Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Thanks, Lester.

I met a guy online last fall and developed a tiny crush on him. His name was Lester, he hung out at the PaperbackSwap forums, and, oh yeah, he was 81 years old.

Lester is hands-down THE coolest person I've ever come into contact with on the Internet, and maybe in my whole life. Smart, articulate, wise, kind, hip. He was a huge favorite at PBS. Grant Wood's American Gothic was his avatar picture, as he was a proud Iowan.

When I came home from vacation on Sunday night, I was dismayed to read a post from Lester's wife stating that he had had a very serious stroke at the end of June. His daughter updated briefly to say that he'd been moved to a skilled nursing facility. Tonight the family seems to have closed his account at PBS, and there's no way of knowing what that means. They did not sound optimistic about his recovery, though.

Lester was a wonderful and genuine conversationalist, but he also had a knack for rolling just the right thought off his fingers at just the right time. Some of the folks at PBS have been gathering some of their favorite Lester quotes from the past few years, and I wanted to share some of my faves here. He is a gem, and he's very much in my thoughts and prayers right now.

If there's nothing else to do, and my eyes are too tired to read, I watch the Weather Channel. Yup, old people's MTV."

"What on earth makes you think that I have started to feel like a grownup? I know that I have to act like a grownup, but it's an act. Sure, there's some wisdom that comes along with growing older, one hopes, and some perspective, and there ain't much that life can throw at me that it hasn't already thrown at me once already, but if you mean 'grownup' to be the person who always knows the right thing to do, the one who can always be in charge, the automatic authority for all matters spiritual and temporal... ...then I guess my certificate of grownupness got lost in the mail."

If you live your life with zest and continue to be curious about things, if you have something or someone that you care about, if you have passion about something - even if it's collecting... I don't know ... matchbook covers or something - but have a passion, you will likely never feel old."

"I don't think you have to be able to recite a recipe from memory, or name all the Presidents in order, or be able to describe the Krebs cycle on demand. But I do think a certain ... awareness of the culture in which you (generic you) live is required in order to live life fully and to understand and put into appropriate context the things you see and hear daily. I think anything else is mental poverty, and sad."

I'm willing to judge a person by their actions, I guess, but not by what they read, neither do I define myself by what I read. Books are like friends to us readers, and not every friend has to be an attorney or a brain surgeon or some "worthy" person. Some friends you just kick around with and have a brewski and bask in the warmth of friendship. Life is long, and tastes in friends change. Tastes in reading do, too."

Oh, man, there is no feeling in the world like holding that grandbaby. When my kids were born, fathers weren't allowed anywhere near the delivery room, so the first time I'd held a minutes-old baby was when my first grandchild was born. Oh, I still get a little bit misty just thinking about it. The intensity and fierceness of the love is beyond anything. I mean, I would die for my children, even now. But I would kill for my grandkids. I think you understand the distinction."

"Brownies should always be frosted and have walnuts in them. Amend the Constitution now."

M&Ms, preferably with peanuts, are eaten one at a time, after sufficient cooking time in the hand to ensure the proper melty-ness of the interior."

We men are simple folk at base. We're driven by food and lust."

"You know what's scary, and that's when you open your mouth and your mother - or father - talks. The first time I said (or hollered) to my kids, 'Don't you make me come upstairs and take care of this fight for you' it was my father's words and my father's voice. That, along with, 'Well, what in the world did you think was going to happen when you stuck your hand in there?' It's as if it's in your DNA or something."

It's good for kids, I think, to be exposed to things outside their comfortable little world. And adults, come to that."

"Learning to entertain yourself is part of growing up healthy. Some of the best talks I ever had with my siblings happened as we were just watching clouds drift by."

"Living a life of peace and joy, letting the love of God shine out from you and be manifest in your life, without saying a single word about religion, will bring more people to Christ than all the Bible shouting, pamphlets, slogans, threats, and condescending 'Jesus loves you' in the world."

Half of parenting is learning to keep a straight face."

"Knowing who the VP is has had me praying, sincerely, for the health and well-being of George W. Bush for almost 8 years now."

"I admire people who have -- what's the opposite of a sense of entitlement, anyway? I value people who don't think the world owes them a damn thing, who don't see themselves as victims of something or other."

"I genuinely believe that love does not die. Our energy changes forms, but the love goes on."

"Shakespeare is right when he says that troubles come not as single spies, but in battalions. It's so hard to lose good friends, old companions, people you've known forever even if you aren't close friends. Your world changes a bit, gets a little colder for awhile, with each one. Sometimes you just have to wallow in it, you know? Sometimes you just have to feel bad and cry a little or mope around some, and didn't they deserve that, a little sorrow and some sadness for a little time?"

"I'm about to turn 81. Life just keeps getting better. I don't recall having difficulty with turning 30, 40, 50, although perhaps the cult of youth was not so strong then as it is now. I do remember when I turned 60 realizing that most of my life was behind me, and making a new resolution to make the best of every day, to find the good in every day. Since then I have been more mindful of my life, more aware of the seasons, nature, the small pleasures life brings, or can bring if you're alert for them."

"I like to watch my wife put on makeup. I love the faces she makes at herself in the mirror. I like the way she rejects three lipsticks that all look the same to me and then selects a 4th one that also looks the same to me. It's only fun if she doesn't know I'm watching, though."

"Omigosh, has anyone else seen this? Is it a new form of teenage speak? Text speak? LOLspeak? They're putting an apostrophe before a d. Examples: My wireless router die'd. I got divorce'd. Pre-cooke'd ham. He think's you campe'd in the wood's. If this continues, we will have tomatoe's for sal'e and no parkin'g. Every sign will look like a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem."

"Never give an old man an excuse to talk. :-)"

More pics.

It's been so rainy here the past couple of days! Unusual for this time of year, but really nice.

Some more vacation pics:

My in-laws live in a mobile home at a small lake/state park. They've tricked out the trailer beautifully with a screened in porch and multi-level deck. When the whole family gets together for the Fourth of July, which is our annual "get-together" holiday, sleeping space is at a premium. Todd and I, or sometimes just I, sleep at my parents' house. Todd's sisters and their families sleep in two pop-up campers. It's quite a nice little arrangement:

That's my sister-in-law Lisa and my mother-in-law relaxing in front, and my brother-in-law Tony is the blurry guy passing through. Todd took this at dusk without the flash.

Some nights we have a campfire and roast marshmallows:

In the daytime the kids mill around and sometimes we have chats:

The girls and I did a lot of drawing and coloring at the kitchen table:

On the Fourth, I went in swimming with the kids and we lasted about ten minutes. It was coooooold!

My nephew has about 2% body fat and had to get out pretty quickly and wrap up and sit with his mom!

Off we go to sit on the pontoon boat and watch the annual Fourth of July boat parade.

You wave at the boats as they go by, and this year my niece found four old American flags at the flea market, so we had flags to wave, too.

My father-in-law has this little boat that all the womenfolk of the family secretly shake their heads looks barely seaworthy and a little ridiculous as well. Here he and Todd and Tony try it out. I think it looks like something out of a Popeye cartoon.

Apparently the Midwest is being swept by a new yard game called "cornhole," where you toss beanbags at boards with holes in them. This is a word that has a different and unsavory connotation to me, but I managed to keep my giggles quiet as we held a cornhole tournament for the adults on the Fourth.

My father-in-law made the boards and my mother-in-law made the beanbags...then we saw the boards selling for $95 at the flea market, while a set of beanbags was going for $25. I think my in-laws could become cornhole tycoons!

A communal meal on the porch. The kids get set up on the deck when it's clear, or in the kitchen, when it's not, so the grown-ups can have a semi-quiet meal.

When we're not out on the pontoon boat, kayaks are in use:

Believe it or not, I have a family, too, and I did spend quite a lot of time with them this weekend, but you'd never know it apart from the fishing pictures I shared the other day. I'm going home again in September, and I promise to do better by them all then!