Tellers of the Tale

It’s a truism that we lose celebrities in bunches. We lose everyone in bunches, really, famous or otherwise.

But when the bunch includes some of our storytellers, I pay a little more attention.

And so, in a time when Hollywood passings fill the headlines, my own eye wanders to the microphone and the keyboard. Simple places. Places of magic.

Places that, for a while, were the homes of Vin and David.

**

Vin Scully was the greatest of American baseball announcers. No argument. Also, no frills. In a television era, he brought the tools of his radio days: constant description, constant stories, with no signature catchphrase or verbal pyrotechnics. Baseball suited him like no other sport could have, with a pace that allowed him to put just the right word in just the right place … or even no words at all, in times when a few seconds of silence would say it all.

David McCullough? So often, the subjects of his histories were the overlooked: landmarks so common that we’d stopped thinking about them or presidents we’d passed by. The Brooklyn Bridge. The Panama Canal. Harry Truman. All gained a new day in the spotlight through his pen. One of his best-known biographies even wound up turning John Adams into a television star – a fate the notoriously cranky Massachusetts lawyer might have regarded with a bit of bemusement.

And somewhere along the line, the Voice of the Dodgers and the popular historian reminded us that there aren’t’ any ordinary moments. Not really.

Because if you look closely enough, the extraordinary can wait anywhere.

**

When I used to work as a newspaper reporter, I spoke to a lot of kids about the profession. I always said that my favorite part was that everyone had a story waiting to be told.

Not everyone, they’d insist. Not me. And so I’d spend a few minutes asking questions, listening to the answers, sharing the neat stuff. We never once failed to find a story worth hearing.

I still believe it. We’re walking story generators, each and every one of us. We live, we learn, we experience. In the words of the musical Hamilton, “We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes.”

And a lot of times, we fail to notice it.

No surprise, really. We’re all busy living that life, after all. We have bills to pay and families to worry about and a million things knocking at our door (some of them with car warranty offers). It’s easy to get pulled into the illusion of sameness, to think that most things don’t really matter all that much.

That’s the power of a storyteller. To pull back the cloak of the ordinary and reveal the magic that we’ve forgotten to see.

Wonder and purpose. Humor and sympathy. The same no more, but truly unique.

Even in a forgotten bench player in a midsummer baseball game.

Even in a one-term president from an age no longer our own.

And yes, even in each of us.

**

And so, here’s to Scully and McCullough … no, that sounds like a law firm. To Vin and David. Here’s to the words they shaped and the moments they opened.

Thank you for the stories you saw and shared with all of us.

May your own stories never be forgotten.

What Counts … And What Not To

In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams declared that the answer to life, the universe and everything was 42.

So this year, maybe Heather and I have all the answers – but we’ve got them exactly backward.

Yes, it’s official.  The charming couple of Chez Rochat has logged 24 years together.  Twenty-four years since a brief moment of sunshine on a rainy day, with my hair refusing to stay down as we said “I do” in a friend’s garden.  

Fast forward to the present. My hair stays down perfectly now – mostly due to lighter population density. We’ve lived in four different places, only to end up just down the street from two of my childhood homes.

And after all this time, we’re still grabbing for moments of sunshine anywhere we can find them.

It’s weird to look back like this. At 24 years, a marriage has started to go beyond “Aww, congratulations!” and begun to reach “Wow, really?” You’ve gotten past all the bizarre anniversaries you used to joke about – the paper anniversary, the tin anniversary, even the yes-it-exists furniture anniversary – but you’re still a year away from reaching the ones that everyone’s heard of. You know: the silver, the golden, the diamond, the bearer bonds and so on.

I suppose that’s not all bad. After all, if you haven’t quite reached your silver anniversary yet, you can still lay claim to being crazy kids, right? Right?

Well, it was worth a try.

But it does sound strange to say “24 years of marriage” when in your head, you’re still 25. In a way, time stopped on our wedding day. I guess it does for a lot of people. Oh, the days go by with plenty to fill them. But it’s like driving across the plains on I-70; there’s no obvious clue to tell you how far you’ve gone until you happen to check the mileage.

And once you do, you wonder how the car’s kept running this long.

But maybe it’s just in how you look at it.

If you’re a Broadway fan, you probably know the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent. It famously opens with the phrase “525,600 minutes ….” Which sounds pretty gargantuan until the song reminds you that it’s just one year.

More than half a million minutes. But we’re not counting the minutes. We’re living the year.

And at the other end, we’re rarely counting the years. We’re living the days. Live enough of them, well enough, and the minutes and years take care of themselves.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Even at our first anniversary, Heather and I were joking about “When does the ‘in health’ part start?” Over the years, we’ve weathered disasters, mourned family, stacked up medical bills like a game of Jenga, and watched a leaking ceiling “rain” all over our kitchen table.

But we’re still standing. A lot of times, we’re even smiling. Sure, sometimes we’ve had to fight for every bit of sunlight. Sometimes we’ve been going on a mixture of routine and caffeine just to make it through the day. But we keep reaching for the next day. And the next. And the next.

Reach for enough of them and it can be pretty amazing. Maybe even amazing enough to rival life, the universe and everything.

Maybe when we reach 42, we’ll know the answer for sure. But for now, it’s enough to be looking for it together.

For now, this answer’s pretty fantastic. Backward or not.

Beyond Memory

A whole generation has grown up with no direct memory of Sept. 11.

It’s odd that that sounds odd. After all, that’s what happens.  Time moves on. If I pointed out the huge mass of Americans with no memory of the moon landing, or the Kennedy assassination, or World War II, no one would be shocked.

But when it comes to that early fall day of clear skies and screaming headlines 20 years ago, we stumble.

Never forget, we ritually cry. Remember, remember, like some Guy Fawkes rhyme re-cast for a new time and place.

But we can’t hold on to “never.” Brains don’t work that way. And a growing number of us have nothing to remember except the lessons and examples that the rest of us choose to pass on.

What will those be?

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in this place. Seven years ago, on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, I observed how the day was becoming more ordinary. How some of us actually had to be reminded instead of having the date leap to mind automatically. And how we weren’t horrible human beings because of that.

From that past column:

No one’s passing is ever truly “gotten over” or should be, all the less so when the passing is the violent end of a few thousand people.

But it’s OK for the pain to dull, too.

It’s OK to not feel every anniversary as though it were the first one.

It’s OK to be able to look at those memories from a distance and maybe, in a way, see them for the first time with clear eyes.

Most of us have experienced the passing of someone close to us. Some of us have had the ill fortune to have it come out of nowhere, a total surprise that rocks the world. Too sudden or too young or too … well, too many “too’s” to count.

For the longest time afterward, it seems like life can never be about anything else. The pain is fresh and the disjointment real. The wound gapes and resists every effort to stitch it.

But something happens.

It never really gets better. But it gets farther.

And with that time and distance come different memories. The ones that comfort. That remind. That lift the day for a moment instead of crushing it down.

The pain is still there. But it’s no longer alone.

Twenty years since a single day in New York and Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, will the memories we pass on still be of fire and chaos? Or will there be something more?

Will there be the memory of those who reached out to help and comfort from across the country, moved by the needs of people they had never met?

Will there be lessons drawn from the actions we took in its aftermath, good, bad and ugly? The choices that brought us together and the ones that had us squinting in suspicion?

Every crisis shapes us. Some remake the world, like the current pandemic. Some are much more local, like the St. Vrain flood that’s now eight years in the past. Each time, we find ourselves making choices.  What do we carry forward? What do we leave behind?

Memory is important. But memory fades and changes. Its grip loosens a bit with each new heir that it’s passed to.

Build something with it, and memory becomes experience. Build something worthy with it, and it won’t matter that future generations weren’t there. They’ll be here, with a foundation to stand on, an example to learn from, maybe even a goal that they can be part of shaping.

Long after memories of the day have passed, that’s where we’ll find our re-generation.

This Looks Familiar

“Uh-oh!”

That’s one of the Missy phrases that triggers instant attention every time, especially when accompanied by laughter. Our disabled ward likes to pull pranks from time to time, and the more she knows she’s doing something “wrong” – usually putting something where it doesn’t belong – the more jovial she’ll be.

I looked up from the book I had gotten out, on the alert … and laughed as well. Once again, Missy had just swiped my glasses from where they were resting and tried them on. My oversize lenses framed her face surprisingly well,  especially when paired with her crooked grin.

“Go show Heather!”

Off she went. Soon Heather’s laughter echoed as well. And then later that night, after we’d put Missy to bed, she noted something.

“You know,” she said, “it’s amazing how much she looks like Andy with those on. I mean, I always knew there was a resemblance but with those glasses, you can really see it.”

She showed me the pictures – one she’d just taken, the other an old shot of Missy’s brother Andy, who had died in 2006 at the age of 40. Same smile and laughing eyes. Same coloring and facial structure. And now, even the big glasses were similar.

No doubt. None in the world.

Wow.

I’m sure you know the feeling. It’s a little startling, isn’t it? And that sort of déjà vu can lurk around any corner, whether it’s a familiar face, a well-known location, or an old time that seems to become new again.

Maybe especially that last one. Lately, at least.

That may sound a little strange to say. After all, these last 12 months or so have seen an unprecedented use of the word “unprecedented.” (Sorry.)  Maybe in reaction to that, we keep reaching out for comparisons that will make everything make sense. Are we once again seeing the stubbornness and desperation of the Great Pandemic of 1918? The unrest and division of 1968? Are we reprising the corruption of the Watergate years, the economic uncertainty of the Depression, the political uncertainty of Europe between the wars?

Ultimately, of course, every time is its own. But as the old saying goes, even though history doesn’t truly repeat, it often rhymes. It’s still made by us – and our hearts, our minds, still have a sibling’s resemblance to those who came before, however much the world around us may have changed.

And so we find ourselves dealing with the same sorts of core issues given new faces and forms. Fear. Injustice. Uncertainty. Prejudice. Anger. Round and round we turn, sometimes reaching for something better, sometimes grasping only for ourselves.

No, not so different at all.

And therefore, maybe not so hopeless as we might be tempted to think.

At this time of year, it’s common to quote the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe a little TOO common, as we grow tempted to set aside meaningful action for beautiful words, or adopt a spirit of complacency instead of struggle. But with that warning in mind, his words on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize seem to fit these “similar times”:

“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights,” he said, “we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.”

That’s not a pat on the head. It’s not an excuse to sit aside and say “Oh, well, things will work themselves out.” A struggle not joined is lost. But it is a call to hope, a reminder that working for hope is not futile. That the worst times carry the seeds of the best – if we’re willing to put forth the labor to plant them and help them grow.

Similar times. Similar fears. Similar promise, if we can face the moment with hope, courage and effort.

If we don’t?

Uh-oh.

Once or For All

Some moments freeze the frame. With shock. With disbelief. With the sudden awareness that you’re living in History with a capital “H.”

The last flight of the Challenger.

The morning the Twin Towers fell.

Wednesday.

The images from the Capitol felt surreal – and yet too real. Something that could have come from a movie or a Tom Clancy novel, and yet something that could have only happened in the far-too-real world.

Something that’s ours. Whether we want it or not.

As I write this, it’s been three days since the storming of Congress. We’ve seen and heard so much – the evacuation of Congress and delay of the vote, the staffers whose quick thinking got the ballot boxes to safety, the bizarre sights from the broken-into chambers and offices. We’ve heard the shouts and screams since, seen the calls for accountability, witnessed the beginnings of consequences in the real and online worlds.

By the time this appears in print, another two days will have passed. An eternity. Because the weird thing about frozen-frame moments is they move surprisingly quickly in their aftermath, fast enough to make even the most prescient observations quickly obsolete.
So I’m taking a step back from the immediate. And asking a bigger question.

What do we want this to be?

Not “How do we spin this?” Not “How do we assign blame?” Not even “How do we get in a DeLorean and prevent this from happening,” though I wish that were an option.

No. What will this be?

I’ll explain.

One of my own frozen-frame moments – one for many of us, I suspect – goes back more than 20 years to the mass shooting at Columbine High School. My mother was still a teacher at the time at a school with a very similar name, which meant that as I watching events unfold in a Kansas newsroom, I was also having to reassure friends that she was OK, that she wasn’t at that Columbine.

It was a punch in the gut. And for some years afterward, any fresh report of a major school shooting hit that wound. More than once, I went to the keyboard to pour out the pain of what had happened, to try to understand, to try to be even the smallest part of helping our country say “Never again” and mean it.

Well.

You know the rest.

They kept coming. They became so common that I couldn’t write about every single one. It took the classroom dispersals of COVID-19 to interrupt the string – March 2020 was the first March without a school shooting since 2002.

So common that it began to numb.

And the frame kept freezing a little less.

So I ask again – what will Wednesday be?

Will it be a 9/11, a one-time horror that leaves an impact but no immediate sequel?  

Or will it be a Columbine, merely the first of a chain?

Ultimately, that’s up to us.

A professor of mine, Simone Chambers, once said the fundamental principle of politics is that talking is better than fighting. It’s a simple concept to state and an easy one to abandon. After all, a conversation takes two willing people. Conflicts, like car accidents, require only one behaving badly.

Can we commit to talking? To listening? To hearing?

That doesn’t mean being a milquetoast, rolling over rather than risk offense. If anything, it requires the courage to stand up to folks who would trample on the conversation and say “No. We don’t do that here.”

Conflict is not unique to this time and place. American politics has never been an episode of Masterpiece Theatre. But we have been better. We can be. We must.

Freeze the moment again. Examine it.

And then, together, let’s decide what we want to learn.

Gee, Thanks

Written Nov. 23, 2019

The film critic Roger Ebert once noted that if you want to show a family coming together, you set a movie at Christmas – and if you want to show it falling apart, you set it at Thanksgiving.

If you’re nodding along, I can’t say I blame you.

On the surface, Thanksgiving is one of the most wonderful holidays there is. It doesn’t shout and try to sell you a million things, it doesn’t involve recreational explosives or hastily-ordered last-minute floral bouquets . All it asks is that we appreciate what we have, eat, spend time together, and maybe watch some mediocre football before trying to remember the box of house lights is. I mean, there’s even a Charlie Brown special!

And yet … we know better.

Heather and I have had several Thanksgivings where one of her chronic illnesses suddenly switched into overdrive, canceling a plan to visit friends or family.

Or where something vital broke down at the holiday (a computer, the plumbing, our last nerve), adding that much extra delay before repairing.

Or when we received staggering news, like the fact that our much-missed Duchess the Wonder Dog had cancer and maybe a month or two left to live. (She passed a few days after New Year’s.)

And for many, that family togetherness can be more stressful than recuperative. Maybe feelings are still simmering a few weeks (or years) after an election. Maybe it’s the annual debate about which family “gets” Thanksgiving and which gets Christmas. Or maybe there’s an empty chair at the table that won’t be filled this year – or at all.

Whatever the reason, sometimes it feels like the universe is conspiring to turn a moment of “Thank you” into “Gee, thanks.” That stress and crisis are natural companions to the stuffing and can-shaped cranberry sauce.

I get it. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it.

And yet.

We know the ideal: that Thanksgiving is a space apart from crisis, or to celebrate having surmounted one. (OK, I’m laughing, too.) But the real is no less powerful – that it can be a space in the midst of crisis. Maybe even one that crisis throws into stark relief.

When Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving holiday, the country was in the midst of civil war. He neither denied it nor ignored it. But he did note how, even in the worst moment of the nation’s history, the country was still growing, still abundant, still at peace on foreign fronts, and (outside the Southern battlefields) still upholding the essential work of being a nation. Great wounds needed healing, but there was still much to be grateful for.

Maybe that’s true on a smaller scale than a civil war.

Our “illness Thanksgivings” turned into one of our favorite stories, about how Domino’s pizza started becoming the centerpiece meal instead of turkey.

Our own empty chairs (and collar) have given us occasion to hold loving memories close again and remember the wonderful lives that touched our own.

Our stresses have remained real – but with something beyond the emergency of the moment that lasts. Maybe even something summoned by the crisis, the way that a community comes together in times of flood or blizzard.

“Forget your perfect offering,” Leonard Cohen once sung. “There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.”

I’m not saying Thanksgiving has to be stressful to be special. But the stress doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

We can still find the space. Maybe a weary one. Maybe a painful one. But still a chance to look within and look without, and find something still standing. Some light in the crack that reaches us, or that we can reach toward.

That’s worth a bit of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

Want to go take in a movie?

Shooting for the Moon

Fifty years ago today, the surface of the Moon was still quiet.

The Eagle had not yet landed. The world was not yet watching the arrival of three men in hope and wonder and anxiety. Mankind’s first words on an alien surface had not yet been spoken – and screwed up ever so slightly. (Sorry, Neil.)

So much had been planned. So much had been prepared. But nothing was certain. Astronauts had been lost before. It could happen again.

Anything could be in the future. Wonder. Disaster. Chaos.

Anything at all.

***

This column was born from a slight mental glitch.

I am a space geek going way back. And so, like all the other fans of the final frontier, I’ve been excited about the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon. By any standard, the date of July 20, 1969 deserves to stand out in human history.

Which is why I have no excuse for momentarily remembering it as June 20 when I started to plan my column.

All right, I’m laughing, too.  Brain cells do amazing things – such as the first President Bush declaring September 7 as the “day of infamy” or President Obama momentarily gifting the U.S. with 57 states – so at the very least, I’m in illustrious company.

But the more I thought about it, the more the idea intrigued me. And not just because I was up against a deadline again.

Consider, for a moment, the world of 1969.

A lot had been happening in this country. And unless you were a New York Mets fan, most of it didn’t feel like champagne and roses. John Lennon may have been singing “Give Peace a Chance,” but for the first half of the year, the headlines didn’t seem to hold much of it. War in Vietnam. Protests. Riots. Even a major oil spill and a spring training boycott.

Sure, preparation for the moon mission was there, too. But unless you were part of the not-so-small army laying the groundwork, it was probably one more item among many, and not an especially loud one. Not yet.

Not with about a month left to go.

Not with crisis so loud and the future not yet known.

***

We’re good at focusing on crisis. It’s one of the things that’s helped us survive as a species. But when we have the ability to be aware of crisis across the country – heck, around the world – it gets overwhelming. Too many alarms, all of them screaming “NOW!”

It’s easy to drown. Easier to surrender.

And easiest of all to forget that even at our worst, we’re still capable of our best.

It doesn’t just happen, any more than winning lottery tickets just happen to show up in our mail box. It takes work and hope and maybe even a little craziness. Just enough crazy to decide that what we do can matter, that a little light can be kindled in the smoke.

That we can do something that matters.

Apollo 11 was the culmination of seven years of effort (and built on what had come before). Right down to the end, nothing was certain. President Nixon had a speech in his pocket in case of fatal disaster. The Eagle overshot the intended landing site, forcing Armstrong to guide the craft to safety and touch down with 23 seconds of fuel left. So much could have happened.

But what did happen captured the eyes of the world.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.”

What are we a month away from now, maybe?

What future could we be building among the chaos of today if we refuse to quit? To stop hoping?

I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to it.

Especially if it includes one more column finished on deadline for this space case.

All is Calm

The words began 200 years ago. They continue to whisper today.

Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright …

It’s the quietest of Christmas carols and perhaps the best-loved. Simple and pure, there’s almost no way to do it wrong. Whether it’s being sung by a single voice on a street corner, a massive choir on stage, or an old recording of John Denver and the Muppets, the heart comes through, tender and mild, warm and unforgettable.

As you might guess, I’ve got a soft spot for this one, and not just because it was the first carol I would whisper to myself as a kid after going to bed on Christmas Eve. (When you’re a child at Christmas, you stay awake however you can, and for me, that meant quietly pouring out every verse of every Christmas song and carol I had ever learned.) It’s a song born of need, a simple tune against a troubled moment.

The story that’s often told, though never quite verified, is that Father Joseph Mohr asked his friend Franz Gruber to set a poem of his to music for voice and guitar, since the church’s organ was broken and couldn’t be repaired in time for the Christmas Eve mass. What is known is that when Mohr’s poem and Gruber’s tune were created in 1818, they came at a truly dark time for Austria.

Writer Dave Heller of Florida State University notes that just two years before, in 1816, the eruption of Mount Tambora had created the “Year Without a Summer” – plunging temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere caused by the massive amounts of material ejected into the atmosphere, killing crops and herds and kicking off the worst famine of the 19th century. Add to that the devastation of the recently-ended Napoleonic Wars, and Austria – like much of Europe – was in dire straits.

Mohr wrote the poem in the midst of that. Gruber created his music in 1818, when it was still fresh. And somehow, the simple song has endured long after the memory of war and starvation has faded.

In a time of grief, it became a lasting song of joy.

That may seem a strange word to choose. Of all the Advent virtues, “Silent Night” is usually most associated with peace, and that’s not wrong. The notes rock and cradle the listener, a moment of calm in a turbulent world. It doesn’t shout with exultation like “Joy to the World,” or march with purpose like “God Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen,” or run a treadmill in your brain until you scream like “The Little Drummer Boy.”

But there’s more to joy than smiles and excitement. Joy isn’t dependent on circumstance. It does what it can with what it has. If what it has is a broken organ, it reaches for a guitar and a voice to create its beauty. If what it has is a land and a world that’s become shell-shocked,  it finds the tools of quiet, comfort and reassurance to lift spirits up.

It can be the bonfire against the sky – but it’s also the candle in the night. The pinpoints of colored light in the cold of winter. The song where no song should be.

And whether it’s 1818 or 2018, it’s still something that gives strength to the wounded spirit. And to a weary world.

We still need that sort of quiet joy. Maybe to face a holiday with an empty chair at the table. Maybe to survive a world still torn by anger and fear. Maybe just to keep it together for one more moment, one more step, when life is tired and at its lowest.

One more time. It’s still there. Even in the darkness.

All is calm. All is bright.

And at the end of a silent night, morning waits on the other side.

Showing Our Metal

Today’s not-so-random Rochat thought: I think bronze medalists may have the best of all possible worlds.

Yes, I know we’re nowhere near an Olympics. Stay with me, OK?

Consider. You’re recognized as one of the best in the world. You get your place on the stage. You’re less likely to worry about having just missed the top spot, like a silver medalist might, nor does your life get turned completely upside down the way a gold medalist’s does. (You also don’t get the same endorsement deals, but we’ll go there another day.) It’s accomplishment mixed with celebrity mixed with a certain amount of anonymity.

No, it’s not a bad deal at all.

And this year, maybe it’s just a little appropriate.

On Tuesday, Heather and I celebrate 19 years of marriage. The People With Names For Everything like to call this the bronze anniversary, which amuses me a bit. I mean, these are the same people who decreed that 10-year anniversaries are tin and that 17-year anniversaries get celebrated with furniture, which makes me wonder if the PWNFE needed their basements cleaned out and saw an opportunity.

But even for this crew, bronze is a curious choice.

Is this the anniversary to bask on a Florida beach and turn inviting shades of brown? (Or in my case, not-so-inviting shades of brilliant scarlet.)

Is this the time to join the late, great, Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze, on some hair-raising pulp adventure?

Is it an occasion to join an Ancient Greek re-creationist unit and load ourselves down with well-burnished swords, spears and breastplates?

OK, I know, the boring and mundane answer is that it’s an excuse to contribute to the American economy by purchasing a category of gift with a high material density that will live in the basement or garage forever … except when it mysteriously emerges at night to bruise a careless toe. I get it. (And the accompanying Band-Aids.)

But in all serious – maybe the PWNFE got it right this time.

Maybe, for a long-lived marriage, bronze is exactly the right choice.

I’m going to precede this by warning that I Am Not A Metallurgist, nor do I play one on TV. But I’m just enough of an amateur historian to know that bronze gets kind of an unfair rap when it’s compared to the iron weapons and armor that replaced it.

There’s a myth that iron replaced bronze because it was a clearly superior metal. Not really. While iron has its uses (especially in later eras that would make true steel), ancient bronze was a strong, useful material.

What it wasn’t was a highly available material. The alloy required materials that could be difficult or expensive to get, particularly tin, while iron was widely available. So iron was often cheaper, and soon was ubiquitous.

So. You have something surprisingly strong and beautiful, with a mix of components that aren’t easy to acquire – something that everyone wanted, but that was hard to possess.

If that’s not the definition of a good marriage, than what is?

After 19 years, I think we’ve had one of the great ones. Granted, we haven’t had tried wallpapering a room together yet (the ultimate test) but surviving chronic illness, newspaper schedules, and eight-hour drives with an anxious dog may be a decent substitute. Through it all, we still make a heck of a loving team, one that’s grown even stronger and more exciting since we started taking care of Missy six years ago.

So bring it on. The Games are underway and we’re ready to take the field again.

It’s time to go for the bronze.

Totally Floored

When in the course of home improvement events, it becomes necessary for one family to dissolve the fabric-covered bands which have connected one piece of flooring with another, a decent respect to the opinions of the Times-Call’s readership requires that they should declare that this was a heck of a way to spend a holiday weekend.

Yes, while the rest of Longmont was practicing its skill with legal and quasi-legal exploding objects, we were busy ripping up a lot of downstairs carpet. This was mostly due to the efforts of a few generations of house pets, all of which had important messages to leave in the former dining room, if you catch my drift. So when our own Duchess the Wonder Dog decided to leave her own updates and found the mailbox already full – in the form of a ruined padding – well, it was time to introduce some “postal reform.”

In the course of this expedition, we quickly found certain truths to be self-evident. They didn’t exactly involve life, liberty, and the pursuit of cheap Chinese incendiaries, but many of them will be familiar to home owners nonetheless:

1) When outfitted properly in goggles, breath mask, gloves and knee pads, you will vaguely resemble a junior Darth Vader on his way to umpire his first minor-league baseball game. Except that Darth Vader’s goggles never fogged up in the middle of the job.

2) It is amazing how much you can accomplish in one night when you don’t care how much sleep, sanity, or major vertebrae you lose.

3) There is a proper, simple way of removing carpet strip by strip for easy portability. Somewhere in the third hour, that way will be discarded in favor of attempting to fold half the room up like a piece of oversized origami. Again, you really didn’t need those vertebrae anyway.

4) Few things in life are more entertaining than ripping up the long strips of tacks and nails that held the carpet down.

5) Few things in life are more painful than rediscovering those same strips with your sock-clad feet.

6) There is always one more staple. Even if you scour the floor with a magnifying glass, a metal detector, and the great-grandson of Sherlock Holmes, once you paint your primer on the plywood, a dozen staples will magically appear like the next row of sweets in a Candy Crush game. You will become very familiar with your floor scraper  and a certain level of vocabulary.

7) It takes longer to disperse primer fumes than anyone would realize. Longer than a baseball All-Star game. Longer than an especially intransigent session of Congress. Possibly longer than a geological age of the Earth.

8) Speaking of ancient epochs, it will also be discovered that there is a certain fascination in home archaeology. Beneath that carpet will be an indelible record of every family that ever passed through the house, lacking only Egyptian hieroglyphics and Roman graffiti to be complete. You will quickly see how many dogs have lived there. You will quickly appreciate what nearly four decades of Christmas Eve dinners for the entire extended family looks like. You’ll even find the occasional artifact from the last poor souls to lay down a carpet here, which gives you an extra 3 cents to put toward the new flooring. Little did they know they were paying it forward.

Finally, with a new appreciation for your house (and a new resolve that liquid beverages will never be allowed in it again), you are ready for the loud BOOM – not from fireworks, but from your bank account abruptly disgorging the funds needed to recover your primer-painted plywood with something human beings can walk on. You will celebrate wearily but wholeheartedly. And if you’re like me, somewhere inside you’ll rejoice that you’ve mastered one more staple of an actual adult’s skill set.

Or maybe that should be “one more foundation brick” of it. Because you are never, ever going to mention staples again for as long as you live.