Monday, December 16, 2013

What Christmas Means to Me

What Christmas Means to Me

First things first, my age.  I am sixty-nine years of age and will soon be seventy.  That means that the meaning of Christmas has evolved and changed for me over the years and over my lifetime.  I was raised in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and the first Christmas seasons I remember occurred after we moved to 543 Prudom, a mere block from Union Grade School where I attended for six years.  We had lived near the cemetery in a very small house, then on Gerard Street, and I have memories of those houses, but not of Christmas in them.  Perhaps I was seven for the first Christmas that I remember.

I was a boy and so my wishes for Christmas were for toys, trucks, cars, erector sets, chemistry sets, a Daisy BB rifle, sometimes football or baseball equipment, all those things of boyhood.  I usually got all of those type of things I asked for.  Most of my friends got what they asked for as well.  Does that mean we were affluent?  No; most of us were kids born near the end of World War II, children of children of the Great Depression and our parents had been shaped by both.  After the war, the world was changing and the American economy was providing a living for our parents, but not much more.  Our parents drove Fords and Chevrolets, often purchased as used cars, struggled every month to meet the costs of food and rent and worked long, hard hours.  For whatever reason, most of them wanted us to have a good Christmas, even if they could not provide much more than that.

My mother was a single mother although my grandmother lived with us and helped in many ways.  My grandmother didn't work so she was available for the routine of the households.  My grandmother was a fantastic cook, my mother could not cook.  But my mother went to work every day, often with miserable hours, to provide us our basic needs.  To my knowledge, we were never on any kind of state aid but we did have some family members around us who chipped in a few times when money was scarce.  As I've gotten older I have heard more stories from a few people who said that they helped us when we did not have money to buy food, but all of that was when we lived by the cemetery in a small house known as Labell's.  I think a family named Labell owned it and rented it out because I have never met anyone of my generation who did not know about the little Labell house.  I do not know how the name Labell was spelled so I am using my best guess.  I remember the house some, perhaps in part because it stood for many years and I could ride or drive by and get a mental picture.  I was never in it again once we moved but I know it was very small, perhaps a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath.  It was what I came to know as a shotgun house.  A shotgun house got the sobriquet from the idea that you could fire a shotgun at the front door and the shot would pass all the way through from front to back without striking anything else.  I'll skip our living at Gerard Street and go to 543 Prudom.

I don't remember a single Christmas but perhaps several blended together but I remember something about one in particular.  It was very cold, damp but not snowing, and my mother Bettie Payne, worked at the telephone office as a telephone operator.  She may have been about thirty years old then, give or take a year.  She was young and junior so she drew the very worst shifts and the worst shift was known as the split shift.  The operator would go in, work four hours, have four hours off and then return for the second portion of the shift to get in her eight hours.  We had a large Christmas tree set up by the one big window of the house, so it could be seen from outside, in detail if you were standing on our front porch.  If you were just walking by, you could see it well enough to know that it was a well appointed Christmas tree with strings of lights and an angel atop.  My favorite lights were what I called bubble lights.  There was a round base with a bit of a flying saucer shape to it, then a long tube that rose above the base.  After they warmed up a bit, bubbles seem to flow through the top and give the light an eerie, yet magic effect.  I would look at them for long periods of time.  The remaining light strings were the standard small bulbs in multiple colors of red, green, blue, yellow.  My grandmother, known as Louise Lessert, had been very good with me all day and it was Christmas Eve so you can imagine my excitement, being then seven or eight years old, as I waited for my mother to come home with the promise that I could open a few of the packages under the tree with my name on them.  My name then was "Stevie" for Christmas and birthday purposes, and probably most of my friends called me that then too.  I had set aside a couple that appeared to be something I wanted.  All I remember is the excitement of waiting for my mother to come home.  We had no television then, only a large Philco radio and a record player so however I passed the evening had to be listening to the radio or reading.  I don't think I had been outside playing, due to the cold and the darkness.  I remember her coming home and in the door.  She had a large yellow coat that she liked to wear and she had walked home from work, as she always did, since we had no car then.  It is funny to me that today, I remember her walking in the door, the cold of outside lingering on her coat as I greeted her, whatever my greeting was, whatever my shouts of joy to see her.  I thought it was about opening my presents but it was really about seeing her that night for whatever I did made her seem happier than I had ever see her before in my life.  I opened two, possibly three presents, no more, and though I must have loved them, I do not remember what they were.  But I remember her coming in, cold, yellow coat, frozen, the cold air lingering on her coat and her smile in spite of the misery of the cold that night.  She kept the coat on for a while, until she warmed.  That was the happiest Christmas of my life and I only learned why in 1992.

Bettie Brave, her name after she had married my stepfather Art Brave, in 1961, was in a nursing home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1992, and the local newspaper had interviewed some residents, my mother being one of them.  I did not see the story but several of my coworkers did and talked to me about it.  The paper asked: What did Christmas mean to you?  My mother told the story of this Christmas eve, wanting to come home, share Christmas with her son, feel the joy of watching him open a few presents and celebrate Christmas.  She talked about her joy and happiness in it.  The reporter asked why it was so special and my mother said, "Well, when I was a little girl, growing up in Oklahoma City, we did not celebrate Christmas and I always wanted to feel it the way other kids did."  There was a pause and then Jane, my friend asked me, "Why did they not celebrate Christmas Stephen?"  The answer lay long buried in me, I knew it but I had never voiced it and I said, casually, as though she had asked me how I felt and I had replied, fine.  "Because they were Jewish."  Then I understood why that Christmas was so important to her, and to me.  It was not my first Christmas, it was not her first Christmas, but it was her first Christmas when the girl who still lived inside of her could have a Christmas like her friends had when she was my age then.  It was the Christmas I felt something more than just gifts for me, food, friends and Santa Claus.

There have been many Christmas since then, many very good, some not so good, and I remember things from them, especially my own family and the year we got my son Stephen William Payne (1967-2003) a small dog named Sam.  Christmas Eve, I had to enter the hospital when my left leg failed and I was in over a week.  Sam opened the Christmas presents and destroyed a good number of them while my four year old son watched on in laughter.  The young baby sitter watched television and talked with her boyfriend while Connie sat by my side at the hospital waiting test results.  I hated missing that Christmas Eve at home with him but the puppy was his real Christmas present so everything worked out right.

What does Christmas mean to me?  Memories; that more than anything.  I remember my mother in her yellow coat with her joy on that frozen night sixty years ago.  I remember my friend and neighbor Bobby Hughes coming over one Christmas to bring me his gift and pick up his.  He was so funny with his flat top haircut and cute little jacket with a bow tie.  His sister Kay probably tied it for him.  He stayed long, we visited, told jokes, had great fun, and the memory is here today though Bobby has been gone from us twenty years.  Every Christmas I see him again that day.  He ate fudge, divinity, cookies, everything offered him, as though he had not eaten at home.  I did not like hard candy and I always gave him mine.  That Christmas may have been 1955 and we spent a lot of time together as kids.  We were both friends and enemies, for all our time in school.

I am not good at giving and then keeping my mouth shut about it.  I gave my waitress $50 in cash last week, I gave the girl who filled in for her $50 cash too, not tips, just gifts.  I gave my waitress in Owasso a gift card for $50 for her son, for I learned she, like my mother was, is a single mother.  I told her that my son died ten years ago and I can no longer give Christmas to him so I wanted her son to have something.  It's not about the money, it's about the memories.  This isn't much, but it's unexpected, from an acquaintance, not a family member, and it will give someone else a memory, a good one I hope, one like I have of my mother and her Christmas that I gave her without knowing that I was doing it.

What does Christmas mean to me?  Giving, much more than getting.  I love the season, although sometimes I become very depressed during it, perhaps because I still expect too much from it.  I love those moments of giving when I don't have to and giving a memory, a moment to someone else.  Those make my Christmas, make me feel good about the moment; not about myself, mind you, but about the joy someone else has, if for only a moment.

I have to tell a story I only just learned.  As I said, I am from Pawhuska, Oklahoma and I went to Union
Grade School.  While I was there, I had two friends who were brothers, fraternal twins, and I was close friends with them for several years.  They also had a younger brother and since he fell in with us, I was friends with him too; we are even better friends today.  One Christmas, probably 1952, their mother who worked at the tent factory in Pawhuska was buying a bicycle, one bicycle for the two boys to share.  She was a single mother with four children, a low paying job and difficult times.  Each week, she went down to the Oklahoma Tire and Supply Store (OTASCO) and paid down on the bicycle.  As Christmas was approaching, she asked the manager if he would let her go ahead and take the bicycle and finish paying it off. He agreed and she had the bicycle for the twins.  Then, as often happens, the tent factory closed and this struggling, caring, single mother was out of a job.  She had to pay rent, get food, clothes, school expenses, and she missed payments on the bicycle.  One day, the man drove up to their apartment in his pickup truck, stopped and took the bicycle from the boys.  My friend told me that he watched as his two older brothers resisted crying out, "No, Santa Claus brought us that bike!"  He took the bike back to the store.  My friend said, "That's what Christmas meant to me."  He's a good man and I love him so I hope it has gotten better for him.

My memories, fortunately, of Christmas are better than his, at least of that time.  What Christmas means to me is memories, my own, and those I hope I help create for others when I do something to help me feel better about life.  I kid my friend who is a Santa Claus every year.  I ask him, "Where's my pony?"  He tells me I have been bad again and I'm always grateful for that.  Being a little bad is part of having fun.  This year, before I turn seventy, I'm finally getting my pony.  I bought it myself, a Melissa and Doug stuffed pony, so I can show my Santa friend, but I can't keep it here, so I'll be sending it on to the Fink Ranch in Tennessee where I know my pony will be well cared for and enjoy its days, perhaps giving some little girl memories, maybe her mother and father for now.

My son was a musician, guitar picker extraordinaire, singer and songwriter.  For Christmas, as for his birthday, I place guitar picks on his gravestone in Pawhuska Cemetery with the hope that people will take them, that in some way it keeps his memory alive and the pick brings them luck or joy.  If they stop to see his name there, the guitar on the stone, maybe it keeps his name and memory alive.  He was a good kid, gone to soon.  He wasn't perfect but he was my son and I loved him.

Do memories light the corners of our minds?  If they do, then we should put them out for others to see for memories should light the spirit of the world, with light, brilliant light of all colors, with the red, green and blue of Christmas and mostly the light and color of love, especially memories of Christmas.

Stevie Joe "Red Boots" Payne

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Saying Farewell to a Friend

I write this blog, PayneStakings, and I also write Pawhuska Trails.  In Pawhuska Trails I try to write about Pawhuska and I vary in what I write.  But within Pawhuska Trails I state that in PayneStakings I undertake a more personal writing.  I wrote about David Meriable earlier today in Pawhuska Trails and as I read it again, I wondered, was it too personal?  It had the touch of melancholy you might expect when writing about losing a friend but, it also had our history of friendship and some nonsense about mischief.  I tried to make it about David.  This is about me, or my feelings I should say.

I had met David's children long ago when they were little but tonight, at the funeral home in Tulsa, was the first time I had seen them since then.  As I walked in I was greeted by David's daughter Dawn who recognized me from photographs.  I actually thought my Red Boots were the give away but she said no, that it was from other things.  An old friend, Francis, was sitting nearby, obvious that she had been crying.  We exchanged greetings and I spoke to a few others and then I moved closer to the open casket.  As I did, strong feelings rose in me and I said aloud, "This is hard but I have to do it."  I removed my hat, a Pat Garrett, and moved closer.  A young man asked, "What is hard?"  I replied, "Saying goodbye to David."  God it was harder than I thought.

I stood for a moment in silence and I looked at David, lying before me and tears began to flow from my eyes.  My lips trembled and I'm glad no one asked me anything or made me talk.  I needed a moment alone, in the room with people there, and by not turning around and facing them, I took it.  I was so focused on David that I was not understanding words behind me.  I was hearing the voices, yes, but not grasping what they said.  I did not want to turn around, just yet.  I wasn't the only man who cried, but there is still that old thing in me that says we are not supposed to cry, that crying is reserved for women.  But I cry at some things.

I'm older and tougher now, yet what is the tender side of me is more tender now. I've always had a problem with movies about dogs, cats and horses.  I can't stand to see them hurt, abandoned or killed, even though it's only a movie.  If I watch "Hondo," I'm fine until the scene where Hondo's dog is killed.  I don't cry but I feel such sadness inside and it hurts the movie for me.  Friends have told me what a great movie "The Warhorse" is and I'm sure it is; but I know it must have frightening scenes of animal abuse, injury and death, and I'm afraid that I can' make it through them.  Worse, I fear having nightmares from it.  So, I'll probably never see it.

I've been present at the funerals for many friends and I've even been there when my son Stephen William Payne was laid to rest in Pawhuska, and that, my friends, was the hardest thing I've  ever had to do in my life.  I made it through his death, arranging the funeral, putting up with criticism from friends of Stephen's mother who had no vested interest in our family, the journey from Tyler, Texas to Pawhuska, but closing the lid on my son's casket was just too much for me.  But I was fifty-eight years of age then and maybe I was tougher in that tender side.  David and I both said that we had been to too many funerals together.  I cannot recall all of the names:  Bobbie Hughes, Ray Roberts, Mr. Arnold are among them but there are many more.

But saying good bye to David was hard.  I asked his daughter if the casket would be open tomorrow and when she said no, I walked back for what I knew would be our last moment.  There will be others, yes, that's in my beliefs, but they are down the road, in another place, in another form.  But in this place, here in Oklahoma and on this spinning ball we shared, this is was it; the last chance to say good bye.  I'll say good bye tomorrow, in a public place with many people, but this one was personal.  It was the one I felt most.  And I know I am grieving and others allow me to grieve, in my own way, personal, yet public.

Does it hurt?  Is it painful?  Yes, of course, but its more the deep sadness and sense of loss that I feel.  It's a feeling that I can not put into words, nor can I paint nor photograph it.  It has color but they are somber shades, purples and muddy colors, mixed together in a smeared way that leaves no one color, not a color to love, nor one to hate.  Just a muddy, dark, mixed color, and a cacophony of streaming memories.

And regret.  I hope David knew that I cared for him, that I felt joy to see him again when I did, and warmth when we talked about our boyhood home and we remembered friends.  We talked a little about The Big Indian who left us in 2008.  They were joyful memories but I felt that were tempered by the fact that Jess was no longer here and no matter how much we laughed and how much better the stories got in telling, we always stopped our remembrance with a feeling of sadness.

As I said, this is personal and it's about me.  It's about my feeling of deep sadness right now and how powerful it feels; how small I feel in its presence and how powerless I feel to deal with it. It will lessen, it will get better, but right now, I want to grieve.  Not to feel sorry for myself, but to grieve and those two feelings are different.  We feel sorry for ourselves when we've lost a competition and someone got what we feel we deserved.  When we've lost our girl to the other fellow or some unqualified person got the job we should have.  But this is different; it's not sorry for myself, or even for us.  It's the loss of a friend, of someone I knew and had known a long time.  I calculated it today; fifty-four years.  There was then, of high school and just after, and then now, the present and all the years in recent time we have known each other.  I knew little about years in between.  Yet the connection is there.

I'll be alright, but for now, I want to grieve, I want to miss David, I want to think about him and to miss him.  And if there is a lesson to be learned, I hope I learn it.  I have those friends yet who are so dear to me, and I hope I find the strength in me to tell them, in person, how dear they are to me, how much I value them.  If I just say it one time, at least I'll know that I did not fail to make sure that they knew I cared for them.

But if they read this, by chance, since I'm only posting it and not mailing it or putting it on Facebook, well:
Ronnie, Terry, Cherri, Peggy, Judy, Jackie Sue, I love you and you mean the world to me.

I told you it was personal.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Now I See

Now I See

I have a close friend named Larry Jones whom I met in 1982. We did not hit it off at first, not for any real reason, but just because we have different personalities. Larry is quiet and I tend to talk, even to be boisterous at times. Also, Larry and I have a fundamental difference. He is quite a bit less tall than I am and I am five foot seven inches tall.

Larry and I worked together some as he was located in Elk City, Oklahoma and I was temporarily in Oklahoma working out of Bartlesville but on my way to North Dakota for my permanent location. He was an experienced mud engineer and when I could, I learned from him and his experiences. Over the next year I saw him only at our company meetings and we greeted each other like gentlemen and talked about business but we still had not yet grown into a deep friendship.

One day, about two years later, we were to have a sales meeting at Lake Conroe, Texas. We spent our first day at the airport Double Tree Hotel and the next day departed for the conference and as luck would have it, Larry wound up riding with me, just the two of us in my company car. Larry was in the market for a new car and interested in a Volvo so he asked me to stop at the dealer. Larry said, “Stephen, when he comes out, he will walk over to you, shake your hand, offer his card, ask how you are and all, and he won’t even see me.” I felt bad that Larry saw the world this way but I could think of nothing to say. The young man, good looking, well dressed, smiling, and warm rushed out to meet us. We both got out of the car and the young man bypassed Larry, rushed to my side, shook my hand warmly, asked how I was and offered me his business card. He did not say hello to Larry nor even see him. I said, “Sir, my friend here is the one interested in your cars.” The young man blushed, embarrassed at his blunder, and then he turned to shake hands with Larry, finally realizing his error.  It was not Larry's first experience with this behavior.

For the first time, I had a glimpse of life through a black man’s eyes, a sobering glimpse. I had known black kids, boys and girls, and I had had some acquaintanceship with black people. We called them colored then. I did not have the same depth of friendship with any black kids as I did with my white and even Indian friends and Indian friends included my cousins. I had never had a black friend close enough that I stayed the night with them; I have never asked a black kid to stay the night with me. I did not think I was racist or biased in any way. From the day I saw that happen to Larry, I began to watch my own behavior and that of my friends. I am not nor will I be perfect in this life because, try as I might, I still see color between people. I wish I did not because I want a better world for everyone and I know it won’t arrive until the election of a black woman or man, or just about anyone who is different, is seen as just another election, not an historical one as was John F. Kennedy (The first Catholic), and all the others that have been different.

One day, in a fast food restaurant, I saw a family that had two half-sisters, one a white child, the other a child who was half black and half white. She looked more black than white because her skin was dark and her features were more towards some of the black children I have seen. It was obvious they were sisters and that they loved each other. The grandfather with them loved them both too and that was just as obvious. Since the day of the Volvo, I began to watch what I say. I have told few jokes that involved black people since then, because if I did, my little small voice asked, “Stephen, would you tell that story in front of Larry, in front of Deborah (his wife), in front of Cody (his son)?” The answer was always “no,” and I began to see how I had contributed to the way life was, and is, for black people. I try to make my small contributions now, and they are small, but when someone tells one of these stories, I try to find the courage to speak up in my own gentle way and tell them that what they did was not right and I ask them, “How would you feel if you had a half black child?” I think of the things my grandmother went through when she was called a squaw in a derogatory fashion and when she told me that there were places she was not allowed to go and that some people would not speak with her or sit with her because of her dark skin. Sometimes, in front of my grandmother, I said something stupid about an Indian and I would see her reproachful gaze and I learned to respect my Indian relatives, who were more Indian than I and who got the bulk of any statements from other kids. Jess Tomey, a Pottawatomie Indian, was one of my best friends and we kidded about things such as our differences and he used to joke with me and David Meriable, an Osage Indian, saying, “Payne passed for white when we went into the restaurant.” There was big laughter from Jess and David but I cringed inside because there was a sobering truth that I was both Indian and white and I did, not only pass for white, but get mistaken for white when I wanted to be close to my Indian cousins and friends. My whiteness kept me out of the Indian culture that was my grandmother’s and that I wanted to be a part of. These things work both ways. I learned, that if I have to preface what I am going to tell Larry with, “I hope this doesn’t offend you,” I should not say it because that in itself is offensive and it is beneath me as the person I want to be, that I try to be and sometimes I fail to be. I try to be a better person than I was growing up because I was ignorant of feelings of many others. I met a woman from the civil rights movement, she being then a Black Panther, and she said she hated white people. I was stunned and then she said, “Can you imagine how I felt when I had my first half white grandchild?” She told us she loved that child and all that came later. Again, I saw through a black person’s eyes, this time a woman and one who had been vocal in her disgust for white Americans. How we live is a choice. How we are born is not. I was born with my racial mix, slight as it is. And I can’t change it. It also makes me who I am, just as my friend Larry’s does. Larry told me once that every morning he saw a black face in his mirror. All he meant was that he knows he is a black man and no one needs to tell him or remind him. Sometimes he has spoken against bad behavior of another black man and our managers would respond to him in wide agreement, seeming to say, “You’re one of us Larry. Yeah, right on!” He told me, “I’m not.” He gets treated differently, even in the positive sense because of his color. He is a fine man, filled with character and I’ve seen him help others in so many ways. When my friend Dennis lost his daughter to a horrible car accident, I called Larry and asked if I could stay with him so I could attend the service and help Dennis. “Come on,” he said, “We've got room for you.” I spent three days in their Houston home as a guest. I shared my ship and quarters with black sailors but never in their home. I had the courage to ask and he had the graciousness to offer.  Maybe I don't see, not as much as I believe I do, but at least I begin to see.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Progress on My Project Goal, September 2009

One of the young marines who has passed through the Bartlesville recruiting system, completed basic training, and was briefly on leave before moving on to his next duty station.  I photographed him in several poses, most better than this one, and I gave him five or six 8 1/2 by 11 inch color glossy photographs, suitable for framing.  In my project of giving one hundred marine bibles to the marines, I have so far delivered twenty bibles and need eighty more to complete my first goal.   This particular marine, unaware of my project, had purchased his own marine bible.  
What do I mean by first goal?  I mean that my goal is to give the marines one hundred of the marine bibles; once that goal is accomplished, I'll continue to buy and give them to marines whenever I can.  I just may not have a number of them in mind; or I may set a second goal.  That is something I will see after I reach the first goal.
Staff Sergeant Ocasio told me that he had given one of the bibles to a retired marine, then as he talked more, he defined the marine as a former marine and a friend of his, from his church in Collinsville, Oklahoma.   I asked him if the marine friend had seen the marine bible before and he said no, that he had not.  He said a woman overheard them and told Staff Sergeant Ocasio that her son is a marine, so he gave her a bible to send to her son, stationed in Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Corps Base, California.  It doesn't matter because my goal is to get the marine bibles into the hands of marines, and I know that one marine will tell another, show his bible to others, and some of them will want a bible for themselves, or for a son or daughter, relative or friend.  My goal is just to get marine bibles into the hands of marines; it doesn't matter if they are serving now or have served.  They are still marines.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Purpose Under the Sun

Truth does not wait on us. It comes in its own time, when it is ready, not when we are ready for it. Sometimes it comes with a hard chill. We have just had a season of truths for which we were not ready, as we have lost a number of alumni from Pawhuska High School. This has been difficult for all of us.

In my case, I have been absolutely stunned by some of the deaths that we, as a connected group, have experienced in such a brief time. Long ago, when we were in our classes and divided by years apart, we might have thought of a classmate as only someone in the class of our year and limited it to that. We made the transition from being a single class of sixth graders at Union, Franklin, Lynn, other schools and even Booker T. Washington school to being a larger and mixed class of seventh graders at Pawhuska High School. Still, we were divided by 7-1, 7-2, and 7-3 with our specialties of band, choir, and trades. For the first time, the division was not created by the geographic boundaries of Ninth Street and other boundaries; it was our choice, based upon what we wanted. Still, we thought of a classmate as simply someone in our class.

With the passage of years, the modification of memories, the creation of new memories, and the connections and reconnections that are forged by reunions and chance encounters, our definition of a classmate expands. One day, a classmate is no longer only someone who shared our class year of 1962 but anyone who went to Pawhuska High and with whom we can find a bond.

Each death diminishes me in some way, but some more than others.

Losing Judy Carlile was surprising and very hard. I knew her well considering the spread in class years between us, 1960 and 1962, and I don’t really know why I knew her well, but I did. Once she discovered who I am by something on, and sent me a note to confirm my identity, we were in frequent contact. Often we exchanged fairly long notes, and at times it could be just as though we were in the same room talking, except that we did not have the problem of stepping on each others’ words and cutting each other off as we so often do in real conversation. She wanted to reminisce about her mother’s white 1956 Ford and I was just as eager, so we did. We talked about the Dairy Queen and many small things that were common to us. The small and long ago common things we shared built a connection between us today.

I received news of the death of Eddy Mansholt and I was caught so off guard that I found myself in sudden tears. I did not expect it. Eddy and I had sent enough messages back and forth, and yet he had never said anything of his illness. Stunned is the only word I found for my response as I read the note from Marcy Loy Williams.

Eddy Mansholt was in my class of 1962 and I liked Eddy a lot. I played a clarinet; he played a trombone. That meant that we sat on opposite sides of the band. We never did many of the things that other students and I did, but still, we had a nice friendship at our class level. Eddy was in my driver’s education class with teacher Jim Minor, and Eddy and I were in the car pool when four of us rode together in the practical sessions. Most of us had driven some, and some of us thought we were pretty good. We had learned to drive in cow pastures, empty parking lots, country roads, and an odd assortment of places, but few of us had any real skills on the streets or highways.

At least we knew which direction to go. Jim Minor tended to relax during our practice sessions, and seemed to think that the emergency brake on the passenger side was there as a decoration, rather than a true security device. I think that the car we drove was a green Pontiac, and my vague memory is of a station wagon, but perhaps not. I can’t imagine the system turning us lose in a station wagon.

The car was parked at the swimming pool, and Eddy was chosen to lead out. He eased into the driver’s side, while Mr. Minor read something that he had brought with him. “Take us out, Eddy,” he said, barely looking up, and Eddy looked back over his shoulder, put the car in gear, and roared straight towards the fence surrounding the old pool. He panicked, and Mr. Minor got the brakes on in time, so that all the damage was only to the small hedge guarding the pool.

I had not seen Eddy in forty-one years, when I saw him at the 2002 forty year reunion of the class. The night before that, Charlotte and I had gone to the Tulsa State Fair, and I had a severe episode of the arthritis I have, a form of rheumatoid arthritis. When I experience that, it literally takes me several hours to dress, and sometimes I can not dress without help. Johnny Lawless telephoned and asked if I could rush over for the class photograph, which I could not do. Charlotte did not want to go, so I drove my pick-up truck over, and I stayed only about an hour. I could not bend my legs enough to sit down, especially with the table and chair arrangements that had been made, so I stood the entire time that I was there. I stood at the back together with Roger Dixon who perhaps just had not found a place he wanted to sit.

I had read the letter that Roger sent in along with his fee, and I knew that he was gravely ill, but he smiled and seemed to be enjoying himself greatly. I remembered him, and I am pretty sure that he remembered me. He did not seem to have changed much since the last time I had seen him in 1960.

I was able to walk by a few of the tables and have brief conversations with some of my class, and Eddy was one of them. We shook hands, and I mentioned our wild ride in the driver’s education car. Eddy said that it was the first time he had ever driven a car, and he did not want the other boys to know that he had not driven; so he bluffed his way through, until the truth became impossible to hide. We laughed about it a bit and had a brief conversation. Through our e-mails, we shared much more information over the few years since then.

Charlotte did not want me to go to Pawhuska that day, since I was in so much pain and she was right; I shouldn’t have. After I got outside of the building and to my truck, I opened the door and eased myself in, and got stuck with a stiff leg and cramps. I considered having Charlotte drive over and rescue me, rather than trying to drive home and doing it unsafely. But I struggled and got in, and into a position where I could drive the truck. I could not have driven a car, and I might have had to lie down in the back seat had I been a passenger in one. I wish I could have stayed longer and enjoyed more of it, but I was not able to. I told Charlotte that I really wanted to go, if even for just a little while because, that it might be the last chance I had to see some of the people from my class.

Since then, we have lost Roger Dixon, Eddy Mansholt and Florien McKee. I mention those three, because they were there, and it was, after all, the last time that I saw them.

It seems to me that we have never lost so many in such a short span of time, and all around the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, which still remain the great holidays for us. We do not like them marked with such sad events.

I am comforted by scripture, and mostly by Ecclesiastes, when we are told that “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun. A time to be born and a time to die.”

It is the fact that life has some finite length that most makes it worth living. It is this that makes not only my life of value, but the lives of all the people I have known and loved.

It is sad and heartbreaking to lose someone we love, no matter the depth of our love, or how we expressed it. What if we had never had that person in our life at all? We would have never known the joys, the laughter, the secret things we shared, the fun we had.

We would have never known the frustration, the tears, the secret things they told others, and the pain we had. It is the valleys that make the hills seem so high, and it is from the hills that we can see the beauty that surrounds us.

If I had to choose between having had my son Stephen in my life and losing him, or not ever having him there at all, I would always make the choice of having him.

The pain of losing a child goes right along with the joy of having one. But it isn’t mine to choose; it is simply a gift, and one unearned. As long as I live and can remember, the gift of his life continues to fuel my life. I would rather have had, loved, and lost my son, than to never have had him at all.

If I think of the others in the same way, most of them brought me more joy than anything else and though I do now and will later miss them, my life has been fuller and richer for the gift of their lives into mine.

I wish that they weren’t gone, some more than others, for I cared for each in a different way and I can’t help that. I can not deny the truth that they were here with us for a while and then gone, the season fully complete with a time to be born, a time to die.

When I think of them, I will think of the gift, not of the loss. But I will remember that they have gone.

Stephen Joe Payne
A Purpose under the Sun
Date: 05/10/07

It is the fact that life has some finite length that most makes it worth living.

Friday, July 31, 2009

"To a Marine"

When I purchase the bibles, they are enclosed in a nice cardboard box and a cellophane wrapper. The store has a policy of imprinting the cover with someone's name or other. When the young sales lady offered this, I declined, not because I did not think it was good, but because I did not know the name of the marine to whom the bible was going to be given. On second thought, I accepted and had it imprinted with "To a Marine." All of them have been so imprinted, with the exception of my own Sailor's Bible, which I bought several years ago, but I asked them to place my name on it and since I bought it from them, they willingly did so. And, I bought a Sailor's Bible for my friend Jim Mosley and his name is imprinted. Staff Sergeant Ocasio told me that he had given one of the bibles we have stocked to a new marine recruit who did not have much of a family support system and the young man held it in his hand, looking at it, thankful for someone having given it to him. I was rewarded for I felt my small effort was worth while. There are many things to be done in the world and none of us can do all of them; each one of us can do something. It is a choice we make, what we do; it is a gift, what we can do. I am just fortunate that I can do this small thing. It is what I choose to do.

Point Defiance Cap

I would see men with ball caps that represented the ship they or a son had served on; perhaps just a ship that they wanted to represent, such as the great USS Missouri (BB-63), and I wanted one. Of course, I wanted one for the USS Point Defiance, my ship. But I did not know how to find a resource. I saw a man in Albuquerque, at the airport, one day, with a blue cap bearing a ship's name, so I stopped him and asked me. My mother instilled that in me; just ask people, most of the time, they will tell you something. He did; he told me that someone had got it for him and given it to him. Lucky him. I kept my eye out though and just over two years later, I searched via the Internet and found a source for a cap like the one he had, blue, with gold, so I ordered it. The trouble was, I just didn't like the way it fit, the way it sat on my head. Maybe I have a funny shaped head, but some things work out okay, so I kept my eye out for other options. I found a few but they just didn't seem right. Last month, one of my searches provided me with several options and a cap that I liked. Also, I could get it in other colors and I love red. The resource site also let me preview the selection so I experimented with blue, green, tan, khaki, gray; and red. I settled on red and ordered my cap, which arrived in about a week. I'm pleased with it and I wear it most of the time now. I like how it feels, how it sits on my head and I love the color. And, I'm proud of my ship, my time in the navy, and I like to share it with people, especially other sailors who always stop and ask me about my navy life. I appreciate their asking and we always talk. It turned out once that one of them had been on the USS Thomason (LSD-28), our sister ship. It really is a small world, isn't it?