Funerals, Faith and Fog

The sun rose before Mrs. Poppy and myself. By the time we left Sikeston, Missouri the sun had been up an hour or more. We woke to a foggy landscape that would stay with us through most of the day. The fog was not so dense that it made driving dangerous. We had at least a half-mile of visibility down the road. At that point cars traveling in our direction, would abruptly disappear into the mist. On the opposite side of the highway, cars would suddenly appear as if emerging from an other-worldly portal.

Even knowing we were headed north, I could not locate the sun that bathed the landscape in a warm glow, softening the edges of everything it touched. The vista outside our windshield became an impressionistic painting as the fog settled into the valleys and low-lands that we passed, creating lakes and rivers of swirling grey mist.

I wrapped my fingers around a paper cup filled with hot coffee, courtesy of the motel we had stayed at the night before. It was better than expected for a complimentary cup of coffee, but mostly I appreciated its warmth. Continue reading “Funerals, Faith and Fog”

The Sun Also Sets

When Mimsy and I went for our walk tonight, you could tell the season was beginning to change. Sure it was October 1st, you would expect it by that date, but we’ve had a run of very hot days at the end of September. Tonight though you could believe in autumn. For a few moments the breeze picked up and the sound of rustling trees and fallen leaves skittering across the sidewalk drowned out the hum of distant cars and the rhythm of persistent nocturnal insects. Not only could you feel the change in the air, you could hear it.

We had just finished the quintessential Sunday dinner of pot-roast, potatoes, carrots and warm bread. When we returned home, I gave Mimsy the option of staying on the front porch with me as I finished my glass of wine, but the lingering smell of roast and activity inside the house was too much for her so I had the porch to myself.

The sun had set without fanfare, but the sky in the western horizon remained a brilliant blue. It silhouetted the trees and houses along Elizabeth Avenue. As it’s glow slowly faded,  I rewound the events of the previous hours. By any measure, it had been a wonderful day. The weather was perfect, we needed the rain, but today I don’t think anyone was willing to trade the weather we had for a rainy day. My grandson had spent the night before with us and stayed through most of the day. After I took him home, I stopped by to see my mother at the skilled nursing facility where she lives.

When I tell someone that my mother will be 102 in a few months, the usual response is, “Oh that’s wonderful.”

I nod in agreement, but inside I’m thinking, “No it’s not wonderful.”

It’s not that I want to lose my mother, but her quality of life has deteriorated so badly and Alzheimer’s has robbed her of most her memories, that I wish for her the peace she seeks.

As I talk to her, I search for events and places that she can recall. It’s as if her mind is being slowly wiped by a computer virus, starting with the most recent memories and proceeding relentlessly backwards. I speak of a town where she lived as a young girl, and for a moment her eyes will light up and she says, “I haven’t heard that name in a long time.”

After telling her multiple times, it bothers me slightly that she doesn’t know who I am. I console myself with the knowledge that she is grateful for any visitor. But what crushes me, is that she doesn’t remember my dad, her husband, at all.

They were married for 78 years and were inseparable. They set the standard for me of what a married couple should be, always faithful, always loving, and now she doesn’t remember him.

This is when I question God.

I search for answers, for knowledge … is there something I should be learning here?

No answers are forthcoming, so I resolve myself to do this:
I can’t bring back my mother’s memories but I can honor them. I can try to remember everything my parents gave me. Not the material things but the values, the principles, the love that was modeled before me everyday. I can do my best to pass down the memories to my children and grandchildren of the artist and pragmatic businessman who had 78 wonderful years together.

This I can do.

Poppy

 

Kneelers, Sappers and “We the People”

I guess I should start by saying what the National Anthem means to me. It transcends politics, rising above our human and national imperfections. It is owned by neither Republican or Democrat. For generations it’s been sung at civic and sporting events. It has tested the vocal range of many a singer. But even during those off-key moments,  we stood, hand over our heart as it swelled with pride, knowing that we were part of something larger than ourselves. We were Americans! Our National Anthem is a celebration, not of political parties or policies, but of, “We the people.”

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is not America. Our senators and congressmen are not America. Our mayors and our alderman are not America. At best they are temporary servants of America’s citizens.

Look in the mirror, look at your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, the people in the check-out line at the grocery store. Look at the people you agree with and those with whom you have differences. You are looking at America, you are looking at, “We the people.”

The last line of each stanza of our National Anthem, ends with this, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Today across America, we saw a rash of professional football players deciding not to stand for our National Anthem. Living in the “land of the free,” they have that right. But as a very small part of America, one little guy in “We the people,” I’m offended. Disagree with policy all you want, if you see injustice, work to see that corrected. That is your right and obligation as an American. But burn our flag or kneel through our anthem, then you have insulted your neighbors, your co-workers and even yourself as a part of “We the people.”


Let me tell you about the “sappers.”

During the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-day, the sappers job after they landed was to charge up the hill to find the land mines and clear a path for their comrades.

Tom Brokaw, in his book, The Greatest Generation, recorded the stories of some veterans who came back years later to visit Omaha Beach, this is what they said.

” … that hillside was loaded with mines, and a unit of sappers had gone first, to find where the mines were. A number of those guys were lying on the hillside, their legs shattered by the explosions. They’d shot themselves up with morphine and they were telling where it was safe to step. They were about twenty-five yards apart, our guys, calmly telling us how to get up the hill. They were human markers.”

They described the scene as calmly as if they were remembering an egg-toss at a Sunday social back home. It was an instructive moment for me, one of many, and so characteristic. The war stories come reluctantly and they almost never reflect directly on the bravery of the storyteller. Almost always he or she is singling out someone else for praise.

2,500 American soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice that day. 2,500 brave individuals would never see their families and loved ones again. They would never again have the privilege of standing when they heard the line, “Oh, say can you see.” They charged up the beach, knowing the odds were not in their favor. They sacrificed themselves for their country and comrades. They knew they were part of something greater than themselves. They knew they were part of “We the people,” … it never occurred to them to “take a knee.”

Poppy


In case you’ve forgotten, this is the preamble to our constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Remembering Maurice

Mimsy and I went for walk tonight. There was nothing unusual about that, it’s a daily occurrence. Tonight though there was an abundance of thunder and lightning, but very little rain. A big production, lots of special effects, but at the end, nothing of substance. Shakespeare said it best in Macbeth, “sound and fury, Signifying nothing”. Lots of commotion, but very little good came of it.

Tonight in St. Louis we have another round of protests over the not guilty verdict of officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a heroin dealer who was fleeing the police. I’m not here to pass judgement, I don’t know what happened. There are only two people, only one of which is alive, who knew the details of what transpired.

As a 30 year resident of Ferguson, Missouri, this brings back a lot of painful memories. It also brings back memories of Maurice, whom I wrote about in, “Having Skin in the Game.”

Maurice was a young black man who I had the privilege of knowing for a  few moments. The intersection of our lives was brief and I’m pretty sure, I’ve thought about him more than he’s thought about me. When he told me what high school he was entering, I knew what part of town he lived in. I knew the odds weren’t in his favor. Maurice is now at an age to be looking for a job. I wonder if those protesters that are hoping the kill the economy of St. Louis are thinking about Maurice. Are they concerned that Maurice has never been taught how to fill out a job application? Are they concerned that Maurice is more likely to be killed in a drive by shooting than any other cause of death in his part of town?

Whether Anthony Lamar Smith was innocent, I don’t know. I do know that Maurice and others like him are truly innocent. Where is the outrage for the Maurice’s of St. Louis who are trapped in a cycle of poverty? Where are the protests that address the lack of basic life skills being taught to Maurice. Where is the acknowledgement that our economy has changed and that good paying blue-collar jobs are rare? Where is the acknowledgement that Maurice has little opportunity? Where is the national/state/city/individual will to change this?

Protesting is easy, posting on social media is easy, being politically correct is easy, and I’m as guilty as anyone.

Do we have the will to have painfully honest discussions on race? Can we accept that there is enough blame to go around on all sides? Do we really want to solve this?

Mimsy and I head back home, the thunder is crashing, the lightning flashes, but we are barely damp.

Feeling Small

At age 23, I pretty much knew everything. At age 63, I believe a few things with certainty, but many other things have fallen into areas that I question. I don’t think this is a sign of weakness, a lack of faith or early dementia., at least I don’t want to believe that.

I have become wary of people who are sure about everything. I am wary of people (and politicians) who only see things along party lines. My guard goes up around people who are sure that God is on their side, whatever side that may be. To be honest, I don’t trust them. Life is not that simple. Life is complicated.

I came across this great quote by Paul Tillich,  “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

I didn’t get that at first, then I started to understand. God is not threatened by our questions or diminished by our doubt. But our certainty, our smugness can keep us from approaching God. Why do we need God when we know everything, when we need no answers, when we are certain, when we rely on ourselves.

Commander Randy Bresnik, who is currently on board the International Space Station, took this photo of hurricane Irma from 250 miles above Earth. I look at this and I’m feeling pretty small. I don’t know what the next few days will hold but if the forecasts are true, they will be days that test our faith.

Bad things will happen, good people will suffer, I know this for certain. Why does this happen, why does God allow this … I am uncertain, I don’t know.

What do I know? I am certain for a while we will forget who is a Democrat or Republican, we will forget who is black or white, who is Christian, Hindu, Muslim or atheist. At least for a few moments, we will forget who has offended us on social media.

I know that selfless acts of heroism will be performed. I know that the willing will carry the weak through floodwaters. I know that our focus will be on families and loved-ones and not on the material. I know that those not directly affected will give generously to those who were.

I also know that after this crisis is over, we will return to bickering, we will have the luxury of pettiness once more. We will again see people as members of political parties, religions, races, factions and forget we are all children of God.

This I know.

God have mercy and never let me be certain.

     Poppy

Late Night Porch Meditations

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend in famous Ferguson. The temperature dropped and I took the opportunity to retire to the front porch after dinner. The katydids, crickets and tree frogs were in fine form, serenading me with the background murmurs of the cars running up and down Elizabeth Avenue. The air had a hint of autumn, a foreshadowing of seasons to come. The trees in our neighborhood had long abandoned their frivolous bright green hues of spring and donned more somber shades of deep green with hints of brown. The maids of May Day had become dowagers in just a few short months.

Earlier that day, I sat on the same porch, finished reading a book and laid it on the table in front of me. It was Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. When I decided to change the focus and name of this blog to “Poppy Walks the Dog”, I thought the least I could do was review some real writers who had a focus on dogs.

James Thurber was the first to come to mind, His “Snapshot of a Dog” remains one of my favorites. If you are not familiar with Thurber, check out his writings and cartoons.

Steinbeck was next on the list. It has probably been 25 years since I first read, Travels with Charley. It recounts Steinbeck’s 1960 lap around America, with his dog, Charley. The motivation was in Steinbeck’s words, “To find our what Americans are like today.” Like many of Steinbeck’s writings, it is both melancholy and hopeful. His journey was around the edges of the United States and encompassed nearly 10,000 miles.

What are Americans like today?

As one little guy sitting in the heartland, with my own perspectives and prejudices, I’m not qualified to answer that. We are certainly more diverse than we were in 1960. Our technology has certainly changed. We are blessed/cursed to have the internet and social media. We have the ability to be petty much more efficiently than in 1960.

Are we more divided? The media keeps telling us how we are such a divided nation. We are certainly just as political. Part of Steinbeck’s journey took him back to his hometown of Monterey, California, where he had time to spend with his sisters. This was against the backdrop of the upcoming presidential election, pitting Kennedy against Nixon.

Civil war is supposed to be the bitterest of wars, and surely family politics are the most vehement and venomous. I can discuss politics coldly and analytically with strangers. That was nor possible with my sisters. We ended each session panting and spent with rage. On no point was there any compromise. No quarter was asked or given.

Each evening we promised, “Let’s just be friendly and loving. No politics tonight.” And ten minutes later we would be screaming at each other. “John Kennedy was a so and so …”

“Well, if that’s your attitude, how can you reconcile Dick Nixon?”

“You talk like a Communist.”

“Well you sound suspiciously like Genghis Khan.”

It was awful. A stranger hearing us would have called the police to prevent bloodshed. And I don’t think we were the only ones. I believe this was going on all over the country.”

What are Americans like today? Are we better or worse than in 1960?

I believe the answer is a resounding, yes! We are better and worse than in 1960. Part of Steinbeck’s lap of America took him through the deep south at the beginnings of the civil rights movement. Many of those affairs make the recent Charlottesville events look like a Sunday School picnic. We have made a lot of progress since then. We are not perfect, but we are certainly moving in the right direction.

As a race, we humans are fundamentally flawed. We will never be perfect, hate will always be a force to be reckoned with. It won’t matter who we elect or what laws we pass, utopia will never be achieved.

But for tonight,  I’m just a guy sitting on his front porch on a Labor Day weekend with his dog and I’m okay with that.

 

Of Buckeyes, Batteries and Broken Blades

It’s a short walk from our front door to the end of the driveway. Once there, we have a decision to make … go left or go right. I suppose I could turn this into a deep, heavy, political discussion, but I’m just walking a dog and I’m kind of over politics. I let Zsa-Zsa make the decision. I figure it could be the most important decision of her day and who knows, maybe it gave her a sense of empowerment. A pug-power kind of thing. Not that she needed any encouragement in that area. She was always chock full of attitude and vinegar.

Mimsy will occasionally look back at me as we walk, as if seeking my approval. Zsa-Zsa had no such compulsion. I believe she thought she was walking me, probably sized me up and figured I needed the exercise.

If we head right it only takes us a few steps before we enter the complex of the Catholic Church next to our house. In the narrow green space between the sidewalk and the street are a couple of old horse-chestnut trees. These are not great specimen trees. They are Tim Burtonesque bonsai versions of horse chestnuts. The green space they are living in runs parallel to the power lines above them. Left unattended their limbs would surround the telephone and power lines, but the electric company does not leave them unattended, they are pruned almost beyond recognition, but they still produce fruit. Large spiny pods that contain brown nuts resembling the eye of a deer, hence the name “buckeyes.”

As Zsa-Zsa and I walked past  the trees during late summer into autumn, I couldn’t resist picking up one of the “buckeyes” as we went past. The pods that hold them are sharp and unpleasant, but the nuts contained inside are smooth, pleasant to the touch and roll easily between the forefinger and the thumb in a comforting sort of way. They eventually ended up in my pocket as a temporary holding device until they landed in a variety of locations. Zsa-Zsa is no longer with us, but years of walking past these trees have resulted in my finding these buckeyes in many unexpected places. I can be rummaging through the drawers of my office desk in search of a paperclip, only to find an old petrified buckeye.

If I’m honest with myself, I know exactly why I pick them up, and it goes back decades. The grade-school I attended in the early 60’s was 2 miles from our house. At some point when I was 8 or 9 my parents agreed to let me walk to school with my friends. Bus service was provided, but as an 8 year-old boy, it was not cool to ride the bus. Parents today would not dream of letting their children walk 2 miles along a road with no sidewalks and across railroad tracks unsupervised. It was a different time, a more innocent time. The cold war was heating up, we had had the Cuban missile crisis, and satellites were starting to appear in the night skies, but a 2 mile walk to school with your neighborhood pals was considered perfectly normal.

Bragging rights in young boys of that era were established in many ways. How far you could throw a ball, how fast could you run, how good you were at arm wrestling, how many speeds your bike had, did your family own a color television, and the contents of your pockets. Girls had not yet come into the equation.

I was above average at arm wrestling, below average at how far I could throw a ball, and we didn’t own a television set, let alone a color one. My bike was a one speed coaster bike. The contents of my pockets benefited from my walks to school.

Our school commutes had two speeds, the all-out-run or the amble. The all-out-run was employed when we spent too much time on the amble, or were just plain running late. Ambling allowed for time to kick anything down the road that wasn’t firmly attached to the terra firma. It allowed for the discovery and collection of found objects along our route. Anything with gears was a given to be collected. Discarded batteries  even if completely discharged, were picked up. They had the right size and heft to make them ideal for throwing at anything that needed throwing at.

Nine-volt batteries were very common then because they powered the transistor radios that everyone had. These batteries were particularly easy to test for charge. A quick touch of the terminals to the tongue let you know immediately if there was any charge left. Mind you, we were not without our hygienic principles. It’s not like we just picked something off the ground and put it to our tongue, we wiped it on our shirt sleeve first.

It was a time when almost all men carried 2 things in their pockets: a cloth handkerchief and a pocket knife. So occasionally we found a pocket knife. Usually with a broken blade, but it was still a great find. A broken blade could also serve as a screwdriver. Of course there was always the chance that the blade could snap shut during that maneuver and cut your finger. It was a risk worth taking.

Then there were the nuts. Acorns and hickory nuts weren’t worth picking up. Walnuts, like batteries were made for throwing. But a buckeye, a buckeye was a rare find. Worthy of pulling out at recess and showing off.

“Cool, let me see it. Where’d ya find it?”

Of course it didn’t take long for the teacher on recess duty to come over and confiscate the object of attention and we would never see that buckeye again.


Mimsy and I still walk that path that I walked with Zsa-Zsa. I will still pick up a buckeye and run my thumb around it’s smooth skin. It still brings a smile to my face and a remembrance of a simpler time. I still put the buckeye in my pocket.

Why?

Because I’ve got a buckeye and you don’t. Bragging rights!

Poppy

Of Perspective, Statues and Small Dogs

I snapped this picture returning home from a late afternoon dog-walk. The convergent lines formed by the telephone wires, road stripes and sidewalks, the vanishing point punctuated by the tail lights of a receding car, all took me back to art school days and studies in perspective.

Mimsy is walking beside me. She sees the same trees, sidewalks and telephone lines that I see, except that she sees them from one foot off the ground. A different perspective. A different point of view.


I’ve long known that the world revolves around me and I’m at the center of the universe.

This seems very narcissistic and I used to feel guilty about that outlook, until I realized that every human ever born has interpreted their world from this same self-centered context. This realization leads me to believe that this inward-out perspective is by divine design. Self-preservation is one of our strongest instincts. If you are not the center of your universe, self-preservation takes a big hit. Imagine your world as a series of concentric circles, like the ripples generated in a still pond from a tossed pebble. You are the pebble, the ring closest to you contains your family and loved ones. Extending outward are rings made up of friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. The more distant the rings from the center (you), the less their actions, problems or successes impact your life. The closer those rings are to you, the more likely you are to help and defend the people within that circle.

Problems arise, not from having that self-centric world view, but from forgetting that our particular viewpoint is not universally shared. Even when we try to understand the worldview of someone else, it can never be entirely accurate. The more different their background, upbringing, socioeconomic status, geographic location, race, religion and education (just to name a few factors), the more difficult it will be to understand them. If we want to add time to the equation it becomes exponentially more difficult to understand the worldview and subsequent actions of people who lived a hundred or a thousand years ago.

A person’s perspectives and worldviews can be more or less accurate based on facts, history, knowledge, etc. But those viewpoints, even if inaccurate are not good or evil of themselves. It is only when those perspectives turn into actions (or inactions) that we can judge them right or wrong.

Of course, there are people who have no interest in understanding the worldview of anyone else. These worldview isolationists arrive at their position by everything from pure selfishness to apathy and laziness. It requires effort to try to understand why someone might see the same issues and current events that you do, but interpret them differently. Some people  have no interest in making that effort.

Then we have the worldview supremacists, who believe that their viewpoints are superior to all others. Smug in their self-anointed righteousness, they can’t be bothered with even trying to understand the views of someone whose ideas are so obviously inferior to theirs.

Closely related to the worldview supremacists are the worldview moral superiorists. Not only does this group think their beliefs and opinions are morally superior to everyone else, but that anyone with a different view should be shunned and publicly shamed. This is most often accomplished by affixing labels to those with opposing ideas. The usual epithets are: racist, leftist, homophobe, commie, fascist, misogynist, Nazi, etc. These labels need no basis in fact, but that is of no concern to the morally superior crowd. Being morally superior justifies anything inflicted on the great unwashed masses beneath them. Unfortunately, such labels are easy to affix, but difficult to remove.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m sliding faster and faster into my curmudgeon status. I’m not to the point where I’m shaking my cane and yelling, “Get off my lawn,” at least not yet, but more and more I think that the net value of social media does not exceed the downside of its inane posts and hateful comments. It’s impossible to have a meaningful conversation using only 144 characters. I bemoan the lack of good civil discussion between people with differing views.

You didn’t ask for my advice, but since I’m a curmudgeon, I’m going to give it to you anyway …

Get off your computer and phone. Take your dog for a walk. If you don’t have a dog, I’m sorry for you, but go out and meet some neighbors anyway. Find someone with a differing view on a current issue and say, “Help me understand your view-point.” Maybe even go all out and read a book!

“Civility is not not saying negative or harsh things. It is not the absence of critical analysis. It is the manner in which we are sharing this territorial freedom of political discussion. If our discourse is yelled and screamed and interrupted and patronized, that’s uncivil.”  Richard Dreyfuss


When Mimsy sees a squirrel on our walks, she thinks, “Chase … game on.”

When I see a squirrel, I think, “Bushy-tailed rat than can chew through anything, including the eaves of my attic.”

When she spots a fast food wrapper that someone has thrown out of their car window, she thinks, “Smells good, is there something in there for me?”

I think, “What a slob, couldn’t you wait till you got home to throw it away?”

When I see someone walking down the sidewalk toward us, I instantly try to categorize them. Do they look familiar? Is it a friend or neighbor? Is it a stranger, how should I greet them?

Mimsy sees the same person, and no matter which category they fall in, quivers with excitement. Her experience has been that everyone she meets loves her, wants to pet her, and tell her how pretty she is.

Mimsy has never seen a statue of Robert E. Lee, but I think I could predict her reaction. She would walk up to the closest point, hike her leg and relieve herself on Traveller’s hoof. This is a perspective shared by a lot of people these days.

I see the same statue and I don’t see it as an ode to the horrors of slavery. I don’t think of it as something to be desecrated or destroyed, but that’s just my perspective … and I’m a curmudgeon.

Let’s talk.

Poppy

Thank God for Nazis!

As I walk our dogs, I usually have a one-sided conversation. Tonight I tell Mimsy that she doesn’t have a sarcasm gene. If like Mimsy, you are missing a sarcasm gene, the title of my post is not entirely serious, but it is intentional.

The events this last week in Charlottesville, Virginia have been tough for all  of us. We have seen raw, unadulterated hatred. Sadly we have also seen the death of a young woman. In no way do I want to make light of these events, but I am somewhat bemused by the indignation heaped on the neo-Nazis. Of course they are evil. They are such an obvious target that it takes no imagination to decry them. During WW II the real Nazis were a real threat, the atrocities they committed are beyond imagining.

Today, if we are honest, the neo-Nazis are a caricature. They are the storm troopers in Star Wars. They are the guys Harrison Ford fought in Raiders of the Lost Ark. They are like the bad guys in a second-rate western, who wear black so we can identify them and know who to boo.

The neo-Nazis do serve one real purpose. They give us the opportunity for righteous indignation and a smug feeling of moral superiority. We can beat our chest and proclaim, “Thank God, I am not like them.”

I am not scared of neo-Nazis. I am scared though of the more subtle forms of racism. I am scared of the racism that hides deep within me. I am scared of my thoughts when I see a black family visit the open house next to me that is for sale, and I think to myself, please not them. I am scared when I visit a clinic and I’m assigned to the Indian doctor and I think, I wish it was the cute Irishman. I am scared when I’m on the phone with some someone with a deep southern accent and I assume that their IQ is at least 20 points below mine. This is what scares me.

Thank God for Nazis!

 

It’s Good to be Common!

Mack and the boys

Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for no-goods and blots-on-the-town and bums, and Mack and the boys. Virtues and graces and laziness and zest. Our Father who art in nature.” – John Steinbeck

This year, mid-July in the heartland was a “scorcher” as they say. Day after day of temperatures breaking the 100° mark with no rain for weeks. Nighttime provided little relief with the lows staying in the 80’s. I was careful not to over-exert Mimsy, our Japanese Chin, on our walks. She is not as brachycephalic (flat-faced)  as our pugs, but I was still cautious. As we walked along on our night-time stroll, I heard the tree frogs calling out and wondered how they were surviving this hot, dry spell. Then I remembered the passage from Cannery Row at the top of this post. I need not have worried about those little frogs … they are common.

God in his wisdom did not give the gift of survival to the peacock, panda bear or Bengal tiger. Beauty does not seem to be a criteria for continued existence. I find great comfort in this.

As Mimsy and I slowly made our way down the sidewalk running alongside Elizabeth Avenue, my mind drifted to God’s apparent love of the common. I believe that God loves all humanity equally, but in reading many of the stories in the New Testament, it appears that Jesus had his favorites. He clearly did not like to spend time with the pharisees and self-righteous, instead choosing to hang with fishermen, assorted sinners and the occasional woman of low-moral character.

Mimsy is pretty low-maintenance and our ambling pace allowed my imagination to take another leap.

What if Jesus had visited Steinbeck’s Cannery Row?

Where would he spend his time? Who would he hang out with? Since this musing is just a product of my over-active imagination, I can draw my own conclusions. I don’t believe he would be with the rich people at their houses on the top of the hill. I don’t believe he would be in the formal churches. But I can see him sitting with Mack and boys on the pilings down by the wharf, feet dangling over the water, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean as he tells stories of the creation from a perspective that only he would know. The boys listen in awe as they pass a pint of “Old Tennessee.”

I can envision him pulling up a chair alongside Doc in his laboratory. The two of them discussing the complexities of even the simplest of lifeforms while Doc’s record-player fills the room with the sounds of Bach’s, Art of Fugue.

I imagine Dora placing a “closed” sign on the front door while they prepare to have tea with Jesus. Feeling pure and clean, the girls are once again ladies as he tells them of the wonders of heaven that await them.

In the opening chapter of Cannery Row, Steinbeck described its citizens thusly.

…Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he might have said : “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

Our walk over, Mimsy and I head home. I look down at her plumed tail and prancing gait.

“You better watch out, girl,” I tell her, “You’re purebred, you could be in danger of extinction, you’re not common like me.”

She looks up, gives a little chuff, as if that’s the silliest thing she’s every heard of. We both have someone to watch over us.


If you have not read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday, don’t waste anymore time. Find a copy now! The books are filled with love, hope and the enduring goodness of the common man, flaws and all.

Written as fiction but the characters are all based on people that Steinbeck knew. The photo at the beginning of this post is of Harold Otis “Gabe” Bicknell and his friends, the basis for Mack and the boys.