Cobalt

Cobalt: (n) the chemical element of atomic number 27, a hard silvery-white magnetic metal.

My dad decided to die when I was sixteen years old.

He had planned it for nearly thirty years.

As a cigarette smoker who actually bought tobacco in the can and “rolled his own,” he had pretty well determined the end of his story long before he’d lived out all the plot lines.

I was one of the plot lines.

Before I found out that he had terminal lung cancer which had spread to his brain, there was a brief, three-month period when he became warmer, more tender–wanting some closeness with me.

Unfortunately, by that time I had created so much distance there was no way for me to transport myself to his side–even when I discovered he was dying.

They sat down and explained it to me, pointing out that he would be going through radiation treatments, which involved cobalt. He did.

Yet he barely survived the only cure they had available. When he returned home, he could barely walk and had trouble breathing. His skin was red like he had a deep sunburn, and he smelled like the trash we burned in the back yard.

Being around him just scared the hell out of me.

Everyone wanted me to turn into the devoted son who held the hand of his ailing father up to death’s door.

I just couldn’t do it.

Even when his breathing became so heavy that I could hear it through the walls while sitting on our porch stoop, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I loved him or even be present when the last gasp escaped his being.

This is my memory of cobalt.

It was used in the early years of radiation treatment, and left the patient nearly vacant of the resources to think and move.

As I sit here today, I can wish that I had been a better son and he a better father.

But that is because I have an older mind, and sometimes find it difficult to regain the fury involved in being sixteen.

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Chiller

Chiller: (n) short for spine-chiller.

My parents tried.

As I get older, I vaguely understand that my mother and father attempted to comprehend what was in the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy.

They didn’t do well–that’s why I used the word “tried.” Maybe I should have added “and failed.”

But once a month they would let me have some friends over to spend the night on Friday evening, and after my parents went to bed, we would gather in front of the only television in the house, which happened to be in the living room, and watch “Chiller Theater.”

The movies weren’t really scary–they were 1930′ or 1940’s ilk, chocked-full of silly props and plagued with over-acting.

But with seven or eight young boys in a dark house, poking each other and wrestling, the experience soon turned into a scream fest.

My father would appear from the bedroom, which was adjacent to the living room in our tiny bungalow, and mutter something to the effect of, “You boys need to keep it down.” But my recollection of how it sounded in my ears was: “Youwse keep the clown.”

So since the order was vague, we would quiet ourselves for a small period of time, and soon be right back to the decibels necessary to make us feel like we were really partying.

I think my parents hated “Chiller Theater” night. This was proven by the fact that they always insisted, when the fourth Friday came around, that I had added incorrectly, and it wouldn’t be until next week. Unfortunately for them, I carried a calendar with me and pointed out their mistake.

So when I hear the word “chiller,” I think of six or seven pubescent and pre-pubescent boys gathered in a tiny living room, wrestling, trying desperately not to knock over furniture, while screaming just enough to prove that we were the true “Monsters of Might” instead of those displayed on the screen before us.

 

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Children

Children: (n) plural form of child.

Four sons were brought into this world by my sexual cooperation. In other words, I’m their dad.

Three other young gentlemen arrived on my doorstep because they were no longer safe and sound in their home environment.

As I look back on it, I must be truthful–because I’m a writer, a vagabond, a searcher and a proclaimer, I may not have been the best choice of a man to have
children. Fortunately for me, my offspring generally disagree.

My approach with children was really simple: I have a life. It is my time to have a life. You are welcome to come along if you don’t complain too much.

They quickly became convinced that their dad was cool, because he wasn’t like other dads. Of course, when they came into their teen years, they became critical of me not being like other dads. The charm of my uniqueness had worn off.

Children exist for two reasons:

  1. To remind us how bratty human beings really are.
  2. To give us a chance through instruction, love and tenderness to make a better generation.

I cuddled with my children but I never coddled them.

I loved them but I avoided getting lovey-dovey.

I gave to them, but never gave into their demands.

I respected them as long as they respected themselves.

I laughed with them as long as they realized there was a season to weep.

And when it was time for them to move on, I granted them the autonomy to be themselves without feeling loaded down with ancient family history.

The Good Book says we are the children of God. It’s very true–because after all, we are a bratty group which needs discipline, but still possesses the potential of bringing new hope for a new generation.

 

 

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Charcoal

Charcoal: (v) to cook over charcoal.

My dad tried hard.

I didn’t know it at the time–I was a teenager and I thought he was an old man. He was pretty old–older than most of the dads.

Sometimes he would imitate joy over having me as a son. I was usually watching television at the time, and unaffected by his attempts at
conversation. Then, when I needed five dollars to take a girl on a date, he distanced himself from me–protecting his pocketbook.

We never connected. But to his credit, he never stopped trying.

He even decided to go out and buy a really cheap grill from Buckeye Mart, complete with charcoal briquettes and lighting fluid. He was determined to grill hamburgers in our back yard.

He had no experience.

The first half hour was spent trying to figure out how to ignite the charcoal. Then he ended up wasting about two pounds of hamburger because he didn’t know you were supposed to wait until the fire went down. I faithfully stood by his side watching as he told me I would be taking over the grill in just a few moments.

I never did take over the grill.

The charcoal he bought was so cheap it wouldn’t stay lit and the lighter fluid was bargain brand and not very effective.

So at the end of the excursion, my father presented a platter of hamburgers that looked like charcoal briquettes, and some that were still raw.

It was a fiasco.

It would have been fine if he had laughed at himself or admitted his lack of foreknowledge. But he didn’t. He blamed Buckeye Mart for having inferior products and me for not being adequately motivated.

It is not a good memory.

But it does remind me that a sad man–who happened to be my dad–kept trying to please a very bratty son.

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Cabin

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Cabin: (n) a small shelter or house, made of wood and situated in a remote area.

The human brain is not spacious.

Matter of fact, it’s pretty cramped.

When you add the clutter of prejudice, misconception, disappointment and selfishness, it can be extraordinarily confined.

That’s the way it was with my dad.

My dad never got a chance to find out if he was a good man or a bad man because he was surrounded by men just like him. Therefore he compared himself to them.

They were all frightened of change.

They were all nervous about not having enough money.

They were all intimidated by despondent and dissatisfied women.

And they were all looking for a retreat.

My dad went to Canada–sometimes twice a year–to hunt and fish, but mostly to try to find something in his brain that was his own.

My mother didn’t mean to be intrusive. She always felt she was being helpful. The problem is, helpful is rarely achieved if no one is asking for help.

My dad was not unhappy, he just wanted to be left alone. So he built himself a cabin out on a small piece of land that we owned outside town. It was rustic, it was small, and had very little in it–except my dad, when he wanted to be away from everybody.

My girlfriend and I occasionally slipped out to the location to “play doctor” which eventually led to “hospital.”

But every time I came into that room I could feel his loneliness. I know it sounds poetic, or even misplaced, but there was a quiet in the room which was disconcerting instead of reassuring.

The day he died, people gathered at our home to consume all the casseroles which had been brought in by well-meaning relatives. I slipped away and drove to that cabin, walked in and sat down on the cot that was in the middle of the room.

I don’t know what I expected. Perhaps I thought I would feel the spirit of my dearly departed father.

All I felt was the loneliness which was now even more lonely, because its only visitor had finally escaped.

 

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Brook

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Brook: (n) a small stream

About two miles outside of our little town, my dad bought a piece of land, where he hoped his growing children would be able to escape and get a sense of “farm” and fresh air.Dictionary B

It wasn’t large, and because it wasn’t tended well, it was usually overgrown.

But every once in a while I got an itch to go out and walk through the tall grass to a clearing where there was a high bank surrounding a brook.

The stream was not very impressive–probably about seven feet across at its widest place, and no more than a foot-and-a-half deep.

But it was usually clear–see right to the bottom.

One day I told my dad I was going to go fishing in the brook. He laughed at me, and explained that our little waterway would not sustain fish because there was no place for them to go.

After soaking my worm in the water for about an hour–to no avail–I realized he was right. I was about to give up when I sensed some movement in some nearby rocks.

It was a little fish.

I don’t know how he got there (or if he was a she). But he was obviously trapped, not knowing which way to go. Every time he swam forward he hit a rock, and every time he swam the other way, he bumped his nose on a stone.

He was literally caught between a rock and a hard place.

So for the next hour, I threw my hook and worm near him, hoping to draw the little fishie onto my rod and reel, so I could go back proudly and tell my dad he was wrong.

When the worm didn’t draw the fish’s attention, I attempted to reach in and grab him. He was very athletic and eluded my grasp.

I finally gave up.

I went to tell my dad to come and see the fish that was in our brook. He waited, puttered around, and finally made his way out to view my discovery.

The fish was gone.

I have no idea how that little blue gill figured out a way to escape his prison. But Nature always comes up with a plan.

Fish are not like us.

They don’t get frustrated, mad … and decide to hide out in their room.

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Bra

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Bra: (n) an undergarment worn by women to support the breasts

When I look in the mirror I see some wrinkles.

But also, I peer at the countenance of experience.

I have people who call me Dad and also Grandpa.

After years and years of relationship, there are souls who come to me for counsel.Dictionary B

I have even been referred to as “wise.”

I have awards which proclaim that I am a creature of merit.

But still–when I see a bra, I get giggly

There is a little boy inside me who has a childish view of a garment.

I could pretend that I don’t.

I could force myself to look at a bra and think it was similar to a t-shirt. But I would be lying.

I think it is fruitless to pretend that we ever escape the first inclinations of our youthful lust, but instead, just gain the insight to run away from them … before they take us down tawdry paths.

 

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