Our son was born without buttocks.

The bone structure of his ilium was perfectly normal and his “gluts” were standard-issue. What he lacked was the meat most folks have on their coccyges. I’m sure I’m misusing these words but you get the picture.

The boy was unaware he was skin and bones until well into grade-school when he came to realize that certain boys commanded the playground. They got to choose the teams during recess and twist the rules however they wanted. They were invited to parties. Girls liked them.

For some reason my son got it into his head — do not laugh — that it was the fit of his pants that was holding him back from joining the alphas.

He became obsessed that the seats of his trousers were baggy. He studied himself in the 360-degree mirror in our back bedroom — something he’d never done before.

It so happens that I sew. Not to brag but I can rip a seam and take in a crotch with the best of them. I strapped on my wrist pin-cushion, grabbed my reading specs and performed miracles on the saddle of that boy’s pants.

Over time he shot up and put on a little flesh on his frame. His face cleared up nicely and he took to wearing contact lens.

During a Sunday supper just after he started a full-time job, he told our family an older woman at the office — she was twenty-two if she was a day — patted him on the bottom and told him she was “into” men with tight little tushes.

We still laugh about that from time to time. But the fact is that the memory of young woman’s come-on would come in handy when a bald spot began to show on the back of his head.

What’s a mother to do?


Lost In The Woods

The forest is home to animals that want to eat you.

Wolves are especially dangerous because they dress like grandmothers and say things to throw you off guard. Grizzlies are just as bad. They see you and they start polishing the silverware.

A few Octobers ago a Cub Scout troop descended on a campground just over the state line. The small wooded acreage brought in a little cash for farmers who worked at the GM plant until it closed.

Tents were pitched. A lady named Peggy grilled burgers and dogs. A bonfire was lit. The night had turned cold and various critters rustled around the tents causing some kids to climb into their parents’ sleeping bags — the older scouts wouldn’t have to know.

The air was pure oxygen the next morning. After a warm breakfast a party set out to explore the environs. Everybody wanted to strike camp early because of the NFL game that afternoon so one of the fathers stayed behind to police the grounds.

When the hikers got back, his son wasn’t with them. No one seemed concerned about the missing boy — except his father of course.

The man squared his shoulders, squinted into the sun and ventured out alone.

He followed the trail that rolled to the right. Nothing. A child shorter than the undergrowth would be difficult to spot. He came to the loop where the paths intersected. Again, nothing.

He was well-aware that a nine-year-old carried away by the Chippewa would be initiated as a brave and end up on the warpath against the Great Chief in Washington, meaning that he would never be eligible for Federal Student Financial Assistance.

He tried to think what Liam Neeson would do.

Tick, tick, tick.

Then on a rise worn bare by the wind, something yellow darted between the trees. The man ran to a clearing where he finally got a visual lock on his boy.

Hiding any trace of panic he approached and asked his son how he was doing.

“Can we get shakes on the way home?” the kid answered. Then he mentioned how much he liked being alone in the woods. He said it was awesome.

The dangers were imagined that Sunday morning, but the fears were real. This was just the latest installment on the price of being a father. The man drove home knowing his account was current, its balance was paid in full.


Robby on The Swing

The two-year-old boy and the man entering his thirties each had his quirks. There was no particular reason they should get along so well but it was convenient that they did.

The man and boy’s mother had chemistry, you see.

They met when she was engineering an end to her marriage. Details aren’t important but it is worth noting that when Halloweens fall on Friday nights and the moon is its waning gibbous phase, men and women of reproductive age turn giddy.

During meetings at his apartment, she and the recently divorced man discovered they came from the same corner of society and had eyes on the same things. Even though Elizabeth felt strongly that one child was enough and both to them were still too raw to consider matrimony, they were hungry for something together.

The two-year-old Robby suddenly had two men in his life. A father and a stranger named Cal who had his mother wearing pretty clothes again.

Cal was a man you wanted to be on the floor with. Just when you thought he was a horse (he made real good horse sounds), he would turn himself in a motorcycle and without fail you would end up in a head-on with an 18-wheeler. “Kiss your ass goodbye!” Cal would yell and then throw you on the couch to save you from certain death.

Elizabeth started a full-time job the day Robby turned old enough for daycare. When she went in on weekends Cal would take the boy for the day. A walk to the library maybe, a trip to the zoo, places that served catsup.

Playgrounds in those years had a hard durability about them. Swings were built on iron poles set deep in reinforced concrete. There were swings with safety bars to hold children in place but a design flaw allowed even toddlers to slide the bar up and down.

Cal heard it happen. When he turned Robby was face down on the concrete.

He tried Elizabeth’s office and then her apartment from the payphone in the parking lot. He considered the emergency room but there would be questions.

He managed to get the bleeding boy into Elizabeth’s apartment without being seen and was relieved when the child went to sleep (later as a parent he would know better).

Elizabeth accepted Cal’s explanation of what happened, without question. She told everyone she was responsible for the appearance of her son’s face.

The child had been an unexpected gift in Elizabeth’s young life but he created complications that, not matter how hard she and Cal tried, were impossible to unravel.

Decades later social media poked Cal to look at a jpg of a 43-year-old man. The age, the name and the smile were right. The man had his mother’s face. Cal looked closely at his left cheek and his forehead.

It was apparent that the scars on the boy’s face, along with any memory of Cal, had vanished years before he entered grade school.


Tony Runaways (Copy of original) (Copy of original)

boys-running-away-conutry-roadWhen the boys found a car with keys, they stopped to consider the pros and cons of Grand Theft Larceny.

As soon as she realized her middle boy was missing, she started calling around. It was a relief to learn that two of his friends were nowhere to be found.

America still held a Tom Sawyer view of boyhood. For better or worse, they didn’t think to put kids’ pictures on milk cartoons.

The three ran away because the parents of one them was in his face about something. The other two went along for the ride. Who would notice, really? School wouldn’t start until after Labor Day.

They weren’t but 14 years old, we think — the details of this story are sketchy.

None of the boys had seen an ocean so they decided on California. There would definitely, absolutely, be an ocean there. They didn’t have a map but one of them was sure west was that way.

On duty that weekend were three crack angels from the Bureau of Mildly Incorrigible Boys — and a good thing too. When the boys found a car with keys, they stopped to consider the pros and cons of Grand Theft Larceny. Miraculously, they decided against it. None of them had a license anyway.

They spent one night sleeping in a rusted tractor-trailer cab in a junkyard. One of them remembers the cold. They survived on snacks from filling stations and country stores. They didn’t steal.

The runaways had gone about 50 miles and were approaching Versailles State Park when a friendly older man pulled over to gave them a ride. He’d seen their kind before. They were in luck. He happened to be going their way.
It wasn’t long until he pulled up to a small-town police station and told the boys he was an off-duty officer of the law. He got on the phone and told their parents the kids were here and they were safe and they seemed like nice-enough young men and you don’t need to be too hard on them.

She sent her oldest son to bring them home. He liked to drive his Mercury and she gave him gas money. None of the boys’ parents bothered to go along. There was silence on the way home.

“Your dad and I were worried sick.” his mother told him.

In return for his solemn promise never to run away again she pulled a baking sheet out of the oven. Drop Sugar Cookies — his favorite — soft, not browned. He hated when they got the slightest bit crispy on the edges. She had made them just right and he told her they were pretty good.

Drop-Sugar Cookies For Runaways
2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
3 eggs
¾ cup sour milk
1 tbsp baking soda in the milk
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp vanilla
¾ tbsp salt
5 cups flour
Cream sugar and shortening. Beat until light/fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Add remaining ingredients. Drop by spoonful. Bake at 375º until they look right and not a second longer.


The Wang Creed

He knew that he and the world he lived in would not long survive.At the height of the Second World War when civil strife was continuing to tear through China, Bogun Wang’s [Wang Bogun] health was failing.

The educator and revolutionary feared for his family.

As the head of a clan whose prominence traced back nine generations, Bogun rewrote the centuries-old Wang family creed to guide his heirs through catastrophic times. My good friend Ed is his son.

Above all else the Wang Creed called for filial piety. Respect for elders and ancestors was the primary virtue stressed by Confucius, the revered philosopher who has shaped Chinese life since 500 BC.

Bogun warned that his society was turning from agriculture to commerce and that education would be the key to stability. He preached that those who inherit wealth cannot afford to be idle. The privileges and resources of the clan were dwindling, they would need to be shared and used wisely.

When the Communists gained power, Bogun’s widow Zhining and her children took asylum in the U.S., leaving Bogun’s world behind.

Ed has not updated the formal code of conduct as his father did.

What he has done, at the urging of his children, is to write a book that recounts his family’s role in revolutionary China. Like Bogun’s efforts, Ed’s book is a personal gift from a father to his family. A show of filial piety in reverse.

‘Patriot and Warriors’* will be archived and crawled far beyond the world of people named Wang — historians are a hungry bunch.

*Patriot and Warriors is now available at Amazon


Text Of The Wang Family Creed

When I was a child, my father had taught me that we should unite our family with filial piety and friendship… Read more…


Father, Son and Sports

No one had ever played varsity. Coaching scouts didn’t know the family existed.The six-year-old playing in his first soccer game had no idea of the hopes his father had placed on him.

He didn’t know his family never had a trophy displayed on the mantle and never saved a press clipping from the sports section. No one played varsity. Coaching scouts didn’t know the family existed.

The boy’s father’s was determined to do something about that.

He’s a man with bad eyes and worse reflexes but he appreciates what sports can contribute to a child’s life. He admires athletes for their prowess and understands why people wear franchised logos, He sometimes featured sports legends in the ads he created for his clients. He tries not to be envious.

The man saw to it that his son was exposed to hockey, baseball, football and basketball. Golf and tennis were offered at school.

The boy joined a soccer league during kindergarten and took to the sport.

In the first minutes of his first game, the ball found its way exactly two paces in front of his power foot. “It might be a long time before you score again,” his coach laughed. And it was.

When the boy’s father volunteered as a referee, the league issued a uniform with a jersey, shorts and socks but he couldn’t bring himself to wear it— it’s risky for a guy who barely understands the game to look so professional.

The boy played on a team until late into high school when AP courses demanded his attention. He still gets together with friends and former teammates to watch sports.

He can rattle off stats and trivia with the best of them. When he and his old man are together, looking for things to talk about, he patiently explains the finer points of major league sports. That’s his job.

Being the jock in the family carries certain responsibilities.


Standup Comic

julia-pander-radio-600pxShe took her first steps in a motel room as they made their way around the Great Lakes. She pushed off from one parent and fell into the lap of the other.

She was thrilled. They were thrilled.

They stopped at a roadhouse every night. She couldn’t pass a table of strangers without stopping to mug and to flirt. Nobody knew where she was going with that.

When she was older they often went to a Best Western with an indoor pool. Her parents used tricks and games to encourage her, until finally she dog-paddled across its width.

Even though her bike was little-girl pink, it bullied her. She balked every time her folks told her to get up and try again. Then one day she pedaled down the gravel alley on the side of the house.

When she passed her driver’s test she rewarded her father with a smile he had never seen before, and when she chose a freshman dormitory she and her mother hauled stuff up the service elevator.

Her parents had helped her all along the way.

Then one night the young woman stepped onto a stage as a standup comic — beginners were welcome, performers outnumbered the audience. She made a point of inviting her parents.

An alarming thought came to her as she was being introduced. Her parents hadn’t grown up with the bedroom and bathroom humor of cable TV. They might not be comfortable with the material her generation demanded.

She took the mic, looked at the two of them, and then she froze.

Since that night there has been an understanding that she might invite them back to see her perform again one day. It’s also possible she might not.

The best way they can help their daughter, they realized, is to stay away.fingerprint4-only-final-40px


Harry’s Chevrolet

pat-1954-chevy-harry-kemper-crop-600pxHarry drove his car around back, pulled it into the garage, hung his keys on the hook in the kitchen and died.

He was missed of course.

The garage shared an interior wall with the basement so Harry’s car stayed warm and dry during those years after his death. His wife Nellie didn’t drive but her son-in-law regularly started the Chevrolet to make sure it didn’t seize up.

Nellie dreaded the idea of selling the keepsake. She once started to write a classified but “sturdy bumpers” and “chrome push buttons” was as far as she got.

She and a neighbor across the street had both married railroad men and they liked to do their ironing together. The woman had a son back from the service, going to trade school. He carried his tools and supplies as he changed buses to get across town. It ate up hours every day.

The woman told Nellie she had bought him a car at a bargain price and hoped it would last a while.

“I wish you had told me.” Nellie said. “Harry’s car’s still sitting in the garage. There’s almost no miles on it. Your son can have it for whatever he can get for that other car.”

The kid referred to it as his “Chevy” which stood for Chevrolet which stood for everything good in postwar America.

He forgot to set the hand brake one night and it careened through a neighbor’s yard taking a row of shrubs with it. It was an embarrassing pimply-faced mistake Harry never would have made.

A hit-and-run driver slammed into its passenger side during the first winter after he moved away. When he came home to visit he parked a used sports car in the driveway.

He walked over to tell Nellie the insurance company had totaled Harry’s car because it was thirteen years old. He certainly liked driving it, he said.

“Did it ever burn oil on you?” Nellie asked. “Harry bragged that Chevy never burned oil.”

“No, ma’am, it never did.” he said. He was lying of course.fingerprint4-only-final-40px


Black and White World

julia-and-photo-album-composite2-crop2-600pxThe photographs helped her make sense of the world she was born into — up to a point.Even when she was very young, the girl liked to spend time with the photos her mother kept. They were organized chronologically in albums.

It made the child feel safe knowing there were people in her life. Most of them smiled for the camera except for a few from the Midwest who hide their teeth. There were several pages showing people holding a newborn she didn’t recognize. You know who it was.

The girl could see that faces changed as people got older, a surprising number of them looked better. She came to realize that there was life before she was born but it hadn’t occurred to her that life would continue when she was gone. That would come later.

The albums were brought out when friends and relatives came to visit. The girl would listen to the who, what, when, where and how. She took exception if someone got something wrong.

The photographs helped the girl make sense of the world she was born into — up to a point.

One day when she and her father were sitting on the couch, going through a shoebox of black-and-white snapshots her grandmother had bequeathed them, the girl turned to him and asked what year it was when the world changed from black-and-white to color.

Were her grandparents were still alive when people stopped being gray? And was it a big deal? And did the kids get a day off from school to celebrate? fingerprint4-only-final-40px


The Petrified Man

It was Eugene’s fate to become something he could not have imagined while he walked the earth. He became a roadside attraction. Dead men have few choices.

Dead men who are petrified have fewer still.

The unidentified dead men who happen to be descendant from slaves are entirely at the mercy of strangers (being alive during Jim Crow wasn’t much better).

The petrified man was given the name Eugene.

For one particular Ohio family, the small town of Sabina marked a halfway point on their vacations to see relatives. There were restrooms, a filling station, a country store and a funeral home.

On the grounds of the mortuary sat a small brick building. That’s where Eugene was displayed for the world to see. There wasn’t a rattlesnake pit or a fudge shop within hundreds of miles that could compete with Eugene.The family referred to him as “petrified” but he had actually been embalmed by a local undertaker. He helped build the Littleton Funeral Home brand.

As the family approached Sabina each year, acrimony would fill their Plymouth sedan. For reasons unknown, the parents refused to allow the youngest of their three boys to see the mummified man. They took turns staying with him while the others went in.

The child fumed as Greyhound buses discharged kids younger than him to marvel over the fascinating sight. Was he so fragile that he had to be protected in ways other children weren’t?

His parents never did quite explain it to him. But maybe it was this:

Wakes, funerals, tarhims and shivas fill a need. Medical students observe formal rituals of appreciation for their assigned cadavers for the same reason. Human go to great lengths to return the dearly departed from distant places. Respect for the dead is an eleventh commandment.

There’s no denying that Eugene was held in a public purgatory for three and a half decades. It’s possible that somewhere along Ohio Route 22 a cold wind left the boy’s parents shivering in the summer heat. Maybe they saw those postcards celebrating lynchings.

What we can know for sure is that Julia and Ambrose were protecting their youngest son from something. We also know that good people grow into their roles as parents.

Three decades later Ambrose and Julia were laid to rest within a year of each other. They were sent off with the most dignified of services their sons could muster, including a partial eclipse of the sun.fingerprint4-only-final-40px