DON’T FORGET THE GARBAGE

By John Thomas Tuft

Raising children is often seen as both divine retribution and reward at the same time; the lovely little rugrats syndrome, as it were. It may or may not surprise you that my own children do not read these “words are magic” stories, or my novels. It could be a case of “If only you knew what our dad was really like!” or a case of payback for the ten years I wrote a newspaper column in Pittsburgh and used their growing up years as fodder for the masses. Fortunately, grandchildren arrived on the scene, and I am perfect once again. Someone has to teach them that yes, you can play catch in the house and no, M&Ms will not spoil any worthwhile meal. And now that I have been bestowed great grandfather status, wisdom accrues to me automatically…and hopefully, exponentially. Yes, I know that I make stuff up on a regular basis and market it to the powers that be. Keep that in mind…

When I had the unique experience, as I’ve told you before, of my heart grinding to a full stop one cloudy afternoon in the midst of a full-on brain seizure from detoxing off the morphine level pain drugs I was taking, I found myself in the house where I grew up. It was filled with sunlight, as though my mother had just used newsprint and vinegar water to do spring cleaning of all the windows. I was walking through the living room and dining room, heading to the kitchen and back door, in my favorite brown leather jacket, noticing that something was missing. I felt no pain. I felt a great sense of release as it dawned on me that my life was over. I was done. Finished. Released from any further worries or pain. Oblivious to the doctors and nurses frantically working on me, calling a Code Black over the PA system. Me? I was home.

But, as we all know, home has its responsibilities. I was walking through the kitchen, knowing that once I made it out the back door, there was no coming back. I was finished. The end. Whatever was beyond, was beyond. “They” were out there waiting for me, back at the back of the lot, beside the old, dilapidated garage. Without hesitation, I reached for the doorknob. To my utter amazement, I heard my mother’s voice calling from my parents’ bedroom, “Don’t forget the garbage!” Seeing as how my mother had been dead for a few years at this point, it was a bit of a surprise that it was her voice that I heard, or that she was reminding me to do a chore. Those of a psychoanalytic persuasion tell me that there is some deep meaning to that command. And make no mistake, it was a command. I took it as one more reminder that home brings responsibility, even on the way to Beyond.

As a young boy I was very quiet and painfully shy. I did not handle confrontation or anger well. Okay, not at all. Unless it was backyard sports leading to arguments with my siblings, but we all know they started it! As the calendar relentlessly moves on through the year of my 50th class reunion for East Allegheny High School, North Versailles, PA, I am reminded that of the grand total of two ‘going steady’ relationships in those four years, I walked away from both without warning. Sorry, Cynthia. Sorry, Bridget. I wish I could say that I am vastly more mature and responsible now, but all I can say is I’m a lot louder. And I’m a grandpa and a great grandfather. I have met amazing people. And I’ve buried my share of good friends, way too soon.

During my second year at the University of Arkansas, ostensibly my time in the wilderness, I was asked out on a date by an attractive young woman, an upperclassman to boot, who I came across reading C. S. Lewis’ venerable tome, Mere Christianity. More importantly, she had a car. We spent a pleasant evening walking and talking around Fayetteville, Arkansas. At one point, the local police even chased us out of a closed park. The next day she called me. She wanted to thank me. She was getting married soon and wanted to see if he was the right guy or not. Turns out, he was. So, Cynthia and Bridget, karma has a sense of humor.

Over the course of these stories in the past three years I have shared with you my follies and frailties. I have been a preacher, a teacher, and an emotional streaker in my day and in my way. Social media baffles me. The actor who plays Jason Bourne in my favorite action movies and the growing up movie, Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon, follows me on TikTok because…beats the hell out of me! I turn words into stories. It is the season of Lent. We are all on our way to Beyond. It’s the journey that counts. Don’t forget the garbage…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.