Monday, March 21, 2011

Speech, Scotch, and Stuff

The past two nights have found me wide awake in the middle of the night again. How frustrating that can be. The only difference in my routine that I can see was that I did not have an evening snack so tonight, I made myself a sandwich and here I am behind the keyboard, hoping that they will make me drowsy enough to get back to sleep. Monday is coming fast and has been by far my busiest day of the week so rest is needed.

I had an eventful weekend starting out with singing at another local restaurant. Not in what you might think. My buddy, Frank Patka, and I have over the years entertained people with funny songs on eventful days. We usually get together and rewrite various songs or write our own new song to help make the friend's day We even have named our group, the 'Oldganics'. We have done gigs in many of the restaurants in town and Friday, we met up at Izzy's to entertain our mutual buddy, Dave Perine, on his fiftieth birthday.

Another buddy, Mark, joined us as we met up at Jake's in the backroom and practiced our songs. I had gotten some ideas off of the web and my favorite was "Jello", to the tune of "Hello" by Neil Diamond. Since this was Dave's 50th birthday, you can imagine what the theme to our songs were. This particular song was of a man eating jello on the day before his colonoscopy. I know.....not your typical restaurant entertainment. But, the Oldganics are not your typical band either. Mark's wife, Carrie, video taped the event so I probably will put it up on utube. Actually, I do have an older version of us at Greg's Grill sometime in the last couple of years.

Upon returning to the diner, I found the girls busy so I stopped to help out, pouring coffee and busing tables. I was stopped by one woman who asked me about Phil. She was the nurse who was with him just before he passed away. She said she could tell he was special and that she heard that I had written a couple of stories on him and asked if I would share a bit with her as she wanted to know more about him. I copied off his obituary and a couple of stories and gave them to her. We discussed his last couple of days and I told her how he wanted us to trip up the nurses as they walked past his room just for fun. She laughed and said that he had asked her to slip under the sheets with him just the day before he went. Phil kept his humor all the way.

Saturday morning, I awoke with butterflies in my stomach. This was the day of Phil's funeral. Some of the brothers met at the diner and we all went over in a group. One of the guys was suppose to teach protocol to the brothers so that we could all be in sync when we saluted and such. When we got there and I asked him, he was reluctant, however so I was not sure what to do.

Another brother, Jerry, asked me minutes before the funeral why we had not gotten together and I told him we needed someone to lead us who knew protocol. He asked me if I would like him to and I said, 'Sure'. We called over the brothers and Jerry formed them into a group. That was when I learned that funny jovial Jerry was a Colonel in the Marines. That is one of the things that I like the most of that group. Officers and enlisted stand side by side as one. To one side of me was a retired Army officer and we were all surprised when Mike Genna showed up in his uniform as a retired Navy Commander. Mike jumped into formation with all of the rest of us and I think we looked rather good.

Jerry stood off to the side and directed us as a quasi military unit. We had a young lady sing 'God Bless America' and bag pipes play 'Amazing Grace'. Then, it was my turn to speak. I had gone over my speech a few times and felt pretty confident but when I stepped behind the mic, I looked out over the crowd and saw an old friend, Ron Mercinheimer, who I had not seen in some time. The sight of Ron brought Phil into my mind's eye and I could see him sitting out in the crowd watching and waiting for what I had to say. I know I stumbled a bit at first because of those visions but soon regained my focus and I believe got my point across. Then I slipped back into my line with the rest of my brothers and sent off our friend. I held it all well until taps. I could feel the tears flowing down my cheeks and could hear the sobs of others around me as we all tried to gather our composure.

After the funeral, we all met up at the VFW. Probably close to 130 to 140 people. We started the meal off with a shot of scotch. A tribute to our old buddy with his favorite drink. We were then entertained with videos of pictures of our old friend's life.

Now, scotch on an empty stomach is enough but add some extra time with the videos and my blood sugar began to drop. I did something that I normally would not do and shot to the front of the line for food to try and bring the sugar level up and bring myself back to normalcy. Jimmy did an outstanding job with the food with everyone enjoying their meal. By the time we left, I could feel my blood sugar getting back to more where it needed to be but was still feeling off from it all.

After dropping the others off at the diner, I went home and took a nap. Two hours later, I was awoken by the diner calling and went back down to help them out with dinner.

Sunday morning came and we had a pretty good breakfast. All the cogs seemed to be moving as they should which makes for a pretty good day. My job on days like that is just to go around and shore things up around the edges. Directing, bussing, pouring coffee, sorting out plates, and talking to customers makes the day go by pretty fast. And, on Sunday after the rush, I usually get caught up on any bill paying that has not been done for the week.

I got home after closing up to sit on the couch with Judy for an hour and rest up before heading out once more, this time to a little birthday dinner for Carrie. I let the kids pick what restaurant they want and she had picked Hola in the old mill district. Birthdays create a reason for a little family time and we enjoyed each others company and Carrie's day.

Closing down on Sunday afternoon was one of our better decisions. It gives us a much needed break and a stopping and starting point for the next week.

So, now we are off on our next week and our next adventure, spring break. If we get a good day, we might break away and take a drive with Jay and I have promised him some golf at Missing Link in Redmond so it looks like a pretty good week. That is if Mother Nature allows it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bill, Bob, and two shirts in a brown paper bag

An old friend who married my cousin is linked up with me on facebook. Actually, I am linked up with quite a few people there. She recently placed a few old pictures of my brothers and her up on her page. After I commented on them, she stopped by last week and shared some of the old school annuals that she had after finding out that I did not have them. She left them with me to pick back up this week and I spent some time looking at them.

I marveled at my size. In my early high school years, I was very small. Standing less than 5 feet, I was nicknamed Pixie. I poured through the pages and many of the memories of the time flooded back into my mind. I saw where I excelled in speech and drama and remembered how later on in my high school years, I left both of those behind as I struggled for......acceptance.

While absorbing the pictures, two faces stuck out. Probably because they were so popular and easily made it in front of the cameras. I believe they both were considered the most popular in their respective senior classes. Their confidence still showed in the smirks on their faces. I remember my sometimes disappointment that I could not garner some of the respect that they had been honored with.

Now, forty years later, I know of both of these men and the lives that they have lived. One of them has the same or similar bold attitude that he had back then. Except now, others see right through it and his respect has long gone. I ran into him at a recent reunion and marveled as I watched him try and be that same person while others seemed to smile as he attempted to gain our respect that he had lost.

The other man changed after going to Vietnam. Upon his return, his whole attitude on life changed and he threw away all of his old reminders of his youth and chose to live a rough life. So harsh was his life that when I saw him a few years back, I did not recognize him as he looked 20 years older. He lost many of his friends and now lives in a bus at the end of some road.

There are others but these two men garnered much of my attention as at one time in my life, I envied them and wanted to be like them. So much so that in my later high school years, I left behind my speech and drama, still searching for and respect.

Yesterday, I sat with a group of my fellow vets who are working to prepare for the sending off of our old friend, Phil. As one of them passed out the proposed list of events and speakers at the funeral, I realized something. I was the only speaker there who was not a Marine. As I looked around the table, I made another observation, I was only two of ten who were not and the other was invited by me.

As those thoughts invaded my mind, the last Marine walked in the room. He handed me a folded brown paper bag. At first, I wondered what it meant but soon fell back on a one of my last conversations with Phil. He told me that he wanted me to have his two Hawaiian shirts. He had given instructions on how he wanted them washed, folded, and presented to me in a folded brown paper bag. This was my official presentation.

I gasped as I realized it and the smile of the man giving it to me met with mine. The others on the table stopped talking and stared, one of them asking what the significance of the bag was . My presenter told them that it was a present from Phil and I opened up the bag and showed them with tears welling up in my eyes, two freshly washed and folded shirts.

Last night as we prepared to play poker, Zin and I talked of the morning meeting and the shirts. I told him how I am not sure when I will be able to wear them. I know that when I drape one over my shoulders and button it up, I will always see the smiling face of my friend. I thought of wearing one at his service but opted not to as we all want it to be a respectful time and I will wear a pressed white or black military shirt.

I told Zin something that had weighed on my mind during the day that being the fact that I was the only non-Marine speaking that day. Zin looked me in the eye and told me, "It is because he loved and respected you, Lyle. Hell, we all do.".

My mind wondered a bit as we talked and others joined our conversation that soon turned towards poker and other things. I thought of Bill and Bob and my struggle for acceptance way back then.

I pondered on just the past couple of weeks and the many times that people had shook my hand and thanked me for what I do. What I do? Sometimes I struggle with my response as while I am taken and deeply affected by it, I don't see it as any thing that big......I am just being me.

In many ways, I am still that same little boy that I observed on those pages printed over 40 years ago but it took a lifetime to learn one of life's biggest lessons. Don't try and be what you are not. Just be you and accept who you are. Not all will love you...not all will respect you....but you will be much more content.

I have a great life. I am married to a beautiful wife. I have many friends who I see sometimes daily. And I am truly and deeply thankful for all of it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

An unusual week

The past week is behind us and we are now into another. It is so hard to believe that we are almost 1/4 of the way through the year. Time goes by so incredibly fast for me. My life is not boring.

The week started on a down. My two veteran friends, Phil and Tom went within 14 hours of one another. Without Zin on Monday, I had to lead the Band of Brothers and I was concerned on how the meeting might progress. It was our largest group yet and I had to close the doors to the meeting about 15 minutes early. The meeting went well with a new man joining who had been a tail gunner who had been in planes shot down twice during WW2. A few of us shared stories of the two men that we had lost and the meeting soon was over. I talked to the tail gunner afterwards and he was so taken by so many men saying the Lord's Prayer in a public venue.

The evening brought Holdem for Habitat and I started off playing fairly well. I had decided that the coin that Trinity had given me for a marker would be used one more time. I had been the first man out the last two weeks with it. I waited for the right time and made my play when I had three queens after the flop. Two guys stayed with me and one of them made his flush on the next card. I threw the coin across the room.

Tuesday, I took a group of guys to the JROTC at Mt View High. The guys really enjoyed the show and the youth appreciated their presence there.

Right afterward, I picked up Jay from school and I began to feel a bit dizzy. I thought it might have been because I had not eaten right. Sometimes I get so busy I just don't eat. I know that sounds funny since I own a restaurant is what it is. If the kitchen is busy, I will not bother them as the customer must always come first. After all, it is my lively hood.

After picking up Jay and going back to the house, I laid down while Jay did his homework. I awoke a couple of hours later even more dizzy. I took Jay to soccer practice and picked up supper and a movie.

Setting myself up in my TV room, I began the movie and started to eat when it hit me. I got woozy and began to sweat. I knew the feeling before and put the movie on hold and began preparations for the worst. I put on lounge clothes, pulled a bucket out of the garage, and dumped the supper that I no longer even wanted to look at.

Minutes later, I was as sick as I have been in a while. This lasted for hours and I managed to get to sleep quite late and even then saw just about every hour of the night.

The next day was spent on the couch, resting and sleeping. I tried to eat soup but had no appetite. Judy made me soup for lunch and supper but all I could do was sip the soup and drink some Ginger Ale. I went outside a couple of times but the day was day of rest whether I liked it or not.

Thursday morning, I awoke feeling very week but in good shape. I ate my first solid food and began to get ready for our first funeral. Tom's funeral was at 11 at Deschutes Garden. I put my good coat on for the funeral and came in a bit late. The first thing I noticed was Band of Brothers jackets all over the room. The service was a good one and I listened to family members and friends sharing their remembrances.

I swapped my jacket and joined the others for the graveyard service. I am always so greatly affected by these services and this one was no different. Tears welled in my eyes as taps was blown for my friend. I watched his wife and my heart went out to her. Afterwards, we all met at the VFW hall and supported the family there.

Thursday night, I was sitting in my room watching the Ducks beat up on UCLA and afterwards was just sitting there thinking about the day and week behind me when an alert came up on the TV screen about an earthquake in Japan. I switched channels to a news program and shortly they were streaming live shots of after the quake and the talk of an impending tsunami. Soon, live feeds from a helicopter began showing the wave itself as it began to sweep into Sendai. I sat glued to the screen as I watched the water swallow up moving cars and watched people running as fast as they could from the wave of destruction. I watched as a truck sat looking at the water in front of him when the water came in from behind. I could see him put his truck into gear and try an outrun the water that quickly overtook it. The wall of water threw him up against the side of the road. Then a burning house began to float right at him. Before I could see what happened, the live shot from the helicopter that was not looking at anything specific, moved on.

My heart went out to that person on the other side of the globe and I began to pray for his safety and the fear that he must be feeling. I spent the next few hours glued to the set as live image after live image came across it. Exhausted, I went to sleep knowing that I needed to get up around 7 or so to see the possibility of a tsunami warning on the Oregon coast.

Judy and I got up and watched the TV for a couple of hours before heading off to the diner for another day.

Saturday was a brisk day and I arrived home around 4 in the afternoon. Judy and I were to go out for the evening to play pinochle with some friends. We left around 5:30 and drove to our friends house in Tumalo. After arriving, we were surprised with another friend, who brought his long stretch Ford Excursion limo. We were driven to the owners house where we had our poker party. Before the party, we toured his barn that housed one of Bob Hope's limos. It was truly a surprising and fun night. On our trip back to the first house in the limo, all of the five couples shared how they had met and what their various proposals were like.

Judy and I arrived home around 12:30 which was really 1:30 so I quickly got ready for work.

So now we start all over again. Last week had certainly a lot of ups and downs. I can only wonder what this one will hold.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

March on

It is March already. How incredible it seems that time goes on so fast. Before you know it, the year will be behind us.

I guess since it is going so fast, that means so is my life and I will have to agree with that statement also. My days seem to fly by and I see no sign of slowing down in the immediate future.

The Phil watch still goes on. I took one of the lady Band of Brothers up to hospice along with Judy yesterday. Phil was more lucid and seemed to recognize us all. Another friend, Bob Dent, was sitting with him and when we arrived, Phil perked up and asked for his teeth and hearing aids.

After the nurse got them both, Judy asked him how he was and his answer made us all smile. "Pretty good for an old fart.". He was having a hard time moving his head over to the two women so Bob and I moved them over the the best side and let the girls talk with him as we went to the other side of the room.

He seemed to be enjoying their company and his spirit seemed high. He even joked with them asking one of them to trip the nurse as she walked by the room. Then, just as quickly, he became agitated by something. There were boxes on the wall that contained gloves for the nurses. "Get the nurse!", he demanded. "Those boxes have spots. I want the ___damn things taken over to the other side of the room.". We tried to make light of it but soon realized that it was greatly bothering him and we then tried to change the attention but to no avail.

The girls and I decided to leave as I needed to get back anyway and Bob was going to get him up and put him over by the window so he could watch the birds. Bob recognized Phil's reactions from something that he had read in a Hospice book of things a family should expect at the end of life. He asked the nurse for the book and gave it to Judy to read. She later told me that their were many things in the book that she saw in Phil today. We both want to try and continue to see him on a daily basis if possible.

Another friend, Tom Myers, is two rooms down. I will try and write about him another time but he is truly a special man also. His family is there every day waiting and watching. I can see he toll that it takes on his wife (especially) and his kids. Tom is a tough and extremely engaging man who is a joy to know. I stopped by to see him a couple of days ago as he was eating his breakfast. "How is your breakfast?", I asked. "Not half as good as one from your place.", he returned with a smile on his face.

I must admit that it is hard to see these two special men at the end of their lives like this.

Business is brisk and keeps me hoping also. Kevin, one of our cooks, recently graduated from rehab. He had an alcohol problem and after going into the hospital for the second time from it, I took him off of the line all together. I could not bring myself to just letting him go, however, and set up a cleaning position for him. He turned out to be an exceptional cleaner and I encouraged him to get help as he worked. I told him that the only way that I would consider giving him another chance at where he loved to work, he would have to complete a rehab program.

Since he was such a big part of the 'Jakes' family, two car loads of employees went with Judy and I to his graduation on Wednesday. We filled the room giving them what they said was the biggest graduation that they had ever had. His future and his sobriety is now in his hands. And it is great to have him back on the line as he is not only a good cook but fast with great presentation.

A couple of weeks back, the carpet cleaner asked where he was since he usually cleaned while they did the carpets. I told him that Kevin was in rehab but would soon be back. "I know why you are giving him this chance and keeping a job for him when he gets out.", the cleaner said. I stopped and looked up wondering what he saw was my reason. "You see his heart, don't you.". I could only smile and say, "Yes", gratified that someone else saw what I saw.

My latest surgeries are behind me and I am healing faster than ever. I think my different diet has so much to do with that as much as me staying cancer free also. I will get my stitches out next week.

I continue to be amazed and thankful for the business that finds us even though we are so much off of the road. It is the middle of winter and usually a time of more quiet and maintenance. This Sunday, I am having a painter come in and spruce up the place while the hood cleaners come in and maintain the hood. Yesterday, I stopped and saw Gary from Jack's upholstery who has gotten in the material to recover some of the booths. The chairs that were painted during the last remodel are my only bane. The black paint has worn from them and I am unsure what to do there. One of the brothers who did that sort of thing during his working years told me to leave them as they gave off a sort of worn look that was good.

While the winter is the time for sprucing up, it is also a time for many other end of year things such as taxes (both income and personal property), corporate minutes, and insurance resets.

Before we know it, it will be spring and we will start preparing for our first big BBQ before Memorial day.

To top off all the other busyness, I have signed up along with a couple of buddies to do the Bend City Police Citizens Academy. My good friend, Steve Esselton(sp) will be doing the classes that will start every Wednesday evening from the end of March to the end of May.

Last evening, Judy and I sat at the counter and ate supper when another friend came in and sat with us. We talked of our busy lives and he said something that rings in my ears as truth. Our lives are fleeting and fast. So, it is important that we do things that we enjoy and enjoy them while we do them.

Welcome to the month, my friends. As we March on through our lives.