Visual Poetry: Go fly a kite

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A kite flying above the Illinois prairie invites the viewer to hear the Sound of Silence.

Visual poetry

“Visual Poetry” – Photo by Steve Shoemaker, 2014

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Steve Shoemaker welcoming President Bill Clinton to Champaign-Urbana. IL

Steve Shoemaker, the 6’8″ kite-flying poet whose poetry blessed Views from the Edge readers, shared this photo from the Shoemaker prairie home near Urbana, Illinois in 2014.

Steve didn’t live to see the changing of the guard one year ago today. On the anniversary of the 2017 inauguration, pancreatic cancer has silenced Steve’s Views from the Edge posts, but his poetry and “Visual Poetry,” as he called this photograph, still speak clearly. Like the kite in the photograph and the photo of Steve towering over President Bill Clinton, Steve still invites us to “go fly a kite” for a better time. RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 20, 2018.

 

Grandpa, who’s chasing you?

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Grandpa being chased

What are you talking about, Elijah? No one’s chasing me.

You just said you were being chased. So, who’s chasing you?

No, I didn’t say I was chased. I said I was chastened.

What’s that? Isn’t that like a pluperfect of chased?

No, it’s different, but it does make me want to run away. I don’t like being chastened. You won’t either when you’re old enough to be chastened, although, come to think of it, I’ve already chastened you for keeping Mom up all night.

I remember that. You made me feel bad. That wasn’t right, Grandpa! I just needed to eat! You don’t care about my needs! Mom’s going to chasten you!

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Elijah & 7.5 months

You’re right, Elijah. You just chastened me and I feel rightly chastened.

Good. So you won’t do that again, right?

I wish I could promise you that I won’t, but it wouldn’t be right to promise. I’m sure you’ll be chastened many times over your lifetime. Sometimes you’ll be chastened even by your Mom. And, if I think you’re doing something hurtful, I will chasten you for your own good.

Okay, Grandpa. I’ll do the same.

That’s a deal.

So who made you feel chastened this week? Was it Grandma?

No, it was two professional colleagues. Bill chastened me on Facebook for something I’d written on Views from the Edge. Here’s what Bill said on Facebook. It hurt my feelings.

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Andy Borowitz

“Borowitz does satire better, and this piece is just wishful thinking, which isn’t really satire. We need people to focus on actually changing our national discourse.”

That’s over my head, Grandpa? Who’s Borowitz? What’s wishful thinking? What’s satire? What’s national discourse?

We’ll get to those questions later, Elijah. We don’t have time now. Here’s the second chastening.

Kara Root — she’s another minister here in Minneapolis — wrote something to her congregation that made me feel chastened. She invited the members of Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church to join her in prayer for our country every Friday morning.

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Kara Root

Here’s what Kara said:

“I’m going to pray for the nation this morning. Every Friday morning this is happening in our sanctuary. It helps me remember what I know to be true. It helps me let go of the noise, and the vitriol, and the division we feed, and feed on, so eagerly.

“This practice feels brave. And healing. And important. Sometimes I find gratitude, and even tenderness, for the people that make up this country, every single one of them.”

Yeah! Every single one of them! That’s good, Grandpa. Not like President You-Know-Who!

Ahhhh, but here’s the thing, Elijah. It does include President Trump. “Every single one of us” includes Donald. That’s what makes me feel chastened. All my life I’ve felt chased by Adolf Hitler. I always wondered whether I would have had the courage to stand up against him. Standing up to Hitler has been like a lifelong preoccupation. Anytime I see things that remind me of Adolf, I go a little crazy.

So someone IS chasing you, but you’ve stopped running! That’s good.

No, it’s not. Like Bill’s criticism of me on Facebook said, we need to change our national discourse.

I’m not praying for President You-Know-Who! I’m standing my ground!

You can’t stand your ground yet, Elijah. You can’t even stand without help. None of us can. Jesus talked about loving our enemies. He said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Okay, I’ll pray for Bill and Kara ’cause they chastened you, but I won’t pray for You-Know-Who!

You have to, Elijah. We all have to.

No we don’t. I’m not do it! I don’t like You-Know-Who!

Praying for President Trump doesn’t mean you like him or accept his behavior. It means hoping for a change in his character. It means hoping that Donald will have a change of heart and mind, that he’ll stop running from whoever’s chasing him. That he’ll settle down. Be calm.

Maybe Donald also being chased by Hitler. I don’t know.

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If we refuse to pray for ALL people, instead of just the people we like, we’re running away from our best selves. That doesn’t do any good, Elijah. It allows evil to chase us. It contributes to evil, and we should be chastised. If we don’t pray like Kara and the good people of Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church, all our talk about faith, love, and hope is meaningless.

Kara Root, Lake Nakomis Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN, 2018

Okay, Grandpa. If I have to, I’ll try to be more like Kara. I want to be good, but this faith, love, and hope stuff is really, really hard!

— Gordon C. Stewart (Granda), Chaska, MN, January 14, 2018.

Grandpa, what’s faith?

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Grandpa, who’s Faith?

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Elijah reading

She’s our good friend, Elijah. We don’t see her very often. You’ve only met her once. You were too little to remember Faith. You were just a newborn.  Why are you asking about Faith? Was Grandma talking with Faith on the phone?

No. You were just talking about her! Sometimes I wonder, Grandpa. You just said her name! Remember?

Oh, THAT faith! That’s not Faith. That’s faith.

Are you in love with Faith, Grandpa?

No, THAT kind of faith isn’t Faith, it’s right next to love, but it’s not that kind of love.

Grandma says you sometimes preached over peoples’ heads. I asked Grandma what preaching over peoples’ heads means. She told me. I think you’re doing it again in retirement. Grandma says you can’t help yourself. I bet Faith thinks the same thing. That’s why she doesn’t come around anymore.

Elijah, you’re getting a little sassy this morning. That diminishes my faith in our ability to have a good conversation. Maybe we put faith away for awhile until after we’ve taken our naps.

Okay. What’s sassy?

Sassy is smart-alecky, being too big for your britches. It’s not nice. It’s not like love.

I’m sorry, Grandpa. What are britches?

They’re pants. They’re what you wear over your Huggies. Being too big for your britches is like forgetting you’re little.

Okay. What about Hope? Is she coming over?

No, hope isn’t a person. Hope is like the faith Grandpa was reading about this morning. It’s what Paul was talking about: faith, hope, and love.

I don’t mean to be sassy, but Paul wasn’t here this morning! Only Grandma, you, and me, Grandpa!

Oh, not THAT Paul. Not our next door neighbor. This Paul’s been dead now for two thousand years, but he’s still speaking. We still read his letters from Corinth, Galatia, and Ephesus. I was reading from his letter about faith, hope, and love. Remember?

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Probably Valentin de Boulogne – Saint Paul Writing His Epistles – Google Art Project

Yeah. But I still don’t know what faith is. What’s faith?

You know how when you wake up in the morning you trust that Mom’s going to take good care of you? That’s faith. Faith is trust. And faith doesn’t stop after we’re out of our diapers. Faith lasts a lifetime; it’s one of life’s essentials. We all have faith of some sort or another. But like Paul says, it’s still not as great as love. Love’s the best.

“Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.” – Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 13:13  [CEB]

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I love you, Grandpa, and I have faith in you. But you’re making me really tired. And, because you love me, too, I hope we can take a nap sooner rather than later before things get sassy again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa Gordon) with seven-and-a-half-month-old Grandson, Elijah, Chaska, MN, January 10, 2018.

 

 

 

Epiphany 2018

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One day in advance of Epiphany, we bring you a reading from an unauthorized revision of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Gospel according to Matthew 2:13-23, which some call the GCS Translation:

Now after the wise men from Iran had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to José in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then José got up, took the child and his mother, Maria, by night, and went to Canada, and remained there until the impeachment of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Canada I have called my son.”

The Round-Up of the Infants

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men from Iran, he was infuriated, and he sent orders to round up all the children in and around Charlottesville who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Canada

After Herod had been impeached, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to José in Canada and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the U.S.A., for those who were seeking the child’s life are no more. Then José got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the U.S.A. 

But when José heard that Pence was ruling in place of Herod, he was afraid to go there.

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Statue of Liberty in Nazareth, Texas

And after being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the high plains of the Llano Estacado of Castro County in the State of Texas. There José made his home in a town called Nazareth (pop. 311), so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

 — GCS, Chaska, MN, January 5 (the Eve of the Epiphany), 2018.

 

Elijah asks Grandpa about race

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Grandpa, Grandma just called you a racist!

No, she didn’t, Elijah. She said I’m a Sadist. She was just kidding.

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What’s a sadist?

It’s a husband who doesn’t do his fair share of the housework.

Is that like a racist?

Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of it, Elijah, but now that you mention it, I suppose it is.

How’s that?

Well, a Sadist is mean. So is a racist. They both demean others they regard as less important than themselves.

So you’re both.

Both what?

A sadist and a racist.

Now that you mention it, I suppose I am, Elijah. I’m a descendant of the Mayflower.

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Voyage of the Mayflower

What’s a ‘Mayflower’, Grandpa? Is it the like the flowers you give Grandma?

No. What are you talking about? I only give flowers to Grandma on our anniversary.

Why? You may, if you want, and you should, Grandpa. But first you should help with the dishes and the housework. Otherwise you’ll be both a racist and a sadist. I feel bad for Grandma! You’re not only a sadist; you’re a misogynist!

Where’d you pick up that word?

I hear lots of stuff you don’t know about, Grandpa. I pick up a lot of words at Marissa’s house. She’s really mad at a bunch of guys. She watches lots of CNN and MSNBC — Harvey What’s-His-Name in Hollywood, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, and You Know Who. She really likes Rachel. She’s hoping that woman who got thrown out of the White House tells on the Chief Racist-Sadist-Mesogynist. Marissa says Omorosa could bring down You Know Who.

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I do know who Who is, Elijah, and Omorosa, and I love Marissa. But you need to be careful not to swallow everything other people says about others. You don’t want to be self-righteous, Elijah. None of us is righteous.

There you go again, Grandpa, slipping out of the noose. Excuses, excuses, excuses! You should be more righteous. Give Grandma some mayflowers, unload the dishwasher, and be a better husband around the house. Otherwise you’ll just be like You Know Who!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 16, 2017.

Elijah on the worst of the worst

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Elijah talking about his day with Marissa

Grandpa, Marissa threw her shoe at the television this morning.

Did she break the television?

No, actually, it was a slipper but she thew it hard.

Why’d she throw her slipper at the TV, Elijah?

She thew it at the President.

Why? What was he doing?

He was talking bad to the FBI! He said people like Marissa are “the worst of the worst,” Grandpa! Before I could understand what he’d said, her slipper sailed by my play pen and hit the TV!

Wow! That must have been scary!

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manual labor roofing a house for a roofer

Yeah, but what Marissa said he said was scarier. Marissa said the President’s either evil or ignorant and that he should come to Minnesota to see what her cousins do. He should meet some immigrants. They’re not the worst of the worst. Miguel works up on roofs in the hot sun 16 hours a day all summer long, Grandpa.

HOUSEKEEPER-BATHROOMHer other cousin, Maria, makes minimum wage cleaning toilets and making beds for a hotel. It’s not enough to live on. She works hard, Grandpa. So does Marissa. They’re not the worst of the worst. They work harder than you do!

So I have an idea, Grandpa.

Okay, Elijah. Let’s hear it. “Out of the mouths of babes….”

I’m not a baby anymore, Grandpa. I crawled today. I’m seven.

Well, you’re not seven. You’re seven-months. But it doesn’t matter. You’re very wise. Let’s hear it.

Okay, Grandpa, here’s my idea. Everyone elected to office in the United States should have to pass a six-week orientation re-roofing houses and cleaning toilets to qualify for taking the oath of office. That way people like the President will stop insulting good hard-working people like Marissa, Miguel, and Maria, like he did this morning, and Marissa won’t break here television. She can’t afford a new one.

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Freshman Class of 115th Congress, January 2017

What a great idea, Elijah! That’s a GREAT idea. Maybe an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a six-month orientation working in minimum-wage jobs before the oath of office is administered as a hedge against evil, ignorance and the worst of the worst serving in office.

Yeah! Let’s amend the Constitution! What’s a Constitution?

Sometimes, Elijah, you make me smile, even on cruel days when I don’t feel like it.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 15, 2017.

 

 

 

The beginning of the good news of …

I need a bath. Wait! Wait! Stay with me!

“The good news according to Caesar, the Son of God” was the beginning of imperial announcements by Caesar throughout the Roman Empire.

Into this imperial world comes “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God ” (Gospel of Mark 1:1). For the First Century hearers, the irony was clear. This was a counter-narrative to the narrative of empire — a rebuke of it, and a revolutionary alternative to it. But the announcement was also only the beginning of the good news.

Unlike the imperial messengers dressed in official garb, the announcer of this good news in Mark’s Gospel (in the time it was written the term “gospel” had not yet been used to describe a book such as we know today: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) wears no royal clothing. He wears camel hair and eats locusts and honey. He appears in the wilderness, far from the centers of religious authority in Jerusalem and policial-economic power in Rome. There is no advance warning of his appearance. He appears suddenly, without explanations, and without trumpets.

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John the Baptizer

“Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.”  John is one odd duck! Not the kind of figure one expects to win friends and influence people. Unless the people were ready for his message: the overthrow of the reign of Caesar, the “Son of God” according to the imperial cult.

Flash forward to 2017.

“It’s okay to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again, says the President of the United States, as if restoring Christianity as the established religion of the United States of America and everywhere else in the world that is part of Pax Americana. Strange how a gospel whose beginnings offered a counter-narrative to Caesar and the empire’s divine claims of national exceptionalism would be used to scorn the original beginning of the good news in Mark’s revolutionary Gospel.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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President Donald J. Trump and Senate candidate Roy Moore

In the First Century of the Common Era, a ritual bath represented a cleansing from sin and the act of repentance, embarking on a new way. Twenty centuries after the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” I’m baptized. So are the president and a senatorial candidate from Alabama. It’s confounding. I feel dirty all over.

I need a bath!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 11, 2017.

 

 

 

The Stranger of the Jubilee

December 6, 2017, Atlanta, Georgia.

I’m a stranger in Atlanta. I go to the ticket-vending machine to buy the $2.50 ticket for the MARTA, Atlanta’s metro subway system, that will take me to my early morning appointment for a recording session at Day1.org.

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Marta ticket machine

The MARTA machine is not accepting my credit card. “Enter zip code.” I enter the Minnesota zip code. “Credit card not accepted.” I try again. Same result.

A poorly dressed man in his mid-30s or early 40s — it’s hard to tell how old he is — asks if he can help. Strange things happen to strangers on public transportation platforms, but something about him leads me to believe I can trust him. He inserts my credit card with the same result. “Credit card not accepted.”

“Follow me,” he says. He walks over to the turnstiles that admit ticket-payers to the MARTA, goes through, and holds the turnstile open for the penniless stranger who’s been so rudely welcomed to Atlanta by a machine that doesn’t like Minnesotans. Maybe the machine recognized my Minnesota zip code and thinks I’m Senator Al Franken. Maybe if my zip code had been from Alabama where I could vote for Roy Moore, my credit card would have been accepted.

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MARTA turnstiles

I follow the rescuer through the turnstile. He extends his hand, introduces himself, and says he’s on his way to work at Goodwill. He learns where the stranger from Minnesota is going, identifies the right stop, and stays with me to tell me when to get off. The Goodwill where he works is one stop beyond mine.

On the platform, waiting for the MARTA train, I ask whether he grew up in Atlanta. Turns out he’s new here. He’s from Miami. I ask what brought him here. “I came to start a new life,” he says. “I’ve been here four months now. The Lord’s been good to me.” I ask no questions and make no assumptions about why he left Miami. “I woke up blind one day. I couldn’t see. Couldn’t see a thing. I prayed to get my sight back and it was given. I gave my life to the Lord to start over. That’s why I’m here.”

He was not evangelizing me. He showed no signs of the emotional manipulations that usually accompany such stories. There was no follow-up “Are you saved?” Just a sharing that seemed honest, if hard to believe or understand. People don’t just wake up blind. And they don’t all of a sudden get their sight back.

“Like the Damascus road,” I say, referring to the conversion of the Apostle Paul who was struck blind but received his sight back as a gift. “Yes,” he says. I ask whether he has a church. “O, yes! The Church of the Jubilee.”

“Ah, the Jubilee — when all wealth is redistributed,” I say, as he smiles a knowing Yes.

From what little I can tell, the man from Miami owns little to nothing in the way America defines wealth. He works at the Goodwill. But he is wealthy. He goes to a Bible study every Wednesday night, “another meeting” Friday nights, and worship on Sunday mornings. The day the machine failed, a man of good will struck blind in Miami became part of the Jubilee and welcomed another stranger whose credit card wasn’t worth a nickel.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 6, 2017.

 

Giovanni’s Buffet Mirror

“Buffet Lunch: All You Can Eat” says the sign.

I decide to try it. “Eight dollars with soda; $7 with water,” says the woman at the counter.

Sugar makes me fat and frantic. I choose the water.

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The buffet is loaded. Full salad bar. Spaghetti with meatballs and your choice of meat or meatless marinara sauce. Garlic toast. And four kinds of pizza – fattening … and more fattening.

I pass up the salad bar and load up on spaghetti with meatballs, meat sauce, and, of course, garlic toast. I love garlic toast.

Since I’m alone, there’s plenty of time to look around while I eat. You’re not supposed to stare at people, so I don’t. I’m careful not to stare. But I can’t help but look. There’s no one to talk with. My dog’s outside in the car. So is my MacBook Air. There are no distractions. So my eyes scan the room for something of interest.

Eventually I realize a common characteristic to the buffet diners — obesity. I think of Richard Simmons, Oprah, and Michelle Obama, and their attempts to get people to eat better and less.

I fill up my plate with a second helping of spaghetti, and add two slices of pizza. It’s good. Really good! All that gooey cheese, and a great crust — just like the pizza I’d had as a child at Fonzo’s Pizzeria in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But this isn’t Philadelphia and this isn’t the 1950s. I’m at Giovanni’s Pizza in Staples, Minnesota almost a year after Michelle’s White House school obesity initiative went the way of all flesh.

“They’re all fat!” I think to myself. I take another sip of water before getting up to pay my bill.

Next to the cash register is somebody’s idea of a joke: a full-length mirror. I see an ugly guy with a belly staring back at me and think I hear a voice scream: “You’re fat too!”

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I pay the $7 with tip, swallow hard, and begin to digest an old biblical teaching:

“Before you criticize the pounds on others, first remove the ton from your own abdomen.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, November 3, 2017.

Neighborly Economics

Mindfulness —the latest topic around the water coolers — helps in times like these. While some use Yoga or some other eastern meditation to become more mindful, my practice is to contemplate the poetry of the Book of Psalms. I open Psalm 146 in hopes of putting my anxious soul at ease from this moment of history.

Praise the LORD, O my soul,
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God as long as I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish. (Ps. 146:1-3)

The psalmist assures me that this moment will not last forever. The elevation of the rich and the assault on the poor, the game of matches lit near the fuses of nuclear devices on two sides of a vast ocean, the name calling between the two narcissists whose Echoes sound the same despite the differences in language, the scenes from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, the burned-out forests, homes, and vineyards in northern California, the undermining of the hope for universal health care, and the disregard for the Paris Accord addressing climate change have ground me down. There is no help in the White House or Capitol Hill. But, their time, the psalmist declares, is but a breath, a moment. Their thoughts will perish.

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cabin by the wetland

In the solace of the cabin by the wetland far from the news, I am breathing easier. Away from the rulers in whom the psalm urges me to place no trust, my mind is calmer. I am in need of no great thing.

But, after lighting the fire in the wood stove, it dawns on me that we’ve forgotten some supplies for the weekend. We have no bread. Or ice cream!

I remember a sign for “DON & DAVE’S: Groceries and Gas — 4 Miles.”

IMG_8514Don & Dave’s is a throw-back to the day Don founded it 70 years ago. From the looks of the exterior, although it is well-kept, I imagine little except for the “ATM Inside” sign has changed since 1947.

“You must be Don or Dave,” I say to the man inside. “I’m Dave,” he says with a smile. I’m Don’s son.” Dave is in his late ‘60s. Don was his father, killed in a car accident years ago. Dave joined his father in the business in 1977. I introduce myself as the owner of the A-frame by the wetland, but he already knows from Shirley, our only neighbor within a quarter of a mile of the cabin.

I take a look around the store, pick up a $1.59 loaf of locally made wheat bread, notice the ice cream freezer, pick up a large tub of Neopolitan ice cream, notice a Hershey milk chocolate with almonds bar, and take them to the check-out counter where Don meets me.

I take out my credit card. “We don’t take plastic,” says Don. “Just cash or check.” I tell him I don’t have either. “Well, we have an ATM,” he says. “I don’t do ATM’s,” I say. You need a PIN for that. I have no idea what the PIN is; Kay does that. I don’t have a clue.” He laughs and invites me to take the bread, ice cream, and Hershey bar without paying. “No problem. Please take it. You can pay me when you come back.”

He takes out a slip of scrap paper, writes down my name, the amount I owe, and the date, and wishes me a good weekend.

Four hours later I return with the cash just before 6:00 P.M., hoping Don and Dave’s is still open on a Saturday night. Turns out they open at 8:00 A.M. and closes at 10:00 P.M. seven day a week! I learn from the young woman who greets me that Don has left for the day, and explain that I’m here to pay my bill. She asks my name, and fetches the piece of paper from a shelf below the cash register. “What should I do with this? Tear it up?”

“No,” I say, “I want Don to know I came back and I want to say thanks. Just write ‘paid’ with today’s date and let me add a word of thanks.”

I had learned earlier from Don that there are four Walmarts with a 60 mile radius of Don & Dave’s. I wonder when the last time was Walmart sent an empty-handed customer away with so much as a loaf of bread, a tub of ice cream, and a candy bar.

I’m very mindful. In the moment. 1947 never looked better!