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advent journal: christmas in connecticut

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The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut is a building full of stories. The building itself goes back almost one hundred and fifty years when it first opened as a theater. When the original owner died a few years later, so did his vision for the place and the building became a militia base, a general store, and then a storage facility for the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Around 1960, someone caught sight of the original dream. They looked at the building and saw an opportunity others had missed, so they raised money and worked to restore it. Since 1963 it has hosted musical theater. Annie and Man of LaMancha both began there and went on to worldwide fame.

Last night, the Goodspeed hosted Ginger, Rachel, and I for a performance of a new musical, Christmas in Connecticut, which is based on the 1945 movie of the same name starring Barbara Stanwyck and is one of our holiday favorites. The tickets were my early Christmas gift to Ginger and her mother. None of us had been in the building before.

The first floor of the Goodspeed–at least what you can see when you walk in–is a grand staircase that leads to a mezzanine level that is a small lounge, restrooms, and more stairs. The theater itself is on the second floor. For the uninitiated, such as we were, it is hard to notice that behind the grand staircase is a bar with snacks and drinks. We were upstairs and in our seats before we realized we had missed getting water and coffee.

The show was good. The way they adapted the storyline from the movie to work on the stage was well done. The actors had strong voices. The plot was engaging. And by intermission, we were thirsty. I ventured back down the stairs to the main floor where I saw a staff person selling bottled water for $2. Cash only. I didn’t have two dollars. I climbed back up to our seats and reported to Ginger and Rachel and Ginger said she had two dollars. Cash in hand, I went back downstairs. A man and a woman were in front of me. The man swapped his money for water and smiled as he passed me. The woman turned and walked away and when I stepped up the attendant said, “I’m out of water.”

I dropped my shoulders and sighed. Then I worked my way back to the bar, but the line was about ten deep. I climbed my way back to our seats and reported to Ginger what had happened. As I was talking to her, a man a couple of rows back stepped close to me and said, “You were looking for water and I got the last one. I heard you sigh as I walked off. I had a drink before the show. You need this more than I do, so give me your two dollars and you can have the water.”

I thanked him, handed him the money, and took the water bottle.

I didn’t realize he had been in front of me, or that he heard me. I didn’t see him standing near me when I came back to my seat. His act of kindness only happened because he was paying attention and saw a chance to take care of someone else.

That’s the only contact we had. When the play finished, everyone began moving the same direction and then funneled to single file to go the stairs and out into the clear Connecticut night. It was incidental contact, but that’s what makes up most of our days–a series, or perhaps a collection, of brief exchanges that add up to a day or a month or a life much like a sequence of steps becomes a dance or a pilgrimage and an ordering of words becomes a sentence or a scene.

What stories do our lives tell by the way those exchanges unfold?

When Jesus tried to explain what it meant to live compassionately, he said, “I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.” That statement makes more sense to me tonight than ever before because I was thirsty and a guy who didn’t have to gave me his water in the middle of a musical called Christmas in Connecticut.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: the work of the people

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the work of the people

the liturgy of our life together
begins with breakfast or a
walk certainly a coffee

some days the invocation
is offered by NPR or TODAY
a podcast or an old song

we exchange the reading
of our calendars, listing our
obligations and appointments

we go through motions
intending to make a difference
perhaps to make amends

and talk of when we will
come home to one another
answering the altar call

to return and to remember
our hope is built on something
as simple as promises kept

whatever we have bound
or set free whatever we
have done or left undone

we are blessed in our goings
out and our comings in
live well be well rest well amen

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: reading list

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For my birthday Ginger gave me The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams. I did not know of the book. From the back cover I learned it is Adams’ debut novel–at least in print–and the premise is a teenage girl who is working in a library finds a reading list in a returned copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and decides not only to work her way down the list but also to share it with others she meets–or so it says in the synopsis on the back cover. I am only a couple of chapters in.

But I’m hooked. The writing is engaging, the characters are intriguing, and I imagine I may work my way down the reading list as well once I get through the book. The reason I bring it up tonight, however, is a paragraph that is part of the prologue. The book opens with someone named Aidan entering the library branch.

He wanders over to the fiction shelves, the crime section, and runs his fingers over the spines, landing on Black Water Rising by Attica Locke. He has read it before, years ago. Maybe even more than once. As he starts to turn the pages, looking for an escape, memories rush in . . . of Attica Locke’s Houston, the city alive, vibrant, dark, full of contradictions and contrasts. Today he needs that kind of familiarity, he needs to step back into a world where there are scares, twists, turns, but a world where he knows how everything will end.

He needs to know how something will end.

In the years I taught high school, I read a lot of novels beyond the ones I read repeatedly with students. One reason was I wanted to read some new sentences other than those that were required, even though many of those books I still love. The other reason was I wanted to be a writer, which meant (I thought) I needed to write the Great American Novel, so I read as many novels as I could get my hands on, trying to learn how to tell a story.

Fiction or nonfiction, it is good practice to read while you write. In my work as an editor, that was my consistent advice to my authors. Beyond the research they were doing for their book, they needed to read things that made them believe in good writing, read sentences and paragraphs that caught their breath, read writers they wanted to emulate.

While I was teaching at Charlestown High School in Boston, I wrote a novel–Destiny–about the son of a Texas preacher who was trying to figure out who he was. Thanks to the folks at the Humber School for Writers and Timothy Findley, a Canadian author who was my mentor, I managed to figure out how that story ended and got it down on paper, but it never made it past the copy I turned in at the end of the course.

As I kept writing, I began to realize that what flowed out of me most easily was nonfiction–the stuff that fills my blog and my three books–and I also found my way into poetry, but I have not written more fiction. I don’t know if that is why my novel reading dropped off. It was not a conscious decision on my part. But the two novels I got for my birthday (the other one was Horse by Geraldine Brooks) have nudged me into deciding that the new year will begin with fiction, whether or not I write another novel, and beyond these two books I may go back to some old friends much like Aidan did when he picked up Black Water Rising.

And that leads me to thinking of my own reading list. I won’t give away the list in Adam’s novel, other than to say it holds eight books and is titled, “Just in Case You Need It.” Without claiming my list to be exhaustive or even permanent, here is a list of books that have been lifelong friends.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

As soon as I publish this post I know I will think of revisions, mostly additions, to the list, but that’s alright.

Perhaps the power of a good story is that is offers us a chance to experience a real ending. Whatever happens between the covers of the book, there is a last page, a last sentence, a last word. Life, as you know already, is not like that. All of our endings are in the middle of something else that is continuing. Wherever we are, we are sustained by stories, whether printed ones we carry with us or those we tell each other when we stop to listen to one another as we move from middle to end to beginning to middle to whatever has yet to happen.

Reading lists make good guides for the journey. Who travels with you?

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: life’s rich pageant

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The final game of the 2022 World Cup and the annual Christmas pageant at church both kicked off at ten o’clock this morning. Since I was only able to record one of them, I saw the pageant in person.

As is the case in many churches, the drama is designed as a retelling, or a reenactment, of the Christmas story, or at least the story that has been passed down by our tradition. The play is not designed to be a theological investigation as much as a celebration of Christmas, our church, and our children.

The kids and the adults who have led them have worked hard over the past couple of weeks to put the play together. The whole thing unfolded more like a tableau, with each group–angels, shepherds, magi, and animals–all making their way to the manger. The various roles are assigned, often, by age, so as the kids grow up they play different parts. The littlest ones are the animals, who are allowed to dress as any animal they want. My favorite this year was the little pink pig. As I said, theological accuracy is not the point; the story is, and that story is about our life together.

As I watched and listened, I returned to a question that has always puzzled me: Why do we call it a pageant? My earliest introduction to the word had to do with Miss America, so when I also heard the word used to describe a Christmas play, I was puzzled. I still am.

According to the etymological dictionary, we don’t really know where the word pageant came from, other than it shows up in the late 1300s and might have roots in the Latin word pagina, which means page or manuscript. In the 1400s, pageant could mean a stage on wheels or the scene of a play, and then grew to mean a story or a tale, often an historical one. Since church plays predate evening gown and talent competitions, I will assume the word attached to bathrobe shepherds before it became connected to bathing suits and sashes.

The story that emerged over the four weeks of football matches–and carried with it a sense of history–was that of Lionel Messi, the, five-foot-seven, thirty-five-year-old forward for Argentina who is arguably one of the best players of all time, but he had never won a World Cup. His team was in the finals against France, the reigning champion. For Argentina to finally win with Messi would be a story for the ages.

Where our collection of motley angels and shepherds created a pageant that was joyful in its imprecision, Argentina’s teamwork was precision incarnated. For their second goal, they moved almost the full length of the field with six one-touch passes, each player placing the ball on his teammate’s foot in a way that no one seemed to break stride. It was pageantry: an elaborate display of skill and collaboration, as one dictionary puts it.

Messi entered this morning (well, it was morning here, but evening in Qatar) with everything on the line. This was likely his last chance to win a World Cup for his country. Our children (and adults) showed up today with varying levels of anxiety, I’m sure, but nothing at stake in any ultimate sense. However things rolled out as they told the story, it was going to be a great day. Anything that went wrong–or didn’t go as planned–would become part of our collective lore and memory, part of–to borrow from an old REM album–life’s rich pageant.

Actually, the album title doesn’t have an apostrophe in it, but Peter Buck said it came from a line from the movie A Shot in the Dark, one of the Pink Panther films, where Inspector Clouseau opens a car door and falls into a fountain. Maria, the woman with him, says, “You should get out of these clothes immediately. You’ll catch your death of pneumonia, you will.”

Clouseau answers, “Yes, I probably will. But it’s all part of life’s rich pageant, you know?”

Messi was not alone in his display of skill today, nor were the French players who had their own story to tell and came up one penalty shot short. Though there were individual honors to bestow at the end of the tournament, the shared trophy is what matters most. We had a few standout moments in our pageant at church–Baby Jesus bouncing up and down as teenage Joseph held him, Herod booming “I am troubled” so forcefully that she frighted people on the back row of the sanctuary, and one angel who walked down the aisle waving her arms like wings–but the shared story was what mattered most at our place, too.

In life’s rich pageant, triumphs are not the whole story. Kylian Mbappé is the twenty-four year old forward for France who had an amazing tournament and is sharing the story of disappointment with the other members of the French squad. During the regular season, he and Messi are teammates, which is another story. As we celebrated our children this morning, we also prayed for one of our longterm members, in his mid-nineties, who was hospitalized. Then, this afternoon, Ginger and I walked the Schnauzers and then walked ourselves.

Yes, Inspector, you are correct: it’s all a part of life’s rich pageant.

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: hippo, hooray

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hippo, hooray

I’ve done
my share
of writing
about the
weight of
the world
but here
are a few
weightless
words of
joy for a
day spent
walking
talking
eating
laughing
building
memories
in a town
where
none of
us lives
yet we
created
a space of
belonging
for one
another
because
that’s what
friends do

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: muddling through

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Ginger and I have spent the last couple of days working to get packages in the mail for our family, who are scattered about the country. Yesterday afternoon while Ginger was at work, I was home baking cookies to pack and send (and let Rachel have a few), which meant I got to pick the music. That matters because I tire quickly of the onslaught of holiday tunes. The aggressive version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” I heard in the grocery store today almost sent me running for the parking lot.

I have two exceptions–and by that I mean songs I love to hear more than once–when it comes to songs of the season. One is the soundtrack to John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together and the other is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The first because it’s John Denver and it’s the Muppets and I have long been an unabashed fan of both. The last because it holds both the sadness and the comfort of Christmas in a way few songs or carols do.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is part of a soundtrack as well. Judy Garland sang it in “Meet Me in St. Louis”–Esther (her character) sang it to Tootie, her five-year old sister on the eve of the last Christmas in their family home because they were going to have to move to New York because of their father’s job. The point of the scene in which she sang was to say, “Let’s make the best of this Christmas.”

You may already know this part. The lyrics she sang were not the original ones. Here is what the songwriters first gave her:

have yourself a merry little Christmas
it may be your last
next year we may all be living in the past
have yourself a merry little Christmas
pop that champagne cork
next year we may all be living in New York . . .

The words fit the plot line, but Garland told the writers that they would make the little girl cry, so they rewrote them to the ones we know, for the most part.

have yourself a merry little Christmas
let your heart be light
next year all our troubles will be out of sight
have yourself a merry little Christmas
make the yuletide gay
next year all our troubles will be miles away
once again as in olden days
happy golden days of yore
faithful friends who are dear to us
will be near to us once more
someday soon we all will be together
if the fates allow
until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
so have yourself a merry little Christmas now

As the song found a life beyond the movie, other lines were tweaked accordingly (“next year” became “from now on”), but the line I wish had lived on (and does, in some versions) is the penultimate one:

until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow

That feels truer than “hang your shining star upon the highest bow” to me because my star doesn’t feel that shiny and it is what we do: we muddle through, somehow, with the hope and promise of our connections to one another.

After asking Siri to play several different versions of the song–most of which didn’t muddle through–I turned to John and the Muppets. The third song on the record is “The Peace Carol,” a folk song written by Bob Beers, that begins

the garment of life be it tattered and torn
the cloak of the soldier is withered and worn
but what child is this that was poverty-born
the peace of Christmas Day

Tattered and torn is what we often look like as we muddle through, or at least that’s the way the words hit me. The last verse of the carol turns to an accounting image that reminds me of how often we speak of what our lives add up to be, or how we count the years. Even the Psalmist prayed, “Teach us to number our days.”

add all the grief that people may bear
total the strife and the troubles and care
put them in columns and leave them right there
the peace of Christmas Day

Maybe the last line is a response to that prayer: “put them in columns and leave them there.” And now I have “Seasons of Love” in my head (that happened at Christmas, right?): “how do you measure a year in the life?” We measure as we muddle–sort of like I have done in this paragraph. We answer the phone, or we write letters and e-mails, we text, we drive or fly, and when those things can’t happen we miss each other and we muddle through.

Though it doesn’t show up on the page, my phone rang as I finished the above paragraph. It was my friend Burt calling to dust off a memory–forty years ago tonight we were at my apartment for his bachelor party. My best description of Burt is he is my most enduring friend. We met in the fall of 1976 and have been a part of each other’s lives since. I love that man. And I trust him.

Just before he called, I was scouring through The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows to find this word:

lilo
n. a friendship that can lie dormant for years only to pick right back up instantly, as if you’d seen each other last week . . . (from lifelong + lie low. Pronounced “lahy-loh.”)

Then the phone rang. Burt asked how I was doing and I told him I was hanging in there. I went into more detail and then asked about him. We both had muddling stories to tell. As we prepared to say goodbye, he said, “I know these are hard days. Just remember you’re not alone. We’ve got you.”

However tattered life may be, somehow, those words are enough to muddle through.

Let us say them over and over to one another: we are not alone; we’ve got us.

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: weather report

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weather report

when I was in high school
dad told me to be a weatherman
“you can be wrong everyday
and you never get fired”
I walked to coffee this
morning in cold sunshine
said the sky looked like
snow this afternoon
and sent the schnauzers
out in the rain tonight
who could see that coming

the weather of the heart
is no less unpredictable
despite the patterns
I recognize or the storms
that set the standard for
how bad a storm can be
once it breaks it doesn’t
matter who was right only
that we made it through
which is what weather means
when we use is as a verb

the ancient Greek word
for weather was the word for
time perhaps they thought
less about storms and more
about memories and markers
the Blizzard of ’78 the summer
my father died the hurricanes
with names like backup singers
that move that job that heartbreak
we were wrong most everyday
and have weathered it so far

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: driving credit

7

I drove someone in town to their doctor’s appointment in North Haven today.

Last week, Ginger became aware that someone in town needed a ride to their chemotherapy appointment and other family issues meant he didn’t have one. My flexible schedule made it easy for me to play chauffeur. It was their second treatment and the first one had exhausted him so much that he ended up being admitted to the hospital. He came home a few days ago and then reached out yesterday to say he needed a ride again, this time for tests to get ready for the next treatment, and wondered if I was available. I drove him back again this morning.

Since that meant I was going to be in the New Haven area for a while, I signed on to Lyft to see who else needed a ride. I gave someone a ride home from their car dealership, picked up a couple who had dropped off their rental car and needed a ride home, and then rove to a house in what we often call a transitional neighborhood to pick up my next passenger.

She came out of the house and set a couple of bags on the steps and then went back in for more. I asked if she needed help and, once she said yes, picked up what I could and put it in the back of my car. She went back in the house one last time and came out with a car seat covered by a blanket. Her baby had slept through the whole thing. As she got in the car, a man crossed the driveway behind her headed toward the house. As he unlocked the door she said flatly, “My brother will come get the rest of my stuff tomorrow. And don’t call me on my phone.”

She closed her door and we drove off.

A couple of blocks away from the house I asked how old her baby was. She told me she was three months old and she also had a six year old. I didn’t ask anymore questions. During the twenty minute ride to Waterbury, we had moments of conversation, but she spent most of the time texting and listening to either voicemail or someone rapping. My hearing loss made it hard to tell the difference.

The drive from North Haven to Waterbury is beautiful in several places. Connecticut is full of trees and water. We passed two or three beautiful lakes still rimmed by leftover snow. We passed through a couple of small towns that look like you think a small New England town should look. As we would through Waterbury we passed big Victorian houses and then smaller places and then blocks of apartment buildings that look like blocks. She was going to one of those.

I pulled into the parking lot and asked if she needed help getting her bags to the door. She said yes and between the two of us we managed to get everything in one trip. She opened the door and I set the bags I had on the threshold. The man inside–her brother, I assumed–said, “Thank you,” and closed the door.

As I would back down the road with the lakes and trees, I had time to let it sink in that I had helped someone get away from a bad situation. At least, that’s how it felt. She came out of the house with everything she could carry and we drove to somewhere she felt safe. About that time, I got a text message that things had wrapped up at the clinic and I drove back to pick him up. He was exhausted.

When we got to his house, his wife, daughter, and dog all came out to greet him. The little girl looked at me and kept saying, “Hi! Hi!” as she wrapped herself around her dad’s legs. They went in the house and I drove home thinking about two people whose lives didn’t have much in common other than they both were making drastic moves in hopes that whatever comes next would be better.

The jury’s still out in both cases.

The gift of my day was that they both needed rides to make some progress to whatever comes next. I will get to continue to play a small role in his story as it unfolds; my guess is I will not see her again. Then, of course, are all the houses I drove past where similar stories are playing out and I am not a part of the cast at all, which is a good reminder that neither one of these stories is about me, even though I am telling you what it felt like to be in them today.

I don’t have much of a point to make either, other than to say I learned again today that we all need each other, whatever happens next.

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: high school

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I have struggled to write tonight. I have been sitting at the screen for a couple of hours and have three or four beginnings to poems that should not be finished. Somewhere in my search for something, I remembered a poem I wrote many years ago–when I was teaching high school–and it has remained important to me. The seed of the poem came from watching one kid in particular struggle to find his worth even though he was, to those other than him, a really good guy.

When I looked back through the blog, I found I had never posted it. So, in lieu of yammering on about how I can’t figure out what to say, I thought I would post it tonight.

high school

start with a
thousand candles

blow out one
no one will notice

this one here
on the edge

blow it out
no one will notice

blow out one
each night

how could one
matter much

come back in a
thousand nights

the light over
the kitchen sink

goes out with the
flick of a switch

the light inside
dies incrementally

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: surprise party

0

Today was my birthday, so I’m am finding my way to the keyboard in the waning moments to say I am glad to be alive and aging.

Birthdays at our house are intentionally surprises. The person being celebrated is given information about the day on a need to know basis. For me, that meant leaving the house at a little before 7 to meet a friend for coffee, who was then succeeded by another friend around eight who handed off to another friend who walked me home. And then we went to breakfast.

Then came the evening. We left the house about four and drove up to Essex, Connecticut, which is about twenty minutes from Guilford. We stopped at a small artists’ co-op to see the results of people’s creative expressions (and I got a Brie baker) and then we drove down Main Street and walked into a restaurant/bar called the Black Seal to “have a drink and a snack,” per Ginger’s instructions. We shared Buffalo wings and each got a drink.

We hung out for a bit and then walked farther down Main Street until Ginger decided we should go into the Griswold Inn. It was not as impulsive a decision as it seemed. We ate dinner and then, when it came time to go to the next place, we walked about ten feet into the Tap Room where Ginger told me we had arrived. A couple of other friends surprised me, but that was not all of it. About 8:15 four men took to the mics and began to sing sea shanties. The band is called The Jovial Crew. For the next two hours we listened, clapped, and sang along.

We left at the end of the first set and went back to the Black Seal where we met John, who was being the bar, Tony, who was sitting next to me, and Ellen, who came in later. We shared stories and they all wished me a happy birthday, which indeed it was.

I wrapped up my sixty-sixth year with good food, good friends, songs of the sea, and stories from people I had never met, all because of the woman who loves me so much that she made it happen. After half my life with her, Ginger still catches me by surprise.

That’s the best gift of all.

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.