What’s the best ship?

What’s the best ship?

Friendship.

Someone recently asked my Ryan was helping me write a book about my grandfather and, by virtue, asking why I was helping Ryan write children’s stories. There is a certain sense to the question as my family is mostly unknown to him. He knows the pieces we have assembled and he is a stranger to them. It still struck me as a strange question. A question that I would have never considered ever asking. In a rare moment of absolute clarity, I had an answer. He is my friend.

Who is helping you carry your dreams?

Opposites attract

Opposites attract

Baltimore presented a homecoming of sorts for me. It had been a city I spent a fair amount of time in up until I left the East Coast. Being back in the city felt good. The familiarity of Baltimore was comforting especially when confronted by the uncertainty of what lay beyond the Bay. I knew what Baltimore held for me. The city hadn’t changed much over the years. There were still plenty of the city that I had to explore but my old stomping grounds were intact. The comfort of the city was aided by lunch with an old friend. Before leaving to track my grandfather’s ghost, I was rooted in a past I knew. My own. The rootedness and familiarity of this story prepared me for entering into the unknown past.

This trip was focused on Bolling, who provided a strong foil to Leonard. Perhaps in knowing Bolling, we could accidentally encounter Leo. He had done his best to remain to himself even in death. Tracing his story was easy, but putting a person to the story was proving a harder won battle. We decided that maybe we could flank Leonard. While he could hide himself away, even in death, he couldn’t do the same to Bolling.

There was one word used to describe Bolling that was part of the answer to our question. Casual. Bolling was described as casual. There is a playfulness that comes with being an Orrick. I’m still looking for the right word, because that’s not quite right. But for Orricks there is no ground too hallowed. At an uncle’s memorial service, as the family was preparing to scatter the ashes over the water, the family was also trying to restrain all dogs present from retrieving the ashes. This was an Orrick farewell. The absurd mixed with the sacred. While Bolling would have enjoyed the unfolding drama, Leonard would not have.

There was always a seriousness to Leonard, even his classmates at the Naval Academy sensed it. It was why he was a favorite target for their practical jokes. One would be forgiven for thinking that Leonard was shaped into a serious man by his experiences during the war and a lifetime served in the Navy, but, as far as I can tell, he was always a perfect fit for the rigidity of a military career. Slowly, we are beginning to see Leonard. A serious man. A man that struggled with understanding how to be part of a family. A man that gave his presence to family.

What if we do make it?

What if we do make it?

The real work is about to begin. I feel like we have been saying that for months now, but we’re really serious this time. At this point, I’m not sure what the real work is supposed to be. It could be the research we have been doing. Or it could be the coming trips to gather stories and hopefully fill in the gaps of who Leo was. Either way, I’ve been wondering what we hope to get out of this. I lose track of what we are going for. Between the various books and building projects, it can be hard to understand or remember what the point of all this is. A series of children’s books has very little to do with building a farm. And a book about getting to know Leo has next to nothing to do with building a candy store. So, if you aren’t sure what we are trying to do, you are in good company. Half the time we can’t figure out what we are trying to do either.

And there might not be a good answer for what we are trying to get out of this. We aren’t too different from a couple dogs chasing a car. We wouldn’t know what to do if we caught it, but we can’t help ourselves. Our optimism fluctuates on an hourly basis, but, for now, we are feeling like this could go somewhere, so we should work towards preparing ourselves for striking pay dirt. I could speak for Ryan, but I won’t. I’ll let him tell you what he is hoping to do with this. For me, I’m still working on defining what I hope this will be. The writing projects are more a means to an end. They aren’t really the point of this. The writings are a vehicle for something bigger. Hopefully. This is my stumbling block. I don’t know what I am hoping to be able to do. It’s almost like asking what I would do if I won the lottery, because, successfully, publishing a book would be like winning the lottery. At this point, there isn’t a need to have a clear answer for this. We have time to work on answering this and I can rest on knowing that this should be the start of something bigger.

While that is hardly an answer, it is close enough to one to keep me motivated. This entire journey has been motivated by little more than loosely formed ideas and absurd dreams. But they keep pulling me forward. It almost seems like a more reasonable way to pursue this. Allowing the road to define itself as we go. While there are grand aspirations involved, that may be the answer to this question. To say I tried. Yes, I want to build something good and lasting as a result of all this, but the most basic answer is that I tried. That I tried to build something good and lasting and meaningful in the world. That I am still fighting the good fight.

A still, calm presence

A still, calm presence

The most notable thing about Ewoldts spending time together is the silence that fills the room. We are by nature solitary people, so putting us together occasionally results in us being alone in good company. We will find ways to be together that are simply us enjoying to proximity of each other.

While Aunty J was in town, we used the words needed to catch up, but there are no superfluous words. Lately, with the family struggles, we have been more talkative than usual as neither of us are entirely sure of how to live in these new realities, so there is more conversation than usual. There are also plenty of games. Games gives us the chance to be together even if there are no words, which is common with Ewoldts. And this is where most memories of Leo come from, playing cards. While I can’t recall a conversation I had with him, I remember plenty of card games. I can still see him at our table in Mobile. Sitting with his back to the windows as the sunlight came in. For a family that struggles to live in the close proximity demanded by family, games have served as a bridge. It’s an easy way for us to exist together, a natural meeting ground, that does not violate our comfort. We can ease into familial roles with one another here. Instead of the dinner table, the game table is the bonding place for us as a family.

My memory of Leo may not just be mine. When asked what Leo was like, Aunty J responded with his hobbies. He was an active outdoorsman. For someone who was so close to him, it seems a strange response. There was no active description of him offered only this. It slowly occurred to me this was how I remember him as well. I remember him at the card table. She remembers him camping. More than anything, we remember him as a presence. An immovable object of sorts. In spite of his favored state of silence, he left an unmistakable impression, even if we can’t articulate what that means. He was there. For someone who struggled with being a part of a family, that may be all that matters. Even though it contradicted his nature, he stood against it and did his best to be a part of the family. He did so on his terms, quietly, and offered the one thing he could comfortably give us, himself. Not an unguarded version of himself, but the physical nearness of himself. That is something he gave freely and willingly. I can’t say I ever knew Leo in a true sense, in that I knew his personality and his ticks. But I knew what it was like to have him near. Maybe that is the only memory that matters.

An interjection

An interjection

I’ve written previously about the power of questions. After all, it was a simple question that got this started. Another question started another trip. My tattoo artist, a deeply committed atheist, asked a simple question. If he gave me free time under the needle, what good could I do with that money saved. In other words, a trade. As a Christian, I traffic in good deeds, and he, obviously, in tattooing. A thought exercise began revolving around how to balance the scales.

Admittedly, it was a rough start to working through the question. I was caught off guard by the question and so unprepared to respond. Despite that, the general idea began to take shape. I would use my regular volunteer spot as a platform to build from. Stumbling over my words, I spat something out. An admittedly terrible idea. Turning my apartment into a breakfast spot for my homeless friends. After a few seconds thought, I assumed my neighbors wouldn’t appreciate it, so we scratched it off the list. But I was on the right track and it was up to me to find the answer. When my work was done, I would relay it back William and he would share his with me.

About this time, my volunteer schedule was shifting and this gave me a chance to redefine my time there. A chance to build something new. This was exciting. I’m not someone who is always on the lookout for the chance to build something, but over the course of the past year, I’ve learned that the chance to build something is something that wakes me up, whether that is writing a book, planting a church, dreaming up a farm or reinventing my volunteer space. The creative work stirs something up in me. It’s as though I’ve been designed to be a creative being. This was a new outlet for me to work out this creative energy and to build something new. Like all other building opportunities, this became an obsession. This itch continually sat there waiting to be scratched.

Finally, the idea was fine tuned and a new chapter was started. My time volunteering had fundamentally changed. Instead of giving my time exclusively to the place, I gave a little extra time outside of that place. Once a month, I bring in some sort of homemade snack to share with my friends and share time with them over a snack. As a Southerner, all important moments of life occur with food. It’s also deeply central to the life and teaching of Jesus. So, what better way to deepen friendships than with a fresh baked cookie? And, at least in this instance, I didn’t have to wait to for my reward. A couple hours of free tattooing waited for me.

This may be all that comes out of this or perhaps this is something that will continue and grow into something else. Perhaps a new iteration waits down the road. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.