Today Is Good

I’d rather be right where I am today
Yes, I would
Yes, I would
Today is good

I’d rather keep in step with time than stay
Yes, I would
As I should
Today is good

Sometimes my heart begins to stray
To other times, to other days

My memories may not obey
This need to stay
Here in today

The day will come when I will say good-bye

Yes, it will
A moment still
And so until

I’ll lean into the sadness and I’ll sigh,
This is good —
For I have stood
Right where I should

Sometimes my heart begins to stray
To other times, to other days
My memories may not obey
This need to stay
Here in today
Here in today

My first thought when I saw the photo challenge was Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa. 

My second thought was wishing to go back in time to when my children were young and my parents were both still alive. I quickly realized that wasn’t a healthy road for me to go down.

So I ditched Paul Simon’s sparrows, snails, hammers, and nails, and wrote this about my need to stay in the moment.


Celebrate 88

“This is such a great idea,” any number of people said the other day when we hosted a birthday party for my father at the Otesaga.

Not to be morbid, but the idea came from receiving lines at funerals. When my oldest brother died four years ago, I stood in a funeral receiving line for the first time. It felt like everyone had a story to tell about Stewart. I wished he could have heard them. He would have felt so loved.

When my mother died, the same thing happened. Person after person held my hand and told me a story about my mother and how much she meant to them. It gave me comfort to hear, but I wished my mother could have heard the stories too.

When Mr. Hanson, my 7th grade math teacher, died, his funeral was packed. The receiving line stretched out the door of the Vet’s Club and down the street. I wished I could have grasped his hand one last time, looked him in the face, and told him how much I appreciated him.

That’s why I started thinking about a party for my father.

I bounced the idea off my siblings. Before long, I was on the phone with the Otesaga. It had to be a strange call for their event planner.

Me: I’d like to have a birthday party for my father.

Planner: How many people do you expect?

Me: I have no idea.

Planner: I really need a number.

Me: I have no idea.

She worked with me.

I am so thankful for Brooke. She listened and guided and suggested.

For instance, she suggested that we use several adjoining rooms so it never felt crowded. She suggested we set up one room with comfortable seating, so my father could sit on a couch instead of a dining chair. She and her staff put out the decorations we had brought — books and photographs. She was wonderful.

The real quandary was how to get the word out. Friends of Bassett helped SO much. They blasted the invitation to retired physicians, current physicians, administration, and I forget who else. The local churches also helped to spread the word. As I ran into people at the grocery store or the gym or the post office, I invited them. It’s hard to corral a lifetime of people.

Among the first to arrive were two nurses from Dermatology, his last hold-out in his long and varied medical practice. He was delighted when he saw them.

Dermatology represents

From the home health aide who takes care of him,

Doreen and family

To a former CEO of the hospital,

Dr. and Mrs. Streck

To one of his secretaries,

To a little leaguer he had coached,
To family,


More family,

His sister surprised him

And a slew of friends and colleagues, his life was well-represented.

The next day, as he started working his way through all the cards, he asked, “How did all those people know it was my birthday?”

I just smiled.


If I Just Keep Moving

“If I can just keep the car moving,” I said to Laurel, “I think we’ll be okay.”

Earlier last Friday, I had marveled at the way the snow surrounded the house, blowing, swirling, sticking to windows on every side.





Schools had announced their closures the night before. The hospital had called twice to reschedule appointments that family members had for Friday. The pool — actually the whole sports facility where I work — had decided to close pre-snowstorm.

But the swim meet was still on.

Swim meets are never canceled.


Bud shook his head in disbelief, but handed me the keys to the car that has better snow tires.

And off Laurel and I went, driving the 80+ miles to Half Moon, NY.

The roads were bad.

“Take a picture,” I told Laurel, handing her my phone and quickly returning my hands to the steering wheel. 

It was white-knuckle driving time.

I usually take back roads, zipping up and down hills, past farms, through hamlets, to save time. Not Friday, though. I chose my route based on which roads I thought would be clearest.

Route 20

Route 20 wasn’t bad when I finally got on it.

Not bad, but not great either.

The viewable area in my windshield grew smaller and smaller as the wipers got caked with ice.

“I have to stop and clean the wipers,” I told Laurel — but there was nowhere to stop. The plowed lane was narrow and the shoulder non-existent.

We passed a huge Walmart truck leaning at an odd angle in the median and covered with snow. I wondered how long it had been there.

We passed an SUV down an embankment. “Do you think anyone is in that car?” Laurel asked.

“I don’t know, but I can’t stop,” I told her. “It wouldn’t be safe.”

I watch a state trooper in my rearview mirror pull over beside it. He put his flashers on for safety, and I assume he went to check.

Grimly we drove on.

“I’m going to stop at that gas station,” I said to Laurel, “so I can clean the wipers.”

But I couldn’t see the entrance and the brakes didn’t want to cooperate, so I continued driving.

30 mph seemed optimum. If I slowed, the car skidded. If I went faster, I felt like I was flirting with out-of-control.

“If I keep the car moving,” I said to Laurel, “I think we’ll be okay.”

We pressed on.

Past the tree tipped into our lane.

Past more vehicles off to the side.

Past snowmobilers.

Past 4-wheelers with plows attached.

Past bundled-up people with shovels who made me think of people bailing out sinking ships with tea cups.

Once we got to Albany, the roads were fine. The last little jaunt up to Half Moon was easy.

I sighed with relief when we checked into our hotel.

As I lay in bed that night listening to the thumps, hall noises, and plumbing sounds that go with staying in a hotel, I thought about how much of life is like that drive.

Sometimes it’s white-knuckled and demanding of every ounce of my attention.

Sometimes questions of whether I made the right decision overwhelm me.

Sometimes obstacles fall in my path.

Sometimes I can’t enjoy the scenery.

Sometimes I just have to keep moving.

Sometimes that’s all I can do.


God Bless the Moon

Every morning I go downstairs and sigh when I see the tray table beside my father’s chair. It’s a mess.

I tidy it — but I know my organization will erode to disorder by evening.

The problem these days is that he has taken to playing the boombox my brother got him last year. My father doesn’t understand the difference between a DVD and a CD, or, for that matter, between the radio setting on the boombox and the CD setting. He needs help, but often won’t ask for it. The CDs and their empty cases cover his tray table.

Whenever he puts a CD called “Scottish Tranquility” in, we have this conversation.

Dad: This music is so mournful.

Me: It’s supposed to be peaceful.

Dad: There are no words!

Me: It’s instrumental.

Dad: I understand that, but where are the words?

Me: Instrumental means it’s just the instruments.

Dad (pointing to the CD case): But it lists the names of the songs.

Me: Yes, the songs still have names.

Dad:  This music could put you to sleep.

Me: That’s why it’s called Scottish Tranquility.

Dad: Can you put something else on? This is terrible.

It really isn’t terrible. It’s soothing and quiet, just what my soul needs.

This morning, at 4:30 AM when I got up for work, I looked at the mess on his table. Open books, half-done crossword puzzles, CDs, and empty cases.

“Why is everything always out of place?” I said out loud, frustrated, longing for that Scottish Tranquility.

Half an hour later, when I walked outside, I was pleased to see the moon in its proper place. It silhouetted the barn and reflected off the road. A restart to a messy day.

Something about that sight gave me peace.

The moon is always right where it should be.

The other night it was peeping through the trees.

Sometimes it’s out in the daytime.

I’ve seen it from an airplane.

And it was gorgeous in Bosnia.

photo by Nicole Flohr

I can’t count on the moon to be in the same place every night.

But it will never be misplaced.

It may not be as reliable as the sun — rising in the east, setting in the west — but it’s there.

All I have to do is look.

Ah, the Sea of Tranquility.


Subscriber of the Day

My youngest brother composed this song when he was a wee lad.

The daily newspaper that my parents read was called the Oneonta Star and one day my little brother burst into this song. It’s much better than my first song which was called “Freckle Face.” Lyrically, my song was more interesting (although a little disturbing), but overall, his was better.

Oneonta — pronounced Oh-nee-on-ta, not, as tourists occasionally say, “Won-on-ta” — is the small city to the south of Cooperstown. 2014 population = 13, 838.

Some of you may be shaking your head saying, “That’s not a city. That’s a town.”

Well, when Cooperstown’s population is only 1,812, Oneonta sure looks like a city.

The Oneonta Star eventually changed into the Daily Star. Old timers still call it the Oneonta Star, just as they still refer to the Price Chopper as the Great American, our local grocery store which changed hands close to 20 years ago.

Old habits die hard.

My middle brother delivers newspapers for the Daily Star. He started when one of my older sons had a paper route and occasionally needed a back-up. My brother enjoyed getting up early and running the paper route. As he told me once, “It’s like getting paid to exercise.” It doesn’t pay terribly well otherwise.

But the people on his route love him. He gives them each a crystal for Christmas and then does little things throughout the year, like occasionally putting stickers on the papers to brighten their days — black cats and pumpkins for Halloween, hearts for Valentine’s Day, fireworks stickers for the 4th of July — you get the idea.

Last year, on my birthday, he put a Happy Birthday sticker on the front page. My father looked at it and said, “I wonder what the devil this is about. It isn’t my birthday.”

“It’s mine,” I told him.

“Oh,” he said.

This year my brother added a bunch of stickers, to make the occasion unmistakable.

But my father didn’t say a word.

Every day, the Daily Star announces the “Subscriber of the Day.” My father comments on it frequently.

“I wonder what you have to do to get that honor,” he asks when he reads it.

The person is usually unknown to us because the Daily Star covers quite a large rural chunk of upstate New York. A few weeks ago one of his friends was named.

“Look,” he said. “John Davis is famous.”

Subscriber-of-the-Day famous.

It’s a strange honor that seems so important to him. He always checks that name above the fold, and then scans the obituary names below the fold — “Just in case my name shows up,” he says, with a morbid humor that I appreciate less and less.

Today’s paper had many celebratory stickers. I wondered at the occasion — until I saw what my brother had surrounded with his stickers — the Subscriber of the Day, my father.

“Did you notice all those stickers?” I asked my father when he sat down to breakfast.

“Peter likes putting stickers on,” he replied.

“These ones are pretty special,” I said. “Look.”

He peered at the newspaper, and peered some more. Suddenly a wide grin spread across his face.

“I’m the subscriber of the day!” he said, fist-pumping the air. “Hallelujah!”

Hallelujah indeed.

I almost burst out singing — “O-ne-on-ta Sta-aa-ar!”


Shall We Gather At the River

Yesterday morning, when Dad came out for breakfast, he told me that he had composed a song while he was sleeping.

“Really?” I said. “Are you going to sing it for me?”

“Yes, I will,” he replied. “Just give me a minute to remember it.”

He sat there thinking, while I took his blood pressure and got his morning meds for him.

My father has compared his singing with Lee Marvin’s in Paint Your Wagon. In fact, I can remember times when my father would burst into “Wand’rin’ Star,” singing the first few lines. Lee Marvin’s gravelly baritone-bass was just enough off-key that I felt a kinship to him, and just enough on-key that I enjoyed the song — but my father was just off-key. I always smiled, though, when I heard him singing.

My mother was a soprano. Yesterday we sang “Shall We Gather at the River?” at church. I got a little lump in my throat because I could hear her singing this good Baptist hymn. It reminded me of my mother’s Baptist upbringing. I remember her singing it.

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

My father was bobbing his head a little, trying to find the rhythm for this song he wanted to sing for me.

“The words are kind of crazy,” he said. “I don’t think I can remember them all.”

“Just sing what you can,” I said, getting more curious by the moment.

He closed his eyes and sang, “Humpty-backed camels and chimpanzees…” He swayed to some internal music, then finished with, “but there ain’t no uni-corn,” and opened his eyes to see what I thought.

“I hate to break it to you, Dad,” I said, “but that song has already been written.”

He laughed, “Well, isn’t that the darnedest thing.”

I sang The Unicorn Song for him, (not nearly as well as The Irish Rovers)

There was green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty-backed camels and some chimpanzees
Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born
The loveliest of all was the unicorn*

He mouthed the words with me and nodded, remembering them better as he heard them.

“That’s right!” he said.

“You were listening to it last night,” I said. “It probably got stuck in your head and played in your dreams.”

He shook his head, “The brain is an amazing thing, isn’t it?”

The funny thing about the Wand’rin’ Star song is that my father was born under the farthest thing from a wandering star. He was born under a stay-put star. Fifty-some years ago, when he left the Army, he bought a house and settled in.

He put closets in the house.

The house had only one closet when he bought it — not nearly enough for a family of seven.

He planted trees, putting down roots.

My brother standing by the newly planted orchard – 1968

Those humpty-backed camels — I suppose they were a part of his life, too — but only a small part.

My father and I riding a camel

The last verse of Shall We Gather says —

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

Perhaps it’s there that we’ll find those missing unicorns.




Our trip to France was sweet.

I’m not talking about the food, which, of course, was amazing.

My food pictures leave something to be desired — not the food, my pictures.

Like this dessert — I don’t remember what it was, but it was delicious.

Or these crepes — which looked so wonderful that I started to eat them and then remembered to take a picture.

I took a picture of these meringues on Day 1 because I had never seen such large meringues. The patisserie was closed but I wanted to remember to buy some later. Unfortunately I forgot.

This pastry with apricots was really good but I can’t remember the name.

The sweetest thing about that pastry, though, was that my siblings and I sat outside on a bench to enjoy our selections from the patisserie together. We talked and enjoyed the morning sun before heading back to our hotel.

For years, I had heard my father say that he really wanted to see the beaches of Normandy — so we made it happen.

He probably doesn’t remember the trip today — at least not without the aid of the photo book we put together.

But we remember.

For one week last May, we fulfilled one of my father’s dreams — and had a good time doing it.

That’s the sweetest part.