One day you will ask me which is more important? My life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.
We two make home of any place we go;
We two find joy in any kind of weather;
Or if the earth is clothed in bloom or snow,
If summer days invite, or bleak winds blow,
What matters it if we two are together?
We two, we two, we make our world, our weather.
We two make banquets of the plainest fare;
In every cup we find the thrill of pleasure;
We hide with wreaths the furrowed brow of care,
And win to smiles the set lips of despair.
For us life always moves with lilting measure;
We two, we two, we make our world, our pleasure.
We two find youth renewed with every dawn;
Each day holds something of an unknown glory.
p. 21We waste no thought on grief or pleasure gone;
Tricked out like hope, time leads us on and on,
And thrums upon his harp new song or story.
We two, we two, we find the paths of glory.
We two make heaven here on this little earth;
We do not need to wait for realms eternal.
We know the use of tears, know sorrow’s worth,
And pain for us is always love’s rebirth.
Our paths lead closely by the paths supernal;
We two, we two, we live in love eternal.
The most important relationship we can all have is the one you have with yourself, the most important journey you can take is one of self-discovery. To know yourself, you must spend time with yourself, you must not be afraid to be alone. Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
Chapter 45 ~ Miracles Happen
Father Oscar asked Joe, Jody, and Sam to come with him to room off of the lounge area. They walked into a conference room. There were three black leather soft, living room type chairs, a similarly covered sofa, and a long coffee table in the center of the room. A Bible and a book on coping with loss sat askew on the table. Father Oscar pointed to the sofa and an adjoining chair. Sam quickly stepped toward the chair. Joe gave him a look and shook his head. Joe and Jody sat on the sofa.
Father Oscar said, “We use this room to talk with family members. It’s hard watching someone you love die. My mom and dad are still alive. My younger sister drowned ten years ago. We were close. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I can’t count the number of men and women I’ve seen die here. I see suffering on the face of the dying. I see suffering on the face of family who feel powerless to change events. Every day I’m asked why and I don’t have an answer. The men and women who work here and volunteer to be here bring a deep sense of compassion to the dying and living. The work is so intense we schedule communal prayer sessions three times a week to support each other and pray for strength. It’s the only way we regain our strength to push on.”
Jody slid a bit closer to Joe and held his hand. Her eyes filled with tears as Father Oscar’s words triggered a memory. Father Oscar said, “You okay, Jody?”
“I’m okay, Father. I remember going to see my grandma in a hospice. She really raised me. It was hard. You’re right, you don’t get over it.”
Joe squeezed Jody’s hand. He said, “What about Ritchie? What’s his story?”
Father Oscar held Joe’s eyes for a moment, then spoke, “I met Joe a little over four years ago. It was right before I got my assignment to Sister Jean’s. It was early in the morning. I don’t remember the exact time, three or four. Brother George and I were working with the homeless in a park two blocks away from St. Rose’s Hospital. My iPhone vibrated. I answered it. Sister Joyce asked me to come to St. Rose’s Hospital to give the last rites to a man who was expected to die within the hour. I left Brother George and ran the two blocks to the hospital. When I entered the ER room, they hurried me into a room where I saw a broken, battered body. The man’s eyes were closed and swollen, his nose literally pointing down his cheek. His lower jaw hung agape off to one side. Three doctors were working on his legs and arms. They all were broken. A doctor looked at me and said, “His name is Joe Ritchie. It was in his wallet. I made a guess he’s Catholic. We’re trying to save him. It will be a long shot if he survives. I’d put it at one hundred to one against him.”
“What did you do?” asked Joe.
“What I’m supposed to do. I walked behind the doctors and began praying over Joe. I didn’t have the oils we usually use, but I knew the prayers the church uses in administering the last rights by heart. Are you all Catholic?”
Joe nodded. Jody nodded. Sam shook his head.
“The last rites are a sacrament given to people in danger of dying where we pray for their soul. When I saw Joe, I was sure he wouldn’t be alive when the sun rose. After I administered the last rights, I left and returned to the park where Brother George was playing a guitar and had four homeless men singing with him. I wish you could meet him. He fits in wherever he is. I’ve never met anyone quite like him. He is the holiest person I’ve ever known. You’d never know it. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. There’s something about him that makes you know you’re in the presence of a special person. Brother George and I drove back to the Franciscan house. I told him the story. He looked at me and said, “He’s going to live.” That’s all he said. I didn’t question him. There are five of us Franciscans and two lay men who live at the house. We’ve learned not to question Brother George. Every once in a while he’ll tell us something that doesn’t make sense until it makes sense. You know what I mean?”
Sam shook his head, “I do, Father. Harry Daniels had the same gift.”
Joe gave Sam a look. Father Oscar said, “I believe you, Sam. The Spirit touches people in ways it’s hard for most of us to understand. Why someone gets the gift and others don’t is a mystery.”
Sam smiled and nodded.
Father Oscar continued, “The next afternoon, I went to St. Rose’s Hospital. I expected to hear that Joe died regardless of Brother George’s comment. I asked about Joe at the receptionist desk and was told he was in intensive care and critical not expected to survive. I went to intensive care and spoke with the nurses and the hospitalist, they all shook their heads. A week later he remained in a coma, but began to show slight signs of improvement. They moved him to the neurology unit. I started visiting him each day around three. I read to him. I told him stories. I have no idea if he heard me. I stayed a half hour then when back to my work.”
“How long was Joe in a coma?” asked Jody.
“Joe looked like a sci fi movie. Tubes were in his nose, mouth, and arms. His legs and arms were in traction. Doctor’s still needed to operate on his jaw and nose. They couldn’t because of his condition. They reset his nose the best they could. The swelling in his eyes was gone and the deep black and blue was turning yellow. He’d scare most anyone.”
“When did Joe wake up?” asked Sam.
“I know the exact day. It six weeks later on October 4th.”
“What made that day so special that you remember it?” asked Joe.
“There were two things, Joe. One, October 4th is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of my order. The other thing was Brother George. We have a small chapel in our house. That’s where you will usually find Brother George if he is not out working with the homeless or drug dependent people or lost kids. I came into the chapel to pray. I sat down in the rear row. Brother George was in the front row. There were only three rows. He was kneeling in deep prayer. I sat on a chair and began to pray. Maybe it was five minutes later, maybe longer. I don’t recall. I remember Brother George saying without turning around, “Oscar, go to St. Rose’s now. Joe is going to wake up.” That’s all he said. I got up and went directly St.Rose’s hospital. I went to Joe’s room. He looked comatose to me. I held his hand and said, “Hi Joe, it’s Father Oscar. For the first time, he squeezed my hand. I started to cry. Not out loud, but I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face. After a moment, I prayed the 23rd psalm with him. He squeezed my hand again when I finished. He wouldn’t let go of me. I stood there. Then he opened his eyes and tried to speak. He couldn’t with all the tubes in him. I smiled and told him, everything was going to be okay. He was going to live.”
“And then?” asked Joe.
“Miracles happen, Joe. Miracles happen,” said Father Oscar.
Tomorrow – The conclusion of Searching for Dad
Chapter 41 ~ Joe & Jody Meet
Joe and Sam waited in the baggage claim area near the bottom of the escalators at McCarran Airport. Limo drivers, searching the faces of arriving passengers, were holding iPads up with last names on them. Arriving passengers riding the descending escalators wore a similar look. Their faces glowed with the hope of a five year old child staring at the presents under the Christmas tree. Their eyes sparkled with anticipation.
Sam punched Joe on bicep, “There’s a good looking gal at the top of the escalator waving her arm like crazy. The one with the ball cap. Is that Jody?”
Joe forced a smile and waved, “Yes, and what did I tell you about hitting my arm?”
“Opps. She’s cuter than the first rose of springtime. All I kin see is her head, if the rest of her is as nice as her face, you got a winner.”
“Her blonde hair isn’t natural. I’m not sure about anything else, either.”
“My, my you can’t enjoy a woman who got all prettied up for you. You really need help, Joe. When we’re done with Joe Ritchie, maybe the Lord will direct me to lead you back to the world where a man kin look at a girl like that and fall head over heels in love.”
“Did you fall in love with her?” asked Joe watching Jody beaming at him as the escalator neared bottom.
“The first second I seen her. You’re already pre warned, pretty woman are naturally attracted to me.”
Joe took a quick glance at bowlegged, ruddy skinned, shaggy-haired, man. He admitted to himself Sam had a rugged look about him. He had the look of a man who could handle himself if need be and liked the outdoors. He tried to gauge his age. Joe hadn’t asked him how old he was. When they first met, Joe thought Sam was in his late sixties. Now, he wasn’t so sure. He was one of those guys that stopped aging. He shook the thought from his mind and stood off to the side of the descending escalator.
“Jody, welcome to beautiful Las Vegas. How was the trip?” asked Joe forcing a smile.
Jody stepped off the escalator, stepped to the side with her traveling suitcase behind her, She carried her backpack on her shoulders. She let go of the suitcase and threw her arms around Joe.
Sam stood back and smiled thinking, Joe, you got no chance, you might as well surrender. Look how she fit in those jeans. Perfect. Not to tight, just right, really just right. Oh my, oh my.
Jody stepped back and placed a hand on each of Joe’s shoulders, “You’ve only been gone two weeks and it seems like two years. It is good to see you, Joe. I really mean it. It is good to see you.”
Jody turned slightly to the right and caught Sam’s grin. Sam stuck out his hand, “I’m Sam. Joe’d be lost without me.” Sam laughed.
Jody started laughing an stuck out her hand, “Good to meet you, Sam. He needs somebody to take care of him. I’m happy he found you.”
Sam said, “Joe tried to describe you so’s I’d recognize you, but he didn’t do you justice. You’re prettier than the Rockies when the Aspen are all turning color. Let me carry your backpack and tug your suitcase for you.”
Jody squeezed Sam’s arm, “You are so sweet, Sam.”
Joe looked off in the distance and seemed to be asking, “Why me? Why me?”
Sam stepped to the side and let Jody pair up with Joe. He followed them as they walked to the short term parking garage. Jody started talking about the station’s rating being pulled down because Joe left. They caught up on station gossip and sports news coming out of Ohio State University.
When they packed Jody’s gear in the trunk, Sam held the passenger side door open for Jody. She thanked him and kissed him on the cheek. Sam slid in the rear seat. Joe said, “It’s too early for you to check in. You can freshen up in our room if you like then we can go for breakfast. Will that work?”
From the back seat, “Jody don’t need to freshen up. Open your eyes, Joe. She’s prettier than a sunrise on a perfect July morning.”
Jody half turned toward the backseat, “Are there anymore like you, Sam?”
“Fraid not, I’m an original, one of a kind. The good Lord threw away the mold when he made me.”
Jody turned and faced Joe. She put her hand on his shoulder, “Joe. We need to talk. The sooner the better. Is there a breakfast place nearby? I’m starving. I had a cup of coffee at the airport. I slept most of the way here.”
Sam chirped from the backseat, “Joe, let’s go to the pancake place near the Residence Inn. This time of day it’ll be a full menu.”
“Sounds perfect. I love pancakes,” Jody said. “Seriously, Joe. We need to talk. I don’t want to tell you the story now, but I’ll give you a teaser like we do on the six o’clock news and sports to get people to watch at eleven.”
Joe tilted his head at bit toward Jody as he turned onto Sunset Drive, “A teaser? What kind of teaser?”
“The reason I couldn’t find anything about Joe Ritchie for the past five years is because he changed his name. I was searching under marriage records. I was searching under criminal records. I searched under deaths and driver’s licenses. I didn’t think of checking beyond that.”
“What’s his name?” asked Joe.
“He changed it from Joe Ritchie to Joe Rich,” said Jody. “I’ve got a story for you, but I’m going to make peace with my appetite first.”
Chapter 40 ~ You Can Learn a Lot by Playing Poker
Joe exited at Anvil Road, took a left, crossed the overpass and turned onto the entrance ramp to I-40 west. Sam said, “This is the text I’m sending Jody, Great news. Text info on flight. I’ll pick you up at McCarran. You’re the best, Joe
“I didn’t say she was the best. Don’t send it. You know what she’ll think. You didn’t mention you. I don’t want to pick her up. I’m playing into her hand,” said Joe.
Sam smiled and touched send.
“What did you do that for? I wanted to say something different,” argued Joe.
“Opps,” said Sam with the kind of grin a child gives when they’re caught sneaking a piece of candy.
“I should take you to McCarran, buy you a ticket to anywhere and leave,” said Joe.
Sam started chuckling. When he stopped, he said, “You play poker with your buddies?”
“I bet you lose most of the time,” said Sam.
Joe thought back to the last time he played poker with Tony and a couple of his other buddies. It was always Thursday night, girls night out. Marie was off with her friends until eleven. The last time he played, he lost a hundred dollars. The time before, he lost seventy-five dollars. The time before he won ten dollars.
“Not all the time,” Joe said defensively.
“I’d like to have you in the poker game they hold at Catfish Coolege’s house. Having you in the game be like picking blackberries in August. I’d have enough to fill my belly and fill my bucket,” said Sam.
Joe didn’t want to hear any story about Catfish Coolege. He said, “What’s your point?
“Watch your speed. They catch speeders by aircraft. I heard a trucker say some states are using drones to catch speeders.”
“What’s the point about poker,” Joe frowned.
“Funny thing how Catfish got his nickname. You’d think it was because he liked catfish. Fact is, he hates catfish. He don’t fish and he won’t eat fish. It’s his wife that loved catfish. She made it every Friday. She told him he can learn to eat it or go hungry. Catfish said, he wasn’t gonna eat catfish and he’d go out and have a burger and beer with his buddies on Fridays. His wife claimed this was abandonment and sued for divorce. He was okay with the divorce because he learned she was having an affair with Jimbo Guthrie who runs the all you can eat Friday night fish dinner at Guthrie’s Restaurant.”
“What’s the point?” Joe begged.
“I’m getting there. When you’re playing poker you got to know the basic strategies and odds. That all makes sense. What lots of people who play poker don’t realize is that you’re really reading people. The better you can read people, the better your chances of winning. Granted you have to have the right hand. This is my point. Jody’s holding a pat hand. She’s pretty sure what she has in her hand is a winner. You got nothing. You’re only chance of winning is to bluff your way through. Jody knows you got nothing. She knows she holds all the winning cards. You gonna throw away your money by calling her bet or you gonna fold your cards and move on to the next hand?”
Joe raised his eyes up looking for a comeback but he knew Sam was right. He didn’t want to tell him he was right. He said, “Okay, I’ll fold my hand. You feel better?”
“It’s not about how I feel. I’m not looking for my father. I’m here to help you out. Recall the movie The Blues Brothers?”
“Just like the Blues Brothers, I’m on a mission from God,” said Sam.
“If you’re on a mission from God, how is this thing going to end,” contended Joe.
Sam reached for the bag of pretzels. He said, “When we get to Kingman, let’s stop and get a refill, these are really, really good. Now, for your question. How do you want it to end?”
“I’m looking for an answer, Sam. I’m not looking for another question.” Joe said, “A part of me only want to see him physically, not talk to him. I want to see what he looks like. Another part of me wants to get in his face and say, ‘I’m the son you never thought enough about to see.” I’d like to hit him as hard as I can for what he did to mom. I wouldn’t shed a tear for him if he was in line at a soup kitchen. That answer your question?”
“Too bad we don’t have a punching bag for you to hit. You got a lot of anger you’re holding on to. You sure you don’t want a pretzel?”
“Can you blame me for being angry? How would you feel if you were in my shoes? Look what we’ve learned about him. He cheated Max out of his music. He robbed Gloria of ten years of her life. What about Rosa and his daughter? Monica? She hasn’t hit bottom. How many did we miss? What do you say to all that?”
Sam finished chewing a pretzel, then took the bag and tipped it upside down into his mouth catching all the pretzel crumbs. He took a sip of his soda and said, “Two things come to mind. You ever hear of Willie Wilson?”
“Here we go again, Sam. Whenever you get stumped for an answer you start telling me a story about some guy you knew and try to teach me a life’s lesson. I don’t even know if these people are real. For all I know you’re a natural storyteller and you like pulling my chain. You like getting a rise out me so you can show me where I was wrong and where you are right.”
Sam didn’t answer. The miles passed one after the other. A half hour later a sign on the right read, Kingman 30 Miles. Sam punched Joe on the bicep.
“Ouch. I have black and blues on my arm where you whack me. What is it you don’t understand about me not wanting you to hit me on my arm to get my attention?”
Sam said, “You telling me you don’t want to learn from Willie Wilson’s experience? If you don’t want to hear it, I won’t tell you. It’s up to you. No skin off my back. Intelligent folks learn more from watching other people and listening to other people than by reading a book. A book gives you one kind of knowledge. It may or may not be useful. It’s like reading a recipe. My grandma baked the best chocolate chips know to mankind. Everybody wanted her recipe. My grandma was the kindest woman I ever known, she’d write out the recipe in long hand, there was no computers then. Truth is, even though the recipe was exactly the same one she used, she was the only one winning blue ribbon after blue ribbon at the county fair for her chocolate chip cookies. Her extra ingredient was love. She put lots of love into baking them. See, everybody was interested in the ingredients. Nobody wanted to watch her make her cookies.”
Joe turned a slightly apologetic look toward Sam, “I apologize for unloading on you, Sam.”
“I don’t remember anything, Joe. After we stop in Kingman, I’ll tell you about Willie Wilson.”
“I’d like that, Sam. I’d really like that.”
Chapter 38 ~ A Discovery & A Decision
Joe pulled the BMW into a Mobil station near the I-40 interchange in Kingman. Joe filled the gas tank and watched Sam amble toward the store. He hadn’t noticed Sam’s bowlegs. Joe thought Sam should have been born a cowboy. He smiled and looked down at his legs, straight as telephone poles. Joe played football, ice hockey, and baseball. He always thought the guys who were a bit bowlegged were better football and ice hockey athletes. He topped off the gas tank and walked into the station. Sam was thumbing through People Magazine. Five minutes later they were on I-40 headed east for Flagstaff a bit over two hours away, most of the ride traversed through Native American reservations and Federal government land.
Sam was staring out the passenger side window at the landscape putting one pretzel after another into his mouth conveyer belt style. He stopped for a moment and turned toward Joe, “You know much about Native Americans?”
Joe said, “Not much. The little I remember comes from a history class in high school or college and I’ve forgotten most of that.”
Sam said, “Most people only associate Native Americans with nicknames of sports teams like the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins, or the Florida State Seminoles. Or, with casinos.”
Joe said without looking at Sam, “You’re an expert?”
My great grandaddy was a full blooded Cherokee Indian. I got some of his blood in me. When we get to Flagstaff there’s a Navajo Indian reservation, they call it the res in Tuba City, that’s north of Flagstaff. Let’s visit it. So you can git a better understanding of what it’s like to be a Native American these days. It’s not a pretty sight.”
Joe said, “Some other time, Sam. I’m headed home. I left Columbus to find Joe Ritchie. Glad I didn’t. After what I know about him I might have done something or said something I’d regret for the rest of my life.”
Sam said as casually as a dog flicks a flea off an ear. “Why are you headed home? You got no job. You got no girl. Your grandmother is living in your apartment. What I see you doing is climbing back into the womb. That’s what I see you doing. You want momma to protect you. She can’t do that anymore. You and me, we’re orphans whether we like it or not. Be careful there’s a work zone ahead. It’s gonna narrow to one lane, the left one. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour. There will be a radar trap somewhere in it, you can bet your last dollar.”
Joe shook his head and rolled his eyes. Sam had a way of talking that kind of made sense and at the same time got under Joe’s skin quicker than a doctor’s needle. Joe took his foot off the accelerator, signaled to move to the left lane and pulled behind a sixteen wheel opened bed truck carrying watermelons. Joe’s mind bounced Sam’s words back and forth as if it were a pro tennis match. His mental tennis game was still going on when Sam punched him on the bicep.
“You see that? Didn’t I tell you?” said Sam pointing at an Arizona State trooper who had three cars pulled over and was writing tickets.
Before Joe spoke. His cell phone chirped, a text message. Sam’s left hand moved with the speed of a rattlesnake striking a mouse that wandered too close. He passed the phone from his left hand to his right hand and said, “You’re driving in a work zone. You read the signs, you hit a driver, you could do hard time. If you’re holding a cell phone, you’re gonna do hard time. This is Arizona, not Ohio where they is easy on criminals.”
“Who sent the text?” asked Joe.
Sam looked at the screen and started laughing, “Your fan club president.”
“You’re starting to catch on,” Sam chuckled. He punched in Joe’s four digit passcode and opened the text. Then he read the text. When he finished, he said, “Jody says she sent the info in an email because what she had to say was too long. Which one of these things is an email?”
“The one that looks like an envelop,” said Joe.
“I got it. Isn’t that the damndest thing. I shoulda figured it was an envelop.”
Sam touched the email app and it opened up. “You got lots of emails. After I read Jody’s email, I’ll go through the rest for you and read the important ones out loud. This one must be it. It says, Jody and a funny little symbol then KCMB dot c o m.”
“That’s her, Sam. That’s her email address at the station. Touch the highlighted part and the email will open up,” said Joe.
Sam touched the screen and began to read. His lips moved as he read to himself.
Joe glanced at him and knew it was no use hurrying Sam. After a long moment, Joe blurted, “You finished? How long is this email?”
“I’m finished. I’m finished. What’s your hurry? We’re fifty miles out of Kingman and about a hundred from Flagstaff. The next exit is thirty miles ahead.”
“Thanks for the travel update. What did Jody say?” insisted Joe.
Sam laughed, “I kin pull your chain as easy as I kin flip a switch to turn on a light. Is it this easy for everybody?”
Joe thought about Sam’s comment. There was a bit of truth to it. Marie put up with it and so did his best friend Tony DelPetri. At work, he kept his edginess under control. Once he was out of work, it flowed as easily as water out of a faucet, especially if he was in a lousy mood.
Sam chuckled, “I’m tormenting you, Joe. Before I read the email, prepare yourself, you’re gonna have to make some decisions.”
“Decisions? What kind of decisions?” Asked Joe.
“Jody found Joe Ritchie.”
“She did? Where is he? Is he alive? What’s he doing?”
“That’s where the first decision comes to play. Once you make that decision, the second decision will answer itself.”
“What’s the decision?” demanded Joe.
“Hold on big fellow,” said Sam as if he were talking to a horse. “Let me read the email to yah.”