Things I Learned from R. B. (June 21st, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 20

I don’t really enjoy playing chess.

I have an understanding of the game, minus passion.

There are those who are thrilled with the prospects of a match. They refer to it as “the pastime of the royals.”

I don’t quite understand how it gained such a following. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that early on, it was associated with intelligence.

Yes, when I first learned how to play, I was told that I “should be very good at the game” because I was smart.

Well, I don’t know about that, but if interest has any bearing, chess stupefied me. I rarely played it and when I did, I often regretted choosing to do so—because my opponent was often grumpy and unwilling to lose even one piece from the board.

When I discovered that R. B. was an ardent player, I avoided ever mentioning that I, too, knew how to move the pieces. He explained to me that I needed to participate because he believed I would be excellent at it, and then we could play together. For many years I was able to subdue his advances by pleading my “chess virginity.”

Then a young man moved into my household—actually, three young men. Their father was struggling with anger and was beginning to take it out on them, so I was afforded the opportunity to become their godfather and welcome them into a safer haven.

One of the boys was very good at chess.

To preserve his innocence, we shall refer to him as Justin.

Justin was precocious. You see, precocious means whatever any adult wants it to mean. That adult can use it to describe a child he or she either likes or believes to be headed for reform school.

Being precocious, Justin immediately struck up a conversation with R. B. about chess. R. B. felt he had arrived in some sort of circle of heaven—where he could be the teacher and finally have a budding student.

The only difficulty came when Justin beat R. B.

And not just once.

Regularly.

Even though R. B. had studied the board and had even mastered some moves of the champions, Justin always found a way to get through his defenses, steal his queen and leave his king flailing in some corner, surrounded by a bishop and a knight.

At first, R. B. attributed it to “beginner’s luck.” But after many visits and many matches, it became clear to everyone that Justin was a superior prodigy. Everyone, that is, but R. B.

One night, after having lost two games, R. B. was surrounded by Justin, who was prepared to pronounce the “checkmate,” when R. B. brought his fist down hard on the table, knocking over all the pieces, scaring young Justin all the way down to his X-men underwear.

You see, Justin was accustomed to hearing an angry voice. He was well acquainted with a man whose temper was out of control—and he knew it usually meant that he was going to be in trouble.

Sensing Justin’s fear, R. B. tried to turn it into a joke and give the young man a hug, but when Justin nervously pulled away, R. B. was even more angry. He yelled at him. Some curse words flew through the air and young Justin was trapped, with no place to go.

R. B. screamed at him, claiming that it was a draw and they would play again on another night—and then left.

I was not in the house at the time, but when I returned, I immediately noticed the red in the corners of Justin’s eyes. He was reluctant to talk to me. Already in his young life, he had learned it was better to shut up and not have to face painful consequences.

But you see, Justin was also a young man with a good heart that was growing blossoms. He didn’t lie. After about an hour, he told me the whole story. I was infuriated.

He asked me to promise that I wouldn’t say anything to R. B. Justin asked me if he should play chess again with the irate fellow. I told him yes, but to wait a few weeks until I had a chance to do some maneuvers.

Perplexed, he smiled, gave me a hug and went upstairs.

Word of R. B.’s losing streak to Justin spread quickly through our family. The jokes piled up and were nearly ready to break R. B.’s spirit and release his bad temper. I had one plan—what you might call an ace in the hole if we were talking about poker, but since it’s chess, we shall say that I pulled out an extra queen.

One night while he was being teased, I stepped in and said, “Maybe R. B. just had a bad night. We could find out. R. B., why don’t you play me?”

R. B. was nearly beside himself. I had refused so many times, and now here was his opportunity, in front of our family, to redeem himself.

He was so nervous that his hands were shaking as he took his white pieces and set them up on the board. He didn’t need to be nervous. I had decided to play him a good game—but lose.

I figured a victory over me would quell his spirit, and once he had come to his senses, he might apologize to Justin.

Everybody was shocked when R. B. won.

And right after the game, he turned to me and said, “Would it be alright if I talked to Justin?”

Now, I suppose the story needs to end with me telling you that R. B. apologized to the boy and they lived happily ever after. But that’s a Hollywood ending—we lived in Nashville.

R. B. continued to play Justin and Justin grew up and became more tolerant of R. B.’s idiosyncrasies. Yet R. B. never hit his fist on the table again—but did manage to color the air every once in a while with his language.

I suppose I should have stepped in and stopped the tournaments, but R. B. needed to learn how to be civil to young ones and the young one needed to learn how to survive an R. B.—even when you know you can checkmate him every time.

 

Things I Learned from R. B. (June 14th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 19

It came in the mail.

I was very surprised.

I had never received anything postal from R. B., even though there were times we’d been separated for years. Not one letter or birthday card had ever come my way.

I didn’t expect it. He was a single guy, singularly focused on his own efforts.

So that’s why I was so bewildered by the arrival of this big, fat envelope. It was normal business-sized—but stuffed to the edges, nearly ready to burst its seal.

I opened it and pulled out what ended up being, after careful count, sixteen yellow legal-size pages, with R. B.’s scrawlings and notes.

At first, I could not identify what I was holding in my hands. Then I concluded that he had sent me a play, formatted in his own imagination.

It was entitled “The Reveal.”

A quick look-over told me there were three characters: Robbie, Papa and Len.

I found a quiet place, sat down and started to read. I don’t know whether I was preoccupied or tired, but I found it difficult to get through the entire piece. Finally, after two or three attempts throughout the evening, I finished it.

It was a rather simple story, about a young fellow who wanted to join the Boy Scouts. So he came to his father, who was a very austere man, and asked if it was okay. His brother, Len, came along, hoping that if Robbie was allowed to join, maybe he could be included.

The response from their Papa was very unusual. He began to pontificate about how difficult it was to be a young woodsman, and that if Robbie wanted to be a Scout, he would have to be tough.

At this point the piece took a bizarre turn. Papa asked Len, who was sitting and listening, to come over and punch Robbie in the stomach as hard as he could. Len was resistant and Robbie was startled. So when Robbie objected, his father scolded him on the dangers of disobedience—and how being a Boy Scout required him to always be prepared.

Even though Len did not want to punch Robbie in the stomach, at the father’s insistence, he did—once, twice—a total of four times. Robbie winced, buckled and finally cried out in pain, causing Papa to shake his head in disgust.

Then the patriarch asked Robbie to punch Len in the belly, but Robbie was unwilling to do it. Len seemed glad, but was concerned that if Robbie failed, there would be no Boy Scouts.

The father harangued them both, challenging their manhood in its boyhood form.

When I reached this point in the story, the writing stopped. Inserted were the words, “To be continued…”

Attached to the little play was a note:

“Jon, I know you put on plays for people. Would you help me put this one on?”

I had no idea what to think.

I was impressed that R. B. had found an envelope and managed to stuff the pages in. I didn’t want to say no. I also didn’t want to say yes—especially since R. B. had run out of money, was living on credit cards and certainly required a job.

The next morning the phone rang, and it was R. B. He wanted to know if I had received the package and what I thought about the play. I asked him what he wanted me to do with it.

R. B. matter-of-factly responded, “Produce it.”

My mind went haywire. I thought of a hundred things I needed to say to him about plays, productions, actors, theaters and advertising, but everything was so negative—and I just didn’t feel like throwing water on the only fire I had seen in him for months.

I agreed.

I agreed to do it.

I even agreed to fund it.

I told myself the only reason I would even consider being agreeable to it was that I knew it would never happen.

I did question why the play was incomplete. He said he would have the rest of it finished by the time it premiered.

I couldn’t help myself. I chuckled.

R. B. actually advertised for actors.

He held auditions. He picked two people to play the brothers, and he decided to play the papa himself.

He scheduled a table reading and brought about seven extra pages, continuing the story, though it was still not done. He made it through the table reading without directing the volunteer actors too much on what he expected them to do.

He even went out and found one of the old warehouses in Nashville which they had begun to transform into little theaters for productions just like “The Reveal.”

Matter of fact, R. B. got all the way to the fourth rehearsal. He hit two problems:

The actors had learned all he had written and needed more pages, which he was unable to supply.

But worse—the young man playing the part of Len started offering opinions on stage direction, and even some suggestions on the structure of the lines.

I was there, sitting in an advisory position (a name R. B. had come up with for my non-involvement involvement).

The conversation became heated. I wanted to interfere, but two parts of me refrained.

First was the promise I had made—to be solely an observer. And second—well, second was that I didn’t care enough to want to see the whole thing come to fruition.

But there, before my eyes, R. B. ran the gamut of his emotions.

First, he was calm.

Then he was offended.

Next, he was angry.

And at length, he was nasty.

The young man finally grew tired of spitting at the brick wall of R. B.’s resistance. He walked out. This scared the other actor, who explained that he was not accustomed to such conversational brutality.

R. B. made fun of his weakness—and in doing so, caused the young gentleman to quit.

Remaining in the room were R. B. and myself.

He looked over at me for comfort, support and a bolstering “attaboy” for standing his ground.

I found a chip in a nearby floorboard and stared at it silently, waiting for the moment to pass. After a while, R. B. rose, apologized and left.

I never heard another word about the event or the play. I never knew how it ended. The subject was just dropped.

About four months later, when I worked up the nerve to ask him about the experience, he stared at me as if he didn’t even know what I was talking about.

I did not pursue it.

For some reason, this little manuscript was written but would never be produced.

The importance of it lay deep in the soul of R. B., who apparently was still trying to overcome his father…and that punch in the gut.

 

Things I Learned from R. B. (June 7th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 18

They called the place “The Hunchley.”

R. B. heard about it listening to one of the local Christian radio stations.

It was a gathering of about a dozen songwriters who were looking for their big break and got together to play their songs for one another, both to gain encouragement and suggestions on how to make the compositions more tuneful.

In my earlier years I had attended several of these.

I will be candid and say that I found them boring—because as a poet of sorts, I was completely uninterested in any material that was not my own. I tried to fake it, as did those around me, but the only time any of us were happy was when intoning our own personal songs.

So when R. B. brought it up, said he wanted to go, was scared to go by himself and asked me to join him, I turned him down.

The first thing that bothered me about it was that R. B. had been unemployed for two years. He was losing the will to seek the livelihood to give him solvency.

His stock in trade was repairing computers. When these magical machines had first appeared, repairing them was a very good job to have. They were expensive, and most people paid the money to have them fixed instead of replacing them. But as often happens, time marches on, taking prisoners, and soon computers were cheap enough that it was just more efficient to buy a new one than to take it to a shop and have an R. B. do surgery.

His job just didn’t exist anymore, and he was unwilling to pursue any other field. Each time a possibility was offered in his direction, it just didn’t sound as uptown as saying, “I rebuild computers.”

I didn’t want to do anything that might divert his attention from work. And secondly, he wasn’t that pleasant to be around when he was mingling his songwriting with his anger.

So I did not agree to go with R. B. to The Hunchley on the first, second or even the fifth time he asked me.

But one Monday night he arrived at my door, all dressed up, and begged me to come along to The Hunchley.

He didn’t want to go by himself. He was timid. Actually, he was a confusing mixture of timid and overbearing—a turnoff on two fronts.

Yet I had no reason to say no. Of course, there was the excuse of sanity, but after the fourth well-executed “beg,” I agreed.

On the way to The Hunchley, I decided three things:

1) I was not going to talk much

2) I was not going to eat much (something I committed to at other places than The Hunchley)

3) And under no circumstances would I play one of my songs.

My career had already taken me into the publishing world, the musical caravan, television and all sorts of concerts. I was done with that and I was not interested in seeing if I could start it again.

We tried to arrive late, but since it was young songwriters, we were still too early. This allowed much too much time for the six or seven sitting around waiting to get to know R. B.

To describe R. B.’s personality, you would have to consider a broken water pipe. When a water pipe sits there, you never even notice that it’s a water pipe and has water running through it. But if it breaks open, it sprays in every direction.

That was R. B.

Once he realized there was time on everyone’s hands, and most of the people were nervous, he decided to fill all the space with stories about his childhood, his songs and his dreams for his career.

People were polite at first. Then they looked over at me, wondering if I had the special key to turn him off.

At length, they turned their bodies away from him, hoping to discourage the verbal deluge. Fortunately, everyone finally showed up and the evening commenced.

It would have been fine if R. B. had sat there as a gentleman, listening to other people’s efforts, and then gone up to sing his song and listen to their comments.

He was incapable of such a maneuver.

The room was not large, and when other people were singing, R. B. was whispering—very loudly in my direction—all the various ideas he had about improving their work.

When he shared some of his thoughts aloud, the faithful dozen tried to be patient, partially out of their Southern-hospitality training, but also because they weren’t certain if R. B. might actually be somebody—or, oh, my God—a song publisher.

Then it was R. B.’s turn to share a song. It quickly became obvious to the gathered that R. B. was not someone or a publisher.

This seemed to grind some gears in the machinery of The Hunchley.

So after he got done, many critics rose to point out the flaws they heard in his music. They weren’t mean—but they sure weren’t uplifting.

R. B. got more and more infuriated.

After the grilling was done, he came back to his seat and looked at me with fire in his eyes and whispered, “Let’s leave. Now.”

It actually was not a very good time to depart. The musicians had gathered into some sort of mutual devotion and were attempting to gain a spirit of unity.

R. B. didn’t care. He stood to his feet and stomped toward the door.

I thought about remaining, to see if he would return, but I was a bit unnerved about him being outside the building, knowing that he was fully capable, while smoking a cigarette, to suddenly unleash his burst of curse.

I stepped outside and motioned to him. We went to the car and got inside. I was about to start the vehicle when he grabbed my hand and said, “Can you believe those asses?”

I was hoping it was a rhetorical question, but I was wrong.

R. B. wanted me on his side, and he wanted me on his side right then and there.

He began to explain what he wanted me to feel.

He called them hypocrites. No talents. Vindictive. And unbelievers.

I realized it was up to me to pick one of these insults, make it my own and join him in the demolition of The Hunchley.

I paused and thought for a moment.

I wished I were not there.

I wished I’d had better sense than to come.

I wished I didn’t have to wish anything.

I spoke in my quietest voice. “You know, R. B., there are hundreds of these songwriting meetings all over Nashville every week. Is it possible you just found a bad one?”

My, God, Jehovah—he liked that thought.

He asked me where these other groups were and how he could find out about them. I said I wasn’t sure, but he could investigate.

R. B. enthusiastically nodded his head, changed the subject and started talking about how good he thought his performance was.

I felt confident that I would never have to go to another “Hunchley” event with R. B.

Why?

Because R. B. never investigated anything.

Things I Learned from R. B. (May 31st, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 17

R. B. deeply enjoyed Chinese food, even though he hated ordering it off the menu because he was unable to remember the names of the delicacies that enticed his flavor lust, and ended up having to ask the waitress what the various terms meant, and then ended up nodding his head as if he understood, only to reveal upon her departure that he was clueless as to what had been explained to him—and just a little bit pissed that she was “so damn foreign.”

About two weeks after arriving in Nashville, R. B. requested that we begin what he called “sessions.” Having been unemployed for well over a year and spending most of his time alone, he was very reclusive, and a bit fearful to share his feelings in front of others, even if he knew them well.

So he saved my family for “fun times.”

He asked me if I would be willing, once a week, to partake of a meal and help him with his plans. Thus, the “sessions.”

I suggested we choose a Chinese buffet that had become our family favorite, where we also taped a weekly broadcast of a radio show, which I purchased time for on a local station. It was a five-minute-a-day newsy, comedic and sometimes musical presentation on an outlet which, according to a respected survey, seemed to have no listeners.

We didn’t care much. The show was for our glow. We gathered at the Chinese restaurant on Saturday mornings, taped the show and then over-ate the MSG.

I told R. B. that he might like the place because he wouldn’t have to remember the Chinese dishes but could just stare down into the buffet until he could visually identify a favorite. So it was agreed that we would meet once a week—the day and time changing based upon his whimsy.

R. B. knew how to talk.

Apparently saving up lots of energy from lonely nights, he could fill three hours of conversation better than any man I’ve ever met.

The situation was simple and perverted. R. B. wanted to present plans he’d made, which, as time passed, proved to be theories he had no intention of pursuing. And I got to pretend that I was using my skills as a teacher, a reasoner and a counselor, to help another human being. In the process, both of us got high blood sugar and weight gain.

Since I had not seen R. B. for some time, the first “sessions” were a little bit startling. He had settled deeply into habits. I suppose some people would call them bad.

It is certainly safe to call them questionable: smoking, staying up late, drinking, over-sleeping, temper tantrums and having a diet which consisted of anything that fit concisely into a Styrofoam container.

The sessions were not a healthy situation. I knew if I aggravated him by making contrary suggestions, he wouldn’t want to meet anymore, and I would lose my buffet appointment and ability to claim that I was in the midst of counseling.

He also did not want to become aggravated because the sessions were his red-letter day of the week—when he could spring for $6.99 to have a pair of ears listen to him ad nauseum.

Looking back on it now, I see how easy it is for us to get involved in meaningless and perhaps even dangerous entanglements. I can tell you three unchanging ideas that came out of R. B. during the sessions:

  1. The industry was changing and that’s why he was unable to get a job.
  2. In some way or another, he was smarter than me and he didn’t even know why he was seeking my counsel since I was basically a nobody-nothing.
  3. It was made clear to me that I could be encouraging, supportive, complimentary but needed to avoid espousing any idea that he didn’t appreciate. Otherwise R. B. was likely to pout.

Working within this framework, we maintained what could be loosely considered a friendship.

But I did maintain it. I had selfish reasons which were bolstered by a couple of selfless aspirations.

One of the selfless thoughts was that if I didn’t talk to R. B. and commiserate with him, who would?

Of course, a case could be made that if he wasn’t being pandered to by a Chinese-gobbling friend, he might have been able to get some real help.

The fact of the matter is, I, myself, was too needy to help the needy. I didn’t realize it at the time.

But every session always ended with the same speech.

“This was good,” opined R. B.  “Let’s follow up on some of the ideas and meet again next week, and I certainly will try to work up the energy and hopefulness to go out and apply for a job or two.”

Things I Learned from R. B. (May 24th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 16

For nearly five months, I had been squirreling some money away, trying to fund an idea I believed needed to be pursued.

It was time.

Whatever inspiration had once possessed the soul of our family—to travel across the country, working, living and making music together—had gradually dissipated down to a stream of loyalty and an irritating question.

If we weren’t doing this, what in the hell would we do?

My wife mustered the energy to be happy, but certainly had lost the desire to schedule, travel and perform.

My sons were thrilled to be brothers, enjoined with me, but knew deep in their hearts that the “call of the mild” must replace the “call of the wild.”

They needed lives of their own.

This would take money.

I knew it was foolish to announce to the family my campaign. It just might make them fearful that if they ate an extra apricot, they were destroying our future.

So I kept it private.

After five months, I had a small sum I was grateful for—but knew it was nowhere in the ballpark of fulfilling the need.

We were traveling across the panhandle of Florida, heading toward Jacksonville when I said a very simple prayer.

“Dear Lord, I’ve painted myself into a corner. Either help the paint to dry quickly or direct me clearly on how to leap out of my predicament.”

Also, it had become more difficult to acquire schedulings. It takes a lot of passion to convince somebody of what you want to do—and honestly, people were not quite as open to being convinced.

So in late August, in boiling hot Jacksonville, we succeeded in getting one booking for the week–on the Sunday night.

One opportunity to pay our way.

One mission field.

One audience.

I came to a decision before we rolled up to our engagement.

“Whatever we have at the end of tonight I will use to set us up somewhere and give my sons the chance to launch their own lives.”

Yet I was discouraged when I arrived and realized we were at a church that only had fifty people on a Sunday night—a black church, which meant we might have to wade through some resistance.

It’s not that black churches were difficult, but sometimes, because of the nature of the South and memories of segregation, the parishioners wondered why a white family was coming to a black church instead of sharing their talents with white folk.

I put those thoughts out of my mind, making sure they were busy elsewhere. Instead, I took a count of my situation.

I felt I needed three thousand dollars to settle in.

With some amazing blessings from the previous two weeks, I had managed to collect $1434 in cash.

That night, when the pastor introduced me and I stepped in front of an audience of forty-two people, the calculator in my brain boiled over with frustration.

I needed to make about thirty-five dollars a person to get my nest egg.

Now, I am not negative by any stretch of the imagination but am also not a fool. I don’t know whether I could have pulled a gun and gotten thirty-five dollars a person out of the gathering. There were several souls who might have needed me to donate to them.

But no matter.

Whatever happened, I was going to take the whole family to our next destination and do the best we could.

We would no longer be “on the road again.”

Over the years I have experienced some magical nights, yet none to compare with the warmth and tenderness exchanged in that sanctuary.

About halfway through I realized that these strangers had decided to become one with us, and we, likewise, one with them.

We laughed.

We cried.

We sang nearly every song we could play.

At the end the pastor stood and took up the offering.

I was astounded when he handed me $1,433.

Now, I will not tell you that I should ever have taken my family on the road. I also will not lie to you and say that everything I did on that journey was well-thought-out or appropriate.

But the science of our music, the Mother Nature of what apparently was a good season, and the humanity of this congregation launched us to our new beginnings.

The next morning as I drove north, I explained what I envisioned for us to do as a family.

They were relieved.

They didn’t act that way—there were some tears of regret.

But there were also some shouts of “hallelujah” over the new possibility.

To avoid a motel room, we drove all the way into Nashville, Tennessee, and in just three hours, located a new apartment.

We spent that first night sleeping on the floor of our new home.

The next four days were nothing short of miraculous.

My sons got out, secured social security numbers, found jobs and set in motion getting drivers’ licenses.

It all fell in place—mainly because I felt as if I was no longer forcing the direction. Rather, the passions of my children were driving the solution.

I hooked up a phone—landline. Two hours later it rang.

It was R. B., calling from Tacoma.

I don’t know how he knew we were coming to Nashville or how he successfully tracked down our phone number so quickly.

He did a little hemming and he did a little hawing, and somewhere in between, I got the idea that he had hatched his own plan.

He needed his own miracle.

Sensing his frustration and his desperation, I said, “Hey, buddy, why don’t you just move to Nashville? It’s where you started. It’s where we met—and it’s where they make music. How can you lose?”

Two weeks later, driving a car that should not even have been on the road, he arrived, found a small one-room apartment and settled in.

We were in the same community again, with even less in common.

Still, all in all, it was better for both of us than where we found ourselves short weeks before.

Things I Learned from R. B. (May 17th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 15

I excused myself from the table, walked through the lobby and out the front door to catch a breath of the frigid night air.

It was December 18th—my birthday.

I was at Captain John Longhollow’s Seafood House, courtesy of an invitation from R. B.

He explained that it had been a tough year for him, without employment, and he wanted to honor me with a dinner, but hoped I would accept it as his entire gift to the whole family–for Christmas also.

I agreed.

I was upset with the situation. It wasn’t that I wanted anything from R. B. for Christmas, nor did I think he should scrape together nickels to get drugstore toys for the full-grown kids. I just didn’t want to know his reasoning. I didn’t want a generous act to seem like a banking decision.

I didn’t say anything because I knew it was silly and childish on my part, but as the dinner conversation drifted away from our friendship and settled in on his airplane trip back home to Rhode Island for Christmas, I just needed to get away.

So as I stood there in the night, musing my fussiness, the heavens suddenly opened and a beautiful snow began falling to Earth. It was like huge cornflakes being poured into an ample bowl on breakfast morning.

Tears came to my eyes because I had been given grace to continue my delusion. For years, I had surmised that snow was delivered every birthday—a gift of God, offered for my enjoyment from the graying skies.

I stood in the snow until its dampness chilled me. Then I strolled inside, noticing that all the patrons had their noses pressed up against the glass windows—like children peering into a snow globe.

Everyone, that is, but R. B.

He was struggling through his salad course with a frown on his face, as if saddened that he had spent so much money and depleted his funds beyond the practical.

I was so enthralled by my birthday snow—and so hungry—that I sat down with great civility and ended up enjoying our evening. It had been months since I had seen R. B., so I decided to be grateful instead of resentful.

A lady entered the restaurant and explained that the snow was falling quite heavily, and that in no time at all the Tacoma road crews would be unable to keep up.

R. B. ignored the warning and ordered a sherry to finish off his dinner. He offered me the same, confident that I would pass. After he finished his liqueur, we headed toward the car.

He wanted me to drive.  We were not far from my home—perhaps ten minutes on a normal day—but on this night, we drove for an hour-and-a-half and still hadn’t reached our destination.

There was one final large hill to ascend—which had turned into an ice rink. Vehicles were sliding and bumping all over the place.

I realized we weren’t going to make it up, so I let the car go as far as it was willing to travel before sliding backwards. I then turned the wheel to the left and went to the other side of the road. I let the car gingerly bump up against a fence, where it settled in place.

R. B. expected that I would turn around and try the hill again, but his car’s tires were too bald and there was no way to gain the traction to perform the ascent. So after sitting for five minutes in the ever-chilling car, I explained to him that the best thing to do was bundle up, leave the vehicle and walk the rest of the way—a little less than a mile.

R. B. didn’t like the idea. He kept insisting that he was certain we could make it up the hill.

I should have let him try.

I should have kept my mouth shut.

I should have given him his rightful position as owner of the vehicle to do what he wanted.

But I was cold and the lobster I had just eaten lay bitter in my stomach. I tucked the keys into my pocket, got out of the car and started walking. R. B. stumbled from the vehicle, screamed at me, but still followed.

It took a little while to get home. R. B. wanted to argue in the middle of the blizzard, but finally we arrived at my doorstep and climbed into the house, greeted by the bubbling of youthful energy from my children, screaming in delight about the precipitation.

We joined together in the living room and lit a fire to warm the house, as we continued to stare at the beautiful, heavenly flurries.

After about an hour, R. B. thought he might walk back to his car and try to get himself home. I could tell he was completely uncomfortable being with us. It made me sad and mad all at the same time.

Even when we started singing Christmas carols, he was fidgety and kept looking out the window, saying over and over again, “I think it’s clearing.”

Disgusted, he finally stood to his feet and headed to the door.

I had to make a decision. Would I let him do what he wanted to do—knowing how unsafe, dangerous or even deadly it was?

I probably should have honored his autonomy and his human choice.

But I had watched for four months while he deteriorated, lost his way, failed to get employment and acted and dressed more and more like a derelict.

Right or wrong, I made a stand, and explained that we would not allow him to leave because it was dangerous. He cursed me, became violently angry and stood over me, screaming his defiance.

My kids were scared.

I think my wife was waiting for me to kill him—because she had selected where to bury the body. But I let him yell while standing my ground.

Not only did R. B. have to sleep in our house that night, but the blizzard was so massive that the community shut down. The airport was closed, so R. B. was unable to go to Rhode Island for his Christmas holiday.

We invited him to stay, which he did—but he was really never there.  Over and over again he explained that it “just didn’t seem like Christmas” without being back home in Providence.

Our little family worked awfully hard to change our surroundings into R. B.’s childhood memory.

It got better. He calmed down.

He started singing with us.

He helped make Christmas treats.

And by Christmas Eve, it seemed like he had settled his soul and was just a little bit grateful to be safe and warm.

Realizing that we didn’t have gifts for him, on Christmas Eve morning I asked my two older boys to hike up the hill to the bus stop. I gave them forty dollars to buy “R. B.-type” gifts. I also gave them ten dollars for lunch.

They were thrilled. They returned early evening and placed their purchases into the garage, where my wife wrapped them up for Christmas morning.

About 7:40 A.M., we awoke R. B., who overnight had uncovered a fresh batch of grumpiness, but quickly changed his mind when he realized there would be presents under the tree just for him.

It was an unexpected Christmas.

R. B. laughed. I had never heard him quite as tuneful in his voice and open in his spirit.

The next morning, the roads cleared, and R. B. walked to his car.

I didn’t hear from him for almost three months. I pursued contact, but every time I left a message, he never returned the call.

Yet, that year we had a Christmas that was planned by the snow from Heaven. It was significant, it was enlightening, it was surprising, and it was God-like. As it turned out, that was the last time I got to see R. B. in Tacoma.

In May, when I told him we were moving on down the road to brighter prospects, he grunted—and wished us his best.

Things I Learned from R. B. (May 10th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4406)

Episode 14

We stayed in Sacramento as long as Sacramento stayed with us.

Although I’m uncomfortable with the comparison, I must candidly admit that our family was a little bit like musical locusts. We moved into an area, found out who might be interested in having us share our talents, and after about six months, we established some lovely relationships—but had eaten through all the crop of possibilities.

Since we had decided to keep working at our mission instead of becoming merely “gainfully employed,” we had to make a decision.  Truthfully, our landlord was requesting that we give deep thought to the matter. It was tough.

The guys were a little older and it was time for them to be settling in somewhere to begin their own lives. One of my sons met a delightful lady whom he loved dearly—and has ended up being his wife for twenty-five years. He hardly wanted to leave her to go back to being a traveling man.

We talked it over as a family, voted as a family and we left our home in Sacramento as a family.

We weren’t sure where to go.

To the west was the Bay area of California—from where we had just come. Not many prospects there.

To the south was Los Angeles, where dreams go to die.

To the east was a lot of Rocky Mountains before arriving at a lot of rocky land.

Above us was the Pacific Northwest, where we had not spent much time.

Also, R. B. was there.

Communication with him after the Thanksgiving holiday had been spotty, but the vibrations from his spirit were tenuous, and sometimes even a bit frightening.

I made a decision on a whim and then convinced my family it was a great idea. I didn’t do that very often, but I thought Washington and Oregon would be good for us and our music—and we might be helpful and nurturing to R. B.

When I shared with R. B. that we would be coming up, he was less than enthusiastic. I understood why—he’d dug a hole for himself where he was partially comfortable but wouldn’t be happy for others to see him inside the tomb.

I went anyway.

However, R. B. did provide one immediate blessing.

A fellow he knew had a five-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac in Tacoma which he wanted to rent—and he would give it to us for only five hundred dollars a month.

It was beautiful—at least, to us.

For the first time in their whole growing-up period, my sons would have their own rooms. (Usually in motels, it was a corner with about two feet of space.)

We settled in, scheduled a few things and the money started rolling in our direction. We had decided to pay rent weekly, so every Monday morning, after our weekend’s adventure, we drove to our landlord’s house and gave him one hundred and twenty-five dollars.

He thought it was cute—but I knew it was wise. I was aware how quickly money disappears in a family of five.

Although my sons were disappointed to leave Sacramento, the prospect of this new home with a huge garage did ease the pain.

We wanted to stay for a while. We wanted to see if we could help R. B. escape his depression and loneliness.

For it had been a year-and-a-half since he had held a job. He was living off credit cards and finding that they, too, were much like the locusts.

We tried to love him, but R. B. was unwilling to see us very often. He was horrified at the prospect of us beholding his living situation.

We had come a long way to a foreign land—to have shelter but feel very foreign.

I did not know what was going to come of our quest, or if there was some doorway into the heart and life of R. B.

 

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