MEANINGS WILL CHANGE

By John Thomas Tuft

This is for Nancy, who suggested I write something romantic…

We met under a piano.  Well, okay, that was our first date.  Seated on the floor of my living room, scrunched under the overhang of an antique out-of-tune-but-still-full-of-music piano.  It was Christmas Eve and my parents always hosted the cast party following the Christmas Eve service. I had written this particular play, performed in it, and managed to get through it despite nearly separating my shoulder earlier that day playing football.  The traditional Tufts vs. the despised Augustines in the huge field behind the East McKeesport Junior High School always drew blood, inflicted pain.  But, hey, they brought in a ringer to play quarterback and I almost sacked him!  I know, back to romantic…  At the end of the evening my oldest brother, yes, the one who dubbed me Jack Goo, let me borrow his car to take her home.  We shivered in the 10 degree cold, finding our way into this new wonder while Christmas arrived upon a midnight clear. She was locked out of her house.  What better reason to steal the moment for our first kiss…

*Meanings will change as you learn to grow/And all that is known becomes suddenly old/And that which you had to last you till the end/Turns out to be just a passing friend…

It is summer time.  We live in a shabby trailer in a field near the Pymatuning State Park camp ground where I am spending the summer as the chaplain. We are laughing, oblivious to any notion that at 22 and 19 we have no idea how this is supposed to go.  She celebrates with me my line drive home run over the centerfielder’s head that rolled all the way to the lake in the church league softball game.  She doesn’t understand the stark, fluid greatness of my idol, Roberto Clemente. I don’t understand her terror at the prospect of ever getting her long, beautiful blonde hair cut short.  Later a frightening storm comes up, the wind shakes the trailer, rain pours in through the cracked windows. The phone rings. It’s the Park Superintendent.  Someone has drowned, will I come be with the family as the rangers search for the body.  I give her a hurried kiss…

And would you spend your life away/Collecting great treasures so you’d be safe some day?/And when you’re old, and when you’re gray/Meanings will change; life’s just that way

It is winter, my last semester at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The Steelers season is over.  I’m hunched over her head having the blood squeezed out of my hand.  At the other end of the bed Dr. Ruth is calmly checking the progress of the delivery. “Don’t forget your breathing,” I offer.  She squeezes harder.  There goes my throwing hand. We don’t know how scared to be at this moment. She’s been in the hospital for a while with pre-eclampsia so they induce early. The doctor between her legs is the same one who birthed Barbara into this world. One last big push. “Stop pushing!” the doc calmly commands. She grabs clamps, quickly cuts, and unspools the umbilical cord that’s wrapped around our son’s neck four times. If she’d gone full term..,  Later, our son is swaddled into a warming bed in NICU. She is exhausted, warmly wrapped and sleeping.  I have phone calls to make.  I stroke her face with trembling fingers…

When you’re finally sure, you think you understand/All about living and life’s demands/Someone will touch you and you’ll see again/Meanings will change, you just can’t win

It’s late autumn in Ambridge, PA, an aging steel mill town along the Ohio River.  We’re sitting in the stands of the high school football field, shivering a bit in the cold wind.  The award winning Bridger Band takes the field. (There you go Mr. Aloi)  Our son, yes, that one, is in the front row of the endless array of trumpets. Our oldest daughter (she of the car broke down on the way to the hospital birth story) is a few rows back marching with the flute section.  It’s one of the fruits of endless hoagie sales, bake sales, candy sales and lest I forget, my favorite, the cheesecake sales. Our youngest daughter, (she of the so eager to come out the doctor had to quickly turn back in time to catch her birth story) wanders the sidelines with middle school friends. I’m in a back brace and too many surgical scars, and at my feet is the dreaded cane. The pain dictates my moves.  After the halftime show I have to leave. I can see the sadness in her eyes before I limp away…

After you go to where you have to be/After you own everything you see/When meanings don’t change about the things you knew/You might as well die, it’s all over for you

It’s winter in western Virginia. A lot has happened.  A lot has not happened. She lives in North Carolina. I’m on my own for the first time in my life, in an apartment at the end of Turkey Mountain Road. Surrounded by mountains and farms. Many stories left to tell. Many stories yet to live.  She’s there despite the snow storm outside, waiting.  When I come in she’s shivering because she didn’t know how to coax the heater to full blast. It’s Christmas time. We talk. We wonder. We remember. We talk some more.  We wonder some more.  I give her the gold necklace that I bought for her.  Her hair is cut short.  I tell her it looks great. She smiles and we kiss. For the last time…

If you’re wise and if you know/What few things are real which never grow old/Then take them now and make you a start/With a simple life and a simple heart.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.

*Meanings Will Change, Noel Paul Stookey