“As Time Goes By….”

 

My friend, the piano player, is not long for the world.  As I sat with him, giving his wife a needed break to run errands, I felt guilty.  A good portion of my being is praying he goes soon and I’m remorseful for the thought.  I am sorrowful because I doubt his end will come soon…I doubt it will be an easy passing.

His body, a body used to eighty plus years of hard work, refuses to give up despite a mind ready to move on to the great unknown.  Charlie has lung cancer and despite the oxygen he receives is struggling to breathe …and yet he continues to breathe, gasping to hold on, gasping to make me laugh.

In an earlier blog, I wrote he reminded me of Hoagie Carmichael, sitting in front of an upright piano, banging out a tune in Bogart’s and Bacall’s “To Have or Have Not.”  Smiling, cracking wise with an unfiltered coffin nail stuck to his lower lip, his mouth twisted into a sly grin. This morning I’m reminded of another piano player, Dooley Wilson as Sam in “Casablanca.”  I’m reminded of the love song he sang, “As Time Goes By”, but only because Charlie’s time is passing slowly as he awaits the kiss of death. “A kiss is but a kiss….”

A master carpenter when not banging away at the piano, Charlie told me he kept looking at the ceiling above his bed, seeing the imperfections and thinking how bad the builders were…laughing he admitted to being one of those builders.  “We really could have done a better job.”  I could see no imperfections.

“Why don’t we go sit on the porch.  We can roll you out there.  A little sunlight might do you good.”

He agreed, and I helped him into the wheelchair before realizing the portable oxygen bottle was in his wife’s car.  Sometimes it is not the blind leading the blind, it’s the blind leading the stupid.

We talked about death and what it means.  My thoughts on death have always been personal and I’ve kept them private.  Speaking to someone so close to death about death is uncomfortable and disconcerting.  Still…I opened my own soul.  I’ve always believed “energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only changed” which is the basis for my spiritual beliefs, but you shouldn’t say that to someone whose energy is dwindling…should you?

He made me laugh when he asked if I feared death.  I answered, “No, just dying hard.”

Smiling and nodding his head, he responded, “Yeah, me too”, followed by a laugh that turned into a coughing spell.

Charlie tired out quickly and I tried to let him sleep.  He was like a young child, fighting sleep tooth and nail.  He would be silent, eyes closed, and then, as if rallying, struggled to begin a new conversation.

In between naps and gasps, he spoke of times gone by, people he knew, many now gone.  Hopes of glorious reunion.  I wonder…I wonder if his faith is stronger than mine.

I wrote the following death scene for a yet unpublished book entitled Paradise.  It was written with an attitude of hope.  I hope Charlie walks into the light.  I hope we all walk into the light “As (our) Time Goes By.”

The old man could hear voices in his sleep.  They seemed familiar.  He opened his eyes to a bright light….  There was no glare and he didn’t have to squint.  It was soft and warm, welcoming.  Figures were silhouetted against it.  Three he could discern but there seemed to be others just beyond his sight.

“Allen Kell…wake up!  It’s time.”  The old man smiled because he recognized Lucretia’s voice.

“Lucretia…time for what?”

“It’s your time…your time to move to the light.  There are people here who want to see you.  I want to see you.  It’s been a long time and I’ve missed you terribly.”

“Who’s there with you Lucretia?  I can’t quite make them out.”

“Cassandra and Josey…but there are others.  Don’t be scared.  It is glorious, and we can all be together.”

“Together,” The old man found himself on his feet, in a body he didn’t quite remember.  He wore the old Garibaldi shirt from the war, an old slouch hat was in his left hand.  With his right he reached for Lucretia’s hand…except it was all their hands it seemed.  Lucretia’s along with Cassandra’s and Josey’s.  There were more people from his past.  Sean, with his leprechaun grin, waving at him.  Alexandre’ decked out in his fresh mourning suit and smiling broadly.  Shailene in a mauve gown whose bodice defied gravity.  James, Momma and Papa Edwards…and more.

“Come, Allen Kell.  We are here to help you reach the light.  Your time on earth is done.  You should not be afraid.”

“Afraid?  No Lucretia, I’m not scared.  I’ve missed you.  I love you, just lead and I will follow.”

“Come, Paradise beckons.” and he was gone.

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Don Miller writing under the nom de plume of Lena Christenson can be found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

 

 

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Two Dolla’ Pitchers….

Two-dollar pitchers of beer. Bigggggg pitchers. Cheap beer even forty years ago…and a potentially lethal elixir when consumed in the dark, hole in the wall bar named Dino’s Lounge. Stir in for flavor a local, bluegrass “party” band named the “Stoney Creek String Band”, one might think they were consuming a magical concoction that made one bulletproof. Insert a shapely blond in jeans and a white men’s shirt as a swizzle stick…the story might take a twisted route. One might find himself married.

Apparently, the Seventies were an obscure and somewhat blurry period of my life. Well truthfully, I was stone cold sober when I asked her to marry me…maybe I should have remained incapacitated until the Eighties and I assure you a hangover would not have been as bad. Another bad news flash, I ain’t tellin’ this story. There are people still alive who just would not understand.

I’ve never had a drinking problem…not that I didn’t try to. Drinking seemed to be the cool thing to do and I could have had an advanced degree in two dolla’ pitchers of beer and Jack Daniels “Likker” drinks. I failed my dissertation. The times I stepped one or five beers or mixed drinks over the line, I didn’t much like the outcome the next day. Whether it was the hangover from hell I woke up with or the person from hell I woke up with, both were powerfully painful occasions and I was smart enough to learn from them…after a while. I find it interesting how well I remember the hangovers…the people not so much. That may be a blessing.

I learned from my mistakes which means I have survived my own stupidity. Despite the pain of my stupidity, I look back fondly at the people who live in those memories…but there was that proposal…and its acceptance. In all honesty, I look back fondly on the blond headed swizzle stick, she was a wonderful woman and my divorce was just that, my divorce.

It’s social media’s fault I’m percolating over my misspent youth…well, misspent young adulthood…I was a late bloomer. It could be the gray and rainy day too. “Rainy days and Mondays….” Gray and rainy days tend to make me percolate over misspent youth and my attention was drawn to a post about a former teaching peer, now deceased, which makes it more depressing.

My memory took me to one of those two dolla’ pitcher nights, Dino’s Lounge and Stoney Creek. A table surrounded by young men who still had their hair, harassing the pretty waitress as if we really had a chance and leaving a big tip just in case. Young men, friends who shared embellished stories of conquests past and ones we hoped would come. Young men with ready laughs and all their teeth. A brother, former coaching peers, a band director and a couple of former players. I remember it was a fun night long ago…but that might be those two dolla’ pitchers.

Somehow, we all survived to find other ways to die. Several are no longer with us…gone too quickly, but we all survived our foolishness. We all survived to be fine, upstanding if boring, citizens. Those young men still live in those memories…they will live as long as I live, along with two dolla’ pitchers, Dino’s Lounge and the Stoney Creek String Band.

Footnote: There is a Stoney Creek Band which still exists after forty years in the business. They must be good and they play bluegrass too. It’s not my Stoney Creek Band which exists only in my memories. I’m sure there is a Dino’s Lounge somewhere. If it has two dolla’ pitchers, don’t bother telling me, I ain’t going.

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer. His works may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM