Saturday, November 11, 2017


I met the guy in the front row of this picture in 1990. He was a retired Marine aviator. He retired as a "full bird colonel".

He was sitting in a plastic chair in a hospital room visiting his very ill wife. He had his legs crossed and his arms crossed over his chest. The body language alone told me to be VERY careful with this guy.

He was a Marine in every sense of the word. He showed no emotion. He got up to greet me and then sat down. Crossed his legs and arms again and I didn't say a word.

We (the now spouse and I) stayed in a hotel that night. There was a family dynamic that I was not privy to at the time which separated father and son. It did not please me.

 I had met the man a few times after that and was not longer terrified of him. But we still were wary of each other when Lois (his wife) got very sick again.

This time she was on a ventilator and could not speak. But the men in the room kept asking her open ended questions! (Do you want the large or the small pillow?...) Remember that my mother was a nurse and I had been taught how to communicate in situations like this.

I asked if she wanted a pillow. She nodded. I asked if she wanted in directly behind her head. She shook her head "No".

I continued on that way until I could pinpoint the spot where she wanted the pillow and I put it there.

It was near Christmas time and I knew that she loved that holiday and loved decorating her house. So I told her about my experience of trying to put up Christmas lights on windows with scotch tape. She reacted with delight. Eyes wide, trying to smile and patting my hand.

Lois didn't make it home but Dad Mueller observed and learned that day.

From that day on the formidable Marine aviator was my friend.

I had recently learned to play golf. It was a sport for which he and his son shared a deep and life-long passion. We began to go down to play golf with him. He took me as his partner every time. He NEVER criticized or attempted to teach me anything. We just played.

One year he made a driver for me. Best club I every swung. I actually hit a 250 yard drive with it once!

But my favorite story about Dad Mueller had to do with my brother Dan.

Dan and I were staying at Dad Mueller's house in Oceanside. Our father was dying of cancer and under hospice care in Escondido. Every day, Dad Mueller would either cook us breakfast or take us out to his favorite breakfast restaurants. He believed that we needed good fuel to get us through each day of our vigil.

On one particular restaurant the server made the mistake of placing the bill between Dan and Dad. Dan grabbed the bill (as his father had taught him to do!). Dad Mueller looked at Dan and said, "Give that to me, please." At which point Dan (being the smartass that he could be) replied, "Why should I?"

I SWEAR I could see the eagles rising up from Dad Mueller's shoulders. (No, he wasn't in uniform and there were no gold eagles on the clothes that he was wearing!) But Dad Mueller straightened to attention, turn his eyes to Dan's and said (very quietly), "Because I asked you to, son."

Dan handed him the bill.

Dad Mueller flew Corsairs in WWII, he flew helicopters in Viet Nam and he flew in Korea. He served at the Pentagon.

Like most who served in war, he rarely spoke of it.

He could be very strict.

But with me.....we shared a little golf, a little dinner, a glass or two of wine. And we laughed a lot.

I miss him.

Saturday, November 4, 2017


Oceano Dunes, November 4, 2017
He is my big brother. He is all that that title conveys. I have held him up as an idol, the perfection that I believed him to be. And then I realized what an incredible burden that placed upon him. The separation it caused in our relationship. The judgement that it cast upon him.

And, slowly, I let that fairy tale slip out of my thoughts and off his shoulders.

He is my brother. My blood. The family that shared my childhood.

And tonight, like a few days this last summer, I got to be with him and share in his joyous family.

It started with a walk on the beach, watching whales breach the horizon. Listening to his stories and telling mine.

And on the way back... a rainbow.

But the fun had only started.

I had been invited to the 45th Family Weekend of my sister-in-laws family. This year it was held in a B and B in Arroyo Grande. A home converted to guest house use with sufficient bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate the entire clan.

There was much conversation. And much laughter. I even met a fellow drunk (also in recovery) and we shared things that non-drunks don't really understand. (Not that non-drunks don't try to understand. They just haven't been to that village and don't know the language. It's kinda like having someone your own age to talk to.)

And then there was dinner. A wonderful meal prepared by my sister-in-law's brother-in-law. (Got that? My brother's wife's sister's husband.) Salmon fillets and mushroom risotto. OMG!!!! Oh, I forgot to mention a hot shrimp and cheese dip appetizer. Lord, save me from all the calories I consumed!

Many of the folk I had met before but some were new to me. One thing they all shared was a love of each other and a curiosity about the world around them.

I was asked about VAE and touring with that group. I told them about singing in Santa Trinita Church in Florence, Italy. I told them about the amazing food we were fed by villagers in France. I told them what it was like to share those experiences with my daughter. And they, in turn, told me their stories.

But it came down to sitting next to my brother at the dinner table. Talking about our brother Dan. Talking about our kids. Talking about our high school math teacher, Mr. Stephen Hannigan.  Talking about first dates in ages past. Talking about our lives.

It was a wonderful few hours with my brother.

I will treasure it forever.