Tag Archives: wedding anniversaries

31 Years of Marriage: Thoughts of an Inept Romantic

 

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“A toast before we go into battle. True love. In whatever shape or form it may come. May we all in our dotage be proud to say, “I was adored once too.” – Gareth Four Weddings and a Funeral

“I love you. You annoy me more than I ever thought possible, but… I want to spend every irritating minute with you.” Scrubs 

Today Judy and I celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. So I won’t be writing much except to say that I am an incredibly lucky man. I have the day off and this morning we will take our oldest dog Molly to the vet for a follow up visit about her eyes, then Lord knows what we will do. I will try to do something special for her, I am sure we will go out to dinner but I don’t know what else yet. I found out this afternoon that  what I ordered for an anniversary gift won’t get here for two months so plan worked out well.

I am a very inept romantic. Though I am very good with the English language I am not very good in how I express myself, which means that I find movies that deal with this pointedly funny.

One of my favorite movies about marriage is the classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. There are a could of great sequences in the film that kind of hit home to me. One is where Charles (Hugh Grant) is stumbling all over himself when talking to Carrie (Andie McDowell). It almost reminds me of the first time that I asked Judy out in college. I was stumbling over my words so badly that she thought I was about to ask her to marry her on the spot. I do happen to be terribly shy and back then just asking a girl to go out with me was a major adventure in fear.

Charles: Ehm, look. Sorry, sorry. I just, ehm, well, this is a very stupid question and… , particularly in view of our recent shopping excursion, but I just wondered, by any chance, ehm, eh, I mean obviously not because I guess I’ve only slept with 9 people, but-but I-I just wondered… ehh. I really feel, ehh, in short, to recap it slightly in a clearer version, eh, the words of David Cassidy in fact, eh, while he was still with the Partridge family, eh, “I think I love you,” and eh, I-I just wondered by any chance you wouldn’t like to… Eh… Eh… No, no, no of course not… I’m an idiot, he’s not… Excellent, excellent, fantastic, eh, I was gonna say lovely to see you, sorry to disturb… Better get on…

Carrie: That was very romantic.

Charles: Well, I thought it over a lot, you know, I wanted to get it just right.

The fact that Judy’s ring tone for me is the song “I think I love you” by the Partridge Family is somewhat ironic in light of both my inept attempt at romance and that scene in the movie. There is another scene in the movie that amuses me, one again because of my shyness, and I wonder if there is some truth in it.

Gareth: I’ve got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.

Charles: Uh-huh.

Gareth: Totally. I mean they can’t think of a single thing to say to each other. That’s it: panic! Then suddenly it-it occurs to the chap that there is a way out of the deadlock.

Charles: Which is?

Gareth: He’ll ask her to marry him.

Charles: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Gareth: Suddenly they’ve got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

Charles: Basically you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.

Gareth: The definitive icebreaker.

We dated for nearly five years before we got married, and got married just six days after I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant. Now 31 years later I am a Navy Commander and we are still married, which is kind of a miracle when you consider some of the things we have been through together and all the years that we have spent apart due to military assignments. I think since 1996 we have spent about ten years apart. Thankfully, since we are married we still have things we can talk about to get around that awkward pause.

But then seriously I have to agree with Agent Dana Scully in the X-Files when she said something that I totally agree with and which is true about us:

“It seems to me that the best relationships, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is… suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.”

Truthfully, I cannot imagine being with someone else. So here’s to us, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, in peace and war, may we continue to live, love and laugh together.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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DOMA Struck Down: The Day After our 30th Wedding Anniversary

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Our 30th Wedding Anniversary Celebration 

Last night Judy and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with close to 40 friends at Gordon Biersch. What we love about our friends is that they span the spectrum of what is the United States. They include people from all races, religions and political views and even sexual preference, and when together they get along. It really is a wonderful thing to see. And we enjoyed our time with them last night and thank the management of of Virginia Beach Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant for helping make it such a wonderful time.

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Our First Wedding Anniversary Neubrucke Germany 1984

This brings me to today’s Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. It was a historic day, celebrated by many and vilified by some conservative Christians who have opposed equal rights for gays for as long as as possible. I am happy for my Gay and Lesbian friends and cheer this decision.

Of course most of the opponents reasons for opposing this are religious and the way that they interpret both scripture and history. I have no argument with them believing that. I am a Christian as well but do not hold the beliefs of the more conservative part of Christianity regarding gays, especially in regard to their rights under the civil laws of the country. I figure that the members of any religion have the right to define what they believe and even the behaviors of people who are willing members of their faith and that the government has no right to judge or legislate what they believe in regard to how they run their churches or places of worship. Thus if the Roman Catholics refuse to ordain women or with few exception married men, or if Evangelical pastors refuse to marry gays or a certain denomination refuses to acknowledge the validity of another religious group within the confines of their faith they have every right to do so. Such is the protection built into the Constitution. I may not agree with those views but I will oppose any government efforts to silence them.

Barry Goldwater said: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

That being said in our country they do not have the right to impose their beliefs on others that do not share them. That is the side of the constitutional coin. The United States is not the Holy Roman Empire or the nations that descended from it, nor is it Calvin’s Geneva or Elizabethan England where the religion of the sovereign, or in the case of Geneva the council members who shared the faith of John Calvin. In those cases the religion of the sovereign was used to legislate against and punish dissenters, often using prison or the death penalty. Thus I will resist all attempts by religious groups to impose their beliefs through civil law on the society as a whole.

Chris Kluwe, the outspoken and very thoughtful punter of the Oakland Raiders put it well yesterday: “We preach tolerance and legislate hate. We love our neighbor, unless our neighbor happens to be “different.” We elect politicians, year in and year out, on a platform of oppression and prejudice that merely changes its name to fit in with the times.” 

That was a big consideration to the men that drafted our Constitution but one that the descendants of the religions denominations most likely to be discriminated against by State Churches and punished for their beliefs seem to have forgotten. I have written about this a number of times and who can read them at the links below:

The Toxic Faith of “Americananity” and its Antidote  

Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics  

The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights  

Religious Freedom and Religious Hypocrisy the New Improved 2012 Model  

The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It  

Surrendering Religious Liberty to the State for Money: The Example of Florida I n 2011  

Religious Freedom…Do We Really Want or Believe in It?  

Glenn Beck Attacks the Churches and Threatens Religious Liberty  

A Christian Defense of the Rights of Moslems and Others in a Democracy (or Constitutional Republic)  

Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited  

Gordon Klingenschmitt and his Followers- The Klingenfraud and the Klingenban  

Bringing Faith to the Faithless and Doubt to the Faithful  

Things Haven’t Changed That Much: Jackie Robinson Goes to the 1964 GOP Convention and the Freedom Summer  

The Great Evangelical Disaster: Selling the Birthright….and not Even a Bowl of Soup to Show for It  

Start by Prosecuting Me: A Challenge to the Drumhead Justice of World Net Daily’s Erik Rush and Joseph Farrah  

Be Careful of What you Vote Against: A Warning from History  

The Pejorative use of the term Cult by people that should know Better: Reverend Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney  

Will we Stand? The Moral Responsibility of Christians in our Time

The Radical Influence of the Christian Dominionism on American Politics: It’s All Jimmy carter’s Fault….Not Really but it is a Catchy Headline  

The Clear and Present Danger of Unrepentant Ideologues  

Taking the Wrong Train  

Darkness into Light: Turning Systematized Hatred in the Name of God into Reconciliation  

The Unchristian Christianity of Modern America  

The Road to Totalitarianism is paved with Good Intentions  

How to Make an Incredibly Difficult War Unwinnable: The Crass Hatred of “Pastor” Terry Jones for Moslems Endangers Americans  

The Fruit of Glenn Beck’s Spirit   

Revisiting the Political Captivity of the Church 

Since I have written about the subject of religious rights and civil rights so many times I will not go into details here, if you want you can peruse any or all of the above articles to get where I am coming from. But I do want to quote two famous Baptists from our history. George Truett who was a professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary long before I attended there wrote about the danger of the Church alliance with the sate advocated by so many leaders of the religious right, who even now are threatening to urge their people to disobey any Supreme Court ruling regarding marriage equity that they do not approve:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.” 

The second is John Leland, leader of the Virginia Baptists in the fight for the separation of church and state. Persecuted by Anglicans the Baptists persuaded James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to ensure that the guarantee of religious liberty was enshrined in the Bill of Rights wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another.  The liberty I contend for is more than toleration.  The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

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As far as today’s ruling I am very glad for my friends in the Gay community to have their marriages recognized by the Federal government. It is a long time coming. I think the watershed moment for me in this debate came in late 1993 when I was in my Clinical Pastoral Education residency program and I had to deal with those dying from complications from AIDS.

I remember two incidents. One was a young successful architect who was in our ICU having taken a dramatic turn for the worse. His partner and friends were barred from the room by his family who prior to this had condemned him and ostracized him. They had their pastor with them who though the man was unconscious, heavily sedated and dying was preaching to him to repent. The man’s own pastor from another denomination was excluded by the family and eventually left. This left me with the man’s partner and close friends in a waiting area away from the man that they loved. It was heartbreaking and I wondered what it would be like if Judy was forbidden from being at my side as I died because someone disapproved of her or our marriage. But what happened to the young man and his friends was legal because the family had the final say and the partner had no rights.

The second was a young man from West Texas who was dying on our general medical ward. His partner and parents were both there. The parents, dad in a plaid shirt and cowboy hat and boots, a rancher and his wife stood with the partner. All were crying, the family shared their faith with me, Southern Baptists who believed in the grace and love of God. As their son passed away and the partner asked, “what will I do now?” they embraced him and said “you are part of our family now and you can live with us.” It was a moment of grace and God’s love that was so absent in the other situation.

Over the years I have know, been friends with and worked with many gays and lesbians. I have felt terrible that for the most part they had to hide their love for one another either in the military or in their churches. I have had friends ostracized by their faith community or turned out of the military for admitting their sexual orientation.

Today is a good day for them and our country. Yes I know that some will not agree with me for mainly religious reasons and that is okay because they have that right. That being said I rejoice for all the men and women that I know who are gay or lesbian who will finally have the chance to openly enjoy what Judy and I have known and celebrated the past 30 years of marriage.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A death, a Rain Delay and a Visit from Saint Pete

This is a continuation of the story that I started in “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11: A Baseball Fantasy” and “A Ballgame with Saint Pete: The Confluence of Faith and Baseball.” I have edited this from when I originally posted in last year and reposted it. I wrote the original article on my way to California for my dad’s funeral. When I started the series I did not expect my dad’s death, despite his long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote this article and started another which I will now finish and then continue the story from there. Somehow baseball helps me make sense of the world and adds to my spirituality in ways that I cannot explain to the non-member of the Church of Baseball. I just hope that the series touches people with the grace of God in some way, and that maybe they too will experience the love of God and the wonder of this wonderful game.

 

The news the next morning came like a thunderclap, as I was turning off my alarm clock which is located on my cell phone the phone rang to the tune of the Panzerlied which is my default ringer, a good German Army tune for a patently military Padre with an affinity for German military history.  I was not expecting the phone to ring as you might well image and squinted at the display to see just who might be calling me at this hour.  Without my glasses it was hard to see the display but nothing can come from a call this early in the morning. I looked at my watch to make sure that the cell phone time had been correct and that the call was not coming from someone at work seeing if I was running late which this morning despite having been up late the previous night I was not.  I hit the little green button with a phone on the key and put the device to my ever ringing ear, a product of too much noise exposure in Iraq according to my ENT, oh well, that and the loss of speech discrimination that I am experiencing tell me that the diagnosis is likely true.

“Hello” I asked warily wondering just whose voice would announce itself on the other end of the call.

“Hey Steve” announced the voice on the other end, it was my brother Jeff and I could tell that something bad had happened. “It’s Jeff I just got a call from the nursing home and they say that dad is hasn’t got much longer to live.” The voice was measured but full of emotion.

“Crap, okay, go on Jeff” my voice hesitated as Jeff continued to talk.

“Yeah, they called a few minutes ago and said that dad had taken a turn for the worse and that they didn’t expect him to live.” He paused for a second and continued. “I figured that they meant a few days so I asked them and the nurse told me that she didn’t think that he would live another half hour.”

I interrupted “a half hour?”

“Yeah, tell you what I need to get up there quick, I’ll call you from there to let you know what is going on.”

“Thanks Jeff be safe driving up there.” My voice trailed off as Jeff replied.

“I will Stevie.”

“One question, does mom know?”

“No they called me, I’ll let her know when I know something and I’ll call you as soon as I get up there.”

“Love you brother, be safe”

“Love you too” and with that Jeff hung up the phone.

I find it funny that my “little brother” refers to me on occasion as “Stevie” but he is my brother but he has been the more serious and grown up of the two of us since he was about eight years old. Dad used to say that he was eight going on forty back then and he still is the more serious and reserved of the two of us. When I was in high school and college he looked in askance when I went on toilet paper raids with friends and later with Judy around town.

In shock I walked back to the bed where Judy was awake and putting her glasses on. As I climbed back into the bed she asked “what’s wrong?” and reached out to me as I lay down next to her. “It was Jeff; he said that he got a call from the nursing home and that they said that dad was dying.” I looked up at her as she simply said “I didn’t expect that.”

“I didn’t either; Jeff is on the way up now, I don’t know what to think.” She cradled my head in her arms as I lay there stunned from the news.

“We’ve known for a long time that this was going to happen but…” I cut her off.

“But I just didn’t expect it now. I know that he hasn’t been the man that I knew for a long time with the Alzheimer’s but I just didn’t expect it. Kay had said that he was doing about the same, had gained some weight again and the last time I talked to mom and Jeff they said that he looked about the same as he has for a long time, I just figured that he would go on longer.” I paused as I took a deep breath and she said “I know” and held me close.  Seeing that we were up, Molly our vivacious Papillion-Dachshund mix pulled her 15 pounds of red fur and personality over us and wrapped her body around the top of our heads after squeezing herself between us and ensuring that she kissed each one of us.

We lay there for together not saying much as I wondered what was going to happen in the next few minutes. I prayed silently for my dad to have a peaceful death and to be with the Lord even as I searched for answers myself. It had not been that long, just about six month in fact since I had started believing again after my Christmas miracle. That had been a time, after Iraq I was falling apart and only got worse for most of the first two years after my return. I struggled with PTSD, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, severe depression, chronic pain gained a lot of weight and got out of shape but the worst part was feeling cut off from community and even worse cut off from God, the experience of feeling God forsaken shook me and it was not until shortly before Christmas that faith had began to return to my weary soul.  I hugged Judy and pressed up closer to her before realizing that I needed to get a shower realizing that I had just enough time to do this and get dressed before Jeff called back from the nursing home.

“Strange, yesterday I get the greatest news of my career and today this. It’s that damned Yin and Yang, those two have to always show up together why couldn’t I get time just to enjoy the news of the promotion?” It was a rhetorical question of course, I am not one that subscribes everything to God’s will which in my understanding would make God out to be a capricious and even somewhat cruel God, despite what the Calvinists and Augustinians say is part of his will for us. I have a problem with a God that would intentionally screw with his people like that and choose rather to believe that some things in life just happen, the good with the bad and that somehow that God will give us grace to get through the difficult times, even when we see no good reason for the timing of events. “Damned Yin and Yang, especially that Yang always shows up when you don’t want him to.

“I’ve got to get cleaned up and dressed I’ll have to go in to work after I hear from Jeff and rearrange my leave.”

“I guess this means another anniversary apart huh?” Judy looked at me and I simply replied “yeah what’s new?” I had planned to take a good amount of leave around our anniversary this Friday just to be with her, help her around the house and relax through the July 4th weekend but that was now out the window with dad’s death.  Over the 27 years of your marriage we have been apart more than together on this auspicious date that we share with the 1950 invasion of South Korea by the North and the 2009 death of Michael Jackson.  I spent our first anniversary in Landstuhl Army Medical Center back in 1984 and over the years had only been at home for 11 of our anniversaries. I guess being in the military you get used to this in fact with us it is almost a running joke, but this year I didn’t think we would be apart.

“I think that this means that we’re 11 for 27” I dryly said.

“I’ve stopped counting dear I just figure that it’s going to happen.”

“Yeah, me too” I pulled my body which now felt like it weighed a ton off the bed and headed to the shower and Molly looking somewhat offended snuggled closer to Judy.

About the time that I was finished dressing the phone rang again and it was Jeff telling me what I knew he was going to tell me.  I answered the phone resigned to the message that I knew was coming. “Hey Jeff, what’s going on?”

“Stevie, I’m here at the nursing home, I made it just after he died.  It looks like he just passed away in his sleep, he looks at peace.”

“That’s how we hoped it would be no suffering.”

“I know, I just didn’t think that it would happen this fast. I thought they would call us and that he would slip into a coma and take a few days to pass away.”

“Yeah, same here, I just didn’t expect it today, but then who does?”

“Hey Stevie, I call you back I need to go let mom know that he’s gone.” It was 3:25 AM in California.

“Okay, hang in there and good luck with mom, it will hit her hard I’m sure. Talk to you later, love you Jeff.”

“Sure thing…. later.” The phone went silent as Jeff hung up.  I got my gear together gave Judy a kiss goodbye, filled me a water bottle and headed to my car.  After loading my gear in my trusty war wagon festooned with bumper stickers of baseball teams and military units and newly issued Operation Iraqi Freedom license plates personalized with “FLAK88” my favorite artillery piece of World War Two turned the key and nothing. The battery was dead.

I went back in the house and let Judy know that I needed to borrow her car and then proceeded to load her car for the trip into work.  On the way I called Derek, our assistant Department Head to let him know what had happened and by 7:15 I was walking in the office door wearing my Tides road jersey and hat. I sat down with Derek for a while as he and I have very similar family situations and both of us were wondering who would be the first to lose their father.  The talk was helpful and Derek prayed for me as our Monsignor, Father Fred.  Fred when he was on active duty had been my first detailer, which in non-Navy parlance would be a personnel manager or assignments manager.  Fred and I have had a wonderful ministry together as Priests and he came into my office, closed the door and spent time with me, finishing with prayer and letting me know that he would offer Mass on my dad’s behalf.  He was followed by Father Roy a Canadian Army Priest in our Clinical Pastor Education Residency who offered his condolences and then let me know that he too would offer Mass for my dad.  I gathered the things that I would need to include my Summer White uniform, or as I love to call them my Faggoty White Uniform as Colonel Nathan R Jessup, Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men called them.  Once I was packed I was on my way home where Judy awaited me as did my laptop with which I would make my travel arrangements.

I could not believe the prices to fly on short notice and the aggravation that I had in trying to use my frequent flyer miles or get a real person on the line on all airlines except Southwest. Although I was able to talk with the kind folks at Southwest, who by the way are always the most courteous of all the airline customer service agents, at least to me, I went online where I got my ticket on Southwest to Sacramento and made my rental car reservations.  Following all of the time spent making arrangements my neighbor Larry jumped my car which enabled me to go to the auto part store for a battery.

Finally about exhausted and with the temperatures in the high 90s with unbearable humidity Judy and I went and got a beer and light lunch at Biersch before the ball game which I knew that I needed.  It is funny how baseball of all things works to calm me when nothing else will and how even when I experience great loss baseball is there for me. It is much as Walt Whitman once said: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out of doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair those losses, and be a blessing to us.” Baseball is a blessing to me, something that the Deity Herself must have figured when I was conceived to a couple of baseball fans who in addition to raising me right taught me to love this game.

I looked up at the sky and realized that there was a strong possibility that rain would affect the game as I got out of my car at Harbor Park.  When you live in these parts you can tell by the look, feel and smell when a storm is coming and this was one of those days.  I entered the park, as Bill “Spaceman” Lee once said “as one enters a church” paying my respects to the folks that I now know well at the front gate walking up the stairs to the concourse where I was greeted by Will, one of the ushers who helps people as they come up the stairs offering greetings to those that he knows while directing first time visitors in the proper direction.  I let Will know what had happened and he offered his condolences and said that he would pray for my family too.

I made my way across the concourse and looked out at the lush diamond below, the grounds crew was preparing the infield for the game as Rip Tide mugged for fans and the Tides band played on the concourse.  Vendors selling all types of food and drink were busily engaged in their work while Marty the Card dealer talked with a customer.  I stopped trying to figure out what I wanted to do next and decided to get a Tides dog and a beer before going down to my seat. This is a comfort food for me and like Humphrey Bogart said “A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.” Going down to “Rosie’s Grill” on the third base side of the concourse I ordered the dog and the beer, a draft Yuengling Lager and after dousing the dog in mustard and relish I went over to a table and ate the dog there as I stared out at the diamond occasionally looking across the Elizabeth River to the shipyards and dry docks and the Staten Island Ferry that was high and dry in the dry dock directly across from right center field.

My mind wandered thinking about the many times that dad had taken me to ball games and how much that meant to me.  The last game that we saw together was a Stockton Ports game at Banner Island Ballpark back in 2005 or 2006 when the Alzheimer’s was just starting to show up in his daily life and instead of being able to really enjoy the game he nervously paced the concourse behind home plate for much of the game.  That was so unlike him and I knew that he was slipping even though he did not yet recognize it. When I finished the dog I took my beer and my bag with my camera and windbreaker in it down the concourse where I met Chip the usher who greeted me in his usual friendly manner.

“Hey Steve how are you doing? Celebrating the promotion?”

I looked at Chip and sighed. “Chip it’s the damndest thing I thought that I would be celebrating and my brother called this morning to let me know that my dad died.”  Chip looked at me and shook his head.

“Sorry to hear that, he’d been sick for a while?”

“Yeah, the Alzheimer’s didn’t even know who the hell I was the last time that I saw him; at least he went peacefully in his sleep.”

“But still…”

“Yeah, really threw me for a loop, I just didn’t expect it to happen now even though I have expected it for the last two years.”  I paused.

“I’m really sorry Steve; I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers. When are you going out?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“Okay, I’ll keep you in my prayers my friend.”

“Thanks, I better go down and see Elliott.”

“Catch you later.”

“You bet.”

I walked down the stairs to see Elliott waving at me having already wiped down my seats.  I got down to where he was and he greeted me cheerfully. “Hello Padre, just you tonight?”

“Yeah just me.”

“I hope we don’t get rain tonight”

“Sure looks like we might it feels like rain.”

“Yeah, so how are you doing?”

“Not so good, I won’t be here for a while I got a call from my brother this morning to tell me that dad is dead. I fly out tomorrow.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that Steve.” I knew Elliott like Chip meant what he said.

“Yeah, hard to believe, I thought that God might actually let me enjoy a full day with my promotion.” I paused as Elliot let me continue, a good usher like a good bartender is a good listener.  “But stuff happens, like those Chinese kids Yin and Yang, the good and the bad huh?”

“Yeah, seems that way.” Elliott paused. “How are you doing there?”

“I guess okay, he died in his sleep, we’ve expected this for the last two years, I just didn’t expect it now.” I paused and as before Elliott let me do so without prattling on. “You know I prayed that he would go in his sleep at peace without anymore suffering but now that he has I am just…I don’t know, I didn’t expect it now.”

“Hang in there Padre; I’ve got to get busy before Dave thinks that I’m ignoring others, I’ll talk to you later.” A couple came walking down the steps looking for their seats and Elliott turned to great them. As he did I looked up at the sky, the clouds were building from the west and well, if you have ever lived where thunderstorms are a part of daily life you know what I mean when I say that you can smell the rain in the air or feel the storms building.

I went to my seat and as the grounds crew finished its work and the teams began to take the field I wondered if we would get the game in.  The young woman who would sing the National Anthem came out on the field and the PA announcer announced the Tides as they ran onto the field each accompanied by a young girl softball player about 6-9 years old.  Obviously the “Field of Dreams Team” was a girl’s softball team otherwise they would have been boys.  The young woman sang the Anthem and Chris George the Tides starter went into his final warm ups, just then the rain started and the home plate umpire signaled for the players to come off the field as thundered rumbled and lightening flashed nearby. I looked at my cell phone and looked up the weather channel whose radar show a very big blob of red coming our way. I left my seat and walked up to the concourse and not long after I did the heavens opened and the rains came down.  As I and most of the other fans took cover from the storm a finger tapped me on the shoulder.

“Padre, I knew that I would find you here.”

I looked up and it was Pete.

“I thought that the boss sent you out of town?”

“He did but he let me come back when your dad died.”

“Really, why?”

Pete put his hand on my shoulder “Padre the Boss had me come back because he knew that you’d listen to me.” He paused and looked me in the eye. “The boss was going to send Thomas because he wanted to send me on a road trip but when he actually called Carl home he realized that you really didn’t know Thomas, I mean Thomas is a good guy but…” I cut him off.

“But Skip knew that you were right for this.”

“Yeah, Tom’s good but you know me.”

“True.”

“And he likes wine better than beer” Pete chuckled “and even though he’s on the team he’d rather sit down in a nice restaurant and share a nice bottle of Merlot and eat cheese, Skip realized that I was the better choice.”

“Makes sense, Skip knows me pretty well huh?”

“All of us my friend, all of us, heck I remember meeting him for the first time when he called me, changed my name on the spot from Simon to Peter, the Rock.” He chuckled “sometimes I think that he thought the rocks were in my brain housing unit, the time I corrected him and he told me “get behind me Satan” my Lord that was not fun, I felt so foolish, but he didn’t chase me away.”

“Sometimes I feel pretty foolish Pete, I mean look at me, my dad is dead, I fly out to California tomorrow and I am standing in the concourse of a baseball park with rain coming down in buckets.” My sense of frustration and confusion was showing. “I mean Pete, what should I be doing? I really don’t know.” I shook my head and my eyes first moved to the ground and then looked back up at Pete. “I don’t know what to do Pete.”

“I know, and Skip knows, that’s why I’m here and not Tom. The fact is Steve you can’t do this alone, that’s why you’re here tonight; you need to be around this place, your friends and in a sense your dad. Your dad is here at least in spirit.”  Pete paused “Let’s get a beer and sit down out of the rain.” Pete walked me over to a stand on the first base side of the concourse where a vendor was selling Killian’s Irish Red. Pete looked at me and said “I’ll get it so put your wallet back.” Walking up to the stand he said “Sir, two Killian’s, make them large” and laid a twenty dollar bill on the stand. As the man reached to make change Pete said “keep the change my friend, tips might not be too good if this rain keeps coming down.”

The man behind the stand smiled as he finished pouring the second beer, “Thanks there buddy, you have a good night, thanks again” as he put the five dollars of change into his vest pocket.

“Let’s go over here Padre.” Pete led me to one of the tall round metal tables near the stand and put the beer to his lips. “Not bad, of course it isn’t named after Saint Killian, but we can pretend can’t we?”

“Always Pete”

“Cheers my friend, to Carl.”

“To dad” I replied as we lifted our cups.  The rain continued to beat down on the tarp spread across the field; I looked down at the display on my cell phone and noted the large amount of red, yellow and green on the Weather Channel, and I looked at Pete “looks like the rain isn’t going to let up for a while.”

“Well then let’s hang out for a while then.”  We’ve got a little bit of time, besides; you don’t want to get soaked on the way out to your car.”

“True, I am not a big fan of torrential rain.”

“You know that some of the good times early on came with the boss in the rain, well actually in the rain in little boats in raging storms.  I will never forget the time that he came walking across the water, shocked the heck out of me, enough to tell him that I wanted to do it too” Pete took a drink of his beer and laughed “I laugh about it now but when I saw those waves around me and realized that there was no boat under my feet I freaked out.  As I started to flail about and sink Skip walked over to me like he was on pavement reached down, grabbed my arm lifted me up and hauled my ass back in the boat. He then stilled the storm and the rest of the team; even guys like Judas had a laugh.” The rain was now coming down in sheets and with the exception of a couple of ushers and diehards everyone in attendance was on the concourse under cover or under the overhangs on the upper decks and the party deck.

“I’ve been through some storms at sea too”

“But you weren’t foolish enough to jump out of the boat.”

“Patently Pete, patently” I raised my cup “cheers Pete?”

“Cheers Padre” and Pete raised his cup to mine and each of us took another drink.

“So anyway, you wanted to talk to me.”

“Yeah, that.”

“So?”

“Well, last night I mentioned that you were in few a few changes or something like that before I left the park.”

“Okay, go on.”

“Well, that call from Skip, he kind of let me know that he was going to take Carl, your dad home.” Pete paused “And he kind of told me that he was going to send Tom as he had other work for me to do.”

“But that changed, you already told me that.”

“Yeah, yeah anyway, as I was saying, um where was I?”

“Changes and Skip telling you that he was taking my dad home” I paused and looked at Pete.

“Yeah, that let me continue.  You know that Skip liked your dad a lot, and I got to know your dad before you were even born, played some ball together on Guam.  I was on his team, I remember when he slid head first into second and broke his collar bone.”

“You’re kidding?”

“You dad was a young Petty Officer and a heck of a ballplayer, he was a solid hitter, knew where to hit the ball, aggressive on the base paths and good defensively at second base, sometimes all of us on the team would go out for a San Miguel after the game” and then paused for a drink and I took the opportunity to interrupt.

“What were you doing in Guam?”

“Come on Padre, what I’m doing here, Skip keeps us busy, that thing about “the great cloud of witnesses,” well some of us are more like low cloud cover or fog, a bit closer to the action than some of the others.” Pete laughed, “Skip likes us to be involved and I just happened to be in Guam when Carl was, it was totally coincidental.”

“Like the past two days?”

“No not at all, this was one of those God ordained things, you know Skip, when he wants something, well what can I say?”

“So you’re telling me that playing ball with my dad was coincidental and this was God ordained?”

“Yeah, so why can’t it be that way?”

“It just seems too coincidental to me Pete, I mean why this why me why now?” I was still in shock about dad’s death and though I knew that Pete was telling me the truth I didn’t really know how to react or what to say. I looked down at my beer and back up at Pete. “Pete I’m sorry I just don’t know what to say, I’m still in shock and kind of numb.”

There was an awkward silence and Pete reached out to me. “Padre, you needed to be out here tonight, you needed to hear this, it’s been so long with Carl not being himself with Alzheimer’s that you needed to remember that he was once young and enjoyed life, he loved you and your brother and your mom. He wasn’t perfect but there is a lot of him in you. He was proud of you and your brother and your families and I was glad to have known him back then.”

Though there were people all around us chatting and rain coming down mixed with thunder and flashes of lightening.  It had been nearly an hour since the rain began and it didn’t look like it would be letting up anytime soon as water began to puddle in the right field corner and other places in the outfield and warning track.  There was also water building up in my eyes, and I tried to be inconspicuous as I wiped away a tear.

“Padre, its okay, your dad died this morning.  It only happens once to most people and Carl was a good man, he’s getting a chance to hang out with Skip and well a lot of others, he’ll be fine.”

“So Skip really knew dad?”

“Still does, and I know that after Iraq you wondered if God existed and struggled with faith but when Skip said that he was with us and would never leave us or forsake us he meant it. He didn’t say that we wouldn’t have problems but he said that he would be there. Sometimes that’s hard to believe, I know I had a number of times where I doubted more than Tom ever did, thankfully Luke didn’t take the time to report all of those events.”

“Good thing I guess, better than these ballplayers, every error they make get’s published and recorded for posterity.”

“Good thing Padre, good thing, those statisticians would have been great sin counters in the Middle Ages, they would have known exactly the amount that you would need to pay to get your sins forgiven and an indulgence or two…I’m surprised that brother John Tetzel isn’t their patron saint.”

“So the reason that Skip sent me back is that he knew that you needed a bit of a pep talk and know that he really does care about you. He wants you to know that things will work out and to find a way to make sure that people remember your dad before Alzheimer’s took everything from him. Skip thinks that it will be good for them and you too.”

“But what?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Skip didn’t tell me. I guess that he will give you inspiration, he’s good at that you know.”

“Yeah, but until this inspiration comes I don’t know what the hell to do.”

The rain began to let up; I refreshed the Weather Channel and noticed more storms in the area.

“Pete, I have a long day tomorrow, I need to get home and pack, if this game does get going it will be close to midnight before it’s over and I’m still tired from yesterday. I’d better get out before the rain starts coming down again.” I finished the last bit of beer in my cup. “You will talk to me again?”

“Of course, I’ve been assigned your case.”

“Thanks for being here and thanks for the beer too, it tasted good.”

“Sure thing Padre, I’ll see you here again, maybe we’ll even find some way to get a game going, I think I can talk Dave into renting out the park for a day.”

 

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, Religion

The Yin and Yang of Life: Promotion, Losing My Dad and Missing another Wedding Anniversary

Highs and lows they are a part of life and stuff happens but sometimes it would be nice to simply be able to rejoice without having to balance it out with great loss.  I am so full of mixed feelings right now and basically am numb. After finding out yesterday that I was selected for promotion and waiting to take a bit of leave to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary on the 25th I received a call as I was getting ready for work this morning that my father had died.  He died after a long struggle against the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease took him from us long before his body gave up the ghost very early this morning.

It’s not that he died, we prayed that he would be at peace and suffer no more but when it happens it is a shock and tremendously discombobulating to the emotions. I have been numb most of the day.  I am very grateful for the phone calls and loving words of friends via e-mail and Facebook.  But there is an emptiness, though I thought I had prepared myself for this day I found out that when death occurs, no matter how bad and how hopeless the situation is and the acceptance that a loved one will not be healed and restored in this world, it still is like being kicked in the nuts.  Of course from all of my work in hospital I knew this to be the gospel truth, but until it happened to me I could not say that I really knew how it felt to lose a parent.  Now I do and honestly I don’t know what to think.

Do I believe my dad is in a better place? Yes I do, with the Lord, yes, no longer suffering…yes.  All I can say is that there is emptiness now. I wish that he had been made whole, that we had another 10 years together talking about baseball, the Navy and even golf.  I wish that we could go out and play catch one more time and that he would hit grounders to me and tell me to “stay in front of the ball and keep your butt down.”  Of course that is just me, my brother, mom and my brother’s family as well as my dad’s brother all are experiencing the loss each in their own way and trying to cope with it in their own way. My mom and brother had to go to the funeral home today to make the final arrangements since everything had been pre-planned last year.  That had to be harder than hell for both of them; it was hard enough going with mom to make the arrangements last year.

I fly to California tomorrow and understand that the memorial service will be Sunday afternoon at De Young’s in Stockton.  Tonight I went to Harbor Park to see the Tides hoping that baseball and the sight of the lush green field will help me cope since the ballpark was one of the few places that I could find peace when I returned from Iraq.  It did help the friendships of the people there as well as the peace of looking at that perfect diamond was helpful. Of course the big rain delay which just let up a bit ago well after I decided to head home.  Oh well, cest la vie. I do hope that the Tides follow up yesterday’s win with another.

It’s funny how being selected for promotion doesn’t seem as exciting when that man that you wished could share it with you and see it happen is dead.  My dad along with Judy pinned the gold bars of an Army 2nd Lieutenant on my back on June 19th 1983 and now my dad is gone.

My brother was certainly closer to my dad than me and he has been a rock throughout this ordeal, especially when I returned home gooned up with PTSD from Iraq.  I know that he is hurting and that his children who loved their grandfather are grieving as well.  As for my mom, she spent over 50 years with dad, suffered the lot of a Navy wife and separation from her own family by the basis of being stationed on the west coast.

On the 25th of June Judy and I celebrate our 27th Wedding Anniversary. With me in California on that day and Judy here we will miss another wedding anniversary together. Of course we will make it up on the back side of this but it seems like old times, I have lost count of how many of these auspicious occasions that we have missed, I think somewhere around 16 if you count this one.

My dad’s memorial service will be at De Young Memorial Chapel in Stockton at 1 PM on Sunday the 27th of June. I fly out tomorrow and appreciate your prayers.

My dad lived a full life, he cared about people was a good man and had faith but now I will have to wait to see him again on that lush green diamond that is heaven.  Pray for me a sinner; remember my family as well as the soul of my dad Carlton Dundas, Aviation Storekeeper Chief, United States Navy (retired) husband, father, grandfather and a hero, a man that taught me about honor, hard work, determination and baseball.

May his soul and the souls of all the departed rest in peace.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under alzheimer's disease, Baseball, marriage and relationships

I Have a Reserve Component Marriage: Lot’s of Time Married but Not So Much Together

The Abby Normal Abbess aka Judy and I were married back in June of 1983.  I had been in the military a bit under 2 years at that point and the week before had been commissioned as a very dashing U.S. Army Medical Service Corps Second Lieutenant without a single ribbon or medal to my name.  Now here are 26 years later plus some change and I am still in the military, albeit the Navy and though I work in a Medical Center no longer am a Medical Service Corps Officer but a Padre.

WeddingThe Beginning of a Reserve Component Marriage

One day a few years back, I think about 2002 when I was deployed for our anniversary, a common occurrence in our lives, I am actually getting better at being home for them, now up to 11 of 26 just two anniversaries under .500.

When I began to think about how much time I had been gone I realized that I was like a reservist in the marriage.  I have credit for all the years but my time actually with Judy is a lot less.  It’s like a reservist who comes into the military, does some active duty, goes back to the reserves and then drills, does various types of training and is occasionally activated.  For example of the 17 ½ years that I spent in the Army only about 7 and some change counts as “active” time.  I have missed so much time in our marriage to exercises, deployments, duty, travel and schools that I am not even going to try to count it all up.  I can only guess that it is somewhere between 40% and 50% of our marriage that I have not spent the night at home, which is everyone knows is how you get your marriage retirement points in.  If you don’t see them, eat with them and sleep with them you don’t get credit for the day.   In fact you are a reservist in your marriage for all intents and purposes.  I can say that I am still in some sense a reservist in my marriage, though I am doing a lot better than I used to do at it.  However it has taken a lot of work to try to break myself of bad habits, a process that patently is not finished as the Abbess can attest.

So I meet lots of military couples where one or sometimes both are in the military.  Sometimes, actually more often than I would like I meet them in times where the marriage is in crisis.  Like marriages that are coming apart at the seams really bad that are getting ready to be flushed down the toilet into the septic tank of poisoned divorces where no one is a winner kind except the divorce attorney kind of bad.  Wow, that was a really long sentence.  These are the kind of marriages that could with just a few tweaks and an agent end up on Dr Phil or the Deity Herself forbid, Jerry Springer.

Now most thankfully have not travelled that far down the road to perdition but can certainly see the off ramp to it.  It is usually at this point that one of them will come to me; after all I’m the Padre and not the Shrink.  Unfortunately for many there is a stigma in going to see the Shrink and the Padre is genuinely a good and acceptable choice to consult when the marriage has gone to spit.  God bless the Shrinks and I mean all varieties of them because I am not one, nor do I want to be one.  The Abbess herself has often suggested that I get another graduate degree in some kind of Shrinkology but as my favorite theologian Harry Callahan says “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I tip my ball cap to them because they have a difficult and often thankless job.  I’m happy to refer any time to my colleagues.

That being the case I try to get to know the couple by asking open ended questions and without being too intrusive let them tell me what is going on with just a little occasional nudging.  It is usually at this point that the military couple tells me that they have been married for X number of years but only been together for Y number of months, often widely separated by long and arduous deployments, training and work ups.  It is not uncommon to find that a young couple was married 3 years ago and one went in the military, went to a deploying unit or ship, did work ups and deployed and returning 6-15 months later.  In their post-deployment leave they have a brief honeymoon before all hell breaks loose.

So when they come to see me I draw an analogy for them…that of the reservist.  I say “Petty Officer and Mrs Schmuckatellisen, you know I think what we have here is that you a couple of reservists in your marriage trying to work things out.”  A look of confusion often follows, this is my intent as if I use some kind of clinical language at that point it will either not be heard or go over their heads.  Once that thrown on the table like a beer coaster at a bar I begin to explain it to them.  I say “you guys don’t know each other.  You have been married for X number of years but have only been together a small portion of the time….in effect you are like reservists in the military.  You enlisted X number of years ago but only spent Y amount of time together.  It’s no wonder you are having problems, you don’t know each other.”

When I do this sometimes there is a muted chuckle from the couple as the light bulb comes on and they realize that what they are going through is difficult but to be expected when you do not spend time with the one that you love.   I encourage them to take the time to get to know each other again, and ask if the still love each other.  Most often the blushing couple looks at each other and says that they do love each other.  I then work with them to find whatever resources that they need to get them over the hump and begin to get to know each other again.  Sometimes that means referral to a marriage and family therapist or some other kind of Shrink and sometimes it means that I help get them set up with communication skills classes, marriage enrichment retreats, and if needed recommend individual therapy to one or both if they have a lot of markers for potential divorce, such as being children of a divorce, having a family history of substance abuse, physical, emotional or sexual abuse committed by a parent, sibling or other family member.

Sometimes they will continue to see me though I limit my time to a few visits before referring them to someone who can do the deeper work to help them along.  Like I said up front, I know my limitations.  At the same time it is good to see one or both and hear that they are doing better once they started getting help.

So if you are in one of these struggling Reserve Component marriages take heart and get help.  There is no need to make the divorce attorneys any richer than they already are.

anniverary 2009Celebrating 26 Years together…sort of, maybe only about 14 really together

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: Of course I have the duty tonight which means that I need to spend some time with the Abbess tomorrow…Gordon Biersch and a Ball Game perhaps?

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Filed under marriage and relationships, Military

The Eve of 26 Years of Marriage

Judy WeddingJudy on our Wedding Day

“Baseball and marriage have much in common. Both are a team effort. You can’t play baseball by yourself. You need others and have to get along with them. Marriage needs a partner. If marriage reaches a point where getting along is not possible, the marriage is over.”  Peter Griffiths in the Daily Herald 1982

Today is our wedding anniversary eve, in fact our 26th anniversary.  It was cool that we got to spend it together; this has not always been the case.  Tonight the Deity Herself smiled upon us as on a beautiful night we watched our Norfolk Tides defeat the Pawtucket Red Socks 4-2.  Tomorrow we start a 4 day road trip to Washington DC to celebrate our anniversary which will be topped off by a behind the scenes tour of the White House on Saturday Night arranged by a friend who I baptized on the way to Iraq, who is now on the National Security Council.   His staff has bent over backward to make this happen and we are blessed.  We will also see my old Commanding Officer from Marine Security Force Battalion, or now as it is called the Security force Regiment and his wife who are coming down from Annapolis to meet us Friday night.

So 26 years, as Jerry Garcia would say it has been a long strange trip.  We met almost five years before we were married at San Joaquin Delta College.  We got to know each other by hanging out between classes with mutual friends.  In fact the things we did were almost like Seinfeld before Seinfeld came on.  It was a relationship initially based on nothing, except that I had a Dorothy Hamill fetish and Judy had short brown hair.  We started dating about 7 months after we met.  We were co-conspirators at the Delta College German club where our German candy and bake sales were legendary, racking up huge profits for the club which enabled us to fund our own field trips to San Francisco and Monterrey.  Our political prowess was also unmatched, as a small club we had few votes in student government which at the time was dominated by a rather large and active ethnic club.  This club was a bit pushy the way it handled itself, so we cobbled together a coalition of the language, science and other kind of “nerdy” clubs, funded our candidate with our sales receipts, even passing our free candy on his campaign materials.  He had an ethnic name and we used it to our advantage, we convinced a lot of people that our friend Tory was one of the other ethnic club’s candidates.  We used his first name “Salvatore” in our advertising.  This caused a split in the voting allowing our stealth candidate from an Asian club to become student body President.  I guess had we had the wherewithal to pursue politics as a couple we might have been quite good, as both of us have pretty good instincts and I happen to be rather analytical and calculating at times.  As it were this was the high point of our political career but our relationship was solidified as we shared in taking German club from a poor club of nerds to a campus economic and political powerhouse of nerds.

Me and Judy DormUs in 1980 at Cal State Northridge

We grew together over the years of our courtship playing off of our mutual twisted sense of humor and our faith.  I followed Judy down to Cal State Northridge and a week after I was commissioned we got married at our home Church, East Side Presbyterian Church in Stockton.  The eve of the wedding my ROTC friends took me out and tried to get me drunk, but I survived.  The wedding itself was on a shoestring as Judy’s dad was out of work and her mom not working and playing well with others.  Everything came together and our wedding looked like it cost a lot more than it did.  We spent the next two weeks together before I went on active duty and Judy finished her last semester of college.  We finally settled in Eckelhausen Germany, a tiny little town in the Saarland in April 1984 and lived in Germany for most of the first three years of our marriage.

Now as to anniversaries that we have spent together and apart; this is what makes 26 pretty special.

Wedding 1Wedding Day 25 June 1983 East Side Presbyterian Church

In 1984 I was in Landstuhl Army Medical Center dehydrated from a 2 week bout of gastroenteritis where I was so sick I was vomiting my anti-nausea medicine.  I had lost almost 20 pounds and my company commander wouldn’t believe that I was sick until I threw up on his desk. It was his fault, I told him I was going to throw up and he told me that I had to stay.  Oh well, that got me a ride in a Mercedes-Benz Ambulance to Landstuhl.  In 1985 and 1986 I was in the field with my company.  We were together in 1987 and 1988 in San Antonio, but from 1989-1997 we did not spend a single anniversary together due to military duties.  We spent 1998 together but missed 1999 and 2000 after I came in the Navy.  We got 2001 one together, but just barely as I returned from deployment a week before it.  We missed 2002 as I was deployed to the Middle East and finally got 2003 together when we renewed our vows in Jacksonville Florida.  2004-2007 we celebrated on the road doing trips to minor league baseball games out of our area in either Pennsylvania or North Carolina.  Last year we were together but I was not doing well having hit bottom with my PTSD about 100 or so days after returning from Iraq.  So with this history in mind you can understand why this is special.  We are 10 for 26 counting tomorrow.  If we were a baseball team our record would be somewhere between the Indians and Nationals on a winning percentage at .386.  However, if we were a hitter we would have a 386 batting average and that is not too shabby.

We have survived poverty and war, separation and tremendously difficult circumstances and we are still hanging on, and doing pretty good as a couple.  We were never able to have children but we have had three really fun dogs, the latest of which, Molly, is looking over my shoulder as I write this now.  We are different in the way that we are wired differently and have some different interests.  We are both introverts with often strong opinions.  But we love each other.  I only came close to having her divorce me once, though murder may have played into her mind a time or two.

So here we are…26 years with a 10 and 16, .386 record.  Even so Judy is the love of my life and we are together.

Take care and blessings,

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD