Making unreasonable requests of the deceased

I’m writing to update a piece I wrote last year around Christmas. 

My grandpop worked in the Budweiser brewery in the mid-1900s at a job that afforded my family many opportunities. While that job and company gave us so much, working in the factory also gave him the painful cancer that led to his death. 

I was talking to a very dear friend about this yesterday, because it’s the holidays and nostalgia happens. We spoke about all of the good this job did for our family and when we got to the part about developing lung cancer, my friend stopped me and asked, “so do you think he would have done it any differently if he had to do it over again?” Probably not. Definitely not. 

The designers at Department 56 Snow Village released item 55361 in 2004. They imagine the Budweiser Brew House with garland and a clock and warm, inviting lighting inside. It’s sweet. It’s scenic. It sits on my dresser all year.

Emotionally-Complicated Christmas Decorations

My dad, ever the poet, will say this: 

“Grandpop worked in the Brew House, which didn’t look quite as quaint as this. It was basically just a big industrial building with big metal tanks, and it was full of beechwood chips and cotton and asbestos and all that other shit that killed him.” 

-December 15, 2018

I visited my grandpop’s final resting place a few weeks ago to let him know I was thinking of him at Christmas. I found our family name. I traced the engraving with my fingers and  sat down.

Grandpop’s grave, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Newark, NJ

I crumbled under the weight of everything I have been enduring and trying to brush off for months. It was the ecstatic relief of coming home after 15 years away and the painful realization that I haven’t been honest with myself about how much I miss him and my other grandparents. I sat on the cold, wet grass and rested my head on the tombstone and cried, like a little kid sitting in a grown-up’s lap. I surrendered to the complexity of everything in my head and heart swallowing me whole and cried harder. 

His wife, my grandmother, is buried with him. She died in the mid-1980s, before I was born. I’m talking to her, too, and I miss her too. She is everything we imagine our grandmothers should be: sweet, kind, caring, fun. Maybe she was even better than all of that.

I begged them to come back to life. I asked them to take care of my family and take care of me.  I asked them to show me the way.

Maybe I was asking a lot – mere mortals, etc.

They are buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery for Roman Catholics in Newark, New Jersey. Many family members who came before them were already buried there when my grandmother passed in the 1980s, and it was near where my family lived.

Mount Olivet Cemetery is 600 feet away from the Budweiser factory. My grandparents sit all day and night in the shadow of the the thriving corporation that used asbestos in brewing at the peril of the bodies inside. It’s a striking juxtaposition if I’ve ever seen one and an explicit and upsetting display of corporate America’s disdain for the blue collar workers on whose backs they’re built. 

Budweiser plant overlooking Mount Olivet Cemetery, Newark, NJ

I sat between them, my back to the factory, digging a little and putting in the small cross I brought with me. “There, that’s good,” I said (probably out loud) to myself. I picked myself up and carried on with my day. It’s what he would have wanted. 

This is an excerpt from a larger and more complex piece still in progress, or maybe it has not been written yet, whatever.

Mindfulness Coloring

I’m a few years late to the party, but I finally got around to trying Mindfulness Coloring for Adults, or as I like to call it, coloring. I have to sing its praises.

I was working on the reindeer’s ears when my Violet-Rouge Crayola snapped in half. Three more crayons met the same demise (RIP Yellow-Green, Bluetiful, and Yellow). This was when I knew the Mindfulness Coloring for Adults was starting to work its magic.

After a breath, and then another breath, I relaxed my hand (and subsequently my arm, and subsequently my whole body) enough to get through the whole reindeer without breaking another crayon.

I have now done some online research and, from what I understand, breaking crayons is not the point – nor should it be part of the exercise. I may have done this wrong. I recommend coloring in any case.

Get the Look: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Jumbo Coloring and Activity Book, bendonpub.com; Crayola Crayons 24-pack, crayola.com.

Farm time

I am one of those people who derives great joy from ‘shopping’ for groceries in a field. I also like saving money on incredible organic produce and flowers, so there’s that, too.

We joined a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm earlier this year. We pick up a box of produce weekly from a local grocery store. We also have privileges to go to the farm and pick flowers, herbs, additional produce…etc.

tl;dr – veggies are good for you and flowers are pretty and picking them right from the earth is the best ever.

wandering around an open field by myself and connecting with the earth and with the food that nourishes my body provides my mind with peace and a calm that I’ve had a hard time finding elsewhere.

Sounds expensive.

it’s not. the farm gives you the option to pay in two or three installments. for a household of two adults and one child, our share averages out to $30/week. for that $30, we sometimes end up with more food than I can even cook in a week. I really don’t know how we lived without it.

this week, we ended up with about 15 sunflowers, a pumpkin, several huge bags of greens, bunches of fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, lavender, sage, oregano, basil), 3+ quarts of sauce tomatoes, 1 quart of cherry tomatoes, 1 pint of husk cherries, a pint of hot peppers, a few regular bell peppers, 1 quart of green beans, and a pint of tomatillos.

i will reiterate t h i r t y d o l l a r s. for all of that. and I could have picked more if I had wanted to.

the other things – the intangibles – are priceless. what my skin smells like after picking herbs. the peace of mind i take home with me. acknowledging and appreciating the life that buzzes and hums and grows and exists around me.

we are members at honey brook organic farm.

why do i have time for a blog

Like so many good blogs, this one was born during a bout of involuntary unemployment. i wouldn’t say i was ever sad about being let go. my office restructured and it wasn’t due to anything I had done wrong or right. often these changes are for the best. I don’t mean to be indelicate, because I know that for many people, losing a job is tough (to say the least), but for me, i am able to see it as an opportunity.

as of this writing, I have been unemployed for almost a month. i am finally starting to notice the little things about life that went unnoticed when my thoughts were consumed by work, and rushing around, and my next meeting, and my next event.

the cracks in the yellow paint on the curb.
the way that dried up leaves dance in the wind.
the creaking street sign that sounds like someone crying out for attention

most of all, i notice peoples’ facial expressions walking down the street.

i saw someone strolling down the street today – yes, I’d call it a stroll. Walking slowly, taking in the world around him. sipping coffee. it looked almost luxurious.

not long after, i saw a man who couldn’t chug his coffee fast enough, on his way somewhere, his mind was already at his next stop.

I was that guy! I used to be that second guy!

the moral of this stupid, simple story is be here now. Your job will let you go and you’ll be stuck writing a blog and wondering what art you missed in the world around you while you were being that second guy – the dancing leaves, the cracks in paint, the singing creaking signs on windy mornings.