Almost Heaven

 

“Watch out! Move it!” I yelled as I plunged my foot, again and again, to the floor of the Land Rover. but the brakes hadn’t worked in years. Add to this, the confusion of driving backwards, which hadn’t seemed so odd when reverse was the only functioning gear I could find earlier in the morning. Sure, Sam had told me about the brakes, saying that the old wreck never went fast enough to need them. But Sam hadn’t mentioned the small hill that led down to Sophie’s fruit and vegetable stand, the same hill I was now careening down, backwards. Nor had Sam shared that the steering box was stripped which made my frantic spinning of the steering wheel pointless.

“Get out of the way!” I screamed.

I saw the post just before the Rover destroyed it.

Crash!

The post was annihilated. Maddy, Sam’s affectionate term for this uncontrollable machine, continued on as calamity exploded behind , or should I say ‘in front of” it. Vehicle and driver, admittedly a gracious label for my role in this disaster, stopped abruptly when confronted by a wall of unyielding cacti, slamming me against the non-functional steering wheel. The engine coughed twice and died. A cloud of steam rose up from under the dented hood.

Dazed, I struggled to regain consciousness. One eye opened to see a blurred head of frizzy white hair and beard in dazzling light.

“You alive boy?” said the talking head.

“Of course not, you old fart,” I heard my mind say, quickly losing respect for Saint Peter. Then I heard another thought, “shut up fool, it could be that other guy welcoming you.”

“Boy?” said the old, browned face as kind hands shook me.

Damn, I thought, recognizing Sam, now aware that I had a lot of explaining to do.

Kaboom!

My head jerked round to source the noise. Behind me, a cloud of dust rose sleepily into the blue sky. The scene below, however, was anything but peaceful. It appeared a tornado had torn through the hut. Mangled fruit and vegetables and broken souvenirs were strewn amidst a pile of flattened building materials. What had once been Sophie’s Stand was now a roadside garbage dump.

In the midst of this chaos, only one thing still stood vertically. The sign, “Sophie’s Stand,” was newly planted in the pile of debris. Looking at me sideways, Sophie’s painted face smiled between the two words. Then, with a death shudder, the sign surrendered to gravity and slowly fell atop what had once been a thriving business. A wisp of dust spiraled heavenward.

“Jeez!” I whimpered, wondering how I could have done all that by merely knocking down one post.

“So sorry,” I heard myself mutter, “so sorry.”

“It’s nothing, boy,” said Sam.

Nothing! I thought. Nothing! I’d just destroyed what had been Aunt Sophie’s life for over forty years. I pushed my face back into the steering wheel and sobbed.

“No problem son,” said Sam, his arm comforting my shoulders, “here, try this.”

I turned my head to see Sophie’s big, brown eyes looking at me. Her bright smile and curly hair lit up the label of the bottle Sam held. “Sophie’s Best,” it proclaimed, and from all I’d heard, it was the best home made hooch in these parts. Folks were known to drive hours to by her magic brew, said to cure everything from infertility to constipation.

I grabbed the bottle and took a deep gulp. What the hell, I needed to drown my sins. I hadn’t visited my aunt in over ten years, I’d missed her funeral, and now I’d destroyed the pride of her life, the famous “Sophie’s Stand.”

I took another drink as my insides warmed, my head beginning to disconnect from the disturbing reality surrounding me. Not bad, I thought, taking another swig of “Sophie’s Best,” as I was led to the shade of a palm tree and plopped into a plastic chair.

Self pity dissolved into a drunken stupor and I found myself staring at an empty bottle. Raising it skyward I saluted. “Damn fine hooch Auntie!” I exclaimed.

Sam pulled a bent plastic chair beside me and sank heavily onto the seat. He raised another bottle of “Sophie’s Best, said,“to Sophie,” then proceeded to drain nearly half the contents, before passing the bottle back.

Like zombies from the afterlife, a crowd of people had silently emerged from the jungle to paw through the wreckage, searching for anything salvageable.

“Perhaps this is for the best,” Sam said, “my Sophie always wanted to give everything away.”

“Maybe so,” I added, quickly pouring more of Sophie’s elixir to drown my guilt.

“Sophie liked you,” he said as I returned the bottle. “You’re the only city folk ever came to visit her.”

“That’s nice,” I answered, trying to convince myself that seeing her once in ten years merited absolution.

“We had a good life, me and Sophie,” reflected Sam, as we watched hands picking through the carnage.

I remembered the visit, years ago, when I’d first met Sam and Sophie, drawn by some unknown urge to know family, not to mention the need to escape town and an irate girl friend who’d just thrown me out of her apartment.

I took another drink and recalled looking up as the angry woman had hurled my stuffed walrus down on me. Perhaps, I’d thought, the relationship has lost its sparkle and it’s time to move on.

Several buses and many miles later, I was dropped on an empty road in front of Sophie’s stand. A young girl arranging fruit looked up at me.

“Sophie?” I’d asked.

She pointed up the hill and I started walking, suddenly aware of fresh air, filling my lungs. I marveled at the flights and sounds of bright colored birds. Turning down a dirt path, I entered a green tunnel of branches and leaves. In the distance was a small cottage. A cloud of butterflies descended on me, floating, fluttering, circling, then drifting away as I entered a clearing. Nearby, a dozen trees hung heavy with ripe fruit. Beyond, a garden stretched in neat rows, filled with plants of all sizes. Watching over all this were two empty rocking chairs sitting under the deep, shaded, cottage porch.

I heard singing. There she was, tending garden, her mop of hair tied up in a bandana, filling her apron with the joys of harvest.

“Aunt Sophie!” I cried out hopefully.

The singing stopped and the stout woman in the calico dress stood up and turned around. A smile exploded across her face.

“Lordy?” she blurted, dumping her bounty into a basket and rushing to embrace me.

I’d never felt so loved.

She’d introduced me to her man, Sam. I never knew if they were married in the eyes of anyone but themselves, and it didn’t seem to matter. What I did know, was they were partners, friends, and playmates. You got buzzed just being around them and their zeal for life.

Yes, I thought, taking another belt of Sophie’s Best, that was a great time, then passed the bottle to the old man sitting silent beside me.

“Well Sam what you going to do?”

I turned to see a cluster of men behind us. They seemed to be waiting in expectation. Sam handed the closest man the bottle and looked them over as the hooch was passed from mouth to mouth. I found myself slightly miffed. I was really enjoying Sophie’s Best and wasn’t in the mood to share. However, being the cause of the mess in front of us, I said nothing.

“Well,” sighed Sam, “this was Sophie’s place, her way to serve the world. Now she’s gone. Seems it’s the stand’s time to go too.”

There were anxious looks between the men, throats cleared and feet shuffled in the dust.

After a long, awkward silence Sam realized the real issue at hand. He looked up and smiled.

He laughed, “youall afraid I’m gonna stop making “Sophie’s Best. Well, I reckon I’ll keep that going until I join Sophie at the pearly gates.”

Then he spoke sharply, “but no way I’m gonna rebuild  that damn stand by myself!”

Eager hands shot up and voices called out.

“No way Sambo!”

“We’ve got it brother!

“No worry man!”

“Vamosa hombres!”

I watched in amazement as a transformation occurred. The sad faced group of apologetic men and the mob of pilferers became a focused army of workers. They  sorted re-useable materials from the fallen hut. Squashed produce was tossed back in the bushes to rot into organic oneness. before noon, what had been Sophie’s Stand was loaded onto a flatbed truck and , gears grinding, The load lurched away.

Finishing our third bottle of Sophie’s Best, Sam and I Threw our chairs on the truck, and followed the community parade.

In an earlier moment,  Sam had decided to relocate the new stand atop a nearby hill. Here the caravan stopped and waited as Sam surveyed the setting. He slowly turned around and smiled.

“Nice view,” he said. Then he crossed himself, emptied a bottle of “Sophie’s Best” on the ground, holy water anointing the sacred place, and proclaimed, “it’ll do.”

The crowd cheered. The work began.

Reclaiming our seats under the shade of a towering coolabah tree, Sam and I resumed drinking. The stage in front of us was a beehive of activity

While it can be justly said that most of the world’s problems have been caused by misguided males, I must  admit that when guys get their act together, they can do a helluva lot of work in short order.

Every one seemed to know what they had to do, and while the men put things back together, women showed up with baskets of food and even the children helped where they could. There was laughter and singing, and people seemed genuinely happy. It was community like I’d never felt in the city and I was touched by how all cared for the old man beside me, bringing him food and constantly checking on him.

By late afternoon, what had been piles of reclaimed materials had become the newly arisen Sophie’s Stand. Fresh produce was being put on shelves and two men on ladders rehung the sign under the tin roof.

Sam spoke to a young man who climbed a ladder with a brush and can of paint. Carefully, the artist added a word to the sign above Sophie’s smiling face.

“Sophie’s Last Stand” the sign announced. Sam grinned and the people clapped in approval.

At that moment, a small boy came up the road, dragging something behind him. He approached and laid a wooden signpost at Sam’s feet. The board atop the post read, “Almost Heaven, population 2.”

I remembered the story. Sophie had told it to me as we sat on those rocking chairs the day we’d met. Seems she and Sam had been enjoying the wonder of life one evening, rocking on their porch.

She’d said, “Honey, this is about as close to Heaven as I’m gonna get. I’m almost there.”

“Amen, momma,” replied Sam.

The next day, Sam had planted a new sign beside Sophie’s Stand. It read, “Almost Heaven, population 2.”

As all watched, Sam stooped and touched the sign reverently. Then he and the boy dragged it to the side of the new stand and raised it up. Two men quickly dug a hole and soon “Almost Heaven” was resurrected. Sam called to the young artist and whispered in his ear. the boy approached the sign and was about to change the “2,” when I heard my own voice cry out,

Wait!”

It was time for me to make a stand of my own. I took Sam’s hand and raised his arm with mine, saying triumphantly, “Almost Heaven, population 2!”

Almost Heaven had a new resident.

There was applause and cheers and a few hats flew into the air, then, people went back to their daily lives. Cars began pulling up. People entered Sophie’s Last Stand seeking fresh fruit and vegetables, some local hooch, and a friendly smile.

If you ever feel like you’re in Heaven, look around. Perhaps you’re almost there.

tio stib

2015, 2017

You might also enjoy: A Mirrored Smile, The Road Not Taken

 
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Flavors of Friends

Some are vanilla,
predictably plain
Dependably true
always the same

Some are exotic
quixotic
sherbets with fireworks lives
occasionally glancing
to check others’ eyes

then the specials
like bubblegum treat
beautifully different
sumptuous sweets

Yes, chocolate, strawberry,
and rocky road too
friends of all flavors
some licked and
some chewed

like ice cream
I taste them
each one of a kind
then off on their way
they melt in my mind

Yet over the years
a few friends remain
these flavors I savor
again
and again

Tio stib, 2014, 2016

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For Want of Open Minds

For Want of Open Minds

 

He asked my thoughts on politics
but before my mouth could move
he stormed ahead with words of dread
drowning out the room

and on he went, a raging flood
I chose to bide my time
for it was plain enough to hear
I couldn’t change his mind

no reasoned fact, no cautioned note
no interested plea
was going to change this zealot’s fears
about humanity

I smiled and offered my goodbye
I scarcely think he heard
for he was talking to himself
since no one else concurred

a sad day for democracy
sad for humankind
when we fail to listen with respect
for want of open minds

 

tio stib, 2017

Let’s Voyage Into The New American House

There are doors
that want to be free
from their hinges to
fly with perfect clouds.

There are windows
that want to be
released from their
frames to run with
the deer through
back country meadows.

There are walls
that want to prowl
with the mountains
through the early
morning dusk.

There are floors
that want to digest
their furniture into
flowers and trees.

There are roofs
that want to travel
gracefully with
the stars through
circles of darkness.

Richard Brautigan, 1968

Ever since this poem by Richard Brautigan, an American counter culture poet of the turbulent 1960’s, floated through my mind, these words have been the image of my ideal American house, and I’ve even had a few homes that nearly matched this poem’s magic.

tio stib, 2016

You might also enjoy: Finding Home, Hotel Hypothermia

A Time When I Could See

there was once, some years ago
a time when I could see
when ladybugs and butterflies
meant everything to me

a soaring hawk
a baby’s smile
a surging wave around my feet
falling leaves
the setting sun
the colors oh, so sweet

a christmas tree
a bumblebee
bright new socks
birds flying free
a black red rose
a sparkling sea
the rising moon

these simple things meant all to me

there was a time, some years gone by
when what I saw could make me cry

that time has past, just silent screams
are left to echo in my dreams

tio stib, 2016

You might also enjoy: dirty snow, night walk

High on Gratitude

in the muck of news’ day platitudes
I’ve lost my cheery attitude
midst hate and anger screamed and spewed
what happened to beatitudes

but past these ugly, mindless feuds
beyond behavior simply rude
there is another world that can be viewed
in Nature’s holy latitude

in this world outside our doors
flowers dance, birds sing, and oceans roar
a world that heeds not human news
where souls soar high on gratitude

You might also enjoy: Truth, Promise

Tio Stib 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Moore’s “Trumpland” Explains Why Trump Won

Yes, like many Americans, I was stunned by Donald Trump’s astonishing election as the next president of the United States. No, I didn’t vote for him. His vile, bullying, and deceitful behavior during his candidacy left me both cold and embarrassed to be an American. No, I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton either. Rightly or wrongly, I believed her to be part of an elitist political establishment that had little real concern for me or the rest of everyday America. I was an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter. Bernie is a good man, a decent human being, whose history of committed service to Main Street America, whose honesty and integrity, sparked me to political activism because I truly felt he was working for me. Sadly, Bernie didn’t make it past the Democratic Convention. Sadly, Bernie was not a real choice for president come election day. Instead, it was Clinton vs. Trump, not choices I could support. And Trump won.

This leaves me with two thoughts. First, Michael Moore saw all this coming last July. He correctly posited what would happen when what was formerly white middle class America reared up and roared it’s rage against the political establishment. He noted that this powerful elite had simply stopped listening to their constituency, and this complacency cost them dearly.

I’ve always enjoyed Michael Moore’s work, finding his voice to be insightful, compelling, and often humorous, a beacon of democratic freedom of expression and a reminder that democracy is the responsibility of each citizen.

Here’s the link to a summary of Moore’s “Trumpland” explanation of the election-

http://www.ew.com/article/2016/11/09/michael-moore-trumpland

Lastly, I must now confront my own responsibility for what is happening in America today, the divisiveness, the anger, even hatred, the polarization and tendency towards separation, all thinking and behaviors that run contrary to truly democratic process. I must push myself to pay attention, to listen with respect, to seek common ground and work for collective solutions to whatever challenges face my community, America, and the world I’m blessed to live in.

It is now, in this time of turmoil and difficulties that we each must work to be courageous, to stand for what is right, to listen with respect, to hold dear to the principles of freedom and equality that America was founded on. And we must never give up in our commitment to these ideals.

Be kind! Be strong! Be inspired!

Tio Stib