Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Silencing the Thunder

Hank Reinhardt died today. Hank was a legend in Southern science fiction fandom, an expert in the field of edged weapons, and a founder of Museum Replicas. And Hank was my friend.

Hank had a reputation as an elder figure in fandom... the thing is, he was always an elder figure. When I first met Hank, there were jokes about his age. He knew so much about edged weapons, some would quip, because he'd been there when they were first developed. He joined the Society for Creative Anachronism when it was known as the Current Event Club. The first science fiction novel he read involved a man sailing around the Earth. You can supply your own "old man" jokes. Hank even threw in a few himself. Of course, he acted as if he was greatly bothered by these jokes... but he smiled all the while, and he seemed flattered by the attention. It was an act he perfected over the years, and he played it to the hilt.

Hank's first wife, Janet, died more than thirty years ago, and Hank was devastated. Some wondered if he'd be able to go on. Not only did he go on, he fought his way through the sorrow to start anew and raise his daughters in a loving--albeit quite unusual--home. Hank refused to let almost crippling back problems hold him back; he overcame them and continued an athletic, active life.

Hank was an active part of the original Atlanta Science Fiction Organization; two decades later, he was a friend and supporter of the Atlanta Science Fiction Club when I played an active role in its active years. He was involved in fandom as a writer, a columnist, and a raconteur. He was an editor and a professional writer. His knowledge of Robert E. Howard was voluminous.

Hank loved to play hearts. I have wonderful memories of evening spent with Hank, Ward Batty, Stven Carlberg, Sam Gastfriend, and others, playing cut-throat cards while guzzling iced tea with copious slices of lime. Hank took his cards seriously; he could tolerate jokes at any other time, but once the cards began to fall, Hank wanted the silliness to end. And he was good... better than anyone would tell him, usually.

More recently, Hank married Toni Weiskopf and made a very happy life for himself in the rural outskirts of Atlanta, cutting back on his workload and enjoying his life.

I lost contact with Hank about ten years ago; I kept planning to get together with him, but it never seemed to happen. And today, he left us as the result of complications from a heart surgery that was almost exactly the same as my surgery... except that mine went right, and Hank's somehow went horribly wrong, and he had to undergo a second surgery, and he never could recover. It happens sometimes... but it's not supposed to happen to healthy, active, vital men like Hank Reinhardt.

It makes me more aware of an awareness that's been coalescing for a while now. Death doesn't just deprive us of the presence of the person who passed on; it also denies us further involvement with the accumulated experiences that filled that life. Each of us has thousands of memories, awarenesses, observations, and events that define us, that make us unique; each of us has shared a small fraction of those memories, awarenesses, observations, and events with our friends and acquaintances, but we dole them out in small fragments--a few to these friends, a few other to family, a few to work acquaintances. Those fragments that overlap--those that we share over and over with a number of people whose lives intersect ours--help to define us to those who know us... they become the details by which people identify us.

But there are so very many pieces that have only been shared with one or two others--and there are some details that have never been shared with anyone. Some are secret... others just never came up, or are only remembered in glimpses and dreams. There are eventful meetings, poignant losses, personal victories, moments of joy and sorrow; there are childhood dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled, there are promises made that are kept and unkept. And when one dies, all of that dies as well. Our world is made smaller by the loss of the cumulative experiences of each and every death, and we can never recover that loss.

Hank's life, so full and varied and storied, is a life of a thousand thousand tales and memories and joys and sorrows. I only wish there were some way to hear them recounted, in Hank's bold, resonant voice, punctuated by the gravelly laugh that I will always remember when I see Hank in my mind.

(The picture above, taken from Hank's website, depicts Hank in more recent years, along with his loving wife Toni. I lament her loss.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Sidebar)

Ten valuable childhood lessons learned the hard way:

(1) When your comic books get dirty, you can't wash them.
Don't ask me why this seemed like a good idea, but it did... for a brief time. I had a copy of an issue of the Flash that had something dripped on it (probably ice cream, but I don't remember for sure what it was). Anyway, I decided that, if water was good enough for washing dirt off me, then it was good enough to wash dirt off a comic book. I got the book wet, and I actually did succeed in getting the spot off the comic (more or less)--but I then ended up with a soaking wet comic. I put it in the sun to dry, which it did--but I then had a wavy comic book that was about five times as thick as it had been prior to the whole book-washing experience.

(2) Before cutting a coupon from a comic book, check the other side.
I really wanted to join the Supermen of America Club, so I cut the coupon out to mail it in. Problem was, the coupon was on the back side of a story page, and I lost a key panel to the comic. I had three other books with Superman of America Club coupons that had nothing but ads on the back page... but I discovered that a tad too late.

(3) Never believe anyone to whom you trade a comic book on the promise that they will trade it back.
If they didn't want it, they wouldn't have traded to start with. Bobby Ware, I'm talking about you!...

(4) Basing your allowance on the price of comic books is valid only when the price of comic books remains stable.
When I first began talking with Dad about an allowance, I carefully negotiated for a dime a day. That meant one comic book a day. After a while, I noticed that the publishers seemed to be aware of my allowance, because they began running "still only 10¢" blurbs on their covers. Little did I know that "still only" translates to "not much longer only." Suddenly comics went up to 12¢ and I was only able to buy one two comics every three days, with a little left over. Thankfully, Dad was open for renegotiation, and I upped my allowance to 15¢ a day--that was enough for one comic (a total of 13¢ with the one penny tax that kicked in over a dime) and a couple of pennies left over that added up to a nickel ice cream cone every third day.

(5) Scotch tape isn't the all-purpose solution for damaged comics.
Yes, I occasionally tore a comic book cover or interior page. Yes,I tried taping 'em with Scotch tape (and this was in the day before invisible tape when all we had was that glossy stuff). And yes, I discovered that the tape would turn yellowish brown and sometimes would even get gummy after a while. Even worse, removing the tape didn't restore the book to its pre-taped condition...

(6) Comic book publishers don't keep an entire line of back issues on hand for customers like me who missed (or misplaced) an issue.
I figured that, if I was missing a bunch of Batman and Superman books, I'd just buy them from DC. Well, it turned out that DC did have some back issues... but the selection was very spotty, and they actually wanted me to pay postage! Didn't they know that I was a kid who couldn't afford postage?

Marvel was actually more helpful. When some of my early issues of Fantastic Four mysteriously disappeared (only to appear in the collection of a friend), I wrote to Marvel's offices with my sad tale of loss. Not only did Stan Lee personally send me a selection of back issues (they had no FF #1, but they had a perfect copy of FF #2 and some pretty fine copies of almost every other of the first fourteen issues), but he also wrote me a personalized note and didn't even charge me for the comics! He also sent me a list of other books of which they had a few office copies lying around, and he let me order some of them. But even then, they didn't have every issue.

Charlton? They never answered my letter.

(7) Words aren't always pronounced the way you'd expect.
I kept reading about Wonder Woman's unique invisible plane. Of course, I read "unique" as "you-knee-cue." I thought I was quite bright for knowing the word... and of course, I found a way to use it at school soon after. Alas, my teacher was much less impressed with my mispronunciation, and corrected me before the entire class. *sigh* And even worse, she didn't appreciate my childhood attempt at humor when I told her that my pronunciation was a "you-knee-cue" one. (I believe that was my first attempt at semantical humor, and it was a flop.)

(8) Not all comics are created equal.
Even as a child, I could tell that the ACG weird fantasy books were somehow second-rate compared to Marvel and DC. Same for Charlton, even though they did have a few good stories by the same guy who did stuff for Marvel (some Ditko guy).

(9) Don't store your comic books outside.
For some reason that eludes me now, I decided to store several of my comics in a large pine-straw fort I had built in the back yard. I diligently buried 'em in the pine straw... but the next day, they were damp and dewy and even had a bug or two in them. Forget the outdoors--comics are an indoor hobby!

(10) A towel tied around one's neck does not bestow the ability to fly.
How I managed to avoid breaking an arm, a leg, or my neck, I'll never know. I tied that cape on and confidently leapt right off the limb of a large willow tree in my grandmother's back yard, only to plummet to the muddy ground. (That was the only warning that the tree gave me, unfortunately; a couple of years later, I tried to climb that tree sans cape, slipped, and fell to the ground once again... and that time, I broke my arm so badly that the bone projected through the skin just below my right wrist.)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joe!

So they're stripping GI Joe of his American military status.

According to this article, Joe will be part of an international operations team based out of Brussels, heretofore known only for their cabbage fetuses.

And I predict that Hasbro is going to wish they had never allowed Paramount or anyone else to tamper with their "real American hero."

I'm already hearing of cancelled orders in the mass market. I can understand why. I'm very weary of a growing trend of anti-Americanism, and I particularly dislike this disdain shown towards the American military.

(Bear in mind that I'm not a GI Joe collector or enthusiast, so I'm speaking solely as a civilian here--but as far as I'm concerned, Hasbro deserves a great deal of grief until they make good on this one.)

Headed Down the Turnpike to New England

Today, Susan and I decided to drive to New England to enjoy the fall colors. And we completed the trip in about six hours!

We had heard that this was the best weekend for fall foliage near Cloudland Canyon up in far northwest Georgia, so we drove up I-75 to exit 320, then headed west on Georgia 136. It's about a forty mile drive through two-lane northwest Georgia countryside, much of which is Appalachian foothills and low mountains. The drive was quite pleasant--and oddly enough, it felt very much like I was in "home territory."

Bear in mind, I grew up in Rome, which is an hour or more further south, and much less mountainous. Rome has seven hills, but no real mountains. Even so, the countryside, the terrain, the small towns... it all felt like I was back in the area around Rome. I don't get that same feeling when I drive through northeast Georgia, heading to Hiawassee or Blue Ridge or Blairsville or Helen; that entire area has a different atmosphere, and I generally feel like a visitor when I'm there. This drive was quite different, however; it had an odd familiarity that I simply can't explain logically.

Rather than coming back from Cloudland Canyon the way we went up there, we decided to head a little further west and get on I-59, then take it up to Chattanooga and come back down I-75 (a little further in miles, but much shorter in time). We had just gotten on the interstate when we discovered a town that was new to both of us: New England, Georgia. So we drove through there for a few minutes, just so that we could say in all honesty that we drove to New England to enjoy the fall foliage.

(And lest you doubt me, click here for a map that clearly show New England, along with a lot of other small towns that I was until now unfamiliar with.. but I suspect we'll drive back up there soon, just to enjoy a hitherto-unexplored-by-us part of Georgia.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What a Day!

Now I know why Wednesdays are my favorite days of the week--not only is that the day that new comics come in (and it was also the day that new comics came in when I was in high school and would rush to Liberty Hatworks & Newsstand to get my books), but it is also the day on which I was born!

This site has given me a great deal of amusement as I find out on what day of the week various memorable events occurred. Since I am not an idiot savant (although I have been credited with being half of that from time to time), I have no skills at calculating that myself.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Six)

Oddly enough, I don't remember the very first time I met David Lynch; we were in school together at Garden Lakes Elementary, so we were acquainted with each other before we became friends. David and I were both in Mrs. Solomon's class--she was an amazing teacher, compassionate and motivational and enthusiastic and wise, and I was lucky enough to have her as my first and my third-grade teacher--but because we sat alphabetically, we didn't sit close enough to actually talk to one another. We played in the same groups at recess, but I don't remember the names of the kids I played with at recess because that was pretty much every kid in my class... recess was the great equalizer in that regard.

(The only other child from my Garden Lakes class whose name I remember was a boy named Boris. Yes, I actually went to school with a child named Boris... and yes, he was bad enough. Boris was constantly in trouble--and not the sort of trouble that kids usually get into. This was a kid who had a reputation as a thief, a vandal, and an "ambusher"--the name we gave to kids who fought by sneaking up behind someone and hitting them from behind with a book or some other object, then running. Boris was only with us for a couple of years, though; there were rumors that Boris was responsible for putting dangerous objects on the railroad tracks near the school--some said it was unused railroad ties from a storage area near the tracks, others said it was a steel rod--and one day some ominous-looking strangers showed up with the principal, who called Boris out of class. We never saw Boris again after that...)

What brought David to my attention was a comic book he was reading at recess. I couldn't help but notice, in fact--it was a stunning book that depicted the Justice League in the depths of space, rowing a boat at the command of a strange pink alien. Who could resist such a cover? Even though I didn't know David, I had to ask him, "where'd you get that comic?" I had never seen Justice League of America #3 before that day, but I had to have a copy.

(How did I miss that book? Well, that was simple: finding every issue of a comic book in the early 1960's was almost an impossible task. There were no comic shops at this time, so we had to rely on drugstores, grocery stores, and convenience stores for our comics. These stores were serviced by rack jobbers who saw their primary duty as filling the racks on each trip. Some stores got their comics every week, some got them every other week, some got them every month. Rack jobbers had a color code that allowed them to look for the "pull color of the week"--for instance, all books with a red ink stripe on the top edge--and remove those books, replacing them with that week's color. For weekly stores, red would be replaced with red, for instance; the code was more complicated for biweekly and monthly stores. Since comics were a low-budget item, little time was put into ensuring a full title representation; the rack jobber would just fill up the racks with new comics. This meant that Garden Lakes Pharmacy might have comics that Conn's Grocery never received, and Candler's Drugs might have comics that neither of them had, and the EZ Shop, with their once a month delivery, often had books that were older, meaning you might find stuff you had missed the month before. Being a comic book collector required a lot of trading, ideally with people who shopped at different stores than you did...)

David had finished the comic, and he was willing to trade; we made arrangements to meet during the weekend. David lived at the other end of Garden Lakes from me--too far away to walk, since my parents wouldn't let me hike more than two miles to the west side of the big lake. We both made plans, and then we each begged our parents to let us get together. My parents agreed to take me to David's house that Saturday, and I sorted out my trade stack in preparation for the trip. David promised to hold that Justice League of America for me--and he was true to his word.

Oh, what a glorious trip it was... David and I shopped in totally different places, and some of his books even came from distant lands like Alabama, where his grandparents lived. There were books I had never seen, including several IW horror comics reprints that intrigued me... and a Steve Ditko Space Adventures with Captain Atom. I didn't know Ditko by name, but I could tell that the book was drawn by the same artist who drew some of the weird fantasy tales I loved so much in the pages of Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish.

We were kindred souls from the very start; each of us enjoyed the same sort of comics (my taste was centering more and more on superhero and fantasy/SF comics, as was David's), and we could spend hours recounting plotlines of favorite stories from books we no longer had, often embellishing them to make them sound even more exciting. Within weeks, we were making arrangements with our parents to spend the night at one another's homes--David at my house one week, me at David's house the next. And of course, comics were always a focal point of our get-together.

My friendship with David would last for years--and for the first time, I had found a comic book buddy who was such a kindred spirit that we remained friends even when both of us moved from Garden Lakes a couple of years later...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Feeling the Void

The passing of Mom and Dad and Asia and Tisha has convinced me that our lives touch those around us in ways that the senses can't explain. I know that I perceived the world differently after the death of Mom in 2002 and again after Dad's death in August; there was an emptiness that was continually with me, a tangible sense that something was missing even when I was an hour away from their home. Logic would tell me that they were just as apart from me when they were alive in Rome and I was in Marietta processing comic books or working on Comic Shop News--but even during at these times, I knew they were absent the same way you can feel it when someone is looking at you while your back is turned to them.

The same sense of absence surrounds the deaths of Asia and Tisha. The house is different when they're not here. Even though Tisha spent most of the past few months asleep in the basement, her presence in the house affected us. I could use the cliched sixties "vibes" to describe it, but the overuse of that word has negated its significance to the point that it would trivialize my point.

The presence of "not-Tisha" is just as tangible as her living presence was. It's not just that she's not here--there's a real awareness that her "not-here-ness" exists in this house. Not only do we feel it, but Anna and Mischa do, too; they look intently at the places where she isn't but once was, and they act differently now, as if they're forced to create a new normal.

Anna is more loving and spends more time with us; even though she didn't spend a great deal of time with Tisha, she was very much attuned to her. When she first came to our home, Tisha was her role model; she picked up many of Tisha's quirks and mannerisms, and stayed close to her. It's obvious that she misses Tisha now, but it's equally obvious that she'd not comfortable with that "not-here-ness" that has replaced Tisha, and she's looking to us to help rebalance her world.

(The photo above is one of my favorites of Anna; even though it's slightly out of focus because I shot it with a narrow-depth-of-field portrait lens and she moved just as I depressed the shutter, it still conveys her sensitivity and grace.)

Mischa, however, responds the absence of the matriarchal Tisha in a different manner. She's become more assertive, more bold, and sometimes more confrontational. Because she's a large cat (she weighs in at fifteen pounds while Anna's just under ten, and Tisha was slightly less than seven), her boldness can be intimidating to Anna. Mischa has become more territorial since Tisha's passing last Thursday; we can see the change. With Tisha gone, Mischa wants to be the center of our world; she is desperate for our attention, and dislikes seeing that attention directed anywhere else.

I'm hoping that, as we all become more accustomed to Tisha's absence, things will rebalance to a degree and Mischa will become less needful. After years of having Asia and Tisha, two cats who were perfectly attuned to one another, I regret seeing Anna and Mischa move in divergent paths.

A Life in Four Colors (Part Five)

Jimmy was a year or so older than me, and very big for his age. As I mentioned previously, he was also a volatile personality, and there was no predicting what might set him off. We would talk about comics and I would mention that I was starting to like Batman more than Superman, and Jimmy would get mad. We would play soldiers in the back yard and I would want to play Gunner while he played Sarge, and Jimmy would get mad... even though the day before, those were the roles that we had played for hours!

And where Jimmy was volatile, Jimmy's dad was just somber. He sat in a dark room that perfectly reflected the mood he displayed whenever I saw him. Up until that time, I had always viewed my friends' parents as benign and benevolent adults who treated children kindly, making us think that we were always welcome even when they might prefer that we stayed home. Mom and Dad were the same way; no friend of mine ever came to visit without being greeted with a smile and a kind word from my parents. "No one should ever feel unwelcome in our home," my parents always said, and they lived that motto constantly.

Jimmy's dad was... well, he was different. He seldom smiled, and he never made anyone feel welcome. He tended to sleep during the day; when he was awake, he often seemed cranky and made it clear that he neither wanted to hear nor see Jimmy or his friends.

The only times he acted differently came when Jimmy and I were talking about Sgt. Rock. Mention that Bob Kanigher-Joe Kubert series and he perked up; he would actually talk to us about his favorite stories, and every now and then he would pull a comic from the shelf and show it to us. I saw my first Our Army at War "painted cover" when Jimmy Haynes' dad was showing me a near-perfect copy of Our Army at War #86. The look of the art, with its heavily shaded "painted" look, immediately captivated me.

Attuned to that distinctive style, I began looking for it--and I found it on other DC war books, as well as on books like Sea Devils. That unique look was created by DC colorist Jack Adler, who created these "paintings" in a time when comic book covers generally featured pen and ink illustrations with flat coloring. Adler didn't truly paint the covers at all; instead, working with pencil art by others, he used a complex system of creating layered black ink washes (grey tones created by painting with diluted black ink) for each of the four colors. In effect, he was painting in imaginary colors, since he was working entirely in black and white, envisioning what the process might look like when printed with colored inks. I still marvel at the skill that this must have taken; while I doubt Adler was ever adequately compensated for the time this process took, the finished products rank up there with comics' greatest covers.

While I felt a little more attuned to Jimmy's father after this, my relationship with Jimmy began to sour because of his temper. The deterioration of our friendship escalated when I realized that Jimmy was wiping out my plastic soldiers--if he didn't bury 'em in his back yard, he would set fire to them, transforming an elite plastic army into sizzling green slag. Since I liked my soldiers--and since I didn't have enough money to pay for more soldiers and more comics at the same time--I quit spending time with Jimmy. There was never a big falling out... we just quit being friends and became acquaintances. When the Haynes family eventually moved out of the neighborhood, I barely noticed. Children make and lose friends very quickly...

While Jimmy was my primary comics friend at this time, he wasn't the only comics reader I knew. It may seem odd now, but almost every kid I knew read comics. I didn't search out kids who read comics--it just seemed that reading comics was ubiquitous among six to nine year old kids. It was odd to find someone who had never read comics, in fact--but when I did, I'd give 'em one or two of mine, frequently making a convert.

But comics collectors really like to find friends who enjoy the same comics... friends with whom they can make up their own comic book stories and play superheroes and draw and read and trade comics and walk to the local stores in search of books. With Jimmy Haynes gone, I didn't have a comic book buddy any longer. I was good friends with Morris Lively, whose back yard was just across the fence from my back yard--but Morris read comics only casually, and he didn't share my growing passion for the art form. We could have fun riding bikes and playing games and climbing trees and walking from our house to Rattlesnake Hill (where I never once saw a rattlesnake), but his lukewarm response to comics meant that we would never be close friends.

Thankfully, I met David Lynch at about this time...

A Life in Four Colors (Part Four)

My first awareness of Jimmy Haynes occurred not because of Jimmy himself, but because of his back yard.

Before I describe the spectacle of that yard, though, I should mention another massive accumulation that I enjoyed in my childhood: plastic soldiers.

For the uninitiated, plastic soldiers came in massive quantities back then--veritable armies of hydrocarbon-based troops, usually olive in color, frequently carrying bent weaponry because the softness of the plastic made barrels particularly vulnerable. These soldiers came in bags that could be acquired at any discount toy store. The serious soldier aficionado, however, had managed to wheedle his way into at least one boxed set of soldiers, which included scenery, some vehicles, a tank or three, and other items designed to add more variety to one's military play.

(And here's a warning that comes from sorrowful experience: the toys advertised on the back of the comics were not a good deal, no matter how great it sounded. I actually saved enough money to order one of those sets, and what I got was a small army of flat, two-dimensional soldiers. Yes, flat. It was as if someone had taken a huge sheet of 1/8" thick plastic and had stamped out a flat little army, stamping a few bas-relief details to give them some appearance of toy-soldierness. These flat figures were mounted on flat rectangular bases, and could only be enjoyed by flat, lackluster children leading flat, unexciting lives. Over a period of months, I smashed many of them with a hammer; others were buried in the back yard; I have no idea what happened to the remainder, but they very well may have realized their impending fate and escaped into some 2D sanctuary.)

Not only did I have an army of olive-plastic soldiers, I actually had a platoon of blue and grey Union and Confederate soldiers from a civil war set that also included some Civil War cannon, some emplacements, some cavalry, and more. Those were given to me as a gift by my parents in the Christmas of 1959; I believe they were ordered from Sears. Due to pure serendipity, I actually discovered them about ten days prior to Christmas, where my parents had hidden the set in their closet. This discovery was made totally innocently--I really wasn't looking for Christmas presents, but was actually getting some now-forgotten item from their closet at my father's behest. I spotted the long, flat cardboard box further back in the closet, and gazed at it for a while before attempting to cover it up. Somehow, though, I failed at the task of restoring things to their former state, and my parents realized that I had seen the gift ahead of time. They were very unhappy with me, and I felt totally confused because this was one of those rare occasions in which I had gotten in trouble for an action with no mischievous or disobedient intent!

(I think now that their aggravation was caused largely by the fact that this was to have come from Santa, not from them, but now they were faced with a dilemma because I knew they had hidden it in their closet ahead of time, necessitating Santa coming up with a replacement for what was to have been the centerpiece of my Christmas extravaganza. I think the microscope that Santa brought me that year was the replacement gift--and a gift it was! I played with that microscope for years, attempting to peer into the center of the microcosmic universe with a device that probably had, at best, 50x magnification.)

So how does all this relate to Jimmy Haynes and his back yard?

What I saw as I looked into Jimmy Haynes yard was a battle scene, complete with trenches and foxholes. Not toy-soldier sized foxholes and trenches, mind you--kid-sized foxholes and trenches! Somehow, Jimmy Haynes had convinced his parents to let him dig up large expanses of their shady back yard, converting it into his own European Theater of Operations. This was a fantasy come true for a young boy with a toy soldier fascination; I knew that Jimmy and I had to become friends.

As I got to know Jimmy, I learned that (a) his father was in the army, which had a lot to do with Jimmy's penchant for military re-enactment in the back yard, (b) Jimmy was a mercurial person, given to quick bursts of temper, and (c) Jimmy read comic books. No surprise that his favorites were war comics... but what was a surprise was that his father read comics as well, and had a huge war comic collection of his own that he would let Jimmy and me look through, although they couldn't leave the dark, shadowy den in which Mr. Haynes kept them.

Through Jimmy and his father, I first met Sgt. Rock and Ice Cream Soldier and Bulldozer and Gunner and Sarge. My favorite of this bunch, though, was a Haunted Tank that received guidance and advice from the ghost of Civil War general Jeb Stuart. War stories and ghost stories--what could be better?

Jimmy's father also enjoyed the adventures of the Sea Devils; suddenly I discovered that there could be real adventure in diving, since obviously the oceans were filled with supernatural beings, dinosaurs, and more!

Jimmy lived near our new house on Plymouth Road, so we saw each other almost every day. We played soldier, we dug trenches, we made smaller scenarios for our armies of plastic soldiers, we read comics, we traded comics... oh, what fast friends we were!

I should have known that something this good couldn't last...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Three)

An odd thing about comic book readers: almost as soon as one joins the ranks, there is an irresistible urge to find fellow comic book readers. Within months of becoming a comic book reader and accumulator (I was far too eclectic in my tastes to qualify as any sort of a collector at this point), I began paying attention to the reading habits of other people in my neighborhood.

The first fellow comic book reader I found was Ronnie DeAngelus, who lived a couple of blocks away. The DeAngelus family had a house on Garden Lakes Boulevard, at the corner of Lakeridge; there were few things in Garden Lakes more prestigious than a house right on the Boulevard, at least insofar as kids were concerned. It was a real status symbol. Their house was larger than ours, although not by much (by today's standards, it would be a very small house indeed); it was actually one of the smaller homes on Garden Lakes Boulevard, but it was on a spacious lot with towering pines and several cedar trees (an oddity in this area where pines and oaks and elms and sycamore trees dominated).

Ronnie was older than me by a couple of years--and when you're just approaching six years old, a two year difference seems like an immense gulf. I was a pesky kid as far as he was concerned, and he barely tolerated me... but he was willing to trade comic books.

Ahh... the allure of the comic book trade. There was nothing like it. In preparation, I would meticulously sort through my comics, stacking the "must keeps" in one pile on my bedroom floor (we owned tables, of course, but it was an unwritten rule that all comic book sorting must be done on the floor) and the "maybes" on a second and the "trades" on a third. Since I enjoyed comics of all types, each stack would have a mix of superhero books, weird suspense, adventure, fantasy, humor, and so on; even though I was beginning to recognize the appeal of the Jack Schiff era Batman books with their enormous props and quirky storylines, some of those might make it into the stack.

Condition was an important factor in determining what went and what stayed. I was not good about preserving my books; they were read and reread, they were folded and bent, many of the pages and panels were drawn over in pencil as I carbon-copies the images, and some of the books had long since parted ways with their covers. Many of those books made it into the trade stack, along with a few "good books" that I thought might sweeten the deal.

Ronnie's books were in very similar condition, of course; the idea of comics preservation was several years off yet, and it was an alien concept for kids. Ronnie tended to favor war comics, hot rod comics, and pre-hero Marvels, with an occasional Strange Adventure or My Greatest Adventure thrown in for good measure. He also tended to have several Little Archie comics in his stack, and I soon came to appreciate those delightful Bob Bolling tales... although I wouldn't know who Bob Bolling was for several more years yet.

When we did get together to trade, each of us would carefully peruse the other's stacks, deciding what we wanted; at the same time, we would gauge how many books the other was finding, so as to determine just how many books we might be able to acquire in trade. Trades were never one-for-one deals; some books were deemed "really good," and they would be "twofers." Every now and then, an annual or a cherished book might even qualify as a "threefer," although those books usually went unclaimed (who wants to give up three trades for one book?).

Problem was, I would spend far more time looking at comics than Ronnie. He had other interests, including sports, and would get impatient after a while as I perused the stacks. I was not good at sports, although I did try out for baseball and football as a child. (My problem, as it turned out, was very poor eyesight; I had trouble judging the actions of others because I didn't see them clearly until they were about six feet from me. Alas, we didn't discover how bad my vision was until I was in the third grade. Prior to that time, I simply presumed that all people had to put a finger to the outer corner of each eye and pull outwards in order to see; it turned out that such stretching of the lids would flatten my eyeballs just enough to change my visual focal length and sharpen my vision. Don't try that while playing football, though, unless you enjoy having your own finger jabbed into your eye socket...)

After a few months, Ronnie began to spend less money on comic books and more on trading cards. I didn't enjoy trading cards, because there was no inherent reading entertainment. That wasn't the most significant factor that contributed to the end of our trading partnership, though. No, that determinant was a matter of geography.

My parents were looking for a larger and more affordable house, and that necessitated a move from Lakeridge, on the south side of Garden Lakes Boulevard, to Plymouth Road, on the north side. Suddenly, I was on the other side of the road... and while it was just a wide two-lane street (certainly no major thoroughfare), it was an impassable barrier as far as my mother was concerned. Unless I was given special dispensation, I was never to walk across Garden Lakes Boulevard, where cars would speed back and forth at 35 and 40 miles per hour. Suddenly, trading with Ronnie DeAngelus had become a planned event--and six-year-olds are notoriously bad planners.

With Ronnie out of the picture, I needed a new trading partner.

That's when I discovered Jimmy Haynes...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Two)

I was a luckier child than I realized. I grew up with two creative parents. Dad wrote for a newspaper; Mom drew, explored various arts and crafts (incuding ceramics painting), and later on wrote freelance for the Atlanta Journal.

As a result, I drew the conclusion at an early age that everyone either wrote or drew or both. I didn't think of the process of creating words or pictures as an arcane art; in fact, I presumed that every house in my neighborhood, every house that we passed as we enjoyed an leisurely afternoon ride, was occupied by people who wrote and drew... just like us!

That also meant that, once I discovered comic books, I wanted to write and draw comic books. I tried my hand at my own comic books at an early age, but discovered that my art lacked to visual appeal of art by Carmine Infantino or Dick Sprang or Wayne Boring or Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or Gil Kane. Eager to improve my skills, I did so by using an all-too-common (in our house, at least) office supply: carbon paper.

Anyone who peruses my original childhood copies of my beloved comics will notice that many images from the cover and the interiors have been traced over in pencil. That was me. Dissatisfied with my own illustrations, I borrowed some carbon paper and 8 1/2 x 11" sheets of newsprint from beside Dad's typewriter and created carbon copies of my favorite images. Some of them became pin-ups, meticulously colored before being thumbtacked to my wall. Others were combined in panels to become new comics.

Soon, I realized that a carbon copy of a favorite piece of art didn't have to be complete--that is, I could carbon copy the dynamic figure itself, but leave off costume details. This way, a drawing of Superman could become Batman if I so wished. Suddenly I could create very professional-looking comics--well, professional-looking by a five or six-year-old's standards-- that told my stories, even if the art wasn't exactly mine. I had discovered on my own what Wally Wood was simultaneously advising fellow artists: "Never draw what you can copy; never copy what you can trace; never trace what you can cut out and paste up."

(Later on, tools like art-o-graphs and scanners and programs like Photoshop would make it easy for professional artists to take my carbon copy gimmick much further than I ever imagined. Heck, I pioneered the "why draw it when you can swipe it?" path later mastered by Ron Frenz and others!)

I really wanted to be an artist, and as a result I put far more time into trying to draw comics than I did into trying to write them. For years, I imagined that I might become a comic book artist, in fact. So why didn't I put more time into writing stories? Because, like almost any child, I had no shortage of stories and ideas. Heck, I could make up a comic book story on the spot at any point. I also discovered that I could create a myriad of characters whenever I needed them--heroes and villains alike. So it was only natural that I'd put more of an effort into drawing them, which seemed more like work to me.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part One)

I can only vaguely remember a life without comic books.

A comic book was the amalgam of two things that fascinated me: books and comic strips. I will always credit my love for books to my grandfather, Roy Leming, who I barely remember, since he died in an auto accident when I was almost four years old. What I do remember about him, though, was that he loved to read, and he gave me socks as a birthday present. The same day he gave me the socks, he started to read to me from a Louis L'Amour book that had a striking Western cover on it (yep, I was attracted to good art even then!), but either Mom or her mother chided him because they didn't think it was appropriate for a young child. He put the book aside; not too long after that, he was dead and the book disappeared in the subsequent house cleaning. I would occasionally look through boxes in grandmother's musty, damp basement, hoping that I would find that book that he had actually touched and had begun reading to me, but it was lost forever. I did find many other books of his--all sorts of books, from histories to war novels to other Westerns (including other L'Amour books) to then-contemporary best-sellers like Peyton Place (never did know for sure if that was his book or grandmother's--but I never saw grandmother read for pleasure, so I presume that was his as well).

Comic strips--well, I credit Dad for that. He worked in a newspaper, and that meant that we always had newspapers around the house. Newspapers had comic strips, and in flipping through the papers, I would always stop at the comic strips. Mom and Dad would read them to me; I liked the gag strips, but I would ask them about the adventure strips as well. Flash Gordon, which ran in the Rome News Tribune, was a favorite of mine; I loved the Mac Raboy artwork.

So it was only natural that I would find a comic book to be the best of two worlds.

My first comic books were purchased at Garden Lakes Pharmacy a few months prior to my fifth birthday. The occasion was the impending removal of my tonsils. Knowing I would be bed-ridden for a couple of days (it was the late 50's, and tonsillectomies were more serious then they are now), my parents wanted something that would entertain me--and comic books seemed to fit the bill.

Garden Lakes was Rome's first "suburb." It's really what we would call a neighborhood today--but it wasn't in Rome proper, and it was large enough that it had its own local grocery and its own pharmacy and its own "main street" and two lakes and its own thriving industry--General Electric, which had built a major facility right there smack-dab in Garden Lakes. When people would ask me where I lived, I would say "Garden Lakes."

Now, when I visit Rome and drive through Garden Lakes streets like Lakeview and Wakefield and Lakeridge and Plymouth and Harrison, the houses seem forever locked in that late-1950's era; they are the same low, small-windowed brick ranch houses that were considered contemporary back then. (The south side of Garden Lakes Boulevard--the "uphill" side--had the best houses, the upscale brick ranches. The north side--particularly the area near the little lake--had the smaller "starter homes." It was in that area that we lived when I was a child, in two homes on Plymouth Road; we moved from a slightly smaller house to a larger one two doors further away, and it was there that we lived until my parents had the Marchmont Drive home built in 1963).

Since we lived in Garden Lakes, it was only natural that Dad would stop at Garden Lakes Pharmacy to pick up various items in preparation for my hospital stay--and those various items included four comic books. One was a Superman; one was a pre-hero Marvel book that I believe was an issue of Journey into Mystery, but none of the stories were memorable enough for me to say for sure which issue; one was a Casper the Friendly Ghost; and the final one was a Dennis the Menace.

I was in love with the art form from that moment.

Comic books had lots of pages like books; they had illustrated stories like comic strips. They had all sorts of stories--some funny, some scary, some exciting.

And they had color!

I pleaded to be allowed to read those comics that night, before I went to the hospital. Since Dad had bought them for me so that I'd have something to read at the hospital, he said no--but when you consider how many times I read and re-read those comic books, there's no doubt that one more reading would not have in any way lessened their appeal to me during my hospital stay.

So which was my favorite? Truth is, I never thought about favorites back then. I loved every one of them. Casper was every bit as appealing as Superman to me, and the monster stories in Journey into Mystery were no less entertaining than Dennis the Menace. That omnivorous appreciation of all forms of comics continued throughout my childhood; I'd read war comics, adventure comics, hot rod comics, funny animal comics, superhero comics, horror comics--heck, I'd even read romance comics in a pinch, although I found the stories to be a bit too similar for multiple readings.

Once I found comic books, comic strips lost a lot of their luster. Not only were they in black and white, but they also offered far too little entertainment in each daily installment. It would be several more years before I would recognize the distinctive charms of comic strips like Peanuts and guilty-pleasure favorites like Tumbleweeds and Barney Google & Snuffy Smith. (The strip carried the Barney Google title reference during my childhood, although I don't think Barney Google ever appeared in its panels... I had no idea why his name was there.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Three Months Back

Some days you just want time to circle back around and give you another opportunity to fully appreciate moments you squandered.

Three months back...

I'd see Dad one more time and talk for a long, long time about anything at all. We'd go out to eat, and this time we'd make that trip to Red Lobster that he kept saying he wanted to make sometime soon. I'd reminisce about stories I barely recalled from my childhood, and question him endlessly about events from his own childhood, and listen to him talk and laugh and look at the glint in his eyes as he spoke of Mom.

And I'd feed Tisha her childhood favorite--Nine Lives Tuna with Cheese--and wipe her eyes and comb her until she fell asleep, and I'd listen to her rattling purr and my heart would be at ease.

It is the ephemerality of joy that makes its presence so precious. If only we could realize that from the moment we awoke every day of our lives...

Saying Goodbye

Tisha left us to be with Asia at 5:05 this afternoon. She was so very weary, but she still had the energy to stretch against my leg as I sat with her on the carpeted floor and to hold her head up as I combed under her chin, just as I have thousands of times before this.

When she got the initial injection of sedative, she stretched out, relaxed, and began to purr very faintly. She raised her head up for me to comb her a little more, and continued to purr her approval until she finally dozed off. Then she was given the second injection; she never woke up or showed any sign that she felt the IV (she always hated any injections in her legs, so that was a sign of how deeply asleep she was). I continued to stroke her and comb under that chubby little chin until I was sure that she had left me and was back with her sister.

For the first time in far too long, she looked wholly relaxed. We never recognize the burdens until we see the peace that comes when they are lifted...

Dreaded Day

Today is the day that I've known was coming... Dr. Lane is going to put Tisha to sleep this afternoon. In spite of a variety of medications and treatments, Tisha is continuing to decline; she will only eat if I take food to her, and then she will only nibble a bite or two before she turns away. Even her long-time favorite treat--whipping cream, which I buy in half-pint containers just for her to drink--can't lure her to walk a few feet. She'll lick at it briefly if I take it to her, but she does so lethargically, leaving most of the cream behind.

When I pick her up to take her to her food, she immediately scurries back to the small corner that has become her world... and she frequently stumbles and falls in doing so. She's soiling herself again because she just can't get to the litter box.

Tisha has been my girl since she was eight weeks old; the moment I saw that blue-cream fur and that flat little face with those huge, loving eyes, I knew that she had to go home with me. She and Asia came to our home on the same day, and they became inseparable friends, often devoting as much time to washing one another as they did to their own cleanliness. The photo above is from a much happier time, when both cats were healthy and happy; hardly a day went by without our two girls sleeping side-by-side on chair or a sofa or a carpet in the afternoon sun.

In recent years, arthritis has limited her climbing, but when she was younger, she and Asia were pioneering souls, clambering up the furniture in search of new adventure. When we had the house in Rome, I recall coming into the kitchen on many a morning to find the two of them atop the refrigerator, peering down at me while the cabinet doors yawned wide open behind them. Their expressions always seemed to say "we don't know how these got opened," and I pretended to believe them.

Tisha was an inveterate cabinet door opener in her prime; she was the cat who frequently figured out how to use the weight of her body to swing doors open so that she and Asia could determine what might lurk behind them.

I have memories of the many cumulative hours spent lying on the sofa while Tisha dozed contentedly on my chest, her face showing all the beatitude and contentment of a beaming feline Buddha. There were times when I needed to get up and do something, but I just couldn't bring myself to disturb her.

And I'll always remember the time that I put a flea collar on her, not knowing it would trigger an allergy; less than an hour later, she found me where I was sitting at the computer and pawed at my leg to get my attention, as if she knew that I would help. I saw that face, eyes watering and nose running, I heard her struggling to breathe, and I somehow knew to remove the collar and run water on her to rinse the residue away. Through all of that, even though she had no idea what was going wrong, she never fought me because she knew I was making things right.

Tisha was very lonely after Asia passed from cancer a while back. The arrival of Anna and Mischa into the house brought her some comfort for a while, but as her hearing and vision failed, I think the presence of other cats made her anxious.

Tisha has always turned to me to make bad things better. I can't make this bad thing better for her, no matter how I try. I can only make it stop being bad for her...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Tisha continues to have problems; the past two days seem to have brought a regression in her condition. Over the weekend, Tisha showed noticeable improvements; while she wasn't back to normal, she had more moments of normalcy. She was able to use the litterbox fairly regularly, she ate more, and she seemed more comfortable.

Yesterday, she ate significantly less; she ate at every meal, but she only ate a few bites before walking away. Today was more of the same. And she's no longer using the litterbox regularly; she has failed to make it to the box a couple of times today, and has soiled herself again once, necessitating a cleanup that she hates.

I talked with Dr. Lane, who confirmed that Tisha's vision is somewhat compromised. Since she's been pretty much deaf for a couple of years now, she feels more isolated from her environment and as a result seems more anxious and less happy. She spends most of her time in one little corner of the basement, where she feels surrounded and more protected. The only time I ever hear her purr any more is when I tuck her up against my leg as I sit on the floor and comb her. Tisha has always loved being combed, and will rest her head in my hand as I comb her chin and stroke the sides of her face.

We're still continuing with her medications, but I am more fearful that she may be in her final days. If she can't return to a normal, comfortable life, then we're keeping her here only for us--and I promised myself that we would never keep a beloved animal in discomfort just because we're not strong enough to let her go.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Rule of Twos

Charles mentioned his own personal rule regarding working on Mondays no matter what. That got me thinking about all those years when I got up at 5:24 a.m. to go to work (yes, I'm spoiled; I no longer have to get up early for work-related reasons on any day other than Tuesday, and I actually get up earlier that day than is necessary in order to ensure that I have some personal time for reading, writing, etc., before I hit the road).

I never took Mondays off unless I was so incredibly ill that I had no choice. Likewise, I didn't take Fridays off. My rule was simple: Wednesday is the day to take off for personal reasons.

Two day work weeks are nice. If I took a Wednesday off, I had a Monday-Tuesday workweek, a day off, a Thursday-Friday workweek, and two days off. That seemed like the absolute best use of a personal day, and it made the week zoom by.

Now that I'm retired and only work two jobs (Comic Shop News and Dr. No's), I can't really take Wednesday off, since it's new comics day. It's also the most enjoyable day of the retailing week, though, so it's not a day I'd want to take off.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Simple Complications

Yesterday, Susan and I headed up to Blairsville so that Susan could take a look at the quilt show that was being held at the North Georgia Technical College. Once we got there, I was immediately reminded of the small SF conventions that Susan and I attended back in the 1970's and early 1980's: an exhibit hall, a small dealer's room, and a close-knit community of people hoping to make their hobby engaging for others.

As soon as we entered the building, I had "school flashback." Schools tend to smell the same, whether you're talking about an elementary school, a high school, or a technical college; there's a distinctive mixture of smells that reminded me of my many years in school buildings, both as a student and as a teacher. That familiar smell triggers a Proustian wave of memories, and that put me in a good frame of mind; unlike many, I have a lot of positive memories of school over the years--and while I had my share of trauma and unpleasantness associated with school, it never negated that sense of nostalgia.

There's also a certain nostalgic attraction inherent in quilting itself; it's one of those lost folk arts that's largely overlooked by the mainstream of today's culture, so it's more frequently associated with older generations. The quilt show underscored that; the average age of the attendees seemed to be early sixties, and many of the people involved in staffing the show seemed about the same age.

It's only natural that quilting would seem antiquated to the mainstream; a quilt is a utilitarian item, not an art form, as far as most are concerned, and they couldn't possibly understand why someone would spend hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours to make a large quilt when mass-produced quilts can be had for twenty or thirty bucks at most big-box department stores. Even though I've never understood the allure of quilting (too much meticulous detail, far too much time invested in the finished work), I was amazed by the finished product; it's not just the piecing of the fabric, but the phenomenal detail of the quilting finishing itself, with intricate patterns conveyed in the stitching, that was so impressive.

There's something about quilting, with its demands of time and attention, that seems particularly well suited to the North Georgia environs where the show was held. This is a place in which the speed of life seems, by necessity, to be much slower; there are fewer places to go, and the emphasis on the next new thing seems muted here. And there's something about it that seems appealing, almost enticing; the Thoreau ideal of the simplified life almost siren-like lure in these mountains whose communities seem much closer to the surroundings of my childhood than to the suburban microcosm in which I exist now.

But the truth is, those simpler times really weren't so simple. Time dulls pain and blurs unpleasantness, making us see the past in a golden glow; in truth, however, those bygone days were just as complex and stressful as today for those of us who experienced them. I remember school fondly, but if I dig back far enough, I can remember anxiety and sadness and apprehension as well. I remember the world of the 1950s and 1960s and even the early 1970s as a more optimistic time, but when I brush off the softening dust of nostalgia, I have intense memories of fallout shelters, civil defense drills, fears of war, and divisiveness. The same times I remember wistfully now possessed their own sleepless nights of worry, their own frustrations and angers and sorrows.

We haven't made life more complicated, we've just changed the nature of the complications. We don't really have less time--we've just expedited one aspect of our lives to free up the minutes and hours for another. Today, I spend late hours finishing an issue of Comic Shop News on deadline; in 1963, I spent late hours preparing a too-long-neglected science project.

And were it possible to relocate to North Georgia in hopes of rediscovering a bygone time, I'd find myself longing for many of the aspects of my daily life here that I so enjoy. Would it be simpler to life in a rural environment if it meant that I had to plan a lengthy drive to the grocery store or the pharmacy or the bank, rather than enjoying the spontaneity of walking there on a whim, as I do now?

The complications of a simplified life are blurred by memory, but brought back into sharp focus with more scrutiny. Perhaps the simple life can only exist in nostalgia; the present always has its own inherent demands on time, its own worries, its own Damoclesean overhanging fears... but those, too, will lessen and fade as time passes, and these days will likewise become simpler times.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In the Family

Kimberly called today to tell me that Lisa, a member of our extended family through Aunt Jean, had picked up the last of Dad's unclaimed furniture, and was exceedingly grateful for the gift. I know that Dad would be pleased; he always wanted to help others, and he would give away almost anything he owned if someone else was in need. The furniture was still in good shape, and I'm much happier knowing that it's going to someone in the family rather than being dispensed to a stranger. (Of course, either way would still put it to good use... but there's something about "helping your own" that seems more satisfying.)

On some levels, it felt odd to parcel out Dad's life in this way--and I know that Kim felt the same way, because she and I discussed it earlier this week. Even though I know that it would be pointless to preserve every belonging like some sort of a museum, there's some part of me that feels that each of these items were close to Dad, and that somehow they afford an iconic link to him. Keeping the belongings won't bring Dad back, though, and there's nothing here that any of us need.

I feel good that it's done. I also feel very sad because it underscores the irrevocability of Dad's passing; he can never come back, and we can never go back to the life that he lived. But there's a sense of finality in that that I think I needed on some level.

The sad hours are diminishing with each passing week; I still miss Dad more than I can convey in words, but I'm finding a balance, at least.

'Tis held that sorrow makes us wise;
Yet how much wisdom sleeps with thee

Which not alone had guided me,

But served the seasons that may rise

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "In Memoriam, AHH"

We Have a Weiner!

My friend Janice pointed this out to me, and I was sure that she was joking.

Here is Senator Larry Craig (of "wide stance" notoriety) presenting a favorite recipe.

It involved coring an Idaho potato and sticking a hot dog in it.


Small Improvements

It's too early to say if this is a sign that the worst is over, but I am glad to note that Tisha has shown some marginal improvement in the past forty-eight hours; I'm still not sure of her long-term prognosis, but I'm pleased to report that she's both eating and drinking now, and she's actually getting up and walking around for short distances. She's still wobbly and a bit weak, but any effort to move on her own steam is noteworthy.

She's also trying to use the litterbox, and has actually done so twice today--and while that may not seem like much of a cause for celebration, I assure you that it's wonderful news after a few days of seeing her soil herself regularly because she couldn't get up and go to the litterbox.

In doing some research, I've ascertained that Tisha's age is the equivalent of 95 to 100 in human years--perhaps more, since those numbers were based on cats in general and not on flat-faced Persians (who have a shorter life expectancy than most cats). That's remarkable, considering Tisha's numerous health problems over the years--a tendency to cysts, an ovarian problem, frequent respiratory infections, etc. Of course, we've had her since she was six weeks old and have never let her go outdoors, so her environment has been carefully controlled, and that probably works in her favor.

And of course, we're also two of Those Eccentric People Who Spoil Cats, and that might have helped as well.

I don't want to think of having to have Tisha put to sleep, but I know that it could very well happen at some point... and it could be soon if we can't get her past this problem. I've enjoyed too many years with this dear kitten to ever dream of forcing her to exist in pain and discomfort.

As someone once told me, a cat is love in physical form. Tisha's love for us has been absolute; even when we had to give her medical treatments that were unpleasant, she tolerated them. When she was having physical problems, she always came to me because she knew I would see her through them. If we reach the point where I can't give her respite or comfort, then I know what must be done...

(The photo is from a much happier time--early 2005, shortly after Anna had joined our household. This is Tisha teaching Anna the best spot to stand and watch squirrels frolic on the deck. She and Asia had done this for years, and she was glad to have another doorway companion...)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Tisha, our 18 1/2 year old Persian, is suffering from declining health; while we're doing some tests to determine why, Dr. Lane warned us that the tests may not show up any particular problem. Persians aren't particularly long-lived cats, and the fact that she has been with us for almost 19 years is remarkable.

The photo shows Tisha when she was about 12 or so; as I look at recent photos of her, I can see a malaise that one rarely notices on a day-to-day basis. She's very tired, and moves stiffly; her appetite is declining, and her general comfort seems to be compromised. I worry about her; I've had her since she was six weeks old, when we saw her at a pet store and someone else remarked on how she was the least attractive cat in the bunch because of her flat face. I fell in love with that flat face the moment I saw it, though, and I knew she had to go home with us that day.

She and Asia joined us on the same day, and they were lifelong partners until Asia passed away just over three years ago. They slept side-by-side; they explored together; they played together; they groomed one another. She has been lonely since Asia's death; the addition of Anna and Mischa to the house helped to a degree, but the presence of another companion in the house doesn't replace the loss of a beloved sister.

I am burdened by the fear that today's tests might show that Tisha's quality of life has deteriorated to the point that we are doing her a disservice by keeping her with us. She's dwindled down to 6 1/2 pounds from a high of 9 pounds; as recently as six months ago, she weighed 7 1/2 pounds, so that's a pretty serious weight loss. She's losing control of her bowel and bladder as well, and I know that she feels uncomfortable because she was such a meticulous cat insofar as grooming was concerned.

I just gave her some medication, but I almost hated to wake her up to do so; the only time she seems comfortable or peaceful is when she's deeply asleep.

I worry that such a devoted and loving cat might be suffering without our being aware, and I fear that these recent problems are signs of a downward spiral that even Dr. Lane can't reverse. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't hold a great deal of hope...

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Solemnest of Industries

I spent much of today in Rome, helping Kim and Cole and Christy sort through ephemera, esoterica, and mundania of Dad's in order to clear out the remainder of the house for Cole and Christy to move in the rest of their own belongings.

Kim and Cole and Christy began working on this yesterday, and I could tell from the tone of Kim's voice that she was emotionally overwhelmed by the prospect. Cole felt almost incapable of determining what should go and what should stay; he was afraid that he would dispose of something that meant a great deal to Kim or to me, and as a result he viewed every object in the house as iconic. Kim, meanwhile, was almost overcome with emotion at the sheer magnitude of the task; every object she picked up did have some sort of associated memory, and the combined weight of those memories was making it difficult for her to make progress.

Today, we tackled the job with the determination that we would have everything sorted, even if we didn't have it moved out. I tackled my old room, then migrated to Mom and Dad's old room. The bulk of my task was sorting DVDs and CDs, disposing of empty cases, damaged discs, home recordings, etc., and boxing up the remainder. The bulk of Dad's DVDs are older films--at least 50% of them were bargain-priced releases purchased at Big Lots or WalMart, and they had no financial value at all, only entertainment value. As for the CDs... well, at least 75% of them were Christmas discs because Dad loved Christmas music--but many of the discs were scuffed so badly as to be unplayable, since Dad had gotten out of the habit of putting discs back into their covers.

Once all those were sorted, I went through some of the decorative items, small lamps, desk accessories, etc., and trashed anything for which I couldn't think of an immediate use. What I didn't put in a trash bag, I put in a stack in the middle of the floor, indicating to everyone that as far as I was concerned, all of this was trash--it could be freely disposed of without worry of losing a family heirloom. I took very little; I had already picked up a few family pictures shortly after Dad's death, and household items hold far less emotional significance for me than do the handwritten notes and other items that I had already filed away.

Within a few hours, every room was sorted; even thought Kim's old room still had decorations on the shelves, I made it clear to Cole and Christy and Kim that there was nothing on those shelves that I wanted, so they could safely throw it away or take it to Goodwill if there didn't want it. While there was still work to be done, the remaining jobs were only loading and hauling, not sorting; I felt comfortable that once the sorting was done, Cole could handle the rest without worrying about upsetting someone by giving away a precious memory.

Within the next week or so, the house will be totally refurnished as Cole and Christy and Ollie's house--and that's just as it should be. Dad left us on August 14th; the house yearns for daily life to revisit its walls, and it benefits from the presence of people. I look forward to seeing it remade as their house--and no changes they make will ever do anything to take away the wonderful memories I have of the eight years that I lived there, or of the thirty-nine years that Mom and Dad lived there, or of the subsequent four and two-thirds years that Dad diligently made it his home in Mom's absence. So many cherished events occurred within those walls, and so much love resonated in every room... it's time for that to continue.

The title, by the way, comes from an Emily Dickinson poem that ran through my mind several times while sorting through the bits of Dad's life within those walls:

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth--

The Sweeping up the Heart
and putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Farewell, Lisa

Lisa died today.

Readers who have been following Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean know that Les Moore's wife Lisa has faced a recurrence of the cancer that first came to light several years ago in one of the strip's more memorable arcs.

In recent days, Les and Lisa have prepared for her death; the storylines involving hospice care certainly reminded me of Dad's last day and a half in hospice care before he died on August 14th. I suspect that many readers will find the same evocative quality in these installments. (Oddly enough, Batiuk negated some of the poignancy of the strip by personifying death as an unspeaking masked tuxedo-clad figure, adding an unnecessary distraction to a strip that was otherwise positively riveting in its portrayal of life's ephemerality.)

A lot of people have complained about the heaviness of this storyline; Batiuk even poked fun at it himself recently, having Les comment on the irony of the nickname "the funnies." Had he done this poorly, it would have been a major setback, leading others to question the ability of serialized comic strips to effectively look at the death of a major character. However, Batiuk managed to create a great deal of empathy for both Les and Lisa, and even with the aforementioned distractions, the strip still conveyed a genuine sense of loss in an understated, moving manner.

When Lisa could no longer see, I was reminded of the inner turmoil and unspoken fear that Dad must have felt when his own vision was diminished (if not wholly destroyed) by his first stroke. Just as Les, Lisa, and the readers knew that this was the beginning of her final moments, so did I remember Dad's emotional instruction to let him die.

And when the hospice nurse tells Les that Lisa's gone, I remembered the hospice nurse at Floyd Hospital telling us the same thing as she explained what was happening to Dad's failing body. And I also remembered speaking those same words to Kim and Susan and Dad and Cole and Jessica back on December 15th, 2000, when Mom had drawn her final breath.

When Les asks, "Did she say something?" I remember that Dad spoke a final phrase as he drew that last breath, a phrase that he said deliberately... but a phrase that neither Kim nor I were able to discern. Were his words spoken to us as he was forced to leave us behind, or were they spoken to those who awaited to guide him on to the next step of his journey? We'll never know, any more than will Les...

It was a doubly somber day in comic strip land: Jim, the stroke-victim grandfather in For Better or For Worse, suffered a second major stroke in today's installment, leading another character to wonder whether it's better to wish for his survival or for his demise, should it turn out the stroke has done too much damage. Again, I knew what these characters were undergoing, and all-too-fresh memories of the same experiences came to the surface.

It's a tough day for comic strip families... just as it is every day for one very real family or another who go through these same devastating experiences. It's that commonality that makes these strips so moving... there, in spite of the grace of God, goes each of us...

(Funky Winkerbean copyright Batom, Inc. Distributed by King Features. If you're not reading it, you should.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Numbers Game

Cole began the process of switching some of the utilities at the Marchmont house today; I haven't asked if Cole intends to keep the home phone line (currently he and Christy have cellular numbers but no landline) or not. Of course, I respect their decision and can see why they might not want to spend an extra $40 a month for a phone line... but there's a part of me that hopes that they do.

Mom and Dad first got their 234-5781 phone number when they moved to Marchmont Drive in 1963 (I don't recall what our phone number was before that time, but I know it was different, because I remember how surprised I was when we got a number that almost counted up from 2 to 8 in order). For the past forty-four years, that phone number has been a sort of "home number" for me--I have always associated it with Mom and Dad, and just talking about the number brings back memories of old rotary dial phones, even though no one in the family has had one of those since the late 1970s.

We used to get a lot of wrong number calls in the old rotary-dial days; Mom always theorized it was because kids would start dialing numbers more or less in order and hit ours at random. I never knew if that was right or not, but it seemed to make a sort of sense.

I had my own phone number from 1969 to 1971; Mom and Dad let me get my own phone in my bedroom since I spent so much time talking to Susan and tying up the family line. I have no idea what that number was, though; even though it was my phone number, it never really felt like mine--that is, I never became attached to the number.

For the first three years that we lived in Cedartown, Susan and I had no phone at all; finally, in 1974, we got our first phone, and the number was 748-6363. I remember it because we were official editors of Myriad at the time, and the abbreviation for that position was OE, which worked perfectly with a 748-OEOE phone number.

When we moved to Marietta in 1977, we got our first metro Atlanta phone number: 424-0485. I was frustrated because the zero meant that our phone number couldn't spell out anything. We had that number until 1986, when we moved to the Milstead Circle house and had to give up our 424 exchange. That was when we got our current phone number, which we've had for twenty-one years now.

It seems odd to have an emotional attachment to a phone number--and I guess I really don't. I have an emotional attachment to the two people I always counted on to be reachable at that number, and I have fond memories of the thousands of times I called that number to share happiness, to seek consolation, to catch up on news, or just to chat. It was a number I called twice a day (at least) virtually every day since Mom died, just to make sure how Dad was doing. It's a phone number redolent with holiday memories and happy times.

It's only a number... but sometimes numbers have a power to evoke so much more...