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Joseph E Bird

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the porch

Home. The theme of Katie’s writing challenge. I failed to get a new story for March. I tried, but it didn’t happen. I could tell you the reasons, but you don’t really care. Instead, here is something I wrote few years ago that fits the theme. Next month, something new.

She sits on the porch alone

as we drive by.

Stop on your way back.

Past the house,

we turn up the hill that’s almost too steep.

The trees reach out and touch the car.

as if to comfort, as if they know.

In the clearing, faded flowers lean

in front of slabs of stone,

forever marking the place

where we visit those

we can no longer visit.

Gospel music from across the hollow

filters through the trees.

Dusk is creeping closer.

Has it been that long already?

We leave because we must.

She sits on a swing

built by her husband’s father,

so many year ago.

We sit in rockers

and talk.

The porch is painted white,

the floor boards brick red.

Once-sharp edges are now round

from years of touch

by those who rest

on the hill above.

The swing creaks back and forth,

a soothing lullaby.

Nearby a bird calls in strong song.

Farther away, another answers.

Still another sings the song of

the solitary bird.

A frog croaks.

Just one, for now.

Others will follow later.

A cool breeze brings relief

from the hot, muggy day.

The serenity of the world

from the porch

is comforting.

All things of youth

are memories now.

He is gone.

Though there are friends,

though there is family,

she is alone.

She embraces the solitude.

I love this porch, she says.

In the mornings

on the swing

by myself.

I am blessed.

The Lord

brought him

to me.

And he brought me

to this house,

this porch.

And now,

though alone,

I am blessed.


copyright joseph e bird, 2016

it’s alright, ma

It’s alright, ma. I’m only bleeding.

And it’s running down my arm, dripping onto the dirty concrete, pooling like cherry jello next to the steps where I’m sitting, hoping someone has called for a wagon, but then I realize the closest ambulance sits idle at the hospital twenty miles away. It’s a long, deep cut and it’s all I can do to keep the pressure on.

Apologies to Dylan. He wrote that song, what, fifty years ago? Sixty, maybe?

Ma’s been gone a while.

Nothing good happens after midnight, she used to tell me. It’s 1:37 and all self-respecting people in this godforsaken town are fast asleep. Truth is, there’s not too many of them left.

There’s this photograph, a grainy black and white, probably taken about the same time Dylan wrote that song. I would have been about eight. Ma sitting at table with her sister-in-law, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. Looks like they had been working, or maybe getting ready to work. They all look tired. They’re all at rest now.

It seems to be slowing down a little. Maybe if knot my shirt around the cut. Kind of hard to do with just one arm, but if I can take one end with my teeth and pull tight. It’s cool out here but it was muggy in that closed-up building and I was starting to sweat before I went through the window so taking off my shirt feels pretty good. And there’s nobody around to see my soft, pasty flesh.

Ok. That’s better. But it’s hurting now. Not just stinging from the cut but real pain. The muscle’s been cut. I’m probably going to need surgery. I can’t stay on this stoop.

It’s alright, ma. I’m only bleeding.

Ma and her sister-in-law were young women with their glorious lives ahead of them. Later I would see the color photographs they were proud to show, their hair just right, their smiles beaming. But in this old black-and-white they looked tired. Just beat.

Kennedy was assassinated around that time. Then Martin Luther King. Then the other Kennedy. Death was all around. So when I came home one day after a nasty fall in the creek, blood streaming down my leg, ma looked at me like I was going to die.

It’s alright, ma. I’m only bleeding, I told her back then.

Dylan had nothing on me. If I could have just come up with the other existential verses and the complex rhythms and rhyming patterns and a hundred other songs I could have been another Dylan.

I’m walking now. Not to the hospital. I couldn’t do that under the best circumstances. And not home.

Just about every storefront I walk by is empty. More than a few with the glass busted out. So when Decker tossed me through the plate glass window of the old hardware store, it was kind of like if tree fell in the forest and nobody was there to hear it, would it still make a noise? If anybody heard, nobody would care. That’s how it is here.

And I can’t blame Decker. He had to do it.

I’ve always been an under-achiever. Ma had more faith in me than I deserved. Maybe it was just hope. My sisters were something else. Intelligent, outgoing. Honor roll. And my cousins, the kids of the sister-in-law in that photograph, they were the best at everything. And then there was me.

I don’t know. I tried. Sometimes. Most of the time I just didn’t care that much. Went to the university after high school but didn’t last a semester. Nothing good happens after midnight. But I had fun.

It’s alright, ma. I’m only bleeding.

He never even sings that line in the song but in my head he does and I’m singing it over and over because that’s the only line I know and the rest of the song is beyond my comprehension.

I haven’t had a drink in ten years. Not since Ma’s funeral. I don’t know if I was ever an alcoholic. I drank a lot, but never on the job. But there was a lot of stress and the drink softened the edges.

Been married twice. Neither marriage lasted long enough to build a family. First one was peer pressure. Everyone was getting married and it seemed like the reasonable thing to do, but we were way too young. Didn’t know who we were. Second marriage I blame to an out-of-control libido. And when the flame died down there was nothing else.

My dad died when I was thirty. Hardly ever see my sisters. They’ve lived out of state most of their lives. They’ve got family. And their families got families.

There’s a safe house about five miles away. Little cabin about a mile off the hard road back in the woods. I’ll stay there and call Decker in a couple of hours. Have him run me over the mountain before dawn.

I shouldn’t be doing this. Not at my age. I should be at a desk. There’s younger guys that could have taken the assignment. It didn’t have to be me. Didn’t have to be good old Joey.

But Joey, he’s got no kids. No grandkids. No wife. Not even a regular girl. Evenings are bad. Weekends worse. I got to find something to fill the time. And so here I am out here after midnight, when nothing good happens. Right, ma?

I had to talk the captain into letting me do it. He didn’t come right out and say what I already knew, that I’m too old to be chasing bad guys and getting thrown threw a window. He’s right.

But I’ve seen what the pills do. And if it was just killing the ones who used it, I might be ok with that. But I’ve seen the kids, the ones I never had, and they end up being raised by their grandma. Or maybe their great-grandma. And I think of that photograph. And I’m glad ma lived in simpler times and I’m glad that those ladies in that simple kitchen never had to see what things have come to. And maybe I can save a family. Maybe I can do some good.

So Decker’s the middle man. He sets up the meeting between the docs and pharmacist. That’s me. At least that’s my role. We talk to the docs and convince them that it’s all safe. They can write the scripts and I’ll fill them at the pharmacy, no questions asked. Then we get a some of our younger plain clothes to pose as patients and when the doc rights the scripts, we start building the case. They wear wires and everything. Once things are set up, we move on to the next county. It’s usually low risk with meet-ups in a diner or sometimes at the doc’s house. But his was different. Should have known better.

The docs are usually forty-something. Maybe they realized they’re never going to be the hot-shot surgeon they thought they’d be in med school. Maybe they see they’re not going to have that big house on the hill, or the condo in Florida, so they see the chance for easy money and what they felt was their destiny. Or maybe it’s just simple greed.

But Doc Varney was different. He’s in his seventies. Everyone in the county knows him and there’s a cloud of fear that overcomes folks when you talk about him. He’s been involved in the drug business since before the opiates took over. So he’s a prime target.

He wanted to meet after hours at the hardware building. Bad move by  me and Decker to agree to it. Should have been neutral turf. Supposed to meet at ten, but he called and put it off till midnight. Then one. Nothing good, I told Decker. Nothing good.

Varney shows up and he’s not alone. There’s another guy, body guard or some such thug. Varney’s probably around five-eight and his thumb-breaker, a neanderthal for sure, is maybe six-two and probably weights two-fifty, hair cut close to the scalp, belly puffed out beyond his windbreaker jacket. He looks at me. Eying me.

Decker’s talking to Varney, the usual patter. I hear my name mentioned. Joey will take care of everything he says. Plenty of money for everyone. And best of all, it’s legal. Well, that’s a lie. And if it was legal, it’s completely immoral. I see Varney smiling.

And then neanderthal pulls a gun. He points it at me.

He’s a cop, he says to Varney.

Decker looks surprised. No way, he says. He runs the pharmacy over in Herndon.

He was in the task force that took me and Gilley down, what was it Joey, six years ago?

Yeah, I’m thinking. He’s right. Six years ago.

You’re a cop? It’s Decker. He gives me a backhand across the chops.

We’re done, Varney says.

I’m not, neanderthal says. I’ve got unfinished business.

And both me and Decker know what’s coming.

Varney’s left the building and is sitting in his car. That’s when Decker takes me by the collar and heaves me through the window. I hear a gun shot and see a puff of concrete dust where the bullet hit beside me.

Varney yells something and the goon gets in with Varney and they take off. Decker does, too. He’s staying in character. Too much invested in all of this just to give it up. Besides, I just crashed through the window. How bad could it be?

It’s alright ma. I’m only bleeding.

Another mile and I’ll be off the hard road. Feeling tired and thirsty but there’s food and drink at the cabin. And a real bandage.

I don’t hear the car and it surprises me as it came around the curve. I try to step back into the edge of the woods but I’m too slow. The car throws gravel off the shoulder as the wheels lock up.

I reach for my Glock but I’m too late. He’s leaning out the window, firing. I take a shot in the shoulder, then my stomach, then my chest.

I’m on the ground, looking up at the stars. I can’t move. I hear the car throwing gravel again.

I can’t move. I’m gurgling blood. I know what that means.

It’s alright, ma. I’m only dying.


copyright 2021, joseph e bird


A couple of months ago, Katie, my friend in Virginia, issued a short story challenge for 2021. The theme is Home. This is my February contribution.

gumdrops in a glass bowl

I’ll be dead afore the ground thaws in spring. So be it and amen.

The house is full of people come to tell me goodbye. And I’m laying in bed, alone in this dark room. Oh, they been here, said their hellos and moved on to the kitchen, I reckon. I smell a roast or something. Doubt that Mom cooked anything. She can still do eggs in the morning and maybe some beans and cornbread of the evenings, but she can’t cook for a whole mess of people like has come here today. She ain’t that much better off than me. She ain’t my mom, you know. She’s my wife, my help meet, as the good book says. All these years.

I can hear them in the back room, too, watching that danged television. Football, football, football. Ever now and again they let out a whoop.

They didn’t have football in my day. Well, maybe they did, but it wasn’t like it is now. Sure fire didn’t have no television. They don’t live like we used to. Now days they watch other people live. We did things. Went out on the river. If I could get out this bed I’d take them down to my museum one last time. Show them that alligator I got down in the bayou. Got that on the second trip down the Mississippi. That was back when you made your own boats. Flat boats. No motors like they got now. Just float down the river with the current. We’d hunt all the way down and when we got to the bayou, we’d sell the boat and send our haul back by rail. Except on that second trip, the Eugene – that was the name of the boat – got caught up in the trees and rocks and such and sank in the shallows. We tried to pull it out but we lost ever thing. Saved just enough to get a train ride home.

Those were good days.

One of them rug rats came in. Red-haired kid. Cute little thing, wearing a girly white dress. She stayed out in the hall at first, peeking in through the doorway. I told her come on in. She stood next to the bed, didn’t say nothing.

What’s your name?

Sarah.

How old are you?

Five.

I’m ninety two.

She had nothing to say to that. Kind of tickled me.

Did you get you something to eat?

She nodded.

She looked around the room. The wallpaper had started peeling off the walls. Been that way for a while. Plaster on the ceiling is brown from water stains and ever few weeks a chunk will fall to the maple floor and Blanche or Hubert will come in and pick it up. If they’re feeling special industrious one of them might bring a broom and a dustpan. I think Hubert drinks. I know Blanche does. But they do enough round the house to keep me and Mom from doing harm to ourselves.

The house was built by my daddy. He was fairly well off and kept the place pretty good, but if I’m being honest, my hunting and trapping didn’t bring in enough money to keep up the house proper. I refinished the floors once. Probably fifty year ago. You can’t tell it now. Worn down to bare wood between the bed and the door. Hubert put tape on the cracked window glass. No sense in doing any more than that. My time is short and Mom will be close behind. When she’s gone, the power company will finish the job that time and mother nature started and take the house to the ground. I hate it that it has to end that way, but no one else cares much.

So be it and amen.

Is this your home?

The red-haired girl. Guess I drifted off. Happens like that when your last breath could come any time. Forgot she was in the room. I opened my eyes and took in a deep breath and let it go in a long, slow whistle.

She didn’t mean nothing bout the question, she just wanted to know if I was the one who lived in that shamble of a house. Just a rug rat asking a question. But I pondered on it a spell.

Home? Maybe once. When I could get around. I’d hunt, and Mom would cook up whatever I brought home. Pheasant. Squirrel. Turkey. Deer. We’d have a feast. And family would come in on Sundays. My regular family. Brothers and their kin. And we’d tell stories and plan our next trip. We’d share a bottle or two in those days and my brother Aaron would have too much and start to bragging about his shooting skills and before the day was out we’d be back behind the kitchen shooting bottles off the fence post.

We hadn’t used that cabin in the back as a kitchen for as long as I can remember. I used it to cure pelts. And tobacco, them few years I tried my hand at farming. Hard tell what’s back there now.

Yeah, honey. This is my home. For a spell longer, anyways.

It’s scary.

I laughed a little at that, which started me coughing and wheezing and I couldn’t stop. Blanche heard me and came in and pulled me up in the bed. Nearly pulled my shoulder out of its socket. She pulled my pillows up then pushed my head back down and flattened my hair to my head. She yanked the covers up over my shoulders, not even asking me if I was cold. She sure treats an old man rough.

Red stood there watching and Blanche gave her the stink eye, and when Blanche headed for the door, I managed to give Red a wink.

She kindly smiled.

Don’t get old, honey.

Ok.

I laughed again but seems my coughing spell was over.

I used to keep gumdrops in a glass bowl on my nightstand but the jar was empty. Sugar stuck to the sides of the bowl. On the dresser is a picture of Mom, all young and pretty in her red dress, cepting the picture is black and white. Maybe more brown. But I remember that dress. Beside her picture is one of my daddy. Not as mean as he looks. He was a good man. Died when he was forty-two. Consumption.

Top drawer.

She looked at me, not getting my meaning. I reached for my cane. Always keep my cane with me, even in bed. I picked it up, the worn oak so familiar in my hands. Oak maybe as old as me. I told Mom to make sure they put it in the ground with me.

I picked it up, held it up to my eye like I was sighting a rifle, and aimed at the dresser.

Top drawer.

She knew what I meant but she wasn’t sure.

Go on.

She walked to the dresser.

Open it up.

It stuck at first but she gave it a strong pull and it squeaked as it opened.

She looked inside, then back at me.

Look under the handkerchiefs.

She pulled them back.

The wood box. Bring it to me.

I thought she would hesitate but she didn’t. She picked up the box and walked straightway to me.  She stood next to the bed and held the box out.

I took it and she stared at my hands, gnarled and bent out of shape by age and ever thing I had done in my life. Can’t remember how many times I broke one of my fingers. Life on the flat boat ain’t for the faint. And when you skin an animal, you’re just as likely to skin yourself. Then there’s my fingernails. Blanche aint’ cut them in a while.

I gave Red a smile and a wink and she smiled back.

I lifted the lid, half expecting the box to be empty. Figured Hubert would have found the box by now. Maybe he had. Wasn’t really worth that much. Ten dollars. Ten silver dollars.

I picked up a few and hefted them in my hand. I love the way silver dollars clink against each other. Kind of heavy and muted. Makes you feel like you have something worthwhile.

I looked through them, trying to find the newest, shiniest dollar. Not that they were new. Like ever thing else in this old house, they were at least fifty years old. But I found one in pretty good shape. I picked it out from the others and held it up, letting the dim light through the cracked window do what it could to show its shine. Not much.

Here.

I held it out to Red.

She took it, stared at it.

It’s a silver dollar. It’s only worth a dollar.

She nodded.

I want you to keep it. Something to remember old Sid by. Will you keep it?

She nodded again.

Don’t lose it.

She closed her hand around the coin and put her hand in one of the pockets of her dress. I closed the lid on the box and closed my eyes.

When I woke again it was dark. The house was quiet. I could hear Blanche and Hubert in the kitchen talking to Mom. Couldn’t tell what they were saying. Making plans, I reckon. I’ll be gone soon. It’s only right.

So be it and amen.


There’s no way he knew what he gave me back then. It was just a dollar. They don’t make money like that anymore. It’s different. It’s real. Like Sid.

I didn’t know him. Barely even remember that time in his room, in that old house. But when I see the pictures, like the one with his birthday cake, it all comes back. The fading wallpaper. The crumbling plaster. The smells. The old gas furnace with fumes not quite burned. The mildew coming from the wood just beginning to rot inside the house and far enough along on the front porch that bumble bees and yellow jackets had taken over.

Sometimes I have dreams that I’m back in that house that seems to ramble on forever and I’m lost upstairs or in a room I didn’t know existed or trapped in the kitchen out back. It’s terrifying.

My kids are grown with families of their own but when they were growing up I told them about Sid. Showed them the pictures. I’ve even taken them to what’s left of the museum in Point Pleasnt. The kitchen was restored and moved to wide spot beside the highway. Every fall – football, football, football – they open it to the public and make apple butter. I’m sure Mom made apple butter for Sid.

It was an 1884 Morgan Silver Dollar. S series. Last time I had it appraised it was worth about $200,000. He had no way of knowing how valuable it would become. Just a shiny coin for little girl.

I keep it in a box in the top drawer of my dresser, under my scarves. I know I should put it in the safe deposit box. That would be the prudent thing to do. But I like to take it out and hold it, feel its heft. There’s more to life than money.

Sid knew that. Sid lived it.

The house – his home – is long gone. Hard to even see where it used to be. Doesn’t matter. Because I remember the kindness a gentle man showed to a small child so long ago.

So be it and amen.


copyright 2021, joseph e bird


Author’s Notes:

A couple of weeks ago, Katie, my friend in Virginia, issued a short story challenge for 2021. The theme is Home. So here we go.

This story is a work of fiction, though certain aspects are true. Albert Sidney Morgan lived a life of adventure and did indeed built flatboats, including the Eugene, and floated down the Mississippi on hunting expeditions. He lived across from the John Amos power plant near Winfield and some of you may remember his Morgan’s Museum. In his last years, there was in fact a gathering at his house and Sid was bed-ridden, but I don’t know if he was in his last days, as he is in this story. The guests were watching football, and Sid did utter the immortal words, “football, football, football.” Some of you can relate. I don’t know that there was ever any drinking at the house. Maybe, maybe not. I’m claiming artistic license on that. The red-haired girl in the story is my sister, but the encounter described never happened. She doesn’t have a silver dollar worth hundreds of thousands. Really, she doesn’t. So while some of the characters are real, the story is fiction.

Here are some of my memories of the old home place.

the good father

A couple of years ago Larry Ellis made a comment about his father and my father, two men of the same generation, quiet heroes, who without fanfare or drama worked to provide for their families. Larry’s father has since passed; I’m fortunate that my father will join us for a father’s day pizza later today. There will be the Father’s Day card and yes, yet another shirt (sorry to spoil the surprise, but after 90 years, I think the chance of surprise is pretty slim). I wrote the following tribute shortly after Larry’s comment. I’ve published it before, and probably will again.


Most are not leaders of nations.
Most are not creators of wealth.
Most are not icons of sports or entertainment.
Their names will not be written in the annals of history.

But without them, we would be nothing.

Their fathers worked with pride as pipe-fitters and welders and electricians.
Their fathers mined coal and dug ditches and toiled with dignity.
They did what was necessary to provide food and shelter and clothes.
They did what was necessary to provide hope for a better tomorrow.

Tomorrow came, and it was better,
and the sons and daughters of the fathers went to school
and became teachers and writers and lawyers and engineers.
They became fathers and mothers themselves
and likewise provided for their families.

They did all of this
without the need for attention,
without the need for adulation,
without the need for self-aggrandizement.

Fathers persevere and sacrifice.
They do what needs to be done.
They are good and honorable.

No, not all fathers.
Some abandon.
Some abuse.
Some give up.

It’s not about gender roles.
Sometimes the mother is the father.
Sometimes she is both.

It’s not about being the breadwinner.
It’s about being strong for the family.
It’s about providing direction to those who wander
and encouragement to those who strive.

Now they rest,
their work less strenuous,
their lives less demanding,
and they sit quietly,
content to let others lead.

They have lived simply.
They have lived nobly.
They have given their all.
They are fathers.


copyright 2019, joseph e bird

dreams of the past

The photo is a basement shoebox relic.  It’s old.  It’s bent and cracked. No Photoshop effects, here. Just a snapshot.

The subjects are familiar faces, but the photo was taken probably more than sixty years ago, before I really knew them. Maybe before I was born. Even in the older women there is youth I never saw in later years. From left to right, my Aunt Shirley; my grandmother Bettie Pearl, who I knew as Mom; my great-grandmother Tida, who we called Tidy; and my mother, Gloria, who looks to be with child.

The place, I believe, is my great-grandmother’s kitchen. If I had to guess, I would say it was breakfast.  There’s the coffee pot and toaster.  But I can’t imagine them gathering so early just for breakfast. Maybe lunch, which they called dinner.  Dinner would have included fried potatoes and tomatoes from the garden. Supper was the evening meal.  There would have been men in the picture by then.

There’s tension evident in the photograph.  Not a one could manage a smile, which is very unusual for my mother and Aunt Shirley, especially in front of a camera.  There’s a weariness, too.  Maybe they had been working.  Maybe canning tomatoes or beans.

They were all different.

My mother was the free spirit, enjoying every moment.

My aunt was sophistication personified, full of grace and elegance.

My grandmother, hardworking and kind, ready to share with everyone.

My great-grandmother, the strong, independent woman living by herself.

Maybe that was the source of the tension. Around the table love and respect, yet each one not quite understanding the other.  One dreams of this, another of that. And dreams, what are they for, anyway? another may think.  And Tidy, who has already seen enough heartbreak for all of them, keeps it to herself.

I’ll never know. They’re all gone now.  Not that any of them would give me a straight answer anyway.

I think that’ s the wonder of old photographs.  They tell a story, but never the entire story. A moment frozen in time that forces us to think about those who have gone on, to see if we can fill in the blanks. It forces us to remember them as they were, beyond the smiles and laughter. It forces us to remember who they really were.

altered reality

I’ve got a restraining order against me.

Ain’t that a hoot.

So I can’t go home.  But it’s not bad here.

There’s a bird feeder outside my window.  I’ve got a television that sets on my dresser.  I’ve got cable, so that’s good.  Not that there’s much to watch during the day.

There’s a little refrigerator in my room so I don’t have to walk down to the dining room room when I need a drink.  Non-alcoholic, of course.  It’s been years since I had that kind of drink.

It’s just the one room. Not counting the bathroom, complete with all the grab bars.  Like I’m set up to do gymnastics or something.  Not at my age.  And the cord to pull in case I can’t get off the can.  I don’t need that, but they have this place set up for old people who can’t get around.

I’ve been here a couple of weeks.  I think.  Maybe longer.  I have it written down in a notebook I keep.  Let me look.

No.  That can’t be right.  That would be almost a year.  I must have written the date down wrong.  Couple of weeks.  Three, at the most.

My wife never comes around.  She’s the one who got the restraining order.  Says I came home a couple of weeks ago and tore up the house.  Maybe I did.  After I caught her running around, you wouldn’t blame me, would you?  She’s been doing that for years.  Even before she got sick.  Then she was laid up in the hospital and she started in with one of the doctors.  I tried not to say anything until she got better.

The food’s pretty good here.  Sometimes I sleep in past breakfast.  They don’t like you to eat in your room unless you’re bad off.  If you do that too much, they’ll move you over to the other building, so I get out as much as I can.

I used to carry on myself, if I’m being honest.  I was in sales.  I’d go to these out-of-town conventions and there wasn’t much to do when the day was over so we’d go down to the honky-tonks. Well, you know what happens there.  Everybody did it.  Doesn’t make it right, but everybody did it.

But I felt bad about it.  I tried to keep it from Bea, but after a while the guilt just felt like an anchor pulling me under water, deeper and deeper.  So I told her all about it. I figured she’d throw me out and I know she thought about it, but I started going to church with her and after a while, things just kind of smoothed out.  Truth is, I don’t think she ever got over it.

Everything’s upside down now. Out anniversary is next week. Fifty some years. Not that it matters.  She won’t care.  I want to try to talk some sense into her.  We’re both wrong,  All kinds of wrong.  Wish we could get it worked out.

She hasn’t been here in a few weeks.  I’ve got it here written down.  Somewhere.  Can’t find it right off.  It’s somewhere.

No.  Wait.  Yeah.  That’s right.  She’s never been here.  Never will be.

She’s been gone four years now.

I wish we could have got things straight.


copyright 2020, joseph e bird

fathers

Most are not leaders of nations.
Most are not creators of wealth.
Most are not icons of sports or entertainment.
Their names will not be written in the annals of history.

But without them, we would be nothing.

Their fathers worked with pride as pipe-fitters and welders and electricians.
Their fathers mined coal and dug ditches and toiled with dignity.
They did what was necessary to provide food and shelter and clothes.
They did what was necessary to provide hope for a better tomorrow.

Tomorrow came, and it was better,
and the sons and daughters of the fathers went to school
and became teachers and writers and lawyers and engineers.
They became fathers and mothers themselves
and likewise provided for their families.

They did all of this
without the need for attention,
without the need for adulation,
without the need for self-aggrandizement.

Fathers persevere and sacrifice.
They do what needs to be done.
They are good and honorable.

No, not all fathers.
Some abandon.
Some abuse.
Some give up.

It’s not about gender roles.
Sometimes the mother is the father.
Sometimes she is both.

It’s not about being the breadwinner.
It’s about being strong for the family.
It’s about providing direction to those who wander
and encouragement to those who strive.

Now they rest,
their work less strenuous,
their lives less demanding,
and they sit quietly,
content to let others lead.

They have lived simply.
They have lived nobly.
They have given their all.
They are fathers.


copyright 2019, joseph e bird

gone

IN THE LATE 1860s, a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers began. In 1868, General John Logan formalized the tradition by declaring May 30 as Decoration Day.  Decoration Day gradually become known as Memorial Day, and after World War I, Memorial Day began to commemorate soldiers who had died in any war. In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, and in 1971, Memorial Day was established as the last Monday in May. 

Although the emphasis of Memorial Day is still to honor those who died in service to their country, graves of all loved ones are now traditionally decorated on Memorial Day.

It’s an old man’s game. You seldom see anyone under 50 in the cemetery cleaning the headstones, replacing old, faded flowers with fresh ones. Our loved ones aren’t there anyway. We know that. But we’ll honor them as long as we can, until strangers come along and take photographs and wonder who they were.

Alfred J. Snyder. He was 90.
Lundy Harless Widner. Served in three wars. Died at 54, three years after the war in Vietnam ended.
You can imagine the heartbreak.
To boldly go…
“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”
Helen Keller

choices

1950s movie starlet at home for the Christmas holidays.

Could have been. She had those classic movie-star looks. She always wanted to be “discovered.” But her choice was her family. She was a stay-at-home mom. That’s what most mothers did back then. So maybe life in the limelight was not her destiny. In some ways it was a sacrifice. Still, it was her choice. Her calling was hard, sometimes wearisome, and largely unglamorous. But it was also noble and virtuous and rewarding in immeasurable ways.

She was my mother.

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”


photo credit: Eugene A. Bird

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