September 04, 2017

Door #88






















When I first posted the simple poem below it was immediately mis-interpreted. Within minutes I began seeing congratulatory comments about retiring. I was quickly reminded of how careful we must be with our words. I am not retiring. I don't want to retire. I do not like the word retire. In fact my plan is to work myself into the ground at a ripe old age. This piece in fact, is about fighting back. It's about standing your ground and yelling at the top of your lungs when you feel someone pushing you from behind.

One of the centerpieces of my book shelf is, "Working," a book written by author Studs Terkel in 1974. "Working" is a collection of interviews with the working men and women of our country. Armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder he would interview people from all walks of life trying to reveal how, "ordinary people" feel about their working lives. Since he's not here to interview me I guess I'll speak my piece on my own. 

Ironically 1974 is the year my wife and I were married and the year I began my "working career." The days of spending my summer job money on dirt bikes and Converse All-Stars was over. Raising a family with a high school education involves dedication and commitment. When you add in two sons it involves long hours and seven day work weeks; none of which I would trade for the world. 

Work to me is a privilege. There are millions of people in thousands of countries all over the world, including our own, who would give their right arm for a steady job. I've always had one or two. I see that as a gift, not something I want to toss to the curb. Retirement is not entitlement. To do something so hard for so long, so you don't have to do something, doesn’t work in my head. If you've spent a lifetime doing something you didn't enjoy I feel sorry for you. I have spent a lifetime collecting side splitting work anecdotes, all of which I cherish like a wad of $100 bills. The more I write this piece the more passionate I become about it. Hundreds and hundreds of unforgettable characters have crossed my path during my forty-three years of working. I can't express the joy I get out of knowing I carry a sliver of memory about all of them with me every day. 

Who built the seven towers of Thebes?
The books are filled with the names of kings.
Was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?…
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished 
Where did the masons go?… 
—Bertolt Brecht


I’ve always considered myself the most average man in America. Average height, average intelligence, average life. I see that as the greatest gift you could imagine. If I was above average I would have more to worry about losing. If I was below average I would always be searching for something greater. I feel like I enjoy the best of both worlds. I can strive for more but if I am happy living in the middle of the field why not enjoy the view in all four directions. Work keeps me honest. It helps me better appreciate what I have, while showing more compassion for those who are simply trying to poke their heads above water. Unless I’m broken I need a reason to set my alarm every night. I kid about being a shit-fixer at work. There is an army of us. If I didn’t have shit to fix I’d probably go stark raving mad. Yes, there’s plenty of shit fixing to do at home but the pay is much lower. And, sometimes at home I break more shit than I fix. 

I hope this short disclaimer helped to clear up any misunderstanding about me retiring. It’s not happening. When I’m ready I’ll be sure to let someone know.  

Retirement? 

Not yet.

Right now, I just want to know what time to set my alarm for?  


---------------------------------------------

Door #88

By John R. Greenwood

feeling out of place can happen to anyone
it creeps up on you without warning

a fiberglass cow loses its way
a barn, a pasture, a warehouse loading dock

take her to the fair and celebrity kicks in
I, on the other hand, lost at sea

retirement, a word I hate, stalks me
relevancy, a word I chase, eludes me

the next phase is a mine-field
avoidance prolongs the implosion

the scent of impending doom 
spreads a damp fog above

my scrappiness, like a Trump lie
doubles down, ready to start kicking and screaming 





August 17, 2017

Moving Adventure

Moving Adventure 
By John R. Greenwood


The Play Set's New Home! 
My cell phone buzzed Friday afternoon around three o'clock. It was my son Kevin. 

"Hey"

"Hey" 

This is the way conversations between men begin these days. 

"Where are you?" 

When sons throw this one out at you right off the bat, listening to the tone of their voice is paramount. In this case it was more--I need an extra set of hands--versus I just ran off the road. Voice tone recognition is an acquired skill when you raise two sons. In this case I sensed a tone of immediacy and crossed fingers. 

"I'm sitting in the supermarket parking lot. Your mother just ran in to grab something. Why, what's up?" 

"I'm trying to get a crew together." 

Gulp, this sounds like more than, I need a hand moving the fridge.

"I bought a used swing set from a lady but I have to take it apart and move it" 


SuperFriend Jim and his life-saving equipment
Swing sets today aren't like the simple four-legged, two seater's I remember in other people's yards. Today's backyard play sets are more massive than the ones you used to find at the school playground. They come equipped with rock climbing walls and monkey bars, tree forts above and sandboxes below. Some cost more than my first car. For the son with three boys between the ages of four years and four months, a backyard play extravaganza could be considered a true necessity. Even though I had the day off and had planned to make some headway on my home repair list I knew this was one of those times when you respond with an immediate, "I'm in". Within the hour "The Crew" and their equipment were pulling up in front of the homeowners property like we were about to begin filming an episode of Extreme Makeover. Minutes later we had accessed the backyard by removing two sections of stockade fence. This allowed us to back right up to the play set. Then like a swat team we began unbolting and disassembling. Because the set was only two years old the hardware was in relatively good shape and everything came apart easily. Less than 45 minutes later three friends and one grandfather had everything apart and safely strapped to a trailer. Like a team of professional house movers we caravanned across and out of town on route to the swing set's new home. 


video


This text message from my wife sums up the Friday afternoon adventure perfectly:
"I was so lucky to be looking out the kitchen window to see the trucks go by the house with the play set. All of you men bringing a big surprise for 3 little boys. They will be so excited!! Love you guys!" 



Climbing Caleb
This was one of those events you dig out of your memory bank several times throughout your life. Whether you're the two or four year-old child or the thirty or sixty-something father or grandfather, projects that involve multiple friends and family like this one, you don't forget them. They stick to your brain like the taste of ice cream or the smell of a pine log campfire. I knew as I watched my grandsons absorbing the sight of this monstrosity rolling up in front of their house that someday after I was long gone, they would look back and smile on the memory. They will tell their sons and daughters how their father executed such a monstrous task just for them. While the world was going mad just outside this quiet little neighborhood, I was witnessing heaven and one of those small little priorities we all need to pay more attention to. The joy those little boys will have on that play set pale in comparison to the joy a father experiences watching them. My sons are good sons and better fathers. They teach their sons right from wrong and they make them laugh. They drive by the golf course to take their sons to the park or hockey practice. They wear worn out work boots so their sons can have fresh out-of-the-box sneakers. They make me proud. The friends they have accumulated make me proud too. 


Thank you Jim and Jeff for the friendship you've shown my son. Thank your wives and your own children too for sharing you on this Friday night after-work adventure. Thank you to both of my sons for putting your families first. Someday soon you too will be a grandfather looking back in admiration and joy on the life you've created. That's when the old work boot dividends begin to come in by the swing set full. 


Look out World! 





Love, 
Dad


July 23, 2017

Greenwood Stick Farm

Greenwood Stick Farm
By John R. Greenwood


Greenwood Stick Farm 
I own and operate the, Greenwood Stick Farm here in the foothills of the Adirondacks. It’s a 3/4 acre farm speckled with maple trees. They vary in height, girth, and degree of decay. Decay, if you didn’t know, is a friend of the Stick Farmer. It provides a never ending crop.  

Stick Farming is in my blood. Ever since I was young I’ve been involved in Stick Farming. It began around the time I reached double digits. My first harvest was on my friends property high atop “The Hill” in my hometown of Greenfield Center,NY. His family lived on one of the largest Stick Farms in Upstate NY. It consisted of acre upon acre of mature old maples whose branches seemed to rain down in an endless downpour of cracks, snaps, and crashes. Stick Farming on the “The Hill” required the involvement of all family members. Outside stick-pickers were subcontracted at $5.00 per three hours of sticks picked. The older more tenured stick-pickers (big brothers) had the more cushy job. They got to drive the pickup around collecting the harvested stick piles. The fun part came when the truck bed was full (?), and we got to jump in the back and ride the side-rail of the pickup down the hill to the, “Pile”. Unloading a freshly harvested crop of sticks is a lot more fun than loading, and the ride back to the stick-field was also faster and more exciting. It inevitably included a spinout or two followed by a gravel spinning run up the back driveway. As I look back, it wasn’t work at all. It was the most fun a boy could have growing up. Stick Farming and Leaf Harvesting provided me with more blisters and enjoyment than you could ever write a check for. I relive those wonderful memories every time I drive by “The Hill”. 

Third Generation Stick Farmer Caleb G. 
Now, though The Greenwood Stick Farm is much smaller and less exciting, I still enjoy the sights and smells of a post-storm harvest of a maple-stick crop. The farm is in good hands too. My grandson Caleb has inherited the stick-farmer gene. The first thing he does when he gets here to the farm is open the barn (cluttered garage) and pull out his John Deere. Within minutes he’s happily harvesting the current crop of sticks. Endless circles around the yard reveal sticks of every proportion and in the process the lawn smiles greenly as the weight of the world is lifted from it’s shoulders. 


Husqvarna Addict hiding from his wife
When my son asked why Caleb was so eager to help his grandfather harvest sticks but seemed disinterested in harvesting sticks in his own backyard I gladly explained. My sticks are organic and grow naturally. The sticks in his yard were the result of a chainsaw wielding father who became addicted to the roar of his Husqvarna and didn’t know when to say when. Those sticks are less brittle. The feel and texture are not the same as those grown and harvested naturally via Mother Nature’s wrath. A true stick farmer knows and appreciates the difference.  



Bumper Crop!
I’m sure this piece will stir the emotions and memories of some fellow stick farmers out there. I want to share one last sentiment. Life is pretty special. The news that gurgles up these days would make you think otherwise. There comes a time in the day or week where we have to disengage our minds from the madness and chaos that seems as endless as a crop of sticks. If we don’t pull over and park for a minute, we will have missed the point of being here. Whether you derive joy from painting a landscape, riding a Harley, reeling in a bass, or walking the dog, it’s important to breathe the experience like it was your last. Happiness doesn’t need to include Disney or a Carnival Cruise. A pause on the way to the mailbox to savor the sight and sound of a passing flock of geese can soften a bad day. Wisdom doesn’t come from age, it comes from those little non-distinct pauses we take and how we absorb them. 

An old stick farmer once said,“Happiness can come before, during, or after the storm. The anticipation of a crack of thunder can heighten the senses. Viewing a lightening strike across town can make you appreciate the fact you're in the safety of your home. The rainbow that follows and the sight of a robin yanking up a juicy worm from the soggy side-yard should make you glad to be alive. The resulting blanket of fresh sticks strewn across your property should have you stomping in the puddles and smiling like a kid."

If not, you may have missed a turn. 

Go back and start again. 


Happy stick pickin’!  


Take a minute...

July 13, 2017

A Book Review And More

A Book Review And More
By John R. Greenwood















Since I began this blog I've written several pieces about favorite books and authors and how I've been inspired and energized by them. 



Today I'd like to share a story about a special book and its author. The story encapsulates all the positive connections I've made since I began sharing my work publicly. The book is titled, "Mark On Paper." The author's name is Elana Mark. In Elana's words the book is,"A Memoir in Poems, Prose, Pencil & Painting. In my words the book is a gift. A gift is something given to someone without expectation of anything in return. I had the honor of reading this memoir as a manuscript before it was published in book form. I knew by the first few pages that what I was reading was something precious and real. The author is not a distant figure living in New York City or San Francisco, Chicago, or London. Elana lives in nearby Cambridge, NY and even though we've only met once for a short visit, I feel comfortable and honored calling her a friend. The reason I call this book a gift is because I feel the author shared her story and bared her soul, not for monetary wealth but for another more important reason; she wanted to free herself of, and at the same time embrace her past. She isn't trying to right any wrongs or add glamor to the everyday. I believe she shares her story to solidify her belief that life is full of goodness and that in order to enjoy its full potential you must experience soggy days and shivering nights. She found strength and love in the form of a son with his own individuality. She took the bond they shared and magnified it one-thousand fold into a love of herself and everyone who so much as crossed her path.

How do I know all this from one short impromptu visit? 


A poster Elana had displayed in her home
I know it because goodness and compassion emanate from her like an August sunrise. I witnessed it first hand the day I pulled up in front of her home/gallery/studio. In the fall of 2015 my wife and I had been visiting various artists on the Cambridge Valley Fine Art TourWe got a late start and had to call it a day before getting to Elana's home/gallery. You see, Elana is not only a wonderful author, but she is an extraordinary artist who peaked my interest with her beautiful online paintings of weathered barns and paint peeling farmhouses. There were several I'd seen online that I couldn't wait to see in person. It took until the following summer before I'd be back in the area with enough free time to make a cold call to her back door. I parked on the street and approached the house with some reservation. I was a complete stranger at this point and I didn't want to frighten or intrude on anyone. At first I knocked quietly. I could hear someone inside because the screen door was open. I knocked again. A women suddenly appeared in the kitchen. She said hello and came over to the door. I gave her my name and as simply and as politely as I could I explained why I was standing at her back door. I must have appeared harmless because she welcomed me in without any visible hesitation. I knew at that moment that I'd done the right thing by not driving by the house and waiting for, "another day." Within minutes we were sharing stories, experiences, and mutual acquaintances. Elana gladly gave me a tour of her home and all her paintings. She had them beautifully displayed throughout. Like a basket of fresh puppies; with each wall I found a new favorite I wanted to take home. After we'd shared several minutes of conversation a younger man came down the stairs and stood in the doorway. He gave me a quick once over, and said something about his television. Without skipping a beat Elana introduced her son Jeffery to me. He politely said hello, repeated some directions to his mother and headed back up the stairs. I assessed Jeffery's individuality without the need for explanation. When you read Elana's book, you will understand just how special and dear Jeffery is to his mother and in all honesty, to the world. I will never forget our meeting and I will forever embrace the connection he enjoys with his loving mother.  
After we each shared bits and pieces of our personal and professional backgrounds we agreed that we would try to stay in contact via Facebook and email. I assured Elana that I was interested in buying one of her paintings but I needed to be sure of which one and that I would be in touch. As I prepared to leave, Elana said she had something she wanted to share. She ran upstairs and returned with a manuscript of a book. I had briefly described my blog Raining Iguanas and my love of writing and memoir. She handed her manuscript to me and said, "I'd like you to read this, I'm in the process of getting it published and I thought you might like to read it." I was stunned to think after one short visit someone felt that comfortable with me that they would share something so precious and personal. I could not wait to get home and begin reading it. When I did get home it only took a few pages to know what a true gift that manuscript and that day had become.  

Jump ahead a few months and I see a painting on Elana's Facebook page that I recognize immediately. It was a side view of Bedlam Farm and I knew I had to have it. I made it clear in the FB comments it that I was interested. A few days later we struck a deal. I know you won't believe me but it's true, I've been so busy that I have yet to pick up my treasure. In fact  Elana's book came out, I had it delivered and read, and I have still not made the 45 minute trip to get my painting. I think subconsciously I've been stalling to prolong the enjoyment of another visit. 

That was the, "and more" part of the story. 

Now my review of Elana'a memoir. 

If you enjoy memoir, artistry, poetry, prose, inspirational and emotional writing from deep within a kind hearted soul, you will savor this personal collection of tears, laughter, and goodness. Elana's story leaves nothing behind. She puts everything on the table in front of you allowing you think about how you might handle the same peaks and valleys. It has visual pieces of the authors dreams and nightmares intertwined within it. Using her own drawings throughout the book added depth and texture to her words. For me it was like adding flowers to the dining room table. The meal simply tasted better with them there. Her personality and compassion are vivid and energetic. She is the type of person you want rooting for you and your cause. Her honesty and clarity about her son Jeffery were inspirational and admirable. My belief is that Elana's view of the world parallel the feelings she has for her son. We all have a glitch, and that's what makes this planet such an interesting place. It's up to all of us to nourish each other's differences, not to try to mold them into something common and predictable. Reading "Mark On Paper," you will see that the author sorted that out at a very early age. Elana appears to have made optimism and acceptance her mantra. I don't think you could read her book and derive anything but. 

I wish everyone would read this book. The world might improve its attitude toward each other by a few percentage points. I didn't share any particulars of the book because I think they are best experienced for the first time by the reader but there is one small vignette that envelopes the tone of Elana's book. It's about Jeffery and it makes me smile just thinking about it. 

Here is an excerpt from the book:


Training Wheels
It's Saturday. I am putting the training wheels on Jeffery's new bike. He has just realized what I am doing. He does not want the training wheels. "Big bike!," he says. He isn't happy at all about those little wheels. He tries to take them away. Finally I give up. I put the wheels in the back of the car. His dad puts the bikes on the bike rack and we drive to the local school parking lot. I figure that when he finds out how hard it is to balance, he will let us put the wheels on the bike.

We arrive at the parking lot and take Jeffery's bike off the rack. While we are taking our bikes off the rack, Jeffery jumps on his bike and takes off full speed across the parking lot. I can't believe it! Some things are so difficult for Jeffery to learn. I wasn't expecting this! I sit right down on the ground and cry. Seeing me, Jeffery pedals back as fast as he can. His dad has to grab the bike. Jeffery doesn't yet know how to stop! He jumps off and runs to me.

Then he puts his arms around me and says,"Don't cry, Mommy. You can learn how, too."  


This book is real. The emotion in it is real. The people in it are real. I find myself looking at others differently after reading Elana's story. I see more when I look at strangers. I listen closer too. Everyone carries baggage whether they're leaving for Europe or going to the market. It's important for us as humans to take the time to understand how fragile our existence is and to be more accepting of the stranger in line in front of us. We are all out there searching for the same things in life. Mostly we want to be loved and appreciated by someone. To get there you must share of yourself. 

This book does that.

Like I said at the beginning, it's a gift...




This sign on the mantel of Elana's fireplace says it best.
Thank you for reminding us! 







July 01, 2017

Overdue

Overdue
By John R. Greenwood


"Phone Angels" 

Anyone who reads this post will be able to relate to it. It is an overdue "Thank you" to a mother and her three children. The story began on October 8, 2016 at the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth Massachusetts but was reignited today on June 19, 2017. 

My wife approached me this morning and said, "I have something that's bothering me and I wanted to talk to you about it." That sentence between married couples has millions of stories attached to it and most begin with a raised pulse and end with a slammed door. Today was different, the conversation led to a heartfelt apology and this attempt to make amends.

Plimoth Plantation
Last October we were on vacation in Cape Cod. One day we decided to take a day trip to Plymouth Mass. After visiting Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II, we headed to the Plimoth Plantation. Plimoth Plantation is a living museum. It's a replica of the original 17th century settlement of English colonists we know as the Pilgrims. We had been there for awhile and were venturing in and out of the various buildings when at some point we sat down on a bench. After resting a bit we continued our tour. About fifteen minutes later I spotted a pair of oxen and went to grab my phone to take a picture but it wasn't in my back pocket. I'd taken it out when we sat down and must have left it sitting there. The panic that sets in might not be the same as realizing you've lost your child in the mall but some might argue differently. My distress was right up there. One, because of how many contacts and information mine contains, and two because I'm a hopeless scatterbrain whose father always told him he'd lose his head if it wasn't screwed on. I caught up with my wife and told her what I'd done. She could see I was in a state of mild shock so she saved the reminder of how careless I am for another day. In the meantime I began retracing my steps in a frantic door to door search. I went back to a place where I knew I'd used the phone for a picture and asked the museum docent there if anyone had turned in a phone. She said no, but assured me that many items are turned in to lost and found on a daily basis. It was little conciliation at the time. As I headed back through the crowd to find my wife she was walking toward me. She had an excited look on her face. She said I think someone found your phone. She pointed to a women and her three children.  There was a teenage daughter, another one around eight or nine and a little boy about seven. With my heart pounding I approached the four of them. I'm sure they knew what I was about to say. The mother reached her hand out and said, "Is this your phone?" The little boy had found the phone on the bench and the family had been looking for anyone who might have lost it. I assured her I was the owner and showed her that my thumbprint would open it. 



If you've ever misplaced a wallet, phone, car or child and ultimately found them safe and sound you will understand how happy, relieved, and grateful I was at that moment. I couldn't thank the women and her children enough. I pulled out a twenty dollar bill and went to hand it to the little boy as a small token of appreciation. The mother lovingly pulled the bill from the little boys hand and returned it to me. She said she appreciated the gesture but it wasn't necessary. She wanted the children to learn that they'd done a good thing and that reuniting someone with something they'd lost was reward enough. It was a wonderful lesson for all six of us. I handed her a business card with my Raining Iguanas Blog address on it and told her I would be repay them by writing about the experience. I asked if I could take their picture to include with the post. As you can see from the photo at top of the page she had a beautiful family inside and out. She took the card, thanked me, and the four of them walked away hand in hand. It was the highlight of our vacation. 


It was his fault! 
But now back to paragraph number two where my wife wanted to talk to me about something that had been bothering her. She heard me tell those children and their mother that I would be writing a story about their act of kindness. She knows me as a man of my word. She also holds me to my commitments. I can vouch for that fact because we celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary less than a week ago. It had been haunting her that I never followed through with my promise and she felt strongly that I needed to right a wrong and get to writing my public thank you letter to my anonymous family of angels. 

So here it is: 

To the women and her children who found and returned my cell phone last October 8, 2016 I want to publicly thank you for your honesty and kindness. I apologize for my tardiness with this post. A phone has little value compared to teaching our children about doing the right thing. There was a bigger lesson learned here though and it was a 62 year-old man learning it. When you look children in the eye and tell them you're going to do something you better follow through. You never know who's paying attention. In this case it was my wife. I'm glad she didn't let me off the hook. I'm glad I married a women who spent eight months bothered that her husband needed to make something right and told him so. I hope those children didn't tear up that business card. I hope their mother clicks on this blog some day and sees this long overdue acknowledgment. I never got the name of that family. If anyone reading this blog recognizes them please let them know how grateful I was to get my phone back. They reaffirmed my belief that the world is brimming with good people who go unrecognized. To that family and anyone else who has ever returned a valuable item to a frantic soul, I thank you for keeping my trust in my fellow humans alive. 

Peace on Earth,

John Greenwood

Raining Iguanas 

Plymouth Rock