Three years since her death. Two days out of California, four to home. Serious solitude, just me and Willie Nelson.
It was Interstate 80 and Laramie, my usual layover after a quick visit with friends in Utah. There's a decent hotel at the edge of town and a workingman's roadhouse two blocks over. Burger and beer at the bar, no hassle, conversation optional. My kind of joint when I indulge my addiction to long-haul driving.
Ursula's essence always rode shotgun on these long trips. But that night as I swung into the hotel parking lot in the darkened November dusk came a raw awareness--her memory was abruptly muted. And later over a mostly sleepless night, possibly grief and reason merged and possibly began a realization. It may conclude this biography, if I should live so long.
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The concept of realization as a life process will pop up from time to time in this my ballad of older whiskey and wiser women. So let me explain a bit before we move on to baby Stych at the old homestead.
A friend and consultant Bill Guillory introduced me to the concept in my mid-fifties when
I was once again into serious soul searching, though it was not the first time I'd been bored witless—especially when a situation suggested I was digging the same hole deeper. Wrestling with these circumstances could last months or years but eventually would generate some decisive alternative. Bill labelled them realizations and his book of the same title expanded on the theme.
Now feel free to label my penchant for change a personal neurosis—satisfaction with a more benign status quo is more agreeable for most. And you certainly should pause to pity wives and children who lived through these shifting life settings. Consequences also ensued for relationships and that always hatches a host of what-ifs. But over time I did learn how to deliberate them to some conclusion no matter how painful...regrets will only grow heavier the longer we retain them.
Were my choices self-serving? Without a doubt but who can say the degree. Did they affect others for better or for worse? That jury will always be out. But I can pony up to the bar and admit responsibility...I don't blame Mao or Mom. The buck stops here.
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Example of a realization? A few decades ago, this senior manager was cruising toward retirement. The home front was reasonably placid although youngest son had recently transitioned to green hair and multiple piercings. And comely bride had traded up to her doctorate studies. But except for an occasional speed bump from offspring, the ride was mostly serene.
But one placid day enters a provocateur Linda Galindo as corporate consultant. The interview began conventionally with a few tests and seemingly routine questions. But after some thirty minutes came a growing suspicion that possibly this guru was about more than simple assessment. Sure enough, in due course came the curve ball.
"Stan, why are you working here?"
Hey, no sweat, here's the man who earned his sales smarts on Madison Avenue. "Linda, it's my duty to deliver profit to our investors so we can keep our jobs and support our families". Thought you had me there, didn't you, lady?
"OK, define duty for me".
Now here's a guy who prides himself on common sense and competence and was taught to rigorously audit beliefs and opinions—especially his own. Yet after minutes of stumbling and back-tracking, no way could I adequately define duty in a work context...at least adequate to me. You can watch me drag my deflation from Linda's office.
The upshot? After several painful months of wrestling with options, I simply resigned after nineteen years from what had become for me a too familiar challenge. And after six more weeks of utter relaxation, a new venture surfaced.
* * *
Notwithstanding the above, material security was my primary career driver until age 40, a characteristic inherited from Depression-era parents who began with nothing in the early Twenties and sweated through hard times in the Thirties. It seemed a day didn't pass without their mention of our precarious prospects.
Now couple this nascent need for security with a bias to practicality that is every farm boy's prerequisite. Add the truism that material security exponentially expands life's choices. Is it a wonder that I chose engineering as a profession and was driven to fiercely compete?
Actually it is. Because at age ten, poultry farming was my chosen career! It probably came about because the 'kid with his nose always stuck in a book' was Mother's helper—my burly older brother Austin worked the fields with Dad. Gradually my chores expanded to help weed Mom's three gardens and cut the grass, and to twice daily collect eggs from the hen house near the barn.
Poultry at that time were often the farmer wives' responsibility with egg monies used for for groceries and clothes. So when my scrawny frame had matured sufficiently to do a little heavy lifting, my duties for my mother expanded to included cleaning the brooder houses as described below.
The chicks arrived by train in early spring and were housed in kerosene-heated brooder houses until the weather warmed. Nine or ten months later as young hens (pullets), they begin to lay eggs. That doesn't imply they're no longer virgins—but Cock Robins were possibly euthanized at the hatchery. Hens lay blanks...like me after my vasectomy.
What happened to older hens when the pullets volunteered for duty? Most were sold live-weight to a dealer though a few could fall victim to an axe. I was probably age eight or so when Mom handed me a hatchet for the first time and asked me to go fetch a hen for dinner. No need for a diagram...I knew a fat hen when I saw one and in a house heated by wood there's no shortage of chopping blocks.
Now in case you're wondering, did this my first assassination mean trauma and hours on the couch finding closure? Think again. It was like winning my first medal...Mom had entrusted an adult task to me! Her earlier reluctance wouldn't have been concern for my distress at this bloodletting—it would be that I might chop off a finger.
Realize, though, that insouciance on my part during this chicken slaughter was not early onset cruelty. Most farmers tried to be kind to their animals and instilled this trait in their children...my parents would be appalled at some of today's husbandry practices. But through their example, we also came to accept that cattle and pigs and chickens were our livelihood and not our pets.
And I can now admit what I couldn't back then—being as anxious as any farm boy for recognition as a macho male—that killing an animal was never easy for me. But for every venture there's a playbook and one rule is universal—not all tasks are pleasant.
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