Old Friends, New Friends

Have you noticed that our world is shrinking? It never ceases to amaze me that I can pick up a computer and chat a half a world away in real time with people I haven’t seen in decades.

Sometimes it puts me arguing with a conspiracy nut in Turkmenistan over the validity of the space program, but often I have made some really great new friendships, and reunite with people I have missed so badly. The roaming family vacation has given me a great chance to rekindle a good thing, and speculate on paths not taken.

I would love to share an awesome reunion. It must be a taste of what heaven is like. In laying a back drop for this story it would be good for those of you new to my blog to pull up some of my past history. These links document some of my history in my search for the perfect soul mate. Spoiler Alert. I win!!!

Dianne, The early years

The Hunt for the Soul-Mate

It Is so Easy to Fall in Love!

In the Fall of 1986 as a newlywed, I was the veteran of several short term mission trips. My friend and mentor at that time, Tom Walker was needing to go back to his home churches to report on his progress. If you come from an Evangelical background this is called a furlough. We had the opportunity to supply for him on short term basis. In the Fall of 1987 we repeated the trip again.

Tom’s church was budding in the small town of Erickson, Manitoba. The work had converts and interaction with nearby Rolling River Reserve. Particularly the second year on a longer trip, I had a great time. The work was new, small and growing. I absolutely loved the people. Most of the church were honest farmers struggling to make a living. I loved working with them, visiting with them, and just being a part of their community.

We had a great youth group ministry at the time. Dianne and I were in our low twenties. We were actually fun people back then. It was such a unique time. I didn’t have to deal with discipline, like you would as a teacher. We just enjoyed being with young people because we were young, and we didn’t have to take ourselves that seriously. I could see going back up there and growing old, working with the people there.

I considered trying to raise mission support to do a sister work in a local community. The church was funded by, and set up under the auspices of a denomination out of Lincoln, Nebraska. Being young and dumb (Now I am old and dumb), I assumed that I would do fine with that denomination. Boy was I wrong! I did an interview with their leadership, and just did horribly. You would have thought I thanked Hitler at the Oscars. Perhaps I should have tried harder, but I just didn’t see it happening. At some point I will probably deal with this on a future blog, but my life took a different course.

Fast forward thirty years. I occasionally thought about that church and my friends up in Erickson, Manitoba. My kids grew up with an occasional story from my days back then. Sometimes Dianne and I would talk about that time of our life.

In a parallel world, David Dyck, one of my Junior High kids grew up in far away Manitoba. Dave took a bride Cathi and raised four beautiful Peter, Anna, Lily, and Brian, children of similar ages to my three Benjamin, Jeremiah, and Nathaniel. One night far away, in a moment of “What happened to Sid and Dianne” they did a Facebook search and we popped up.

Facebook is an interesting convention. Often I reconnect with someone and you realize that something has changed and it just isn’t the same. This was not to be the case with my good friends the Dycks. After thirty years it was even better. It was so good that it made me grieve that we missed so much time not being in each others’ lives.

And then there was the reunion! Their parents Lawrence and Phyllis, on a vacation to the states drove out of their way from Branson, Missouri to Greenville, South Carolina and it was so great. It was like we missed a lifetime, and we hadn’t missed a minute. Phyllis is the bubbly effluent wonderful person who is everyone’s mother and everyone’s grandma. My kids who are still grieving the passing of their grandmother, quickly adopted her as their Canadian grandmother. Lawrence is a man who is quick to think and slow to speak. We both made our livelihood in repair work. He is just someone that I always respected, and missed so much. They stayed for a couple of days, they could have stayed much longer. It was such an amazing time.

It put a hunger in us to go back to Manitoba, and share that chapter in our lives with my sons. This year the climax of the 7000 mile road trip was that we got to see the Dyck family in their home. We spent an afternoon sailing, with Dave and Cathi. We enjoyed meeting Cathi, after interacting with her on Facebook and found her to be a new, old friend. On Saturday we met their children. What an amazingly fun talented bunch they were. We were treated to a five hour personal bluegrass, country, old gospel concert. All of them could pick up any of the instruments and play it like it was their first love. They could have played forever, and we could have listened forever. We told new and old stories, and jokes. I just don’t know when I have had a better time. I wished I could have raised my family up the road from them.

We stayed on another day. It was too short. Good times always are.

The trip was amazing. We saw world class sites, new places, new terrain, met new people, interacted with different cultures, and clicked of a whole bucket list of adventures. Times spent with good people always are the best!

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What Mean These Stones?

The Hagen family road trip started a new tradition in 2013. We decided for each of us to pick up a rock in each new state, country, or province of Canada. We bring them home and proudly display them in our rock garden over on the right side of the house.

I think I came up with the idea out of my churlish aversion to souvenir shops full of refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers, beer cozies, hats and T-shirts. Dianne collects shot glasses, (Baptist toothpick holders). I don’t think I am going to get out of that with a rock pile. I feign disgust at each new shot glass, but really, I like to see her happy, and it is kind of a fun hobby.

The acquired new rocks follow a set of guidelines;

  1. They must be acquired within the state, country, or province.
  2. They should be native to that state, country or province.
  3. A new set of rocks should be acquired each time you cross back into a state, country or province.
  4. It is OK to add extra rocks if you find some that look really cool.
  5. That state, country or province is completed as long as we have at least one rock from there.
  6. Chunks of concrete, man made lava, or asphalt don’t count.

This hobby has created comical moments, and probably cost me some cash and time in diversions, but it really is quite a bit of fun. They usually involve a quick jaunt across a nearby state line, or a general circuitous route to collect states and provinces.

It is creating several layers of problems on this trip. I just ran the canonical list for 2018 and came up with twenty-three states and five provinces. A few of the states we crossed up to four times. The pile is just Huuuuuge! I’ve got well over a hundred rocks and a few more states to go. Our gas mileage is down to five gallons per mile, the axle is straining and I can’t wait to dump this load.

Then there is the smell! A normal family road car smells like John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space. Add to it a hundred rocks covered with deer dropings, moss, lichens and other organics, and it raises a stench that is blinding in intensity.

Picture the rock hop. A teal minivan darts for the shoulder. Humans file out in a manner that resembles a circus clown car. In a few minutes we nab the hostages and tear off to another heist.

A few memorable moments: Jeremiah nabbed the landscaping rocks from a building in Pembina, ND. I ended up with a zip lock bag of pea gravel in Washington DC, because being the filthy swamp that it is there just aren’t any good rocks. We got a four bowling ball sized ones in Spokane, Washington, because that is all we could find. We swiped landscaper rocks from a day care in New Jersey.

What can I say? It is kind of stupid hobby. But the Special-ed kids get recess! 😉

Road Trip

There is nothing like four hundred miles of South Dakota to inspire you to resurrect a long since dead blog. Let me share my boredom with you!

The Hagen family road trip tradition began in 2009. Facebook memories are reminding me that it was this week nine years ago when we made our westbound trip. I could see that the days when I would have the luxury of a trip with the whole family were numbered.

Benjamin was head over heels with the love of his life, and soon to be wife Emily. The entire trip we had to kick him in the head to get off the phone, and look out the window. He was a total sappy mush head. It is something I greatly respect in him. Advice that I will pass down to the next generation, is that when you are truly in love with someone, make a total ass out of yourself. Life is short, and you should never regret expressing your love for someone. I have heard a lot of people say, “My father never said he loved me.” Never once have I heard them follow with, “I am sure glad they were tough on me.” Love with reckless abandon!

My childhood was pretty nomadic. Most of the time I am crabbing about it. Often it was a good thing. I have had the luxury of travel most of my life. Dianne and I want to share our roots with our children and future generations of our offspring.

Road trip 2009 was a great mix of memories, history, science, heritage, and just plain fun. Did I mention we had fun? My kids are amazing travel companions. All of my memories of our travels as a kid were that we kind of ruined everything by complaining. I love being stuck in a car with my kids for weeks and thousands of miles. We really have nothing to do but visit. I can’t think of a finer prison sentence.

And here is where the road takes a different turn. I need to pick up the 2009 trip in the future, but now the beautiful aftertaste of the trip we are on a decade later is still fresh on my mind, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

So the 2018 trip begins…

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block! The mere suggestion of it brings up the image of images of thirty pages of paper in crumpled balls around a trash can. Each page has on carefully crafted line at the top that just wasn’t good enough. Each project represents another tree murdered from a virgin forest in the attempt to encapsulate a profound thought to inflict on a reader.

For me the labor of getting thoughts crystalized with correct verbiage and spelling was the source of great angst during my days of compulsory writing. The realities of that day were that four or five typographical errors caused a page to be so irreconcilably flawed that no attempt at erasure would ever fix the smudgy look that too many changes causes to a work of art. A few of my papers in Graduate School were composed on a KAYPRO IBM XT clone with two low density floppy drives. Sins of spastic fingers or a third grade spelling vocabulary were magically erased on that smoking hot beauty as long as you could remember which “magic letter” would send the cursor to the region of offense.

My parents both had undergraduate teaching degrees from what is now Vanderbilt’s Education School. My mom had a teacher’s degree with a major in English and a minor in Library Science. Dad had a teacher’s degree with a double major in Mathematics and Physics. When they went back to Seminary they both finished Master’s degrees that represented 60+ and 90+ hours respectively. We lived all over the United States, and traveled extensively. I had a lot of opportunities for life enrichment even at an early age. For me it is difficult that my spoken vocabulary always outpaced my spelling vocabulary.

At this point I am going to take an outdated rant against some of the linguistic bologna we were given on the subject of spelling. Can I get a witness here? How many of you were told, “Just spell it like it sounds” These are lies of the devil. The spelling of words in English are a function of the societies they assimilated as they were conquered by and conquered the mainland of Europe.

Perhaps the most egregious spelling fallacy was, “Look it up in the dictionary.” I would rather read a dictionary than try to look up a word I can’t spell in a dictionary. Was I the only one who figured out if the words are listed in alphabetical by spelling; you really need to know how to spell them to look them up? One of my greatest grade school fears was falling asleep with my head cradled between the pages of the offending dictionary.

Enter the world of twenty-first technology. Words are changed in mid thought with no eraser crumbs clogging the rollers of your manual typewriter. Spelling is corrected with little squiggly lines under the dubious guess of the spelling. Now my only fear is correctly spelling the wrong word. AND WRITER’S BLOCK IS NOW MAGICALLY CURED.

It would be nice if the problem were only that simple. For me the issue boils down to lack of inspiration. My thoughts flow like a river if I want to convey a thought. If the subject is uninspiring, the trash can fills to overflowing, or the electrons are obliterated into “Delete” oblivion.

Enter the fifty two year old Sid. Somehow in my history of failed attempts at inspiration, I realize that writing is a way I can crystalize my soul into a gift that I can share with people around me. It is a little chunk of me, that I can scratch my mark on history. Written speech is such a gift. Perhaps I will use it a bit more. Then again, it has taken me about a month to finish my treatise on Writer’s Block. Maybe I will throw this away and start over. Naw! I have more to write later, and it is time to move on.

Happy Mother’s Day

It was three years ago today. I was immersed in the kind of work I really don’t enjoy, a turnkey renovation. Jobs like that seem to drag on forever, and this was no exception. The phone call came. My dad was being comforted by a friend in the ministry who had the love and compassion of an old minister who had seen the scars of death in this life many times. He said, “Your mother is with Jesus.”
After that started the complex series of emotions that death brings. Mom had been close to death about six months earlier. I stood over her hospital bed, and watched her against all odds wake up. The doctors did a most amazing procedure which bypassed her blocked liver. It was something I thought would have prolonged her life for several years, but it really didn’t fix her ultimate problem.
Mom’s problem is that, we live in a body that is dying. Modern medicine pushes new boundaries in combating diseases that destroyed young lives, but it is like a big game of “Whack-a-mole.” Every time you knock one down another pops up. The total of the failure of all the systems that keep us alive is the ultimate dying of natural causes. Nothing is natural about death. It was never supposed to be this way. My pastor has said it well, “We stand over a body in a casket, and we say ‘He looks so natural’ and the truth is he is in the worst shape we have ever seen.” As a preacher’s kid who grew up with the wall of our house contiguous with the graveyard fence, and the participant in many a funeral, I can tell you that the body looks dead.

Mom’s death was a Public Relations problem for our family. Mom died of Cirrhosis of the liver. The more common cause of Cirrhosis is chronic alcoholism. My mom hated alcohol with a passion. We believe that one time she got some spiked punch at a wedding. We used to delight in poking fun at her about the event. It was a bad move! Her eyes would flash at the prospect that she had ever touched alcohol. The truth is I don’t know why she got that disease. Somehow even today I feel a stupid compulsion to reassure people what they already know. Mrs. Jean was NOT a closet alcoholic.

My dad weaves together this elaborate theory about how she got parasites in a dust storm in Arizona in the 60’s, and none of the doctors caught it, and it destroyed her liver fifty years later. My doctor who has the funniest sense of dry humor about medical problems is that you get them by bad luck. Disease and death are promised realities of this fallen world. As surely as I will get up on Monday, and go back to work on never-ending mechanical failures, I will also go to my grave with a failed body.
I didn’t react at all the day I heard the news. I picked up the wires I was pulling and kept pulling them, but it was the start of persistent grief, that has not faded since then. Three years later it is deeper. As a season I love Spring. Now it brings complex emotions. I see the flowers blooming as I make my treks in and out of Home Depot, and invariably I start to remember the plants we got for mom. It is not a good memory.

My faith in the eternal reality is not shaken. I don’t have to concoct my silly visions of Heaven to be at peace with mom’s eternal destiny. Rather than saying something stupid like she is riding a horse and buggy on a gold road with Jesus, I know that she went to a perfect reality, totally forgiven, in a relationship with the Savior she knew and served for most of her life. Death for her was leaving the bondage of a sin cursed world.

We have a concept of heaven like the eternal saints sit around peering on the earth watching us like ants in an arena. Since then I wonder if they even see the earth. Perhaps the mercies of God he doesn’t allow them to worry about whether their children make the mortgage next month. The truth is that I don’t pray to mom. I hope that she only has her eyes on Jesus.

A week after we were down celebrating our last Mother’s Day with mom, we were at her funeral. We were surrounded with compassion by a community that dearly loved my mother. One of the preachers at mom’s funeral came up with an accidental ironic statement about my mom. He said, “Mrs. Jean is dancing before Jesus.” My mom was such a Baptist she didn’t have a clue how to dance. I guess Jesus taught her.
And then we are left alone. We all hurt; my dad’s loss is immeasurable. For my dad I often wish that he could wake up dead one morning, and the separation be over. He is trying, and he hasn’t lost his faith, but the weight of it all, along with the progression of death in his own life has changed him. Our end game is never pretty.

And once again it is Mother’s Day. Her loving fingerprints are on the life of me, my family, and generations of people living and in the future who will be touched by a life lived well.
Today Mother’s Day falls on the third anniversary of Mom’s death. I truly miss you Mom.

Enigma

It has been three months since I have cranked out a blog entry. I have made a few attempts at a post, but I have been suffering from severe writer’s block. Part of the dry spell has been to an amazing year in business. For about eighteen years, I have been running my business as a “Jack of all trades, Master of none.” I have been in business for twenty years this year. The older Sid would advise the younger Sid to limit your business to what you love doing, and turn down everything else. The down side to this is that since my heart pumps Freon, the peak heat of summer is blinding in intensity for an Air-conditioning man. My creativity has been kind of cooked all summer long.

Perhaps my dry spell has been due to a lack of inspiration as well. I made a few attempts to write some blogs describing mentors in my life. In my list of people I respect and try to emulate my Dad is right there in the center. For me Dad is an enigma. To check out the word enigma I did a quick search and came up with this from Dictionary.com.
“e•nig•ma
noun, plural e•nig•mas; Chiefly Archaic

2.
a person of puzzling or contradictory character: To me he has always been an enigma, one minute completely insensitive, the next moved to tears.

Definition two definitely describes my feelings toward Dad. I can only describe the emotions he evokes as full volume on all channels. I think I have subconsciously avoided dipping my ladle into the emotional stew I feel toward my dad because I kind of know what is in the pot. My mom was an angel. I could easily write about her because I know that there is nothing unpleasant in the stew pot. I also think it would be easy to write about Hitler, Caligula, or Queen Jezebel, because they were people with no redeeming virtues. And then I come to Dad, my enigma.

I have found writing this blog to be very cathartic for me on all levels, other than the fact that it has made me want to go back to Freshman English so I don’t sound like an absolute moron. There is something very judicial about binding an emotion up and putting it down in hard copy. It is also scary to think you have chosen a format that displays your dirty laundry to anyone with an ISP and a mouse.

My problem with dad is that I could write several blogs that extol his virtues, and it would be an accurate picture of an amazing man. In reality his virtues would far outweigh his vices. I could also cherry pick through his bad moments and you would have a horrible image of him that was accurate, but represents a small part of his life. I think it is going to take several entries to box up my thoughts toward Dad. Much of my thoughts will never be up for public consumption. One problem I face as I wade through this is that I know that there are many others who had it so much worse. Some men are just pure evil. I hear stories of people who grew up with absolute sadists, and I feel like such a lightweight. Dad wasn’t all that bad. It is very common for me to point out one of my sticking points to my dad with him, and he refers to something worse with his dad. Somehow the fact that others had it much worse doesn’t make my problems seem any less real.

I just got back from a really bad visit with Dad. Dad is eighty-three years old and lives in a 28,000 square foot school building. For his age he thinks pretty well, and gets around alright. The building he lives in is a huge albatross that has slowly sucked down many of his resources. I view the thing as such a sucking liability that it may implode into a singularity. If you ever find yourself flying at near light speed toward Louisiana, you will know I was right. Dad has signs of on setting dementia that will probably be full blown Alzheimer’s in a few years.

Both my grandmothers had dementia in their end game. For Grandma Hagen it just exacerbated her quirks, and made her extremely dependent and clingy. Grandma Gladdish did a complete 180 degree turn from her well composed self. My sweet church librarian grandmother would suddenly weave a tapestry of profanity that would make a drunken sailor bow his head and give up cussing in shame of his ineptness. In either case, I could never tell if they were just totally out of their mind, or if the mask had finally come off. My love for all my family is great enough to believe mainly the best out of them. I kind of cringe at the thought that one day my mask may fall off. I think most of us are scared to delve into the darkness of our own depravity.

My conundrum with Dad is that while he’s showing some clear signs of dementia. I see it as the dad I grew up with, just a little worse. I think I should be responding with compassion, and sympathy. Instead I find rage, at what is a lifelong pattern of bad decision making. Dad knows how to push people’s buttons. When he is pushing mine, I really want to just shut him off.

And yet………I know it just isn’t right to shut him out in his hour of need. Reality is that in my worst moment, I was blessed to be the son of Richard Hagen. As I have time and the liberty to write, I would like to introduce you to my father. An enigma to me, and a man worthy of respect.

Discipline

Sometime in the fall of 1968, we moved to the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  The move introduced me to my fourth school by the early part of my Second Grade.  I moved to William Charles Cole Claiborne Elementary School.  I had to write the entire name of the school on each of our tests.  Most of the time, the test was over by the time I finished writing the full header including my schools name, my teacher’s name, my name, the date, and the subject.

This started an endless sequence in my life of being the new kid in class, and being the crash test dummy for the discipline system of the school.  Over the years I sported a rather impressive resume` of new schools, types of education, and the underbelly of the beast waiting for my punishment at the hands of a principal, or a teacher.

It was the late 1960’s.  Psychology and alternative thinking was in full swing.  Generations before were raised on the three “B’s” of Education, Bust their Butts with a Board.  It was suddenly cool to just mess with a kid’s mind, rather than bruise their butts.  My Second Grade teacher was a woman named Miss Grant.  She had one of these big bouffant hairdos that must have consumed several of her waking hours trying to get that much volume.  I still remember thinking she was hot.  The great poet, Confederate Railroad, described the look so well.

“Shoulda seen the looks on the faces of my Dad and Mom,
When I showed up at the door with a date for the senior prom.
They said: “Well, pardon us son, she ain’t no kid.
“That’s a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig.
I said: “I know it dad, ain’t she cool, that’s the kind I dig.”

Yeah, an’ I like my women just a little on the trashy side,
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed.
Too much lipstick an’ er too much rouge,
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused.
An’ I like my women just a little on the trashy side.”*

Miss Grant must have slept with hair rollers the size of toxic waste drums.  I believe her makeup was applied with a mason’s trowel.  It has been about forty-five years, but I think she was the first woman that made me notice that females have significant anatomical differences from men. Turns two and four on the race track were particularly overstated.

Miss Grant was particularly fond of psychological manipulation.  Offensive students were “Put out of the community.”  The class had a little annex section toward the back left side facing the teacher.  When you were “put out of the community” she would move your desk over to the annex away from all the good kids.  I love to make light of this form of punishment years later.   I lived outside the community.  I ran organized crime outside the community.  They elected me mayor of outside the community.  I used to make fun of the “Sheeple” inside the community.

Reality is that I was absolutely crushed.  My mother’s eyes would flash, with the momma bear’s protective instinct when I would sob that I got put out of the community today.  It was my first taste of years of the new kid syndrome.  Most kids are tied to their school district by the location of their house.  For many children, their home address doesn’t change for decades.  Every year spent in the same school creates a web cliques that gets tighter every year.  Overcoming the inertia of this gets harder and harder as time progresses.

This blog brings up a personal issue.  How influenced are you by other people’s opinion?  I meet people totally oblivious to other people around them.  They absolutely don’t care what people think of them.  While people like that seem to have few friends due to the number of people they alienate, I am somewhat jealous of them.  They have immunity to peer pressure.  No one manipulates them with guilt, or ostracism, or anything.  The other end of the spectrum is a person who is so controlled by fear of his peers, he is absolutely paralyzed.  I have spent most of my life trying to balance either extreme, but erring on the side of being controlled by fear of other people.  That fear has led me to spend most of my life trying to attract attention to be popular.  It is a great resume` for a comedian.  The fear can be absolutely crippling.

Being put out of the community should have been effective discipline.  The need for attention always took over, and it was another round out of the community.  There is a level or resignation that comes over a person when they start to believe they can never do anything right.  I have seen that look on Sunday school kids, Christian school kids, reform school kids, and hardened criminals.  When hopelessness takes over, discipline is almost useless.

Sometimes we need to reboot our thinking.  It is not just enough to get someone to conform to a set of rules while they are under your authority.  In the big picture, you are trying to teach someone a set of values.  I say this like I have never made a mistake.  Reality is that I have learned most of right by doing wrong and dealing with the consequences.  The art is correcting the mistakes in a way that instills a desire to do right.  If you are crushing the esteem and spirit of a child, you will produce a robot that conforms in your presence.  The end game to that is rarely pretty.

In the end game, I survived.  It wasn’t the worst injury I ever had, and it certainly wasn’t the last injury either.  Somehow forty-five years later the event was traumatic enough that on my Saturday off, I am choosing to share it on an internet forum.  This leaves me with one final chilling thought.  What kind of mistake am I making today, that will waste someone’s Saturday forty-five years from now?  That is way too chilling of a thought for me to deal with on my day off.

*Confederate Railroad, “Trashy Women”