Tag Archive: Lake Michigan

A Man and His Wife

polly gerencser 2013

Polly Gerencser, 35th Wedding Anniversary, 2013

repost from July 2013, edited and corrected

It is a warm summer day in Manistee, Michigan. A man and his wife of thirty-five years get out of their black Ford Fusion to view Lake Michigan. They love the water, and if their life’s journey had taken them on another path perhaps they would live in a cottage on the shore of one of the Great Lakes or in a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast.

But as fate would have it, Ohio has been their home for most of their marriage. No matter where they moved, be it Texas, Michigan, or Arizona, they always came back, like the proverbial bad penny, to Ohio.

For the past six years they have lived in rural NW Ohio, in a small community with one stoplight, two bars, two churches, a grain elevator, gas station and 345 people. They live in a town where nothing happens, and the safety and stillness that “nothing” affords is fine by them.

They have made their peace with Ohio. After all, it is where their children and grandchildren live. This is home, and it is here that they will die some moment beyond their next breath.

But from time to time, the desire to dip their feet in a vast expanse of water, to hear the waves crashing on a shore and to walk barefooted on the beach calls out to them, and off they go.

They can no longer travel great distances; four to six hours away is the limit.  The man’s body is used up and broken, most days he needs a cane and some days a wheelchair to get from point to point.  Long trips in the car extract a painful price from his body, a toll that is paid weeks after they have returned home.

But today, the water calls, and on a warm July day they travel to South Haven, Michigan and then up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to Manistee. Their travels will later to take them to Sault Ste Marie before they return home to Ohio.

Few people are at the Manistee beach, so unlike South Haven where the beaches and streets are filled with pushy, bustling, impatient tourists. The man and his wife have been to South Haven many times, but as they see the scarcity of people and the quietness of Manistee they say, I think we have found a new place to stay when we vacation.

plovers manistee michigan 2013

The beach is owned by thousands of Plovers. It is an amazing sight to behold. The man and his wife are mesmerized by the birds, and the man, ever possessed of his camera, begins to take pictures.

Soon the serenity of the place is ruined by a stupid boy who sees the birds as worthy of his scorn and derision. The birds are covering the landscape of HIS beach, and he will have none of that. So he runs through the mass of birds screaming and waving his arms. This put the birds into flight, complaining loudly about the stupid boy.

The man and his wife turn their attention to the pier and lighthouse in the distance. She asks, Do you think you can make it? He replies, Sure. So off they go.

As they begin their slow, faltering stroll on the pier, they notice a sign that says, No Jumping or Swimming off the Pier. The man smiles quietly to himself as he sees four teenage boys doing what the sign prohibits.  He remembers long ago when he, too, would have looked at the sign and proceeded to do exactly what the sign prohibited. He thinks, the folly, wonder, and joy of youth.

As the man and his wife pass the boys in the water, one of them calls out and says, How are you today, sir? The man thought, Sir? Am I really that old?  He knows the answer to the question before he asks. For a few moments the man talks with the boys, then haltingly continues to walk down the pier with his wife.

Not far from the boys, the man and his wife come upon a pair of ducks: a male, his female, and their brood of ten young ducklings. New life. The man wonders: How many of the ducklings will survive their youth? He knows the answer and this troubles him a bit. A reminder, that, for all its beauty, life is harsh, filled with pain, suffering, and death.

The man and his wife turn back to where the boys are swimming. The man thinks, as he looks at the shallow water with its rock-filled bottom, This is a dangerous place to be diving into the water.

But the boys are oblivious to the danger. The man’s mind races back to the days of his youth, remembering a time when he too lived without fear, enjoying the freedom of living in the moment.

One of the boys climbs back up on the pier and prepares to jump into the water. The man, a hundred feet or so from the boy, points his camera toward him. The man quickly adjusts the shutter speed, focuses the lens, and begins to shoot.

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The man and his wife laugh as they watch the boy. Collectively, their minds wander back to a hot summer day in July when they joined their hands together and said, I do. Thirty-five years ago, they embraced one another and jumped off into the rock strewn water of life, and survived.

Together they turn to walk back to the car. As they pass the boys, the man shouts, I am going to make you famous. The boys laugh and continue on with the horseplay that dominates their day.

The boys will never know that their innocence, their sign-defying plunges off a pier in Manistee, Michigan, warmed the heart of the man and his wife.

After I am Dead

walking by graveyardAs soon as Christian fundamentalists read this headline they will shout at their screen:

  • You will be burning in hell!
  • You will know there is a God!
  • You will know I was right!

They will see my death as vindication of their belief system. I wonder how many of them will say to themselves, I bet Bruce wishes he had listened to me!  I can hear a Calvinist saying, now we know Bruce was not one of the elect! They will speak of the preacher-turned-atheist who now knows the TRUTH (please read Christopher Hitchens is in Hell).

If they bother to read beyond the title of this post they will see this post is not about my e-t-e-r-n-a-l destiny. I have no concern over God, judgment, or hell. I am confident that hell is the creation of those who want to control people through fear. Fear God! Fear Judgment! Fear Hell! Since Christianity and the Bible no longer have any power over me, I no longer fear God or hell. I am reasonably certain that this is the only life I will ever have, and once I die I will be…drum roll please, d-e-a-d.

Here’s what I want to happens after I draw my last breath.

First, I do not want a funeral service. Waste of time, effort, and money. No need for fake friends or distant family members to show up and weep fake tears. No need for flowers. I want Polly to spend as little as possible on disposing of my dead carcass. Trust me, I won’t care.

plus size cremation

Second, I want to be cremated. No special urn. A cardboard box will work just fine. If Polly wants to show her love for me, a Hostess cupcake box would be sweet.  As I jokingly told my children, when I am cremated I will go from ass to ashes.

Third, I want my ashes to be spread along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Polly knows the place. I hope my children, daughters-in-law, son-in-law, grandchildren, and close family will be there. I want no prayers said and as few tears as possible. Perhaps those who are gathered will share a funny story, one of their many Butch/Bruce/Dad/Grandpa stories. I hope they will remember me for the good I have done and forgive me for those moments when I was less than I could or should have been.

And that’s it.

Life is not about dying, it’s about living. Since I am on the short side of life, I dare not waste the time I have left. When death comes, the battery in my life clock will be depleted. Like the Big Ben clock beside our bed, the one I listen to late at night as it clicks off the seconds, I know there is coming a day when I will hear CLICK and that will be it.

How about you? As an atheist or non-Christian, what do you want to happen after you die? Have you made funeral plans? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

033017

Chronic Pain: Paying the Price

st julian wine

Four bottles of inexpensive wine we purchased at St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw. Michigan

She took the day off.

The weatherman says sunny and 55, I hope he’s right.

I busy myself getting ready for tomorrow.

Clean the house, I tell myself. Can’t leave if the house isn’t clean.

House is clean.

I put my camera equipment on the table, tripods behind the door, ready for loading in the morning.

I check the camera batteries and make sure the flash cards are installed.

No need for the GPS, we have iPhones now, so Google maps will direct us to our destination. Just to safe, I put some paper, a pen, a flashlight, and maps of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio in my briefcase and put it with the camera equipment.

Clothes, shoes, wallet, jacket, and hat, all ready for the morning.

She will be home soon.

She sees that I cleaned the house. She smiles and shakes her head. She knows…36 years of knowing…

I want to be out of the house by 10, I tell her. And I mean 10, I add, knowing that I am fighting a battle I have lost more times than I can count.

A restless night, I get 4 hours sleep before she wakes me up.

The car is loaded, ready to go. Ten minutes late…

She drives. I want to drive but I know I can’t. I am no longer physically able to drive. I know this, but I still want to drive. She ignores me, knowing I will no longer put up a fight.

Off to Fort Wayne first to drop off papers at the hospital. I owe them $5,000.00. I hope they will reduce the amount I owe.

Pain meds.

She wants to go Rome City to see an old, no longer functioning self-sustaining nunnery.

Pain meds.

It’s not long before I start feeling every bump and thump as we ride over roads savaged by harsh Midwestern winter.

Our destination is South Haven, Michigan. Sunset is at 7:45. I want to get there by 6:00. How we get to South Haven is undetermined.

This is a Gerencser road trip, one our six children experienced many times. A general destination with no certain route.

Pain meds.

The assault on my body continues. I complain some, but I know it is not her fault. If I had known this is how painful the trip was going to be, I would have stayed home. I am glad I didn’t.

North and West we travel, meandering down never before traveled roads.

I set Google maps to no highways or toll roads. We want to see what most people never take the time to see.

Amish, horses, buggies, laundry gently blowing in the wind. What a pleasant surprise.

Where’s their school, she asks. Soon, we stumble upon it. Look at all the bicycles and yellow vests.

Countless stops so I can get out of the car and take photographs. It’s not long before my shoes are muddy, muddying up the floor and mat cleaned the night before.

Sometimes, I stay in the car, using the window to steady my telephoto camera lens. We fuss a bit as she tries to maneuver the car so I can take a shot. We’ve been fussing for 36 years. It means nothing, our love transcends anything we could say to one another.

Pain meds.

We finally come to a road we’ve traveled before. Soon we come to Paw Paw, Michigan. Let’s stop at the winery, she says, and I say, sure.

So much wine, so little money. I sure could use a drink. We buy four bottles of inexpensive wine. As we checkout, I tell the young woman waiting on us that we were once part of a religion that forbade the drinking of alcohol. She replies, really? Her face tells me she’s never heard of such craziness. I go on to tell her that we were 50 years old before we drank wine for the first time. I chuckle and say, we are living the 60’s and 70’s a little late in life.

She needs to use the bathroom, so does our daughter with Down Syndrome. I’ll tell her I’ll take the wine out to the car,  She says, OK, and hands me the keys.

I open the trunk of the car, put the wine in, and carefully wrap the bottles with a towel.

I slam the trunk of the car and reach into my pocket for the keys so I can unlock the car.

Panic. You didn’t. You fucking idiot. Surely, you didn’t lock the keys in the trunk? You damn idiot, yes you did.

Soon she comes out to the car and I tell her what I’ve done. I thought I had ruined our day. She calmly reaches into her purse and pulls out the second set of keys. Disaster averted.

I am mad at myself, still upset over the keys. 57 years, and I’ve never locked the keys in a car until today. My self-esteem takes another dive.

Back on the road, time to head to South Haven.

The roads continue to pummel me. She notices that I am writhing in the seat and says,I’m sorry. I say, it’s OK. It’s not, but only death will keep me from reaching our destination.

5:00 Pain meds. She notices I have taken the maximum dosage for the day, but she says nothing. She knows I will have to take extra pain meds to get through the day.

It’s 5:30 as we pull into the parking lot near the beach. She and I have been here many times. It’s our favorite place to be. There’s nothing better than watching a Lake Michigan sunset, especially when the one you love are by your side.

The sun is shining, it’s 54 degrees.

The Lake is frozen, the beach is covered with a mishmash of ice, melting snow, and sand.

People are out and about. One young woman is in flip-flops and a white sun dress. Silly humans, we are, worshiping the warmth of our star.

We make our way out to the lighthouse. I walking slowly, prodding the ground with my cane, making sure the slushy snow beneath my feet is firm.

We finally reach the point, the first time we’ve been here when the Lake is frozen.

People come and go as we stand there enjoying the warmth and the view. What a wonderful view…

A talkative woman stands nearby. Her back is to the sun and Lake. She seems only interested in talking to those who are near her. She’s lecturing a young couple about an upcoming sales tax initiative. She’s against it. She turns to me and asks, do you read? Yes. What do you read? Books. Philosophy? Yes. I’m thinking, really, here I am 3 hours from home, away from my blog, and I am getting quizzed about philosophy? The talkative woman asks, Who? I snap back, Kierkegaard. This satisfies her and she turns to the woman in the white sun dress and tells her she’s crazy for being out there in flip-flops and no coat. I thought, I’ll tell you who’s crazy.

We walk back to the car and drive to the bluff overlooking the Lake. I’ve never taken photographs from this spot before.

I set up my tripod and prepare both my cameras to take photographs of the sunset. The show will be short and sweet, I know I must be ready.

She gets out the portable camera I bought her for Christmas. She is quite proud of her work. I hear her camera beep, knowing she is photographing me going about my craft. I used to object, but I know my children and grandchildren will one day appreciate her photographs. I’m reminded of what my friend Tom told me, photographs are about the memory, the moment. That’s what matters.

Soon the show is over and we quickly load everything back into the car. The temperature is quickly dropping. By the time we get home it drops 20 degrees.

As we make our way down from the bluff, I ask her to stop at the beach. Just a few more shots, I say. She’s cold, so she stays in the car as I setup my tripod and take a few photographs of the lighthouse, now lighted by incandescent lights along the walkway.

It’s 8:15 as we walk into Clementines. All the adrenaline has dissipated and my body now screams for attention. I can barely eat. I use the bathroom before we leave, leaning against the stall, a few tears come to my eyes. Why does it have to be this way? Why does one day with my friend and lover cost me so much?

Pain meds.

More pain meds.

I have a counseling appointment scheduled for tomorrow. She knows, and will cancel it in the morning. Bed is what awaits me come tomorrow and several days after that. It’s the price I pay for living, for experiencing the beauty of my wife and a Lake Michigan sunset.

It’s midnight as we pull into the driveway. We’ve been gone 14 hours and driven over 300 miles. Exhausted, she falls asleep in minutes. I take more pain medication and my normal nighttime meds. I’m so exhausted that sleep comes quickly.

12 hours later, I wake up, knowing that I must now pay for yesterday.

Is it worth it?

She’s at work now and she sends me a text. The sun is shining, want to go to on a road trip?

I reply, sure…