Sweet Life Blues

Nervous, anxious, keyed up, antsy . . .  I was running at full power once the last-minute decision was made to finally go to the 40th reunion of the opening of Vegetable Buddies. I went by myself and I was filled with angst, much like I was all those years ago taking the train or driving to South Bend for weekend visits. I wonder if Niles still has an AMTRAK station. But I digress, this time it was going to be a whirlwind 24 hours.

I got to the Doubletree around 4:00 and I needed to burn off some of that manic energy boiling up inside me. I went for a walk/run down the St. Joseph river, had a light dinner at a local restaurant and got back to my room in time to take a shower and get ready. I love travelling by myself, but this time I was rudely reminded why I don’t like to stay in hotels. This lone traveler was put in a very nice room on the 5th floor with a beautiful view of the river. I sat down to admire the view and the first thing I heard was the running, screaming and laughing of at least 5 children under the age of 10. Still full of angst, I lost my attempt at a Zen moment at the window and got into the shower. I was immediately assaulted by pounding on my door. Even my cries of “go away”, “cut it out”, “get lost” didn’t disturb the rug rats assault. Just as I put a towel around me to go scare them with my ½ naked appearance, the pounding stopped (however, the squealing and screaming did not.) I finished my shower, got ready to go and I bravely headed out the door (fully dressed) to find that the children were so obnoxious because their parents had sent them out of their rooms and closed the doors behind them. But, I digress again, still feeling those nerves I suppose.

The original Vegetable Budddies was about great music and it was the institution that defined a group of my friends. The people that I met, the music that I heard and the experiences I had there have influenced my life since. At Buddies beer flowed, pool balls clanked, romance bloomed and burned, lifetime friendships were made and back rooms held stories that we don’t want our families to ever know about. Buddies was also the hangout for a local community in need of a decent music club, an alternative to the horrifying era of disco and an oasis in the shell of a city that was South Bend at the time.

Both these groups of people made it this past weekend to the 40th reunion. I arrived at Buddies just as the club started filling up. A bit uncomfortable at first but jitters quickly melted when I spotted someone I knew and it just got better from there. The “VIP” section was filled with past owners, past employees, past frequent flyers (this group included me), and many of their families. The talk was full of reminiscing and exclamations about how we have all aged (or not so much). The last time I had seen many of these folks was 20 years ago. With some it had been even longer.

As I ran into more and more people I knew, the exclamations of “OH MY GOD” and heart felt compliments were tossed around like love bombs to long lost family members. And yes, there was a long-lost family member. Nearly 90-year-old Margaret was there. She was my brothers second mother, she was, and is my inspiration to always be kind, always share love and often wear braids.

We talked about what we are doing now but very quickly got to the task of trying to remember how Buddies was laid out “back in the day.” The wall was here, the bar was there, the pool tables over there, food came out of a hole in the wall over there (what was the cook’s name again?), remember those bathrooms? . . .  We googly eyed the mural, the corn man, the concert posters and teary eyed the memorial wall. On the memorial wall was a poster with photographs of the “Buddies” that didn’t make the journey with us long enough. My brother is on that wall. There is another poster with an ongoing list of those that have left this plane. What we did not discuss was the fact that we were all getting closer to making that list.

I had great fun wandering outside the VIP section as well. I met a lot of people around our age, most of them were South Bend lifers. They didn’t know the former owners and couldn’t remember all the bartenders, but all of them were there to relive the magic, to hear yet another amazing concert and to reconnect with old friends. The conversation on that side of the club was predominately centered on favorite concerts. Among those mentioned, John Mayall, Dr. John, Muddy Waters and Luther Allison came up frequently. They also had stories not to be told in the presence of family members. I talked to someone that hung out at Buddies every weekend, “yes for the music, but mostly just because it was such a cool place.” However, I did have to disengage a couple of guys that started talking about nursing home options in the area for their parents. I pointed out how inappropriate that line of talk was on a night like this and steered them back to great music.

And the music was great, just like shows in the original Buddies, the musicians this night felt the love and energy of the crowd; they rose-up with the love and energy of the crowd. There was dancing, clapping, shouts of yeah and whoops of joy and understanding. I’m sure they played longer than they had intended and the crowd was grateful.  By the end of the night we all basked in the glory of that love and energy. I didn’t sit down once until the show was over.

I walked back to the Doubletree around 1:30 a.m., my path lit by the glow of the almost full moon, contemplating how I was going to exact my revenge on those thoughtless parents that let their children loose on my angst filled afternoon. Opting to share the love of the night I let the monsters sleep and felt like I had so many years ago – like a dragon slayer, ready to take on the world but waiting for the right moment.

As I said before, the original Vegetable Budddies was about great music and it was the institution that defined a group of my friends. Those people that I saw, remembered and felt this past Saturday night are my family. We share a common love of music and each other. We lived together in an era that was full of stagnation and bad music but found a few years of joy, love, craziness and of course music. Those feelings of freedom, love, creativity and experimentation have influenced my life ever since.

Vegetable Buddies defined an era for us, gave us life-long friends and taught me to get to know people, all people, and really listen to their songs.

Thanks Andy.

Warm Glow

Black and white negatives. I don’t even remember when or where I found them, or how they got on my desk.  Occasionally I held the strips up to the light, thinking “it’s been at least a decade since I’ve used film” or “I can barely make out any faces.” I did however recognize my brother Pete. Of course I recognized him, he always stood out.  I was pretty sure I saw Andy and George too. But for some unknown reason I concluded that these negative’s were Pete’s, not mine and I often wondered why they made their way to my desk. Pete died almost two decades ago yet artifacts of his keep appearing in the strangest places.  These were obviously not something that needed my immediate attention. So I kept putting them down, still within reach, but definitely out of priority range.

But I kept these film negatives on my desk knowing that one day I would make prints.  I would tell myself that I would get to it eventually. A label applied to many an item on my desk.  It’s what I do – get to it eventually.  I put off doing anything about it; I didn’t even rank them it in priority as there is so much going on in my life and in our world that needs my immediate attention.

Well, I got to it last week. I’m not sure if it was the holiday spirit that got me reminiscing or something more mysterious. On the other hand it may have just been the frenzied pre-holiday ritual of clearing my desk before December knowing that not much else will be accomplished in the last month of the year.  But I took those negatives to the camera shop and lo and behold, they were mine. Snapshots in time, circa 1980.  A flashback to a time of wonderment, excitement and electricity and a trip back to a place of laughter, friendship and yes some debauchery.

I’m still not sure when he put those negatives on my desk, but I’m pretty sure I know why I printed them when I did. It’s the holiday season, a time to laugh, love, reminisce and feel the warm glow of all those souls (both departed and still with us) that have touched our lives.

May the spirit of those souls that have touched your life keep you warm, smiling, and full of love this holiday season.  Share that warmth with everyone you see.

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With Grace There Is Hope

Serendipity. What a great word. It is fun to say, it is fun to hear and it is so descriptive when used appropriately.

I find it serendipitous that I can use serendipity here since I was also able to use it in my essay about my first mission trip with an Early Response Team to New Jersey. The serendipity evident in my first trip was about a chance meeting. On this trip the serendipity was found in my worksite location.

I travelled back to New Jersey last week with a friend I had made on the first trip. Along with one other traveling companion we rode the 8 hours with great anticipation for a fabulous workweek. When we arrived it was apparent that Judy had labored over her decision on which team to place me. I was assigned to Team 1 that was to go to work at a church in Union Beach. As it turns out I was assigned to work at the Grace UMC, which was the same church that was my first assignment as an ERT last November. At that time, their congregation was so frazzled and emotions were so raw that they were unable to make decisions and we were asked to leave without having accomplished any work. Over the course of the last six months the congregation had begun to heal and last week I was able to begin to rebuild this vital community church.

Through Gods grace I saw hope in Union Beach last week.

Privileged to have been able to spend last week with the First UMC Warren Mission Team, I would like to express my gratitude:

To Gary and Skip – thank you for treating me like one of the guys – even if it was the “fall guy”. You were so quick to teach me and include me. Your humor, happiness and kindness were infinitely appreciated.

Anita, thank you for always getting us to the job site, for always laughing at my stupid jokes and for not throwing my GPS out the window. I look forward to once again being in your van in the seat behind you!

To the smallest woman with the strength of Xena, Warrior Princess – Mona I thank you for great conversation, for being my friend and for knowing whether to cry uncontrollably or laugh hysterically right along with me.

I am not easily intimidated, however Dave, you had me shaking. At first, whenever you were watching me, my screw would immediately leave the drill and fall to the floor; when you instructed me, you had to repeat it at least once; when you teased me I wasn’t quite sure if you meant it or not. But I quickly found out you really are quite the charming gentleman. Dave, I thank you for letting me see that.

Ah Menno, no matter how much you wanted to join in the teasing and haranguing, your huge heart and astounding humility had you quickly and quietly apologizing for your joke. Thank you for your kindness and earnestness that filled my heart every day.

Donna thank you for your quiet patience, your calm perseverance and warm smile. You softened the hard work of our days.

To Larry and Jim, thank you for nourishment and sustenance. Your culinary skills are only outshone by your charm. And Jim, thank you for occasionally taking the heat off of me in the ridiculing department.

For your tremendous spiritual guidance, I will be forever grateful to you Pastor Rick. I will always remember to take with me the focus that I learned on this trip while striving to give away my heart at every opportunity. I will always try to be sensitive to the Spirit of God and follow that spirit where it leads me. I will also be thankful for your dry wit and lunch suggestions.

Judy, I wholeheartedly thank you for including me on this team. Your leadership was resolute; your kindness toward me was heartwarming. You and your friends are amazing.

Greg, thank you for your honesty and your friendship.

And to all those on Team 2 that I didn’t get to know very well I thank you for not joining on the “It’s Kristina’s fault” chorus (even if the motive was simply to stay out of the blog). But more importantly thank you for the moments we did have together. I will treasure every one of them.

Through Gods grace this team was brought together, brought into my life and heart and brought hope to some people in New Jersey. Some people think that serendipity occurs by sheer chance, I believe it is the hand of God. Last week, serendipity was the hand of God bringing people into my life and giving me a second chance.

Fast Friends

“May I share your table with you” I asked the woman sitting by herself at a four top in the crowded coffee shop early this morning. She was wearing very plain clothing, a neutral toned cardigan and a small white cap around her bunned hair.  I presumed she was a Colonial employee having a cup of joe before her day began. “Please do” she kindly responded.

Thirty minutes later and I was blessed to have made this friend.  Although we never exchanged names, we had a great time together.  She is from South Haven, Michigan and I am from the Detroit area.  We had that in common. She works a farmers’ market for a friend twice a week; I used to manage a market. The markets she goes to are in the Chicago area. I used to live in Chicago.

We discussed working and retirement, husbands and holidays.  By the end of our half hour we had talked about some of her 10 children and all 4 of mine (both of our youngest are 14 years old).  We laughed about the challenges of certain ages; we smirked at the truth that “there’s one in every family”; we bonded over what it was truly like to be a grandparent.

I found out that she was in Williamsburg with her husband, for whom she had purchased space in a woodcrafter’s conference for him for Christmas.  She even added on a stay in one of the colonial houses.  It was a very special trip for just the two of them.  Turns out she’s Mennonite and not in costume.

I love chance encounters. What a wonderful way to start the day.