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The words on this page are the blog postings of thoughts, ideas, poems, dreams and just...well, WORDS!  Please feel free to share with me your thoughts...
Marc Witmer

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Story of How God Gifted Me

I grew up listening to my father play on the grand piano in the big family room.  Then, as each of my four older sisters began to play the piano, I would listen to them play.  Sometimes I would lie on the hard oak wood floor underneath the piano and feel the thunder of music rain down upon me.  It was like being underneath a waterfall as the powerful stream of even a small creek comes crashing down upon the rocks. 

One of my earliest memories is lying on the floor and watching the brass rods of the sustain and sostenuto pedals being pushed up and down as my father played.  It was like watching a beautiful machine in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory crank out fluffy notes of pleasure that you could grab from the air as they swam out from under the piano’s soundboard!  As I looked closer, I noticed how the brass rod would push up on a lever, and then the other end of that lever would push up on something else… I was not quite sure what!  Then one day a few years later, my mom was cleaning out the piano’s inside, and I got to see what that “something else” was.  It was a complete rack that stretched the whole width of the piano.

            This rack was comprised of a whole bunch of felt pads that were being lifted up so that the strings could ring and ring and ring, seemingly forever!  I then noticed that below the strings were 88 (I counted them!) little hammers that were covered with the same type of felt pads that were on the rack.  Each one these hammers had a complex set of levers attached, and as I pushed down on one of the ivory keys, I saw one of the hammers strike one of the strings!  It was like a giant game of MousetrapÔ all wrapped inside the grand piano.

In the midst of all this mechanical wonder, I knew that there was a pattern, a logical order that someone had put all together.  The way all the hammers lined up, the lines that the strings formed as they crisscrossed inside the huge lid, the gradually shortened length of each string as one looked from left to right, the hundreds of pins that each string was tied to…  All of it had a beautiful magic to it that seemed to speak directly to my whole body, mind, and soul.  Like a guitar tuning fork that resonates upon the body of a guitar, I too felt the congruous resonance of a wonderful understanding, even though I did not truly comprehend at that time exactly what music was and how it worked.  I just knew I liked it and how music made me feel good!

A few years later, after I had learned my ABC’s and read through the book, Go Dog Go! a few times, I remember looking at the notes on the page of some music that one of my sisters was learning.  I watched her as she placed her fingers on the assortment of black and white keys.  The “tick-tock” of the metronome rang in the silence as she prepared to begin playing.  As I looked at the printed music, I noticed how the round notes laid on a grid of lines.  It reminded me of what the inside of a piano looked like, with the round felt-covered hammers interspersed among the lines of strings.  Again, a sense of wonder and understanding overcame me!

I watched her fingers go “up” the piano to the right, and I noticed how the round black dots on the printed music seemed to go up the page as well; and when her fingers went “down” the piano to the left, I noticed how the round black dots moved down the grid of lines.  I knew immediately there was a special relationship between the grid of lines and black dots on the page and the grid of black and white keys stretching across the keyboard of the piano.  My sister related to me the mnemonic “Every Good Boy Does Fine” that represented the lines of the treble clef upon which some of the black dots were placed (E-G-B-D-F); in addition, the mnemonic “FACE” that represented the spaces of the treble clef (F-A-C-E).  Again, a sense of wonder and understanding overcame me!

Later that same day, I sat down alone by myself and opened the music to the same sheet that I had seen earlier while watching my sister.  I remember once seeing a manuscript of some hieroglyphics, and how strangely magnificent it was to look at a collection of symbols that made absolutely no sense, but you knew it did to someone.  As I looked at the music that day, it was NOT like this at all.  I was looking at something that should have made absolutely no sense.  Instead, I comprehended the placement of the notes upon the grid and was able to crudely follow the same pattern using my fingers on the keyboard.  Again, a sense of wonder and understanding overcame me!

Looking back now as an adult to this childhood discovery, I am cognizant of this tremendous gift from God.  He not only created me to fulfill His will to love and play music, but He gave me an understanding that bypassed the very beginning stages of learning music.  So many people I have known over the years have told me that these primary stages of learning music directed them down such a boring path that they gave up.  They had to suffer the drudgery of this basic learning that I never had to experience.  Because of this, they did not continue on the path of learning music, and many times these same people as adults have expressed to me with sadness that they wish they had not given up so soon with their musical training.  Their path was a different one; one that He designed specifically for each of them, just as He had placed me on my path to learning music. 

For me, another beautiful blessing was discovering my unique path at such a young age.  Even though I have diverted from this path from time to time, I have always known where that path was!  I may have wandered away, but there was a definite line of demarcation that I knew I was crossing whenever I was choosing to leave my path.  I have encountered many people who say they do not know what their purpose is, or what God created them to do.  This is sad, as well, and I want to encourage you even now to prayerfully consider how He has made you and how you can best use the gifts that he has given you to the glory of God…

12:45 pm cdt

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From the recent retreat at Laity Lodge with St. Matthews

At all Laity Lodge retreats, there is always some type of "artsy" component, and this time we were blessed to experience an encouraging writing workshop... This is the journal entry exercise that was to complete the starting words..."I am..."

I am from blessed family of LOVE between Mom & Dad…

            From the veiled history of not knowing the family beyond Mom & Dad.

I am from a family of doers that has joined with the beauty of being,

            A talent my wife continues to teach me.

I am a father to the fatherless that raised a strong man to love his son,

            The son that God blessed my wife with has taught me

            To speak with words rather than the tacit melody of music…

I am a husband that is blessed even though…

            I have wounded, ignored, belittled and even worse to my only wife.

            Only by grace is God’s love there for me from her…

I am a tuning fork that resonates with a melody of the spheres…

            With the complex harmony that teaches and compliments

            The simple melody that rings true in the universe of God’s Spirit…

I am a thought that comes to fruition from the response to Christ’s gospel…

            That sparks the inquisitive nature of my own untrusting faith

            To reach out and touch the wounds of the crucifixion…

I am a child of God that has the desire…          

            To lie in the lap of His loving arms…

4:24 pm cdt

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another Poem for Wife Carole...
Breaking the Cycle...


in due time, 
  we find ourselves
    beyond the dreams
      we had, and yet
new dreams are rising
  from the abyss of
    our insatiable
      appetite for success...
and we long for better
  circumstances to adorn
    our now busy lives, or
      better yet, the "good ole days"
that once, were not enough;
  somehow the cycle must end,
    and the "busyness" of living
      revert to the business of being...
in His time,
  we find ourselves
    beyond our limited dreams,
      and our appetites satisfied...

2:34 pm cst

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Day... I love my wife...

sooner or later...


sooner or later, it was bound to happen...
you know, that Divine Intervention
that swoops down to gently re-align
our growth patterns,
not unlike the pruning shears that
snips the wayward throngs of a rose bush...


yet, it does hurt...
in my limited and selfish perception
i only see the pain of the shears' blade
as it pierces to the quick and the dead silence
left by angry words, both spoken and tacit...


as i cleaned a pile of thorny stems,
and cast aside the scraps of growth,
i wondered if the bush i just pruned
was in pain, if the droplets of sap
that was now hardening were releasing
its own silent anger towards me...

had i failed to hear the desperate cries
from the stems that I just trimmed?...

sooner or later, true growth emerges from pain...
down deep i know this, yet meanwhile,
i abhor and despise the pain which
soon will bear fruit.

when i look through my Father's eyes,
i can see the tiny bud of growth
that has already begun to sprout,
pointing a different direction,
yet still yearning the Light...

...just like the branch i pruned
so carefully, knowing to cut right
above the new growth...
is not our Father even more careful...
...as He prunes this hybrid of you and me?

sooner or later, it was bound to happen...

7:55 pm cst

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Poem for Carole...

From The Garden

 

I used to think

that earth was dirty,

that the dirty soil was bad and spoiled the cleanliness

I 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 to

begin...

 

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...

3:47 pm cst

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Composers notes on the Episcopal Mass...
The Episcopal Mass In Memoriam of Gay Witmer...

Introit...
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.

The Mercy... 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 eleison
Christe eleison, Christe eleison, Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison

The 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 to
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 us.
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>>
We believe 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.
For us 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.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe 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 apostolic Church.
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.
Amen.

The Holy... 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 thy glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

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.
For thine 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>>
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, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.

The 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,
and to 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;
and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
be amongst you, and remain with you always.
Let 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.
Alleluia, alleluia.
9:49 am cst

The Clearing Out...

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...

The 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.
I remember 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...

The 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 to me.
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.
In 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...
I 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...

9:44 am cst

2012.03.01 | 2011.06.01 | 2011.03.01 | 2011.02.01 | 2011.01.01

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