Did You Miss Me?

I’m back from my sabbatical. Did you miss me? Actually, I wasn’t even aware I had taken a sabbatical until it occurred to me that two weeks had come and gone, since posting my last blog, and I hadn’t written a darn thing in my notebook since. Well, at least nothing that exciting or what I would deem as sufficient enough to write home about. I decided I’d better look up the exact meaning of the word, sabbatical, because suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, I began questioning whether or not I truly knew what it meant. Therefore, I got to thinking it was quite possible that I hadn’t been on a sabbatical after all. I wanted to be sure I had been using the funny-sounding word properly.

Wikipedia defines sabbatical as, “a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from 2 months to a year.” In more recent times it has been described as, “any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something.” Wikipedia then cites writing a book as an example of fulfilling one’s goal. That does sound rather appealing to me, but it does not accurately describe what I had done with my time the past couple of weeks. In actuality, I studied the Bible, played a lot of tennis, entertained my lovely wife, and took some naps. I also spent a few days filling out those dreaded state and federal income tax returns.

Maybe I finally had succumbed to the infamous writer’s block I’ve heard so much about but had not yet experienced for myself. I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of my entrance into unchartered waters, by becoming a blogger, and my wife renewed my blog site for another year. She originally set up my site in February 2014, as a birthday gift, because she knew I had an opinion about everything, and she also knew how much I enjoyed writing. I happen to be one of those people who still sends birthday greetings and letters via “snail mail” instead of by the more socially acceptable (yet less personable) way of e-mail. Someone has to keep the United States Postal Service in business.

Maybe the self-imposed pressure of consistently writing something worthwhile, for another 365 days, was contributing to my possible writer’s block condition. Maybe my creativity had run its course, or maybe I simply had grown tired of all the recycled “hot topics” in the news of late: the threat of war, denying gay people wedding cakes, “racist cops,” the threat of war, politicians’ incessant but futile rhetoric concerning dismantling President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act legislation, and did I mention the threat of war. Regardless, this past year I thoroughly enjoyed writing about the “good old days,” and whatever else was on my mind, so I have no intention of abandoning ship at this time. Besides, I don’t want to disappoint any of my seven readers.

However, I feared precisely that, off and on for a few days, whenever I’d stare at the blank page in my college-ruled notebook. I found myself searching for a topic to write about in some unconventional places. I even perused an AARP (American Association of Retired People) magazine in hopes of finding anything that might spark my interest. I’m a long ways away from turning 50 (316 days), but I’ve been receiving the bi-monthly publication in the mail for at least a year now. I reckon I shouldn’t be all that traumatized, by being perceived as an elderly gentleman before my time, since around a decade ago some punk kid behind the counter at McDonald’s asked me if I qualified for the restaurant’s senior citizen discount.

I’m pretty sure I responded with, “only if being 40 years-old makes me a senior citizen.” He gave me the discount. Ouch! I suppose I shouldn’t have been so upset with the young employee’s nonsense because I too was once ignorant regarding the concept of age when I was a youngster. I recall such ignorance when I was in my early twenties, and I came across the obituary section of the local newspaper. After noticing a person had died at the age of 52, I remember thinking to myself, “well, at least he had a good, long life.” I no longer find that sentiment to be true especially since I’m approaching the Big 5-0 myself.

Anyway, I typically begin my writing process after either recalling something from my past or hearing about something interesting, controversial, or appalling in the news. I’ll usually jot down a sentence or two in my notebook, rarely an entire paragraph, and once in a while I’ll just write down a possible title for my blog. More often than not the title changes before the process is completed. I’m constantly trying to find the perfect sentence, so the pages in my spiral notebook contain more arrows than Cupid’s quiver, and they have more scratch marks than the cars entered in a demolition derby. Highlighting, arranging, researching, rearranging, and then tweaking is all part of my writing process. All of this, of course, is done while sipping coffee at Starbucks.

Then comes the hardest part of all. This one-finger typist transfers all of his written words onto the computer screen for anyone to see. My wife has offered (many times) to type my blogs for me. I did take her up on her generous offer in the beginning, but after my first two posts I felt as though the finished product wasn’t completely mine. I guess I’m willing to sacrifice, the couple of hours I’d save, for the satisfaction of seeing the entire project through from start to finish. My blogs definitely are a labor of love. Hopefully, I’m finally over my writer’s block, if indeed that’s what it was, so you won’t have to miss me again.

Lunch With Jesus

The other day I had lunch with Jesus. That may or may not sound strange depending on who you are and what you believe. I have believed in God (the one and only God) for several years although I used to inaccurately envision Him as a detached supreme being, watching over His creation from afar, instead of as the encompassing, loving entity that He truly is. In actuality, He is much closer to us than we probably can even imagine. I wonder how I overlooked, for so many years, the fact that the name Immanuel (Jesus) actually means “God with us.” Duh! I no longer see God as being way out there in the universe somewhere because at times He’s in my own backyard. Literally!

I invited Jesus to have lunch with me this past week, and not surprisingly He accepted my invitation. I wish I could take credit for such a novel idea, but having lunch with Jesus was suggested by my pastor. He made the proposal to his congregation but only after experiencing the unconventional activity himself. Quietly praying to my Lord and Savior is an amazing thing, but speaking out loud to Him as a friend adds a whole other dimension to the relationship. At least that is what I have found to be true these past few years, so I was more than willing to partake in the soul training exercise as recommended.

I made myself a Reuben sandwich, but I did not make one for Jesus. I’m not crazy! However, I did pull out a chair for Him to sit on after bringing my Reuben, a handful of Cheetos, and a Snapple iced tea to the table outside underneath the covered patio. I began the luncheon by thanking Jesus for always being there with me even when I wasn’t truly aware of it in the past. I immediately thought about the beloved “Footprints in the Sand” poem as I visualized myself being carried by God. I was then compelled to thank Him for those trying times throughout my life when He absolutely “carried me.” I continued thanking Jesus, in between bites of my delicious sandwich and Cheetos, for my family and for all he has blessed me with.

I poured my heart out to my Savior with unconstrained emotion. I told Him what was on my mind, and I shared all of my recent concerns with Him. The time went by quickly, and I found I had much more to say to Jesus than I had anticipated. My sandwich had cooled off (as much as it could in the Arizona heat) before I was even halfway finished, but I continued conversing with my Lord until my plate was spotless. I admitted to Jesus I knew I had been hogging the conversation. I guess there was so much I needed to say and so much gratitude I wanted to express. I then informed Him I was going to shut up and just listen for a while because I longed to hear His voice in that special moment.

I also told Jesus how hearing a small voice would be fine, but a thunderous voice from Him would be a whole lot better because sometimes I’m not too bright, so subtleties are usually wasted on me. I closed my eyes and sat in silence. I listened intently but I didn’t hear a thing. I eventually opened my eyes and began surveying everything in the backyard before finally staring up at the sky in hopes of receiving some sort of a sign. Again, nothing. This new venture was foreign to me, so I wasn’t sure if I was executing the task in the proper manner or not. I decided to close my eyes and sit in silence some more. I heard myself softly repeating, “Please speak to me, I want to hear your voice.”

The popular biblical phrase, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” was the first thing that entered my mind for some reason. I promptly dismissed that notion because I figured maybe my ego was attempting to get in the way. Next, a pesky fly landed on my arm. It appeared to be the only one in my backyard, but obviously its mission was to bug me (pun intended) since it had been buzzing around the table the entire time I was having lunch with Jesus. Instantly, but only for a second or two, I thought, “Uh-huh, there’s a lesson to be learned here.” Maybe I had become easily annoyed lately, and Jesus was imploring me to “chill out.” Maybe.

Suddenly, I was no longer blanketed in peaceful silence. My neighbor to the east wandered out into his backyard, and soon I realized he was in no hurry to go back indoors. There was an incessant clanging, for the next several minutes, in which I perceived as having something to do with the transportation of ceramic flowerpots. Then a dog somewhere in the distance began barking and would not quit. A neighbor nearby, to the west of me, started-up some type of power saw that continued to run non-stop. Then I noticed an array of birds unified in one spirited song as though they were from the same choir. Another neighbor, on the other side of my southern cement wall, added to all of the other distractions by tossing his recyclables, one at a time of course, into an echoing receptacle.

Maybe I was being reminded of what my pastor has repeatedly proclaimed from the pulpit on Sunday mornings: We do not work where we work, play where we play, or live where we live by chance. I was placed in my neighborhood for a reason. As a follower of Christ I am called to be a good neighbor, and at times I am to be the light in someone’s darkness. Maybe I was suppose to be better aware of people’s needs especially of those who live around me. Probably. It was difficult for me to know for sure with the lack of silence now being so magnified. I told Jesus, “Apparently, our quiet lunch together is over, and maybe you didn’t have any earth-shattering thing to say to me at this time.”

As soon as the last word of that sentence left my mouth something happened. The once calm air transformed into a gusty wind upsetting the previously motionless wind chimes hanging above my head. The swaying chimes emitted a ding…ding…ding sound resembling what is commonly heard on television game shows when a correct answer is given by the contestant. It appeared as though Jesus was in agreement that our lunch date was indeed over. I began pondering what had transpired over the last hour, and I could not help but recall the “good and faithful” thought I initially had when I first sat there in silence. Maybe on this special occasion God simply was pleased I had taken the time to have lunch with Jesus.

Buy Dolce & Gabbana (Or Not)

In today’s society we’re seemingly entitled to our own opinion, on any given subject, as long as everyone else concurs with what is being said. Unfortunately, if someone does not agree with your position then you must brace yourself for a backlash of criticism and possibly a boycott of your product if you happen to own a business. Fashion designers, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, recently raised some eyebrows with a few of their comments made during an interview with Panorama magazine. The gay duo (and ex-couple) said, “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one.” Mr. Dolce added, “You are born to a mother and a father – or at least that’s how it should be.” Then Dolce went on to say, “I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”

I suppose this is where I’m forced to mention Elton John since apparently he was the first one who called for a boycott of Dolce & Gabbana products. The gay musician most-likely fueled the public firestorm because he was offended by the terminology used by Mr. Dolce. The “rocket man” and his husband are fathers to a pair of “synthetic children.” The very next day, after suggesting the boycott, Elton John was seen toting around a Dolce & Gabbana bag, and now both Dolce and Gabbana have somewhat backtracked on their previously made comments. I must admit I’m disappointed in the latter because I had mentioned to my lovely wife that I thought we should buy some Dolce & Gabbana clothes in support of the fashion designers’ words of wisdom. My wife said we couldn’t afford them. I think neither of us are even aware of what their products looks like.

Boycotting, on the surface, may seem to be a fairly plausible way of making a public statement against a business’ position on a specific issue; however, the end result of a boycott usually amounts to a bunch of smoke being blown and not much else. Do you remember when Chick-fil-A was boycotted due to their publicly held stance against homosexuality? Those who agreed with Chick-fil-A’s sentiments flocked to the chain restaurant in an attempt to counteract those who were boycotting the establishment. What about the boycott of the entire state of Arizona? A nationwide call was launched urging people to refrain from visiting the Grand Canyon State because of their government’s anti-illegal immigration policies. Letters came pouring in from other states offering their support and pledging to visit Arizona in the near future. Boycotts are basically nonsense: similar to that of protesting in the streets.

We all have our own, and sometimes unique, perspective on what we think is the acceptable, justifiable, and morally correct position on any given controversial topic imaginable. There is a tendency, at least for me, to create a boundary in my mind of what is acceptable and at what point the line gets crossed and then becomes unacceptable. Some people have no tolerance for homosexuality whatsoever. Some contend they are willing to concede civil unions to homosexuals, but they cringe at the thought of allowing them to marry. The consensus appears to be, amongst those opposed to gay-marriage, that the sanctity of marriage is destroyed when same-sex couples are given the right to partake in nuptials. Then there’s me. I have found that gay-marriage has not diminished the covenant between my wife and I one iota.

I certainly am not in favor of gay-marriage, yet it’s hard for me to be appalled by two consenting homosexual adults desiring to legally commit to one another. Surprisingly, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are supportive of gay couples, but they are firmly against gay-marriage. Additionally, they do not approve of homosexuals raising children; hence, their recent controversial statements regarding the use of in vitro fertilization amongst gay couples. Likewise, that’s where I “draw the line.” I completely agree with Mr. Dolce’s assessment that being born of both a mother and a father is the natural order of how things were intended. I’m positive that’s what our Creator had in mind when He made us.

I do think the luxury fashion designer could’ve chosen his words a bit more carefully when referring to children conceived through IVF. Technically the word “synthetic” is an accurate description of the process, but it sounds a little harsh nonetheless. I also disagree that everyone born through in vitro fertilization is a “synthetic child.” To me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a married, heterosexual couple using their own egg and sperm, via the IVF method, to procreate if that’s their only viable option. I have no problem with a “rented uterus” as long as both the egg and the sperm is provided by the married couple.

It’s impossible for a homosexual to have his partners egg placed inside of him because there are no eggs. In the same manner, it’s impossible for a lesbian to have her partners sperm injected inside of her because there are no sperm. In both of the aforementioned examples an outside source would be mandatory, for enabling a pregnancy, which I think is extremely unnatural. Obviously, there’s a huge difference between homosexual couples wanting children and heterosexual couples desiring to start a family. My point is it’s natural for married, heterosexual couples to have and to raise children, but it’s unnatural for homosexual couples to do the same.

I’m not too enthused, for those of you now wondering, about single people using the IVF process to bear children as well. I simply don’t believe a single parent home is the very best option for any child. Of course, I’m aware that single-parent households do exist, resulting from either a divorce or the unfortunate death of a spouse, and I surely sympathize with those scenarios, but clearly that’s not what I’ve been talking about. The important thing to remember is to hold true to your beliefs but to also respect the fact that your fellow man may (and often does) think differently than you. So, buy Dolce & Gabbana, or don’t buy Dolce & Gabbana. I really don’t care one way or the other.

Undeniably Irish

I am undeniably Irish. With a last name like McCleary I wouldn’t be fooling anyone if I claimed otherwise. Not that I would ever want to denounce my Irish heritage, but I belong to many other nationalities as well. I know I’m also part German and part Welsh, and I’m always proud to give a shout out to my Cherokee brothers. I suppose I am what you would call a mutt if I were a dog. I definitely have some work to do if I ever want to seriously be considered as a legit Irishman. If truth be told, I didn’t even realize the significant difference between Ireland’s treasured shamrock and a four-leaf clover, until very recently, for Pete’s sake.

However, I do tend to be a smidgeon more Irish than usual every year around March 17th. Traditionally, I prepare a corned beef and cabbage meal for my family sometime during the week. The feast is not complete without my (what has become known as) “world-famous” Guinness cake. The cake is delicious, if I do say so myself, but plain Guinness beer not so much. I’ve tried to like Guinness beer (I really have) because I feel it’s my duty as an Irishman to think well of the customary drink of my ancestors…but I don’t. I’m more of an India Pale Ale guy when it comes to satisfying my taste buds.

That’s not to say I’m not fond of some other types of beers. I fancy some red ales, some brown ales, and even a few of the darker brews. However, I do think Guinness must be an acquired taste; therefore, drinking the stout only on an annual basis does not fit the bill. I have been told the pints of Guinness served in Ireland’s pubs aren’t comparable to what we have in the United States. Supposedly, it is so much better over there. That actually makes perfect sense to me. Maybe someday I can visit my homeland and find out for myself.

Sometimes I honor St. Patrick’s Day by visiting an Irish pub or at least going somewhere that’s serving green beer. Once I went to a bar around 8:00am, after getting off work, for a festive Irish breakfast (green pints included). Once. Drinking beer in the morning was a weird experience. I guess St. Patrick’s Day is as good of an excuse as any to partake of alcohol shortly after sunrise, but it is not a practice I cared to continue. I know there are those who say, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” but hopefully they’re referring to the evening hour when considering an alcoholic drink.

In recent years it’s more-likely you’d find my lovely wife and I celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at our local Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery than any other place. That’s probably because the Rock Bottom gang really knows how to take good care of us. I’m not too difficult to spot either since I’m the one wearing a “Who’s Your Paddy?” t-shirt and a green colored derby hat. I’m also one of the very few patrons holding a green beer in my hand. Unfortunately, the restaurant does not offer any artificially colored ales on St. Patrick’s Day, so I’m forced to make my own. I bring my own food coloring, and just two drops of the stuff transforms my mug of IPA into a green spectacle.

I assume the brew master is concerned that if he adds green dye to his carefully crafted concoctions then it may somehow hamper the integrity of his creations. I completely understand, but I still think an exception could be made one day out of the year. The problem with me taking matters into my own hands is that the people around us usually then start asking the servers how they can get ahold of some green beer. It gets pretty confusing when customers are told by the staff that the colorful drink in my hand is not available. I do offer up my green food coloring, to those interested, if and when I become aware of such a situation. Kudos to Rock Bottom for not kicking me out of their fine establishment.

Years ago my aunt invited her family over for a St. Patrick’s Day party, but there was a catch. She requested each of us show up to the celebration with a story or a poem about green. Just like E.F. Hutton – when my aunt talks, people listen! Besides, the assignment seemed harmless, and it surely peaked our interest, because most of us entered her house that day prepared to share our masterpieces with one another. The following is the poem I crafted for admittance into my aunt’s wonderful St. Patrick’s Day party in 1990-something. Please bear in mind this piece was written before I emerged into the Pulitzer Prize type of writer you’ve come to depend on, and I certainly have never professed to be a poet. I hope you enjoy “Green Is” nonetheless.

Green Is

Green is a color, one of many in a rainbow
Green is the grass, in which we must mow
Green is a fee, golfers hate to pay
Green is a frog, hopping around in May
Green is a turtle, Ninja, snapping, or a pet
Green is money, lost at the casino if you bet
Green is spearmint, a very tasty flavor
Green is key-lime pie, in which I like to savor
Green is my father’s birthstone, his favorite color, too
Green is part of a beach ball, along with red, yellow, and blue
Green is also a pool ball, the solid 6 to be exact
Green is the team color of the A’s, Eagles and Jets, in fact
Green is a Leprechaun, his clothes and sometimes his hair
Green is a Martian, visiting us from way out there
Green is the Grinch, who tried to steal Christmas
Green is vegetables, namely celery and lettuce (I know that one’s a stretch)
Green is a wheelbarrow, and a garden hose
Green is the substance, coming from your nose
Green is a Christmas tree, Pine and Blue Spruce
Green is a grasshopper, spitting disgusting juice
Green is a pickle, both dill and sweet
Green is a thumb, you just can’t beat
Green is jealousy and envy, we try so hard to deny
Green is the AstroTurf, found on the football field at UNI
Green(e) is Lorne, known as Mr. Cartwright on Bonanza
Green is the “Keep On Truckin'” tattoo, on the arm of Tony Danza
Green is lime Jell-O, oh my what a treat
Green is gross broccoli, your parents make you eat
Green is springtime, in the form of leaves and grass
Green is a crocodile, and an alligator’s ass
Green is the theme, of this poem that I wrote
Green poems in the future, should be banned, that’s my vote!

Needles In My Arm

I distinctly remember the first time the needle went into my arm. I am not talking about those pesky mandated vaccinations I was required to endure as a child. No, this time I was a consenting adult, and the needle was not going to be administered by any kind of doctor whatsoever. I never would’ve imagined, at least not a few years beforehand, that I would one day aspire to voluntarily have a needle inserted into my arm, but that is precisely what happened. I never thought I’d take such drastic measures either, like driving for an hour and a half, just to satisfy an urge, but I absolutely did. I was forced to make the trip to the big city because my modest hometown did not offer what I had been desiring.

I can recall a slight hesitation in my steps as I climbed up the stairs to the second floor of the rundown building. I was not reluctant because of what I was about to partake of, but I was somewhat worried about being in an undesirable part of town. I know it’s a pretty lame excuse, but I really hadn’t given the situation I was about to experience as much thought as I should have. I definitely had not taken into account any future consequence I might be confronted with, possibly for the rest of my life, after the often times scorned procedure was completed. I was solely fixated on the yearning I had acquired…and nothing else. As the needle pierced my flesh, for what turned out to be the first of many more times to come, it just felt right. Of course, I have been referring to my initial tattooing experience.

Soon after turning 18, I decided to have my firm body (obviously, things have changed since then) inked with the manliest of manly tattoos: a small rose. Paul Stanley, vocalist and guitarist of the legendary rock ‘n’ roll band, KISS, sported one on his arm, so clearly it was a cool thing for me to emulate. I suppose many people take to the needle after being inspired by another person, place, or thing. The rest probably get tattooed after encountering some life altering event they then deem necessary to pay homage to somewhere on their body. For me, a rose tattoo seemed like the best option when considering what the other most popular designs were “back in the day.” The other choices were a ship’s anchor, usually inked on the forearm (like Popeye), and the word, MOM, commonly inscribed on one’s bicep. I was neither a sailor man nor a mama’s boy, so I believe I made the only logical decision I could’ve at that time.

Receiving my first tattoo was initially a bit daunting; however, having my girlfriend (aka lovely wife) there by my side put my mind at least somewhat at ease. Although the tattoo artist’s appearance was unrefined, probably due to the fact he was blanketed in tattoos, he was very personable. Who was I to judge anyway especially since I was just about to get some artwork on my skin as well. There does seem to be a fine line though between artistic expression and the “freak zone.” The tattoo artist did an excellent job of explaining to me in detail what to expect during the tattooing process. More importantly the guy did not bat an eye when revealing to him that I wanted a rose tattoo on my bicep. Maybe my tattooist had mastered the art of “holding his tongue,” or possibly he just “bit his lip” to keep from laughing. Maybe he too was familiar with Paul Stanley’s ink and thought I would look cool, or perhaps he simply was a true professional in his chosen line of work.

I selected a specific style of rose from a couple of stencils the tattoo artist had on hand. He shaved off what little hair I had on my young bicep, applied some rubbing alcohol to the smooth surface, and then placed the chosen pattern onto my arm. Before I could say, “ouch!,” the gentle humming sound of the artist’s tattoo machine had encompassed the small but sanitary room. The tattooer’s tattoo machine used to be called a tattoo gun “back in the day.” That terminology is now frowned upon by not only those who enjoy surrendering to political correctness but by those working in the industry as well. Regardless, I intently watched as the tiny needles rapidly punctured my skin in one small area at a time. Every few seconds the tattooist would wipe away the seeping blood, pooling on my skin’s surface, so he could continue tracing the rose stencil on my bicep.

I’m quite certain the entire tattooing process lasted for only about 30 minutes. Being continuously pricked with needles, for about half that time, wasn’t nearly as painful as some would have you believe. The best way I know how to describe the feeling of being tattooed is also an explicitly gross way. I compare the sensation to someone picking your zits, one after another, for the duration of the procedure. I warned you my description wasn’t going to be pretty. At least I didn’t mention oozing pus. I left the big city completely gratified with the $35 addition to my body. My urge had been fulfilled, and I no longer desired the needle…until the next time.

My Valentine

I first laid eyes on my valentine (aka lovely wife) when she was a sophomore and I was a junior in high school. I saw her across a crowded room (actually, a gymnasium) while attending a girls’ Varsity basketball game. I just happened to notice her sitting in the upper balcony, amongst a few familiar faces also of the female persuasion, and I was instantly smitten with her. I could not take my eyes off of the “new girl,” and at that moment I became oblivious to anything that may or may not have been happening on the basketball court right in front of me. My future valentine was absolutely stunning from what I could surmise from that distance.

I could tell she possessed a nice figure, an alluring smile, and long, feathered auburn hair. When she initially stood up she appeared to be somewhat statuesque although upon further investigation I concluded her tall stature was at least partly due to the fashionable hiking boots she was wearing. She definitely seemed hip to the times: sporting a pink Izod shirt with a white sweatshirt draped over her shoulders and tied loosely around her tan neck. I wanted to meet her, but before I knew it the game was over, and the intoxicating young woman was gone. However, that did not stop me from thinking about her every now and then.

A couple of months later a good friend of mine, I had not been hanging out with for a while, invited me and a few others to play a game of basketball outdoors at the junior high school. When I arrived the “girl of my dreams” was leisurely playing a game of one on one, in a flirtatious manner, against my friend. I found out that day how she looked in a pair of shorts, and I certainly was impressed. It quickly occurred to me why I hadn’t seen my long lost friend for quite some time. I too had been guilty of dropping my buddies, like lead balloons, in pursuit of female companionship although I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth I missed that one. In any event, now being so close to this brown-eyed girl my suspicions were confirmed: She truly was ravishing. I did not see my future valentine very often, while she was dating my friend, except when occasionally bumping into her in the hallways of the high school.

I vividly remember her coming up to me at some point and running her fingers through my hair. I had just gotten a perm from my mother’s hairdresser, and I guess she wanted to acknowledge the fact that my hair was different. I was not an expert at being able to decipher a woman’s signals, at the tender age of seventeen (or any time since then for that matter), but I thought surely some physical contact from the opposite sex, regardless of how minor, was an encouraging sign. Therefore, when her boyfriend foolishly broke up with her, during the summer of 1983, I did not hesitate to move in for the kill. I did have other options, not to toot my own horn, because at least two other girls were chasing me at the time, but I was not about to let the opportunity for pursuing the “girl of my dreams” pass me by. Alright, I suppose I was tooting my own horn a bit.

In no time I was dating the brown-eyed beauty although it did not come without a few challenges. Two weeks into our relationship my valentine’s ex-boyfriend came to his senses and tried wooing her back. He sent her a fancy, heart-shaped record, of some mushy love song, which he had addressed to her from him on the record’s sleeve. My valentine must’ve already fallen hard and fast for me by that time (and why wouldn’t she have) because she voluntarily showed me the unique present she had received from her ex. She assured me she no longer had any interest in him, so I promptly returned the sweet gift, now broken into many tiny pieces, and I re-labeled the sleeve to him from me. I assume the message was received loud and clear since my valentine did not hear from him again. My girlfriend’s loyalty to me, after only a short amount of time, was extremely refreshing.

If truth be told, I probably fell much harder and faster for my valentine than she fell for me. Cupid’s aim was undeniably perfect. His arrow successfully pierced the bulls-eye on my chest, and I knew in my heart shortly after we met that there would be no turning back. I remember our first summer together when she had to go on a family vacation to Tennessee. I cannot recall if she left for a week, ten days, or two weeks, but it might as well have been a million years because it seemed like an eternity to me. In hindsight, it was either very romantic or quite sickening how miserable I was while she was away. My heart ached the entire time she was gone. I wrote my newfound love numerous letters to keep myself somewhat occupied during her absence, and I’m embarrassed to admit I got teary-eyed every time I heard a love song being played on the radio. To this day, I immediately think of my lovely wife, and the loneliness I felt being apart from her, whenever I hear the love ballads “Faithfully” by Journey and “Don’t Let It End” by Styx.

Our courtship was probably not what most people would refer to as exciting, but it did seem to fit our simple nature to a tee. When my valentine and I first began dating I was working very part time (5 hours a week) as a janitor at a small office building. Thank goodness she wasn’t the diva princess type or we would’ve been doomed from the start. My wages were just enough to cover the cost of our weekly date night out consisting of dinner at Giovanni’s Family Restaurant before catching a movie at the Capitol Theatre. Our regular waiter at Giovanni’s, J.R., knew our order by heart: a small taco pizza with a dish of sour cream, an order of french-fries with parmesan cheese sprinkled over the ketchup, and a pitcher of pop. Of course, we eventually replaced the pitcher of pop with a pitcher of Michelob Light once we both reached Iowa’s legal drinking age. It was nineteen back then.

After I hit the big-time, landing a job at McDonald’s, I was then able to treat my lady to a night on the town more often and provide her with the more finer things in life. That’s right. I could now afford concert tickets to the likes of Bon Jovi, Poison, and Motley Crue, and I could also buy my valentine better gifts throughout the year. We spent the remainder of our dating years renting VHS movies (Beta was for losers), picnicking at Mariposa Park (sunbathing included), and hanging out with the McDonald’s gang. However, most of our evenings were spent on my bed engaging in countless exhilarating games of rummy. No, rummy is not a euphemism for something else. In fact, the door to my bedroom was always to remain open, for my parents’ peace of mind, whenever my girlfriend came over.

My valentine and I were practically inseparable, spending every waking hour together, with only school and the occasional after school activities (E.g. baseball and pacesetters) keeping us apart from one another. We even worked side by side at McDonald’s for a time. Surely, we didn’t spend too much time in each others company. I would be amiss not mentioning that we did have numerous breakups along the way, but the majority of them only lasted a day or two. Ahh…young love. Jealousy, immaturity, and the lack of communication. I’m not positive where, or even how, a marriage proposal transpired, but it must have nonetheless. The peculiar thing about having the same valentine for so long is that the years and the memories tend to bleed together, and some of the details of momentous events seem to get lost along the way.

I do remember my mother suggesting I should either propose to the “girl of my dreams” or let her go so she could pursue other options. My mother thought dating someone for over three years was plenty of time to have already figured it out concerning the future. I don’t know whether I seriously pondered my mother’s words at that time or not, but we did get married the very next summer. Regardless of not knowing the specifics, leading up to our engagement, it doesn’t really matter now because as they say, “the rest is history.” Only by the grace of God, and my wife’s willingness to overlook my selfish ways during our courtship and early years of marriage, have we been able to endure for all these years. I’m simply one of those guys who was fortunate enough to “marry up.” I know I have truly been blessed beyond belief. This February 14th, will mark the 32nd consecutive time I’ve had the pleasure of having the same valentine on Valentine’s Day…if she’ll once again say yes.


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