Tag Archives: memories

The Fan

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THE FAN (a free verse poem by Al Sturgeon)

The memory arrived unprompted as a tender gift.

I had been sunburned yet again.

It was night as I lay in bed, miserable,

motionless, and cursing myself

for an apparent inability to learn a lesson.

 

I was a teenager, alone in that tiny bedroom,

alone with my restless imagination, naked

as a modest kid in a modest family could get

to ease the pain, limbs sprayed like a

hopeless summer attempt at a snow angel.

 

My mother had tried her best to provide

some lotion as a remedy but to no avail.

I would simply be miserable until I wasn’t;

there was nothing more to do but listen to

the silent sound of time passing.

 

But squeezed into the corner was an oscillating fan.

It stood watch through the night, keeping me company,

marking time with its fluttering whir, rhythmically sending

a breeze both soothing and not across my blistered skin—

a welcomed sensation in solitary confinement.

 

The rhythm led to a mindless world of nothingness.

No thought of the terrible fate of dressing in the morning.

No self-loathing. Just staring into dark eyelids with

my sweet parents next door; at peace, listening, awaiting

the consistent and predictable relief from the oscillating fan.

 

The memory arrived out of nowhere.

For a brief moment I was a kid again

with a mom and a dad who would answer

if I simply called their names. It was so real

that I could hear the whirring fan and feel the gentle breeze.

 

 

 

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Birthday Trips

IMG_0199Last night I attended the iHeartRadio Music Awards at The Forum in Inglewood with my oldest daughter, Erica. The celebrity-studded awards show featured mega-stars like Bon Jovi, Eminem, Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, Maroon 5, Camila Cabello, Charlie Puth, and N.E.R.D. Surprisingly, I had heard of a couple of them prior to last evening. And maybe not surprisingly, me and Jon Bon Jovi aren’t teenagers anymore.

This was my annual birthday trip with Erica. Seventeen years ago I had a bright idea to celebrate Erica’s fourteenth birthday with a surprise father-daughter date instead of purchasing a material gift, which immediately became our annual tradition. That inaugural trip included a trip to the House of Blues in New Orleans for an O-Town concert, a boy band that emerged from the reality show, Making the Band. What would motivate me to take my daughter to a boy band concert and spend the evening in an audience filled with screaming teenage girls? The answer is love. Weird, inexplicable, father-daughter love.

My youngest daughter, Hillary, was a preschooler back then, but it didn’t take her long to ask when I would start taking her on special father-daughter birthday trips. So that tradition started, too. Over the years I have taken my daughters on all sorts of secret adventures in a total of thirteen states that have included road trips, sporting events, fancy dinners, museums, theater performances, celebrity stalking, theme parks, cultural experiences, concerts, television events, and now, even an awards show (see the crazy list below).

I guess I could start buying them gifts instead. But they might not let me. And I wouldn’t let me either. Making a memory together is a far better choice than purchasing a present. Trust me.

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Birthday trips:

Erica:
#14: House of Blues in New Orleans (O-Town concert)
#15: MLS soccer in Dallas, Texas (stalking Landon Donovan)
#16: Spring training baseball in Orlando, Florida
#17: NBA basketball in New Orleans (to watch LeBron in his rookie year)
#18: French Quarter Haunted Tour in New Orleans
#19: Championship tennis in Miami, Florida (to watch Maria Sharapova)
#20: Dinner at Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi, Mississippi
#21: Dinner at the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi
#22: Wicked at the Pantages in Hollywood
#23: Driving across country on Route 66
#24: Jimmy Kimmel Live in Hollywood
#25: A tourist weekend in San Francisco
#26: Grammy Museum in Downtown Los Angeles
#27: Pepperdine Associates Dinner in Downtown Los Angeles
#28: NHL Anaheim Ducks game
#29: Horse racing at Santa Anita Race Track
#30: LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles
#31: iHeartRadio Music Awards in Inglewood

Hillary:
#6: Lynn Meadows, Marine Life Aquarium, and Chuck E. Cheese in Gulfport, Mississippi
#7: Exploreum in Mobile, Alabama
#8: Jazzland Theme Park in New Orleans
#9: St. Louis Cardinals baseball game at the brand new Busch Stadium
#10: Horse-drawn carriage ride in the French Quarter of New Orleans (followed by a Fantastic 4 movie)
#11: National Civil Rights Museum and a Redbirds game in Memphis, Tennessee
#12: Warner Brothers Tour in Burbank, California
#13: Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? (television screening) in Burbank, California
#14: House of Blues in Anaheim, California (Natasha Bedingfield & Andy Grammer concert)
#15: Hairspray screening in Hollywood Forever Cemetery
#16: A tourist weekend in San Francisco
#17: Pepperdine Associates Dinner in Downtown Los Angeles
#18: Space Needle and more in Seattle, Washington
#19: Seattle Seahawks game
#20: Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Christmas PictureThere is much on my mind this Christmas Day, including the great joy to have my little family together and the deep sorrow for friends experiencing great loss, and my best response is to share three short poems from Howard Thurman’s “The Mood of Christmas” — a unity in trinity:

Christmas Is Yesterday:
The memories of childhood,
The miracle of Santa Claus,
The singing of carols —
The glow of being remembered.

Christmas Is Today:
The presence of absent ones,
The reminder of the generous act,
The need to love —
The need to be loved.

Christmas Is Tomorrow:
The miracle of faith,
The fulfillment of ancient hopes,
The reign of God —
The dying of Death in the land.

Christmas is yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Home Run

25010686_659397667781726_6878480645274730496_nWe crossed the Mississippi River bridge in Memphis in the rental car, ironically a Malibu, and remembered what the Arkansas Delta looks like in early winter. Many of the trees had long ago shed their leaves leaving cold bare branches that reach toward the sky, and those still holding leaves that had only recently been brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges had faded to the color of rust and stood clustered together for warmth next to the brown dirt of the silent farmland. The winter sun was setting, and it looked as if someone had plastic-wrapped the entire pastel sky. It isn’t your typical picture of natural beauty, but I now find it strangely wonderful.

It was good to spend time in my hometown. Seeing family and old friends was special as expected, but there was something special about just being there, too. I don’t miss temperatures in the upper twenties even a little bit, but it was even refreshing to remember what home felt like on my skin once upon a time. I went for a seven-mile run one morning that gave me a good long time to remember.

My wife and I went for a drive one afternoon to remember more. We drove by her first workplace and the places we lived together and even Joel and Alicia’s apartment where we spent many an evening in the early days of our relationship sitting on the couch and talking and falling in love.

And then we drove to the grave sites of my sweet parents. I used to make a point to do this alone on each visit home to talk to them; first, my dad, who died so long ago, and then more recently to both of them, sort of like I would go to their bedroom seeking comfort following a childhood nightmare in the middle of the night—comforting even when I couldn’t see their faces. But this time I went with my beautiful wife. We walked across the crunchy leaves under a cold sun and stood there as a couple — as my parents were a couple once upon a memory. There was nothing really to do other than stare at the flowers and the name plates and silently wonder where the years go and what to think about it. It was good to stand there together, like my parents who also made the choice in life to stand together. And who now Rest In Peace together.

I developed a strong sense that someone has pressed pretty hard on life’s accelerator and that the years are really starting to fly by now. It may sound a little spooky to say such a thing, but strangely enough I find it to be a most peaceful feeling. Life is quite the ride, and fear now seems like such a waste of precious time.

I think my parents are telling me this as I still stand by their bedside in the darkness.

Waves of Memories

PepperdineUMemSunriseFlags1jpg-3376683_p9Our youngest daughter started middle school when we moved from Mississippi to Malibu in 2008 and needed certain shots to enroll in school, (make up your own jokes friends from Mississippi and California, but be nice!) so we went to a local urgent-care facility and waited. There in the waiting room I met a super-friendly Pepperdine student who was the incoming president of the College Republicans at Seaver College. He excitedly shared with me his plan to place a large American flag on the magnificent front lawn of Pepperdine University for every life lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He said it was going to be awesome. I was impressed by both his initiative and enthusiasm.

He delivered. The display was such a success that Pepperdine immediately latched on to the idea, and this year marks the tenth consecutive year for the breathtaking “waves of flags” display. 

Walking among the flags is an experience in and of itself, not to mention a photographer’s dream in the Age of Instagram, but my favorite thing to do is to watch the first responders and the veterans park their fire trucks and motorcycles on the iconic Pacific Coast Highway and walk up the hill to take in the experience.  They are far more inspiring to watch than the flags themselves.

In the early years, someone had the proper idea to place flags of other nations among the American flags to represent the correct nationalities of the victims of the attacks on that fateful day. After all, the attacks were acts of aggression against the entire world. International students and guests to campus are happy to find their flag and yet sobered by the reminder of the loss that flag represents. 

We still remember that terrible day. In a year or two, incoming college students will remind us that they were not alive in the fall of 2001, but as of today the flags are still flying and those of us who remember still share our stories. 

President Abraham Lincoln predicted that the world would soon forget what he said that historic Thursday afternoon in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but elementary school children still memorize his speech over 150 years later. Some things are simply unforgettable.

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Life Soundtrack

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The Teragram Ballroom is an intimate concert venue a little off the beaten path in downtown Los Angeles that holds around six hundred people. My wife and I tracked it down Thursday night to see Princess, a Prince cover band, since my wife is a huge Prince fan (and since our friend, Karl, told me about the concert just in time for Mother’s Day shopping).

We arrived early, partly because that is a sickness of mine and partly to combat the oppressive Los Angeles traffic. We entered the venue ninety minutes before showtime only to discover that there is no seating in the Teragram Ballroom, so we found a spot at the edge of the stage and began our standing marathon.

It was worth it.  It was such a fun show.  Princess consists of Maya Rudolph of Saturday Night Live fame and Gretchen Lieberum, a singer-songwriter college friend of hers, so it was part great music and part hilarious. That Rudolph’s fellow SNL actor, Fred Armisen, unexpectedly was part of the band made it even better.

I don’t go to many concerts but happened to attend a couple lately and both were trips down memory lane. Both U2 and Prince music apparently produce large class reunions from the 1980s. I did not see kiosks for treating baldness, midlife crises, or fading eyesight at either concert, but those seem like missed opportunities.

What I did see were people reconnecting with thoughts and emotions from over thirty years ago that were important early chapters in what has now become life stories.  I was not immune.  I surely did not know what I was looking for in high school, but reconnecting with that U2 song made me consider how I have handled the journey in the intervening years. And I didn’t really go crazy in high school, but reconnecting with that Prince song made me reflect on whether I have made good use of this fleeting life since I first sang that fleeting life anthem along with him in 1984.

It was fitting that Maya Rudolph and her college buddy were on stage Thursday night.  They are us, the children of the 1980s, and we are all together at this interesting stage of life.  In this time of life reflection, it is a general rule that regrets and disappointment show up to say hello. So if I can call for one more class meeting, I simply have one question for my fellow students: Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?  

I choose to punch a higher floor and start looking up.

A Passing Truck

17933944_1332678760146276_5840434144147931136_n(1)It was just a truck.

I was pumping gas at the Shell station next to the lively Pacific Coast Highway last Friday when I just happened to see a white pickup truck pass by sporting a black bed cover. It was nothing special, but it produced a memory from over a quarter century ago.

At the time I was in college a good five-hour drive away from home, and my meager possessions did not all fit in a regular truck cabin. A bed cover just made sense given the space challenge and the unpredictable Arkansas weather. We couldn’t afford anything fancy, so my dad bought some wood and some black, weather-resistant astroturf, made careful measurements and some posts to fit the corners, and before long my truck bed was in the dry.

It was just a passing truck, but it reminded me.

I loved that old truck: A maroon, stepside, 1989 GMC Sierra 1500 with a short wheelbase and a big ol’ 350 engine that made it fun to pass cars and tractors and chicken-hauling trailers on those long drives across the Arkansas hills. It wasn’t my first vehicle, but it was the first one that I was proud to call my own, and although it was out of my family’s price range, I’m pretty sure my dad wanted me to have it. He sacrificed a lot for me.

I know it was just a truck, but it was where I first kissed Jody and later (but not much) where I asked her to marry me. When we decided to buy our first house, we sold that truck to afford the down payment, not long before that sweet dad of mine died.

It was just a passing truck, I guess, but it caused me to remember another truck that represents home and the love that shapes your life, so it made me smile.

Special Memories

familyMy parents’ birthdays are two days apart in early December.  Well, technically, sixteen years and two days apart.  My dad turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s but enlisted alongside thousands of other Americans when Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after his twenty-first birthday.  Meanwhile, my mom celebrated her fifth birthday in the Arkansas hills the day after the attack.  While my dad headed off to the Pacific Theater to defend America’s freedom, my mom was a little girl having her freedom defended.

This week, were they both living, my dad would celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and my mom would celebrate her eightieth.  Ninety-six and eighty are just numbers, but they are hard-to-believe numbers.  Where does the time go?

The last time I saw my dad alive he was in a hospital bed facing a wall in the fetal position and fighting the pain.  The last time I saw my mom alive she was weak and yellow and exhausted sitting in a lift chair in my sister’s living room.  When you go to check out of this life, the checkout counter is just awful.

But that’s not what I remember on special days like birthdays.  What comes to mind are happy and healthy times—and smiles.  Like the only time I remember being angry at my dad when he couldn’t suppress laughter after a bird pooped on my head.  Or my mom’s beaming face when she had the opportunities to spend time with my sweet daughters.  That’s what I will remember this week.  The smiling people who gave me an enjoyable life.

These milestone days come and go, which must explain the shocking numbers.  My sisters and I will text each other in sacred commemoration on December 6 and December 8.  I may or may not mention either day out loud to my wife or others.  But I always notice, and always remember, and never know exactly what else to do.

I do have an idea this year.  This year, I think I’ll plug in the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas CD that I kept from my mother’s things and close my eyes and be transported to another world.  I’ll picture being a kid again in that tiny house on West Mueller Street.  Mom and Dad are both there in the living room with me.  The stove is glowing orange because it is cold and snowing outside.  I can see it out the picture window when I squeeze around the Christmas tree.

I’m going to listen to that Bing Crosby sing about Christmas and travel away to that special world of memories.  And in particular I will smile when his distinctive baritone voice delivers the signature lines from that old World War Two classic, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

Summer of Twelve

SUMMER OF TWELVE

I hear tell we had another presidential election and that
London town hosted the Olympic Games,
But everything is hazy since that was
The summer my mother died.

Four years ago today.

Her traitorous liver transfigured her to a dark yellow
And took our sweet mother away from us.
“At least she didn’t have to suffer long” we said
To comfort ourselves.  To no avail.

Four years ago today.

I used to visit her office and unload my troubles as she
Patiently listened to my busy mind analyze the complexities of life.
I now suspect that she marveled and thought:
How did I make this strange man?  I wish she wouldn’t have left us

Four years ago today.

When she knew she was not long for this world she asked me to say
Words at her funeral.  I didn’t want to, but did, and made a
Blubbering fool of myself.  I’d do it again.  I’d do anything for her.
Even write an impromptu poem remembering what happened

Four years ago today.

– Al Sturgeon, Summer of ‘16

This Old House

I realize that “old” is a state of mind and not a specific age.  I also realize that old is often my state of mind.  Some circumstances are less than helpful.  My parents are gone.  My sisters are grandparents.  My children are adults.  My hair color is Caucasian, and my beard is gray.  I am blind in one eye and increasingly cannot see out of the other.  I thought Pokemon GO was a statement granting a Jamaican proctologist permission to proceed.

But contrary to popular opinion, old isn’t necessarily bad.

If all went as planned, this post will publish as I fly back to California after a family visit in Arkansas.  It had been a couple of years since I visited, and it was good to go “home” for a few days, even though Arkansas has not really been home for nearly two decades.  On these increasingly sporadic trips, I always make a point to see the little place on West Mueller Street that I called home for the first couple of decades of my life.  My parents rented the tiny house for sixty dollars a month until I was in high school, and I still remember the day that the landlord increased the rent to ninety and my dad went apoplectic.  He took it as a personal insult given the thoughtful care he donated to the place.

The little house went downhill after the Sturgeon family moved out sometime around 1990, and it always made me sad to see its deteriorating condition.  An overgrown yard.  Broken down cars.  Peeling siding.  In particular, I would always look to see if the basketball goal my dad mounted on the roof of the garage was still there, and amazingly, year after year, it held on.  A couple of years ago, it appeared to be holding on by a thread, dangling from the plywood backboard looking more like a lone gymnastic ring than a basketball goal, but it was still there.

I won many dramatic NCAA and NBA championships on that goal, and I couldn’t tell you how many beautiful cheerleaders fell in love with me in my imagination given my astounding heroic feats on that cracked, cement driveway.  My dad often sat on the porch silently just watching me play.

Well, it finally happened.  The goal is gone now after a good run of forty years or so.  And it made me feel a little older.

But you know, in a sense, even without that old basketball hoop, I still feel like my dad is sitting on the porch watching me, and that provides great comfort.  And, in another sense, I get to take his place on the porch and watch my children live out their dreams in this life, and since he was my first hero, taking his seat is a pretty great thing to do.

Yes, contrary to popular opinion, old isn’t necessarily bad.