On the Occasion of my Son Moving Cross-Country



Page By Alexandre Cabanel via Wikimedia Commons 

There’s a space in my heart that’s the shape of you
No matter where you go, no matter what you do
That space will be here, and so will I
As life goes on and time goes by
We’ll both grow and change, my dear
That’s how we’ll make more memories to live there.



Happy Father’s Day, Uncle Bill

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAccording to my Uncle Bill
half the town was Koettings
the other half Keelers
anyone else in that tiny place had just married in.

A 70+-year-old bright-eyed Koetting rogue
Youngest of 9 or 10 or 11. . . I forget. . .
I couldn’t keep count of all
those strapping German-Catholic babies.

Everyone loved him, and he loved
Hogan’s Heroes, not M.A.S.H.
(too many commies in M.A.S.H, not his war)
He gave fatherly advice but didn’t usurp the role.

Koettings and Keelers and them
that had married in. Everyone loved him.
Son of immigrants, proud VFW inductee,
Texas farmboy, my mother’s sister’s husband.

Beloved Uncle Bill.

Why I’d like to punch Chuck Norris

(and a bunch of other people!)

Public perception about asthma seems to remain the same despite advances in science, information campaigns, and famous athletes discussing the condition. It’s been a long time since I saw that Chuck Norris movie in which he cured a boy’s asthma with karate training, but it still makes me angry when I think about it. I once had someone try to cure me of asthma with physical exercise, and she almost killed me.



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I was a sickly kid. I’ve had asthma since before kindergarten. When I was a freshman in high school, we were all required to take P.E. (physical education).  There were the star athlete students, and then there were the rest of us. I was super clumsy from a recent growth spurt and my team sports skills were negligible. The P.E. teacher did not hide the fact that she loathed me.


This came to a climax one day when a P.E. class ended with running laps. I was sick with asthma during the rest of class and I had been light-headed and even more incompetent than usual. By the time lap running came, I could barely plod around the gym. The gym teacher started yelling. I gasped out something about asthma and she yelled some more about excuses. She was not going to let me go until I ran every lap, even if I was late to my next class.

By that point, I was wheezing so much that girls running by me could hear it. Some of the star students tried to tell her that I was really sick while a couple of my friends stayed with me as I staggered round and round the gym. She ordered the friends away and told the star students something along the lines of “I needed to learn a lesson”.

I finished every lap though it took me through both tardy bells and into the next class. She finally dismissed me. A couple of my friends half-walked, half-dragged me up to the principal’s office. I was so bad by then that the office didn’t waste time calling the school nurse. The principal drove me straight to the emergency room, where they shot my thighs full of adrenalin (a fairly standard treatment of my youth before all the great medicines of today) put me on oxygen for hours, and prayed.

Obviously, I lived. The principal had stern words with the gym teacher, who in turn had stern words with me, in front of the whole class. I should have let her know that I was ill. I shouldn’t push myself if I was feeling that badly. The important thing for us to know was that this incident was not her fault, it was mine, and by golly she wasn’t going to have her teaching record ruined by the likes of me. By pure happenstance, I never had another bad asthma episode in her class again.

Since I can’t really punch Chuck Norris or my former gym teacher in the face, let me try to spread some knowledge instead. We asthmatics are not just being lazy. We don’t have asthma because we’re fat and out of shape. P.E. won’t cure us. We don’t always outgrow it. We aren’t “wheezing on purpose for sympathy”. And if you force us past our limits (or if we force ourselves), you CAN kill us.

Don’t be all Chuck Norris about asthma.

P.S. I grew up to be a reasonably active adult. I hike. I dance. I do other stuff. I still have asthma.

The Places I’m From


(c) T.L. Ryder

I am from that indigo moment before dawn
Boiled up from 2 parts sulfurous water
One part shining, frozen snow, and
a dash of good whiskey thrown in for flavor.

I am from the edge of the reservation,
From the side of the cliff that we didn’t fall down—much,
From the back corner of the library, where we
Read the books your mom wouldn’t let us take home.

I am from red-skinned people with black hair,
From white-skinned people with red hair,
From people who came here for a better life, and
People whose way of life was taken from them.

I am from Star Trek, Star Wars and Dune,
The Force be with You!
From the pleading of rosary beads at bedside,
From the glory of Father Sun bringing life to the world.

I am from flat bread, fry bread and sheep tail fat,
Boiled cabbage with bacon, greasy lima beans,
Sage cut from a bush in the prairie, fresh pronghorn stew,
Hamburger Helper and Tab.

(found this old thing from 2010 and decided to re-post it)


THEY say “Home is where the heart is.”
I have left a piece of heart behind
blue asbestos siding
picture window
white trim
and yet
THEY say “You can’t go home again.”
I drive by and find shards of memory
the blue is gone
new bay window
unfamiliar shrubs
and yet
I say “Home sweet home.”
The ghost of once upon a time lives on
old driveway
Dad’s shed
still there
And yet. . .



Easter, about 1968. The picture window is gone but the house still stands.

Little Old Guy

Today I write a goodbye to the Little Old Guy who lived across the street. I don’t know if he’s passed on to the next life or simply moved into a care home or with relatives. His house and driveway are empty, and there’s a bank notice on his door. I last saw him shortly before Thanksgiving. Wherever he’s gone, he shall not return to our neighborhood, and we will miss him.

rhydgo-rpvg-pascal-mullerAlthough we were never formally introduced, he was a familiar fixture from the day we moved in. He was friendly and terrifying in his giant pickup truck, which he drove quite badly every day. Whenever he drove out, he distributed smiles and waves to everyone. He especially liked kids and people walking or out doing lawn work, though he would also wave at neighbors in cars as well. In past years, when we saw him off our block, my kids would shriek “It’s Little Old Guy!” and wave frantically to him while I prayed that his return wave wouldn’t precipitate a multi-car pile up.

He used to sit on his front porch and wave at passersby as well. In recent years he didn’t porch sit. Perhaps the heat became too much for him. Last summer I became very worried for him. One day his beloved truck was pulled up in front of his house instead of in his driveway. Both its door and his front door were wide open, with no sign of the gentleman. It turned out that he was fine and had simply forgotten something and gone back for it. Another day he temporarily snarled up traffic on a busy road making a completely addled turn into the shopping strip parking lot. These were signs of the beginning of the end. I knew that he would not be among us much longer. He was ancient looking when we moved in ten years ago. It was amazing that he managed to stay in his own home so long.

His house will probably remain empty for some time, as houses in our neighborhood tend to do. Nobody wants to sell Abuelo’s house, and taking on the task of living there is daunting. It will require repairs, remodeling, refurbishment. While we’re a quiet, safe, middle class neighborhood, it’s not a desirable address on the happening side of town. And so there is a hole waiting to be filled in Arcadia.

Bon Voyage, Little Old Guy. It was a pleasure trading smiles and waves and dodging your erratic driving.

Advice for Hosts

As some of you may have guessed, my previous bad poem “Orphan at Your Table“, was a fictionalized account of my experiences as an orphan taken in by various people for Thanksgiving dinner.  My parents died when I was a young teen and neither of them had a lot of family left. I was quite in demand as an orphan to invite for Thanksgiving for many years. While many of the people were well-meaning in their attempts to include me, some of them were indeed mostly looking to show off what great people they were by having a semi-homeless waif over for a holiday. I was in foster care and reasonably well-cared for, so nobody imagine that I was living on the streets!

If you do want to invite someone over for the holidays because they are an orphan or living far from home or recently divorced or whatever other thing has washed them up on the shores of “alone for a major US holiday”, I have a few suggestions to make it nicer for them.

Book Release: Undead Embrace

This Turkey hopes that you are not inviting him to dinner. He knows how that ends!

      • Treat them like they belong with you. Most of us don’t like to be fussed over and treated like an exotic creature. Let them blend in with your family traditions as much as possible.
      • Keep the well-meaning sympathy on the back burner. Maybe they want to talk about their deceased loved ones, ex-spouse, or far away home. Maybe they don’t. Be open to the possibility, but let them initiate this. It could be that they would prefer a distraction over a sympathetic ear.
      • Tell other regular attendees in advance that you have invited this person. You might be amazed at the alarm, suspicion, and discomfort springing a surprise orphan on your extended nearest and dearest can cause.
      • Don’t introduce them as “the orphan” and supply a lot of backstory. “This is Jane. We work together.” or whatever is the case for the acquaintance will go a long way to making your orphan feel more comfortable.
      • Understand if they refuse the invitation, it’s not you. It’s us. Sometimes we really are more comfortable in the diner with a good buck.

I hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving, and bless your kind hearts if you’re taking in random guests, orphans or not!

We Gather Together

Years ago, when I was younger and childless, I used to have what I called “refugee” Thanksgivings. People without family or far from their family or on the outs with their family would end up at my house, eating traditional Thanksgiving food off my mother’s china (service for 12, Stylehouse Miniver, straight out of the 1950s).  It was my way of honoring my family traditions, and also a recreation of the mythical “family” Thanksgiving as it should be, instead of how it actually was/is.



photo by Scott Umstattd, via Unsplash

We have our families of choice, like the ones of my long ago “refugee” Thanksgivings, and we also have our inescapable families of birth and marriage. Each kind comes with its own measures of grief, dissent, love, and laughter. Many people crave that ritualized, mythical family experience that we’re led to believe is conjured up from stuffing and cranberry sauce, while simultaneously fearing the shadow family dynamics that almost inevitably accompany any such attempt. It’s often unclear where your boundaries should be drawn.

My advice to you is this: Make the choices which best offer the comfort and joy of the season to you and your nearest and dearest. Do not participate in dysfunction that eats at your soul and makes you dread the season. Be as kind as you can while maintaining your own boundaries. And if you are able, gather your “refugees”. Make a tribe. Reclaim the sacred myth, and make it your own.

Advice from My Mother

Only cross your legs at the ankles
and don’t go out without a scarf.
Back straight, head up,
pay no attention to impertinent remarks.

A lady doesn’t play pool, drink beer
she swears no oaths, utters no hard words.
Clear eyes, dainty smile,
A good woman lets manners be her only sword.

Always wear a slip and girdle
never straighten hose on the street.
Handshake firm, hellos warm,
Have a kind word for everyone you meet.

And most of all, know your own worth
Look to no others for advice
Be modest, be firm,
Your reputation a pearl beyond price.


My beautiful mother, Esther Nadine, circa 1955