Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Until We Meet Again, Mom Part 1

My mom in her younger years
I wanted to write about my mother at the time of her funeral but I just couldn't because the whole thing was just too unreal, the feelings too raw and recent. Three years have passed and I wanted to tell the world what a special lady she was. Probably, my words won't do that much justice and certainly one blog will never suffice but here goes.

Because I knew I would spend this memorial weekend with my girlfriend's family all the way over in Georgia, I visited my mom's grave the week before. It was a fun weekend. When I, saw this family having so much fun and showing so much love for one another, my mind drifted often to my mother.

Words that come to mind were selfless service, peacemaker, forgiving, sacrifice and love.   On the four hour drive back to Atlanta, I saw several things that reminded me of her.

One of the things I saw was a Cracker Barrel. That was one of the restaurants she used to take me and my sister to. It seems like a simple thing but for a woman with a fixed income of just over $500 per month, it's quite the sacrifice. Math says, on a $50 meal, it's one tenth of your income. Often she would save for months to throw a birthday party. It isn't until now that I realize the size of the sacrifice.
Our family Christmas party one week before I lost my hands

Another thing I saw was a car next to us with a Pennsylvania license plate. At a quick glance, it may seem like coincidence. From my perspective, the chances of a car with Pennsylvania plates driving in the middle of the night all the way in Southern Georgia at the same time that I was thinking of her was a sign. It reminded of her lowly upbringing as a foster child who had nothing but despite that, turned out so giving. There's one power that explains it, love.

Then a song by DRS talking about homies who have passed on starts blaring over the radio. "I tip my 40 to your memories..." Some of the passengers began talking about their passed homies. I'm thinking of my greatest homie ever. She was loyal and always there for me.

Then all of a sudden 'dear mama' by Tupac comes on. One previously obscure line in the song, stands out to me like never before. It goes, "all my childhood memories are full of the sweet things you did for me." Normally that line doesn't have much significance but for me, I've been trying to write a blog about my mother and write all my childhood memories and there are too many to write. My childhood memories are beyond full of the sweet things she did for me.

I wish she could have stuck around for my special smoked ribs. I didn't learn that recipe until after her passing.  She would have loved and bragged about them forever. She was my biggest fan and favorite cheerleader.

The first memory coming to my head, of my mother, is her picking me up from cleaning the theater. She had just punched out of her job at cleaning the ZCMI mall in downtown SLC and was driving the car with these white gloves. The plan was for her to drive over to the theater where I was helping my dad clean theaters and take me home. I would talk a lot to myself in my head, as a child, and still do. As I rode home with my mother, one of the conversations I had was a debate about why my mother was soooo nice and my father soooo mean. This lead to a conspiracy theory (you may or may not have noticed I come up with a lot of them) that my mom was my actual mom and my dad was adopted. I remember that night the feeling of love for my mom being so strong that I was love faded or high off of love. My brain was actually tingling. The white gloves stood out to me for some strange reason.

When she was working at the ZCMI mall as a janitor, mom would take us downtown often. One of her favorite treats to get us was a macadamia white chocolate chip cookie with this humongous white chocolate chip on top. When warmed up, i remember these cookies being absolutely delicious. She would also give us an allowance of 40 cents per week. I remembered going to the bank with her while she would cash her check and get change for all of us.

I remember a story, where one of my siblings was crying that he wanted a toy. My mother didn't have enough money to buy it but she loved to make us happy. Eventually, she did the wrong thing and shoplifted that toy for the crying sibling. She got caught. I don't remember the consequences but I do know that her love for her children and desire to make her kids happy was her highest priority.

Later on, she became diabetic from a prescription medication that destroyed her kidneys. Because of that, she lost her license and her kids became her personal Uber service. There was a house near by that had a drainage problem at the front curb because a section of their curb had sunk. Anytime they turned on their sprinkler, or it rained, or snowed, that sunken curb spot would build up a huge puddle. When I would give my mom a ride by that puddle I would put her passenger side tire in that puddle and splash that water on to the sidewalk. She would laugh and say, "Oh Sam!! You're silly!"

Her kidneys got worse and she needed dyalisis. As I would drive her around she would always buy me a Gatorade, herself a diet Pepsi, my sister a Gatorade and even the dogs got jerky sticks, even though it was a super sacrifice. I learned an important lesson from that. Her example taught me to be considerate of those around me. I try to be like her and if I'm in a group and want a treat, I try to make sure everybody gets a treat. 

This simple song reminds me of her:

“Give,” said the little stream,
“Give, oh, give! Give oh, give!”
“Give,” said the little stream,
As it hurried down the hill;
“I’m small, I know, but wherever I go
The fields grow greener still.”

Singing, singing all the day,
“Give away, oh! give away.”
Singing, singing all the day,
“Give, oh! give away.”

“Give,” said the little rain,
“Give, oh! give, give, oh! give.”
“Give,” said the little rain,
As it fell upon the flow’rs;
“I’ll raise their drooping heads again,”
As it fell upon the flow’rs.

Singing, singing all the day,
“Give away, oh! give away.”
Singing, singing all the day,
“Give, oh! give away.”

Give, then, as Jesus gives,
Give, oh! give, give, oh! give.
Give, then, as Jesus gives;

There is something all can give.
Do as the streams and blossoms do:
For God and others live.

Singing, singing all the day,
“Give away, oh! give away.”
Singing, singing all the day,
“Give, oh! give away.”

Although she was going through these trials, she always greeted people with a warm smile. Just like the song above, she would make the places she would go "greener still!" I think that is where I got that trait from. The church that we go to was "greener!" Even a place as miserable as the dialysis center, was "greener!"

Mom wasn't loud. She wasn't boisterous. She had little money. This didn't mean she wasn't powerful. If an effect on people's lives can be judged by the amount of people at their funeral, she was powerful beyond measure.
I actually wrote one verse in a rap song about her. You can hear it in this YouTube video at about 9:14 but here's the lyrics:
From the day I was conceived her body took a jolt/
Before I formed a heart we shared the same pulse/
Nine months in the womb she was my lifeline/
Continues to be throughout my lifetime/
Step out of line pops beat me up/
She broke it up with enough is enough/
And a cast iron pan raised in the air/
I guess she'd seen more than she could bare/
A planet sheltering her moons from an anger fueled sun/
If no one believed in me, I knew there was mums/
She never expects less than my best/
My mother made sure that love lined the nest/
Made the most with less and kicks from Payless/
Hamburger Helper and a warm place to rest/
As the sun sets and she approaches death/
She never give up She live on in my chest

Mom's favorite thing was to see her children happy. She loved the holidays, hugging her children, and hugging her grand children. Her recipes for carrot cake, turkey stuffing, zucchini bread, and trifle are super delicious because of one ingredient not written on any paper, love! Again, gifts from her to some may seem small, she often gave $20-$40, but they amounted to a huge percentage of her income. With five grand children and four children, it added up quickly to nearly two fifths of her income. It didn't matter to her though, her happiness came from giving.

She also was forgiving. One time I was pushing her in a wheelchair up the chapel sidewalk. It was icy and there was snow on the ground. I had my hooks on the handles and needed to pick up momentum. So I began a slow jog behind her chair. The right tire hit a huge chunk of ice which caused me to tip
the chair and she fell out of the chair. She could have got mad but she laughed. Mom would forgive in an instant.

I love this picture to the right. Over my shoulder is a picture of Jesus Christ. If our goal in this life is to become like him, she was the person that closest approached what I believe Christ was like. If I can be like her, I think I will be in good shape.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Boy Scouts and Bear Lake

"I wish dad would have taken us to the mountains more when we were growing up." laments my younger brother.

It's around 11:30pm. My brother and I are roommates in a hotel in Colorado. We are laying on our beds, in the dark. The next morning is a competition. These long arguments or "discussions" have become somewhat routine during our competition trips.

"The mountains were too expensive. That's why Polynesian people don't do those kinds of sports." I retorted.

On our first trip as roommates we argued until 3am in the morning and then got up at 6:30am to get ready to race. We are both headstrong and would relentlessly try and get in the last word. Sometimes I would disagree with his opinion just to make him angry.  I think he might have been doing the same thing.

"There's always a way. There's always some applications for financial aid. They should have researched it. Plus, I think Poly people just don't want to do outdoor stuff. They like basketball and football." he responds while rolling from his belly to his side.

A lot of times the "discussions" are regarding race. Many times we talk about growing up. When these "discussions" began, our voices and tones sometimes had force and anger. Now we're more quiet and always come to the conclusion that we are different people entitled to a difference of opinions.

"You forget there was no Internet back then. You couldn't just Google 'financial assistance for poor people and outdoor recreation. I think that Poly people just never had the opportunity to do that stuff so how could they like it? Plus basketball and football is seen as a way to escape poverty. You don't see anybody escape poverty in rock climbing." I retorted while staring blankly at the ceiling like I could see a window into the past.

At the time of this discussion I didn't remember any outdoor experiences except the time my dad took us to the ski resort. He was working as a bus driver and drove the route that took skiers into the mountains. So he became a little familiar with the resorts and took us up there for a break. I remember we were all bundled up and got out of the car. We looked for ten minutes and left.
To my brother, it was probably like taking a kid to a candy store and then leaving without buying them anything because you couldn't afford it. To me, it was like taking me to a cold foreign country that spoke a language that I couldn't even begin to understand. I couldn't  fathom enjoying because nothing, from the clothes people wore to the way people talked, was familiar. I was just longing to get back to something familiar like sledding, Nintendo or hookie-bobbing.

Now that I think about it we did have a few great-outdoor experiences. I remember some that had no monetary cost like pulling over by a river or canal near the mouth of a Canyon and jumping into the deep cold rushing waters. Some costed money like the time I went on a week long Boy Scout camp to Bear Lake with Troop 811.

Recently I had the chance to go to Bear Lake Aquatics Base again, as an adult leader for that a same troop. Bear Lake is located on the northern border of Utah. It's different than most other lakes in that it's different shades of blue leave one wondering if you are in Hawaii or the Caribbean. This is why they call it the Caribbean of the Rockies. It's so clear you can generally see the bottom.
The trip brought back a lot of nostalgic memories for me. My first trip there, I was somewhere between 13-15 years old. I don't remember how much it costed but I do know that I was scared to ask my dad if I could go. 

As a young man, I was always ill prepared for camping trips with the scouts. It wasn't because I was trying to disregard the scout motto of, 'be prepared.' My sleeping bags were very thin with broken zippers. Usually the sleeping bags were supplemented with blankets. I used garbage bags as backpacks. Luckily, Bear Lake in the summer is warm. I don't remember being cold except in the water.

As an adult at this camp, I had better equipment. My sleeping bag is awesome! It's called a sleeping pill and it has vents so you can adjust the temperature of the bag. I also have a nice headlamp. My backpack/garbage bag has been upgraded to a suitcase. The only thing missing for me is a good sleeping pad. I slept in a pretty hard ground for the first two days. Luckily the Bishop, my ecclesiastical leader for my church, Bishop DeMoux left me his air mattress and I slept like a baby the last three days.
One of the worst memories of that camp, back in the eighties, was the showers and the toilets. The showers didn't have any privacy and the toilets were an outhouse with toilet seats on deep holes with the strong smell of ammonia. I learned they are called a kaebo. In fact, I didn't want to use either but that very thing caused me to need to do both. I held in a number one so long that I had an accident and while in the kaebo, I decided the best thing to do was to throw the underwear in the hole. (lol-ing right now)

I hadn't planned on taking a shower but after the outhouse accident, I needed to go investigate the shower house. It was very reminiscent of the junior high school showers except at the junior high we just showered by wetting our upper bodies and kept a towel on over our shorts but there was nobody doing that plus my bottom needed cleaning the most. To add to all that, the water was not hot, nor was it warm, it was cold.

Most of those things have changed at that camp, thanks to generous donors. There are private showers. They have hot water. Well, it fluctuates between hot, scalding and cool depending how near you are to the water heater and how many people are using the showers (hahahahahaha).
One thing that hasn't changed is the toilets. They are still the same stinky little kaebos. At least I'm not shoveling a hole and getting bit by mosquitoes while squatting in the woods like the summer of 2014.

Despite the Kaebos and showers, as a young man, this camping trip was one of my favorite scout camps in my life. Because of it I became familiar with things I never could have at home. I developed a love and familiarity for Bear Lake that would help me share the experience with my brother and sisters. We never went to Disneyland or Disney World but we could definitely afford the two hour drive to Bear Lake.

I remember being intimidated by the swimming test they had at the camp but because it was required to do other activities, I was motivated to give it a try. The water is cold in the testing area which adds another dimension to the test. I attempted a few times and was only able to pass half the test. It was only a half victory but it gave me confidence to try again and pass the test later.
As a 39 year old, I retook that test and the confidence I obtained from long ago had been increased to the point that the test was easy. During that test in the summer of 2015, I remembered and could see myself swimming my little heart out as a teenager. At the same time, I was encouraging the young scouts I was with to pass the test. As an adult, I could see how it would benefit them. Some of them, I brought down to the test several times to try the test and became their loudest cheerleader.
When the young ones passed, I noticed a confidence in their step and swim stroke. It was awesome!
Flashing back to when I was a boy, I remember many of the badges costing $10 to $50. I had come to the camp with no cash. As a younger boy, I got all my badges in Cub Scouts but when I became a Boy Scout, I became disinterested in Boy Scouts. So, I really didn't care too much for badges. My leaders paid for my Archery class and they had a snorkeling class that you could earn a patch for free. I signed up for that.

One of the requirements of the snorkeling class was that I had to dive down and pick up this huge rock and bring it to the surface. I remember hearing the instructions from the camp counselor and thinking, "say that again, what do you want me to do?" Back in those days though, I was a shy child and so I didn't say those thoughts audibly. When my turn came, I swam towards the rock, expelling the air from my snorkel. Time felt like it slowed down and I felt like I was swimming in slow motion. I got the rock and swam to the surface. After that, although I am not a professional snorkeler,  I became a huge fan of snorkeling. The familiarity with the sport has allowed me to snorkel in Hawaii, Samoa, Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Mexico.

As one of the leaders of the boys I wanted to help the boys get familiar with something new. As they passed the swim test, we decided to sign up for an hour of tubing. They had a blast and it was a great reward for passing the swim test. We had a contest to see who could stay on the tube the longest. I teamed up with one of the boys and we hung on to the tube the longest. Check out the video here. (coming soon)

Like I mentioned before, after an illustrious Cub Scout career in which I got all the badges, I lost interest in scouting. Although I didn't participate much, I am grateful for the Boy Scouts of America program. It gave me, a teen from a low-income family, experiences that I would have never been afforded. I gained a lot of base knowledge in a lot of topics that would help me later on in life. It also gave me respect for the limited resource of the great outdoors.

Without the Boy Scout program I wouldn't have the great memories from the difficulty of the swim test, fear of the snorkeling rock, stealing the flag games in the wilderness, etc. Most importantly, I wouldn't have felt the confidence that came from achieving those specific difficult challenges at that camp. Later on in life, I would be able to repeat that process over and over with changing circumstances like missing limbs.

Now don't get me wrong, it wasn't just because of the Boy Scouts of America but the program is an excellent place to challenge young men to achieve. To that I give my phantom Scout salute!

During the camp, I met a young Polynesian kid. He reminded me of myself. I saw his backpack, a garbage bag. He didn't have much of sleeping bag. Our troop played Steal the Flag and I invited him to come play. He asked to take a picture with me on my phone.
Someday, I know he will look back and remember all his experiences at camp. He'll also remember the other Polynesian guy, the one with no hands.