The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the month “January, 2020”

Tools of the Trade

 

 

first published August 6, 2018

Lepo

I went to work as a carpenter’s apprentice when I was twelve years old.  My master was a man of considerable talent and I felt fortunate to learn my trade at his side.  He was generous with his knowledge.  He taught me to understand the properties and nuances of each type of wood – which was best for what purpose. I learned the intricacies of carving and joining, how to bend and shape the wood, how to work with expensive veneers, how to make glues and mix paints and prepare varnish.

My master had a son, who was just a small child when I first came to work in the shop.  Although his father hoped he, too, would learn the trade, as he got older, the boy showed little interest in, and even less skill at, woodworking.  In truth, he had few skills in anything.  He was a lazy child, spoiled by his mother.

Although this was a disappointment to his father, I had become a kind of surrogate son to him. It was clear the boy resented the close relationship and camaraderie I had with his father, our mutual respect, the easy way we communicated. I tried my best to stay out of his way so as not to antagonize the situation.

As time went by and I became a fine craftsman myself, my master and I became more like business partners than teacher and student. I dare say, I might even have taught him a few things now and then. We worked well together, each focusing on what we were best at.  Our furniture was in high demand and fetched a good price, making us both financially comfortable.

We worked this way, in harmony, for many decades.

When my master eventually died, his son inherited the building in which the shop was located.  He took a certain glee in turning me out, forcing me to find other circumstances where I could ply my trade.

Before I left, however, I did something which weighed on me for the rest of my life. It put me in a state of perpetual spiritual doubt.

When I packed my box to leave, I added my master’s fine tools to my own – his augurs and braces and chisels, imbued with the sweat and oil of his capable hands. I knew they were his son’s birthright but I also knew he would not put them to good purpose. In his possession, the would molder and rust in a damp corner until they were no longer useful whereas I could use them to create beautiful things and to earn a living for my family.

I took them and I went far away, to a place where he would not find me.  It might have been more convenient for me to remain close by as I already had a reputation as a fine furniture maker, but I did not want the inevitable trouble from the son, which I certainly would have had, even without the theft of the tools.

I found work easily, and soon had my own shop. I used those tools to create some splendid and artful pieces, and my family lived comfortably.

There were times, over the years, when I felt remorse for having based my fortune, as it was, on a sin.  Who was I to decide that my use of the tools was more important than his desire for them?   But always, the feeling passed.  I told myself it would have been a greater sin for those beautiful instruments to remain unused, unappreciated, unloved.  If the son was angry or resentful that I had taken them it was not because he had any sentimental feelings for them (as I most certainly did) but rather that he was upset that I took, yet one more thing that he believed he deserved to be his.

My own son had a natural instinct for wood and eventually he inherited those tools. As did his son after him.

I still wonder if I did the right thing.

—-

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

The Aging Heiress

originally posted 4/27/14

glamorous vintage woman

Lael

I was vain, it is true. And my vanity caused many others to suffer. I was vain about things I had no right to claim as my own – my looks, my status (which was inherited, and then enhanced by marriage.)

In my 20’s, I was known as a great beauty. I was invited to all the right parties. Men desired me.

As I got older, I took care of myself as best I could, to maintain the illusion of youth as long as possible. After a certain number of years, however, age just catches up. A woman loses her sexual power over men. If this is all she has, if she’s put all her eggs in this particular basket, she ends up with nothing.

I had four husbands and excellent lawyers, but even money doesn’t fill that void, although I worked hard to prove that statement incorrect. Still, it was better to have money than not.

At 79, I was still elegant; still invited to all the right parties. My last companion was 53.  It was obvious to everyone except me that he was playing me. I wanted to believe that I still had enough wit, charm, and charisma to attract such a witty, charming, charismatic man.

When I died, he and my children (with whom I was never particularly close), got into a protracted legal suit over my estate. From where I was, I didn’t care who won. I could see how utterly pointless their battle was. The loser, in the end, was the real winner, although it took a while for that understanding to sink in.

 

***

note:

Today I was out for a walk and ran into two women I haven’t spoken to in over a year.  The first woman is a neighbor, and though we usually have a quick hello when we see each other on the street,  today we ended up yakking for an hour. Mostly, she talked a lot about her late mother, who had passed the previous year.  There was nothing unusual in that.  It made perfect sense in the context of the conversation we were having, although it was the longest conversation we’ve had, probably in two or three years.

From there, I went to the supermarket.  Right on front of me in line,  was someone who’d worked for me very briefly over a year ago.  We have not been in touch.  I asked her how she was doing, making light conversation.  She told me her mother had just passed away. While waiting to check out, she started telling me all about her mom,  her history, her days as an organizer.

I didn’t think anything odd about either of these encounters at the time. Later, however, I wondered if there wasn’t something a bit more than coincidence here.   They hadn’t simply informed that their mothers had recently passed. That’s  normal “news” you might share under such circumstances.  It was that they both spontaneously told me their mother’s story,  as if it were important for me to know.  In neither case was it at all in keeping with the very casual kind of relationship we had.

—-

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

 

I’ve Been Workin’ On the Railroad…

NEW!

Tan

When I was a boy, our family lived in a small house on a hillside.  Down in the hollow below, which was partly natural, partly manmade, ran The Train. Although it was already there when I was born, its arrival to our area was within memory of most of the older adults. Few had actually ridden upon it but they were nevertheless in awe of it.   They knew how long it could take a person by carriage or even foot, to reach even just the next station. In their own lifetimes, they had seen the world shrink by half.

I absorbed their awe.

Each time the train passed through, with the echo of its whistle bouncing up and down the sides of the hills, I would try to imagine all the places such a powerful machine could take me — exotic places where the language and customs were unintelligible to me; where people wore brightly colored clothing and marvelous headdresses; where to sit at a dining table might mean eating unknown ingredients simmered in mysterious spices.  I loved books about foreign lands, especially those with pictures. I longed to find myself somewhere other than where I was.

While nobody I had ever met had ever gone more than a day’s journey by train (and for everyone, that was exciting enough!)  my own imagination was stoked once I understood that although this track might only lead to the nearest large city,  from there you could ride another train, and another train, and then another, and in turn,  you could go almost anywhere.

And thus began my fascination with the train.

When I was fourteen, I took myself to the local depot, which was perhaps an hour’s walk down the line, and presented myself to the station master.  I offered to do any kind of work he might have available.  He must have seen my enthusiasm (which is more than most workers have for their jobs) and gave me a chance.  I would sweep the floors, empty the dust bins,  haul coal to heat the office and waiting area.  I was barely paid more than volunteer work, but I was happy.  Whatever I made were contributed to family expenses.  It wasn’t much and I might have earned more doing different work, but my parents saw how happy the job made me, and I think they believed, as did I, that I had found my place.

I had the train schedule memorized,  reading it the way some folks pore over the Bible. I could tell a passenger exactly when the train would arrive without having to look. I loved seeing those who were lucky enough to ride, dressed in their traveling finery.

I always looked for opportunities to expand my service whether it meant carrying bags, assisting passengers up the steps, even loading and unloading mailbags and packages. I was always reliable, never complaining.  The Stationmaster appreciated my value, and would periodically give me small raises.

Eventually, one of the older gentlemen who worked in the back office retired and everybody else shifted up.  I was moved into the office where I was put in charge of what I considered to be important administrative and secretarial tasks. I am certain the Stationmaster had never encountered anyone so happy to do filing or counting or adding columns of numbers.

By now, I was able to save a little money from my salary in addition to giving most of it to my parents.  It was my travel fund.  Someday, I knew, I would get on that train as a passenger and not return for a very long time. Or ever.

It was around this time that I met a girl.  Her father owned a small shop in the depot down and he had enough money to occasionally take her into the city for an excursion.  Whenever she returned, I’d beg her to tell me all about it. She was happy to oblige. And so, we became friends. She told me of her adventures in the city, and I told her of my dreams of places far beyond.  She’d never much thought about what lay beyond, but now I’d stoked her imagine as well.

When I asked her to marry me, she happily said yes, and her family approved.  Perhaps I wasn’t as successful as some of her other suitors, but her father saw how she came alive when we were together, and he sensed that I would make it my priority to make her happy.  He was correct.

I went to the Stationmaster with my good news, asking for a better position with better pay.  He soon promoted me to the ticket window which was a position of great trust since I had to handle and count money.  I took my job very seriously and was careful to not make mistakes.

Now I had a reasonable income on which to support a wife, and perhaps eventually, a family.

We found a small house not far from the depot, at a rent that was within our budget.  She set about making it a home.

Before long, there were children. Four of them, whom I loved dearly and doted on. I gave them everything I could, but still managed to add a little bit, here and there, to my travel fund. My wife knew of this, and she, too, enjoyed the fantasy that someday, when the children were finally grown,  we would go somewhere exotic.  The fund didn’t have much,  but had I abandoned it,  I would have lost all hope of fulfilling my dream. With hope gone, I could not have remained so happily in my job. It was for this reason as well that she never asked to dip into that money. It was mine. It was sacrosanct.

The years passed and I eventually became the stationmaster.  In this official capacity, I was able to ride the train for free, but except for going back and forth between termini, there was not much point to it.  Once, when they were young, we took our children the city but with the hotel and restaurants, it was quite expensive and we never did it again.

The children grew and started families of their own. I was adding as much as I could to the travel fund so when I stopped working, we could really see the world.  It was a constant discussion – how long should we wait?  The longer I held my job, the more money we’d have to travel.  But the older we got, the more difficult travel would be.

And then one day, the decision was made for us.  My beautiful wife became ill. At first, the doctors thought she would quickly recover, but her condition worsened by the week.  Soon she grew too weak to leave her bed.  And in just a few months, she was gone.

I was inconsolable.

The allure of traveling vanished overnight. Without her, what was the point?  I bought her the most expensive, elaborate gravestone I could afford with whatever money was in my fund.

I was still working, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I went from home to the station, from the station to home.  One night,  less than a year after she died,  I was waking home from work,  lost in my own sad thoughts, not paying attention to anything but my own feelings.  I didn’t hear or see the train coming around the curve. And in an instant, I, too, was gone.

In its way, the train did take me to my final destination.

—-

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog, please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days). When you think of others who might enjoy it too, it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media. Email a particularly apt link to a friend. Even better, talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also, I have just started a discussion group on Facebook, for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts. Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself. I would love get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

The Merchant Marine

Originally posted 4/24/14

merchant marine poster

 Roah

I was 26 when my mother died. I felt at once bereft because there was nobody left in the world who really loved me. Yet at the same time, I felt liberated. I was no longer responsible for anyone’s needs or expectations. I was free to go anywhere, do anything without worrying that I would be a disappointment to the one person who counted on me.

I became a merchant mariner and got a job on a freighter that traveled between the Gulf of Oman and Marseilles.

Sometimes, I’d meet a woman in a port bar – either a prostitute or a lonely, desperate, over-the-hill drunk who just wanted to be held and made to feel desired for a few hours.

I never saw any of them again and that suited me fine. No bonds, no expectations, no one to answer to or disappoint. I was truly free.

It wasn’t until I retired at age 53, that I began to notice my loneliness. It wasn’t too easy for a grizzled old man like me to attract a decent woman. I had no idea how to be with a female more than a few hours at a time. I didn’t understand how their brains functioned; what made them tick. They confused and frightened me, these alien creatures. I kept my distance. And soon, I, too, became a pathetic, lonely old drunk whose entire social life was passed in the pub down the road from my tiny flat.

I’d watch the games on TV with the rest of the drunks. Some were married but came down to escape their wives and screaming kids for a few hours. There were a few widow and widowers, who missed the familiar companionship of their spouses and sought a cheap substitute in virtual strangers. There were quite a few divorced men. It was hard to know if they were divorced because they drank or if they drank because they were divorced.

The women tended to wear their desperation more openly, and I, for one, didn’t want to drown in their messy emotional vichyssoise. I preferred to pay a pro and have it be neat and uncomplicated. Better than having some drunken old broad clinging to me as she cried in her beer.

When I was 61, I started to lose my memory. At first, it was only small things, which I told myself was just normal forgetfulness for a man my age. Soon, however, it became obvious even to the others that something was seriously wrong, although I lived in denial for a long time. Of course, as my dementia progressed, it was nearly impossible for me to see for myself how bad it was. I was often confused.  Usually, after a night of drinking, one of the other men walked me home because I tended to get lost, even in the familiar streets I should have known so well.

One night, in the dead of winter, in the middle of the night, I went out for a walk in my underwear. I froze to death along the river in the spot where my mother had taken me on a picnic when I was seven years old.

—-

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

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