Mountain Top Blues

With a little chagrin, I noticed today that my last post was back in November. Not sure why the dry spell; perhaps it’s because nature slept the past three months and I fell into step with it. Perhaps it was weariness from the holidays, or the non-ending cycle of negative news. Maybe it was because Kelsey left for college, leaving us with an almost empty nest.

Or maybe it was because I realized during the holidays that most of my “mountaintop experiences” may be behind me.

I often compare Life to the board game with the same name. It seems like I’ve already hit most of the biggies. College. Stop, get married. First kid. First house. A career. Add two more kids. Along you go over this twisting path experiencing highs and lows, exhilaration and despair, the humdrum and the sublime.

Time slips by unnoticed in the rush of life and before you know it, a decade has come and gone. Then a few more…and suddenly you’re at the place in the game where you either end up in the Poorhouse or Millionaire Acres. It’s all up to the spinner thing. Or how your 401K did.

This weekend was our first warm one here in North Carolina, so I did what do when I’m feeling bummed: I got out my woodworking tools and starting making some sawdust.

As I worked, surrounded by twenty years of kid stuff, I reflected over some of those pivotal moments that defined my life. My crazy, wonderful days at the University of Florida. Meeting Sue and getting married. The day she came in, radiant, with a positive home pregnancy kit. The house we saved up for and watched being built.

As I cut some wood on my table saw, faces from my 37 years at IBM came to mind. I wondered if any of my contributions were worth anything, would anyone ever uncover something I had once done, find value in it, wonder who this Darryl Bloch guy was and whatever happened to him.

I somewhat gloomily reviewed other milestones, mountaintop experiences. I wondered where I went from here. Were there any left?

I made the last few cuts the way Pop had patiently taught me. It’s tricky. I put the pieces together and–amazingly–a perfect fit. In the garage, I held it over my head and said “Hey, Pop! Whaddya think?”

Instantly and almost audibly, I heard Pop say “Attaboy, Dar!” It was startling, a little jarring, astonishing. I pulled open a drawer from his dresser that I use to store stuff, and the Pop smell wafted out. It was like he was standing beside me. I think that the veil that separates us from loved ones who’ve gone ahead sometimes thins almost to nothing; that the “great cloud of witnesses” who silently cheer us on come so close, we can almost touch them. My vision blurred as I thought back to all the afternoons Pop and I had spent in the backyard, building stuff, having a few cold ones, no longer father and son but just two buddies. “Aw, Pop…” was all I could manage. My shoulders slumped.

So it was in this frame of mind that I sat this afternoon…wondering what mountains still lay ahead…if any. The phone rang, it was Kristen, married now three months. She and I are now also friends, like Pop and I. We’re road trip buddies. She wanted to pick my brain about buying a house, how do you get a mortgage, find a realtor, where to look, all that stuff. Blindingly, it occurred to me that the mantle of the “Pop Oracle,” the go-to guy for advice, the guy whose opinion mattered…it had been passed to me. I was now the repository of all Pop knowledge.

Like a hiker who struggles up a path and is greeted by a vista of mountains fading to the horizon, I got it. My mountaintops to come, Lord willing, are with my kids, helping them find their way just as Pop did with me. Helping them remodel a bathroom, perhaps babysitting, maybe a family trip. I found discovered there’s an off-ramp in “The Game of Life,” one I had never noticed before. It takes you back to the beginning and you get to do it all over again. Only this time you’re not worried about your little car with people in it and paying $1,000 to get rid of a skunk farm, or even your oil stock giving you fifty grand. You’re just in it for the fun, riding shotgun.

And maybe someday, when I’m on the other side, one of my kids will hold something up and ask for my opinion.

I just hope they’ll be able to hear me applauding.

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