Some Dove chocolates have been lurking in my desk drawer at the office; I’ve been able, somehow, to resist them. But today is different. Today, as the calendar marches inevitably toward Valentine’s Day, my resolve is weak.
So today I’ve opened the little foil packaging and
here’s what the inside message says:
in those you love.”
And just like that – a flood of memories leaked from my
heart. Memories of my own sweetheart, Roger Hoffner, who died way too soon.
I believed in him.
And because I carry his memory like a treasure, I
still believe in him – in the present
Roger grew up in a time when boys admired men who wore leather gloves to work and tucked knives into their pockets to use when needed. He wanted to emulate them.
He was raised in a country swath of America that
believed in ruggedness and self-sufficiency. He learned, by example, that you
don’t toss something in the trash just because it quits working – you figure
out how to fix it and you take the time to do it right.
Living as a kid in the green rolling hills of Northwest Pennsylvania, Roger worked odd jobs for uncles in exchange for a hot meal and maybe a game of poker. He learned to drive tractor and toss hay bales into the mow, long before he was driving a car.
One of Roger’s most prized possessions was his
pocket knife. I’ve kept it in my jewelry box.
That little 3-blade wonder came out when the girls
got Barbie Dolls at Christmas time, the toys impossibly ensconced in those hard
The small but capable knife was used on our farm to:
a wooden latch,
the ice on the horse’s buckets,
a piece of tack when saddling up and once,
remove gum from our oldest daughter’s hair.
I saw him:
slice a watermelon,
sharpen a pencil,
open a can, and
cut bait from the fishing line.
I often saw him cleaning his fingernails with the
Eventually, as his own nephews grew responsible
enough, Roger started gifting little pocket knives to them so they’d be ready
for any eventuality.
Each of our daughters also received a pocket knife
when the time was right.
I fondly remember their papa cutting reeds by our pond with his knife, to fashion them into organic musical instruments for the girls. They held the long green leaves “just so” and blew through their thumbs and fingers to render nature’s finest music.
The sound came out something like chirping crickets
mixed with bird warbling – it was simply beautiful.
The pocket knife, over the years, came to mean much
more than simply a handy little tool. It represented a hearty resourcefulness. A
hard-scrabble work ethic, a readiness for just about any situation.
I spoke with another guy who carries one, and
he told me he’d attended a concert once and was horrified when the
security guard confiscated the tool and tossed it carelessly into a
My friend fished his pocket knife out of the bin and left the venue; he was not going to lose a lifelong companion over a one-time event, so he went outside and people-watched while his wife enjoyed the music inside the arena.
That’s how strongly men of a former generation feel about
their pocket knives, and that’s how strongly Roger felt about his, too.
I miss him.
I carry Roger’s memory in my heart. I will forward his legacy to my son-in-law. On his birthday coming up, I believe I will gift him Roger’s trusty pocket knife.
I wouldn’t want Nick to find himself in a situation and not be prepared. Especially when the day comes that he takes his own kids fishing and needs to cut some bait.
During the holidays, I had the opportunity to host the inventor of a well-received artists’ pastel, the Terry Ludwig Pastels and his lovely wife in my home. I learned how his creative need for widening a small array of pastel colors to vastly more colors begat an ingenuity to create them himself.
For Terry, learning how to mix and shape these new pastels for personal use led to bulk mixes of the pastel shaped chalks and also to the business of selling them to other artists. Soon, the success he received outgrew his ability to paint and to run the pastel business. Fortunately, in retirement, Terry’s son, Geoff, continues to run the family business.
INGENUITY COLORS THIS WALL
Soon after, another company came to my attention, an innovative and ingenious company that actually grew in lean times when other companies gave way to the competition.
Braun Brush Company is one of America’s oldest family-owned industrial brush manufacturers. From the start, Emanuel Braun, a German immigrant, implemented handmade, quality manufacturing techniques to produce brushes as effective household tools. They became popular. Who doesn’t need a variety of brushes, right?
However, at the turn of the century when the industrial revolution started, the factory, like most small manufacturing businesses, fell on hard times. Mass production by machine, whether inferior in quality or not, overwhelmed them. Authors and publishers might relate to the phenomenon as they experienced the mass marketing of self-published books took over the marketplace.
Again in the 50s, when China began mass production of common household items to America, Braun, could have given up production of his homemade brushes.
Instead, Braun began identifying a person at a time needing one unique brush. He could still fill that market of one each time he designed a unique brush making his mark up, because the machines were making multiples for the masses, not unique needs. Finding one-of-a-kind niches, inventing brushes for commercial institutions such as NASA and nuclear plants for cleaning silos, sustained Braun’s brush business.
REINVENTING THE WHEEL – A GOOD INVESTMENT?
Artisans and business people are often warned not to waste time or resources in trying to reinvent the wheel. In this instance, I’ve learned the opposite is true. It helps to be willing to reinvent the wheel for different purposes and vehicles. Thinking about this, it may be common sense that the same wheel would not suit all purposes, nor does the same brush.
I have discovered, time and time again, that one person may be a visionary while others must get on board with the business sense, varieties of production needs, or sales in order to make the business succeed. Each person must use ingenuity to succeed in creating a full picture from the puzzle pieces.
NOT EVERY CREATED THING IS PRODUCED FOR ALL
Some people mass-produce their art for those who decorate personal spaces with reproduced poster art printed on less quality paper, sold, and appreciated en mass, ie. think the paperback novel or Kindle readers.
Some people want to see their own work up on the wall, ie. think the vantage press hardcovers or those who use their books for establishing a legacy.
Some only want to produce enough work to give gifts to friends, club members, and business associates. Others need to make a living and are able to gain the aid of professionals to either become a classic household name in a genre or form.
In readers as in the art world, there are those who collect, those who invest in local artists and masters. You understand, if you have an original signed and dated piece from a local artist, author, or a master in any era, it is safe to say that only those who come into your space will likely see it.
Like showing off a beloved library, an original art piece may be the dictating factor for how the rest of the space is decorated and furnished.
KEEP UP WITH HUMAN APPETITES
Finding and selling to the markets basically means that the creator has discovered a way to feed someone’s appetite. It comes down to that.
It’s great to create new stories and new things, but there are some things that are universal patterns and needs requiring some pattern of format or reformatting. This is true in writing a widely read book.
A novice author dreams of seeing his or her book mass-produced. For me, when the self-publishing phenomenon happened, when all manner of marketing and social networking advice overwhelmed me, I floundered and moved into low gear. The transformation of the bookselling industry was about to spit out the hobbyists from the author-entrepreneurs. And, I wasn’t ready to give up. In digging in my heels, I had a lot to learn.
One of the things I learned related to finding a niche of readers, and describing my book as the answer to their appetite for discovering the source of creativity and learning to follow a true pattern of success.
In 2020, when I approved the final revision of my book, Welcome to the Shivoo!, I smiled thinking, “That’s a book I want to buy and read myself!”
Authors and publishers aim for more readers and merrier times. Whether this dream becomes fact, real art always comes from the heart. When an artisan believes in his or her process and skill, adapting ideas to reproduce stories in a bigger way and by a preferable means becomes real-world work.
What a delicious assurance.
Occasionally, authors believe they have written their only masterpiece. With the work and expense required to establish themselves, it feels unlikely that another manuscript so heartfelt and well-researched will ever pour from their fingertips again. They want their books to be mass-produced, and when at first this fails to happen, spirits fall in chorus like a requiem.
It’s simply the excitement and pathos of a first book singing out a delicious moment. But, there is a whole new career awaiting.
Getting a book published produces a bell-curve of an overwhelming high and extreme low of emotion before the reality of the artisan’s business work ethic sets in. However, it is unfounded to think that new inspiration can never spurt to the surface again considering the wellspring of ingenuity contained in the life events of any artisan.
When a writer has found one passion, another passion will likely emerge parallel to the appetites sparking at the time. An opportunity to produce a sequel or a similar brand of book will begin to tug at a sleeve. The question is, will the creator accept being the vessel in the future? Will the creator continue to find the hope and motivation as Braun found to prepare for a future society, to accept this new manuscript in the new language of a new people?
I like to keep a notebook, camera, and recorder nearby to document the interesting things that pass through my life so that I may one day adapt them into new art, or writing, or sales systems.
Every day, you and I are just like Emanuel Braun who was beckoned and wooed by life’s need to survive in New York’s transitioning society and the crux of needed creativity. You cannot blame your competitors who found a rung on the ladder before you did. Learn from them. You cannot hold customers captive without new products. Keep inventing.
You and I are the ones who must continue to get gritty, work late nights and early mornings, research, edit, barter, and train.
Mister B had been vying for the certificate of blindness since he’d turned 96, seven years prior. His January hobby was to study and search the IRS Publication 17 each year, and he’d done his own taxes until age 100.
When Joe saw that his taxes were getting adjusted by the taxing authorities two years in a row, he decided this meant that he was no longer capable of understanding how to report them.
Last month, at 103-years of age, my father-in-law finally received a certificate of blindness from his eye doctor. It was in answer to another of his badgering requests so that he could file it with his 2020 taxes.
I fished out this portion of our joint memoir for whomever reads this blog. You can tell that he is not only going blind at this juncture, but deaf as well.
We’ve had a fun spin this morning getting all the things done on Mister B’s list. He turns suddenly to applaud our execution of a morning to-do list, “Wow! You solved all my problems in an hour and we still have time for books!” I turn the wheels towards the library looking at the wide empty soccer park of stark, winter grass and note, “Where are the geese, Mr. B?”
“No, the GEESE.”
“Where’s the beef? Oh, you’re trying to be funny.”
“No, the GEESE! In the park!” I flutter my arms and point.
“A treat? You don’t have to overreact like that.”
In the library, he forgets that he’s already picked up the federal tax forms, so he makes his way over to pick up a couple more.
On the way home, he taps his tax documents and spouts, “Hey, I think we should get a deduction for my blindness. Can you look into that for me?”
“You aren’t exactly blind, Mr. B. You’ve been reading for the last hour.”
“Well, I know,” he admits, “but there has to be some sort of stepped up percentage, some standard you can find out about, and you know I am blind in the one eye and I have this mascular deterioration too.”
I about lose it with the “mascular deterioration” and am pursing my lips, trying to hide my amusement, when he says, “You know, if I could get another $1,200 off my taxes, you and me could go out to Ted’s Montana Grill!” He wraps his hand in the crook of my elbow and snuggles up.
“Now you’re thinking, Mr. B., but really, you’ve already made my day.”
This week’s events prove there’s nothing more sure than death and taxes as the wheels of life moved ’round us.
My dear man breathed his final breath–to our complete shock. We were not ready to let go. Undulating lost feelings, an empty house, and reflections that he won’t be needing the bananas, oxygen, and pills this week were felt among currents moving side-by-side in streams of wonder recognizing the Lord’s compassion for him and for us as things occurred, and arching overall was a desperate hope of glory.
Mister B, Joe, had managed to pick out every corner of every walnut shell in his New England basket. He’d managed to rock a rut in the new carpet. He’d managed to entertain his hospice caregivers for nine months with stories. He’d outlived all of his siblings and far-flung relatives. We’d managed to capture his DNA and confirm all the suspicions about his Baltic sea coastal father’s origin and the soul of his Polish mama with a Norwegian slice of pie.
Then, he simply disappeared. We saw no vapor, no shudder, heard no heave. He was breathing deeply in sleep, he took six shallow breaths, and suddenly he breathed no more.
The day after, wandering through the hall, I peered into his empty bedroom. “Where are you, Mister B?”
A while later, as my husband and I clomped up the stairs bringing tax boxes from the basement–for our ongoing life, I saw Mister B’s script from his doctor lying on top. Damn. He’ll not get this last pleasure! The irony of it, although his tax deduction came through, finally. I muse, my chest tightens, and I stomp on the top step because Joe can’t enjoy this poetry having simultaneously shaken hands with death.
In fact, the only time I ever knew Joe to stomp his own foot was the night before he died. The pain in his chest was “biting” he said. “Biting” just like his mother’s description of her lung cancer to him the last time he saw her. Throwing out his groans through the house, his howls, his stomps, and finally, his whimpers broke our hearts. We called the hospice repeatedly and received directions for morphine. And, finally, he slept snoring roundly.
The thing is, so many beautiful things occur between birth, taxes, and death.
Joe’s fortitude happened.
“Old age isn’t for the faint of heart,” he’d say. Indefatigable, Mister B found patience for the long hours of silence which deafness handed to him, meekness at his failing strength to stand and walk. Interest in the many varieties of soup he downed when his esophagus stopped working. “Why is this happening? Why can’t the doctor fix it? What kind of credentials makes her a doctor?” Then, acceptance.
His humor shined with polish.
When he needed a handy cherry-red walker near the end, he often grinned grasping the handles toot-tooting like a childish train engineer. He mostly kept his own counsel and his own secrets. Only what benefited his audience escaped his lips. He’d launch into some political opinion, then, “Why do I care? It won’t matter to me. The world is your oyster now.” And, “thank you”, “I’m so lucky”, and “I appreciate ya” up to his last night. Sometimes he’d list the accolades of his doting valet of a son to me. “I couldn’t have done any better,” he’d say. Other times he’d wonder if my husband cared that he was dating me or that I had two husbands.
He was still curious about things he thought he saw or heard, and those conversations could become sheer fantasy of reason or extreme frustrations trying to explain to him that his experience was not logical.
He started uumming over his food and singing.
Patience and humility happened.
His itching and face cancers reminded me of the misery of Job covered in boils. We’d slather Mister B’s head and torso with medicated cream.
Sacred respect happened.
He stopped mocking our dinner prayers and bowed his head every evening, closing his eyes, respectfully. I ached to know it was more than that, but I never will this side of the resurrection. Many times he thought he had to get up to go to work. It was only right that he should work and share the household burden. Maybe he could get some kind of job…
If you’re one who’s feeling the pinch of a parent’s age and what that might mean, if you’re curious about how a family could learn to love again, and if you’d at least like to consider the value of caring for your elderly parent, I hope you’ll pick up our memoir, MISTER B: LIVING WITH A 98-YEAR-OLD ROCKET SCIENTIST. I was a most resistant upwardly mobile child, and I was wooed.
It does take two. Both sides had to budge. Both sides had to be open to learn respect. He led the way by deferring to us, “You kids take this over. Why do I need it? I’ve lived my life.” Or, “You decide. I trust you.”
My husband says his father had become someone he’d never known prior to these final years. Tears have rolled wetting his face many times this week. “Thank you, Dad, for loving me, for teaching me how to live this life.” These were his last intimate words to his father.
But if it’s true that the amount of tears shed relates to the amount of love you hold in your heart for one who’s passed, it’s also true that living in the wonder of Mister B’s company, I became a vastly different person during these past six and a half years.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)
Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5: 17-19)
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
Math, accuracy, and facts are intrinsic to a good long life. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 25:15)