Last night was one of those life changing moments, that you as an individual will cherish and ponder on for the rest of your life. It was the opportunity that I and some close friends came together to celebrate the life of a friend of ours named Eli Buxton

Eli lost his battle with cancer at the young age of 23. He was diagnosed a year and a half ago with testicular cancer, and had to go through multiple rounds of treatment to try and stop its aggressive growth. He won this fight the first time, but sadly when the cancer came back, it came back with a vengeance and he unfortunately unable to stop it. Through it all he kept a positive outlook and was diligent in completing his album and touching the lives of all he interacted with, including me.

His funeral was the best one I have been to in my entire life, and it was one of tears, laughter, pain and joy. He wanted it to be a celebration of his life, and I feel the time and care put towards it by his family was perfect. It exemplified Eli more than I had realized at first, and seeing all of the diverse people within the hundreds that attended brought a smile to my face. He was able to connect with so many and didn’t judge a person on their looks or lifestyle. He took the time to connect and reach out to everyone and it is a trait I hope to be able to copy in my own life.

I titled this post “Afterlife” for a reason. After I had heard the news on Facebook of Eli’s passing a song by one of my favorite bands, Arcade Fire, kept popping up in my music que. I’d hear it at work, and in the car as I have been going about my errands and day to day life. The music is orchestrated so beautifully, but more-so the lyrics have impacted me now more than they ever had before. I am not always so eloquent with my words, and don’t consider myself a playwright or poet so I’ll just let Win Butler take the microphone for a moment:

Afterlife Lyrics

Afterlife, oh my God, what an awful word

After all the breath and the dirt
And the fires that burn
And after all this time
And after all the ambulances go
And after all the hangers-on are done
Hanging on to the dead lights
Of the afterglow

I’ve gotta know

Can we work it out?
We scream and shout ’till we work it out
Can we just work it out?
Scream and shout ’till we work it out?

‘Till we work it out, ’till we work it out
‘Till we work it out, ’till we work it out

Afterlife, I think I saw what happens next
It was just a glimpse of you
Like looking through a window
Or a shallow sea
Could you see me?

And after all this time
It’s like nothing else we used to know
After all the hangers-on are done
Hanging on to the dead lights
Of the afterglow

I’ve gotta know

Can we work it out?
Let’s scream and shout ’till we work it out
Can we just work it out? If you scream and shout ’till we work it out?
But you say
Oh, when love is gone
Where does it go?
And you say
Oh, when love is gone
Where does it go?

And where do we go?
Where do we go?
Where do we go?
Where do we go?
Where do we go?
Where do we go?
Where do we go?
Where do we go?

And after this Can it last another night?
After all the bad advice
Had nothing at all to do with life

I’ve gotta know
Can we work it out?
Scream and shout ’till we work it out?
Can we just work it out?
Scream and shout ’till we work it out?
But you say
Oh, when love is gone
Where does it go?
And you say
Oh, when love is gone
Where does it go?
Oh, we know it’s gone
Where did it go?
Oh, we know it’s gone
Where did it go?
And where do we go?

Is this the afterlife?
It’s just an afterlife, with you
It’s just an afterlife
It’s just an afterlife, with you
It’s just an afterlife


When the first line starts the thoughts begin flooding into my mind.
“Afterlife, oh my god, what an awful word.”
So many of us wonder, “What happens after this life?” It has spawned countless Religions, Deities, Gods and belief systems. All dive into this question. We have yet to find the answer.
Will our actions now affect us after we have passed on. Is there some type of existence or dimension? Some part of that our consciousness, spirit, whatever you want to call it goes? Will we be held accountable for those small mistakes as much as the larger ones? Will none of it matter at all and we just cease to exist? Will I be able to spend it with those that I love, and be able to see those that have left before me again?

“Afterlife, oh my god, what an awful word.”

Eli I know had pondered the thought and question of life after this a lot. I felt it in the music and lyrics that he wrote, and in our conversations we talked about it all many times. But what I appreciated and saw even more last night was his love and concern for the now.

He would take the time to talk to anyone. To hear their story, to listen when someone needed it, and left no judgement or ill will towards you. He had true compassion and knew the importance of this life! So many of us get so caught up in the unknown and our own existence once we have gasped for our last breath that we forgot to pay attention to the now.

I remember growing up in church feeling so overly concerned about my own salvation. God’s perception of me consumed myself to the point of obsessive praying and constant anxieties about my behavior. I felt I was a disappointment to God & my religious leaders over and over again that I was fully convinced that I would be spending all of eternity in hell. The thoughts of the now didn’t even cross my mind, and as I have grown older I see that is a very common thing in those that I interact with who are very devout to their beliefs.

“Afterlife, oh my god, what an awful word!”

I in recent years have really started to put more focus on the now, on this life, and where true happiness lies. In looking for those experiences that make THIS life worth being a part of.The unknown of what happens after this life can consume you completely like it did me, and you will realize when the end of your life does finally come, you might have lost the chance to really embrace life now. Stopped sweating the small stuff that if you believe in God more than likely doesn’t care about.

Thank you Elijah for teaching me how to love people, and for letting me be a part of your life even if it was just for a short amount of time. I will miss you, and am glad you don’t have to fight anymore.

“When love is gone, where does it go? Where do we go?”

Does it really matter as much as we make it out to be? No, I don’t think so. It’s more important to look at the now. And like Win says at the end:

“It’s just an afterlife…..”

Inside Out, thoughts from my control center

Inside Out Movie Poster

Tonight I went and saw Inside Out.

My best friend told me that she was going and so being the jealous person that I can be with my friends at times I wanted to go too. So I found the Fathom event and there were still tickets available. It was 20 bucks, which I assumed was the cost because of the exclusive “Pre-release” screening that it was, and I was ok with it since I’m a movie geek. I got to the theater and was given a lanyard with a cool badge along with a small poster to commemorate the event. I was pleasantly surprised by that and thought it was way cool! I grabbed some snacks and headed into the theater.

Now some of my all time favorite movies are from Pixar. Yes I have my scary movies, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars up there, but Pixar has always been there to help keep the kid inside of me alive. I didn’t realize until after the Q&A, which followed the screening, that Pete Docter helped create Toy Story, Monsters Inc, and Wall-E which are 3 of my all time favorite films that created experiences that really influenced my life.  Now I can say with an afirmative yes that Inside Out can be added to that list and I hope I can explain why without giving any spoilers. I just want to try and do what any writer does. Express my feelings and emotions in words. I have felt recently that I actually do enjoy writing, and wouldn’t mind doing it more often. I hope to with this blog and other potential ideas that I have brewing.  Anyway let’s get back to the movie.

I don’t want to ramble on about the plot and premise. I never want to ruin an experience of a film to anyone by giving things away and will do my best in this instance.

Inside Out is the story of emotions. We all have them, and what story isn’t about emotion? But this is literally about the major emotions we all have inside of us.  They control the way that we feel and mold our personality as we grow and develop.  Pixar chose the time that is frustrating, and confusing for all of us which I greatly appreciate.

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is our main character who is 11 years old and has recently made a big transition in her life. She’s moved across the country to a new city away from her friends and all the comforts of home. It’s hard, it’s confusing, and Joy (played by Amy Poehler) has to try and help Riley through it all with a smile on her face while balancing all her other emotions, and value the memories she has of her past.

Most everything about the story as it develops from this premise is perfect. It’s spot on, and I could feel myself relating to it throughout. Adolescence was so hard, it was for me and I am sure it was for you. Jordan companies  The sudden bouts of anger, sadness, and so many other emotions pile up and make us just want to scream! How that was written into the story, with these 5 different emotions influencing Riley’s reactions to every day life felt natural, it felt real, and I appreciated that a lot!

Joy of Inside Out

I have a young friend who is about the same age as Riley, and as I watched I kept thinking about her and the frustration and struggle she is currently going through. Hormones and emotions set in and seem to control everything. You don’t feel yourself, do things you never thought you would, and don’t fully know who you are.  How Pete and all the writers expressed this in this film was again perfect.  It made me want to have my young friend sitting next to me watching along. Give her that comfort that what she is experiencing is normal, and it’s ok.

Which brings us to a climactic element of the story that I want to be careful treading on and not spoil it for anyone. There’s a conflict of interests between Joy and Sadness all through this film and it a great teaching tool and story plot for Inside Out.  It brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to give Pixar a standing ovation and big thank you in some way for how they masterfully took this complicated and frustrating thing and made it simpler for children and young adults fighting their own battles to understand.

They also bring in sacrifice. It brought back the moment in Toy Story 3 when the toys were almost at an end, and it felt like a loss of childhood would be gone forever.  Inside Out hits you just like that, almost just as strong in once scene that is ingrained in my memory and will be for awhile.  We all grow and change pieces of ourselves that at one time was a major talent,  a hobby, or a trait that defined who we were. Those things fade and die in a way but may still be there inside of us without us even realizing it. I spent some time in my car before going home reflecting on those past pieces of me and didn’t realize I had forgotten that they were still there.

Riley of Inside Out

I has missed them. Once I started thinking about the interests I had and some of the cherished memories of my childhood I remembered how they molded me into who I am now. I wanted to go back in time and relive them again so they wouldn’t become a sacrifice like what had happened in Inside Out.  But, I can’t save it all. There are things that I have lost which were once precious to me as a child that I never will get back. It hurts, but that is ok.

I feel that is what everyone who worked on Inside Out wants the audience to feel. All of these emotions stack up on top of each other and we don’t know what to do about it. But knowing that feeling angry, feeling sad, even feeling disgusted is ok.  It all is ok. We don’t need to suppress these feelings but accept them.  It’s what I hope to be able to teach my kids someday, and help teach my little friend right now as much as I can.

So with a resounding “GO!” I highly encourage you to go see Inside Out.  You’ll be laughing in one moment and crying in the next in a story that relates to all of us, and helps us to realize that all in all things are ok.

Theory of Everything


Theory of Everything PosterI had the privilege of seeing The Theory of Everything tonight, by myself, and honestly it was something that I needed.  As you probably have noticed from the dates between this post and my last one, it has been awhile since I have posted anything.  This past little while has been quite an adventure, and something that I will never forget. I had the opportunity to try and build something amazing, an attraction that would be like nothing else, but sadly it has to be put on hold as money is no longer there, and so I and others had to be let go.  That was a few weeks ago and I have been pretty depressed and having a hard time since being laid off. To keep myself occupied and also to find an escape, I normally go to the movies. And when I saw that this was finally being shown, I decided to take myself on a date and go see it. If you haven’t seen any trailers for it, here it is:

I knew who Stephen Hawking is, and a small bit about his theories. Who hasn’t in this day and age, but I only knew bits and pieces about his life, his condition, and family.  I could never compare to his intellectual mind, but felt in a small way I could relate to him in being a “nerd” and not the typical jock or popular kid while I was growing up.  I knew that I would like this movie, but didn’t realize until I finished watching it, how much I would love it.

The story begins when Stephen is at Cambridge still studying for his PHD in Physics, and meets his future wife Jane.  Their courtship is played out very well, and what leads to their marriage and struggle with Stephen’s disease really hit me.  Would I love someone as much as Jane, to know that the future would not be as fairy tale as you’d imagine, and the daily struggles could seem almost too hard to handle.

I don’t want to create a retelling of the story, I just wanted to give you a little intro, and encourage you to go see this.  I went in knowing hardly anything about the film, and I wasn’t expecting the emotional impact it would give me after walking out of the theater. I have never heard of Eddie Redmayne, nor remember seeing him in any films previous, but man he did an Oscar winning job at portraying Stephen.  I connected with him, felt his pain, and his struggle like I was experiencing it myself. Not to mention the beauty and poise that Felicity Jones gave to Jane as she was right by Stephen’s side as his disease grew more and more severe.

Those that know me well know that I am a sap when it comes to movies. Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, A Beautiful Mind, and more have all hit me to where at least a tear came out of me. I am an emotional guy, and this was another film to add to a huge list of others that got to me.  It wasn’t in some big dramatic scene that has big emotional moments, it actually was in a more simplistic shot with music and we see the Hawking family with their friend Jonathan riding in a boat. Weird I know, but watching their simple joys of being together and loving each other as a family really impacted me.  In the struggle of life, the simplest of things can erase all our worries, doubts, and fears for just a small moment.  It was like what I was doing in that moment. Taking a small 2 hours out of my weekend to see a film and escape my anxieties and appreciate something I enjoy.  From that moment on, I knew there was a reason went to see this film.

I got the chance to make an escape and feel ok about myself. Through all of Stephen’s struggles, and his problems he was able to accomplish insurmountable things.  But, in the end how much does that matter?

(spoiler alert)

** What hit me the most was at the end of the film.  It rewinds back to the introduction which is of the Hawking family at the Royal Palace in London,  Stephen has been offered a Knight ship from her majesty the Queen.  The ending is Stephen and Jane having a small conversation in the royal garden as they watch their children play.  Jane talks of Stephen’s accomplishments and that he could decline the Knighthood if he wanted.  Stephen stops her and says (in his famous computer voice) “Look at what we have made” directed towards their children.

This was when I lost it emotionally.  It helped me to see what truly is important in life.  Stephen was given all of these awards and accolades, but in the end what really matters is the simple things.  A family, children, and love.  All of the wonders and glories of the universe can be overwhelming. Looking at where my life is now, where my future is, and what my true calling in life is just as overwhelming right now.  But my family and the love I share with them is what truly matters, especially this time of year. I don’t have children yet, or a significant other, but I hope to someday. Those are what would be my greatest reward.  **

This isn’t some great amazing review, but I felt the need to write down my thoughts and how I felt before I lost them. So more than anything, I can look back at this and remind myself what the really important things are.

To anyone that has read this, I hope it was motivation enough for you to at least see this film, and to also appreciate what is most important in life.  Thanks for taking the time to read it.

A Christmas Memory

I was introduced to this story recently by a friend and previous co-worker on her blog and I felt it was something worth sharing here.  It is written by Truman Capote and was one I had never read before.

I appreciated it for its thought, and different perspective of Christmas rather than the normal “Happy Christmas” feel we get from most stories.  Take what you will, here is his story:

A Christmas Memory

A Christmas Memory
Truman Capote
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.
A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”
The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880’s, when she was still a child. She is still a child.
“I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. “The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We’ve thirty cakes to bake.”
It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.”
The hat is found, a straw cartwheel corsaged with velvet roses out-of-doors has faded: it once belonged to a more fashionable relative. Together, we guide our buggy, a dilapidated baby carriage, out to the garden and into a grove of pecan trees. The buggy is mine; that is, it was bought for me when I was born. It is made of wicker, rather unraveled, and the wheels wobble like a drunkard’s legs. But it is a faithful object; springtimes, we take it to the woods and fill it with flowers, herbs, wild fern for our porch pots; in the summer, we pile it with picnic paraphernalia and sugar-cane fishing poles and roll it down to the edge of a creek; it has its winter uses, too: as a truck for hauling firewood from the yard to the kitchen, as a warm bed for Queenie, our tough little orange and white rat terrier who has survived distemper and two rattlesnake bites. Queenie is trotting beside it now.
Three hours later we are back in the kitchen hulling a heaping buggyload of windfall pecans. Our backs hurt from gathering them: how hard they were to find (the main crop having been shaken off the trees and sold by the orchard’s owners, who are not us) among the concealing leaves, the frosted, deceiving grass. Caarackle! A cheery crunch, scraps of miniature thunder sound as the shells collapse and the golden mound of sweet oily ivory meat mounts in the milk-glass bowl. Queenie begs to taste, and now and again my friend sneaks her a mite, though insisting we deprive ourselves. “We mustn’t, Buddy. If we start, we won’t stop. And there’s scarcely enough as there is. For thirty cakes.” The kitchen is growing dark. Dusk turns the window into a mirror: our reflections mingle with the rising moon as we work by the fireside in the firelight. At last, when the moon is quite high, we toss the final hull into the fire and, with joined sighs, watch it catch flame. The buggy is empty, the bowl is brimful.
We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pine-apple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we’ll need a pony to pull the buggy home.
But before these Purchases can be made, there is the question of money. Neither of us has any. Except for skin-flint sums persons in the house occasionally provide (a dime is considered very big money); or what we earn ourselves from various activities: holding rummage sales, selling buckets of hand-picked blackberries, jars of home-made jam and apple jelly and peach preserves, rounding up flowers for funerals and weddings. Once we won seventy-ninth prize, five dollars, in a national football contest. Not that we know a fool thing about football. It’s just that we enter any contest we hear about: at the moment our hopes are centered on the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize being offered to name a new brand of coffee (we suggested “A.M.”; and, after some hesitation, for my friend thought it perhaps sacrilegious, the slogan “A.M.! Amen!”). To tell the truth, our only really profitable enterprise was the Fun and Freak Museum we conducted in a back-yard woodshed two summers ago. The Fun was a stereopticon with slide views of Washington and New York lent us by a relative who had been to those places (she was furious when she discovered why we’d borrowed it); the Freak was a three-legged biddy chicken hatched by one of our own hens. Every body hereabouts wanted to see that biddy: we charged grown ups a nickel, kids two cents. And took in a good twenty dollars before the museum shut down due to the decease of the main attraction.
But one way and another we do each year accumulate Christmas savings, a Fruitcake Fund. These moneys we keep hidden in an ancient bead purse under a loose board under the floor under a chamber pot under my friend’s bed. The purse is seldom removed from this safe location except to make a deposit or, as happens every Saturday, a withdrawal; for on Saturdays I am allowed ten cents to go to the picture show. My friend has never been to a picture show, nor does she intend to: “I’d rather hear you tell the story, Buddy. That way I can imagine it more. Besides, a person my age shouldn’t squander their eyes. When the Lord comes, let me see him clear.” In addition to never having seen a movie, she has never: eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry. Here are a few things she has done, does do: killed with a hoe the biggest rattlesnake ever seen in this county (sixteen rattles), dip snuff (secretly), tame hummingbirds (just try it) till they balance on her finger, tell ghost stories (we both believe in ghosts) so tingling they chill you in July, talk to herself, take walks in the rain, grow the prettiest japonicas in town, know the recipe for every sort of oldtime Indian cure, including a magical wart remover.
Now, with supper finished, we retire to the room in a faraway part of the house where my friend sleeps in a scrap-quilt-covered iron bed painted rose pink, her favorite color. Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man’s eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. But mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies. Last summer others in the house contracted to pay us a penny for every twenty-five flies we killed. Oh, the carnage of August: the flies that flew to heaven! Yet it was not work in which we took pride. And, as we sit counting pennies, it is as though we were back tabulating dead flies. Neither of us has a head for figures; we count slowly, lose track, start again. According to her calculations, we have $12.73. According to mine, exactly $13. “I do hope you’re wrong, Buddy. We can’t mess around with thirteen. The cakes will fall. Or put somebody in the cemetery. Why, I wouldn’t dream of getting out of bed on the thirteenth.” This is true: she always spends thirteenths in bed. So, to be on the safe side, we subtract a penny and toss it out the window.
Of the ingredients that go into our fruitcakes, whiskey is the most expensive, as well as the hardest to obtain: State laws forbid its sale. But everybody knows you can buy a bottle from Mr. Haha Jones. And the next day, having completed our more prosaic shopping, we set out for Mr. Haha’s business address, a “sinful” (to quote public opinion) fish-fry and dancing cafe down by the river. We’ve been there before, and on the same errand; but in previous years our dealings have been with Haha’s wife, an iodine-dark Indian woman with brassy peroxided hair and a dead-tired disposition. Actually, we’ve never laid eyes on her husband, though we’ve heard that he’s an Indian too. A giant with razor scars across his cheeks. They call him Haha because he’s so gloomy, a man who never laughs. As we approach his cafe (a large log cabin festooned inside and out with chains of garish-gay naked light bulbs and standing by the river’s muddy edge under the shade of river trees where moss drifts through the branches like gray mist) our steps slow down. Even Queenie stops prancing and sticks close by. People have been murdered in Haha’s cafe. Cut to pieces. Hit on the head. There’s a case coming up in court next month. Naturally these goings-on happen at night when the colored lights cast crazy patterns and the Victrolah wails. In the daytime Haha’s is shabby and deserted. I knock at the door, Queenie barks, my friend calls: “Mrs. Haha, ma’am? Anyone to home?”
Footsteps. The door opens. Our hearts overturn. It’s Mr. Haha Jones himself! And he is a giant; he does have scars; he doesn’tsmile. No, he glowers at us through Satan-tilted eyes and demands to know: “What you want with Haha?”
For a moment we are too paralyzed to tell. Presently my friend half-finds her voice, a whispery voice at best: “If you please, Mr. Haha, we’d like a quart of your finest whiskey.”
His eyes tilt more. Would you believe it? Haha is smiling! Laughing, too. “Which one of you is a drinkin’ man?”
“It’s for making fruitcakes, Mr. Haha. Cooking. “
This sobers him. He frowns. “That’s no way to waste good whiskey.” Nevertheless, he retreats into the shadowed cafe and seconds later appears carrying a bottle of daisy-yellow unlabeled liquor. He demonstrates its sparkle in the sunlight and says: “Two dollars.”
We pay him with nickels and dimes and pennies. Suddenly, as he jangles the coins in his hand like a fistful of dice, his face softens. “Tell you what,” he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse, “just send me one of them fruitcakes instead.”
“Well,” my friend remarks on our way home, “there’s a lovely man. We’ll put an extra cup of raisins in his cake.”
The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves.
Who are they for?
Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o’clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we’ve ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone exceptstrangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you’s on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder’s penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.
Now a nude December fig branch grates against the window. The kitchen is empty, the cakes are gone; yesterday we carted the last of them to the post office, where the cost of stamps turned our purse inside out. We’re broke. That rather depresses me, but my friend insists on celebrating—with two inches of whiskey left in Haha’s bottle. Queenie has a spoonful in a bowl of coffee (she likes her coffee chicory-flavored and strong). The rest we divide between a pair of jelly glasses. We’re both quite awed at the prospect of drinking straight whiskey; the taste of it brings screwedup expressions and sour shudders. But by and by we begin to sing, the two of us singing different songs simultaneously. I don’t know the words to mine, just: Come on along, come on along, to the dark-town strutters’ ball. But I can dance: that’s what I mean to be, a tap dancer in the movies. My dancing shadow rollicks on the walls; our voices rock the chinaware; we giggle: as if unseen hands were tickling us. Queenie rolls on her back, her paws plow the air, something like a grin stretches her black lips. Inside myself, I feel warm and sparky as those crumbling logs, carefree as the wind in the chimney. My friend waltzes round the stove, the hem of her poor calico skirt pinched between her fingers as though it were a party dress: Show me the way to go home, she sings, her tennis shoes squeaking on the floor. Show me the way to go home.
Enter: two relatives. Very angry. Potent with eyes that scold, tongues that scald. Listen to what they have to say, the words tumbling together into a wrathful tune: “A child of seven! whiskey on his breath! are you out of your mind? feeding a child of seven! must be loony! road to ruination! remember Cousin Kate? Uncle Charlie? Uncle Charlie’s brother-inlaw? shame! scandal! humiliation! kneel, pray, beg the Lord!”
Queenie sneaks under the stove. My friend gazes at her shoes, her chin quivers, she lifts her skirt and blows her nose and runs to her room. Long after the town has gone to sleep and the house is silent except for the chimings of clocks and the sputter of fading fires, she is weeping into a pillow already as wet as a widow’s handkerchief.
“Don’t cry,” I say, sitting at the bottom of her bed and shivering despite my flannel nightgown that smells of last winter’s cough syrup, “Don’t cry,” I beg, teasing her toes, tickling her feet, “you’re too old for that.”
“It’s because,” she hiccups, “I am too old. Old and funny.”
“Not funny. Fun. More fun than anybody. Listen. If you don’t stop crying you’ll be so tired tomorrow we can’t go cut a tree.”
She straightens up. Queenie jumps on the bed (where Queenie is not allowed) to lick her cheeks. “I know where we’ll find real pretty trees, Buddy. And holly, too. With berries big as your eyes. It’s way off in the woods. Farther than we’ve ever been. Papa used to bring us Christmas trees from there: carry them on his shoulder. That’s fifty years ago. Well, now: I can’t wait for morning.”
Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods. A wild turkey calls. A renegade hog grunts in the undergrowth. Soon, by the edge of knee-deep, rapid-running water, we have to abandon the buggy. Queenie wades the stream first, paddles across barking complaints at the swiftness of the current, the pneumonia-making coldness of it. We follow, holding our shoes and equipment (a hatchet, a burlap sack) above our heads. A mile more: of chastising thorns, burrs and briers that catch at our clothes; of rusty pine needles brilliant with gaudy fungus and molted feathers. Here, there, a flash, a flutter, an ecstasy of shrillings remind us that not all the birds have flown south. Always, the path unwinds through lemony sun pools and pitchblack vine tunnels. Another creek to cross: a disturbed armada of speckled trout froths the water round us, and frogs the size of plates practice belly flops; beaver workmen are building a dam. On the farther shore, Queenie shakes herself and trembles. My friend shivers, too: not with cold but enthusiasm. One of her hat’s ragged roses sheds a petal as she lifts her head and inhales the pine-heavy air. “We’re almost there; can you smell it, Buddy'” she says, as though we were approaching an ocean.
And, indeed, it is a kind of ocean. Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. “It should be,” muses my friend, “twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can’t steal the star.” The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree’s virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on. Many compliments accompany our sunset return along the red clay road to town; but my friend is sly and noncommittal when passers-by praise the treasure perched in our buggy: what a fine tree, and where did it come from? “Yonderways,” she murmurs vaguely. Once a car stops, and the rich mill owner’s lazy wife leans out and whines: “Giveya two-bits” cash for that ol tree.” Ordinarily my friend is afraid of saying no; but on this occasion she promptly shakes her head: “We wouldn’t take a dollar.” The mill owner’s wife persists. “A dollar, my foot! Fifty cents. That’s my last offer. Goodness, woman, you can get another one.” In answer, my friend gently reflects: “I doubt it. There’s never two of anything.”
Home: Queenie slumps by the fire and sleeps till tomorrow, snoring loud as a human.

A trunk in the attic contains: a shoebox of ermine tails (off the opera cape of a curious lady who once rented a room in the house), coils of frazzled tinsel gone gold with age, one silver star, a brief rope of dilapidated, undoubtedly dangerous candylike light bulbs. Excellent decorations, as far as they go, which isn’t far enough: my friend wants our tree to blaze “like a Baptist window,” droop with weighty snows of ornament. But we can’t afford the made-in-Japan splendors at the five-and-dime. So we do what we’ve always done: sit for days at the kitchen table with scissors and crayons and stacks of colored paper. I make sketches and my friend cuts them out: lots of cats, fish too (because they’re easy to draw), some apples, some watermelons, a few winged angels devised from saved-up sheets of Hershey bar tin foil. We use safety pins to attach these creations to the tree; as a final touch, we sprinkle the branches with shredded cotton (picked in August for this purpose). My friend, surveying the effect, clasps her hands together. “Now honest, Buddy. Doesn’t it look good enough to eat!” Queenie tries to eat an angel.

After weaving and ribboning holly wreaths for all the front windows, our next project is the fashioning of family gifts. Tie-dye scarves for the ladies, for the men a homebrewed lemon and licorice and aspirin syrup to be taken “at the first Symptoms of a Cold and after Hunting.” But when it comes time for making each other’s gift, my friend and I separate to work secretly. I would like to buy her a pearl-handled knife, a radio, a whole pound of chocolate-covered cherries (we tasted some once, and she always swears: “1 could live on them, Buddy, Lord yes I could—and that’s not taking his name in vain”). Instead, I am building her a kite. She would like to give me a bicycle (she’s said so on several million occasions: “If only I could, Buddy. It’s bad enough in life to do without something you want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want them to have. Only one of these days I will, Buddy. Locate you a bike. Don’t ask how. Steal it, maybe”). Instead, I’m fairly certain that she is building me a kite—the same as last year and the year before: the year before that we exchanged slingshots. All of which is fine by me. For we are champion kite fliers who study the wind like sailors; my friend, more accomplished than I, can get a kite aloft when there isn’t enough breeze to carry clouds.
Christmas Eve afternoon we scrape together a nickel and go to the butcher’s to buy Queenie’s traditional gift, a good gnawable beef bone. The bone, wrapped in funny paper, is placed high in the tree near the silver star. Queenie knows it’s there. She squats at the foot of the tree staring up in a trance of greed: when bedtime arrives she refuses to budge. Her excitement is equaled by my own. I kick the covers and turn my pillow as though it were a scorching summer’s night. Somewhere a rooster crows: falsely, for the sun is still on the other side of the world.
“Buddy, are you awake!” It is my friend, calling from her room, which is next to mine; and an instant later she is sitting on my bed holding a candle. “Well, I can’t sleep a hoot,” she declares. “My mind’s jumping like a jack rabbit. Buddy, do you think Mrs. Roosevelt will serve our cake at dinner?” We huddle in the bed, and she squeezes my hand I-love-you. “Seems like your hand used to be so much smaller. I guess I hate to see you grow up. When you’re grown up, will we still be friends?” I say always. “But I feel so bad, Buddy. I wanted so bad to give you a bike. I tried to sell my cameo Papa gave me. Buddy”—she hesitates, as though embarrassed—”I made you another kite.” Then I confess that I made her one, too; and we laugh. The candle burns too short to hold. Out it goes, exposing the starlight, the stars spinning at the window like a visible caroling that slowly, slowly daybreak silences. Possibly we doze; but the beginnings of dawn splash us like cold water: we’re up, wide-eyed and wandering while we wait for others to waken. Quite deliberately my friend drops a kettle on the kitchen floor. I tap-dance in front of closed doors. One by one the household emerges, looking as though they’d like to kill us both; but it’s Christmas, so they can’t. First, a gorgeous breakfast: just everything you can imagine—from flapjacks and fried squirrel to hominy grits and honey-in-the-comb. Which puts everyone in a good humor except my friend and me. Frankly, we’re so impatient to get at the presents we can’t eat a mouthful.
Well, I’m disappointed. Who wouldn’t be? With socks, a Sunday school shirt, some handkerchiefs, a hand-me-down sweater, and a year’s subscription to a religious magazine for children. The Little Shepherd. It makes me boil. It really does.
My friend has a better haul. A sack of Satsumas, that’s her best present. She is proudest, however, of a white wool shawl knitted by her married sister. But she says her favorite gift is the kite I built her. And it is very beautiful; though not as beautiful as the one she made me, which is blue and scattered with gold and green Good Conduct stars; moreover, my name is painted on it, “Buddy.”
“Buddy, the wind is blowing.”
The wind is blowing, and nothing will do till we’ve run to a Pasture below the house where Queenie has scooted to bury her bone (and where, a winter hence, Queenie will be buried, too). There, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind. Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel Satsumas and watch our kites cavort. Soon I forget the socks and hand-me-down sweater. I’m as happy as if we’d already won the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize in that coffee-naming contest.
“My, how foolish I am!” my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’11 wager it never happens. I’11 wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are”—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone—”just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”

This is our last Christmas together.

Life separates us. Those who Know Best decide that I belong in a military school. And so follows a miserable succession of bugle-blowing prisons, grim reveille-ridden summer camps. I have a new home too. But it doesn’t count. Home is where my friend is, and there I never go.
And there she remains, puttering around the kitchen. Alone with Queenie. Then alone. (“Buddy dear,” she writes in her wild hard-to-read script, “yesterday Jim Macy’s horse kicked Queenie bad. Be thankful she didn’t feel much. I wrapped her in a Fine Linen sheet and rode her in the buggy down to Simpson’s pasture where she can be with all her Bones….”). For a few Novembers she continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but some: and, of course, she always sends me “the best of the batch.” Also, in every letter she encloses a dime wadded in toilet paper: “See a picture show and write me the story.” But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the Buddy who died in the 1880’s; more and more, thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather! “
And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.

It Doesn’t Really Feel Like Christmas At All

I have never been one to be a Scrooge for Christmas, or have an attitude that was against the true meaning of the season.  It was always a time of year for me of excitement and spending time with family.  After Christmas was over, I would look forward to my Birthday and the opportunity to get a 2nd batch of presents from my loved ones.  All within 2 weeks! What kid wouldn’t be happy? And I always was.

But for the past two years, things have not been the same.  In March of 2010 my grandfather John Carl Hendrix, known to me as Papa, passed away from kidney failure in his home in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
John Carl Hendrix, PapaEven in this picture as you look into his eyes you can see the kindness of his heart.  He was more than a grandfather to me, he was a 2nd father, and someone that taught me how to love, laugh, and serve those around me.  It was him who made the season of Christmas so special to me.

I still have a distant memory of when I was around 4 years old. It was a time in my life where I was being treated for Rabdomyo Sarcoma, which is a soft tissue cancer that I had on the left side of my neck.  It was not an easy time for my family, and I don’t remember a lot of the trials, and struggles that my family was going through, but I know they wanted to make my Christmas something to remember.

We were living in Provo at an apartment complex where i shared a bunk bed with my younger brother Christian.  We had just come back from Papa’s house where each year we would go to have a Christmas Eve party with all of our family, and at the end we would open presents that Papa had gotten us.  We would all be sitting around the tree that was so full of presents it would fill half of the living room to have all of these gifts for us grandkids.  It was magical and something I looked forward to every year.

Like I had said we had just gotten home, and were very riled up and couldn’t wait for Santa to come and give us his gifts, as we had been good boys and wanted the next day to come.  As we were shifting and rolling in our beds we heard some bells jingling outside of our window.  We suddenly went quiet and didn’t move a muscle as the noise got louder and louder.  Suddenly there was a knock on our window and a voice that said “Ho Ho Ho! Is Jordan, Christian, and Ryan asleep!?” We were flabbergasted! Santa had come to our house and knew our names! It wasn’t until years later when I was around 16 that I found out that it was Papa who had taken the extra time to come to our apartment and make that year that much more special.

As the years progressed I started to care less and less about the presents I got each year and just appreciated more and more the time I got to spend with Papa. He let me travel with him to Alabama when I was in 5th Grade to go learn more about our family history, and to be able to learn more from him.
Papa and MeYes, we drove in this Ryder truck from Utah all the way to Alabama.  Along the way he took the extra time to show me some of places that he felt were important for me to see, and to really learn more about our country.  We went to St. Louis, Nauvoo, Independence Missouri, Hannibal Missouri, and more.  It was at these places I learned to appreciate my pioneer heritage, Tom Sawyer and the author that created him, and also the respect and knowledge of our ancestors. We took this Ryder truck because there were headstones in the back that Papa had made for some of our ancestors in Colorado, Kansas, and Alabama that didn’t have a proper headstone to mark their grave site.  I got to explore graveyards and learn more about how markers are made, and why we have them there.

I always will be forever grateful for that priceless time that I got to spend with him on those trips.  There were a few times we flew out, but when we drove I appreciated them more, as I got to see the country and spend more time with my Papa.  It was after these trips as I grew older that he started calling me one of his sons. I was more than just a grandson.

As each Christmas came as I went through my teen years, I couldn’t wait to see what Papa had planned for us for our annual Christmas Eve party.  We had our normal traditions of a White Elephant gift exchange, a Pinata, and a dinner, and he would always ask for me and my brothers to come over and help set up.  It taught me to appreciate the time and effort it took to get a party together, and what was needed inorder for it to be successful.  He enjoyed the work, he always enjoyed the work, and then watching the rewards of his work by giving to others.  There was no other man that I knew that gave so much.  I always remember him sitting in a chair just enjoying the moments of us getting strange white elephant gifts of spam or a back scratcher, and then seeing who would break the pinata, and then the finale of us opening the gifts we had asked for from him that year.

I still feel ashamed that one year I had been ungrateful because he had gotten some megablocks to my brothers and hadn’t gotten them for me because I hadn’t asked for them.  But I had wanted them (this was back when i was 8).  I was angry and didn’t have a happy face or acted that good for the rest of the night.  I didn’t even tell Papa thank you for the gifts he had given me.  I finally had apologized to him a few months later when I had the guts to tell him, but to this day I feel ashamed that I wasn’t as appreciative as I should have been.

Papa worked hard and he always gave to others before himself.  Whenever there was a need for help he was first to volunteer.  He showed me that giving was so much more meaningful and rewarding than receiving.  Others needs were a lot of the time more important than his. And I wanted to be like that.

After Papa had retired from the Forest Service after working there since he was 18 years old, his health started to drop dramatically.  He had had heart problems, and some back problems in the past, but now it was focused more on his kidneys.  He lost a lot of weight, had no energy, and started to become so frail and weak it was hard to see.  He still kept his spirits up though, and continued the tradition of having Christmas Eve at his house.  He worked so hard for all of us, and I know it wasn’t easy for him at all.  It brings tears to my eyes to remember the pain he suffered through to make Christmas still magical for all of us, and to understand what it meant. I know it wasn’t easy and I remember wishing I could take that pain away.  That was all I wanted for Christmas that year.  That was in 2009.

I had recently come home from my mission, and while i was there Papa had kept his promise of writing me every week, and always helped me with my investigators, and understanding of the gospel as I continued to learn myself. He also kept me posted on his health and how things were always up or down.  It was hard when I had to come home early from my mission because of medical things I was facing myself, but I know there was a reason that I did.  It was so I could be there to spend time with Papa before his final days on this earth.

Near the end he had decided to stop dialysis and to stop the pain, and it was then that we all started to say our goodbyes.  He was in and out of consciousness through these last few days, and there was a time that I had was able to stay my final goodbye to him.  I told him that I loved him, and that I always wanted to be like him.  That he taught me to be the man that I am, and I would never forget his laugh, his smile, or his attitude of giving to others.  I was holding his frail hand as I spoke to him and I had told him I needed to go. His eyes were closed and I didn’t know at all if he had heard me and as I got up his grip on my hand got stronger, and his kind eyes opened and he said “no” to me, as he didn’t want me to leave yet.  He looked at me, with the look of longing, that he didn’t want to leave me, and asked me to stay.  I did, and it was in the next day or so that he ultimately left this earth and was no longer in pain.

I didn’t cry then, or cry as his body was taken by the mortuary, or when I had dressed him for burial, or spent time at his viewing.  It wasn’t until I started to speak at his funeral, after we sang Smokey the Bear’s song that the tears started to flow.  The realization that my Papa was gone, and had left to the other side actually hit home.

No more Christmas Eve’s at his house, no more Brithday dinners with just me and him to spend time together, to laugh, talk about anything I wanted to talk about, and him giving me the love and attention that only he could give.  I got through my talk, and we took him to his final resting place and it all was over. For the rest of the year it didn’t seem real, it just felt like Papa was gone on a wildfire, like he was most every summer.  That he was busy with work, his scouting, or working on his yard that he took so much pride in.  It was that year at Christmas Eve, when the thoughts and memories of the traditions I had grew up with started to help me look forward to the chance of going to Papa’s house that it really hit home.  It wasn’t ever going to be the same.  That spirit had left me, because Papa wasn’t there. The man who when I was 4 played Santa to some excited little boys in their small Apartment in Provo had left us. My hero, who showed me what the true meaning of Christmas was, and how giving really made you feel special was on to the next life.  I missed him more than words could express, and it was hard to keep that spirit of Christmas alive in my heart.

It still is hard after 3 Christmas’ of him being gone.  I know it is vain of me to shout “Ba humbug!” at this time of year, but it is a process that is going to take a few years for me to finally find that magic again.  I still miss you Papa, I keep trying to be the man that you were. I hope that someday I can live up to your legacy.  I promise to bring the traditions that you had instilled in me to my family one day.  Christmas wasn’t the same this year and I wish with all my heart I could see you again, and huge you and hear your laugh.  Merry Christmas Papa, and I love you.

– Jordie