Dad would have been 88 years old today. I had trouble finding his Obituary so i decided that if I located it i would post it here. Versions of the following appeared in the Hood River News and the Peninsula Clarion in Alaska.
Dad would have been 88 years old today. I had trouble finding his Obituary so i decided that if I located it i would post it here. Versions of the following appeared in the Hood River News and the Peninsula Clarion in Alaska.
Once upon a time there was a holly tree. Fooled you didn’t I. Most of my readers are aware that I am a double amputee and probably figured this story is about what’s left of one of my legs. Not exactly. It all began because there was a Holly tree next to my house. I like holly trees and holly on the mantle during the Holly-days, but the trees can be problematic near houses, sidewalks, and some claim they generate negative energy. Besides this particular tree was right where I always wanted to park my van to unload groceries and stuff. I like groceries … and stuff.
So one day a friend acquired a chainsaw and wanted to fall a tree with it. He knew about my trees unfortunate location and wanted to cut it down. He assured me the stump would be low enough for my van to clear. Eventually I had an 18 inch diameter stump, and some wood. I forget what we did with the wood but for a year or two I was parking my van off the street … and my van’s A-frame hit the stump every time. Talk about negative energy.
So at that point he wasn’t interested in lowering the stump but had all kinds of advice about how to drive. The more I parked straddling the stump the deeper the tire tracks got and the situation magnified. Others assured me they could cut the stump lower with their chainsaw and they’d come by and take care of it for me. I kept smacking the stump when I parked.
So one day I ran across a bow saw for sale and thought it would come in handy and maybe I could lower the stump with it. I leaned my legs against the wall in the bedroom, took the wheelchair out on the front porch, crawled out to the stump, and went to work. The bow saw did come in handy and 30 years later it still comes in handy. Holly wood is very hard though. So I bought a couple different shovels and started digging. I messed with that stump every day for weeks. Maybe I’m slow. I also ended up with an ax, machete, stump killer chemicals, and got to meet all my neighbors as they walked their dogs and stuff.
My church was in the neighborhood so as my church friends cruised through they’d stop to visit too. Friends and neighbors all had advice and generous offers. I could just quit and eventually someone would show up and remove my stump. Of course the generous offers would take place not today … but someday. I kept digging … and sweating.
I foot or so down I ran into a wagon wheel formation of roots up to 6 inches across. I started sawing and chopping. More advice, more generous offers, but like the Creedence Clearwater Revival song says … Someday Never Comes. I kept digging, sawing, chopping, hacking … and sweating.
Another friend named George actually did show up to help one day. He brought his 4-ton come-along. He assured me I had removed enough dirt and hacked at the roots long enough for the come-along to finish the job. George was built a little like Norm from the Cheers sitcom. So he hooked one end of the cable around a huge maple tree, and I hooked the other end around my stump. He took up the slack and started pulling the ratchet lever till it was really tight. He was straining for another click on the ratchet with feet braced when the come-along exploded. George hit the dirt. George is dead. But that didn’t happen till recently so my stump probably wasn’t a factor. George gathered up the pieces, gave me some advice, mostly about my driving, and left. I kept digging, sawing, chopping, hacking, sweating … and laughing. The laughing was helpful. I removed the stump. Thanks George.
A gift received
A gift given
Times of joy
Times of terror
Life is good
Who was Jesus? What’s his story?
When I was about four years old, and miles away from family and friends, in a strange scary place … I woke up in the middle of the night and there were monsters under the bed. I wanted to scream but my parents or grandparents would not hear me and I knew my terror would only get worse when a stranger showed up. Strangers were to be avoided. This place was full of strangers. Besides, screaming would wake up the monsters under the bed.
This was a major event in my own story because at that point I silently screamed out to Jesus and there he was. Together we worked it out. The monsters left and were replaced with some really tough animal friends, lions, wolves and bears … no tigers.
Back then I knew the Jesus story. He was born of a virgin. I wasn’t exactly sure what that was and whenever I asked a grownup they would talk about innocence then change the subject. Finally an older kid filled me in. Then the song Away In A Manger told about his birth and no room at the Inn. Unlike me, during the monsters under the bed episode, his mom and dad were with him and he didn’t have congentil birth defects. Not much else to the story till he was about thirty years old when he began preaching, healing the sick, and performing other miracles. He was the son of God. Maybe three years later they hung him on a cross … he died for our sins. I guess I needed him to do that for me too. I’ve seen a few willow switches in my time.
There, the Jesus story in one paragraph. I left a lot out, like what they say he said in his sermons. It seems to me like he preached a lot about love, acceptance, peace, and harmony. But people can get into really heated arguments about who he was and why he was here, who he accepts and doesn’t accept. For me the most important part of his story is still, all the times his story intersects my story. He has been, and continues to be, a good friend. Many times together over the years we have tackled problems much bigger than monsters under the bed. We’re working together on a thing or two right now.
I have another friend with a bible name, but he was born a few decades ago and is still alive. As a young man with a family he moved here from another state. He has a short elevator speech he can give between floors describing a normal, conventional backstory. We have become close friends and his actual story is a little different than the elevator speech. Nothing serious but enough to raise the eyebrows of some judgemental types. In extreme cases it could end a friendship. But my friend and I understand friendship, and our friendship will never be at risk.
So, as society discovers scrolls and such, we gain new insights into the life and times of my friend Jesus. Its pretty natural for folks to speculate about possible additions or even contradictions to the traditional Jesus story. Throw in the Internet factor and almost overnight any hairbrained theory can become the facebook fantasy of the day
According to some, Jesus had a wife, kids, and his descendants live among us today. Some say he never died on the cross, or ascended to heaven but went into hiding, living to be an old man. I have read that his miraculous healings were maybe at least partially because of his training in ancient mystical healing arts like Reiki. I hear Jesus channels to us in modern times through A Course In Miracles (ACIM.) Just today I was reading that Jesus was a freemason. Do I believe these things? Is there more to the Jesus story than the one paragraph elevator speech?
These potential Jesus story additions are seen as blasphemous contradictions and enrage a lot of people. For me, some of these things would really be cool, but I don’t think it matters. We haven’t given up on each other. He’s my friend.
I think that’s how it is supposed to work with friends.
I wasn’t there for all the fun stuff that happened at the hospital. But the really cool incidents were told and retold so many times they became legendary. In fact over thirty years later, at one of our first patient reunions, hospital brothers, sisters, and nurses alike were retelling the same legends. I wish I had been there when this one happened.
The hospital had a studio apartment for a resident doctor. It was situated in close proximity to the boys ward located on the east end of the hospital. I suspect this was to reduce response time for medical trauma unrelated to our disabilities. For instance one Saturday evening while getting ready for our Boy Scout meeting, I was knocked unconscious and needed stitches. I still have the scar right between my eyes. Maybe this had nothing to do with the location of the doctor’s apartment but boys will be boys, prone to fat lips, black eyes, and bloody noses.
So this one doctor, whose name escapes me, liked bridge and taught a few of my hospital brothers to play. They’d play in his apartment. They went down there so much that the imaginary line we were never supposed to cross … moved down the hall to his door across the from the operating room. It was even ok to go there uninvited to see if he was up for a game. One kid from Canada was especially good at cards and years later you’d see his name in the paper when he was in town for a tournament. He later played poker tournaments in Los Vegas and we’ve spotted him there on ESPN. He’s the one holding the cards with his feet because he has no arms.
One evening nothing good was on TV and game of bridge seemed like a good idea. One of the bridge kids went down the hall to scope things out. They saw him knock on the door, look up and down the hall, check the handle, and slip inside. Pretty soon he slipped back out and returned.
“He was asleep.”
“So why did you go inside?”
“All he was wearing was his jockey shorts.”
“What? Did you want a better look or something? Pervert! Pervert!”
“No … I hid his clothes.”
This cracked everyone up and when the noise died down a bit they checked to make sure the head nurse hadn’t noticed something was up … she hadn’t. So they began wondering what he would do when he woke up. They discussed things like hiding in the closet, under the bed, and pounding on the door, giving someone one of those bloody noses, but these all seemed problematic. Finally one kid had an idea.
“Let’s make someone faint!”
“That’s crazy, like yelling boo at a little kid?”
“No … my big cousin showed me … I’ll faint … here’s how.”
So the procedure was laid out. The fainter hyperventilated with fifty rapid deep breathes. Then as the count reached fifty he was bear hugged from behind right below the rib cage. He was out cold. It worked … he looked dead.
“Maybe he’s dead?”
“NURSE! MRS THOMPSON!
She came running.
“Uh … he fainted!
“Get the doctor!”
The doctor showed up almost immediately wrapped in a sheet … like he was headed for a Toga Party. The victim groaned, sat up, and the guys started snickering. Mrs. Thompson now knew something was up and was getting that no-TV-for-a-week look in her eyes. Then she saw the doctor as if for the first time.
Get ‘em laughing and you’re off the hook.
I was pumped. Today was Doctor Rounds and they were going to discharge me. No one had told me but I was twelve years old and I’d been coming here for a decade or so. Sometimes I knew what the staff was going to do or say before they did.
Once I got home there’d be fishing trips, and my .22 caliber carbine. I could buy comic books at the grocery store, I could sleep outside in forts, cousins would visit, and food. I would have access to food in the cupboards, the refrigerator, and snacks. Designated fluid times were a thing of the past and I could have a drink whenever I wanted. It was Saturday morning and that meant Doctor Rounds.
Finally … down the hall they came. I was in the big ward with the oldest kids. It had 19 beds and they always went through the beds in the same order. My bed was in a good spot but was always the last one in the ward to be visited during the rounds. While they went from bed to bed I was only half listening to what they had to say to other patients as they made their way to me because … did I mention I was going home?
I knew I was going home because things were just like before. Okay I did have my right knee amputated this time but that’s not much different than the time they amputated both feet when I was nine. I’d put in my time after surgery. I was fitted for new legs which I wore for a week or two before they made final adjustments. Adjustments were made and I walked around on them for a few more days just to be sure. The adjusting mechanisms were now removed and the cosmetics had been applied last week. I was ready. I was good to go.
The doctors came, we talked, and they left. I’d been higher than a kite. Now I felt like I’d just fallen into a bottomless pit. A nurse’s aide came in to do something with the kid in the next bed. “I don’t get it, my legs are done, why didn’t they discharge me”? She said “You were walking when you came in to the hospital. They won’t send you home till you are walking again”.
No sense arguing but technically I was walking … with crutches. Maybe I used crutches but that didn’t mean I could be pushed around like this. I pictured myself slapping the snot out of a few people but managed to maintain. It didn’t seem right. Yeah I came in without crutches but this leg was a whole lot different. The new right leg had a knee but I did not. I knew where the left foot was when I look a step but with the right one I did not. If I didn’t swing it out hard enough I would step down on a partially bent knee, it would buckle under me, and I would go down. Okay I was torqued. They wanted me to walk … I’d walk.
After the big ward they would do the twenty-five or so beds in the other two wards. There were a couple empty beds in the back sun porch so I went there and pulled them close together. They were about table height off the ground so I could use them as parallel bars and if I fell I wouldn’t go all the way down. I was scared spit-less.
So I stood at the head of the beds looking down six and a half feet or so to the end. I was gonna break my neck. “Get a grip! Do I want to go home now or wait till I’m sixteen and they send me home for being too old”! Okay worst case scenario. I fall down. I have been eventually been thrown off every horse I ever rode, mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing but did watch Saturday morning cowboy shows and knew how to get in to a full gallop and stuff. I’d also fallen out of a couple trees I’d been climbing, the hayloft in the barn … so far no broken bones. One thing that almost never happened though was falling down due to my disability. Oh sure if I fell down no matter what the reason some people would figure it was because I was disabled. Of course if they fell down, it was because of ice on the sidewalk or a million other random things that could go wrong … but when I did it … “STOP IT”!
I’m wasting valuable time and I already know life ain’t fair. I’m not going to stay here just because I am scared. I can do this … and I did.
I walked to the end of the bed. Turned around and walked back. This time I walked past the end of the bed and kept on going till I got to the nurses desk. “Okay I can walk, when the doctors are done tell them to come see me again”.
“It’s too late but I’m sure they’ll discharge you next week”.
It wasn’t too late … but that’s how they did things back then. I shoulda been really upset about having to spend another week on top of the three or four months I’d already been there. But I was now more pumped about having overcome my fear than I had been about going home.
Fear sure gets in the way.
The spiritual tradition of my birth is Christianity but when someone tells me they are Christian I don’t feel all that informed about their faith. Christians roll many ways. As a young child I saw many high energy discussions among my own relatives about the nature of God, how to use the Bible, and the scientific improbability of Jonah and the whale. These discussions weren’t exactly good examples of tolerance but still I got the idea that a lot of good people had passionately different ideas about the path to God.
My Shaman recently named me Pathfinder. The name came to him in a dream. He talked at length about the reason that was my name. For me it felt very much like the Patriarchal Blessing I received forty some years ago through the spiritual tradition of my birth. He talked about how my hunger for more spiritual knowledge has led to my taking a good honest look at unfamiliar paths out of my comfort zone. The list includes Freemasonry, Reiki, Native American spirituality, and others that would have totally freaked out my grandmothers. But find them I did and travel them I do. He also tells me I will show the paths to others. I have come to the conclusion that in many ways and on many levels all paths lead to God and all streams flow to same ocean.
So where did it all start for me … Shriner’s Hospital of course. As an adult I eventually became a Shriner and to do that I had to become a Freemason. I’m glad I did. One of the tenants of freemasonry is religious freedom and tolerance. To be a mason you need to believe in a Supreme Being. Beyond that the details of your faith are up to you. But masonry provided many religious tolerance lessons for me way before I became a mason during the times I spent in their hospital as a kid. Some of them were a bit confusing, but that is the nature of much of the spiritual journey.
I’d heard some discussion, scoffing actually, during church potlucks about misguided believers who wouldn’t eat pork. So one day at the hospital we were having hotdogs for lunch and I did some scoffing. The kid in the bed next to me had just finished off his hotdog. His face lost all color and he asked, “This hot dog has pork in it”? I assured him it did which didn’t help his coloring. I decided I should have told him sooner because he didn’t eat another bite and I might have scored a second hotdog. Pretty soon a nurse showed up to gather trays.
He spent the afternoon lying on his side facing the wall. I asked him what he was doing and he said when you ate stuff you weren’t supposed to you needed to pray and fast … skipping at least one meal. Dinner trays came and he just laid there facing the wall. Unfortunately this particular meal wasn’t one of my favorites so I didn’t ask him to share. A nurse came to gather trays and criticized him for not eating anything. He didn’t say much which was my cue to do some well rehearsed scoffing. The nurse flipped out on me. She told me she knew what denomination I belonged to and I was in no position to be criticizing anyone’s beliefs. She probably had the usual misconception that I was affiliated with a group centered in Utah but given her current mood I didn’t try to set her straight. I got to thinking about what she said. Her cheap shot had for a moment caused me to look at my faith from the outside … some of it is hard to swallow even when viewed from the inside. But what really got me thinking was my hospital brother. He was still lying on his side facing the wall. I asked him why he ate the hotdog and he said his mom always bought all beef hotdogs. We visited about church and stuff. I had just witnessed penance.
I wasn’t just exposed to Christianity. In the summer we had boy scouts on Saturday evenings. One evening after scouts I was about nine years old and asked the hospital brother in the bed next to me if he had scouts back home. He said they had something similar but didn’t elaborate. I didn’t get the hint and started asking questions. It was all good though, he swore me to secrecy because he thought the other guys would tease him and here is what I found out. He was Indian and that’s what we called it back then. He lived on a reservation. There was a guy he called uncle who would teach boys the old ways. I asked about hikes and camping like boy scouts. He said no but when you were ready, this uncle would take you into the woods and leave you alone overnight. I asked about wild animals. He said the woods had plenty of them but they weren’t a problem when this uncle left you in the woods. He said you would see an animal or a sign and that would become your name or part of it. He saw a little rabbit and that was his name. When no one was listening I’d call him his spirit name … Little Rabbit. I have an autograph book somewhere with signatures of various nurses, patients, and actor Dale Robertson, but my favorite page was signed by Little Rabbit. Through his eyes I had witnessed a Vision Quest.
My first exposure to the path of Catholicism also took place in the hospital. After one of my surgeries I was in the recovery cube next to the nurse’s station that would hold two beds. It was crowded but did hold two beds. So since I’m recovering I was sleeping or maybe passing out a lot. Once when drifted back from sleep the hospital brother in the other bed was talking nonsense and making the same hand gesture over and over. He was older which could be a problem but when he was done he looked over at me and smiled. I told him I heard him talking but didn’t understand a word he said. He explained he was Catholic and he was praying in Latin. The only hand gesture I knew would get you in trouble if a nurse saw it so I asked about the one I’d seen him using. He explained it was symbolic of the cross Jesus had died on and Catholics used it a lot when praying. I had just witnessed the sign of the cross or signum crucis
We both drifted off thinking revert thoughts. The next time we were both conscience he wanted to talk more about religion. We were both nauseated and he had trouble talking and I had trouble listening especially since the next religious topic involved eating and drinking. In my church we call it communion and eat bread and drink what we say is wine but is actually red or purple juice of some kind. He said their bread was some kind of wafer. We managed to get past the wafer eating part without either of us throwing up. We then moved on to discussing the wine. He said they used real wine which I’d never had. I asked if they all got drunk and he explained that it wasn’t enough for that. So while it was a close call a couple times I was feeling pretty good about having gotten through the final wine portion of comparing communion notes without any dry heaves. But I was wrong … we weren’t finished. There was an additional wrinkle to the whole communion thing he felt obligated to share with me. They call it communion also but his explanation sounded like there was an extra belief where the bread and wine weren’t just symbolic representations but were the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Nothing came up but all this talk about cannibalism brought on violent retching and the dreaded the dry heaves. I was able to keep the noise down so the nurse didn’t make an appearance. That was my first exposure to the concept of the Eucharist.
When I drifted back into reality I didn’t remember drifting off but was kinda glad I had. I didn’t open my eyes but I could hear my hospital brother. It didn’t sound like words this time, Latin or otherwise. I wasn’t up for any more religious sharing and didn’t want him to know I was awake. Still I risked taking a look to see what was going on this time. I need not have worried as he was totally oblivious to my presence. His facial expression was a little like I’d seen when someone giving a mighty prayer in church really gets into it. There was also some twitching going on. I had heard about Shakers but didn’t think that had anything to do with Catholics. I decided to follow up on it later because I wasn’t up for it at the moment. I forced myself to drift off again. I didn’t put it all together right away but … I had just witnessed masturbation.
// During my last stay in the hospital a spoiled rich kid was admitted. Brat-Boy’s disability was miniscule in comparison to some of the rest of us but he thought he was the only one on the planet with a hard life.
He lived with his Mom and Grandma who had babied him. Until his arrival we had a pretty mellow Ward. We were now constantly in some kind of trouble. Desserts taken away for a week, early bed times, staff mad at patients, and patients mad at staff. This kid was constantly angry at someone. Usually his anger was about his erroneous interpretation of things said or done by others. “They are picking on me” would be his interpretation of a discussion where he didn’t want to play some game by the “house rules”. He would act out inappropriately, eventually another boy or group of boys would have a belly full and also do or say something inappropriate. Brat boy would tattle and get off Scott free … others would be punished. Others would apologize, only to receive yet another tirade from Brat-Boy. There was constant turmoil. Peace and harmony did not prevail.
At 15 years and the oldest patient I had the title “King of the Ward” and it was my responsibility to restore peace and harmony. I tried a little whispering of wise counsel in his ear so to speak. He was having none of it, becoming angry, verbally abusive, and tattling his warped version of what took place. While no punishment resulted, I did receive a sound scolding and a couple days worth of angry looks from one of the nurses. Decades later a wise man pointed out to me the folly of trying to reason with an unreasonable person. I have made that mistake very few times since.
One of his violations of ward etiquette was refusing to grab a bottle from the next room for a “down” patient who had to pee. During the day the bottles were removed from the night stands and another patient would grab a bottle for you if you needed it … or at least go get a nurse for you. Staff and patients alike were not happy with him about this. After his surgery when he was bed ridden he was gonna be in a world of hurt should he need a bottle.
His surgery was scheduled but on the Monday morning he was to become a “down” patient, he woke up with major allergy issues. He was wheezing and his face was all red and puffed up like a toad. The surgery was postponed till they could determine the cause. They ran tests but found nothing. By evening he was fine and the surgery was rescheduled. Surgeries took place Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. For three days he would wake up looking like a toad, tests were run finding nothing and the symptoms would be gone by late afternoon or early evening.
On Thursday they sent him home. Peace and Harmony was instantly restored.
So a few of us were discussing our good fortune and joking about it being an answer to prayer, yet at the same time disappointing because we had plans for payback. One of my hospital brothers had this look like a poor poker player who is holding a good hand. I got him alone and here is what I found out. We all knew Brat-Boy had some allergy issues … but this hospital brother had somehow gotten a look at his chart and found out he was very allergic to baby powder. So Brat-Boys pillow was getting swapped out every night just before bedtime and while he was making his first bathroom visit every morning. The pillow was of course powdered liberally.
Removal of this one hospital brother turned a dysfunctional nightmare into a place where you could actually find enjoyment if you chose. There were no doubt better solutions but our options were limited.
I’m a traveling man and I’m on the run. My traveling name is Tucker Kluckner. Most men on the run are fugitives from the law or some kind of secret agent who knows too much. What’s my crime? What’s my secret? I was healed, made whole, there was a miracle. Shortly thereafter there were several accidents that should have killed me but didn’t. Then attempts were made on my life. I suspect there are economics interests that feel threatened by free medical cures. I decided to go underground, something I had no idea how to do. I considered checking to see if there was a book called “Going Underground for Dummies”. Instead I decided to wing it till the dust settled a bit.
There’s more. I figured I’d sneak home and grab a few things for the trip, my laptop, a Ham Radio, and a little cash for instance. So I’m out in my shop in the middle of the night when I hear a shotgun cock. It wasn’t the sound of a twelve gauge pump throwing a shell into the chamber, just the hammer being pulled back on a 16 gauge single shot. But still scary enough so I almost emptied my lower intestine. Nothing happened so I slowly turned around and there in the moon light I was looking at … myself.
Our birth name was Harry Lee Howell Jr. We both had this bewildered look on our face. Finally I carefully lowered the hammer, set the gun down and told myself to pull up a chair. That is to say … the guy in the cot with the wheelchair close by told … uh … me. We sat up all night talking.
We decided to use the Epistles to get the story out. More to come.
I titled a recent Epistle “Knowing”. It talked about how knowing doesn’t mean anyone will listen or that even if they listen that you are understood. But at least you know. So what do I know? What has my life journey shown me that others don’t seem to get?
I attended my first Medicine Wheel workshop last night. In the center of the Wheel is a rock. It represents God by whatever name you call him, and however you understand him. But depending on your journey to the wheel you will be looking at God from a different angle. Now rocks never being a perfect sphere, your viewpoint of the rock is different depending on which direction you came from. Your journey to the Wheel determines your viewpoint. All our journeys are a least a little different.
The handicapped disability thing has been a part of my journey since the day I was born. I see the wheel differently because of that. So what has my journey taught me that many others don’t seem to get? We give up too easy.
If we can’t do it the way we used to, or the way it’s usually done, or the way most people do it, or it seems too hard, we are too quick to assume it’s not an option. I hear people tell me about things that aren’t an option for them who strongly believe what they are saying. They guarantee these things will never happen for them. They quit.
So I hired someone to dig a ditch for me. Things went well for three-quarters of the length of the ditch. The ground became harder. He struggled with it for a while then said, it’s too hard, this isn’t going to work. I wasn’t convinced so I said, “Let me try”. My legs were in the house leaning up against the bedroom wall at the time, so I dropped outa the wheelchair and crawled to the ditch. He handed me the shovel. It was hard. But I tried a few different angles and it began to work. The dirt was still hard but I made the ditch a little wider and deeper so it was easier to work with. I went about four feet, handed the shovel back and said, “I think you can finish it now”. I crawled back to the wheelchair. It got finished. We didn’t quit.
I’m not Superman, Jesus, or even Gandhi, that’s not the point here. Also, this person is not a quitter. He has achieved lofty goals in his life and continues to do so. So just what is the point?
If you decide you can’t do something … it ain’t gonna happen. On the other hand, once you decide you can do something … you’ll find a way.