I am what I am….

“I am what I am,
and that’s all that I am.”

Popeye

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(Popeye the sailor man)

I grew up watching, and loving, the old black and white cartoon exploits of Popeye the Sailor man–
That one eyed, pipe smoking, old salt of a sailor…
Along with his sidekick and girlfriend Olive Oyl, the antagonist, Bluto (later known as Brutus),
as well as little Swee’Pea, Wimpy, Poopdeck Pappy, the She Hag and Alice the Goon…
Popeye has been one of the longest running cartoon comic strips having made his debut in 1929.

Popeye was a bit of a rough neck yet was always the good guy.
Whenever he found himself in a jam or was having the living tar beat out of him by Brutus…
which always stemmed from some sort of fight over a girl, in this case the skinny and whinny Olive Oyl…
Popeye would always pull out, from nowhere, a miraculous can of spinach…
He’d bust open that can,
swallowing the contents whole,
then he would proceed to swell with muscles and superhuman strength…
all of which would allow him to beat the ever living slop out of Brutus…
or whomever was causing him woe.

Moms all over the country used that idea and image of Popeye eating spinach in order to get their kids to eat their spinach. And back in day, spinach came from the grocery store in a can…nothing like the healthy fresh stuff of today.

And as far as I was concerned, it worked…I’d eat my spinach every time…

Popeye was famous for mumbling and singing to himself but one of his more vocal and
enunciated phrases was
“I am what I am and that’s all that I am”

And out of the blue…this morning…that very expression…
came racing back…
out from the depths of a stored away childhood,
racing to the forefront of now…

“I am what I am and that is all that I am…”

Me…
yes…
simply me…
nothing more, nothing less.
Just me.
No spinach,
no bravado,
no pretense,
no falsehoods of expectations or promises…
for good and for bad…
just me.

Striped away of everything and anything that gives off some sort of “other than”
and false perception…
I am…
just me…

And given my life’s precariousness of these current days…
the fact that I am not super human, despite ingesting as much spinach as I can, I am…
simply…
me…
nothing more
and nothing less.

My dad loved seeing / reading Popeye in the “funnies”…
as he still calls the comic strip section of the daily newspaper to this day, the funnies…
as in funny papers….

It’s the fist section of the paper he pulls out.
No longer does he scour the front page with its gloom and doom…
nor the stock section with its constant state of ebb and flow….
Dad has always scoured over the comic section of the paper first and foremost.
Because he likes to, needs to, laugh.

Just as he has always gravitated to watching cartoons….
preferring, always, those cartoons from his day and time….
Popeye,
Dick Tracey,
Buck Rogers,
Little Orphan Annie
and Superman.

My dad has, for better or worse, always been a kid…
Which was great when I was a kid and when my son was a kid…
but not so great as I grew up and needed a “dad”…

That whole dad thing…responsibility, paying bills, working, caring for a lawn…
you know,
dad things…
none of those things were his cup of tea.

Oh don’t get me wrong,
he did it all, worked, cut grass, paid the bills….
but it was always obvious he hated it and would get out of it as much as possible—
which usually meant every weekend.
Sleeping away the day and doing as little as possible.
While my friends dads were all out and about…
I had to make excuses that my dad had worked all week really hard, so now he was tired.
I now know that it was just a matter of my dad being lazy….

And now, at 88, he’s wanting to get out of all this cancer business…
which I can’t say I much blame him—
because who in their right mind wants to deal with that devastating “c” word….
None of us,
that’s who!!!

I learned a while back that I had to accept dad for who he was / is…
and that’s a man who is simply more kid than adult,
as that meant I had to be more adult than kid…
not exactly fair, but no one ever said life was fair.

Yet during these coming days…
days that I know will only grow more weary and taxing…
for both dad and myself….
I’m thinking I might just need to stock up on some Popeye’s spinach…
because I’m going to need all the muscles I can get!!!!

God said to Moses,
“I AM WHO I AM”;
and He said,
“Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,
I AM has sent me to you.'”

Exodus 3:14

Unsettling signs of the times?

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Luke 21:25-28

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(a drone above the city center / Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2016)

On a recent visit to one of my most favorite cities on this planet of ours, Savannah, Georgia, my husband and I were idly wandering the city market section of the city when something a bit unsettling literally dropped out of the sky into my field of vision.

The City Market is an eclecticly trendy little section of town located on the far north end of the historic district. It’s an area that features a variety of kitschy touristy shops, eateries and adult watering holes. It’s a pedestrian only section void of the chaotic street traffic, horse carriages, trollies and pedicabs Savannah is notoriously famous for–and it is adjacent to Ellis Square—a more modern, spartan and minimalistic square sadly void of the moss draped live oaks and colonial monuments which evoke Savannah’s true historic and southern charm.

This tourist hotspot is usually crowded day or night and is not one of my most favorite areas of the city but as it was close to our hotel, we decided to spend a little time exploring.

Now imagine my surprise when something up in the crystal blue sky catches my eye hovering about where normally I should see a passing bird flitting by…

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As it takes me a minute to actually process what I’m seeing, this invader, which is hovering overhead, suddenly drops and quickly angles its way into the crowd perching directly at head level. It is now hovering over the outdoor tables where folks are gathered ordering, having lunch or simply drinking something tasty while enjoying the beautiful springlike February day.

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The drone turns around, scanning the crowd as I can see its camera focusing in and out on different tables and different groups of people. I quickly look to the square to see if I can see anyone anywhere working the controls to this usurper of peace.

Then just as easily, quickly and quietly as it descended over this crowded city center, this unwelcomed voyeur rises back up into the sky, disappearing over the roof tops.

And with the visit of this uninvited guest, one must remember that Savannah is not only a charming southern town located on the banks of the Savannah River, steeped in rich Colonial, Revolutionary and even Civil War history, Savannah is home to the 3rd busiest US port.

So to have a drone drop-in literally out of the blue is a bit unsettling…and more than unnerving….

It’s one thing to be in a park somewhere watching some kid trying to maneuver and manipulate one of these state of the art toys–kind of like watching someone working the controls of a model airplane…yet it’s something else entirely when watching this science fiction come to life extension of big brother easily and readily moving in and about a very crowded city with no signs of any one manning the controlls nearby.

Why is it here?
What is it doing?
What is it up to?
Who’s flying it?
Why is it flying here in a highly touristy area?
What is it filming?
Why is it filming?
Who’s using the video and for what purpose will it be used?
And it should be noted that obviously there are no boundaries nor parameters, no getting the permission of those being filmed—making the clamoring of personal privacy a moot point.
Negating the private moments of those who are sitting at the tables trying to enjoy a meal, a day, some time… who have now just experienced a massive moment of privacy invasion…
and yet it just seems to be all ok…

National security
Military Special OPS
Breaking News coverage
Curiosity
Covert OPS
Terrorism
Spies
School project
Kids being kids
National Security

Something is inherently wrong with this picture.

The bench

“Seated here in contemplations lost, my thought discovers vaster space beyond, supernal silence and unfathomed peace”
Giacomo Leopardi

The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.
Wendell Berry

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(remnants of a red cedar picnic bench / Julie Cook / 2015)

Fifty years ago it came to be.
The red cedar picnic table, along with the accompanying two benches, just appeared one hot summer afternoon out back on the fenced green lawn, sheltered under the shade of the tall pine tree.
It was long before central air-conditioning.
Every window in the house was wide open.
It was cooler out rather than in.

These were the days before every home had a two, three or even four car garage.
Despite cheap gas, frugality reigned.
It was a time when everyone was home more often than away.
A time when families and neighbors would gather together outside in order to cool off, simply sharing the riches of one another’s lives.

Backyard cookouts, neighborhood block parties, a time of lazy summer days. . .
Life was delightfully slower back then.
Most moms were home, as dads were at work and the kids whiled away the hours outside.
Kick the can
Hide-n-seek
Stickball games
Collecting evening fireflies
Catching crawfish in the creek
A single voice calling out “Marco. . .”
while a handful of youthful voices echoed back “Polo. . .”

This was the time before toxic waters, child predators and electronic this and thats. .
There was no need for cell phones. . .parents knew kids would be home at dark.
High fashion consisted of tee shirts, cut offs and a new pair of keds.

Popsicles dribbled down chins,
As everyone shooed the flies aways from the platter of ice cold slices of watermelon.
Winning the seed spiting contests always went to those who still had their front teeth.
Mothers were insistent on everyone wearing their tennis shoes while youthful feet clamored to be free
“I don’t want to hear it when you get a splinter or step on a yellow jacket. . .”

A neighborhood full of youthful energy each took their places at the table, sliding onto the benches oh so gingerly so as not to rub bare legs carelessly over the red cedar wood.
“Everyone look this way and smile”. . .
As the Kodak flash cube blinked and clicked with the advancement of the film.

The paper plates were ladened with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Lays potato chips and fritos along with freshly washed green grapes. . .however it was to the ice-cream sandwiches and fudge bars that all eyes turned.
“Now ya’ll wait a while after eating–I don’t want you running around making yourselves sick. . .”
As the moms sipped iced coffee and puffed on their cigarettes.

Yet sadly, time always has a way of catching up with Life.
The children grew up and one by one, grew away.
With each passing summer there were less and less members gathered around the table.
The joyful chatter of youthful exuberance grew silent
The pine straw fell, covering the table as the benches remained empty and bare.
Abandoned and finally forgotten. . .that is until today.

Fifty years later, a lone bench is found hidden deep in the woods.
Time and the elements have each laid claim to the table and fellow bench, but the lone single bench remains much as it did—waiting and inviting any and all who might wish to sit a spell while spending a summer’s evening listening to the sound of the whip-poor-will and the distant echo of the laughter of children.

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the neighborhood kids

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“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”

Martin Buber

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I grew up in Atlanta during the 1960’s. For all the world’s angst during the turbulent 60s’— between Vietnam protests, the birth of the hippies/flower children and the “Peace Movement” to woman’s lib, Woodstock, Hell’s Angels…my world was pretty oblivious. I lived on a street that was/is known as a “court”—a road that is a dead-end but actually has a rounded ending allowing cars to flow back out down the street as they came in. Ten houses were/are still on the street. Five of the houses had kids with another having visiting grandkids.

It was a wonderful place for kids—a relative safe enclave as the cars coming and going were, for the majority, residents of the street all knowing to watch out, as we were constantly taking over the street. We used the court end as a baseball field, as the location for the can in our night games of “kick the can”, as a roller skating rink, our bike raceway and as a basketball court as one neighbor erected a basketball backboard and net on the telephone pole.

Every house’s back yard was fair game for us. One yard was particularly ideal for a neighborhood game of football. This neighbor had a nice boat that he kept flipped over on two sawhorses that provided a wonderful place to “play” pirates….no one thought of the danger of the boat falling on any of us. At any moment a neighbor could peek out a window catching a glimpse of a young person running past, moving towards the next adventure—as surrounding the houses on one side of the strew were “the woods” and on the other side of the street, back behind those houses, was “the creek”.

With adventure and imagined danger lurking at every turn we were in childhood heaven in the middle of the big city. There were pine straw forts in the woods, with sand bar islands claimed as territory up and down the creek. I suppose back then parents didn’t worry perhaps as they do today. We could spend all day in woods and creek, not returning home until sundown all without any parents batting an eye.

My mother had an antique cow bell she’d ring, stepping out the back door swinging that thing back and forth—I was so embarrassed as it sounded as if the whole world knew the Nichols kids had to hurry home. But that only meant running in to grab a jar, complete with lid, hurrying back out to catch the summer’s arriving lightning bugs or fire flies.

It was an ideal time and way of growing up—or so it seemed to us—the violence of today just didn’t seem to exist, and if it did, it was far removed from our world. There were not the sexual predators we hear of almost daily today, or if there were, we didn’t know about it. We longed for the ice cream man to come to our street, not ever thinking he could be someone who would do harm to kids.
We walked the mile to and from elementary school, our parents never imaging that doing so could put any of us at risk for “disappearing”—thank God—thank God for that innocence of time.

Our lemonade stand was actually an ice tea stand—we made all of $2—and were proud of it. With only 10 houses our “business” was a bit limited and not “booming”. The greatest tragedy was when my cat wandered down to the busier street that our street emptied into. My dad constantly warned us to never ever go down to that street as cars just zipped up and down. Our bus stop was located on the corner and that was as far as we could go unescorted.

My Charcoal unfortunately wandered one night too far. We found him, as we all made our way to the bus stop one morning—everyone started yelling about the run-over dead cat, of which I explained was simply sleeping. I was in the first grade, what did I know?! On further inspection we all realized it was my cat. I remember running all the way back to the house, crying hysterically. My dad had to go get him in order to bury him in our backyard—-how many pets are still there in that yard…..

My Dad and step-mom still live in the house. Things have changed very little yet there are subtleties—the kids are all grown and gone, and even their children, the grandchildren are now grown. The street has only 3 of the original owners remaining and is mostly silent now. The urban sprawl of the city has grown and is encroaching more and more on the “neighborhood” but the street is still dreamlike and peaceful. I wouldn’t let any child walk to school today, or play in the polluted creek, or in what remains of any woods that has yet been developed. Dad doesn’t know the names of the neighbors….and I never see anyone out when I go to visit but maybe a passing jogger….sadly the innocence seems to have faded away….pity

Today I want to share with you my neighborhood’s kids. Well, I can’t say that I really live in a neighborhood as I am surrounded by woods and pastures but I still have kids that I can catch a glimpse of running past my window. These kids may not be as friendly as we were, but they still enjoy running around the yard, chasing and being chased….investigating this and that and simply having fun just “hanging out”…

I’ve had the joy and pleasure of watching these two grow up since this past winter….hopefully, they will be back with their children soon……as I hope my yard can maintain an innocence for them……