Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas, 2014

A bit of holiday cheer from the Blue-Eyed Idol-o'-millions, Mrs. Grimm's bouncing baby boy, Ben, the every-lovin' Thing! It's Christmas-clobberin' time!
I do celebrate Christmas, so I wanted to post a little something to note the holiday. For those who celebrate Christmas or the other holidays that come this time of year, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Yule, and season's greetings for others I have inadvertently forgotten to mention.

First, one of my traditions (though "traditions" might be overstating it) is to view and ponder upon this message sent to Earth from the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve, 1968. I continue to marvel at the notion of what they must have felt and experienced as the people to have traveled the farthest from home.

Second, here is one of my favorite Christmas songs, a fairly obscure number by Dada, with a twist on the pining of a lost love at Christmas. Christmas and melancholy: a potent combination.

And there you have it. Wherever and whoever you are, Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rushing down the hill.

At times I scroll through my Facebook "friends" list or the "people you may know" section, and I'm struck by the sheer variety of the lives hinted at by all the profile pictures. There is a vibrancy to it all, a sort of energy that shimmers just out of reach of my senses. The grand tapestry of humankind is shown in microcosm, a mosaic of faces and forms caught for a fleeting moment. Simple portraits, full-length photos, couples, children, families, old pictures honoring loved ones now lost, sporting events, brief pauses during work, parties, weddings, beach pictures, pets...scrolling through them can make them seem an interconnected whole, a vast web of humanity unknowingly connected. They're all frozen moments, time temporarily halted and encased in amber, instants rendered eternal.

These gossamer-sliced bits of eternity fascinate me. It's an old subject for me, yet still fresh and constant, a through-line for my thoughts from adolescence into adulthood. This time of year brings these thoughts even more into the forefront of my mind. The long rollercoaster climb up the hill of the year finally crests at Halloween, when the veil between the worlds is thinnest, with a pause as we now face Thanksgiving here in the States. And then, of course, the coaster will begin its headlong hurtle down the rest of the year with its holidays and travel and year-ending climax, with fading momentum rolling us into a new year. The pictures, some of them, will change, new moments captured and held until another is more suitable, more indicative of what we want to show the world, what we want to preserve in a momentary forever. The coaster begins its long ascent again, with us hardly noticing, which is a bit of irony given that time-keeping is a construct of our own, built to somehow codify the constant change around us, to try to make sense of it.

The rollercoaster is also part of a vast passenger train system, too. I recall riding the subway in New York City, and watching out the windows as the train rushed along, and seeing other trains, mere brightly-lit windows in the dark, gliding close and then pulling away into the speeding shadows again. More faces, more lives, caught for a moment, all ascending the same temporal hill.

This time of year, from Halloween until New Year's, is when I often reflect upon life, and time, and how the two are really one and the same. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I reflect upon these things more than usual this time of year. It's all the avatars and signposts of life and death that come to the fore: the ending and beginning of Halloween, when the dead and living occupy the same world for a brief time, whether in fiction, folklore, or religion; the past, present and future as shown in the multitude of takes on A Christmas Carol, with the choices we make setting us upon paths we cannot see unless we are made to look; and, of course, the great ending and beginning itself, the end of the Old Year and the arrival of the New, with Father Time himself being made manifest in various forms. But it's the faces that really mark the time, each momentary image a lifetime, all whirling past in a blur while we ride the rollercoaster.

Friday, October 31, 2014

This is Halloween: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

 Angry, bruised clouds smeared across a sky filled with strange stars look down upon a bombed-out wasteland. A dog scrambles from one pile of rubble to another in the wreckage looking for a haven, while elsewhere, children flee from dark spirits pursuing them across a nightmare-scape. The world is empty of adults; the children are left to fend for themselves, forcing them to take on adult roles and grapple with concepts beyond their years. On paper, it seems yet another dystopic tale; in execution, it's one of the most beloved, gentlest Halloween tales ever produced.

There's at least a small bit of irony that one of the truly iconic Halloween stories, at least here in the US, is also one of the least terrifying.
Peanuts goes meta: Lucy pores through a TV Guide issue with a familiar figure on the cover.
Following up on the success of the previous December(of 1965)'s A Charlie Brown ChristmasIt's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, first aired in October 1966, drawn from a running series of Halloween-themed strips from the daily Peanuts comics. Starting in 1959, Charles Schulz began using a gag that was rather slight in premise, but which made him laugh: a kid who has mistaken Halloween for Christmas, and waits to be rewarded for his faith in the titular Santa Claus analog. Linus' letter to the Great Pumpkin encapsulates the entire concept, including an interesting notion about faith:

This is a different Linus than who appeared in A Charlie Brown Christmas. In that earlier story, Linus is a steady, faithful friend to Charlie Brown, level-headed and spiritually enlightened. As was often true in the daily comics, in the Christmas special Linus was one of the few Peanuts characters who did not ridicule or insult Charlie Brown. There, he accompanied Charlie Brown on his quest for a tree, and even defended the choice later when all the others had scorned it. Here, though, is a Linus who seems slightly befuddled and more quick to lash out, even at Charlie Brown.

Plus, he also catches serious air as he enjoys Charlie Brown's and Snoopy's leaf-raking handiwork...

...which provokes a rare show of fury by Charlie.

This is a fittingly odd cartoon all around. Many of the familiar faces act slightly out-of-character here, in keeping with the holiday that has so much to do with changing faces.

"A person should always choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality." - Charles Schulz is having fun here with one of his strongest characters.
The narrative is almost leisurely, going off on tangents, yet somehow tying the threads back together. It is more a mood piece than a plot-driven story.

The moodiest and strangest sequence is Snoopy's World War I "flying ace" fantasy. Here he performs a pre-flight check on his "Sopwith Camel"...

...before going up and at 'em to engage von Richtofen's Flying Circus...
...almost immediately having to dodge furious flak barrages...
...and subsequently taunting and laughing at his opponents' lack of success...
...which is only a brief respite before he's raked by gunfire in a harrowing dogfight with the infamous Red Baron.
He is shot down...
...and miraculously survives a crash-landing...
...yet still has enough fighting spirit to curse his airborne opponent.
He scrambles across the French countryside...
...braving abandoned trenches in search of cover...
...until he chances upon a battered farmhouse that offers some shelter.
Clambering into a lighted window...
...he  slides down a curtain during the height of the Peanuts' Halloween party...
...before gazing impishly at the viewer.

The show evokes a mood that is decidedly different than its newspaper counterpart. In that regard, the "Big Three" of Peanuts holiday specials - A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - distinguish themselves as separate entities from, and, in some ways, transcend the comic strips. Distilling concepts and ideas from years' worth of daily strips and melding them into one (semi)coherent narrative, lends the specials a kind of gravitas that the strips alone could rarely match.

And let's not forget Sally Brown's brilliant disillusioned rant after missing out on "tricks and treats" because she chose to believe in Linus' assertions: "What a fool I was! I could have had candy, apples, and gum! And cookies and money and all sorts of things! But NO. I had to listen to you. You blockhead. What a fool I was." I really dig the structure of this monologue.
It seems strange, even to me, to use a word like "gravitas" for Peanuts cartoons, but it is appropriate. These specials deal with profound truths, even if they bury them in silliness and non sequiturs. Here, it is about faith in the face of adversity. Linus sticks to his beliefs even as he misses "tricks or treats," and is roundly laughed at, including, and uncharacteristically, by Charlie Brown.

Of course, Charlie Brown receives a good dose of instant karmic justice for this.
Even when his hopes are finally and conclusively dashed, Linus sees it not as the nonexistence of the Great Pumpkin, but rather as an indication that his faith has not been strong enough, that he chose the wrong pumpkin patch in which to await the arrival of the phantom gift-giver. It's a surprisingly complex concept for a kids' cartoon special.

Of course, even the most devout may make a Freudian slip that expresses an inner doubt.
I also wanted to mention another sequence that is unexpected in its tenderness, in which we see a character wearing yet another unaccustomed face.

Lucy awakens as the clock strikes 4AM.

She finds her brother's room empty.

Geared up against the early November chill, she finds Linus shivering in the pumpkin patch. This is one of the few instances I can recall of her face showing concern.
She leads the not-quite-conscious Linus home...
...where she lovingly readies him for bed...
...and tucks him in.
Her task over, the customary scowl returns.

It's a sweet, quiet moment for a character not known for being either sweet or quiet.

For me and many others I know, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is an indispensable part of the Halloween tradition. There is no real hint of the supernatural, no real scares, yet somehow the spirit of the Halloween season is captured. It's a nice contrast to the increasingly hyperviolent and mega-gory takes on the season and holiday seen in TV, movies, and prefabricated "haunted houses."

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

This is Halloween: Something Wicked This Way Comes

The gray, glowering skies of late October have arrived, along with sharp winds and falling leaves. The far-off rattle and thump of a high school band floats through the night, signifying a football game being battled out. Flyers and billboards flog a multitude of haunted houses horrifying their willing victims. Leering pumpkins, grinning scarecrows, and moldering zombies frozen mid-lurch haunt the yards of the suburbs. Still, cold nights have the faint, furtive sounds of leaves falling in darkened woods, evoking thoughts of skulking spirits. No other time of the year so readily offers such sinister imagery.

Few books I've ever read truly capture the mood of this time of year as thoroughly as Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Much of this comes from Bradbury's style: lush, moody, and evocative. He conjures a world of idyllic innocence, into which shadows creep almost unnoticed. Those shadows come from within, though, seeping up out of the depths of our souls, hidden fears and suppressed wishes that can be drawn forth by those who know, instinctively, our weaknesses that we dwell upon in the dark hours. They know them because they also have them, embracing them and gazing directly at them, becoming warped and hateful and manipulative, thriving on the negative energy that radiates forth. This is Bradbury's power, the ability to plumb the murk of nightmares and existential terror, while still retaining a faith in our essential strengths.

Bradbury's writing in this book clutches at my heart. It's like looking back at my own youth, viewing the past through nostalgia's soft-focus lens, with a darkening of that lens casting a sinister light on memories. I've read the book a few times throughout my life, the first time when I was the age of the two protagonists, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, and most recently as I now approach the age of Will's father. While my perspective has changed, the same sense of melancholy, the same feeling of fighting, at best, a holding action against time, has persisted with each reading, growing more acute and clear as I've aged. Bradbury was able to touch upon something even more terrifying than the undead and unstoppable slashers: the unavoidable and ever-approaching reality of our mortality.

This is a story of life and aging. Will and Jim, born minutes apart, with Will born just before Halloween, and Jim born just after it had arrived, are polar opposites. Will is the light and Jim the dark. Jim is always looking to the future, wishing away his years to gain an adulthood he most desires to experience. Will is content to live his years as they are given him, experiencing the now, perhaps in order to create memories, but most importantly, to live life as it is meant to be lived: in the present. Charles Halloway, Will's father, lives in the past, longing for the youth his son owns now, prowling the library at which he is a custodian, searching among the stacks for some bit of wisdom that forever eludes him. It is the story of the eternal conflict within us all: when young, we race to get older, to finally become the adult we know will finally unlock the secrets we felt were hidden from us; when older, we reach for the youth we once had, finally realizing that the secrets were never really secret, but held within us all along.

The plot here is of secondary importance. A dark carnival train arrives in a small Illinois town in the middle of the night, just prior to Halloween. Jim and Will begin to see the truth of the traveling show as more and more people fall prey to the promising lies of Dark and Cooger, owners of the carnival. There is a swirl of nightmares made manifest, with unsettling parades and chilling sideshow performers and an evilly enticing midway drawing in more and more townsfolk. Mr. Dark is a menacing presence, with a hidden fury barely suppressed as he threatens Jim and Will and Will's father. Dark is, essentially, a bully, intimidating those who allow themselves to be intimidated...much like the real dark. The struggle here is with our own doubts and fears, our propensity to surrender to false hopes in order to stave off the always-encroaching ultimate darkness.

This is a book that is experienced more than it is read. Bradbury's lyrical prose leads us down an evening path, his words like guiding stars, a comforting beauty through a looming horror laying just at the edge of our awareness. This is Halloween to me, a more adult, somber Halloween, that sits with me long after the book is read and the day has passed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The stars aligned...

H.P. Lovecraft, one of the ultimate inspirations for this blog, was born on this date in 1890. His tales are often dream-like and terrifying, his prose purple and lurid. Few writers have tapped into the dark dimensions of horror and the macabre as disturbingly as he did, and none, in my opinion, have plumbed as deeply the depths of pessimism - perhaps engendered by his bigotry - regarding mankind's ultimate fate.

His most well-known creation, the mighty Cthulhu, makes an appearance at 1:37 in this nifty Guillermo del Toro-directed intro for the Treehouse of Horror XXIV episode of The Simpsons, and Lovecraft himself appears at 1:41, toasting a drink with his literary offspring.

Lovecraft fhtagn!

Monday, July 14, 2014


A great ship of the sky, white-prowed and silent, serenely sails across the great blue ocean of air, on its way towards high summer.

I think many of us have found imagery in clouds. On warm summer days, especially, I find myself glancing skyward, watching as great fleecy mountain ranges and mysterious island fortresses glide and morph through the blue expanse above.

As a child, I recall many a lazy summer day spent lying in the grass, seeing great billowy armies clash without sound, or dinosaurs evolving into solemn Zeus-like heads pondering the patchwork green below. They were hypnotic to me, the way they would come together and fly apart without a sound, like some great silent show being played out for those who would look up. They seemed remote yet somehow friendly, enjoying the summer along with me.

Then there were days when the gray thunderheads would roll in, sparking actinic light. Crawling fingers of lightning running on the undersides of the clouds, or jutting down in sudden flashes, would reveal for a moment the roiling, angry masses gathering their wrath. Rarest of all were the green clouds, their color unsettling and threatening; when they rumbled in from the West - always the West - even the trees seemed to shiver as the air grew cold with the advance of the primal violence that was about to be unleashed.

As the year began to wane, I would see more and more of the somber gray clouds of autumn roll in. Here in Ohio, much of the autumn and winter sees the sky become an unbroken blanket of gray that persists for what seems like months at a time. Or, it seemed that way to my younger self. Yet I never felt gloomy because of the cloud cover; it always felt like Halloween, and Halloween was always my favorite holiday.

I hadn't meant to write about clouds today. When I sat down to write, they were what first came to mind. Perhaps they did so because they remind me so much of the constant mutability of life, with the way it is always steadily changing into something else. All is ephemeral, destined to be something else before much time has passed. That is why I don't write here about politics or some of the other ever-changing elements that make up our society. Certainly, I have strong opinions about any and all of it...but in the end, I'd rather spend my time here pondering the eternal, rather than hashing out or arguing over something that will inevitably change into something completely different before too long. Deep down, I suppose I'm incurably optimistic; I believe we - humans as a species - will muddle through all our troubles eventually. The cloud cover will always break apart in time, the thunderclouds will pass over and disappear after their fury is spent, and the bright clouds of summer will return to reflect our dreams back to us.

It figures that after Midnight I ponder so much about bright, sunny, cloud-spangled skies.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Insomnia, and the thoughts it brings.

Friday before last, or, rather, early that Saturday morning, I was dealing with yet another bout of insomnia. Like ol' Ben Franklin, I've found that rather than lying there and grasping towards the sleep that refuses to come, it's better to get up and let the bed cool off and allow the still of the night to settle in around me.

It was a warm night, star-filled, the just-past-full Moon then low in the sky, glowing through haze and the remnants of clouds. It was just past 4AM. The rush and hum of traffic on the turnpike, five miles away, was right at the edge of hearing. A few stray lightning bugs flickered on and off, out late.

A clatter and banging was making its way up the street. Before long, a king-cab pick-up drawing an impressively long fishing boat rushed past, heading for Lake Erie. The silence that descended in its wake was again broken, this time with the sound of voices.

Next to where I live is a clear-cut corridor over which high-tension wires are strung. It makes for a good deer run, and herds of them occasionally make their way from east to west and back again.

Looking west, as always.
This night, though, the deer were absent. The voices I heard faded into hearing from across the night-fields; it was a young couple picking their way through the dark. I never saw them, as I was on the porch and a small thicket stands between me and the corridor. His voice was quiet, hushed; hers was louder, blurred by drink, her laugh floating merrily on the breeze. They hurried on into the night that was soon to be unequivocal morning.

The quiet returned, and eventually I called in my little dog and returned to bed, where sleep finally claimed me. I briefly thought about how a multitude of stories surrounds us, even late into the night, with us just barely in the background, like bit players in a movie. And, of course, the same is true in reverse; the grand theater of our own lives plays out with others inhabiting their own supporting roles, barely noticed, if at all.

Times like these remind me of this meme I ran across, the word and definition originating at the rather wonderful Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.

A lovely image paired with a lovely concept; I'll try to track down who made it to credit them.
Of course, this is a subject I've discussed more than once here, the notion of us all passing into and out of the lives of others, even if unnoticed. The sheer randomness of how we know the people we know, how easily the people we care about might never have passed into our lives, perhaps with others coming to fill similar roles brought to us in just as fickle a manner, is something that often runs through my mind. It makes me think of just how precious those we have connected with are, just how fragile those connections were initially, and how much sheer potential there is of all the connections that we have yet to make.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Long Memories

Occasionally I swing by the cemetery where my father is buried. I do it for the sake of my mother, who has some mobility issues and can't go by there as often as she would like. So I check in and make sure the plants and flowers she places there remain and are intact. The Old Man himself would certainly scoff at the whole affair; he would see no point in either planting anything there, or in me checking on it. But it's more about what my mother wants than what he would have wanted. I occasionally joke that I go to make sure he's still there; if anyone could, by plain meanness, rise from the grave, it'd be him. Sounds cold, I know, but it's the kind of joke he'd appreciate.

This cemetery is fairly old, and contains the gravesites of many of the folk who founded and built the town I live in. I have no particular interest in spending a lot of time in graveyards, but while I'm there, I do take note of the variety of headstones and monuments. There are many implicit stories to be found, whether it be the tiny headstone set apart from any others, carved simply with the word "Baby," the couple for whom thirty-three years separated them in death, or the couples headstone on which the date of death of the second person remains blank. Recently, I noticed this:

I don't know who Sarah Laird was. Somebody does, though, because those artificial flowers are fairly new, and the living plant behind the stone can't be terribly old. The better part of eighty years later, someone still remains who cares about Sarah.

I think about many of the people here in this cemetery, and how so many of them may be long-forgotten. In some cases, their names have been softened and blurred by time and the elements, until even the stone has forgotten them...
On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, someone goes through the cemetery, as their counterparts do in so many others, placing stickers and small flags on even the oldest headstones that stand above the remains of veterans. So, for them, our collective memory does remember them and their contributions. Even then, though, many, if not most, of their stories are lost to history. The tales of who they were, what they dreamed, whom they loved...are now gone.

I've written of the grand procession of lives that winds its way through time, and how each member of that procession has his or her moment on the stage of life. I've rambled on about how those who came before us set the stage which we eventually take, and how we, in turn, set the same stage for those who come after. I ponder on how we remember those from the past, and how we will be remembered ourselves. The graveyard is the indicator of the answer to both those ponderings.

That is why seeing that someone still remembers Sarah Laird, still feels strongly enough about her, remembers her clearly enough, to decorate her resting site, both surprises me, and fills me with a bit of joy, a gleam of hope. For a couple of years now, I have worked against my natural inclination to live in the past, and to start living in the present and look towards the future. I cannot, however, fail to feel more than a bit of affinity for this person who decorates the grave of one so long away. This is important; this was a person, once a living, laughing, loving human being, with hopes and aspirations and achievements, and, maybe, some sorrows, who loomed large in the heart of someone, almost certainly many someones. Now, one of those someones pushes back the great night of oblivion to remind us all, in some small way, that those who came before us do matter, that in some way they do live on, if only we choose to remember them.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Time, and Old Pictures

They seem remote, our ancestors, a gulf of time between us, their cultures differing from ours to the point of being alien. The details of their lives are lost to us, with lightning-flash moments sometimes all that remains, capturing an instant that often has little context for us to divine what these phantoms were like.

Granvil Dexter Black and Hester Florence Tenney, my paternal great-grandparents. Granvil was born in 1870, Hester in 1874, meaning this picture likely dates from the 1890s. This was almost certainly taken in Upshur County, West Virginia. The Blacks lived in Virginia and West Virginia from Colonial times, back to at least Alexander Black in the 1760s.
I know scant little about my cousins and aunts and uncles from the Old Man's side of the family, let alone my ancestors beyond a generation or two before mine. My father seemed to have little interest in his family; there were a number of his siblings that I never met, and he never spoke of them. One of his brothers, perhaps the only remaining one at the time, I first met at the Old Man's funeral, and he seemed just as taciturn. Old, white-bearded, almost gaunt, I only recognized the relation by way of the piercing eyes. He himself would pass before much more time had passed.

All I know about this picture is that Granvil and Hester are the first two seated adults to the left in the front row. Again, this must have been taken in the 1890s in or near Upshur County, West Virginia.
The ephemeral nature of life has always fascinated, or perhaps I would be more accurate saying haunted, me. We move ahead with life, rarely looking back, and even blood ties fade in importance as time alters and ends relationships and lives.

Hester, by then called Granny Black, sits surrounded by her grandchildren, sometime in the late 1930s; notably absent is Granvil, who died in 1937. Granny Black would live for the better part of three more decades, passing in 1964. But now a face familiar to me enters the picture, literally; that's Emmett, eventually to be called by me the Old Man, second from the left in the back row. Not a bad haircut, I must say. Of the rest, I only ever met his sister Lucille, second from the right in the back row. She is still living, but since the Old Man's death she has moved and did not give us contact information. I suspect his death was harder on her than I imagined it would be; she was the only one of his siblings who had any kind of relationship with him that I know of.

It's a relentless thing, time is, dragging us all along whether we want to make the journey or not. What should I, or anyone, expect, though? Time has even ground down the Appalachians of West Virginia, softening and blurring and reducing those once-towering peaks, their long-hidden hearts now close to the surface, sleeping under a thick blanket of forest. Time sends even the mountains to their death-beds, dreaming in their dotage.

Lloyd Black, one of the children of Granvil and Hester, 1905-1968. The Old Man's Old Man. Rather dapper-looking sometime in the 1930s, I'm guessing. My father so closely resembled his father that it was eerie. I was convinced this was a picture of my dad for a good while. They apparently shared a temperament, too, by my grandmother's account.
Time has been compared to a river. It's an apt comparison, if you think of it as having many twists and turns and rapids and falls and placid pools along the way, with the ending coming anywhere on its length. All rivers lead, eventually, to a sea, figuratively and literally, and perhaps that is why we are so drawn to these waters.

The Old Man himself, in 1964, along the shore of Lake Erie, the Cleveland skyline in the distance.

The currents and eddies and waves of time's waters constantly push and pull us apart, making the close bonds of family, friendship, and romantic bonding even more precious in the time we have with them. Yet many seem to strive to help along those watery forces, working to catch waves and ride currents to new souls with which to bond.
My mother, Calcie.

Some of us are restless, seemingly always yearning for something or someone new, the unknown a powerful draw. Some of us, like me, long for permanency, to travel the great river of time with those with whom we are familiar, as though onboard some great temporal cruise ship, in that way defying - futilely in the end, I admit - the unstoppable flow.

My parents, October 1964. I would not enter the timestream for almost a year-and-a-half.

But is it really futile? Are we not, in some small way, attempting to impose some structure upon the universe with such defiance? Are we not agents of order working to at least slow the effects of entropy, the great river that washes all away before it? Are not the bonds we have with each other, whether those we are born with, or the ones we create ourselves, akin to a great lattice upon which our lives can find purchase to grow, like ivy up the side of a house? I like to think that creating such a structure is one of the ways we have of becoming eternal.

I make my appearance in 1966. My mother and I seem to be enjoying a nice day in Cleveland.
Most of us don't do any of this consciously, of course. Day to day life occupies our attention until, perhaps, one day we look up and see how far along the river we've traveled, and gauge how much further we can expect to go. That's when we truly begin to think seriously about making our mark upon the eternal.

The Old Man, my sister Bonita, and me, likely sometime in late 1968. I believe that's a '64 Galaxie behind the Mercury Montego station wagon.

Legacies are varied, and each of us can choose what to leave behind. Children, works of our hands, ideas...they all extend us into the future beyond our span of years, moving a bit of us farther along the river. Is it enough? For some, I'm sure it is. Even if it isn't, it's truly the only choice, unless you choose nothing. And that seems to me like no kind of choice to make.

My mother's mother, Marie Holbrook, surrounded by grandchildren. My mother's side of the family is also hillfolk, this time in the rugged, coal-rich hills of eastern Kentucky. Not as much information and photographic evidence exists as on my father's side. That's me to my grandmother's left, screen right, with my sister next to me. My cousin Anna Ruth, nicknamed Boo Boo, sits on the far right, highly amused by something.

My maternal grandmother was widowed in 1962, four years before I was born. Until the end of her life in 1998, whenever asked why she had never remarried, she said, simply, "I am married." For her, death was not an impediment to love, and did not render that bond void. I always felt that she truly understood the eternal. For her, there was, ultimately, a point to existence. For her, entropy was illusory.

From left to right: me, with an aggravating smirk; my brother, Emmett; and, of course, my sister, sometime in 1970.

That's not an easy way to live. It requires moving against the current, heading through rough waters when smoother ways are easily surrendered to. I'm not saying it's superior, or the way for everyone to live. It's a strong choice, though, and our lives are defined by our choices.

My father's youngest brother, Zane. 23 years my father's junior, he was the Old Man's favorite sibling. One hell of a handsome kid; too bad those handsomeness genes skipped my generation. I remember him from one vivid visit, probably in 1968, when he was on leave from the Marines. I remember being transfixed by his dark, deep, piercing eyes, and the sadness that even then I could feel. That memory has stuck with me my whole life.
It's easy to feel lost as we move along time's river. The choices we make have a cascade effect, altering our course in ways that may seem minute when made, but which can become insurmountable, at least in our minds. It's easy at that point to feel that the currents of time have us in their control. That's why that great lattice, those interconnected bonds, are so important. They help remind us of the eternal.

Newspaper notice of the death of my uncle Zane, in December, 1971. It's all very sad, and the part that haunts me most is: Since his discharge, friends said, he had demonstrated a despondency which had not been a part of his personality before his military service.

Life seems to be an unending string of moments, of pivot points, where we can set sail in new directions or surrender to the whims of the current. Either way, we choose to remain in the river, charting courses as best we can, even if that course is no course at all.