Category Archives: Glenn Bater

Indian Summer

By Glenn Bater, a member of Get Your WordsWorth

Rich earth scents and fiery shows of color make autumn my favorite season. October has a way of revealing new glories and giving second chances. The trees, otherwise indistinguishable from one another in their green robes of summer, seem to come alive and take on new personalities.

Men are much like trees, I think. We spend the summers of our lives solid and strong but, like the trees of a vast forest, form a great indistinguishable mass of humanity with all too little differentiation. We have our jobs and family obligations and become indistinguishable from one another in the masses of mankind that make a living and raise a family with their dreams put on hold until after they pay for braces and college tuition. What a contrast to the lives they led before the press of responsibility in the springtime of life as children, when the forest was still in bloom, when they promised maturity in different stages like April trees with fresh delicate shows of pastels and whites. There were early bloomers who stuck out from the rest of the forest, with their precocious displays of maturity. They grabbed the attention early while the rest of the forest was still bare twigs and buds. Soon enough, though, the precociousness didn’t make a difference any more, and all the other children eventually followed suit in their own time like cards laid down in a game of hearts. I love the trees as they start to burst into fragrant cascades of color. The fragrances of the blossoms are sweet perfume in the night like the smell of scrubbed babies in their cribs, asleep in their fuzzy pajamas with the little sewn-in feet. We love to watch our children in the springtime of their lives; every mother is certain that her child is the cutest and the smartest. Perhaps the mothers are all correct since, to each mother, it is only the other mother’s baby who reminds her of Winston Churchill… except without the cigar…but mothers always say, “How darling”, anyway. The springtime of life is beautiful to watch, but it is stressful. I often wonder how many gallons of tears have been spilt and how many nights spent? went sleepless worrying about the development of our little ones that  didn’t conform completely with the timetable laid down arbitrarily in some book with a title like “Your child… from birth to Kindergarten”, or when elementary school report cards or late science projects took on seemingly apocalyptic proportions? Continue reading

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Indian Summer

By Glenn Bater, a member of Get Your WordsWorth

Rich earth scents and fiery shows of color make autumn my favorite season. October has a way of revealing new glories and giving second chances. The trees, otherwise indistinguishable from one another in their green robes of summer, seem to come alive and take on new personalities.

Men are much like trees, I think. We spend the summers of our lives solid and strong but, like the trees of a vast forest, form a great mass of humanity with all too little differentiation. We have our jobs and family obligations and become indistinguishable from one another in the vast forest of mankind that makes a living and raises a family with their dreams put on hold until after they pay for the braces and college tuition. What a contrast to the lives they led before the press of responsibility in the springtime of life as children, when the forest was still in bloom, when they promised maturity in different stages like April trees with fresh delicate shows of pastels and whites. There were early bloomers among them who stuck out from the rest of the forest, with their precocious displays of maturity. They grabbed the attention early while the rest of the forest was still bare twigs and buds. Soon enough, though, the precociousness didn’t make a difference any more, and all the other children eventually followed suit in their own time like cards laid down in a game of hearts. I love the trees as they start to burst into fragrant cascades of color. The fragrances of the blossoms are sweet perfume in the night like the smell of scrubbed babies in their cribs, asleep in their fuzzy pajamas with the little sewn-in feet. We love to watch our children in the springtime of their lives; every mother is certain that her child is the cutest and the smartest. Perhaps the mothers are all correct since, to each mother, it is only the other mother’s baby who reminds her of Winston Churchill… except without the cigar…but mothers always say, “How darling”, anyway. The springtime of life is beautiful to watch, but it is stressful. I often wonder how many gallons of tears have been spilt and how many nights spent sleepless worrying about the development of our little ones that didn’t conform completely with the arbitrary timetable laid down in some book with a title like “Your child… from birth to Kindergarten”, or when elementary school report cards or late science projects took on seemingly apocalyptic proportions?

The time comes all too soon when the trees yield up the promises and blossoms of springtime. Report cards and science projects are all quickly forgotten in the heat of the sun of summer when the forest of life takes on a universal cloak of green. No more prodigies or blue ribbon babies need contend for attention any longer. The trees of summer are still different, of course, but distinguished only by their occasional placement or utility. A lone majestic oak on a grassy hill is beautiful. Birds build their nests in its branches and the luxuriant shade beneath sturdy limbs is God’s umbrella from the sun. Great men and women rise up from the plains or forests of humanity, and mankind refreshes itself in or sees its life extinguished by their shade. The Jeffersons and Luthers, Catherine the Greats and a variety of sleazy Caesars each stood out above others and cast long shadows in their time but, eventually, even the great ones felt the sap drain into the ground. If they were not cut down prematurely, they eventually had to make their preparations for the winter that comes inevitably to all alike. Schweitzers and Einsteins eventually, despite their summer grandeur, eventually bow to time and nature as the life-giving sap is drained and they move toward the inevitable winter. Even the most majestic of trees can give up life with a loud snap when loaded down beyond their endurance by the ice storms, or worse, survive the storm as formless cripples… with only a vague memory of former glory remaining.

But, (I love that three letter word, “but”) in the fall all the trees, the mighty and the humble, have another chance at glory. There always remains the possibility, for the even meanest, to be robed like the old High Priest of Israel in garments of glory and beauty. Men and trees can be seen in a new light in their autumn. Sometimes the trees that were unnoticed before take on such spectacular colors. They form impressions so vivid that that viewer is awed by the brilliance of their new autumn robes.

Many years have gone by, but I still have a vivid memory of an individual maple on a country highway. My family and I were out for a drive to pick apples, and enjoy the riot of colors on Route 23 in Northern New Jersey. As we rounded a curve in the late afternoon, a magnificent tower of blazing golden yellow dominated the landscape, catching all the power of the setting sun and magnifying it in a display of God’s very majesty. That picture is fresh in my mind more than thirty years later. I never saw that tree before, though I drove the highway for years. Later, when I went back to search it out I couldn’t find it, but that one maple is the best testimony that I can think of to the power of the autumn.

I find myself surprised that it is already the Indian summer of my own life, and now I want to be like that maple. I have put in my years and fulfilled my duties as husband and father, I put food on the table and kept the grindstone perpetually too close to my nose, but now I covenant with myself to pursue my dreams. If not now, when? The truth is that there are no excuses left for not plunging into dreams with abandon. How long will the autumn last? How much time will it take to find the right patch of sunlight? Men may be like trees in some respects, but the magic of the human autumn is that it exists until it is voluntarily bid farewell. Even though a man can see his breath in the air, it is still autumn if he refuses to let the sap drain into the frozen ground, or if he refuses to release the robe of color to be scattered into the wind of time. I am thankful for the autumn of life. I plan to embrace it until Milton’s words reflect my reality:

Then ‘round about the starry throne of Him who ever rules alone, your heav’nly-guided soul shall rise, of all its earthly grossness quit. And glory crowned, forever sit, and triumph over death and thee, o time.

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Home Again

By Glenn Bater, a member of Get Your WordsWorth

In the late afternoon, the red sunlight streamed almost horizontally through the blue print curtains of the kitchen window. Moist aromas from simmering pots on the white enameled stove played a theme and variations with the changing seasons. Kielbasa and sauerkraut in muggy summer or the rich bay leaf in a pot roast lending aromatic moisture to the dryness of winter; it was memorable. The late afternoon aromas were always the portent of a special sacred time on Harding Avenue. There may have been variations on the themes of aroma and climate but the wonderful constant was the wait for the sound. With ears perked, I always wanted to be the first to hear the sound, though that was usually in vain because my dog, Skipper, had sharper ears, and could detect those wonderful sounds before they were inaudible to me. I never was exactly sure what Skipper heard that would excite him and set his rust-colored tail swishing, but for me it was the crunch that the tires of a particular green Dodge pickup made on the gravel of the driveway. Dad was home.

If Skip had been outside, of course, the announcement would have been his ritual run. He’d run a block in each direction up and down the street barking at the top of his lungs with a tone of joy only produced by dogs in love. Like a furry herald he delighted in announcing the imminent presence of the High King. Whatever the manner of announcement, however, we would stop whatever else we were doing. Mother would stop her bustling in the kitchen to pat her hair, and I would lay aside my playthings to watch the front door for the arrival of the most important man in the world. No man could ever be more worthy of love and respect than the grimy apparition silhouetted in that door; it was usually astoundingly dirty and smelling of the creosote, fuel oil and rust: the distinguishing marks of an Ironworker who works on railroad bridges. On my father, the rust and dirt looked like the mask of a superhero; the eyeholes of the mask were the round white circles where goggles had protected his eyes.

We’d say “Hi”, and he would smile, his white false teeth in bright contrast to the mask of grime, and ask “What’s for supper?”; we knew the question was rhetorical, but we always expected to hear it. We understood that he already smelled Mom’s cooking from outside the small white house, and knew perfectly well what would eventually be on the dinner table long before he put his hand to the door. That traditional question, almost like a secret password, started a grand procession; with Dad first, like a drum major, and Mom and me like the band, the first stop every evening was the same. Mother, who had patted her hair a few more times, the dog and I would follow him to the utility room where he took off his overalls, pants and work shirt. They’d already been blown free of rust and concrete dust with the whip hose from an air compressor at work. As he took the pieces of clothing off one by one, he put them directly into the white enameled washing machine to ready them for early the next day before sunrise. After his work shoes were set precisely and carefully to one side, and his socks were thrown into the old Kenmore, he would stand there in his cut away undershirt and shorts and smile a shy smile.

He was a study in color and texture: the top of his sparsely haired head was white, having been shielded from the sun all day by a green cotton cap or a hard hat. Below the cap-line was the top of the superhero mask. The leathery reddened skin at the back of his neck was dramatic. Beneath the collar-line, though, his skin was as white and soft as a baby’s bottom. Dad would measure out a cup of powdered detergent, pour about two thirds of it into the washer and keep the rest in the measuring cup.

To the fading melody of the filling washer, the procession continued to the bathroom. The bathroom, to my Dad, was literally that; a claw-footed tub full of steaming water that would have always been far too hot for me. The rest of that cup of tide that he had used with his work clothes was the universal solvent for scrubbing away the grime of a day’s labor as an ironworker. He’d smile again and close the door, passing his shorts and undershirt out to Mom so she could add them to the wash. That was when a mystic metamorphosis began on a daily basis, for in less than half an hour, like a butterfly from a chysalis, Father would emerge pink and fresh from the bathroom. No kidding, pink. I often marveled that he had any skin left at all after all those daily brush scrubbings in that steaming water. That brush was always too stiff for me, but Dad was meticulous and not a man to do things by halves; when he cleaned up, he was cleaned up to his own standards.

Freshly dressed and smelling like new laundry on the line, he would take his place in the western chair at the small oak kitchen table beneath the blue curtains, and supper would begin. The seasons out the window would change, but the ritual of love that led up to the view of those seasonal changes through that happy window never did. What could ever be better than the smells of love in a mother’s cooking and the safe warmth of knowing that all was now safe and nothing could harm or alarm us; Dad was home.

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