For this challenge, show us what nostalgia means to you — perhaps a moment or scene that makes you feel wistful, happy, sad, or somehow longing for the past…
—WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge
This has been a year of loss and a time of remembrance. Two of my former co-workers—Glen and Joe—have passed on, and two of my friends—Hollis and Rhonda—are heavy on my mind.
Hollis died a year ago last March and was the inspiration for this photo. He was a friend-of-a-friend and one of those people who you meet and wonder, How have we missed crossing each other’s paths until now?
Hollis was two years older than me and had been fighting Stage 4 Prostate for 8 years when I was introduced to him in 2008. He was a financial planner and one of the smartest people I know—he did the NY Times crossword puzzle in ink. Hollis had a pair of Harleys that he rode on a rotating basis and a drop-top Jaguar when he wanted to take his little dog, Jack, out for a ride.
I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the Army—burn women, kids, houses and villages—after bein’ a litterbug.
A couple of Novembers ago Hollis and I sat down to reminisce one morning and the subject of Alice’s Restaurant came up, specifically the Group W Bench. If you are not familiar with the song, the Group W Bench is where all of the misfits and nonconformists at the Draft Board were placed while the Selective Service representatives decided whether or not to induct them into the U.S. Army.
In Arlo’s case, he had a conviction for littering on his record and in the bureaucratic maze of the Draft Board that infraction carried the same weight as a violent felony. In Hollis’ case he served his time in the Army and viewed the rest of his life from the Group W Bench—in a good way. Kindred spirits, he and I often talked about about life, not-fitting in, and negotiating the ups and downs of our existence.
Toward the end of his life, Hollis embraced a Buddhist spirituality combining deep meditation and working with other cancer patients in a men’s Prostate Cancer Survivor’s Group. I quickly absolved myself of the notion that I could cheer him up by stopping by for a visit. I always left feeling more uplifted by his presence and attitude than I ever did when I arrived.
Hollis is my example of Grace under extreme pressure and how it is “…better to give than to receive.”
One of the pairs of shoes in this photo represents, Joe, a former co-worker. Two days ago I attended his memorial service. Joe was a laborer at the bridge and an all-round great guy. Because of my rotating shifts sometimes we worked Day shift together and the rest of the time we saw each other when shifts changed.
We had a ritual whenever we saw each other for the first time each day. He would shout, “Whadda ya say, BIG AL?” Let me emphasize the shout part of this ritual. It didn’t matter if I was across the parking lot or standing right next to him, the volume was the same. The followup sentence was spoken in a quiet tone as we shook hands, “How are you doing young man?” Joe was five years younger than me and we had a good laugh each time we met.
Joe retired four years ago and was blessed to spend quality time with his wife, children and grandchildren. I sat on a pew and smiled—it’s a bench—while I listened to his family share their love for the man who left us. When I think about Joe I am reminded by his example that “…where there is sadness I may bring joy.”
The second pair of shoes in the photo represents another former co-worker, Glen.
Glen worked with us starting in Y2K—do you remember that acronym? He was our 24/7 on-call guy for the company that installed the original Automated Electronic Toll System at the Golden Gate Bridge. Glen got a lot of calls from the Electric Shop, at all hours of the day and night—repeatedly.
With millions of lines of code, little bugs and system tweaks are apt to occur. Patience is the key to handling them and in 14 years of working with Glen, over the phone or hands on in the plaza, he never had a cross word or an outburst of temper. He took care of business, kept everyone informed at each step along the way, and was always available for the next challenge. Glen embodied the notion that, “…where there is error, I may bring truth.”
Today is the five year anniversary of the death of our dear friend, Rhonda. It was she who first called me “Big Al” on a regular basis. Rhonda worked for the phone company for a short time and did a deadly imitation of Lily Tomlin’s character, Ernestine the Telephone Operator. I think that connection to the old TV show, Laugh In—and Alan Sue’s Big Al Sports Report, in particular— is where she got my nickname.
Rhonda was the future wife of our former brother-in-law and the prize between the two of them. We were acquainted with her for only four years before we moved to Western Colorado, but we stayed in touch for the next 34 years of her life. When her marriage broke up, she and her infant daughter came out to the High Country for a short visit to re-connect and re-charge her spirit.
It was a shot in the arm for us as we were so far from old friends and family, and a warm climate. Rhonda was an example of the adage, “…where there is sadness, I may bring joy.”
Don’t cry because it’s over.
Smile because it happened.
Looking back, I feel very lucky to have met these people and blessed to be counted as one of their friends. In my heart, they will remain forever young.