The Only Thing That Really Matters

Bob and Paul.JPG

Paulette and I have just spent a week with our 5-month-old grandson Paul, and I came away from the experience reinforced in my belief about what should matter most in our lives.  The short of it is the thing called relationships, and that encompasses a vast territory in this business of being human. 

I had a great time with Paul.  Paulette did most of the feeding/napping stuff, and I was around to lift, tote, fetch, change diapers, and entertain.  Paul loves to be carried, so we spent a lot of time in close verticality.  He’s at the age where his eyesight is fully developed, and he takes a keen interest in everything around him.  He wants to see, touch, feel, and put things in his mouth.  I provide a good bit of the locomotion to help him do all of that.

But it’s not all just toting the baby around.  Paul and I had a regular routine that includes educational and cultural development.  We sing together.  I am partial to “She’ll Be Comin’ Around The Mountain,” and “Froggy Went A’Courtin’.”  Paul chooses to overlook my less-than-sterling singing qualities, and when I launch into one of the songs, his face lights up.  We play the piano together, and again, Paul doesn’t mind that my pianistic dexterity is mostly of the one-finger-at-a-time sort.  Paul plays one fist at a time, a much advanced technique.  I think I can hear some Chopin in there somewhere.

We also practice our Spanish.  Buenos dias, Pablo.  Como esta?  Muy bien, gracias.  Next we will advance to the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, from the original Spanish, of course.

The main thing is that we are simply together.  We are building a relationship that will be a work in progress as long as we are both on the planet together.  We will give to and take from each other in ways large and small.  I will have his back and he will have mine.  Paul will always know that no matter what he does or who he becomes, I will love him unconditionally.  In doing so, I’ll get the same back from him.

I explored the business of relationships in my novel Captain Saturday.  My hero, Will Baggett, is Raleigh’s most popular TV weatherman, pretty much caught up in his minor local celebrity.  But then suddenly and precipitously, Will loses his job, and in taking stock of the wreckage about him, he realizes that it includes his relationships with the people he should cherish most – his wife and nearly-grown son.  The story is how Will, laid low by fickle fate, tries to re-invent himself and re-capture those damaged relationships.  I’ve had a good number of folks say that reading about Will Baggett prompted them to take stock of their own lives and see if there are some things that need mending.  For a storyteller, that’s the ultimate payback. 

I think some of the most important relationships we build are those with people who are younger.  We all have somebody younger, and when we pay attention, invest time and energy in them, and let them know in a thousand ways that they’re important to us and themselves, we help them build good foundations.  In turn, it enriches our own lives.

I believe we naturally think a lot about relationships during the holiday season.  We remember those who are no longer with us, and take stock of our feelings for those who are still here.  Relationships can be tricky and tough, because we human beings are a messy lot and we are prone to get things tangled up when we deal with those we’re supposed to cherish.  But building, strengthening, and maintaining relationships is what life is all about.  We’re all connected, all precious in God’s eyes, and all worthy of acts of love and kindness.

We often hear about the things we can’t take with us – fame, fortune, etc.  I prefer to thing about the things we leave behind, the bonds we have with family, friends, and indeed all of God’s great creation.  That’s the only thing that really matters.

Fun With Briggs & Stratton

I can tell it’s Spring by the sound of lawnmowers in my neighborhood.  It’s been cool and wet for the past couple of months where I live, but the weather has warmed and things are blooming and growing.  Especially grass.

The sound of a lawnmower in full throat takes me back to my boyhood.  My Dad would advance me enough money at the beginning of a summer to buy a lawnmower: 21-inch cut, Briggs & Stratton engine, and self-propelled – by me.  I would line up customers and spend the summer pushing that mower across expanses of bermuda grass.

Mowing Bermuda with a dinky mower in the hot, humid fullness of a South Alabama growing season is like trying to hack your way through dense jungle with a Swiss Army knife.  Many of my customers – the cheapskates – insisted on having their lawns mowed only every other week.  By the time I arrived, the bermuda would be three inches high or more.  For three months, I would propel that mower with my skinny teenaged body under blazing sun, praying for rain so I could go home, and dreading rain because it made the bermuda grow that much faster.

But I persevered.  By the end of the summer, I would have made enough money to repay Dad’s loan, with a little pocket change left over.  Being no dummy, I knew what Dad, that sly devil, was up to: keeping me occupied and out of trouble.  I suppose it worked.  I have no criminal record.

And then one Spring, I escaped.  Dad approached, loan money in hand.  “Au contraire,” I said, “I have a job at the radio station!”  I spent that glorious summer in air conditioned comfort, spinning records and dedicating mushy songs to my girlfriend.  It was powerful incentive for a career in broadcasting.

But my lawnmowing summers were not wasted.  In my novel Captain Saturday, teenaged Wilbur Baggett self-propels an under-powered lawnmower across expanses of North Carolina lawns, struggling against heat, humidity, vegetation and a sense of powerlessness.  Later, when grown-up Will Baggett, Raleigh’s most popular TV weatherman, loses his job, he falls back on his boyhood profession. 

Writing books of fiction is somewhat like mowing lawns.  You struggle against the elements – fear, self-doubt, failures of imagination, rejection --  and just keep applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair until you arrive exhausted at the far end of the thing and write “The End.”  In the process, you go time and time again to the well of your experiences, transforming them into something new.  It’s what my teacher Barry Hannah called “fracturing reality and putting it back together as truth.”

A good writer never throws away anything.  Even a wretched old lawnmower.

Robert Inman’s novels are available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo e-readers.