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Friends, Music, Life

 

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening!”

About the time the Original Cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1970, I was moving from the small farming community of Lebanon, Indiana to Evansville, the third or fourth largest city in Indiana. Little did I know the opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber would be the soundtrack for much of my teenage life and become the impetus for a spiritual journey that has lasted for decades.

The life we lived in Lebanon was idyllic; small town USA. Dad was the minister for the Baptist Church, a community leader, incredibly respected. In the minds and hearts of many he was right up there with The Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the Pope. I whine a lot about being a PK (preacher’s kid), but truth be told, I was extremely proud to be my father’s son (and still am!).

I never saw myself as one of the popular kids, but, I did have a lot of friends. We had grown up together either at Central Elementary, at First Baptist Church or both. We played Little League baseball together, we played sandlot ball together, we were in Scouts together; Jeff, Tim, Randy, David, Jeff (Jeff was a very popular name), Charlie, Lisa, Betsy, Jill, Susan…and, many, many more.  

In the spring of 1970, we were promoted out of the sixth and into the seventh grade…Junior High School! Filled with pride, excitement and just a touch of anxiety! We said our goodbyes and went on summer break and vacations vowing to that we would all stay close friends in the much larger Junior High.

It was during this summer of 1970, our parents announced we were moving to Evansville. God was calling dad to a new congregation, in a much larger city, away from all our friends, away from the life we new. But, how could you argue with God’s call? We were going to move in October. For me, this meant six weeks at the Lebanon Junior High School, a chance to say goodbye to all my friends.

For me, this meant a return to elementary school. Yes, Evansville schools at the time were K through 8, and High School was 9 through 12. So, after achieving one of life’s greatest rewards of going to Junior High, I would be back in elementary school. Devastated does not begin to describe it.

For me, this meant having to try out for the baseball team, instead of “graduating” from Little League to American Legion ball where all the coaches knew me and my abilities. It meant, not being good enough to be “drafted” for the league and having to play in an instructional league that was one step above sandlot.

For me, this meant joining a Scout troop with twenty kids I did not know. Twenty kids who did not take scouting as seriously as my friends and I had. They didn’t wear a proper uniform or even try to progress through the ranks. Me, in my fully pressed and immaculate uniform, with my sash filled with merit badges, and my rank of Life Scout stuck out like a new kid never wants to do. Heck, most these kids even smoked on camping trips (OK, I was a little naive and sheltered).  

The first day in my new school, my new elementary school came. The principal took me to my new home room. 25 kids who had grown up together. 25 kids who had already been in school six weeks. 25 kids who started at the new kid as the principal introduced me to the teacher. The teacher who stood me up in front of the class and asked “who can show Jeff around the school and introduce him to everyone?” 25 kids whose 50 hands were glued to their desktops and whose eyes refused to make eye contact. Finally, a hand raises and I hear voice say, “I’ll show him around.” (Thank you to Hal Bloss for being my first friend in Evansville! (and one of the longest lasting))

One of the people Hal introduced me to that day was Charlie Hagan. In 1970, I was just beginning to discover music, the Monkees, the Beatles, the Partridge Family (yes, I confess). Charlie and I began to explore music together. (He even let me listen to his album by the Rolling Stones!). Together we dreamed of becoming rock stars, even dressing like them…bell bottoms, puffy-sleeved shirts in wild colors, clothes patched with American Flag cloth, chokers…you get the picture.

I was learning to play guitar, Charlie the drums. Together with Jimmie Gains and Jeff Wilhite, we formed a band called the E’ville Spirits, though I don’t think we ever played a note together, Charlie and I would jam for hours on end.

We started writing songs together, Hagan ‘n Ton, destined to be the next Lennon & McCartney or Jagger & Richards. Honestly, we wrote very little music, we wrote lyrics and dreamed. We designed album covers and we even played for a school assembly. To this day, I can remember Hal being our biggest fan. “I know you guys are going to do it”, he would say.

A couple years passed and now it was time to go to high school. Charlie and I had written at least five “albums” of song lyrics by then. But, life was about ready to change again. Charlie’s family were devout Catholics. Charlie would be going to one of the Catholic High Schools. Ugh! Well, we could still get together on weekends to “rehearse”! Then, more news came. Charlie was an accomplished dancer, performing in multiple productions. Over the summer, he had been accepted into a boarding school in Illinois. It seems the boarding school focused on dance as well as academics.

Before he left for school, Charlie had one last gift for me. As we were saying our goodbyes, each trying desperately not to cry, he reached into a box and gave me his well worn and scratched copy of an opera, really, an opera!??! Yeah, I knew that Tommy by the Who was a rock opera, but this one wasn’t about a pinball wizard…of course, it was Jesus Christ Superstar.

I had heard parts of it coming from my older brother’s room and liked it but I had never really listened to it, never really heard the words, never really felt the impact…until then. I listened to it over and over and over again, I memorized the words, I learned some of the music. This was controversial…at a time in this teenagers life when he was starting to question authority and status quo. It was mesmerizing.

The story of the week leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, told from the perspective of his betrayer and his friend, Judas. It was a story of Christ’s humanity. For me, it was the first picture of Jesus as a man. It was the first time he felt real, instead of a character in a bible story. The Opera was met with protest when it was first written, In fact, Rice and Webber could not find anyone who would produce the play. Instead, they turned to the record company who had produced “Tommy” for the Who and released it as a concept album.

When the play was produced, it was met with picketers at the theatre. Christians felt it depicted Jesus as too human. The Jewish community felt it portrayed them as the assassins who killed him. It was a multi-faceted story. Yes, it was set in the year 30 AD, but it was as much about the political unrest of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Prophetically, it even serves as a picture of the political climate in 2018.

Perhaps the biggest outcry then as of now, is the ending. The story ends with the crucifixion. I have to admit, it bugged me too back then (however, I will say, the ending to NBC’s production on Easter Sunday 2018 was awe inspiring). But, back in 1972 and 73, it felt incomplete. I was starting to enter my “Jesus Freak” phase, listening to Godspell, Larry Norman, and Phil Keaggy. In 1973, the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar hit the theatres. Our entire church youth group went to a screening.

In the movie, there is a moment, a moment that stopped time. It was at the end of the scene for the song Trial Before Pilate. You know the one? The one with the 39 lashes. That scene. The actor who had just flogged Jesus 39 times. Stops. Panting. And stares quizzically at Jesus. THAT scene. That quizzical look. What was he thinking? What was he feeling. I began, what was to become a lifelong obsession with research and learning.  I had to know more.

I was soon to learn about Ius Gladii, the right of the sword. Dating back to roman times. It was the right to issue punishment (including flogging and crucifixion) for crimes. I read descriptions of the whip, medical accounts of the flogging and of the crucifixion. I had to write the ending, the “proper” ending.

What started as a simple poem “Ius Gladii – The Right of the Sword” grew into a full rock opera, title “He Has Risen” The story of Christ from the burial to the ascension.  I still remember snippets. From Ius Gladii:

When you stood staring quizzically
At my prophet King
What did you think of my lord then?
Was he different from the rest?

And from the title song, “He Has Risen”

He Has Risen
Just as he said
He Has Risen
Just as he said, he would

I can still hear the melody in my head when I type those words.

I would spend the next two years honing the lyrics, studying music theory and composition to be able to write the orchestration, and working with the late Mark X. Hatfield to turn my music scores into reality and bring the words to life. Alas, Mark was probably the only one that ever heard my rock opera. It, like the hundreds of songs (lyrics) I wrote in me teens and twenties, lost to time.

When it was time to enter college, I decided to study Music Theory and Composition. That decision was heavily influenced by composing (and I use that word loosely) my rock opera. While I learned very quickly one had to have talent (and play an instrument…rock guitar did not count) and changed my major, I continued to write song lyrics and poetry well into my 30’s.

I won’t be as bold as to say Jesus Christ Superstar saved my life, but to an awkward, pimple-faced, shy teenager it was magic and I can say, it forever changed his life!

Friends, Music, Life

 

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening!”

About the time the Original Cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1970, I was moving from the small farming community of Lebanon, Indiana to Evansville, the third or fourth largest city in Indiana. Little did I know the opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber would be the soundtrack for much of my teenage life and become the impetus for a spiritual journey that has lasted for decades.

The life we lived in Lebanon was idyllic; small town USA. Dad was the minister for the First Baptist Church, a community leader, incredibly respected. In the minds and hearts of many he was right up there with The Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the Pope. I whine a lot about being a PK (preacher’s kid), but truth be told, I was extremely proud to be my father’s son (and still am!).

I never saw myself as one of the popular kids, but, I did have a lot of friends. We had grown up together either at Central Elementary, at First Baptist Church or both. We played Little League baseball together, we played sandlot ball together, we were in Scouts together; Jeff, Tim, Randy, David, Jeff (Jeff was a very popular name), Charlie, Lisa, Betsy, Jill, Susan…and, many, many more.  

In the spring of 1970, we were promoted out of the sixth and into the seventh grade…Junior High School! Filled with pride, excitement and just a touch of anxiety! We said our goodbyes and went on summer break and vacations vowing to that we would all stay close friends in the much larger Junior High.

It was during this summer of 1970, our parents announced we were moving to Evansville. God was calling dad to a new congregation, in a much larger city, away from all our friends, away from the life we knew. But, how could you argue with God’s call? We were going to move in October. For me, this meant six weeks at the Lebanon Junior High School, a chance to say goodbye to all my friends.

For me, this meant a return to elementary school. Yes, Evansville schools at the time were K through 8, and High School was 9 through 12. So, after achieving one of life’s greatest rewards of going to Junior High, I would be back in elementary school. Devastated does not begin to describe it.

For me, this meant having to try out for the baseball team, instead of “graduating” from Little League to American Legion ball where all the coaches knew me and my abilities. It meant, not being good enough to be “drafted” for the league and having to play in an instructional league that was one step above sandlot.

For me, this meant joining a Scout troop with twenty kids I did not know. Twenty kids who did not take scouting as seriously as my friends and I had. They didn’t wear a proper uniform or even try to progress through the ranks. Me, in my fully pressed and immaculate uniform, with my sash filled with merit badges, and my rank of Life Scout stuck out like a new kid never wants to do. Heck, most these kids even smoked on camping trips (OK, I was a little naive and sheltered).  

The first day in my new school, my new elementary school came. The principal took me to my new home room. 25 kids who had grown up together. 25 kids who had already been in school six weeks. 25 kids who started at the new kid as the principal introduced me to the teacher. The teacher who stood me up in front of the class and asked “who can show Jeff around the school and introduce him to everyone?” 25 kids whose 50 hands were glued to their desktops and whose eyes refused to make eye contact. Finally, a hand raises and I hear voice say, “I’ll show him around.” (Thank you to Hal Bloss for being my first friend in Evansville! (and one of the longest lasting))

One of the people Hal introduced me to that day was Charlie Hagan. In 1970, I was just beginning to discover music, the Monkees, the Beatles, the Partridge Family (yes, I confess). Charlie and I began to explore music together. (He even let me listen to his album by the Rolling Stones!). Together we dreamed of becoming rock stars, even dressing like them…bell bottoms, puffy-sleeved shirts in wild colors, clothes patched with American Flag cloth, chokers…you get the picture.

I was learning to play guitar, Charlie the drums. Together with Jimmie Gains and Jeff Wilhite, we formed a band called the E’ville Spirits, though I don’t think we ever played a note together, Charlie and I would jam for hours on end.

We started writing songs together, Hagan ‘n Ton, destined to be the next Lennon & McCartney or Jagger & Richards. Honestly, we wrote very little music, we wrote lyrics and dreamed. We designed album covers and we even played for a school assembly. To this day, I can remember Hal being our biggest fan. “I know you guys are going to do it”, he would say.

A couple years passed and now it was time to go to high school. Charlie and I had written at least five “albums” of song lyrics by then. But, life was about ready to change again. Charlie’s family were devout Catholics. Charlie would be going to one of the Catholic High Schools. Ugh! Well, we could still get together on weekends to “rehearse”! Then, more news came. Charlie was an accomplished dancer, performing in multiple productions. Over the summer, he had been accepted into a boarding school in Illinois. It seems the boarding school focused on dance as well as academics.

Before he left for school, Charlie had one last gift for me. As we were saying our goodbyes, each trying desperately not to cry, he reached into a box and gave me his well worn and scratched copy of an opera, really, an opera!??! Yeah, I knew that Tommy by the Who was a rock opera, but this one wasn’t about a pinball wizard…of course, it was Jesus Christ Superstar.

I had heard parts of it coming from my older brother’s room and liked it but I had never really listened to it, never really heard the words, never really felt the impact…until then. I listened to it over and over and over again, I memorized the words, I learned some of the music. This was controversial…at a time in this teenagers life when he was starting to question authority and status quo. It was mesmerizing.

The story of the week leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, told from the perspective of his betrayer and his friend, Judas. It was a story of Christ’s humanity. For me, it was the first picture of Jesus as a man. It was the first time he felt real, instead of a character in a bible story. The Opera was met with protest when it was first written, In fact, Rice and Webber could not find anyone who would produce the play. Instead, they turned to the record company who had produced “Tommy” for the Who and released it as a concept album.

When the play was produced, it was met with picketers at the theatre. Christians felt it depicted Jesus as too human. The Jewish community felt it portrayed them as the assassins who killed him. It was a multi-faceted story. Yes, it was set in the year 30 AD, but it was as much about the political unrest of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Prophetically, it even serves as a picture of the political climate in 2018.

Perhaps the biggest outcry then as of now, is the ending. The story ends with the crucifixion. I have to admit, it bugged me too back then (however, I will say, the ending to NBC’s production on Easter Sunday 2018 was awe inspiring). But, back in 1972 and 73, it felt incomplete. I was starting to enter my “Jesus Freak” phase, listening to Godspell, Larry Norman, and Phil Keaggy. In 1973, the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar hit the theatres. Our entire church youth group went to a screening.

In the movie, there is a moment, a moment that stopped time. It was at the end of the scene for the song Trial Before Pilate. You know the one? The one with the 39 lashes. That scene. The actor who had just flogged Jesus 39 times. Stops. Panting. And stares quizzically at Jesus. THAT scene. That quizzical look. What was he thinking? What was he feeling. I began, what was to become a lifelong obsession with research and learning.  I had to know more.

I was soon to learn about Ius Gladii, the right of the sword. Dating back to roman times. It was the right to issue punishment (including flogging and crucifixion) for crimes. I read descriptions of the whip, medical accounts of the flogging and of the crucifixion. I had to write the ending, the “proper” ending.

What started as a simple poem “Ius Gladii – The Right of the Sword” grew into a full rock opera, title “He Has Risen” The story of Christ from the burial to the ascension.  I still remember snippets. From Ius Gladii:

When you stood staring quizzically
At my prophet King
What did you think of my lord then?
Was he different from the rest?

And from the title song, “He Has Risen”

He Has Risen
Just as he said
He Has Risen
Just as he said, he would

I can still hear the melody in my head when I type those words.

I would spend the next two years honing the lyrics, studying music theory and composition to be able to write the orchestration, and working with the late Mark X. Hatfield to turn my music scores into reality and bring the words to life. Alas, Mark was probably the only one that ever heard my rock opera. It, like the hundreds of songs (lyrics) I wrote in me teens and twenties, lost to time.

When it was time to enter college, I decided to study Music Theory and Composition. That decision was heavily influenced by composing (and I use that word loosely) my rock opera. While I learned very quickly one had to have talent (and play an instrument…rock guitar did not count) and changed my major, I continued to write song lyrics and poetry well into my 30’s.

I won’t be as bold as to say Jesus Christ Superstar saved my life, but to an awkward, pimple-faced, shy teenager it was magic and I can say, it forever changed his life!

The Land of Serendip

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, lived a King, his three Princes and his one Princess, and their wonderful spouses and families. When we last visited the Land of Serendip, the Princes received a visit from an Angel, we now return, 18 short months later…

The King of Serendip was about to embark upon another journey. The Prince of Whitetail issued a proclamation on the King’s behalf. “Hear ye, in the name of the King! Let it be known across the land, the time has come for the King to leave the Forest of Hawthorne and reside instead in the Village of Hickory. The Princess of Whitetail and I will see to it he has the necessary comforts for the journey and for the winter ahead.”

As the word spread throughout the kingdom, messages were delivered from the Prince of the Western Lands, the Prince of Raymond, and the Princess the Green Lakes. Each messenger brought words of support and the offer to travel to the Forest of Hawthorne if need be. The Prince of Whitetail sent them on their way with assurances there was no need for them to undertake such journeys.

The day of the King’s journey was soon upon them. The Prince took the King by the hand and led him from the Forest, while the Princess and her porters packed some of the King’s belongings to be sent on ahead to the Village of Hickory. The King was distressed, he did not want to leave the Forest. The Prince and the King halted at the shop of Maidens of Medicine for the King’s treatments and to ensure his room at the Village of Hickory was ready for his arrival.

The wait merely added to the Prince’s feeling of dread for the journey ahead. He tried valiantly to relieve the King’s distress, while the dread mounted within his soul. His mind was racing with thoughts of threads to pull. What was that sound? The sound of someone approaching. The Prince looked momentarily without recognition, but then…the veil fell from his eyes to reveal Sir Larry of Sayre! Why was he here outside the Forest of Hawthorne?  

Familiar with the journey ahead and being a long time friend of the King, and much older (and therefore somewhat wiser) than the Prince, he’d come from afar to provide the magic of listening ear to the King. As the sands in the hour glass slowly moved from top to bottom, he was there to share the burden of the Prince and Princess. Through his laugh, through his stories, through his heart of empathy and compassion, he was able to lessen the King’s distress and cause the Prince’s dread to nearly vanish.

As mid-day faded and the shadows lengthened, it was time. The much older (and somewhat wiser), Sir Larry of Sayre, with a tear in his eye, bid adieu to the King and Prince as they took the road toward the Village of Hickory to meet the Princess.

The King and Prince arrived at the Village of Hickory, where the Princess was just finishing up with the King’s room. She had done a wonderful job preparing the way and ensuring even the smallest detail was tended to for the King.

Thank you, Larry. Thank you for not asking, because the answer, as you knew, would have been “Nothing”. Thank you for knowing what was needed even when I did not. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being present. You gave us more than you will ever know…then again, maybe you do.

Love is Thicker than Blood, Blood is Thicker than WaterThere is an old proverb that states, “Blood is thicker than water.” In modern day, it has come to mean that family bonds (blood) are stronger than friendships (water).  “Love is thicker than blood” was my attempt to state love relationships are even stronger than blood relationships. As is my practice when quoting something, I wanted to ensure I understood its meaning. What I learned in this case (and in many cases, actually) is the quote has been used incorrectly. And, at least in this case, the original meaning is closer to what I want to say in the first place.

Tracing this proverb back to its origins reveals, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” Originally meant to convey the blood of battle forms a bond among soldiers that is stronger than family bonds, I like the direction Richard Back took it. In his book, “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”, Bach wrote, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

So, by now you are asking, “Jeff, what in the heck are you trying to say? You’ve written 200 words and I still don’t know what you are trying to say.” In Rivers of Thought I have written a lot about love, I have written a lot about family. Today, I want to celebrate someone whom I mention frequently, but too many times take for granted. Today, I want to celebrate my wife, Carmen.

This is a second marriage for both of us. An only child, without children of her own, she was thrust into the family of Tons. Admittedly, we are not the Rockefellers nor the Kennedys, but we can be a pretty intimidating bunch. But, she opened her home and she opened her heart to all of us (I don’t think she understood she was marrying all of us when she said “I do”!).

When I say she opened her home, I mean it literally. In early 2001 Carmen and decided to move in together . . . in her house. Not only did I move in, but so did my 16 year old son Brad, who lived with me 50% of the time. Even before moving day, she made sure Brad would feel welcome by transforming her guest room into a teenage boy-man room. Admittedly, those first few years were tough. Teenage years are filled with angst enough, throw in a divorce and you get a lot of pent of anger, a good dose aimed at me. Carmen played consoler and referee. Always wary of the the “stepmother” line, she danced the tightrope incredibly well.

Early in our marriage, we struggled, and I do mean we struggled, to build a relationship with my parents. Divorce is hard on everyone. My divorce seemed to be particularly hard on my mom and dad. While they labored to come to grips with the new reality (as Brad would say, “This ain’t Leave it to Beaver any more!”), the first to really open her heart to Carmen was my grandmother Granny Ton. Sara. She and Carmen developed a very strong bond in a short time. Granny loved it when Carmen came to visit and chat. Honestly, through Carmen I was able to get to know my Granny as, well, as Sara. A woman who had lived a life of love and family. I don’t think I would have ever learned of that woman without Carmen. I will treasure the stories she shared with us during her final years and those final days.

As the years passed, our house became the place for holiday gatherings, birthday parties, and celebrations of all kinds. All put on with organization and planning that make them look easy. All with a touch of elegance and grace. (Yes, even with name cards at our plates so everyone knows where to sit!). All were invited and all were welcome. The invitation extended beyond family to friends who were without a place to go. Friends became family, family became friends.

She and my mom became friends…buddies as mom would say. The two of them would chat and carry-on like young school girls. They would go shopping and have “girl time”. As aging began to take its toll on mom’s body, Carmen was there to take her to doctor after doctor. She became her advocate when she couldn’t advocate for herself. She became her voice when she could no longer speak. She truly became mom’s Daughter-in-Love.

In the summer of 2010, we became grandparents, of sorts. Our son, Brad, had moved in with this his girl friend (our soon to be daughter-in-love), Holly. At the time, Holly was a single mom to two awesome kids, Donny age 10, Charity age 8. Before school let out for the year, it became apparent Holly’s plans for the kids was not going to work out. Who stepped forward? Carmen, of course. Of course, the she would wrangle the kids all summer. Oh, did I mention, our house was undergoing a major renovation? Construction going on everywhere. No kitchen. . . for about a year! Yet, those kids (and Carmen) had a wonderful summer . . . making tree branch tepees in yard. . . hunting for “treasure” in the woods and creek. . . climbing trees. . . and, of course, signing their names in the concrete of the new foundation. Today, Charity, now 14 and a freshman in high school, still loves to get off the bus at “Grandma’s house” after school.

A couple short years later, Jeremy’s son Braxton was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. For many months, our sweet Braxton could not travel to Indianapolis for visits. So, Grandma Carmen and I would travel to see him. They immediately formed their bond. Just a couple weeks ago, Braxton (oh, and Jeremy, too) were visiting. Carmen, Braxton and Jordan (more on him in a minute) duckpin bowled together. . . incredible smiles. . . incredible laughter. . . incredible love. Later, Braxton would help Carmen make garlic toast for dinner. Sunday found Carmen and Braxton busy at the kitchen table. Carmen was helping him practice writing in a new “learn to write” book she had bought for him. It was a beautiful scene! And one that melted all of our hearts!

I mentioned Jordan. March 2014 we were again all gathered in a hospital waiting room. Several hours later we were introduced to Jordan, Brad and Holly’s son. Twelve weeks later, when Holly had to return to work, Jordan would come to hang out at Grandma Carmen’s, like his big brother and sister had done. Today, Jordan loves to visit “Meemaw’s House”, and play dinosaurs, or kitchen, or cars. He loves to watch “Meemaw’s deer” in the yard, and ride “Meemaw’s tractor”. Last night, he and I were playing in the small play house at our property next door and he couldn’t wait to open the door of the second floor deck (ok, it’s a pretty big “small” play house), stand on the deck and yell for “meeeeeeeeeeemaw”, “meeeeeeeeeeemaw”!

Over the last few years, she again, has taken on the role of caregiver. This time for my dad. As he ages and his dementia worsens, he needs more and more help. Carmen is there to help around his apartment, to take him shopping, to haircuts, to optometrist appointments and help him to learn his new reality. During the few days I have been writing this post, Dad has been sick with an intestinal bug. Who was there (twice) to help clean him after an accident? Carmen, of course. In many of our private moments, dad expresses deep appreciation and love for Carmen. I know he is thankful to have her care for him.

There is not room in this post to retell all of the stories of my life (our life) with Carmen. Our little clan has grown. Together, we have celebrated life’s most treasured moments. Together, we have held our kids, our grandkids, and yes, our parents in our arms and cried through life’s tougher moments. Carmen is the glue, Carmen is the bond that holds it all together. I know, there is no one I would rather have by my side, there is no one I would rather share laughter with through life’s celebrations, there is no one I would rather share tears with through life’s challenges than Carmen.

She may not know “nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies”, but she she does know how to love, care and nurture; she does know how to be a rock in life’s craziness; she knows how to birth a family not based on blood . . . or, the water of the womb. Thank you, Carmen Suzanne, you are loved and treasured more than you will ever know.

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family, love, traditionThe writer of I Corinthians (or as Donald Trump would call it: One Corinthians) Chapter 13 begins by telling us what love is. As a PK (preacher’s kid), I grew up knowing it (and many other verses) by heart. Today, on Valentine’s Day, I would like to add a few more definitions to that author’s description.

I am blessed to have a lot of  love in my life. My beautiful wife, Carmen…my sons Jeremy and Brad…my daughter-in-law Holly and her kids Donny and Charity…my mother and father-in-law, Judy and Dave, my mother-in-law Kathleen, my sister and brothers…and of course my dear friends. Each relationship brings its lessons in love and in life. I could fill a book (maybe someday I actually will!) with the lessons learned.

Careful readers will notice I did not mention three other loves in my life; two of my newest loves and the oldest.

 

Love is tough

I don’t do well with blood. I don’t care if it’s mine or someone else’s, if it is more than a little scratch, it makes me queasy. Perhaps this goes back to my childhood when I had a couple of run ins with glass doors which involved a LOT of blood and a LOT of stitches.  I don’t know, at any rate, I try to avoid it. Yet, here I was, my hands covered in blood, my dad’s blood. Ok, before you think I off’ed my dad or something, let me explain.

Dad had prostate surgery this summer. Since it had been performed as an outpatient procedure, I did not want him to be alone that first night (for that matter, neither did the doctor). The nurses gave us instructions for care over the next 24 hours…instructions that included removing his catheter…seemed easy enough…easy if seeing your dad naked for the first time in about 50 years easy. So, there we were the following morning. Dad sitting on the commode, hanging out in all his glory. Me, on my knees in front of him, gently pulling on a catheter. But…something was wrong. They said there might be a little blood. The catheter would not come out. This was not a little blood. I stopped pulling and called the emergency nurse at his retirement center. Dad lives in a section that does not include nursing care. However, I think the quaking in my voice convinced the nurse she needed to buck protocol and come immediately. Thankfully, she did, and thankfully, it was nothing serious, just a case of someone (me) not fully understanding the instructions given. She quickly removed the catheter..and, as for me?  I cleaned up the blood.

THAT my friends is love!

Over the last few years since mom died, as my dad ages, we have had role reversal. The parent has become the child, the child the parent. I am closer to my dad now than at any other point in my life. We share everything, we go through everything together (including catheter removal!). We have had some tremendous times together (like going to Indians baseball games), we have had some ugly times together, arguing over life’s challenges:

“Quit treating me like a child!”

“Quit acting like one!”

Hard to say for sure, but I am positive as the words left our mouths, we realized the other had said the same thing 40 or so years ago.

He is one of the wisest people I know, so I sought his counsel when considering a job change. His thoughts were insightful and incredibly helpful. It was a poignant afternoon as we talked about his career and mine.

Late in the summer, my brother and I had to take his car away. THAT was one of the uglier moments!

No matter the day, no matter the challenge, he and I hug and tell each other we love the other.

Raising a parent IS like raising a child. You love them unconditionally, and you know they love you, as well. Yet love does not mean you give them everything they want. Love means sometimes, you have to do what you think is right for them, even if they don’t agree, even though they get angry. Love is tough (in many different ways)!

 

Love is communicating

Braxton Kirby Ton-Blake, my first time experiencing the love of a grandparent! All I can say to those who have experienced it is, “you were right!”. To those who have not had the joy, “It is unlike anything you will ever experience!”

Braxton is now three years old. A couple of years ago, we realized that Braxton was not developing like a typical one-year old. Our fears were realized when he was assessed and found to be on the Autism Disorder spectrum. He is a bright, beautiful boy, but as of now, does not speak. (Honestly, heartbreaking and yet, another definition of love, but that’s not for this story). For those who have experienced the challenge of Autism, you know one of the manifestations of it is “meltdowns” (ok, not a medical term, but you know what I mean). While many toddlers exhibit temper tantrums (our grandson Jordan is an expert “drama queen” when it comes to these), trying to work with a child who is autistic and does not speak during a meltdown is especially challenging.

One Saturday this summer, Jeremy and Braxton arrived on our doorstep for a visit. Braxton was in mid-meltdown! SCAAAAAHREEEEEEEEEAMING! Jeremy explained they left their house to come over and Braxton thought they were going for a ride in the car (I guess, I should mention they live next door). As they passed the car and headed out of the garage, the screaming commenced!

He was inconsolable. Trying to get him to play with any of his toys got nothing but louder screams in response. Thinking perhaps he was hungry just resulted in food flying across the room. Jeremy said he would take him home. Maybe get in the car and drive over. Instead, I took Braxton by the hand, still screaming, and led him throughout the house. Still screaming. Back to the master bedroom. Still screaming. Pointing out the window. Still Screaming. To the kitchen. Still screaming. I picked him up and took him upstairs to the playroom. Still Screaming.

For what seemed like hours, but was probably 15 or 20 minutes, he screamed. I put him down. He screamed and wanted in my arms. I picked him up. He screamed and kicked me. I put him down. He screamed and wanted back in my arms. I picked him up.

Still screaming, we walked downstairs and out into the garage. I put on my boots (still screaming) and we headed out to take a walk by the creek. Still screaming. We walked across the foot bridge (I don’t have to say it again, right, you know by now, he was still screaming) and down to the creek. We threw rocks in the water and watched the ripples. We moved on. The screams now more like whining, but still loud enough to scare the doe that was sleeping across the creek. We walked north along the creek. Soon, the screaming and whining stopped. Still carrying him, we walked to the north end of our property and looped to head back.

Braxton got down and held tightly to my hand as we trekked toward the barn. Now he was actively looking at the birds and the trees. He watched the water in the creek intently. I must confess, we took our own sweet time heading back to the house, just my best buddy and me. It was a moment long in coming, and it was a moment I never wanted to end. Love is communicating (even when you don’t have words)!

 

Love is joyful

If ever there was a toddler that embodied pure joy, it is Jordan Jeffrey Ton! His has one of those smiles that spreads across his face and enwraps his entire body (think of a puppy dog when you come home from work)!

My favorite picture of Jordan was taken this summer. Whenever I want to instantly smile and laugh out loud (the REAL LOL, not the LOL of text messages!), I find that picture. We were having a family picnic in the backyard, it might have been our Father’s Day picnic, I can’t recall now. What I do remember is the whole family was there. Jordan was cute as a button in his shorts and onesie. He had on a floppy hat. Carmen was pushing him in the swing, his hat blowing back each time he swung forward. His mouth open wide in a huge grin (just a couple of teeth showing by now) and giggling with each push. Sheer pure joy!

This past December, Jordan discovered Santa, or Tanta, as he called him, unable to pronounce an
“s” yet. Each time he saw Santa, he would point, bubble with excitement and grin that joyful grin and exclaim, “Tanta”! I did not realize how many “Tantas” we had around our house until Jordan visited. With each one, and with the same amount of excitement and joy, he would point out “Tanta”!  As we ran throughout the house playing and finding “Tantas”, I would always add the “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

On Christmas Eve, we started a new tradition (or at least, I hope what will be a tradition). We called it “Cookies and Cocktails”. (For the record, the kids got the cookies!) Given the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, the idea was a quick stop for both Brad and Jeremy and their families at Grandma and Grandpa Ton’s on Christmas Eve. Straight out of Christmas Vacation, I got to play Clark Griswold and read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

Braxton was crashed from the excitement of the day, so while he napped, we all gathered by the fireplace for the story. Jordan, still very much full of energy, was at my feet (somewhat). As I read the book, it was Tanta that caught his attention. With each and every page, he would point, cry out “Tanta” …and then in a low voice (I kid you not!) add in a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”! I could barely even read the book, I was laughing so hard tears were flowing down my cheeks (no wonder Santa’s cheeks are rosey). Everyone was laughing so hard! Love is joy (whether you are two or 58!)

 

Whatever your definition of love is…I hope you have it this Valentine’s Day! I hope you can look back on your year and your life and find many definitions of love. I would be honored if you would share your stories here in the comments on Rivers of Thought.

With love, Jeff

 

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