My Hometown – Hopatcong (Ode to Childhood)

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou

During our lives there are some things we get comfortable with almost to the point of taking advantage of them. It is this comfort that we benchmark our lives against and always find a sense of ease and safety with each passing day. No matter how far away we go, home is always there for us. It never leaves us, cheats on us or turns its back to us.

It’s allegiance and loyalty is without question and the sense you feel as you close you eyes, feel its touch, breath in its smell and see every memory race through your head is priceless. It is the warmth and coziness of home that continuously reminds me who I am and how I became the person I am today.

hopEvery time I return home, I see something new. Though nothing changes, it is always different yet still the same feeling I had as a child.

The comfort of the hometown deli, the sound of grasshoppers at night, the safety of living in a town where you never lock your doors at night, the sight of a million stars at the top of the golf course, the spirit of the Chiefs, basketball at Modick, soccer all around, the summers at the lake, remembrance of those we lost, patriotism, the comfort of the Old River Styx Bridge, rolling hills and the feeling of home.

This is my ode to Hopatcong, the safe haven that bore me and raised it. It is a town with a quiet rich heritage that continues to shine.

Its the parks, the diners, the locals, the morning dew, the local sports, the children and the air that we breath that makes home the only place you will ever know.

Be free, see the world and experience the magic and wonder of different cultures and different great natural wonders but never forget where you are from. It is and will always remained ingrained inside you.

Home is always safe in your heart!

“When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood” – Sam Ewing

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place picture-048like home.” – L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“Home is the place, where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” – Robert Frost

“I’m laying out my winter clothes and wishing I was gone,
Going home, where the new york city winters aren’t bleedin’ me.” – Paul Simon, The Boxer

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” – Christian Morganstern

“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.” – Unknown

“Home should be an oratorio of the memory, singing to all our after life melodies and harmonies of old remembered joy.” – Henry Ward Beecher

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With Those Tiny Fingers – Original Poem

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By Mark A. Leon

Often a moment defines our lives; but in a rare instance, you fulfill a destiny that shapes the moment
The center of all being, forever captured in an 8MM still frame

A saw your face written in wisdom; painted in a canvas of clouds; singing with tears of joy
I look into your eyes and see an emptiness waiting to be filled with wonder

Your birth holds the answers to our mistakes
A new burden thrust upon your innocence
A call for change in a windstorm of uncertainty

Whenever I call you, I know you will hear
When I am beyond your reach, you will feel my presence

Those tiny fingers will touch lives with magic

Just when surrender offers a package so appetizing
When hope is tainted by the footsteps of a thousand wanderers
When fire burns the roots of a new tomorrow
When the death of war laughs all around

Those tiny fingers will touch lives with magic

Walls will crumple
Ideas questioned
Beliefs desecrated

Imagination, oh imagination

To fly
Hovering high above, tickled by the stars
To leap
Farther than the limits of time
To love
Unconditional vulnerability

Imagination, oh imagination

You will rescue us when the forest has lost its sunlight
And with those tiny fingers, you will touch

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September 11 – A Day We Will Never Forget – My Personal Journey

It was sometime after seven when my phone rang. I was groggy and half awake but somehow felt the need to answer my phone. Kim was the on the other end frantically telling me to turn my television on. Without hesitation or knowledge of why, I did. She then began to tell me the cryptic pieces of information surrounding a plane going into the World Trade Center. It was moments later when I witnessed the second plane make a permanent impression in my mind. I soon hung up and continued to stare at the screen as my eyes got lost far beyond the scenes I was seeing on the television screen.

I sat silently and still on the floor, watching, absorbing, and reflecting as the news trying to make sense of this madness. Memories of my days on Wall Street came back quickly and I could remember my footsteps from the PATH train to Broad Street. Now that path is covered in rubble and smoke and the familiar sounds of taxis are now filled with screams.

After several hours, without knowing what to do or who to call, I played nine holes of golf. Upon completion, as I walked the final path to the clubhouse, my phone rang. I don’t know why, but had a feeling the news was not good. I had no reason to believe that the call from my parent’s home phone was good or bad news, but I knew. Maybe it was the day playing in the back of my mind or perhaps the knowledge that my parents rarely ever called me during the day. With a brief hesitation, I answered to hear my father on the other end confirming my notion. I received the news that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mid afternoon on September 11 as the world reacted, lived and digested what would become the most memorable day of our lives, I stood alone hearing the word you never want to hear in relation to a family member, friend or yourself.

Much of the next several hours were a bit of a blur. Sometime in between the hours of 8:00 PM and 10:00 PM I leaned on a rock just outside my apartment and looked up at the sky. My first thought was of the deafening silence filling the sky with only the view of stars shining. No planes, no helicopters, no sound resonating. Of course this being in the middle of a remote part of Oklahoma would not have shocked anyone but living seven miles from an international airport meant something else. How can complete silence send shivers down one’s spine? I don’t know, but the empty sound was the spark that drove me into a period of weakness and sorrow. I shed a tear as an entire day of devastation ran circles in my mind. Over and over I remember the calls, the videos, the commentary and through all that, it was the silence that sent me over the edge.

That was September 11, 2001.

One year and six days later, we lost her.

Fifteen years have passed, ten years older and more mature. The world as you and I know it changed that day, not in a temporary mode but a permanent way of life. It awakened us to the notion that we are all vulnerable. How often to we go to a movie and watch a blockbuster about an apocalyptic event and sit in awe at the wonder of Hollywood magic? Yet, to witness the unimaginable happen before our eyes wondering and praying that our friends and loved ones were not part of this madness is something not many of us would pay the price of admission for. I grew up in New Jersey, raised by two home bread New York parents. Spent some time on Wall Street living the American dream. Never in the midst of the madness known as New York City could I imagine an event so catastrophic ever happening in my backyard.

If asked what emotions went through my system that day, I would have to say shock, fear, heartbreak, concern, confusion and hope. I am sure you are thinking why “hope” in that list of negative emotions. Well, without hope, we have nothing. Everyday we live with the risk of tragedy whether it affects one person or thousands, yet each day we wake up to a new sunrise with the hope of a day filled with happiness and love.

September 11 was tragic for me in so many ways, mostly personal. I needed to feel hope that as a family we would be by my mother’s side supporting her, comforting her and knowing together we could beat this disease. As we come closer to the 10th anniversary of the day that changed our lives forever, I will be thinking about my mother and the struggles she had to endure so that we could have the blessing of having her in our lives.

My greatest tragedy of that day was not the events over lower Manhattan. It was that I was not there to hug and hold my mother when she received the news of the unwelcome visitor in her body. I’m sorry Mom.

Jessica and Jeremiah 8.29.15 – A Virtual Wedding Album

“And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said I need a caretaker, so he created a farmer.” – Paul Harvey

In the small neighboring towns of Senecaville and Lore City, Ohio with a total combined population of no more than 600, two families came together high above the plains on a farm filled with cows, bulls, chickens, turkeys, two dogs, two cats and a silence that could soothe the soul.  On this day, there wasn’t the grooms family, brides family or friends of the family.  On this day, there was one family enjoying a moment of celebration to ring in a lifetime of happiness.

For Jessica and Jeremiah, dedicating their lives to working hard, getting up before the sun and ensuring the land is cared for was an easy decision.  This was a decision made through unconditional love for one another.

We were fortunate to be part of this journey.  From the flat lands of the Lowcountry to the rolling hills of the farms of Ohio, we enjoyed a beautiful and memorable ride.

This is a story about family, heritage and history with the promise of a new generation to carry on in the footsteps of cowboys boots that have but on thousands of miles.

Come along for this virtual journey through the special nuptial weekend of Jessica and Jeremiah:

Just minutes upon arrival after a nine hour drive, we were greeted by two very proud turkeys and chickens on our way up to the rehearsal on top of the property.  The view of the blue skies and bright puffy clouds made for an extraordinary setting.

Our view from the car as we made the last turn to our final destination.

This event was about family.  A union of two; a joining of all.  During the wedding, there were three glass jars of soil.  One large one filled with soil from the farm, one from the home where Jessica was raised and one from the home where Jeremiah was raised.  On the day of the wedding, these three jars became one in a symbolic gesture of eternal union.

Even the bails of hay had a romantic and rustic aura.

Throughout the tent were reminders of the reason we all came out for this wedding.  The smile on Jessica’s face and the sturdy look of Jeremiah, spoke volumes.

Words of love rang throughout the tent in true country style.

Each guest table and the special family tables were ordained with intricate detail.

This is a summer wedding so you need to be prepared with bug wipes.

After a long day of driving, rehearsal and catching up until well past 2 AM, I was greeted on my bed with a small furry sleeping companion.

The big day had arrived and you could not have gotten better weather.  From the hands of the heavens to the farms of Ohio, this was a day destined for perfection.

The hay is bailed but will have to wait another day because today is a day of celebration.

Most will agree that Jessica is Jeremiah’s best friend.  If you spend time with Jeremiah, you may see some competition.  Roxy is truly a companion.  Her loyalty and caring nature was seen throughout the entire day with one of the most precious moments being when she walked around just as the wedding began and then sat patiently just to the right of the bride and groom.  Later in the evening, you could have even enjoyed a sentimental moment when Jeremiah lifted Roxy and danced with her.

No better site than two farmers with a smile.  This was a candid shot of Jeremiah with his best man.

Brian is the proud father in law and father to Jessica.  During the drive from Lore City to Senecaville (10 Minutes), Brian with his beer in hand (he was not driving) gave us the tour of the two towns and all his adventures growing up.

Like a cowboy prom, everyone was ready for the wedding.  Even the future little cowboy and cowgirl.  I dare you find find a more proud group.

The youngest farmer is all ready for the big event to begin.

Almost time to tip our hats to the formal Mr. and Mrs. Miley.

The bridesmaids and groomsmen are escorted out on a tractor and seats of hay.  They all look handsome and beautiful.

The bride is stunning carried hand in hand by her proud father Brian.

In a moment of perfect timing, a plane landed just as Jeremiah was about to say “I Do”.  A little back story.  The pilot was asked to take some aerial shots of the wedding and was invited to have a meal after.  He just didn’t know the timing of the actual wedding so he decided to land on the hill in what appeared to be the groom’s great escape.  A truly classic moment.  The minister, played so well by grandmother and minister Carol, took it in stride and asked Jeremiah the question.

ohio17A union was formed.  Might we see children in the near future?

Love was all around even to the finest of detail.

In the ultimate gift of lasting memory, a bench was built and each guest was asked to sign as a permanent reminder of all that shared in this special day.

Not sure how much longer they can keep these shirts tucked in and being all formal.

The entire day and weekend was truly about family.  They are the foundation of all we stand for.  Faith, family, hope and happiness.

If you are going to leave as a unified team for the rest of your lives, do it in style, on an Oliver.

This was a candid moment that was captured, but I dare you to tell me this doesn’t look like a country album cover.

As the Charleston guests and outsiders, there was never a moment we didn’t feel like family.  Dressed in our best wine colors we felt right at home.  From helping to decorate to breaking down the tables and chairs, we pitched as as any family would.  The trip would not have been complete without the hospitality of Jessica and Jeremiah and Kerry and Brian offering their homes to us.  Also, Carol and Frank spending time with us in their lovely home surrounded by flowers and nature.

Now for a relaxing minute.  And you thought I was kidding about Roxy.

The scenery was as important to the weekend as the wedding itself.  It provided the glory and majesty that made this country so strong and beautiful.  This is the front yard of Kerry and Brian’ home.  Add a cup of coffee and you have perfection.  On the first evening, we slept in the farm house that was built in 1826.  Just 11 years from a bicentennial celebration.

ohio6We cannot do justice to Carol and Frank’s home, but we will try with a few pictures.

One more.

Flowers for all the eye to see.

Spending time with our favorite world travelers made us want to stay longer.  As we drove to say goodbye to Carol and Frank, a song with the lyrics “Wish you could stay a little longer came on”  Later as we entered Virginia, Carolina on My Mind played.  Music played a critical role in this weekend.  Jessica and Jeremiah danced to If Tomorrow Never Comes for their first official married song together.  I Hope you Dance was a warm tribute to the weekend and a long future together for Jessica and Jeremiah.

We could not have been more honored to be a part of this weekend and in a way become part of two very close families.  Thank you.

To Jessica and Jeremiah:

Dance together as if no one is watching

Catch as many sunrises as you can

Remember the importance of family

Fill each day with memories until they overflow

Always remember to believe in faith.  It helped you find each other and it will help solidify your foundation.

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Observations from a Porch of an Aging Southern Farmer

“Aging is a process of understanding. It is the collective journey of all emotion fed by a thirst for knowledge, enlightenment and meaning.”

It was a hot Southern morning in the heart of August in the Carolinas.  Humidity was already taking a toll on old Mason.  Sweat dripping from his leathery forehead and the sun up in the sky high enough to cover half the front porch.  His wife, who affectionately has called “ma” for the last 67 years was bringing a steaming cup of coffee; black just like he always drank it.

Mason nodded and continued his stair at the trees covering the sun just enough to make these summer days bearable.

“I reckon the farm hands be coming by soon.  Strange seein’ them whites and coloreds walking the path together.  Sure seen some changes round these parts.”

Mason turned to ma, resting comfortably in her rocking chair continuing to deepen the groove in the wood base below.

“This some good coffee ma.”

He struggles with his sentences now.  Some shortness of breath forces a slowing in his speech.  The deep southern drawl very pronounced.  For this old farmer, now retired, the porch is passing the time reflecting on a hard life until his inevitable demise.  The years are documented by the wrinkles under his eyes.  The blue sparkle now faded.

The creaking noise is soothing.  It is one of the few sounds still audible to Mason.  Familiar and constant.

“The cotton crop ain’t what it used to be.  Nothing but Yankees, colored and fancy cars.  It’s hard to be proud ma.”

“You are an old bitter man Mason Chapman.  Old and bitter.” She exclaimed.

Once, an affluent cotton farmer, Mason is the only remaining child of Emma and William Chapman.  The youngest of seven children, his heart beats last.

“What will we leave behind ma when they find our crippled old bones?”

“What are you talkin’ about, we?”

With all the muscle strength in his face, a smile reared itself.

“I gave you a good home didn’t I ma?”

“You did.  From the time you carved our names in that oak tree 68 years ago, my heart belonged to you.  You give me a good home and a good bed to rest.”

“I’d like to see Will today.  Reckon we can see Will?”

“Yes, love, yes.”

Mason tried to life his body with his thin boney hands.

“Now you stop you hear.  You will break in two.”

Ma got up from her rocking chair and lifted her 110 pound Mason upright.  Arm in arm they walked slowly down the three steps and walked to the side of the house.  Surrounded by layers of autumn colored leaves and pine cones stood a small unassuming tombstone.

They stood two feet from the stone and stared down.

“Oh Will boy, we miss ya.  You dun us proud.  We really miss ya being around.  He was a good boy, ma.  A good boy.”

“He was.  Polite, hard workin’ and a true Southern gentleman.”

“He was, ma.  He was.  I may be ready to see him soon.”

“You hush up Mason.”

“I’m tired.  I see folks walk by, young and full of hope.  I had my hope.  Now I’m ready to rest.  Let’s go back to the porch.  It’s safe there.  I’ll tell ya about the great crop of ’52.”

“I’d like that.  I’d like to hear that story a lot.”

Together, hands intertwined like a million other times, Mason and Ma walked around the house and sat on the porch.

The chairs rocked, and Mason told story after story until the warmth of the sun lulled him to sleep.

Ma smiled.

 

 

The Gift of a Newborn – Original Poem

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Heaven parted the clouds and opened the majesty of the sun’s light
Welcoming an angel into our arms
The bells chime and the choirs sing
With your sparkling eyes and cherub smile, this gift rests cradled
Nestled and safe; warm and inviting

A Southern Gentleman to be with a tiny heart of gold
A family born from the hills and flat lands of this beautiful Carolina land

From the coast to the mountains, this precious child will see a world of wonder
Filled with adventure, he will soar beyond limitation

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On this, the day of your birth, we are given an offering
You will stand as our legacy, firm and proud; brave and sure
A spiritual form with the power to bring good to others

With your fingers, you will touch others
With your words, you will inspire
With your eyes, you will see happiness

You are part of us now
The link forming this foundation of family

With love, we promise you a life of magic and curiosity

In your journey, you will experience compassion, pain, laughter, crying, acceptance and loss; but with each day our love for you will keep you safe for all your days

30 Years Ago Today – “The Day After” opened our eyes forever to our greatest fears

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“Sometimes I wonder why are we so blind to fate? Without compassion, there can be no end to hate. No end to sorrow caused by the same endless fears. Why can’t we learn from all we’ve been through, after two thousand years? – Two Thousand Years – Billy Joel

“I know I was born and I know that I’ll die. The in between is mine. I Am Mine” – Eddie Vedder

On November 20, 1983, ABC broadcast a film that would change our lives forever, The Day After. As a young boy, I sat on the end of the couch just a few feet to the right of the 26 inch tube television with my brothers, sister and parents by my side. About 45 minutes into the film and my eyes clenched closed, I could not bear the tragedy I was witnessing. Teachers had spoken lightly about nuclear weapons and the cold war, but the potential elimination of manhood via disintegration and slow painful cancerous effects had never dawned on me at my age until I witnessed it on this screen. Needless to say, I spent the remaining one hour and twenty minutes on my bunk bed under a pillow shaking and crying.

Thirty years later, that film still has an impact on millions around the world. Whether you saw it for the first time as a child or adult, it sent shivers and fears throughout your body. It was a film that remained with you long after the credits ended.

On this day, November 20, I remember a time of:

  • Family – When I was a young boy, together in a room with my parents and siblings sharing a moment that would change our lifetimes.
  • Awakening – It would be years later when I would see the entirety of this film, but the effects it had on me then and continue to have on my now is lasting.
  • Fear and love – Life is about individual moments in time that define and shape us.  30 years ago today, I had one of those moments.
  • Living – It is ironic that a movie about destruction and death could open your eyes to the magic of life.

I am not writing this to change the way you live your life or provide a “This Day in History” fact.  This is my way of sharing a reflection.  Family, happiness, love and peace are values I hold close and this movie was one small piece of what helped shape who I am.