize the blue bins don't hold much but the efforts of accumulation.
But this one blue container with the sand filled halfway up, was a flash of remembrance. A brief snapshot of a Mexican "posada"
tradition of putting votive prayer candles into a white butcher-block paper sack full of sand.
The luminarios were a
"Witmer" tradition going back to sometime in the 1970s when Mom & Dad would have their annual Christmas party.
I remember Dad telling me that he would go to some special store to get these White Paper sacks. Lunch sacks were always made
of brown Kraft paper, but Dad found a Candy store that sold bleached White Paper sacks. These were much better than the brown
Kraft that normal sacks were made of, as they would project the candle light further than the brown Kraft paper. He would
meticulously scoop out "equal" amounts of sand into each sack and place the votive candle in the center, as if he
were placing an infant baby down in the center of a changing table to prepare for a diaper change.
I remember the last
Witmer Christmas party that occurred in 2007. I would always be there, and lately for the past several years, he would "hire"
me and my jazz trio to come play background music and Christmas songs. I would show up early to sample his famous Whiskey
Sour Punch and then place the prepared luminario sacks along the driveway edges to the street. Dad would always come out and
double check that the spacing was correct and that the candles were not leaning. A leaning candle could potentially ignite
the bag and disrupt the symmetry of the line of luminarios.
At the last party in 2007, I purchased on the way to their
house a long lighter to give as gift. He would always use a smaller lighter. This would cause occasional scorchings of palm
and hair, and I thought it was time that he get a more modern approach to lighting his candles. His wonderful amazement to
this gift was a joy to see as he exclaimed how silly it was of him to not think of that before. He even commented that this
would be a great way to light his BBQ grill, and was a bit sheepish when I showed him the package advertising "Great
Way to Light Your BBQ!"
They were going to have their party in 2008, but Mom was too ill and they had to cancel
the party for the first time in 35 years. Both were discouraged as Mom continued to decline in mysterious health problems.
The next six months were an up-and-down experience of her health journey, but eventually she softly landed as we all must
to the quiet sleep of death. Less than six months later, Dad himself passed on as well a few weeks before his first Christmas
party without Mom. They never did have a Christmas celebration without the other one there!
The blue bin of sand, ready
for his meticulous party preparation, has been there in the garage for 10 months until today. As I dragged the container out
to the garden up the driveway, I imagined the luminarios along the edges. Looking for a place to dump the sand, I settled
on an area in one of their many spot gardens. I grabbed a rake and spread out the sand and said a little prayer for the peace
that passes all understanding...
The 80th birthday candles... Mom's last birthday was her
80th birthday on Wednesday, Oct 1, 2008. So often Mom and Dad were in Mexico on the first of October, and rarely did any of
us kids get to spend time with her on her birthday. This last birthday found them in Austin, and Dad had a surprise stay at
the Hyatt Regency on Town Lake. My sister Cynthia and her family were going to be there for drinks and dinner--"on me,
of course" is what his email to me said---but I was not able to make it for the celebration. Looking back now, I am glad
that I was not "busy" with work or some other activity that could not demand the respect of missing that event.
I had season tickets to a theater event...
Later that week we did have a special dinner at our house and we had two
numeric candles, an "8" and a "0" placed on a cake for Mom to blow out. Even those two simple candles
was an effort for her as her Emphysema limited her exhalations. I remember her sitting down with my grandson, Christian, at
his small child table to draw a picture with him. He would try to color in his feeble three year old hands, and I caught him
gaping in wonder as Mama Gay drew in free form a picture of a house on a marshy grass land. I could almost sense his thinking,
"She's not even coloring inside the lines! There are no lines!"
Less than a year later, Mom had passed
on and we were having a nice celebration at our house again for Dad's 80th birthday party. These same two numeric candles
were used...why waste a perfectly good candle that has only been burned for less than a minute!! I remember a joyous and raucous
laugh bellowing from Dad as he read one of those musical birthday cards. The punch line was "it wasn't over until
the fat lady sings." When you opened the card, a rather boisterous belting from an operatic female was screeching, "Ahhhhhhh."
It was nice to see Dad in his grieving be able to enjoy this explosion of laughter.
As I take these two candles out
of one of their kitchen drawers, I wrestle with the question to keep them or to toss them out. A little bit of guilt passed
through me as I tossed them into the trash bag wondering if I or my wife will ever need these for some future birthday. It
seems such a long way off from the present, and I concede to just getting through this day of clearing and not worry about
our 80th birthdays.
The glass bottles for "slumping" in the kiln... There were a dozen
assorted glass bottles in a top shelf cabinet in the garage. I had to stand on Mom's stool that she used whenever she
was "throwing pots." Throwing pots, that was a term we all learned 30 years ago when Mom first began to study the
art of clay work on a wheel at the Museum of Art in Houston, Texas. She had improved greatly over the years, and for the past
ten years she would participate in the annual Lago Vista Art Show.
The newest technique that she had studied and begun
to master was the "slumping of glass." This is a process of placing a unique glass jar into the kiln and firing
at a level that would melt the glass without totally obliterating it. This was not an easy process and Mom told me that it
took several experimental attempts. In the pile of her kiln equipment I discovered a flat tile board with melted glass. This
I tossed into the trash as I could imagine her saying some expletive as she opened the kiln to learn that the "slumping"
was instead an "obliteration."
Again, I was confronted with a decision to keep or to toss. For some reason,
I could not bring myself to throw the bottles away. I was not sure why...there were three tall Bombay gin bottles, a couple
of strange elliptical bottles, some Coronita beer bottles (the 6 oz. size "half beers" that Mom would occasionally
drink), a tall square bottle that could have been an olive oil container, and a couple of Bourbon bottles. I just quietly
closed the cabinet door, and would allow the new owner of this house toss these bottles into the glass recycling bin. I found
on the bench one of her first hand-made clay wine coolers. It was both horribly deformed and horrendously ugly in the glazing
color of black and grey. She had several old paint brushes in it, and had obviously cast it aside as a junk piece to be discarded.
In passive protest, I picked it up and threw it down hard into the trash bag with a loud bang and a final "CRAP"
for Mama Gay. How do you like throwing that pot!!...
Mama Gay's Art Sale Log Book... As I
opened the next cabinet door, I stumbled upon the old cigar box that Mom would use as a cash box. She would go to the bank
and get a stack of bills, ones and fives, to have on hand for change when she would rent a booth for the Lago Vista Art Show.
As I picked the cigar box up, I noticed underneath her Log Book in which she would carefully note each piece of pottery for
sale, the amount that she was going to charge, and the method of payment as Cash or Check. Each year her collection of pottery
would sell out and she would beam with pride as she deposited the cash and checks into her own bank account. There were 15
years of these sales log pages paper-clipped together behind the last show that she ever did.
I was there for just about
every one of her Art Sale shows. She always asked me to come and play the piano as background to the space as shoppers would
mull through the booths of various artists. I'd get there early and we would each have our own large plastic travel-mug
of coffee. We'd do a crossword together as the show slowly opened up and the few early bird shoppers would pause to fondle
a plate or turn over one of her bowls or try to shake the clanger of one of her special bells. "These must be for decoration
and not for clanging," most customers would say of her special bells. I would refrain from an acidic reply and only gave
a disassociated comment, "Did you know all this pottery is dishwasher and microwave safe?"
Mom never liked
to "sell" her pottery, and that is one of the reasons she liked having me there to do the selling for her. I enjoyed
observing the customer's eyes and sensing the "Hmmm, this is nice" puffy cloud over their heads like a comic
strip character. "Do you have a Southwest décor in your home that would blend nicely with this art?" I would
ask, and then engage in some easy conversation. This art of conversation is not easy for me, and I have my blessed wife to
thank for teaching me the value of saying "nothings" about "some things" and perceiving the reality that
there are "Some Things" in those "Nothings." Eventually, as with any transaction, you have to ask for
the sale, "So, do you want just the bowl or one of the paintings as well?" As Mom made the change for the transaction,
I got one of her used HEB plastic grocery bags, wrapped the bowl in newspaper, and placed it carefully in the plastic bag.
As the customer walks away, I noticed Mom striking through ONE BOWL in her Log Book. We both then rearranged the display table,
spreading out the pieces left for sale to remove the possible perception that something is missing. "So, I need a four
letter word for an Ivy League school," I asked her, picking up the crossword puzzle and smiling with the fact that Mom
will once again sell every piece of her artwork...
The Parras photos and the Lions Club Award...
As I was clearing out Dad's closet I found a box of photos, framed and unframed, taken from 25 years of living part time
in Mexico. Mom and Dad led two lives for many years, with two sets of friends and two sets of activities...one in Texas and
one in Parras, Coahuila Mexico. There were a slew of photos in the box of their Mexican friends and families, with Mom and
Dad surrounded by surrogates that would easily claim them as parents and grandparents.
I remember spending a week in
Parras with Dad in 1997, just him and me. We hauled a trailer from Abilene, Texas to Laredo for the Lions Club, and met with
a Mexican leader of the Lions for the exchange of the thousands pair of glasses to be distributed to needy people with eyesight
problems throughout Northern Mexico. Traveling alone with Dad was easy, even though he was always persistent in his punctuality
and schedule. We had to eat lunch at noon and he had to have his glass of wine with lunch so that at 1:15pm he could easily
get to sleep for his daily nap. The easy part was his affability with strangers and his adaptability with changes in routine.
This is hard to believe for many who knew him as a "Non-Rubber-Band Man," but in actuality, coming upon a stumbling
block was not a big deal for him.
The week we spent in Parras was very special. The city was celebrating their 400th
anniversary. Many festivities were planned and attended, including an extraordinary fete at the oldest winery in Mexico. The
Casa Madero winery was established in 1597, only a few years after the Spaniards first discovered the Oasis of Coahuila in
the desert that is known as the Hoja De Agua. We met several people from the Chamber of Commerce of Grapevine, Texas there
at the festivities. They had recently joined with the city of Parras (which means "Grapevine" in English) as a Sister
City. The city of Grapevine, Texas was establishing a wine industry of their own, and was there to learn as much as they could
from these Mexicans that had been making wine for 400 years. I remember speaking with the Director of the Casa Madero winery
regarding their recent awards in England for the best Merlot wine. I was amazed and asked him why we do not ever see these
wines in Texas. He explained that the Americans have never respected their wines because of the "Mexican stigma"
and they no longer market their wines in America. After having several glasses with him, I was disappointed that this fine
wine had been snubbed, but gratified that he gave me four bottles to take back home!
A few years later, Dad was awarded
a special award from the Mexican Lions Club for his efforts in volunteering and work. It wasn't just a sheet of paper
in a cheap glass frame. Instead, someone had created a hand carved bas relief sculpture in wood commemorating Rich and Gay
Witmer. I know Dad was truly touched, and I too, was so proud of his kind heart and warm spirit over the years of collaborating
with the Lions Club. His giving attitude is a gift that I sincerely believe I have received and pray that I may continue in
my own ways of giving back to society. This box I kept and have put aside in my house for a later date...
stack of games and puzzles... In one of the cabinets in the garage I found a huge stack of games and puzzles. Growing
up in the Witmer household with six kids and potentially two to six of the kids' friends brought the great possibility
of a fun game to be played. Mom and Dad enjoyed games, especially games that made you think about history and trivia. We even
played a game for years that required no board at all, but only the imagination of the players. It was simply called, Culture,
and was similar to 20 questions. It had the added difficulty of requiring the interrogator to "stump" the assigned
"IT" person to answer a question of any background. The "IT" person would give the first letter of the
last name of a famous person, say "G," and the other participants would ask questions that had answers beginning
with the letter G. For example, what is the study of the relationship between culture and food? Gastronomy. If the "IT"
person could not answer the stump question correctly, only then could the participants ask a 20 question about the famous
person. We could spend hours playing this, in the car as we drove to Mexico, or after a Thanksgiving meal.
one time when my sister, Cynthia, gave us the letter "G" and we went through an hour of stumping her and closing
in on the 20 questions. None of us could guess who this famous person was! She kept poking me in the ribs, saying, "C'mon
Marc, you should know this being such a sports stud!!" Finally, after giving up on the 20th question, she informed us
with such obvious condescension that the famous person was Hank Garon. You know, the famous baseball player that had recently
outdone Babe Ruth's home run record. We all laughed as we corrected her that this was not Hank Garon, but Hank Aaron!!
In the stack of games there were the perennial favorites of Outburst, Trivial Pursuit, and Charades. I can remember playing
these games many times during the Christmas holidays with extended family that were there at Mom and Dad's house. After
gorging on the traditional standing Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding for Christmas dinner, we would gather around and play
one of these games. The game itself was mainly a vehicle providing the motion toward shared intimacies...it wasn't so
important who won (most of the time!), but that we shared stories and ideas with each other.
Dad had a penchant for puzzles
and loved to put together the myriad pieces spilled out upon the table into a picturesque completion. Each time I went to
Mexico, he would be working on a puzzle...each holiday week he would usually be working on a puzzle... It was a simple routine
of accomplishing a menial task and feeling a sense of achievement from the effort. I know that after Mom passed away, he continued
this habit. Among the games were over a dozen unopened puzzles with varying degrees of difficulty. He obviously had intention
to complete these puzzles over the years as he continued on without his wife. I carefully placed these gifts into the Goodwill
bag for someone else to enjoy...
The mound of Tupperware and his moving my household 5 times...
Dad had a unique gift that was potentially demented...he loved to help people move. He was not only very good at packing,
but I wondered if he just was a bit "nosy" and wanted to see what I had in all my cabinets and drawers. He could
have been a professional the way that he carefully wrapped glasses and plates and set them into a packing box. He did this
with me and my wife five times over the course of 27 years.
I remember the first time his commenting on how much Tupperware
we had. What can you possibly need all this Tupperware for? We tended to just ignore these types of comments and just thanked
him for being there to help us move. He really did seem to enjoy the process of packing up things, and I often wondered if
he had a sense of wanderlust after being so tied down with six kids for eighty years. We lived in the same house in Houston
my whole life, and before that they only lived in two houses in Wisconsin with my older sisters. Both he and Mom were not
pack rats, and easily would cast off things they no longer used.
As I cleared out the kitchen cabinets, there were over
40 pieces of various Tupperware items and I had to just laugh a little. What could he have needed all that Tupperware for?
Among the Tupperware were two plastic bottles from the hospital that he had brought home after Mom died. I don't think
he ever used them, primarily because he rarely drank a glass of water. Perhaps he just needed to hang on to them as we do
ourselves to senseless things that appear to have no meaning but the memory of the having of them...
cookbook and her handwritten notes of years of trials of cooking... Having six kids would be a daunting task for
cooking creatively. I can remember eating cooked fresh spinach for the first time prepared by my wife. I was quick to alert
her that "I do not eat spinach" and that I could possibly throw up if I ate what she was putting before me. I was
amazed at the pure flavorful sensation that I experienced, and to this day can eat freshly steamed or sautéed spinach
any day of the week. The next time I saw Mom I asked her why her spinach always tasted so bad. She informed me that she could
never afford to get fresh spinach and always served canned spinach. However, now that the kids were all gone away, she now
cooked only fresh vegetables.
I found a hand-made cookbook that Mom kept in a 3-ring binder. Mom improved tremendously
over the years as a good cook. There were cut-out recipes from newspapers and magazines carefully taped and catalogued. Along
with her handwritten recipes, there were notes about her successes with certain recipes. Among them was our son's favorite,
Mama Gay's Sesame Chicken, and she would always cook this for him many times when we came to their house for dinner. It
was a small gesture but a great kindness...just the type of thing that sweet angels are accused of!! This was an item that
was definitely going into the Keeper Box...
The Scott & White notebook of home health care and the
recovery that never happened... In a sad folder, I found the thick stack of paperwork that Dad brought home from
the hospital as he prepared to have mom come home and begin home health care and recovery. As I looked through the paperwork
through teary eyes, I was struck with the wonderful hope that this notebook contained. We can too easily look back at situations
like death and only see how gloomy and dark it ended up; however, in the midst of the struggle, there was so much HOPE in
the belief that Mom was going to come home. We were encouraged by meeting with the home health care manager that would be
overseeing the recovery and daily assistance as Mom got better. At that time, there was little of the dark gloom, only the
bright hope of possible recuperation from a tired illness.
I remember the day clearly when this lady came to the hospital
to talk with Mom, Dad and me. Dad lashed out at me with harsh words. They were the words of a tired soul, struggling to blame
someone for their lack... lack of what, he could not identify...only that he was not able to do this alone. At the time I
was struck by his insensitive attitude, and was hurt by his accusation that I was not doing enough to help him with the demands
of Mom's illness. By the end of the day, I was overcome with the common sense TO FORGIVE his actions. I let him know how
much I loved him and how much I knew the arduous stress of the illness was affecting him to react so unlike his true nature.
It was a good cleansing of emotions for him, and I think that his knowing that I knew this to be an isolated incident gave
him comfort. We all have events in our lives where we wish we could take them back, and now that he is gone, I am so thankful
that we repaired the anger of that single event.
So even though we did not get to experience the joy of homecoming and
recovery of Mom's illness, the fact remains that the hope was there. I remember going to buy a new special leather recliner
for Mom so that she could get up and down more easily. We made arrangements to have some of the furniture removed by selling
to a neighbor who needed a couple of beds. We purchased materials to create a ramp for rolling a wheel chair into the house.
We inspected the house for possible "traps" that may have hindered the movements of Mom through the house. All of
these were strong actions of faith...these were not weak and desperate cries of hope, but rather a testimony that we believed
we needed to be prepared for Mom's homecoming. That's what I thought about as I tossed this tired notebook into the
bag of trash...
The last of the "Club" cast aluminum pots that we cooked popcorn in... the silver
bowl... Making popcorn was a big deal in the Witmer household, and when I was very young a wonderful time of sharing
and hogging a delicate and simple treat. It must have taken Mom three or four instances of filling the pan with oil and putting
the corn kernels and waiting for the corn to pop. To satisfy six kids and a husband (not to mention yourself!) required patience.
As she popped each batch, she would dump the popcorn into this seemingly HUGE aluminum silver bowl. I think it was a wedding
gift that was to be used for fancy parties. Mom and Dad didn't do fancy parties at that time.
Dad started a tradition
later of dividing the popcorn into smaller individual bowls. There must have been some "doesn't play well with others"
incidents driving this decision. However, he would put a surprise in the bottom of the bowl so that when you finished eating
the popcorn you would be savoring the chocolate of a Hershey kiss or mini candy bar. Whenever one of my friends would spend
the night with me, they would always be amazed and overjoyed at this treat. The Witmer house was always a cool place to be
at when I was growing up.
The 200 pencils and the pencil sharpener... Why am I on the computer
typing all this and not writing this down? Dad would always prefer pencils to pens, and would always scold me whenever I would
do a crossword puzzle in ink. "That's so ostentatious," he would accuse me, and yet he was one of the most ostentatious
men I have ever known and loved!! Just about every action he did screamed "look at me," and he would never permit
anonymity over a well chorused witness of his deeds!!
I found a drawer with over 200 pencils, many still unopened packages
of standard No. 2 wood construction, and an unplugged electric pencil sharpener. I am not sure why he had so many extra pencils,
as I still have pencils that I sharpened for the first time in 1979. I use pencils a lot as I compose music at the piano,
but prefer a pen for everyday note-taking and list-making.
There's a spirit of Second Chances that pencils offer
over pens. Being able to erase the scribbling of an idea and resurrect it to its new identity can be rewarding. The scratched-out
mistakes of a pen can become confusing when you are trying to recapture the "Fantastic" idea that you thought you
had several days ago. As I tossed some of his old notes into the trash, I noticed that most of them were scrawled in pencil.
One of the sheets of paper I threw out was a printout from an email that I had sent to Dad containing instructions on how
to rename a computer file name. He had asked me to teach him how rename the picture files that he downloaded from his digital
camera. The default names of YYYYMMDD1234.jpg were not sufficient enough for him to be able to identify a picture of Mom and
him in St. Croix. I had sent him line by line instructions on how to rename the file to more descriptive and helpful names.
Attached to these instructions were twenty pages of handwritten notes in pencil in columnar format. One column had the default
file names and the other column had his more descriptive and helpful names. I cried as I saw this and his sad attempts to
conquer the computer. Instead of renaming the files, he just wrote down the file name with his handwritten notes. Next to
each handwritten file name he had written down identifying tags like "Good pic of me and Marie" or "Nice one
of Nancy and Mom" or "Laura and us in Europe"... Dad even liked to use a pencil with an eraser on the golf
course. Now that's a way to improve your handicap!
The last bath robe... the Lammie... As
I cleared out Mom's closet I stumbled across a couple of items that brought intense emotional upheaval for me. The last
bathrobe that Mom had while she lived out her last days in the "facility," and her favorite stuffed animal, Lammie,
an adorable long-eared lamb. It's funny how we cling to certain pieces of clothing, like a good pair of old underwear
that just feels more comfortable than a new pair without the holes in it! Next to her old worn-out bathrobe was a newer one
that she must have had as a more recent Christmas or birthday present. It was barely used, and yet was much more designer
quality than the old one she had at the "facility." That one was worthy of the Goodwill bag, but the old worn-out
one needed to be trashed. It's hard to throw away something that was part of the last remaining days of someone so dear
Somewhere along the path of her journey, Mom began to collect stuffed animals. I am not sure she actually slept
with them or not, but she had a stack of them on the quilt stand in their bedroom for years. She started out with soft teddy
bears, and accumulated other beasts to the collection...an elephant, a raccoon, and a long-eared lamb. I remember once when
she was in the hospital about ten years ago, our son brought her his Blue Teddy that he had owned since before he could talk.
It was a sweet gesture that Mom never forgot, nor I in my estimation of the care and love our son had for Mama Gay.
her last days at the "facility," she requested that Dad bring to her the Lammie stuffed animal. I do not know where
she got this, but it was an extremely soft and cuddly companion that any baby or hurting person would treasure. She had curled
up with Lammie and breathed her last breath. On my cell phone I still have a picture of Mom with her Lammie lying in bed deceased.
Some people may think this is morbid, but I wanted to have a picture of her, and it is there for posterity with her cold hands
clutching Lammie. I was not able to be there when she actually expired, so this photo will have to serve as my internal picture
of her last dying breath.
Two months later, Dad had a really sweet photo of himself alone clutching Lammie on Fourth
of July. His sad eyes seemed to speak the joy of his missing her. Yes, joy. There is joy in life whether there is happiness
or sadness in the moment. Joy is a permanent attitude that accepts the tossings and turnings that life dishes out...it is
not a fleeting response to a situation. Over the past 27 years of my marriage, Dad would occasionally ask me, "Are you
happy?" I would answer him, "I may or may not be happy this day, but I know the joy of loving and being loved dearly
by the beautiful woman that is my wife." He understood this, even though he rarely could express this fact. Yeah, the
Lammie is definitely going home with me rather than to the Goodwill bag. The other animals that have no relationship with
me can be donated and hopefully accepted by some other person in the future...
The US passport and the
"Banda Municipal" passport... Having once been the manager of the County Clerk office of records, I knew
the significance and value of a US passport falling into the wrong hands. I did not locate Mom's passport, but I definitely
did not want some corrupt person stumbling across his passport. I had a brief "short story flash" of a headline
of a terrorist bombing some airport, and being identified as Rich Witmer from the falsified passport on his person. It didn't
last long, as I knew that I would not toss that important document in the trash. Looking at the various stamps, I was reminded
of how varied were the travels of Mom and Dad. They had been to Europe several times, to Russia, to South America...
was intrigued, so I "Googled" the question, "How many places does the average person travel in their lifetime?"
The best answer that I found was that you really need to look at the extremes here. A huge amount of the world's population
just stays in their villages for their entire lives. Then you have a couple thousand people who travel almost constantly.
So even if you could find an average, it wouldn't really mean anything. If I were to take a wild guess, I would say that
the average person has traveled to 15.6 places (as in major cities, foreign countries or other states/regions within countries).
I know that Mom and Dad were well above the average, and that they were blessed with experiencing the variety of several cultures.
Along with the US passport was a Mexican photo ID of Dad from 15 years ago. He was wearing a military-like uniform with
a policeman styled hat, and a very SERIOUS expression. This was his induction ID for participating in the Parras, Coahuila
Banda Municipal. This was a rag-tag of players that got together every Sunday night in Parras at the ‘zocalo" town
square near there house. He would play the flute as well as the piccolo alongside a smidgen of trumpets, trombones, clarinet
and saxophone. The group had intonation challenges at best, but played with more spirit than the Philharmonic. Mom and I would
sit on the park bench drinking a Corona beer taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells of Parras!!
Dad was very proud
of his participation in this community band. He actively purchased music and scores, and even a tuba from a local Austin high
school band to supplement the repertoire. He was good at completing tasks like that ...and has blessed me with that same genetic
tendency of "getting things done that need to get done!" Along with his US passport, this treasured ID will go into
a box for safekeeping...
The old radio in the bathroom for shaving... As I have said, Dad was
a man of routine and constancy in many ways. When he retired he didn't always shave in the morning but often would do
so at 5pm before dinner. I would be there at their house for the weekend, and he would always announce in his booming broadcaster
voice, "I'm going to shower and shave now!" as if to forewarn anyone that he would not be available to them
for anything at all until this task was complete.
He always had a cheap small radio in the bathroom that he would turn
on and listen to NPR or classical music as he shaved. He even installed a small shelf to set the radio on, though he should
have used a level for the shelf was a leaner for the duration of their living at that house! I would worry occasionally that
the plugged-in radio in the bathroom was not a very bright idea, but the shower was a good six feet away, so the potential
of electrocution was minimal.
As I was clearing out the house, I realized that I was missing the University of Texas
football game and thought, if only I had a radio. The television and stereo had been long gone from the house, but then I
stumbled across this old cheap radio in the bathroom. I was soon accompanied by the sports announcer calling the game, but
was sorely disappointed as the game was a sad loss for my Longhorns!! When I completed all the clearing out of stuff, I put
this radio in one of the Goodwill bags...