Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

biggs snow

I recently had the pleasure of following a stretch of Oregon’s Highway 97 between Biggs Junction and Bend. I was on my way to reunite with my past, to embrace an old friend and celebrate the present by honoring some yesterdays.
The plow was frozen fast in mid furrow. A tractor wore a hard December’s snow.

snow tractor2

Hands rarely idle were still tending to hungry critters gathered there in a huddle, marked by nostril-fed clouds of steam… standing in wait of tossed hay, in wait of fairer weather, and less-cruel winds and softer days…

snow cows

It was a journey filled with glances into a distant past, before the demise of newness, before the slow erosion of rain, snow and sun had taken its toll on everything that lay under that unrelenting sky.  On this day I looked on rusted barbed-wire, disc and plow…scenes of decades of weather-grayed timber and shake… scenes of the element-decayed remains of shelter and shade.

snow house

I thought about the calloused hands that had put all of this together. I thought of the ravaged stand against time that, at last, had begun the return of wood to the ground from whence it came, and rusted iron and brick to the receiving earth below.  I found myself wondering along the way about the shuttered windows of old homes, and faltered family businesses and gas stations there.

snow gas
I thought about the dreams that had begun, been brought to fruition, then brought to their knees and finally laid to rest. I know I was off the main Interstate…no truck stops or Safeway stores…no wide shoulders or street lamps around…just long rows of hard ground, planted and watered by the snow and rains…urged on to flourish by the power of prayers and God’s good grace…

snow tractor

And, in the distance, I saw a rusted Massey Ferguson, a plow, and disc…and a faltered old John Deere in deep weed and ill repair. It once took a second mortgage and a leap of faith to secure the outfit.  Then more ground was broken, more hours in the noonday sun, and long after the shadows grew long, he toiled and she watched from the home on the hill to call him home ahead of the storm…That was thirty years ago and a dream now at rest…but they still reminisce… Time now for bouncing a grandson on his knee…a generation removed from the fields and the old-time certainty of farming’s uncertainties…
Before the desert was turned over and the sagebrush burned, there was just the majesty of the Three Sisters and their companions in solemn sentry…mountains to feed the streams and rivers, and adventurers’ and wanderers’ thirst and appetite for clear days of distant artistry and food for thought.

snow sisters

There was but a vision, a hopeful promise and a faithful homesteader’s prayers.  There were green timbers sawn in a mill, the old hard way…and a need for shade, for shelter…for a home to the prancing team that pulled the plow and combine over the rolling grounds…a loft for the hay that sustained it all.  There was a youthful sinew and a bounty of day with no quit in sight.  There were four seasons…the dusk and the dawn…all the hours in between…and an ancient urge to plant, to tend, to harvest, to raise, water, feed, slaughter, and market it all.
On Oregon Highway 97, or Alberta’s Provincial 2…the dreams and sweat were all the same…Matthew Landsman

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Here is my vision of how a young man might have induced a young lady to join him in a life as a pioneer in farm country during the 1800’s and early 1900’s…A proposal of sorts…

My Love…I will plow, till and turn. I will drag, rake, stack, and burn. I will clear the land and plant the seed. I will give you everything you need. I will thin the timbers from that grove near the river…I will saw, plane, groove, and pin. I will haul, dig ditches, pump, and dam…I will seed, cover, water, shade and tend. I will feed you and ours from the fields near the home I intend to build…from what I brought, can create, and can find in nature.

And after the stones are made foundation, after setting the timbers for frame, wall and floor…Then I will plank, pole, and shake; covering those frames, walls, ceiling, rafter, and roof. After you unwrap the panes from the quilt and towel, I’ll bring sunlight into your kitchen, bedroom, and parlor. Then I’ll build you a porch with shade from a great tree. And I’ll hang a front door. Mine and yours…And we’ll call it home…you and I.

Matthew Landsman

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There’s a memory in my kitchen, hanging over the sink. It teases me on a regular basis…each time I get a drink. While I run the tap until the cooler water flows, the origin of it taunts me, its faded petals and fractured leaves look down on me as the mystery grows.

I’m not sure why I hung it there, nor how long ago. There’s no clue except that a lot of time has passed since there was still velvet in the petals, dewdrops on the leaves, and a lingering scent.

Time and again I’ve heard it said, “If these walls could talk…” In this case it is so…the wall is trying to say something, but just what, I simply do not know.

It’s just an old rose in a dusty sandwich bag…and also so much more. Once there was a reason I hung it there.  There was a day of relevance I wanted never to forget. Was it a moment of pleasure, or of pain? There was perhaps a night of new love being born, or a day when one met our Maker and my world was drenched in life’s proverbial rain.

How else do we mark such days? We stash mementos in drawers, marks on a calendar, pictures on side tables, and always, we have songs. We absentmindedly leave things in the pockets of a Sunday suit…a funeral program, a theatre ticket, a celebratory cigar, a trace of life enjoyed, ended or begun.

But upon this wall I made a declaration of a resolute sort, to mark the time and remind me of it several times each day.  I’m not sure if it’s meant to urge me to smile or to miss someone.  In silent vigil it rings out with sorrow and joy alike.

A rose on the wall may mark a birth, a celebration of a first dance, a marriage, a growing love, a faded love, a last day on the job, a time of praying…first for life to be saved, then for it to end swiftly and mercifully. It reminds me to not take those in my life for granted…to live… and not just live vicariously.  In not so many words, the writing is on the wall…A faded rose that leads to prose…A metaphor for a floral visual aid to jog my memory, which isn’t quite what it used to be.

Matthew Lyle Landsman, July 2008

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After sixty one years, the life that accompanied mine no longer shares the morning coffee, the news of the day, or a conversation long after the day has passed. She no longer stirs the pot I momentarily forgot…fills the ice tray I left nearly empty. She is no longer the soul breathing quietly there on the pillow next to mine…

I’ll still talk to her, and reach for her hand when I stroll. I’ll still snatch a rose from a bush down the way; sing her a line from a special song. I’ll stir my coffee quietly, and tuck my shoes away…just in case she is still lingering somehow.  I’ll want to always please her…to take away the evening chills…to find a way to kindly tease her. I’ll still keep my promises, and after sixty one years, my vows still remain. My attentions and intentions are the same.

I have often said I’d like to live yet another eighty eight years. I have a feeling I will be re-living the last sixty or so every day from now on.  The thought of her still makes me smile, still makes me proud, and still accompanies my thoughts from the waking moment to the midnight’s dreams…

I’ll breathe in her essence, and exhale her laughter…again and again…until there are no longer moments…no longer breaths. Till there are no more promises left to be kept, no more roads to follow, no songs left to sing…And then, and then, and then…she’ll fill my cup, and my hand…with hers, my heart with her pulse, my mind with her poetry and prose…my eyes with the creations and senses there in the canvas, parchment, pen and ink, palette and brush…and from her imagination.

And from across a crowded room, I will again seek her warmth, her steps softly accompanying mine…and again there will be tears, but of joy this time.  And while others bid adieu to he who has been missing her, I will be looking again into those eyes, listening to the quiet welcoming behind those familiar sighs…we will again be young…and old all at once.

Familiar, yet fresh and full of youthful anticipation…I will finish saying what you begin, and as before…I‘ll cling to your every word. For now, I’ll keep you close in my heart, until again you’re close at hand…

Written in honor of my friend Ben, by Matthew

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I was almost ready to write off today…until I thought about a friend who recently was cured of an “incurable cancer”.  I realized that all days are worth living, one hundred percent. And so I will embrace this day and squeeze the grapes, that arrive as minutes, until every drop is savored and night has come…then I will drink the wine that arrives as memories and friends at my door. MLL

It is a little cooler today, but still pretty outside. Summer gave a final gasp, but she is in a state of retreat.  As in life itself, all yield eventually to the irresistible march of seasons, of chapters, of firsts and lasts.  She will return. The falling leaves and drops and flakes will feed her while we await her arrival. And the four winds will carry the echoes of her laughter and warmth…Happy November, MLL

Halloween after nine pm…the silence after the children have made their way home, booty in hand…Then all that is left is just the coming of November…Thanksgiving…the turning, descent, then decay of leaves…of summer memories. There is the shortening of daylight, the hopes for fair and happy holidays…the missing of souls departed…and the anticipation of the coming spring…for now, just the approach of November.

Time to reflect the year having just passed, the dreams realized, shattered, put away…or simply laughed at. The roads traveled, recalled…repaired and broken. Bridges crossed, rivers crossed, pigskins tossed, wagers lost…and gatherings ‘round a fire…MLL

Steve Chapin put it nicely years ago…”I recall September, and leaves turnin’ brown. Remember October left leaves on the ground…and here comes December, like an elderly friend…and I feel like I need you again…”  MLL

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I recently drove to Walla Walla, Washington, from my home some sixty miles away, to visit with my oldest friend, an eighty seven year old Chaplain at the Veteran’s Affairs Facility. We became friends this year while I was filling a six-month contract to deploy new computer equipment in the offices and medical facilities on the campus there.

Over a six-month period, beginning in early spring, I drove the stretch of two lane blacktop between the gap at the Wallula Junction and through the winding hills along Washington State Highway 12. This stretch of road is about thirty miles long, cutting a picturesque path through rolling hills and rocky outcroppings along the way.

This is historic country, settled long ago…explored by the likes of Lewis and Clark. The land is used for winter wheat, vineyards, cattle-grazing, horse pasture, and some row crops. Many dozens of old family farming operations mark the divisions of ground with fence lines. Some are new and painted while others are simply weathered post and rusted wire.

This is Americana in the West, the sort of setting described in a Louis L’Amour novel. Today, blacktop leads to gravel roads, streams lead to small rivers…America at its finest in a quiet evolving painting through the four seasons.

This road is kissed, sometimes beaten down by swirling winds that seem to come from several directions at once. I drove the road beginning in early spring, when there is little vegetation on perennial trees, few objects provided in nature to indicate the presence of a wind at all. Driving this piece of history some days became a bit of an adventure, when the prevailing winds were invisible to the eye while I drove. I often had to stop and open a door to see if either I had a low tire or if, in fact, the wind had cropped up from the Columbia River Gorge coming from the direction of Portland, Oregon to the west and out of the Blue Mountains nearby.

The ridges along this road are marked by many dozens, hundreds in fact, of huge windmills to generate power for the regional grid. But on a very windy day, the mills are shut down as the speed of the turning blades can’t be moderated after a certain point. So I might be driving in a gale with no real indication of wind at all, other than the adverse effect it may have on the handling of my lightweight car.

Over the course of weeks in early spring, as I drove this road, my writer’s mind had plenty of scenery to take in, many tales to extract from the farms and old buildings in towns with names such as Touchet, and Lowden. Wooden grain elevators and long ago abandoned buildings– that once housed stores, shops to repair tractor and plow, dry goods, a post office and bus stops– mark the way.

There was one thing sorely absent on the horizons, in yards of homes, businesses, shops…anywhere that patriotic souls reside, work, and gather along this historic stretch of western heartland…Flags. Visible from the highway I am able to count maybe a dozen good old American Stars and Stripes being displayed to mark pride and support of a nation at war for a decade now.

Solitary sentry in the wind…

This road leads to a campus that consists of buildings that existed since the late 1800’s as a military support facility. Fort Walla Walla is also in the vicinity…And now the facility cares for and counsels members of the military from every era beginning with World War II.  Americana is at its finest here…with little display of our country’s symbol to be found on the main road leading up to it.

While looking out over the countryside for indicators to help me gauge the wind as I drove, I was compelled to feel in fact that winds of change have led many of our citizens to inexplicably fold and store away the flags that once marked community far and wide, during times of both war and peace…Peace being earned during times of war…and sacrifices being made by so many to wage war and to preserve peace.

Since 9-11 occurred in 2001, our country has been involved in military operations abroad, attempting to root out the perpetrators of terror and discontent both here and at its source…Hundreds of thousands of military personnel have been shipped out, and into harm’s way, for the better part of ten years now.

I cannot understand why the flag has vanished from sight. I have no clue if folks are less patriotic, scared of our enemies, unhappy with the current political climate, or just too busy to remember to raise the flag…no matter I guess. So I drive with no traditional indicator of the speed and direction of winds outside my car, and the winds of change leave me wondering at the direction and speed of the state of our community and union here.

There are several irrigation pivots used to water various crops along this road. I see each pivot has an American flag mounted atop of it. This is a nice sight for a couple miles near the crest of a stretch of road known as Nine Mile Hill. About a half dozen of these circles are marked by the flag, and I am sure that along with a farmer’s patriotic stance, there is an operational reason for the flags being strategically placed there. It’s nice to see them displayed at the sight of a western extension of the American bread basket.

Nine Mile Hill irrigation circle…

Along this road, I met a recently retired U.S Marine. He was about ten years younger than my fifty years. He’d spent twenty years of his youth serving our country. In those two decades, I imagine he’s been called upon to serve in the first Gulf War, and perhaps the current involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, to live away from family, and from friends–other than his brothers and sisters in arms. I can guess he’s been deployed to lands where foreign tongues and traditions prevail. I would further venture that a lot of the places and people he gladly protected and defended could have cared little, or not at all, of his sacrifice in their land so far from his home. Still, for twenty years he served, stood in harm’s way for strangers both here at home and abroad. That is after all, what American military members do in this world…

This handsome young Marine had a family too–a dedicated wife and two children, both a daughter and a son. In the midst of his time serving our country, he was busy also living the American dream…All the while, he selflessly stood ready to preserve our right to the American dream…and the dream to provide some semblance of peace, civility and a human dignity in any number of inhospitable places around the globe. That is what our Marines do…what young fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, nephew…and their female counterparts do in this great patriotic country. And today, all are volunteers from day one.

How did I meet this recently retired Marine, along this stretch of road in the middle of a historic piece of America here in the Pacific Northwest?

He and his family were stranded on the side of the road. They were within sight of several of those American flags atop the irrigation circle pivots. It was 107 degrees outside. I was sweating in my car even with the air conditioning laboring on high settings. There was no breeze, no clouds…Just the unrelenting sun. Even the buzzards were grumpy on this day…

I could see, for quite a distance, the back of a somewhat tired Ford Explorer with its hood up. I could see a couple hay stacks several yards off the side of the road. I could see two children in what shade a stack could provide…sitting atop a couple of stray bales off to the side, perhaps set there by dad. I could see a man and a woman several feet away from the kids, between the hay and the stricken car. I could see their frustration, the effect of the late afternoon heat and the fact they had no doubt been out there at the crest of Nine Mile Hill for quite some unforgiving time.

What I saw was a family, stranded in 100+ plus degree heat, many miles from shelter, water, help, safety…I had no clue if they had help on the way, if they were suffering from heat related issues, or of any other issues that might need tending to, in the middle of nowhere, on a God forsaken day. I couldn’t pull over directly because of the speed of my car and the quantity of traffic in the area, so I drove to a safe spot a little way up the road. I turned the car around and drove back to them. When I emerged from my much cooler car and into the heat, I waited to jog across the three lanes of highway there. I could see the tired look of gratefulness and frustrated resignation on the faces of the couple as they walked to greet me near their slumbered Explorer…I inquired into their condition, if they had water, a cell phone. I asked if they had help on the way…how long they had been waiting there stranded. We three adults peered under the hood of the car, discussing the state of repair, the symptoms of disrepair…the usual conversation when a family is stranded with a dead vehicle on a hot day.

I noticed then that the father/husband figure there in front of me wore a ball cap with markings to signify he was a retired Marine. I asked about his service. He replied, “recently retired…put in my twenty…” I shook his hand and thanked him for serving. I acknowledged the sacrifice he, his wife, and young family had obviously made while he served.

For a moment, I discussed the irony of his willingness to serve anywhere and any time since he was barely out of high school…for two decades. He discussed the fact that no less than a hundred and fifty cars had passed by this stranded family, without as much as slowing down. He did say I was the lone soul outside a State Patrolman to stop…but he quickly added the officer was “paid to stop”.

I was shocked and in utter disgust at the scenario I was a part of. I can’t imagine what excuse anyone would have to ignore what was obviously a family of four suffering on a hot day in the midst of little else other than haystacks, a few irrigation circles in the distance…with American flags at rest on a breezeless day…and miles of little else.

I mentioned the irony of his career and his service and his willingness to defend, to the death, total strangers in strange lands, at virtually any time, under any conditions…yet there he, and that beautiful young family, sat in the middle of his homeland, among those he fought to protect for all of his adult life.

The same country that sacrifices life and limb for sometimes unappreciative strangers, appears to be either afraid to stop and help a family today, or uncaring enough to not bother to step out into the heat, or even stop and crack a window to simply inquire as to the state of well being, safety, thirst, and rescue, of a man and wife and their two young children.

I thought about a lot of things in a few minute’s time…about the last six months of travel up and down this stretch of road. I felt my heart get heavy as I walked across the road to my car. Then I turned around and returned to the couple. I shook his hand again and apologized for the state of his country despite his twenty years to preserve our freedom here.

And before I turned away and walked away for the last time…I engraved the scene and moment into my heart and slightly saddened mind…and added a parting thought to the young couple’s memory of the day…I said, (and I said it in good humor) “In case you’re wondering about who stopped to help you in the middle of the heartland of Western America today…always remember…it was a Canadian…”

Matthew L Landsman

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 She gave to me springtime in the dead of winter…and brought hope back to me when I’d misplaced it. She gave me life when mine was faded and splintered.

I gave her a simple compliment from my heart…about heaven-bound long legs and eyes that took me away to an ocean known to me only in magazines…then she took my breath away, and replaced it with music from Jim Brickman. A gift of piano, promises, cello…evening bliss and Sunday afternoon slumber as the keys told our story…

And I…I gave to her three guitars with a sense of southern style and abandon…a Simple Man called Mr. Breeze called on her on occasion…accompanied by piano like only Skynyrd knows how. And we journeyed to Alabama on a Free Bird…and we danced private dances in her living room, without really moving…just a simple swaying to the music…Brickman’s “Secret Love”, or Skynyrd’s declaration that; “go find a woman, and you’ll find love…and don’t forget son, there is someone up above…”

We danced there in the dark without moving our feet…but our souls were moved…and our hearts pounded in unison…while our ragged breathing grew urgent, and in spite of the silence at the music’s end…there were still a thousand drums and five hundred violins that played within…and while the encore raged on, there played a chorus of the tiny deaths that visited both of us when the harmony and acoustics were just right.  She looked at me through the same tears with which I viewed her, and quietly we both spoke at the same moment, as life crept back into us and our heartbeats returned to a survivable rhythm… We said simply to one another; “I hear cellos”…

Matthew L Landsman


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Let me take you back a little over thirty
years ago, to a warm nite on the tenth of June in the year of our Lord
of 1977.  We had gathered for one last time in that well used auditorium…for
an extended moment of celebration, of reflection…for a collective
embrace between nearly a hundred graduates, and our relieved (and in
some cases; amazed) families and friends gathered there. At the time
this was the culmination of our most awesome moments to date. At the
time I had no clue that night would end up influencing my person for
the balance of my life. I only knew I wanted to speak well for the lot
of you, to choose words reflective of the occasion, that the rest of
you could relate to and embrace for that night and hopefully; for all

No pressure whatsoever for my first ever
speech and meaningful composition…

You were a captive audience that night,
my partners in learning and those who joined the lot of us. Tonight
I speak to you with renewed appreciation of the essence of classmates,
replaced now with sentiments such as friends, compadres, and pals, old
and new.  

I did know my time in our little town
was a precious commodity as my family was to leave here within days,
and I would follow them a couple short months later.

Much to my thankful amazement these words
that had been lost to me for the better part of three decades were recently
returned to me by one of you who saw it fit to preserve not just the
thoughts of a seventeen year old word smith, but as a vital part of
that special night and of our history together. I had resigned myself
to thinking that not only might I not see a lot of you here tonight
ever again, but that the words themselves had been lost somewhere in
the shuffle of all the miles and years we’ve put behind us. I know
now as I realized then that the seemingly impossible is attainable as
long as I stay close to all of you and faithful to these words I shared
with and for all of us…on that magical and momentous night so many
years ago…

Graduation Address from
class speaker ~ June 10th 1977

These are the feelings I hold inside
about the past four years and I believe all the seniors would like to
convey the same message.

I have a feeling deep in my heart
for all of the people here. When I came here a child, my mind was full
of mysteries and I looked at the world and its people with awe. I wanted
the answers to those “whys” I asked.

I found many good people to explain
the world to me, and good friends to talk to when I began to understand
the world that sometimes brought me down. With them the world was a
beautiful place, full of sunshine. Even the rain outside couldn’t
dampen our youthful spirits.

A lot of those people have reached
the top and struck out on their own, as we’re doing now. I miss them
but I hold happy memories of them, and now I can truly respect them
for their achievements.

There’s a group of people that got
here every morning before we did. The people are the administration,
they’re beautiful people. They understand the feelings and attitudes
of youth and worked overtime so we could get all out of life there is
available. Along with my parents they somehow made the mountains of
adolescence seem to shrink and become lessons in life, rather than setbacks
and disappointments.

The spirits in the hearts of
our people is unsurpassable. In sports we saw many victories and losses,
but we never gave up, so we couldn’t be defeated. Where else could
teams be formed and perform in mud where others have grass and asphalt?
It’s not money spent that makes winners; its hours spent and determined,
ever-trying hearts. We were too proud to be defeated.

Most of the
“whys” I asked before have been answered, the mysteries uncovered.
I will miss the people I’ve grown to love. I will always remember
this most fantastic journey. I’ve learned that success is possible
and not step on people as I climb, no matter what heights a person reaches,
it’s important to take time to say thanks before going on your way.

In the past four years I’ve come
as far as the ten before. I have good
memories in my head and knowledge in my head that can’t be measured
or traded for gold. It’s all too precious and beautiful.

These have been the best four years
of my life and no matter how far life sends me; the undying spirit of
’77 will live in my heart forever.

Some of those thoughts were prophetic,
but to be sure, the meaning of them has changed profoundly over the
years. It has taken me all those passing years to realize the real message
of what was taught to me in high school.  Those collections of moments
have become metaphors that still teach me today. Memories of certain
experiences and staff members still enlighten me even now. For those
gifts I give belated thanks today. For some other moments I carry remorse
and I offer long overdue apologies…

Some faces are missing from the crowd
not only for tonight, but for the rest of time, I have done my best
to recall the last time I saw the souls now lost to us, to remember
the last words exchanged, the etching of what will have to serve as
reminders of them until we meet again somewhere beyond the bounds of
this lifetime…

I recall Brad, our own number 77…menacing
those on the other side of the line of scrimmage poised in front of
him, and sending shot putts and javelins into orbit at track meets always
held away from our home grounds. Not only did Brad wear the jersey with
our proud year upon his back, he was the first to leave us, first to
become a lesson of the hardest kind, having perhaps taught the rest
of us well enough to have helped us avoid his fate ourselves. Brad’s
last words to me were “I know you’ve got it covered, but I’ve
got your back no matter what happens…”

I believe those words still ring true

I recall Doyle, also taken too young
from our ranks. He too prowled the line and backfield at those ballgames
of yore. He also prowled the nights with me as we tinkered on a ’63
Impala, or worked equally as diligently to find the bottom of a bottle
of home made wine…or whatever beverage was available to under aged
connoisseurs of anything that would cop us a buzz. Tony Hill, Doyle,
his son Christopher and I all broke bread together one last time shortly
before Doyle was to go on ahead of us. I will miss my friend…

I recall too, the invulnerable smile
of Karen Self, always an inspiration in the face of adversity. I remember
last seeing her at one of our reunions, then hearing of her having found
the love of her life and being married and at the top of the world when
she was taken from us. Through the mist of those memories of not so
long ago, I feel her life was a venerable example of how to embrace
the moments that are given us, and live them to their fullest. Let her
life and loss not have been spent in vain. Live by her example.

If there be others out there who are
gone, they were a part of the whole, a part of our class and they are
missed in spirit. They are the twinge of an empty feeling that finds
us when a cool breeze sends a chill, or when a line in a movie sends
us to a desolate place inside. Had I known what lie ahead I might have
been a little melancholy and perhaps had added a “via con dios”
(go with God) to my graduation address in ‘77…

This isn’t a memorial service but I
wanted to pay homage to all of our class. I will see those three
and the rest at the grandest reunion of all. Salute…

I think at this stage in life few of
us need be reminded that life is often short, to not take any days for
granted, to never turn down a chance to dance with your love…to visit
your siblings, parents, and kids every chance possible. Listen to Garth
Brooks’ many thoughtful songs in case you’ve forgotten, or maybe
just a few of my words.

I am reminded of a favorite saying of
mine. “Though no one can make a brand new start my friend, starting
now, we CAN make a brand new end…” In March of this year I made
a simple promise to myself to find as many classmates as possible and
just gather their stories and contact information to share among us.
I made a simple pledge to make this reunion a little more inclusive
and perhaps personal too. I got more than I ever imagined out of the
task, and found a larger role in the process of organizing this reunion.
For the first time, I’ve gotten to know some of you again.
The experience has given me new friendships with some I barely knew
in high school.

I can still hear the echoes down the
hallways of that long abandoned school, feel the warmth of your being
as we brushed shoulders in a lunch line or rolled eyes at each other
in the midst of a boring lecture in some ancient class on even more
ancient history. Through the years as I have ventured down as many other
halls, sat dutifully at other desks, broke bread with whoever was a
part of my days, and toiled at the work put in front of me…I have
felt parts of our years still with me, imagined your faces in a crowd,
longed for the innocence and the unbridled joy that being there with
you could bring. While I’ve always lived in the moment, I also find
myself clinging to fragments and shreds of tired memories and trinkets
of our times together. Today, I’m here to replenish my supply, to
fill my heart and raise my glass to you again before I resume the journey.
When I leave here this time, I will have looked each of you more deeply
in the eye, held an embrace longer than in the past, and let your words,
your expressions, your collective essence embed a little more meaningfully
into my soul.

For well over thirty years I have lived
near the banks of the Columbia River. I have followed the river from
its origin at the Columbia Ice fields in Canada, to its merging with
the Pacific at Astoria. The river has heard my confessions, absorbed
my tears, nourished my body and quenched my thirst for water and for
life. The river has become a part of me.

In 1973, I became a citizen of Rainier,
I eventually became a Rainier Columbian as I was embraced by one, then
some, and finally by most all of you before those four years came to
pass. Today I am proud to say I am and always will be a Columbian to
the core. I shan’t travel along that river, nor feel a raindrop, or
learn a lesson without a symbolic “Captain Columbian” at the helm,
and without feeling the encouragement from my class to stand up and
speak my heart and mind.

The life times spent with you still flow
through my veins like the river past my desert town, and downstream
here past Rainier. You are all part of my foundation now, part of my
journey that will eventually empty in a celestial ocean of sorts. I
am proud of what we’ve accomplished and endured both together and
apart. I have not forgotten my roots, nor to thank those who’ve helped
me along the way. Though I left here some thirty years ago, the spirit
of this hallowed place I took with me. The soul in me is bursting with
the well seasoned pride from my times at the old Rainier High.

I’m taking all of you with me from
now on. I’m going to embrace this re-validation as your class speaker.
To borrow some words from a song I listened to when I still wandered
those halls, played in and attended the games, and lived the life with
all of you…”I’m holding onto things that used to be, holding onto
things that again will never be…and I’m always gonna hold onto you…” 
I will see some of you down the road; I will fondly peer out into the
night along the banks of that river and hope to feel the rest of you
there. I will do so with love in my heart, and I will remember you…I
renew my vow and declare now…The undying spirit of the Class of ’77
still lives in my heart, and will continue to…for the rest of my part
of forever…                                                                                                         

Matthew Lyle Landsman                                                                  

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Humphrey Bogart said it best in the movie Casablanca,

“We’ll always have Paris…”

I say it today, though I’ve never been to “The City of Light”…nor have I strolled through a vineyard in Provence. I doubt I will ever peer over the cliffs of Normandy, or hear the surf that once pounded the shore with the crimson remains of so many brave souls.

But shortly after the change in the millennium, I fell in love with the voice of a lonely friend as she stayed not far from the shadow of the Eiffel Tower… while her feet left a barely visible set of prints along the banks of the River Seine…and  the fragrance of baguettes teased her nose after a summer shower, and tempted her palate, begging to be shared with a flute of sparkling wine, crisp apple slices, and a stash of cheeses with names I cannot pronounce.

I saw her off for a six week trek across the land and sea, for a trip into the past… into the vineyards, cobblestones, galleries, narrow side streets and country roads that are France…her rite of passage as taken by others before her.

It has been a long while, so the details of her journey are misty to my memory… but not the wonder of discovering our hearts peering into the nights beyond either shore, and far past the horizon… the search for the familiar serenading of the senses, for the familiar scents that had been her and I, then the two of us together.  She was nowhere in sight, but I felt her presence everywhere I roamed in my solitude.

Perhaps as I passed beneath a non-descript overpass, on an unremarkable stretch of highway, she may have been taking a journey through history, while her taxi or walking shoes took her through the Arc de Triomphe. While stranger’s smiles, in the most romantic city in the world, may have tapped on her heart’s door, the reminder of my certain adoration and growing fondness, here in our desert hamlet, pounded with determination for passage to a place neither had been before.

When infant dawn splashed over the morning sky, with hues from nature’s palette of reds filling the eastern sky and giving new shadows to the purple hills of the fading night, I knew that afternoon shadows were growing long in the French countryside.  Here, on the avenues of rustic towns she ventured, while making lasting memories of the beauty at hand, with a sense of history urging her on alone…and with the knowledge she might never wander these paths again…all the while a presence of growing liaison between our two gypsy souls calling her heart home again.

While she broke her evening bread and held a letter from home against her homesick, aching breast, I was greeting the day with weary eyes and an envelope full of fresh words about the day before, and the night of distant intentions, about to be postmarked and sealed with a kiss, then sent off across the cool Atlantic.

While she wandered the Louvre and silently gasped at the beauty and wonder of works by the likes of Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci, perhaps the quiet smile of The Mona Lisa filled her with a sense of mystery and awe.  I am certain I was enamored with the vision of her simple smile and the eyes that nearly vanish when joy invades her being over simple pleasures like “treats” at DQ, or “scenes” from next week’s episode of ER.  To be sure, Paris in July is magic and might come but once in a lifetime, but in the midst of all this worldly travel, the two of us were discovering there really is no place like home when someone you love is waiting there anxiously.

In the heat of the afternoon sun, I busied myself with pulling weeds from her lawn just to be closer to her somehow.  As she strolled through a market in Provence, after an early morning train carried her from the city bustle and left her with a camera full of photographs, and as the wonderful chill of a morning breeze filled the air with conversations it carried and caused the leaves of the olive trees to softly rustle, maybe the breezes were my thoughts and love on the wing, reminding her of all that awaited her when she made the journey home.

And as we both pondered what the other might be doing at a given moment, words for tomorrow’s letter were spilling over in the hearts of the two of us.  Perhaps a pen was being set down momentarily to empty a hand that would wipe away a knowing tear, or reach for another serving of yesterday’s letter…like a sip from a glass of last night’s wine to greet the dawn, clinging to every passage that filled the cup with sappy declarations and promises of hour long hugs upon her return…over and over I would drink it up till I became intoxicated with emotion, loneliness and anticipatory longing.  This was a slightly guilty pleasure since no liquor, ale, or wine had passed over my tongue in over a decade, but the metaphoric spirits, in the form of her words, filled me, nearly drowned me, and left me reeling with familiar warmth and an aching desire.

France and Washington state share nearly the same latitude on God’s earth, lending to their innate ability to produce quintessential wine grapes, amazing sunsets, and inspirations for lovers of all things natural, beautiful, fragrant, tasty, and romantic.  Straining out to the west of Normandy, the granite isle of Mont Saint-Michel stands vigil in the Atlantic waters, reaching out to mariners and all sentimental souls alike…pointing to the British Isles and the last leg of her journey abroad.

When the object of my attentions and desire at last took leave of Bordeaux country for a final time, and spent a week in the green country of Ireland, she toured castles and the sources of legend and Celtic tunes and lore. Then a weary traveler bid farewell to Dublin and, an ocean crossing later, was greeted by first the east, then the west coasts of our fair land.  Finally, as July faded and August debuted, I traveled to a terminal to collect her at last.  I remember the fragrance of airline-conditioned air following her, and accompanying us home, through the mountain passing and safely home to our desert abodes.

The drive marked the end of one journey, the beginning of another, and the eventual culminating of our last summer together.

Now it’s nearly three quarters of a decade later, half past “0 dark thirty,” and I’m still waiting for my phone to ring again. I long to be awakened from the sleep that hasn’t found me yet. I long for the pad of air delivery paper that lay next to my bed, which I penned my heart upon, pouring out prose, poetry and love like Cabernet into a Dixie cup…mailing it off nearly every morning shortly after dawn.

On the shelf in my bathroom stands a long empty bottle that once held cologne she brought to me from France.  I call it “Far Away” because I can’t pronounce the name.  I remember the homecoming and the scent she gave to me.  And I yearn for the swelling of emotion and growing anticipation of her next words, either spoken or written, the journal of her days abroad.  I miss her taking me through the places that for me existed only in movies and novels.  I miss the most romantic, extended moment this poet ever had…when we had only a continent and an ocean between us…but I had never been closer, felt more embraced, never felt more comfortable, even while knowing that our reunion held no promise of forever.  Still I knew that I would forever hold fast to the memories and moments, to the absence of a hand to hold, while I walked at her side some five thousand miles and nine time zones away.

And, oh my God, how that trip we took together, yet apart from each other, has saved me time and again…rescued me when I’ve nearly stopped believing in romancing, walks in the warm rain, and slow dancing.  I step back a few years to the most endearing of times my heart has ever known. I return to a fantasy that invaded my reality, gave me inspiration for some of my fondest work and most
heartfelt intentions to meld with the ink in my pen and the faintly-lined paper that would soon somehow find her and speak softly to her in English among the foreign speaking souls all around her.

I have no regrets, only thanks for the elation and honor of an epic moment shared…for the words that all these years later flow once more through my hands, an old friend revisited, refined, and aged to perfection like vintage wine. Again I enjoy the twinge of pure intoxication, look out over the eastern horizon, and remember when…and thanks to Bogart and Bergman, and a time spent apart from one I loved, I quietly look out into the night…and softly utter,

“We’ll always have Paris…”

Matthew Lyle Landsman, July 2008.

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Hi Boo…I just went to the bank and got out a few of the dollars the job put there. I noticed the avenue by my house was full of cars and folks walking to an unknown destination.  It had to be more than just a yard sale as the volume of the pilgrimage was too large. I saw an estate sale sign as I rounded the corner and headed to the bank.

I walked over there after I got home…to a place a half a block away at the end of a cul-de-sac, nestled among tall trees and rounded drives. I have lived in the neighborhood for eleven years and had never ventured, nor even really looked down that drive. I figure these folks had wanted and earned their privacy. Yet
I ventured down the drive today, curious…

I’m sorry I went.

I feel as though I violated sacred ground…felt my skin crawl a little.  I saw the books and tools, the diversity of life…the places traveled, the art, the worn pan in which she cooked his eggs…the coffee cup over which a soul
pondered the morning and day ahead…the sources of music that may have
accompanied private dances.  I trod upon worn floors that kids, and likely grandkids, had learned to crawl, then walk upon.  I saw a corner with an easy chair and a desk where a lifetime of bills were paid…a collection of ancient tools and instruments with which a living was made.

I saw a house…a beautiful home…a place where lives and loves had grown.  I saw a collection of dusty testimonials to the wondrous circle of life which we are all in the midst of…and I felt both full and empty. I tiptoed through the rooms, aware I was practically treading upon a grave…or an impromptu shrine that was being looted by bargain hunters…

And I thought of my own family…the great house and home my parents shared and cared in…and I thought of you too…then I kept my money where it belonged, tucked away…and instead said a prayer that in the end, my parents’ lives are honored and validated with a little more dignity…

I walked away from that house a slightly shaken and wiser man…and finished the coffee with which this whole journey began.

Matthew Lyle Landsman

August 22, 2008

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