For have you not retrieved from exile the desperate lives
of men who never found their home? Have you not opened
your dark door for us who never yet found doors to enter?
Well, it’s that time again. Seems like not that long ago, when I last posted that last blog of the year. When one looks back and takes stock a bit. I guess that’s what one is expected to do. It’s what I’ve done, mostly, in the past. Look back, recount and reflect. And tab it out, all the stuff that happened. Good, bad, ugly. And I was figuring to do just that. But when I sat down to pound it out, there was one thing that kept surfacing in my head. One new realization, one new thing of wonder, that stood out above all the rest.
That right there was the opening paragraph for my last blog of 2012, almost exactly two years ago. And I went back, and looked at that opening paragraph. And decided to copy it over, word for word, to open this last blog of 2014. Back then, that “new thing of wonder” I discovered was how much I am like my Dad. And it was a big deal to me to figure all that out. This year, that new thing of wonder is way out there in left field, in a totally different dimension. But still, those opening words are every bit as true as they were two years ago. Just in a different way.
2014. It’s been one rough and hellish year. I won’t beat around the bush about any of all that. It was a year of real hard roads. A dark year, when pretty much anything that could go wrong went wrong. Almost from the first day, it was that way. Well, at least since last March. March has been kind of an evil, skittish month to me, in the past. That’s when Ellen left our home, in March, seven years ago, after seven years of marriage. It all was what it was, timing wise, and I’m sure the month of March would protest, if it could, that I hold it in such low esteem. And yeah, maybe I have a little chip on my shoulder, at it. But still. Just look at the record. This past March was when my heart went all whacked out and crazy on me. It was pretty brutal stuff, and it came down in a real dark place. I wrote it all out when it happened.
I remember talking to a friend, soon after I got out of the hospital last March. When I was on all that poisonous Coumadin they sentenced me to take every day. I was pretty depressed about it all, and told him so. He told me. If you get your heart worked on, especially if you’re a man, you will go into real depression at some point, soon after you get out. My friend was talking about the more serious heart procedures, like the one he went through, more than ten years back. Mine was just a flutter, that they went up and seared.
And I told my friend. Yeah. I hear that. I wasn’t in a good place emotionally, when my heart went all crazy. And I remember how vivid all of life was to me, right after I got out of the hospital. All of it, the colors, the feelings, the intensity of it all. I guess that happened because you get a real sense of your own mortality, when you get your heart worked on. And yeah, I sank down into a real dark place, right soon after I got out, too. It was all pretty brutal. And I stayed there in that darkness, off and on, for way too long in 2014.
One thing I did, though, this past year. I wrote it as it came. I wrote from where I was, from all the dark places that came at me right out of nowhere. And I gotta say this. I look back at my production on the blog this year, and I feel pretty satisfied. Some of that writing is the best I’ve ever done. The best that ever came out of me, including the book. And I don’t need anyone’s permission to say that. I can just say it, because that’s what I think. That was one bright spot, looking back over the bleakness that was this year. The writing that came was first class stuff. Not all of it. But some of it. And, yeah, sure, I know. It’s all free, right here, that writing. It just doesn’t matter to me, that little point. That’s how I produce. This blog is the norm, the place I speak from, the place where my writing voice was born. The book was an aberration that may or may not happen again.
After March, here came April. That’s when Mom left us, after a brutal week-long struggle with the flu. They told me, the ones who were there at the end. It was not a pretty, peaceful passing. It was the ugliness of death, the ugliness of life slowly seeping from a frail and wasted body, when there was nothing left to hold on to. There was no dignity, there at the end, for Mom. It was a cruel death. Dark and senseless and brutal. The family gathered from all over, and we grieved the matriarch of our clan. And then we buried her. It was an intense and bonding thing.
Somewhere in there, soon after Mom’s funeral, I kicked the medical people out of my life. Got off all the pharmaceuticals they had me on. It was all pretty strange, in a lot of ways, how that all happened. And from somewhere it came to me, about right then. Sit down and write. Write your next book. So I boldly stated on my blog, soon after March. Some serious writing’s coming. I don’t know for sure what it is. But I’m feeling it. And I’m fixing to invite it all in, real soon. I don’t give a hoot about a sequel. I really don’t. If it doesn’t come right, it’ll never get told. And I’m totally fine with that. I’d rather be remembered as a “one hit wonder” than to ever crank out another book that’s not coming from my heart, simply for the money.
And now, as 2015 comes at me, I’m fixing to poke around a bit, to see if a second book can come right. I have a pretty good idea of the parameters of that book, at least how I saw it when I was getting ready to go in and relive it. It’ll open, with me driving up to Aylmer to see Dad, like I wrote in July of last year. It’ll open with the opening scenes of The Lion in Winter. And it’ll close with the two most wayward sons stooping to place roses on the soft earth above their mother. Between those two scenes, I figure, there’s a flashback book in there somewhere, about what all happened, and how it all got to where it did. In 2015, I plan to play around with all that. I most definitely plan to. I have no idea if it’ll take off or not, the writing of it. If it comes, I’ll speak it. If it doesn’t come, I’ll wait until it does. But I feel it coming, the next chapter of my story. It’s close. Soon, it will come. It’s close.
And this is just how it went, last summer. I was figuring to work a bit, on the sequel. I had the outline in my head. And just about when I was ready to walk into that opening room, here came more of the pure hell that was this year. Little Abby drowned. That pretty much took the sails out of anything I had, other than walking into life and writing what I saw from where I was. It was a brutal, brutal loss, the death of Abby. I’m not sure if the extended family has fully grasped what just was taken from us, as a clan. Well. I mean, I’m not sure any close or extended family can ever fully grasp the depth of such a loss. It all made me want to rend my clothes and curse the heavens in despair, back when it happened. But I didn’t curse, and I didn’t rend my clothes. I just wrote the story, instead, from where I was. Abby’s blog and Mom’s funeral blog. Those two narratives are among the very best of anything I’ve ever written.
And then Dad almost left us. I mean, it was that close, he was gone. Somehow, the man pulled back. He is one tough, tough, old guy. And I went up to see him, just a month or so back. He was excited to see me. And now, he’s all excited to be going down to Pine Craft, the first of the year. It’s what keeps him going, the excitement of all that. The anticipation. That, and he’s still got another three volumes to write, for his memoirs. He just came out with the second. My Stretch in the Service. He sent me a signed copy, and I’ve been perusing it. It’s much better writing than his first book was. I think the man is finding his stride, when it comes to telling his story. I’m reading stuff I never, never knew before.
And I kind of looked forward to it, the last blog of this year. It should be pretty simple, to get riled into a real rant about it all. That’s what I figured, and that was my full intention, when I started writing this. To get all riled up. To grumble and seethe at God. To just tell Him how it is. To rage at Him like I raged, back when Mom was just hanging on for no reason, except He wouldn’t call her home to Him. And yeah, I’m still a little pissed about how that all went, with Mom. Moving on up to now, though.
My life has been nothing but pain, lately. That’s what I figured to tell the Lord. Come on. You can do better than that. Give me some blessings, once in a while. Not that You haven’t. Like the Bible Study. That came out of nowhere. But lately, those sure have been sparse. I’ve seen nothing but bullshit, most of this year. And yeah, I’ll use that word when I’m talking to You. You know full well what I mean. It’s been crap, and You know it. I’ve been self-medicating, in ways I do not like. I need to get a grip. I’m just waiting here, to get all healed and speaking praises. Come on. Work your magic. Heal me from this year.
Those are the things I figured to say to God. Without any shame. You speak from your heart, that’s what I’ve said before. That’s what Pastor Mark always preaches. If you’re brooding and wounded, speak from that place. Well. It’s not turning out quite the way I thought it would, the writing of it from that place. And I’m not quite sure how to describe it all. So I guess I’ll just turn to a story that I feel like telling right this moment, for some reason. It’s a story I heard many times as a child. Mostly I heard it told in church, as a tiny little sliver in some otherwise long and droning sermon. In rough memory form, the story goes like this, right here.
There was a prophet, back there in the Old Testament. A prophet from God, living out there in the wilderness. In the land of a heathen king. The king knew the prophet, knew that he was a man of God, a man who had some special powers. And the king came to the prophet one day to call in a favor. Or maybe he was courting, for the first time. I don’t remember. But the king wanted help. There were some people passing through the kingdom, a great tribe of warriors. And the king was very scared of that tribe of warriors. So he came to the prophet with gifts of great finery, gifts of gold and linen and fine clothes. “Come with me to a high place,” the king said. “I want you to curse the invaders. I want you to curse them in the name of your God.”
The prophet was a bit of a shyster, I’ve always thought, from hearing the story. Not saying that I would have reacted any different, had I been him. I’m not judging his heart. He was flattered that the king came to him for help. He was flattered, to be so important. And he agreed, quite cheerfully, from what I heard told. So off they went, the two of them, and the king’s large entourage. The king took the prophet to a high place, and they looked down on the great tribe of warriors, camped out in the valley below. “OK,” the king said. “Now curse those people for me. I’ve paid you good money, to do this. So curse them, in the name of your God.”
The prophet stepped up to speak his curse, just like he’d been paid to do. But strangely, when the words flowed from him, those words weren’t curses. It was all blessings, that came out of his mouth. They would be victorious, wherever they marched, those warriors down there in the valley. They would be victorious. And the king, the very king who was paying the prophet to speak, that king would be their servant.
I imagine the king was pretty speechless, right off, after the prophet quit speaking. But not for long. You can bet he hollered at the prophet. “What? I hired you to curse the children of Israel. You took my money. And you just went out and blessed them. Are you insane?” And the prophet was all greasy, being the shyster he was. Pay me again. I’ll curse your enemies, this time. I think the prophet had every intention, to go through with his promise. He figured he’d deliver a curse on the king’s enemies, this time. And the king bought it. He paid the prophet again. And again, the two of them went to a high place, from where the prophet would spit out all the curses he was paid to speak. They would be cursed, those invaders.
Again, the prophet opened his mouth to curse. And again, only blessings rolled out. The king about had a stroke. And he yelled at the prophet again. “What in the world do you think you’re doing? I’m paying you, here.” And the prophet could only shrug his shoulders helplessly. He could only speak the words the Lord allowed him to speak. That’s what he told the king. And in the end, the king gave up, trying to tell the prophet to curse his enemies. It obviously wasn’t working. I figure the king actually feared the prophet as a man of God. Otherwise, he would just have had his head chopped off. I figure there was fear, there, in the king’s heart. Because that didn’t happen, no matter how mad he was at the shyster prophet.
And what does that little tale have to do with anything? You might ask. You might, indeed. I’m in a very strange place, here. A place I’ve never seen before. I mean, I want to rage against all the crap that this year was. I want to seethe, and I want to vent against God for all the BS that came at me in 2014. I really, really want to. Just as much as Balaam wanted to curse King Balaak’s enemies. I really want to speak all that darkness, cry to the heavens, call out in despair and grief and gloom. But I just can’t. It’s so clear to see, from here, when I’m trying to write it. I can’t speak curses. I can’t grumble against that which God does not want me to speak. I just can’t do it. It’s like my hands are tied.
I can only speak words of blessing, looking back over the year that was. And I can only speak those words from a grateful heart. Because all of life is a gift. And all of life is a precious and beautiful thing. That’s what I’ve always claimed to believe, when things were pretty much going my way. It’s either all of life, or it’s not, what I believe. And I have only words of blessing, for all this past year hit me with. Words of blessing, because it all was what it was, for reasons I will never understand. The Lord does that. Brings stuff into your life, to forge and shape you. Oh, yes. There was all kinds of forging and shaping going on that I wasn’t seeing, back when I was focused on all the crap raining down around me. Oh, yes, there was.
Funny thing is, though, when it comes right down to it, I’m not even sure what real words of blessing sound like when you speak them. I’ve never been here before, in a place as strange as this, where I’m called to speak when I don’t know for sure what the words I’m supposed to speak sound like. But I’m committed to speaking them. I’m not quite sure how this will all turn out. I’m in a new place, and I’m just telling you what I see and feel, walking through that new door. Just give me a little time. I think I’ll figure it all out.
I have no idea what 2015 may bring. I have so looked forward to this year being over. Just to move on, to leave behind all those hard and ugly things. And I simply don’t know. Maybe that new place will bring even worse stuff than what I saw this year. It doesn’t matter, though, whether it’s worse or better, what the New Year will bring.
All that matters is this. I’m looking forward to it. And it will be a year of blessings.
Happy New Year to all my readers.
Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.
I don’t exactly consider myself a connoisseur. But I like to have a jar of moonshine around, now and then. I’m fascinated by the history of the drink. Farmers, getting the best possible price for their corn. And I’m especially respectful of the drink, because it’s illegal. That makes any moonshine worth drinking, all on its own, that little fact right there. The guys who make it are thumbing their noses at the evil, invasive nanny state. Yeah, it’s against your laws. But I’ll make it, and I’ll sell it anyway. Do what you can to stop me. You gotta respect a man who does that.
Like I said, I’m no expert. I’ve got a contact, here and there, where I can pick up a jar now and then. The clear stuff, usually. And about 95% of clear moonshine leaves you gasping, when you take a shot. And it tastes like kerosene, most times. I’ve had only one jar, ever, that came out of West Virginia, that didn’t make you gasp. That stuff was smooth as silk, with no aftertaste whatsoever. I shared it joyfully with my friends. I drink alone, because I drink when I write. But I never drink moonshine alone. That stuff’s made to be shared. And it’s made so you only take one shot. Much more than that, and you’ll soon be sitting on your butt, your head spinning.
The seeds of this little tale go back, oh, I’d say six weeks or so. I got a call at work from a redneck builder down south in Maryland. (To me, “redneck” is a fond term.) The guy’s been buying metal roofing from me for years. And we’ve developed a real friendship. Anyway, that day he was on the road. He wanted to place an order for metal roofing for a house, a job he’d just landed. And he told me all the lengths, all the trim and accessories he needed. I’ll order the metal in, I told him as we were wrapping up. And I’ll put you on for delivery for next Thursday. “That’ll work,” he said. “But I’m heading out of town. So call me the day before you deliver, just to make sure I’m ready for the stuff.” I’ll do that, I said. And then I asked him. Out of town? Where are you heading?
“I’m goin’ to Tennessee,” he told me. “And I figure to be back next Tuesday. That’s why I want you to call, just to make sure I’m ready for the metal.” I locked in. Tennessee? I asked him. Well, you know what you can bring me. I’ll sure take a jar of ‘shine from down there, if you can find a still. He rolled right with it. “That’s what I’m plannin’ to do. I figured I’d bring you a jar.” Hey, thanks, I said. I’ll look forward to it.
I called him, the next week, on Wednesday. The day before his delivery was scheduled. Yes, he was back. And yes, bring the load. He added a few more small items he’d thought of. All right, we’ll be out there first thing, I told him. And then I asked him. Did you get me some ‘shine? “Yup,” he said. “I got the clear, and I got the Apple Pie. Which do you want?” I’d rather have the clear, I said. I’m suspicious of Apple Pie. I got a few jars of that once, and it slushed up on me, when I put it in the freezer. That’s the way you test it, to see if it’s real ‘shine. It better stay all liquid, when you put it in the freezer.
“OK,” he said. “I got a jar of clear for you. Shall I send it back with the driver?” Nah, I said. I don’t want any Graber trucks stopped for running ‘shine. Just drop it off, sometime when you’re around. I’ll pay you for it. “I will,” he said. “And I don’t want paid for it. I want a signed copy of your book.” I’ll be happy to trade, that way, I said. But I’ll sure be getting the best deal, of the two of us. I mean, my book ain’t worth what you paid for that ‘shine. “I don’t care,” he said. “I just want a signed copy of your book. And I’ll trade, straight across.” Sounds good to me, I said. I’ll look for you, one of these days.
And he walked in, a couple of Fridays back. I saw him coming. He was carrying a little brown paper bag. I got up to greet him, and we stood there and talked across the counter. You’ll all dressed up, man, I said. Pretty slicked up. What’s up with that? “Yeah, today’s my birthday,” he said. “So I’m going out to celebrate a bit.” We chatted a bit more. And then I asked him. I see your bag. Did you bring my moonshine?
“Yup,” he said, handing it over. I opened the bag. Inside was a little plastic bag, wrapped around a cold jar. “I’ve kept it in the freezer,” he told me. I took the jar out. Unscrewed the lid. Sure smelled like the real stuff. We might as well have a taste, I said. I handed him the jar. You go first, you brought it here for me. He took it from my hands, and took a sip. Then he solemnly handed it back to me. I took a sip. We had moonshine communion, right there. That’s pretty good stuff, I said. Very smooth. Don’t taste like kerosene at all. “I told you it was good,” he said. He seemed pretty proud of his contacts, down in Tennessee.
He likes to stand and talk a while when he comes, so we stood and talked about things. Then I reached under my desk and got out a copy of my book. I opened the front cover, and signed the book over to my friend. “You know, I’m gonna try to get it read,” he said, as he took it from me. “I always fall asleep when I sit down to read something. Even when it’s a hunting magazine, something I’m interested in. I just fall asleep. But I’m sure gonna try hard to get this read.” Don’t worry about it, if you don’t, I told him. I never ask anyone if they’ve read it, after I give them a copy. I figure if they want to tell me they did, that’s fine. But I don’t ask. I won’t ask you, either.
He picked up a few tubes of caulk for that roofing job, then. Thanks again for the ‘shine, I said. We shook hands, and he walked out. A real good guy, right there, I told Andrew. Look. He brought me some ‘shine from Tennessee, for a copy of my book. Andrew seemed pretty impressed.
And right here, I might as well insert this. I don’t know any better place to say it. Things have changed a bit, lately, at Graber. Reuben wanted to get away, be less involved in the day to day business of things. So he hired a guy to be “him,” a guy who oversees every detail of every aspect of the business. He came along about a month ago. His name is Rodney. We were all kind of freaked out, those of us who’ve been there a long time. What’s this? Change? We don’t like change. Who is this guy, and what’s he gonna do around here?
Well, I must say it’s all been rolling along pretty smoothly, so far. Rodney didn’t come in and throw his weight around, right off. We just didn’t know, how it would be. He met with each employee, individually. And he just talked to each one. He’s upbeat, to a fault, almost. He’s a guy who ran a large nonprofit, before he came to Graber. Actually, I think he was overqualified for the job. But he took it. And he came right in there, and stamped his nonthreatening personality all over the place. Slowly, but relentlessly.
He likes to talk about “teamwork” a lot. Beyond anything any of us had ever heard before. And he was all cheery, as the Christmas season came down at us. Christmas cheer. Let’s hear it. I grumbled at him. I’m a grinch. Leave me alone, when it comes to Christmas. And one day, Rosita cranked up the one Christmas song she knew I despised. Dominick the Donkey. It’s a silly little senseless tune. She tortures me with it every year, and has for years. And I grumbled loudly at her. Shut that song off. I don’t want to hear it.
Rodney overheard us fussing. And he stepped right out, and inserted himself. “Why don’t you like that song, and why don’t you like Christmas?” He asked. It’s a silly song, and I don’t have to like Christmas if I don’t want to, I said. Just let me fuss at Rosita. Well. That was certainly the wrong thing to say. Because the man decreed that Dominick the Donkey will be played loudly every afternoon, right up through Christmas. I grumbled savagely. You’re inflicting pain on me, here. And every afternoon, right around 2 PM, they rolled out the song. I hunched in my chair, as they all made snide remarks at me.
And somehow, I managed to negotiate some terms. Look. I don’t feel like I have a voice, here. Let’s make a window. Say, between 1:30 and 2:15. The song has to be played in that window. If we get all busy, or if you all forget, I get to have peace that day. Rosita and Andrew scoffed. But Rodney listened. “OK, that’s negotiating. That’s a better place than you were before. So it has to happen, in that forty-five minutes. Or the song won’t be played.” I can accept that, I said. And believe me, I won’t be reminding anyone about anything in those forty-five minutes.
Back to that Friday afternoon. I forget if the abominable song was played, but I’m pretty sure it was. I didn’t care much, that day. I was excited, because Janice was coming around. She was working in Philly, and had reserved rooms at Cork Factory Hotel. One room for me, and one for her and Wilm. It’s been a while, well, back at the beach in September, since we’d hung out together, the three of us. And I was looking forward a lot, to seeing her again. I set the jar of ‘shine on the floor behind the counter, so I wouldn’t forget it when I left. And at some point, I invited the others. Let’s all have a sip. I even poked my head around the corner and asked Rodney, if he’d like some. “Sure,” he said. And we all huddled together.
We held out our little pointy white paper water cups, and I poured us all a little shot. Even Rosita came and participated. We saluted. Cheers. They probably said “to Christmas.” I didn’t. And then we gulped it down. The second moonshine communion I had that day. You’d think you could trust about any group you just drank moonshine with, especially if you supplied it.
I left a little early, then, around four. I had to run home, finish and post the blog about Bear Stoll, and then head on over to Cork Factory Hotel. I was winding my way through Gap, when I looked, and realized something. The ‘shine. I’d forgotten the ‘shine. Drat. Oh, well. After getting through town, I called Andrew’s cell. He didn’t answer, so I left a message. Hey, Ira here. I forgot my moonshine. It’s sitting there, behind the counter. Save the paper and plastic bags it’s in, but put the jar in the freezer. I’ll take it home on Monday. Andrew texted me back, when I got home. “Thanks. We’ll have a real big party over the weekend.” I know exactly how much ‘shine is in that jar, I texted back. And it better be right where it is right now.
Somewhere in the Old Testament, there is a verse that speaks of how desperately wicked the human heart is. I suppose my own heart is as depraved as anyone’s. Actually, I know it is. But for the crew at the office there at Graber, I’ll tweak that verse just a bit. They, at least the ones who were present that Friday afternoon, their hearts are desperately devious. That’s all I can say. And I’ll tell you why a little bit later.
The evening rolled right in at me. And the weekend. I posted my blog, then headed on in to meet Janice and Wilm, at Cork and Cap for dinner. Janice had been all busy. And we were joined by Reuben, and a few other local friends. We all sat around a large table, and just had a real good time. Later, we sat at the bar, in a long line, and just caught up. It was family and friends time.
The next morning, we got up late. Just lounged around. After coffee, Janice headed out with me, back to my home turf, to run some errands. It’s so rare, that she and I just get to drive around and talk. And we just chatted about things. How the year went, how hard it was, a lot of it. I’m in a pretty good place, when you think about how it all went, I said. But as Christmas is coming up, I’m a little sad. I think back to last year this time, and how I was all excited about a special gift I was getting together. You were with me, when I went to pick it up. It was the first time we stayed at Cork Factory. We picked it up that Saturday afternoon. And you remember how proudly I showed it to you, the gift. I look back at how excited I was about it, what a surprise it would be. And I look back now at what all has happened since then. This year, there is no special gift to send to anyone. And it just waves through me. Not heavy sadness. But still, the memories flood in, and this year, this Christmas, I’m a little sad. Janice nodded. She knew what I was talking about. She’s been a rock of support from the instant that particular world crumpled around me. “It’s real, how a season can do that to you. Even a season like Christmas,” she said.
We stopped by an Amish farmer’s place to pick up a gallon of fresh Jersey milk. Every other Saturday, I stop and buy a gallon from the guy. A big old glass jar, sitting there in the ice cold water in the tank. I take it on over to my friends, David and Esther’s place. Esther takes that raw fresh Jersey milk and makes four quarts of totally natural yogurt. I stop back, usually on Sunday afternoon, and pick up two of those quarts of delicious natural yogurt. And she keeps two. It’s a real nice little deal we’ve had going for a while, now. Esther smiled and welcomed Janice. Her married daughter, Emma was home, with her two-year-old daughter. The girl was just a little live wire, and Janice connected immediately with her. The two of them talked in PA Dutch. The little girl was all proud that her hair was long enough to make a bun. “Look, a bun,” she said to Janice, turning around and pointing to her bun of hair. Janice made much fuss about that bun. I watched the two of them connect, and it pierced my heart a bit. Because I knew Janice was seeing little Abby in that little girl.
All right. Meandering here. But I guess I can do that, because this is my blog. We headed back to the city, then, and met Wilm at the Hotel. Janice drove us over to Central Market. The oldest continuously open Farmer’s Market in the country. Right in the middle of downtown Lancaster. It’s a teeming place, with all sorts of every imaginable goody. Food, fresh food. Fruits, fresh fruits. And all kinds of delicious things to eat, from the lunch stands. We puttered around for an hour, as the place was winding down. As full as it was, even then, I’d hate to be around when it opened on a Saturday morning.
Janice and I bought some food at a Cuban stand. And Wilm bought some Thai pasta of some kind. It was time to leave, then. Janice told me. “Wilm and I want to go shopping at TJ Maxx. Do you want to come along, or should we drop you off at the Hotel?” Oh, I’ll go along, I said, all innocently. I need a few things. She looked a little dubious, but I insisted. I’ll go along. So off we went, to TJ Maxx. I was about to learn a few things, I must say.
I puttered and putzed around, over in the men’s section. For about twenty minutes. And then I went to hunt up the girls. I’m going over to Ollie’s, for a while, I said. Text me when you’re ready to leave. “OK, we will,” they said. And off I wandered, to Ollie’s, a quarter mile away. A big discount warehouse, that’s what Ollie’s is. I wandered through the place. For a long time, probably half an hour. I checked out their book section. One of these days, my book is gonna hit the discount section. But it wasn’t there, at Ollie’s, not that day. I kept checking my phone, for a text. Nothing. Finally, I gave up. Walked the quarter mile back to TJ Maxx. Surely the girls would be checking out, by the time I got there.
I walked back into the store, and looked and looked for Janice’s dark red hair. I mean, I scanned the place. Walked all over, looking and looking. No mane of dark red hair to be seen anywhere. So I parked out, close to the exit. Just stood there, and lounged. And lounged. Wandered in circles. I noticed, that the clerks close by were eying me strangely. A tall guy, standing and wandering. What’s he doing here? I figured they thought I was about to rob the place. So I finally texted Janice, in desperation. Where are you? I’m back, in the store. She texted right back. “We’re in the dressing room.” A few minutes later, they emerged, Janice and Wilm. Chattering about the jeans they’d tried on, and all about how much more stuff they wanted to look at. It was pretty clear that they had only begun shopping.
I stood and faced them both. Look, I said. I’m done. Here’s my offer. If you take me back to the Hotel, I promise that I will never, never go shopping with you again. They took up my offer. Half somberly. Janice couldn’t stop laughing, all the way back, though. “You poor man. Going shopping with me and Wilm.” And they dropped me off, at Cork and Cap. And went back to their shopping. I nursed my wounds, at the bar, with a drink. And then I went back to my room, until the girls came back to take me out for dinner. At a very nice little French restaurant. I never knew such a place existed in Lancaster. But then, why should I? I abhor the evil city. But that night, it was a good place. And later we hung out with Joe and Moe, the bartenders at Cork and Cap.
The next morning, we woke up late. And we had brunch, at the restaurant. If you ever get to Lancaster, look up two places. Vinola’s, my bar in Leola. And Cork and Cap, in Lancaster. I’d stack those two places against any place you suggest to me. They’re real. The people are real. And they both got real good food and drinks. After brunch, we all got a little sad. Janice had to head right to the airport, to catch her plane west. We all hugged. And parted again, one more time. Until the next time.
OK. I’m done meandering, now. Back to the moonshine. I got to work, that Monday, after all that fun. And I was feeling pretty good. I asked Andrew, sometime that morning. Did you put my moonshine in the freezer? “No,” he said. “I just put it in the fridge.” I thought I told you to put it in the freezer, I said. Oh, well. We’ll have a taste again, before I take it home tonight. He looked all eager, to have a taste.
And right here, I’ll repeat myself. I’ve never done this before. But this time, I will. I will repeat myself. Somewhere in the Old Testament, there is a verse that speaks of how desperately wicked the human heart is. I suppose my own heart is as depraved as anyone’s. Actually, I know it is. But for the crew at the office there at Graber, I’ll tweak that verse just a bit. They, at least the ones who were present that Monday after lunch, and maybe at least one other person who wasn’t present, their hearts are desperately devious. Or at least those hearts were desperately devious, that day.
Andrew had to leave at two that day, for some appointment. So about fifteen minutes before he left, I got all generous again. I would share what I had with my friends. Let’s have another shot of ‘shine before you go. They both seemed all eager, Rosita and Andrew. Rodney wasn’t around right then. I’m sure he would have been all eager, too.
I had walked out a bit earlier, and stuck the ‘shine up in the freezer, so it would get real cold. That’s the best way to sip it. Ice cold, straight from the freezer. When I went back to fetch it, little icicles were forming on the inside of the jar. What the heck was that all about? I wondered. My redneck friend had told me he kept it in the freezer. Maybe it’s not as pure as he thought it was. I carried it out, to where the others were waiting.
I opened the jar. The moonshine smell whooshed right out. This is real good stuff, I said as I poured us each a shot. Cheers, we said to each other. Then we all tossed it back. That’s pretty smooth, I must say, I said. “Yes, yes,” they both agreed, although I think Rosita coughed a bit, pretending to choke. “It’s real smooth.” And I sat back in my chair, all satisfied at having shared my ‘shine with such good, true friends. Nothing like a little shot of good ‘shine, after a meal, I told Andrew. He agreed, as he was rushing out to his appointment.
I carefully placed my jar of moonshine back into the fridge. Not the freezer. It had slushed up, earlier. And I was perturbed about that. Maybe the stuff was diluted. As I left work, I carried my precious jar of ‘shine out to my truck with me. David, Andrew’s older brother, was walking out to his car, too. “Oh, what do you have there?” he asked, all interested. I got some real good, smooth ‘shine, I said. Do you want a taste? “Sure,” he said. I unscrewed the lid, and again shared my ‘shine with a friend. He took a small sip. “That’s pretty smooth,” he told me. Yeah, it sure is, I said. I got it from a redneck friend. He traded it for a copy of my book. I took that jar home, and put in the fridge. I’m not trusting it not to freeze, I thought to myself. I’ll just keep it down here, until I figure out what’s going on.
And the next day at work, Andrew and Rosita told Rodney. “We had a shot of Ira’s ‘shine yesterday, again. It was real smooth.” Rodney looked all grieved, that he’d missed it. But he told me. “I’ve got a jar of ‘shine, here. Do you want to try it?” Sure, I said, all eager. It was after lunch, I think. Not real clear on some specific details. So he brought the jar down, from the fridge upstairs. A nice cold jar, looked like. We stepped into a back room, and poured out shots into those little pointy white cups again. Saluted each other. And drank the ‘shine.
It’s was a little rough, I thought. That’s not the quality of my ‘shine, I told Rodney. You need better sources. He looked all sad, like he was all disappointed. “It’s not as good as yours?” he asked it plaintively, over and over again. Nope, I said. It’s definitely not as smooth as mine. We all settled back to our stations again, then. But Rodney hovered. He had something to say, yet, seemed like. Maybe he was going to make that awful Dominick the Donkey song play, again.
“This is your moonshine,” he said, handing me the jar. I figured he was being gracious and giving me a gift of inferior stuff. Well, thank you, I said. I appreciate that. “No,” he said. “This is your moonshine.” Yes, I know that, I said. You just gave it to me. “This is your moonshine,” he repeated again. And then it finally sank through my brain. He was handing me my own jar of ‘shine, the jar my redneck friend had brought me. The jar at home in my fridge, that stuff was icing up, because it was water.
I don’t trust people, real easy. But when I do, I trust them pretty much completely. If I trust you, and you tell me you’re gonna be somewhere, I figure you will be there. If you’re not, well, I probably won’t ever trust you again. And if you tell me you saved my ‘shine in the fridge, and you trot it out, and we have a sip, I figure you’re telling me the truth. And when it’s not the truth, well, water will taste like moonshine.
Because that’s what they did, that Friday afternoon, after I forgot my jar of ‘shine. They switched it out, for water. I’m not quite sure who’s idea it was, who came up with it. I tried to get them to go back and remember the details. They were all vague, all of a sudden. But there was a whole lot of teamwork going on, all of a sudden, too. A whole lot of plotting. And when I opened that jar, when we had that sip, Andrew and Rosita and me, it still smelled just like moonshine. And because that’s what I was totally expecting, my brain told me that’s what I was drinking. I kept exclaiming how smooth it was. Of course it was smooth. It was water. I would never have believed such a thing could be, had it not happened to me.
At least one person claims my face paled, when the truth hit me. I don’t think it did. I was had, and I was had real good. I can’t believe this, I kept saying over and over again. And I laughed, too, because it was all so ridiculous. Y’all are a bunch of thugs, I said. Just because I’m a grinch, you do this to me when my back is turned? I’ll get you back, I will. And it came to me, right about then. Tell the story. That’s how you get back at a devious prank like that. Just tell the story.
And I told them. You think I’m gonna slink down, and hide my face about this? Do you really think that? This story’s gonna haunt me all my life, if I run from it. Tell you what. I’m going to write it in my next blog. And right there, I think, I got back at them a little bit. I’m sure that was the last thing they were expecting.
And really, it all is pretty funny, when you think about it. It’s a classic. They turned ‘shine into water on me. And they turned water back to ‘shine. I don’t know that such a thing has ever happened before. That’s the kind of world I live in, I guess. A world of miracles.
And that right there is the story of the Great Moonshine Plot in this the year of our Lord, 2014. Are there any lessons in there anywhere? I don’t write to preach, to tell you what to learn. I just write, to tell the story. I’m sure the first lesson a lot of people would tell me is this. Don’t drink moonshine. Then such a thing wouldn’t happen to you. OK, then. Other than that, I ain’t got a whole lot of specific lessons to tell. If there’s any life lessons to be learned from the Great Moonshine Plot, figure them out yourself.