Friday, September 22, 2017

Like Clockwork


Like Clockwork


 

By John W. Vander Velden


 

Is it like clockwork or like clockworks?  There is a difference.  But before I go into semantics how about a bit of basics.  Before the age of electronic timekeepers that have no, that’s right, no moving parts, all clocks and watches were intricate devices driven by springs or motors and controlled by balance wheels or pendulums.  The hands, remember those, moved slowly around the face linked to gears and more gears.  Those springs, balance wheels, and gears were known as clockworks, or in essence the mechanism that made keeping accurate time possible.
Those clockworks had been perfected by centuries of the building of clocks.  Jackie and I love to visit “Clock Stores” to see the massive grandfather and grandmother clocks.  I’m a gear kinda’ guy, so I stare at the beautiful, at least I think they’re beautiful, gears, all brass and shiny hiding beneath the grand face.  I examine them though the side glass.  Most move so slowly that you can not begin to perceive motion.  But the pendulum swings tripping the cog that holds back the gleaming weights that drop ever so slightly with each sway.  Amazing basic mechanics!  There is nothing but a vibrating quartz crystal, a battery, a microscopic silicone chip, and a display in today’s watches for example.  But the quartz watch is more accurate.  It requires less care and no thought.  The time is right there on your wrist, providing the battery holds up.  Having the correct time is what matters, isn’t it?
Maybe.  But something is missing, at least I feel something is missing.  Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to wear a windup tickity-tick on my wrist.  I can’t sleep with one of those windup alarm clocks of ages gone by.  I know, I tried. Tick-tick-tick in the dark drives this guy crazy.  But I am enthralled by the solid “real”, apparently complex, gear meshing with gear meshing with gear mechanism that make those grand clocks work. 
But there is the other form…like clockwork.  A symbolic phase about how things just fall into place or proceed exactly in the manner they should.  Such as B follows smoothly after A and C comes precisely after B kinda’ thing.  I don’t know how your life goes but mine…well, clockwork does not describe my normal day to day.  But it is the glitches in the mechanism that forces us to find new solutions, and we learn more about ourselves in the process.
So whether we are talking about the stuff that make up mechanical timepiece innards or the smooth procession of actions or events, we can use the same phase.  But though we are pleased when life moves alone by clocklike precision, we should not run around with our hands in the air when it doesn’t.  I try to tell myself this as I race around the room cooling my palms.  Breathe John, breath.  I don’t particularly enjoy the added stress, but I have endured the un-clockwork before and shall, I hope, overcome today’s difficulties as well.  Life ain’t easy folks, and anyone that has told you otherwise was less than truthful.
All the same I might enjoy a few days when things move along like clockwork.

(533 Words)  9-21-2017  

 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Thoughts of Parenting


Thoughts of Parenting        

 

By John W. Vander Velden

 

My thoughts go back to Jackie’s first Mother’s Day.  As that day approached she had only one wish…that Nick would come home from the hospital.  Such a simple sentiment, yet it underscores the significance of that emotional time of our lives, and the willing sacrifice a parent makes.  The bond between parent and child is complex.  The binding begins before birth and though many a child would like that cord severed, for most parents the depth of that connection is life long.  Only parents can understand…and not all do.  A grown child might assume that he or she knows what being a parent means…but it’s impossible.  You must be a parent…a real connected parent…to begin the process of learning all the subtle shades of that duty.
Anxiety comes with the task.  The level varies from high to lower but never leaves.  How can you not worry?  Our years bring pains and disappointments that we hated.  How can we not wish to isolate our child…the focus of our lives…from all the difficulties that living has?  Of course it is impossible.  Of course the hard times builds strength.  Of course overcoming failures builds character.  And we wish these things for our son…but…does it have to be as hard on him as it was on us.
Parents sign on to an important obligation.  I wish all parents recognized that. But we didn’t know what it meant…really.  No one does.  So that even now, twenty-three years later, we struggle unsure of our role.  We learn by doing, but we had been fortunate to have had good parents, so our tool chest has a few helpful pieces.  Yet the world is in flux.  And so we wonder, doubt ourselves constantly as we trudge onward, one day at a time.
Does it get easier?  Yes and no.  Perhaps the load seems lighter because we have carried so long.  Perhaps the years have hardened our nerve endings.  Perhaps we force ourselves to give a little space…then a little more…hoping our young bird flies true.  But we continue to worry that lessons we have taught have “stuck”.  That the moral code that holds our life together…the very base of it at least, resides within his heart.  For truth can be shown…but I don’t believe it can be taught…it has to be felt to become real.  And what is obvious to me, might not be so clear cut to him.
There are times I feel that Nick is on a raft being carried downstream on swift waters.  I run along the riverbank watching, shouting warnings, and instructions, but the roar of the river quashes my voice.  I push through brambles, trip over tree roots and rock, doing my best to keep abreast of the son on the river…and he doesn’t even notice.  I guess that’s my best description of parenting.
You see I can’t move the rocks and snags out of the river ahead of him.  I can’t change the speed the water races along.  I cannot prevent any disaster that lies ahead.  I have come to the point that all I can do is hope I taught him enough skills to handle the raft when he faces these things.  How well he handles the adversities of life will be the measure of the man he has become.  And it is by that measure, my role as parent will at last become apparent…its good or its lacking.  It is for others to judge…and ultimately GOD’s.  For HE alone placed that responsibility in my hands…a responsibility I take seriously to this day. 
Each day I pray for my son.  That’s part of my being his parent.  I pray that he remains safe and well.  I pray that he does not abandon TRUTH as he searches for answers to simpler questions.  I pray that he finds his way, and knows he has NEVER wandered alone.  I pray he understands that love is more than ANY thing.  That love comes in many forms, but in the end, love’s only source is GOD.  I pray he recognizes the importance of family, and never forgets the ROCK SOLID foundation on which we stand. 
It seems a lot to expect, in a world of shifting sand and doubting minds.  A world where old truths are cast aside without a second thought.  In a world that seemed filled with a “me first” mindset…let the other guy take care of himself.  Yet somewhere amid the turbulence amid the chaos I remain optimistic.  For I know that the truth remains…TRUE.  And I believe Nick will find the truth.  I have to, you see, I’m a parent…it comes with the turf….

(791 Words) 5-13-2017

 

 

 

Friday, September 8, 2017

I Loved Working in the Rain


I Loved Working in the Rain             


By John W. Vander Velden

 

I loved working in the rain.  Not the fix the roof in the rain, or chopping corn out of the soybeans in the rain.  But I loved feeding the cows when the rain fell.  I would hear the tap-tap-tap of the raindrops on the hood of my sweatshirt.  Feel the cool dampness that slowly soaked through.  Maybe all the extra sensations made me feel alive.  Who knows?  But that changed when I caught pneumonia, or almost pneumonia.  My lungs rumbled for weeks.  That took the fun out of it.
It was March a long time ago.  Jackie can tell you when.  We had gone to Fort Pulaski, near Savanna, Georgia.  For all points and purposes we had the historical site to ourselves, because it was raining.  Not a downpour, you understand, but a steady unrelenting drizzle.  I didn’t give it much thought.  I loved walking in the rain.  I took my pictures, the main reason I had come, and enjoyed the time with my beloved while we saw this amazing structure.
I paid for it days later after we came home.  And I knew the cause.  Rain, cold, and being stupid…
I used to love working in the rain…twenty-nine years ago.  Or almost.  Now I am more careful.  There is no need to become the “wet dog”…if you get my meaning.  But that caution has caused something to go missing.  There are times when the air is warm that I pull on my hooded sweatshirt and wander for a few moments in the rain.  Not enough to get soaked you understand.  But just long enough to remember.  I loved working in the rain.

(274 Words)  4-12-2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

Like Riding a Bike


 

 

Like Riding a Bike               

 

By John W. Vander Velden

 

You have heard the adage…”Just like riding a bike”.  You know things learned that are not forgotten.  Well mostly.  I will not argue that there are things learned on the subconscious level that are so ingrained into our minds that we can trust they remain.  Riding a bike is one of them.  To attack the process of balancing on two wheels logically will result in failure.  Sometimes there are things you just have to learn by doing.

How did you learn to ride a bike?  That’s assuming you did learn.  Not everyone does.  I remember teaching my son and a nephew how to ride.  You know running along side with one hand on the seat the other on the handlebar, huffing out encouragement until my last wind failed.  I also remember failing to teach another nephew using the same process.  You have to want to learn to ride a bike, even be willing to take a tumble in the process.
I was never as strong as my older brother.  He is likely still stronger.  But having an older brother shapes your perspective.  He could ride a bike and…well, I couldn’t…then.  Fact was I had to learn on my own…mostly.  Hints about steering into the lean and keep pedaling were helpful.  But certainly no training wheels were available.  We had a slight grass covered incline on our farm.  Push the bike to the top, line it with a cement block I had placed so I could climb on, make certain the pedal was right, push off pedal and …fall…bang…ouch!
I remember lying in the grass and wondering what I had done wrong.  No time to dwell on that, get up and repeat the process.  I found myself a few yards further down hill.  Hmmmm…I’m improving.  Like I said you have to want to ride bad enough.  My brother could ride and I had something to prove.  I don’t remember how many times over how many days I worked at learning that skill.  But it likely wasn’t many.  I was a kid after all.  But what mattered was that I did learn and I did ride…a lot.  Sorry Mrs. Lambert.  My high school English teacher said that “a lot” was only a place you build a house.  So I rode a great deal and still do.
I don’t think about turning into the lean or anything else.  I just ride my bike.  So what is this post about?  Bike riding?  Sorta’. About wanting to learn a skill? Closer.   About relying upon those things our minds know without our conscious thoughts, like walking and chewing gum?  Could be.
We trust that we can do things even if we haven’t done them in a while…”just like riding a bike”.  That the skill exists waiting for our need.  I expect that is true about a great many things.  But we should go back to when and where we learned these talents in the first place…the why…and the how…and remember the mindset that drove the learning.  Real learning can’t be forced.  Set kids in a classroom and put a book in front of them, demand they read chapter 235, page 85,022 or whatever.  They’ll be a quiz later.  But pass or fail those facts do not find a real home in his mind if that student does not really want them there.   He needs to want to learn it. 
Back to you and me.  When we want to learn a skill or some information we do what it takes to learn it.  We accept the tumbles…the bruises…skinned knees…to gain that skill.  And if we do…if we really do…then even years later that skill or that knowledge will come to us when we need it most…just “like riding a bike”.
I rely upon the things I have learned.  I take many of those talents for granted.  But everyday I get up and walk, and that should remind me that there was a time I couldn’t.  That thousands of times each day I do things small and larger without a thought, thing I have been taught.  And knowing that, I should understand that I’m not done learning…not yet…not ever.  The desire to learn is still in me.  To me it’s part of life and drives me forward.  Not that every lesson is easy…or fun…or painless.  But just like the improbability of rolling along on two wheels did not deter me, for I did learned to ride a bike, and I will continue to learn…today…tomorrow…and as long God gives me breath.

(768 Words)  2-23-2017

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Like Puzzel Pieces


 

Like Puzzle Pieces   An excerpt from “My Name is Sam Benton

By John W. Vander Velden

 

 

Now as Sam Benton lay in the dark he considered it once again.  To many, the lost souls of the street became invisible.  But striving to survive, just to endure, day after day with no hope, could reduce a person’s worth -- even in their own eyes.  These thoughts made the pain in his head grow fierce.  It seemed a small hammer beneath his skull pounded way at his brain.  Sam would push those thoughts aside for now, attempt to take himself to a calmer place.  A place of open meadows beneath crystalline blue sky.  Closing his eyes, remembering a place, a special time.  His parents preparing a picnic lunch as he wandered nearby.  An open expanse in Colorado, of grass and wildflowers of brilliant blues, yellows and reds, a stop along the highway.  One of the many road trips they had taken.  Marsha and Theodore Benton, teachers by profession, wished to teach their son to love this great country, to show young Sam as many wonders as time would allow.  Oh, how he missed them!
 Even in the blackness that now filled his world, he felt a tear escape.  The lid insufficient to seal.  That drop did not come alone.  Soon he found himself sobbing unable to control emotions, long bottled, now free. 
This was not the time.  But when? Sam asked himself.  Later the reply.  When he would be alone -- alone to carefully take out all his thoughts and feelings -- to spread them out like puzzle pieces.  Picking up each examine it, place it among its brothers and sisters and understand.  Not the situation -- the situation was beyond Sam’s comprehension.  But to understand how he felt about each part.  How he felt about that day.  How he felt about his part; what he had done -- but much more, about what he hadn’t.
These thoughts had not lessened the throbbing.  The attempted escape to a more tranquil place had only opened the door to a painful time.  Breathing once more in huffs he pushed those thoughts aside.  A task he had over the years perfected.  Sam Benton allowed his world to grow as dark and empty as the blackness that seemed to engulf him.  There within that escape, somehow sleep came once more.

 

(378 Words)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Up, U.P., and Away


 

Up, U.P., and Away            

 

By John W. Vander Velden

 

I believe that a body needs to get away from…well from the burdens of the ordinary every day.  So we as many others take vacations.  But where a person goes and what a person does on vacation tells a great deal about them.  So what does going to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and walking, and walking, tell about us.
It was not our first trip to the U.P., though our last one was three years ago.  But it was the first time we chose a hotel on the shores of Lake Superior, or Munising Bay to be exact.  We wanted to see Pictured Rocks on our last trip across the Straights of Mackinac, but it was too far from our base of operations, St. Ignace, to make it a day trip.  Munising gave us a new center point and from there we could take the scenic cruise to see the colorful rock cliffs that makeup the shoreline.  But there was so much more to see in this little piece of summer paradise.  But you have to like the outdoors.  We do.
Our first outing was to hike to Sable Falls.  The roar could be heard long before the crashing waters came to view.  There are dozens of waterfalls along the northern edge of the U.P. and over the week we saw several.  And there are lighthouses.  You know we like lighthouses.  Our favorites are the ones that are a bit off the beaten path.  Au Sable Lighthouse is a 1.7 mile hike from the parking lot.  Like I said it’s off the beaten path.  The trail on the top of the cliffs, a broad way for service trucks, was pleasant enough.  But we were coaxed two thirds of the way to go down to the beach.  The sandy beach lapped by gentle waves of a nearly tabletop smooth waters of Lake Superior.  Walking on the sand, looking at the remains of ships wrecked and rotting made the walk interesting.  But when the shore turned to loose stones that were pretty, but shifted and slid beneath each step, walking  became more difficult.
The walk to another set of falls was more than a mile of muddy slippery trail, where we took care not to trip over thousands of roots that crossed our path.  The hike took us off and alone among the trees.  We wondered if we had veered astray while I watched for wildlife…large wildlife.  I slipped and fell on that hike.  Silly us we forgot to pack our hiking boots, which would have made a world of difference. But the view of the falls made up for the careful walking, the slipping, and even the falling.
As you can see one of the common threads of this trip was walking, and climbing.  Climbing stairs, thousands of stairs.  There were stairs on the trails, well most of them anyway.  There were the spiral stairs up lighthouse towers.  There were stairs down to the beach.  Yes, there were stairs at the hotel.
So what does our “away” say about us?  Woods, lighthouses, waterfalls, Great Lakes, hiking, and let’s not forget stairs.  I hope it would say we are in reasonable physical condition.  Well, fairly reasonable.  But what does it say about our mindset?  Hmmmm.  We love the outdoors, always have.  We love stuff that our minds tell us are solid, like old barns and mills and lighthouses.  Especially lighthouses.  Structures that have stood the test of time and just by standing proclaim, here I am…here I will be.  Perhaps it is a bit old fashion to seek comfort from those strong solid things we seek.  Then there is Lake Superior, the rocks, the clear water, the very immense-ness of it, places us in a clearer perspective.  There we recognize our smallness and GOD’s grandness revealed once again in HIS creation.  In truth maybe we seek the things that are absent in our everyday.  But are they absent, or have we just taken the things around us for granted?
Hmmmm---there maybe some truth to that.  Being busy can steal the subtle secrets that surround.  Maybe it takes getting away to notice.  To see truths from a new perspective.  For even here in north central Indiana there are those amazing things.  Woods and hills we drive by as we scurry on our way.  There are things all around, magnificent things, unusual things, and old things.  Things that are as frail as the Monarch Butterfly wings, or as solid as that big rock I had to dig out of my field.  There are white country churches that stand as testament that even here in the open spaces GOD can be found.  There are the old barns that were once sources of pride for families that tended the land.
Yet we need to get “away”, to experience new vistas, or rather to see different examples of what we know.  In doing so we see “life” from a new angle.  And each person chooses the places to accomplish that.  And the choices we make, the places we enjoy, shows just who we are.

(849 Words) 8-22-2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Writing?


Writing?

By John W. Vander Velden

 

So what is writing exactly?  The question seems silly.  Writing is simply putting words down on a page.  That would be the easiest definition.  But everyone knows writing is more than that.  An example: House  tree,  dog,  climb,  run,  swim,  colorful,  slowly,  hot,  frozen.  These are words put on the page.  Words that have little connection with one another.  But they are words on the page…written words.  No one would call that string of words writing.

So writing is more than just a set of words, it is a means of communication.  Using words to transmit a concept, to persuade perhaps, or teach, or entertain.  Writing is the careful use of words placed in specific order on a page.  And hopefully with correct grammar.

I believe that anyone can be a writer.  Few would agree with that opinion.  Now I didn’t say that anyone could be a good writer.  That takes talent and a willingness to do great deal of hard work.  But every literate person can write something, and most should. 

The computer has changed writing.  More it has changed who believes they are a good writer.  Word Processors are amazing…and auto correct and spellcheckers are very helpful.  The result is that the number of stories written has increased dramatically.  Overall that is a good thing.  But it overwhelms the process of getting a story in print.  Perhaps that doesn’t matter.  The quantity of stories published has grown some, but not nearly to equal the sea of manuscripts that flow off the fingers of uncountable authors.  The readers have more choices…which is good.  Publishers, for the most part, no longer seek new material directly.  Literary agents have become the link between writers and their outlet.  Yet even literary agents, worth their salt, are overwhelmed by the volume. 

None of this should stop the writer from writing!  And publication has no place in the definition of the word writer.

Writers write because they have a need…to write!  They have a need to tell the kind of stories they tell.  To build something using the bricks called words, using the tools they have.  It’s simple.  A writer is a person who writes…he writes because he needs to write.  Circular logic, I know.

So how do I fit into all of this?  From a very young age I created stories.  Most lived only with in my mind.  A few were told to friends.  And on occasion one or another was written down.  But now it is a passion.  The stories are begging to find their life on the page.  Short stories, essays, and novels ooze ever so slowly out of clumsy fingers across the keyboard.  But I write.  My local newspaper prints one of my shorts nearly each month.  So in my bolder moments I can call myself published.  For five and a half years readers have found weekly additions to my blog.  I have a following…small perhaps but real.

You see I am a writer.  I commit time and money to this craft I use to tell my stories.  Now I must push harder at the next step, to find an outlet for Misty Creek.  One way or another Elizabeth Beck’s story will be told.  One way or another Misty Creek will be published.  I am convinced…but need to do the hard work to see it gets done…

Wish me well…