My uniqueness, I realized, came in the specifics of all the dreams — from incredibly meaningful to decidedly quirky — that defined my forty-six years of life. Sitting there, I knew that despite the cancer, I truly believed I was a lucky man because I had lived out these dreams. And I had lived out my dreams, in great measure, because of the things I was taught by all sorts of extraordinary people along the way.
Randy Pausch (October 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008)
Señor Tao (April 17, 1948 -)
Overwhelmed With Joy
A dream visited me last night…
In the Summers of 1955 and 1956 before I became a member of the local Little League in Trenton, New Jersey my brother and I spent our vacation months in Virginia shuttling every other week between the homes of three of my father’s five sisters. In my dream last night I was an honored guest at my Auntie’s home.
All the family members and other locals whom I new and played with as a child during those Summer months were in attendance celebrating my recent accomplishment. In true southern tradition the women wore white dresses and heels and the men wore kaki pants, white shirts and dress shoes. The dream never identified what my accomplishment was but it alluded to a book publishing as I was asked to read some of my poetry later in the afternoon.
Auntie was my father’s oldest sister and my favorite aunt although I never told her. The reception was held at her home which she shared with her husband, my Uncle John and my two cousins, Hattie Louise and John Alden. The home looked as it did then, a large two story white building with dormer windows on the second floor and a large screened in veranda on the southern side. It had many secret spots and was a great home for playing hide and seek. During the evenings after dinner we would often sit out on the veranda and listen to Hattie Louise playing the piano from the music room. There was no television in those days. She was an accomplished pianist and the first to introduce me to classical music. She would play Beethoven’s sonatas, Chopin, and many others but always ended the session with Brahms, my Auntie’s favorite.
Hattie Louise was the first to greet me, still as beautiful as she was when I stayed those two summers. Everyone, although older versions of themselves, still looked somewhat the same. All, except for me, are dead and have been for many years. The setting was very formal and was held on the back lawn which my Uncle John had mowed that morning with his old trusty push mower. It was a lot of yard to mow. He taught me how to sharpen the blades with a metal file and would let me do a couple rows of mowing before I tuckered out. The house sat on a few acres of land surrounded by woods of pine, spruce and oak trees. It was filled with antique furnishings all of which my Uncle John made by hand in his wood shop. He did not use or have any power tools.
Auntie, whom I remember as always being sickly and frail, was radiant and healthy in the dream. We shared some memories of my time there. She recalled how my brother and I would come back from our adventures in the woods covered with ticks. She would fill two large galvanized tubs with water from the well and epsom salts in the back yard for us to sit in and would pull the ticks from our bodies. “The ticks love you city boys,” she would say. “You all have sweet blood.” That must have been true because John Alden never had any ticks on him.
My Auntie was a wonderful woman, a good wife and mother. She prepared three meals every day, did the laundry by hand and hung it up to dry. She would take us crabbing or to the river for a swim while Uncle John was working in his wood shop. We would have fresh succulent crabs for dinner. Auntie reminded me of the day I almost drowned in that same river when I was three. “You thought you could breathe under water like the fish,” she laughed out loud.
Other attendees came up to welcome me. Bubba from across the road with whom my brother and I used to go to the sand pits to play despite the warnings from Auntie. “The key to getting across the pits,” he said “is to keep moving fast.” One day he did not move fast enough. Bubba died in those same pits a few years later.
Aunt Baby Sis, Uncle George and my cousin Tommy welcomed me back. Uncle George was a sturdy farmer with a laugh that could be heard clear across the county. He taught me how to plow the field, plant corn, slop the hogs and shoot rats in the barn with a 22 rifle. Many years later at a 2CV (Citroën) event in Switzerland I won the shooting contest because of the lessons he taught me. “Shoot your first shot to see which side the gun pulls to. Then adjust your aim accordingly.” Uncle George had an old mule that would pull him and the plow strapped to his body in almost straight lines across the field. One day as he was walking the mule back to the barn, it bit him on the shoulder. Uncle George went into the house, loaded his shotgun and shot his mule. “Never let an animal or human mistreat you,” he told me. Another lesson for life.
Aunt Baby Sis was my father’s youngest sister. She too had a heart of gold. I never knew her given name until many years later during a visit to see my father before he died. He had a picture of this young woman on his dresser. “Who is that,” I asked, thinking it was one of his old girlfriends. “That is Hellen,” he said. I must have looked at him somewhat perplexed because he then said, “That is a picture of Baby Sis when she was younger.” Because she was the baby in their family, everyone called her Baby Sis. I always thought that was her name. To me she had alway been Aunt Baby Sis. She and Uncle George were not as well off financially as Uncle John and Auntie but they got by. Farming, I learned during those Summers was difficult work. We got up when the rooster crowed, collected the eggs from the hen house, slopped the hogs and milked the cows by hand all before sunrise. Aunt Baby Sis laughed and reminded me how I did not like fresh cow’s milk. So she brought a carton of store milk for me to put on my cereal. When the carton was empty she would fill it up with cow’s milk and put it in the refrigerator to cool. I thought is was store brought milk and used it on my cereal without a second thought.
For the entire afternoon I greeted and was greeted by family and friends from my two Summers in Virginia. Auntie served iced tea like she made when I visited from tea bags, not instant mix. Aunt Hattie Mae, my father’s other older sister taught me how to pluck a chicken after she removed their heads with an ax. Her husband Uncle Biggie and my cousins Brenda and Baby Dumpling, who shared time with me during undergraduate college, made up the rest of her family. Baby Dumpling was a chemist and worked near the Rutgers campus. Sometimes he would invite me over to his apartment on the weekends and prepare fried apples and bacon while we listened to jazz recordings. I learned a lot about becoming a man from him. He was a role model for me during my college days.
Mr Ed who was the postmaster and owner of Ark General Store and Post Office came up and shook my hand. I remember him because I would walk the two miles to his store when I stayed at Auntie’s house to get letters from my mother. She always sent me a dollar and I would buy some candy and a coke to drink on the walk back. At that time coke came in a green colored bottle out of the soda pop machine for a dime.
Mr Ed was a very big man with an equally large heart. He always treated me kindly. The first white man I knew to do so. Years later I borrowed a car from a friend in Washington DC to visit my father after Evelyn, his second wife, my second mother had died. Not much had changed but he road was better and now had four lanes. I was looking for something familiar and then I saw it. The old Ark General Store and Post Office.
I knew my father lived in the area but did not have an address. I stopped at the Ark as we called it as children. Mr Ed had died but his son Ed junior was running the store/post office. The postmaster in a small county town knowns everyone because they came there to pick up their mail. He looked just like his father. I told him my stories about his dad, then asked him if he knew where my father lived. He offered to call but I wanted to surprise my father so he drew me a map. The store looked the same, even the coke machine was still there but did not work. I grabbed a coke and a chicken sandwich and went to the counter to pay. “No. On the house,” he said. That was the last time I saw my father alive.
I had just turned around to get a plate of hush puppies and crab legs when I felt a tap on my arm. It was Miss Hattie from across the field from Auntie’s house, about half mile away and their closest neighbor. She was older than Auntie and Uncle John but they were great friends. Miss Hattie had never married or had children of her own, but she was always kind to me. Her house was as large as Auntie’s and seemed to me to be too much for a woman living alone. It was like a museum. Uncle John had made much of the furniture and the bookcases which overflowed with books.
I would walk through the cornfield to Miss Hattie’s home. I was always welcomed. She was a retired school teacher and knew I liked to read. I couldn’t touch anything in her home but we would sit on the front porch and she would bring me books to read as I sat in one of the two rockers and she in the other. She would help me with words I did not know or understand. During those summers I read Mark Twain, the Brontë Sisters, Beatrix Potter, Richard Adams, and CS Lewis. Authors I had not yet been exposed too in school. I learned to appreciate books from Miss Hattie. An appreciation I still carry today. Before I could have a book, I had to wash my hands and had to close the book and put it aside when she brought me a glass of iced tea and we would talk about what I read. In the dream she said, “I am so proud of you.” I never knew for what as the dream ended or rather I woke up ending the dream before I was ready for it to end.
My dreams are and have always been important to me. I do not know why I had this one. All of the people in the dream are from so long ago in my life and have all passed on to a different realm but they all taught me something even the ones I did not include in this writing. Whatever the reason or purpose of the dream, I woke up with a feeling of overwhelming joy from all the pleasant memories the dream brought back into my life. I feel fortunate to have had so many moments of overwhelming joy in my seventy- four years of living. Another such moment was when I received a standing ovation from my peers while living at Esalen but that is a story for another time.