Do You Know The way To Veracruz: Part II

The airport in Veracruz, like many airports in the world, is well away from the city itself. This makes sense as most airplane accidents happen on takeoff and landing, and having large machines loaded with aviation fuel fall out of the sky onto populated areas is a very bad idea, as the city of San Diego learned in 1978. Wes and I recovered our backpacks and boarded a taxi to run us into the city. We told the driver that we wanted a clean hotel but not resort grade, and he took us to a hotel right on the waterfront that matched all of our requirements. We checked into our room and then stepped out to get a good look at Veracruz. Wes and I both fell in love with what we saw.

Veracruz is a very old city. It began its existence when Hernan Cortez landed there and began the Spanish conquest of Mexico. But Veracruz is a new city too. Being one of only two major ports on Mexico’s east coast and being the closest port to Mexico City, the commerce taking place in that city insures that a very modern infrastructure of banking, communication, transportation and the like is available to service those commercial needs. Veracruz is also a major port of call for the cruise ships which ply the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. When those ships are in port, passenger loads of from two to six thousand will be available to debark from the ship and sample the food, drink and souvenir offerings in the city. Much work went into making the city as clean and attractive as possible so as to not scare off the tourists before they dropped impressive amounts of cash into the pockets of businesspeople large and small.

Wes and I noticed a set of very narrow steel tracks running down the middle of one street near our hotel and asked a vendor of fresh fruit juices if it was a working trolley. This was a somewhat difficult task as that level of communications tested my language skills, but the vendor’s limited English and my limited Spanish sufficed to get the job done, and we learned that indeed the trolley ran every day and if we would wait there a few minutes we could board it on its next pass through the neighborhood, I purchased my usual favorite drink, a pineapple/mango concoction which the vendor whipped up on the spot, and Wes got something for himself. We then sat on the curb to enjoy our drinks and wait for the trolley.

Before we finished our drinks we heard the ‘clang, clang’ of the bell as the trolley approached our position. It was still around a corner so we couldn’t see it, but we arose from our curbside seats so that we would be ready to jump on when it passed by. At last the trolley hove into view and I watched its approach with admiration and anticipation. The trolley looked like something out of a Disney movie. It was spindly but not fragile. Low side rails and thin roof supports left a great deal of open space so that the traveller did not feel enclosed at all. The body of the trolley was fairly light in weight which matched the small, thin steel rails set into the asphalt and cobblestones of the streets upon which the trolley ran. It was painted in the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag with golden pom poms dangling from the edge of the roof all the way around. The operator saw us waiting and slowed the trolley down so that we could jump aboard. We noticed later that he would stop for an elderly tourist, a senora getting on or off with little children and/or packages from shopping, or a young senorita under any circumstances. The rest of us had to time our step to board the still-moving trolley.

We paid our peso or two and found seats near the rear of the carriage. The trolley chugged at one or two miles per hour and we relaxed as we passed through shopping areas and residential neighborhoods, past piers where the cruise liners tied up and along the sea wall, called the ‘malecon’ (pronounced MALL-A-CONE with a long ‘A’), where everyone gathered on the summer evenings to walk along the waterfront, enjoying the cool ocean breezes and beautiful view of the sparkling Caribbean stretching out to infinity in the east. At several points along the way we jumped off to poke our noses into shops or collections of stalls and booths selling just about anything that one can imagine. We bought a couple of the tiny (by American standards) street tacos and some fruit on a stick, and hopped back onto the trolley when it made its next pass through the neighborhood. The operator of the trolley waved off our pesos as we reached to pay again, recognizing us from our first ride. We proceeded in this manner all the way around the loop which brought us back to the point where we had begun our trolley ride.

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking the streets of Veracruz and along the waterfront. We could not see the commercial seaport very well, although the derricks and cranes on the horizon showed us where it was. We would go there the next morning first thing. We decided to have dinner at the hotel, which wasn’t great but wasn’t bad either, and visited the hotel bar for an hour or two afterwards. After that the culmination of twenty four hours on a bus and the better part of a day flying to and exploring Veracruz caught up with us both and we turned in early to get rested up for the next day, since we had no idea what that day would bring.

Morning came and we were out of our beds and dressed in a flash. This day could possibly be the craziest day of our lives and we could hardly wait to begin it. After breakfast at the hotel we caught a taxi to the port, and soon we were standing in front the broad gate which opened into the Port of Veracruz. Wes and I had no idea where we should start asking about work on a freighter so we gambled that you just went up to a freighter, found the captain, and asked. Probably I let myself be influenced by reading Moby Dick and too many Jack London novels. None of the freighters in port had a captain with a large beard, a jagged scar, and an artificial leg carved out of whalebone standing on the fo’c’sle looking to hire rookie seamen for one three hundred and sixtieth part each of the profits of the voyage. In fact, we never laid eyes on a captain of anything that day.

The big, hulking freighters were tied up at the docks, and the gangways were down connecting dock to deck. There were no guards or any other official-looking people regulating who went up the gangway onto the ship but we were reluctant to just walk onto the ship in search of its captain. Dock workers were loading and unloading cargo but we weren’t allowed to interfere with them, so we located a large building and went inside to look for a harbormaster or whoever ran the place. Inside we found a small counter with nobody present behind which were doors which led into the interior of the building. To the left was a row of rather worn chairs in front of a dirty window. Wes and I went to the chairs and I moved one around a little which caused the metal legs to squeak on the floor. I reasoned that the noise might alert somebody to our presence. I don’t know if my stratagem worked or not, but soon a man appeared in the doorway and moved over to the counter. He looked surprised to see us.

“Buenos dias, Como estan?” “Buenos dias. Habla usted Ingles?” “No, no lo hablo.” The man did not speak English, and so this deal would have to be done in Spanish, which ensured that it would take a lot of time to get it right. At first the man had no idea what I was trying to communicate, and then he thought that we were merchant seamen looking for a particular ship. Finally I made it clear that we were two young American men with absolutely no experience at all with working on ships who wanted to sail somewhere. He never really did get the part about Saudi Arabia and the oil fields. Once he understood the main point however he motioned for us to wait and disappeared through the doorway, returning shortly with another man in tow. This person was dressed a little better and in general looked a bit higher on the food chain. I felt like I was buying a new car.

“So, Guillermo say to me you want work en un barco, uh, on ship, but you no work before?” “Yes” I said, and in the best Spanish I could muster continued to say “we work hard. Building houses. We know hard work, but never on ship.” At least I think that’s what I said, although I could have said “My mother’s tool belt shot fifteen birds” as far as I knew at the time. Eventually we both felt like we had the conversation right and he told us that the chances were not good, but to wait. Both of the men retreated into the interior of the building, probably to have a good laugh at our expense, and reemerged shortly to let us know that we wouldn’t be shipping out from their port.

It had not occurred to Wes and I that we would fail to find work on a ship in Veracruz and now we had to regroup. As I wrote earlier, I must have filled my head with romantic notions of ships always being shorthanded and having to shanghai sailors to fill their duty rosters. The reality appeared to be that there were plenty of capable sailors available and the rosters were all full. Wes and I thanked the men for their time and assistance and returned to the dusty yard outside of the building.

At that point we had no idea what to do next. The only reason for coming to Veracruz was to get on a freighter and forget the unpleasant world that was behind us, and that plan now looked like it was going nowhere. I looked back at the ships tied up along the dock with their gangways wide open and unguarded and said “Come on Wes, Let’s go and see for ourselves.” “No, man” Wes responded. “We don’t know the rules here. You know how you are always saying ‘remember where you are?’ Well then, remember where you are.” “I know man, but I just traveled a couple thousand miles, and a bunch of that on a Mexican bus, to do this and I don’t want to bag the whole thing without one more try” I handed my money belt and a pocket knife to Wes, retaining a small amount of money in my wallet. If I got into a bind I could try to buy my way out of trouble with the smaller amount of money which I kept on me. I would make the case that it was all I had. Failing that, Wes could come to my rescue with the bulk of my money. “Wait here” I said, and began to walk up the gangway.

The clatter of my shoes on the metal stairs seemed as loud as a snare drum to me but did not seem to draw anyone’s attention. I reached the deck and saw nobody in the passageway which ran along the side of the ship. I began to walk toward the bow of the ship, looking in the metal doorways as I passed them with the hope of seeing somebody to ask about the whereabouts of the captain. There was nobody in sight as I emerged into the open area of the front part of the ship. I don’t know nautical terms, and so you must be patient with me, dear reader.

As I looked around I saw a man bent over something on the next deck above me. I considered calling to him but then decided that a personal touch was needed, so I sent to the metal stairway which led upwards to that deck. When I got there the sailor began to straighten up as I walked towards him. It seemed like he had removed something from his shoe. “Excuse me” I said. “Can I ask you a question?” The man jumped a little, surprised by my presence. He was a brown person of slight build, who gave me the impression that he might hail from somewhere in Southeast Asia. He also didn’t speak a word of English or Spanish. He did seem to understand ‘KAP EE TAN” however and held up a hand for me to wait. The sailor disappeared and five or ten minutes and later returned with a ship’s officer of undetermined rank or ethnic origin who was more familiar with English. “Are you the captain?” I asked. He answered in the negative and I continued. “I know that you are busy, but I wanted to ask if you needed any hands to work on your ship for the next cruise.” It took the officer a moment and some clarification but eventually he understood my question. “No, we have all of the hands that we need. We don’t hire people right off the deck anyway; we usually go through the harbormaster shoreside and only use skilled hands.” “Is it that way with the other ships?” I asked, and he nodded in the affirmative. “I think so. We can all find skilled hands when we need them, and as far as I know we all do it pretty much the same way.”

I hung my head for a moment, trying to think of any other angle I could pursue and also letting my disappointment show, just in case the officer took pity on me. Neither approach bore fruit. I thanked the officer and returned down the stairs and down the gangway to a waiting Wes. “No luck” I told him. “It looks like this is as far as we go.” Wes handed back my knife and money belt and we began to walk back toward the gate through which we had so recently and eagerly entered the port. The old plan was now finished, and the next order of business was to make a new one. We decided to find a place to have a little lunch and a couple of beers and figure out what we should do next.

The ID side of Dreams

I have written previously of my proclivity for vivid dreaming and feel called to return to that topic.  My dreams can be described in many ways; amusing, entertaining, frustrating, depressing and terrifying are only a few descriptions which come readily to mind, and there are others which could apply as well.  I usually lay down at night looking forward to what my personal late show will bring and I am rarely disappointed.  Last night my dream fell into the ‘other’ category however.  I will describe this dream as ‘disturbing’.

But first a few examples.  Perhaps my most vivid dreams in all of my life occurred shortly after I returned home from three years in the Army.  In one dream Godzilla – the Japanese version – was stomping up El Cajon Blvd. in my native city of San Diego.  I was hiding behind a wooden garage which opened into an alley between 47th St. and Euclid Ave, and when the Big Lizard entered my view I stuck my head around the corner of the building to snap a picture with my nice new Pentax camera.  The ‘click’ of the camera gave me away however and the old boy turned in a stately sort of pirouette and launched a blast of his radiation breath my way.  I awoke as the incinerating blast slammed into me.

I arose from that dream a combination of frightened and amused, but the next dream was nothing but fear.  In this dream I was running down a street near the house where I grew up with none other than the devil himself hot on my heels.  At this time in my life it would have been a stretch to label me as even agnostic.  I did not believe in God, the devil, or any other supernatural entities, although reading Carlos Casteneda’s “Don Juan” trilogy made me wish that I could believe in such things.  Be that as it may, Old Scratch was right there breathing down my neck as I fled east on Landis Street.  How I came to have a hatchet in my hand I could not tell you, and what effect a hatchet could have on such an ethereal sprite as Satan is even less clear, but a hatchet I had and I stopped and turned and chucked that hatchet squarely where I thought my enemy (whom I could not see) would be.  The effect of my effort was predictably minimal so I turned and fled again.  This time however I pulled out my trump card; I called on God to save me.

As I wrote earlier, I was far from a believer in anything supernatural in my waking hours and would not become so for many years to come.  I had been exposed to Christian doctrine some years earlier however and certainly a memory of that teaching was stirred up under the stress of the situation.  Or the devil could have been after me and God may have stepped in on my behalf.  Either way I woke up drenched in sweat and I remember the dream vividly to this day.

Many other dreams of vampires, werewolves, dinosaurs and spiders have haunted my nights but it has not been unrelieved fear.  I frequently have the ability to glide in my dreams and sometimes even have the power of flight itself.  Those dreams are my favorites.  The gliding dreams usually involve me running and jumping, with the jumps stretching out for longer and longer distances.  I eventually do come back to Earth however and have to relaunch unless I merge into a dream of independent flight.  Oddly enough I am frequently aware of the fact that I am dreaming when my dream turns to flight and I make sure that I make the most of those occasions, soaring high into the clouds and then swooping down in supersonic dives, then gliding in lazy circles around wooded islands in bluegreen seas.  I genuinely dislike awakening from these dreams.

Another recurring dream stems from a thread of my insecurity which has been a part of my personality all of my life.  In these dreams I am usually doing a job for which I am not well equipped or not properly trained.  As the dream progresses I and everyone around me become increasingly aware of my inadequacies and my ability to earn an income to support myself and my family is placed in doubt.  I hate those dreams and am always relieved to awaken from them.

Many other themes will enter my sleeping head in the dead of night.  Visits with my departed parents or cats which I loved long ago are favorites, as are the simply bizarre episodes of WW II battles and rescues of damsels in distress, or walks down streets which I trod years ago during other chapters of my life.  And I must never neglect my dreams of breathing under water.  The trick seems to be to breath very slowly, and then the water is no problem at all.

But now to my dream last night.  I found myself in a scene that could have been in the American Civil War.  I had a muzzle loading rifle and was creeping around through the bushes looking for an enemy to shoot and trying to not get shot in my turn.   There was little of that going on; I briefly saw a soldier or two but never got a good target to shoot at.  From that point the scene turned in ways that I don’t remember and I found myself faced with civilians, and I knew that my job was to begin shooting them.  I was horrified but began to comply, loading one ball at a time and shooting whomever came before me.  The civilians did not show fear, instead they looked at me with contempt and began to walk unwaveringly towards me.  A pregnant woman, a young man, a boy of probably twelve or thirteen, walked towards me slowly but with unbroken pace as I reloaded and fired again, reloaded and fired again.

I was backing away from my advancing targets, knowing with considerable discomfort that I feared them much more than they seemed to fear me, until I came to a modern, busy street.  After making sure that there were no enemy soldiers in sight I ran up that street to get behind the pursuing crowd of civilians.  I achieved my objective and, after turning a corner, found myself back in my Civil War scene, this time pursued by one visibly angry woman.  I ran up a road which climbed the side of a hill and which was guarded by a large, open gate.  I fired my rifle again as I passed through the gate and out of the barrel of the rifle flowed a stream of what I knew was food.  As soon as I was inside the gate it was slammed shut in front of the angry woman.  The obvious point of this dream segment was that food and the means to sustain life were on one side of the gate and the people on the other side, represented by the angry woman, were part of the enemy being fought and would be left to starve or freeze or die of whatever privation came to take them.  This time I responded with anger myself and glared at a guard who looked at me with an expression which said “I’m only doing my job.”

At this point I awoke and felt my entire body tingling with a most unpleasant sensation.  I lay there for a few minutes but shortly had to get up to walk off the physical effects of the dream.  I took a little water to wash out the bad taste that the dream left in my mouth.  The dream was entirely unprecedented; I have never had such a dream or anything like it before, and I wonder what dark corner of my soul was able to spawn such a hideous scene.  One Jewish Buddhist whom I have recently been reading suggests that dreams will tell you things about yourself.  I hate to think that this dream tells me that I am capable of anything like what I saw in my sleeping head last night.

After having time to think about that dream I am now more aware than ever that the plea of a soldier that “I was only doing my Job” is not a defence for war crimes, and that the concept of total war which developed out of WW II is unsupportable.  But I am still haunted by the fact that it was me committing these horrific acts.  It is one thing to try a Nazi camp guard for atrocities committed against inmates or condemn the fire bombing of Dresden or the cities of Japan, but in this dream I was the camp guard and I was pulling the lever and saying ‘bombs away’.  Like Walter Pidgeon in the 1956 movie “The Forbidden Planet”, is there an ID monster lurking in my own subconscious, ready when summoned to emerge and wreak inhuman havoc in the name of ‘duty’?  Must I be vigilant to be aware of and contain my monstrous alter-self in it’s shadows lest it shows its face in wartime or even circumstances of my everyday life?

This dream will stay with me, I am sure, for as long as I have a memory.  I believe that I will file this one generally under ‘disturbing’, but in a subfolder labelled ‘instructional’.  The lesson I will take away from the dream is to not be too comfortable pointing fingers at others and think that I am morally superior to them.  The same monster that lurks in others and sometimes is given free rein to show its face and wreak its havoc hides in the shadows of my own soul as well.  To ignore that fact is to give the ID monster leverage which it must never have.

Family Reunion

I had some very vivid dreams the other night.  It is not unusual for me to have vivid dreams; I have had them all my life.  More than five decades after the fact I still remember a dream that I once had while I was a child in my elementary school years: It was pouring rain in my dream, which would be an oddity in semi-arid San Diego where I lived, and a big red fire truck with lights flashing and sirens blaring raced down the street, firemen hanging from the back of the truck.  I could not imagine how a fire could rage during a downpour, and so the dream stood out and the memory lingers these many years later.

Now I’m in my sixty-fifth year and my sleep patterns have changed a great deal.  I rarely sleep eight consecutive hours any more; blocks of two and three hours is more likely, and on some occasions that means two or more vivid dreams might inhabit my night bringing entertainment, befuddlement, and sometimes terror.  On a few occasions I have enjoyed all three of those categories, and many others besides.  The night in question was one of those multi-layered dream events, and it’s uniqueness and connectedness makes it stand out even more than my flying, breathing underwater, being machine gunned by Japanese soldiers in WW II and being roasted by Godzilla dreams.  This dream series was of family reunions.

During my first few hours of sleep I dreamed of a reunion with my parents’ families during the period of my childhood.  Such a reunion never took place because my father’s family lived in Georgia and my mother’s in Kentucky.  Even if those families had lived closer to each other there is little likelihood that they would have mingled well; Dad never liked my mom’s family and Mom returned the favor.  In my dream however the two families did inhabit the same big farm house, and the mix was like oil and water.

“How do you like living in California?” asked my aunt Clara (Dad) of my mother.  “George (my dad) would have come back to Georgia if you hadn’t thrown a fit and declared that you would not raise your children on a Georgia farm.  Isn’t Georgia good enough for you?”

“I don’t think Georgia’s the problem as much as some particular Georgians” retorted my uncle Robert (mom) before Mom could answer.  “Sarah (my mom) didn’t feel like being anyone’s servant just for the privilege of growing sweet potatoes in Georgia.  If George would not have been such a stiff necked antisocial they would have both been treated decently in Hazard, but George is so much like you-all that he couldn’t abide decent company.  It’s your inhospitality and his behavior that’s the reason for them living as far away from you as they can get”

“I might point out that they are living as far away from you as they are from us” interjected uncle Raymond (dad).  “George has told us how you like to put on airs when they are up with you northerners (an insult to border-state Kentuckians that could not be missed).  We’ve even heard that you sometimes forget who’s married to whom.”

On it went in that dream until Mom removed herself, my brother and I in a taxi to a motel where she waited until Dad arrived with our car loaded with luggage and supplies, ready to begin our return trip to California where it was far from peaceful, but everything made some kind of sense and I could find familiar places to pursue my own life unmolested by bickering relatives and, when necessary, hide.  I awoke to see that it was only about 11:30 in the evening.  After getting up for a sip of water I snuggled back under my covers and soon drifted off to sleep once again.

This time my dream carried me forward in time to a period of my young adulthood.  I had returned home from the Army, alive after two years at war.  My family had gotten together for a camping trip in the Southern California desert, one of the things that we really did enjoy doing as a family when I was awake.  In this dream it was very different however.  My parents, my brother and I were in this dream but so too was my grandfather, two cousins and one cousin’s wife, and a very good friend of my brother.  We had established a camp with other campers around us and set out to ‘enjoy’ ourselves.

If this dream would have been real I’m certain we would have ended up dead or arrested.  My cousins, brother, his friend and I raced madly across the desert drinking beer and smoking marijuana while doing hill climbs in a volkswagen bus and flushing out a nest of neo nazis who were engaged no doubt in planning some sort of skullduggery.  We lit a raging bonfire out of which I plucked glowing beer cans bare-handed while we chucked chunks of cactus at each other and surrounding campers.  My parents were islands of serenity in the midst of this chaos but our cousin’s wife became extremely friendly with another camper while my grandfather told stories of riding with the KKK in Georgia.  Somehow we managed to finish dinner without being ejected from the campground and I was soon lying on a cot while my father dug for cactus spines buried in my backside with his pocket knife.  My dream began to dissolve and morph into me lying on the bed clutching a pillow as if to steel myself against the pain of Dad removing the spines that were more deeply buried.  It was now 2:45 in the morning.

I arose at this time to relieve my bladder and take another sip of water.  Sometimes in the early morning my dreams begin to get hung up on some insoluble problem such as how can I remove a glowing beer can from my hand while Dad performs minor surgery with his knife.  In such cases I have to arise and do something to reset my brain and clear it of the troubling, constantly repeating dream.  I turned on the computer and checked the news on the BBC World site; Australia continued to burn while the black rhinoceros was declared extinct and a Venezuelan president was given total power by a rubber-stamp legislative assembly which was about as independent as the Roman Senate was in the third century A.D.  This diversion succeeded in effecting the necessary reset and I soon returned to bed, plumping up my pillows and drawing the blankets up close to my chin to keep out the cold air which was flowing in through the window that I prefer to keep open when I sleep.  I daydreamed about some story that I wished someday to write and before long I was once again fast asleep.

As before, my sleep slipped quickly into a dream state and once again I was at a family reunion, but this one was a good deal more somber than the previous two.  I was much older in this dream; my hair speckled with gray and the beard which would never grow as long as I liked was much thinner now.  I was standing with a cluster of family in a beautiful cemetery on the northeast edge of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  My brother and his wife were there, as was my son and a friend of his, a niece and her husband, two nephews and a small gaggle of children.  And Mom.  The children were doing their best to be good but the sunshine and green grass and sweet mountain air of New Mexico made them want to run and play and pick at each other as children universally like to do.  The young adults were softly sniffling, dabbing at their eyes and keeping a restraining hand on their coiled-spring children.  They had all spent many years of their lives with Grandpa and Grandma at their home in the country, learning about knitting and gardening and literature and family.  Each one of this group had offered some memory of their time spent sitting in a swing in the summer listening to Grandpa’s stories, or helping Grandma to remove a tick from one of the cats or one of the kids.

And then there was us old-timers; the silverbacks, the newly crowned heads of the family.  The kind is dead, long live the king!  Only on this occasion it was the queen who had died.  My sister in law was reading from Psalm 23:  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Tears ran down the faces of my brother and I.  In my brother’s hands rested the urn which contained the ashes of our mother who had passed away peacefully at the age of almost 94.  I was lucky enough to get to Albuquerque in time to see Mom before she passed, and we were all surprised when she recognized me.  Mom was not suffering from Alzheimer’s or anything like that, she was just old and tired and her body and mind were saying ‘enough’.  She didn’t recognize me for the next four days that I was there.  A week after I returned home Mom passed away.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”  Each of the younger adults brought forth a small item that connected them with Mom and put them in the square hole which had been dug next to the urn that contained the ashes of our father.  Betty put a knitted tissue holder in first, followed by Jonathan who placed a black and white photo of him holding up a bluegill caught with Grandpa.  Mom had cleaned and cooked that fish, small as it was.  Jeffrey offered up an old, tattered, stuffed bunny he once found on an easter egg hunt; a bunny carefully placed behind a rock and guarded over jealously by Mom to make sure that no other child walked away with that prize.

“Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.”  My brother leaned over and placed the urn gently among the offerings to her memory.  He lovingly adjusted the urn so that it would remain upright, as Mom had done with us all of her life.  As my brother stood back I stepped forward to place my offering into the little hole; a flask of Dad’s favorite rye whiskey.  It was silly, but I thought of Mom coming to reclaim her position by the side of her husband of sixty years and bringing a libation to help him celebrate the occasion. Dad had been dry for seven years, and I imagined that he would appreciate that touch.

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  The cemetery worker waited a respectful few minutes until we were clearly finished with our memorial, and then he began to fill the hole with dirt from the little pile which sat by the gravestone which now contained the names, dates of birth and dates of death of both Mom and Dad.  They didn’t really get on well in life on Earth and I hoped sincerely that they would have a much better time of it in the life that they were living now.  We turned slowly and walked to our cars, the children gleeful over being freed from captivity for the moment and the rest of us relieved that this painful, heartbreaking duty was over.  We were planning to go into Santa Fe for an early dinner at one of the magnificent restaurants that dot that city but at that moment the alarm on the table by my bed went off and I was snatched back to the world in which i live today.  I quickly punched the silencer on the alarm and lay there for a moment thinking about my dream before rising up to go to work.  I turned my head a bit on the pillow and noticed that it was wet, moistened by tears cried in the night as I remembered my last time together on Earth with my father and mother.

I arose and sat on the edge of the bed as I usually do and rubbed at the sleep in my eyes.  This morning, however, my eyes were clear, bathed by the tears which flowed while I had slept and dreamed.  At last I pulled myself erect and made my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth and hair, get dressed and be on my way to work.  It was as I splashed cold water on my face that I realized that it was Saturday morning; I had forgotten to disarm the alarm for the weekend.  I was not too annoyed by my mistake however, as I had no desire to relive the pain of my goodbye given to Mom years ago.

I knew that there was little likelihood that I would return to sleep in bed, since the alarm went off at the time that I usually got up and got going.  My body was keyed toward beginning the day’s activities at that time and it would require a trick to shut that process down.  In cases like this I have an ace in the hole.  I took a spare blanket and went to the sofa in the living room.  There, I plugged in an old science fiction video tape containing a movie from the 1950’s, “The Deadly Mantis” it was.  I lay down on the sofa with my eyes closed, listening to the familiar dialogue which took my mind off of the fact that I was awake when I wanted to be asleep, and as usual my stratagem worked.  Within minutes of the opening credits and just before the giant bug had eaten it’s first Eskimo victim I was once again fast asleep.

And for the last time that night I fell to dreaming.  This time I was watching a scene in a hospital room.  Lying in the bed was a thin, frail figure whom I recognized with difficulty to be myself.  The hair which I once wore long and the beard which I could not grow long enough were gone now, wiped off of my head and face by the ravages of a disease with which I had wrestled earnestly but which had, in the end, prevailed.  Near the bed was an assortment of pumps and monitors and a ventilator, but only the monitor was being used now, and that for only the most basic of functions; heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure.  The irregular blip of the EKG was becoming slower and the beep, beep…, beep sounded like an old wind-up clock which was in the process of coming to its last few ticks.

Gathered around the bed was my wife, Gretchen, and children Alex and Naomi.  There was nothing being said; there was nothing left to say.  I knew that my last words had been spoken some time in the previous days, and by the same source of knowledge available to dreamers I knew that my aged brother wished he could be there, but he was not doing well himself and waited at home for the news that he dreaded to hear.  I knew than it wouldn’t be long.  Strangely I felt no dread myself.  I sensed the tiredness of the figure on the bed and that he knew that his race had been run.  It was now time to rest.  Beep…, Beep……., Beep……….,  Beep……………………………………………………….

The three figures standing by the bed slumped visibly, and Naomi began to cry softly.  Alex hugged his mother and whispered a couple of words to her.  She nodded assent to some question and Alex left her to go comfort his sister.  I watched as they all hugged each other and turned to leave the room as a nurse came in to begin the last page of my book.  The curtain across the doorway rustled as they exited the room and I became aware that it was getting darker.  My skin tingled and what I could see of the activity in the room began to spin and blend together into a patchwork of light and dark, animate and inanimate, living and dead.

After what seemed like only a few moments the picture began to clear up and I could see that there was a warm, glorious light that suffused the scene from some unseen source.  There was a small crowd of people who became visible and then recognizable. Dad and Mom stood before me, and they looked like I had never seen them before.  I couldn’t tell you what age they were; age didn’t seem relevant there.  It is sufficient to say that they stood before me with a health and vigor and expressions of joy on their faces like I had never seen anywhere before, much mess on them when they were alive.  ‘Were alive’?  They were now so alive that what preceded had only been dim, unhappy shadows.  Dad hugged me and laughed with happiness.  When he let me go he thanked me for that flask of rye with a chuckle and asked if I had happened to bring another one with me.  He then moved aside so that Mom could once again hug her baby.  One by one old friends from my childhood, from Vietnam, and my later years stepped up to hug me or shake my hand, and even the mob of cats which we had cared for and loved over the years were there to rub my legs and accept scratches behind ears, some of which I had not scratched in over seventy years.

At last one figure approached whom I had never laid eyes upon before but whom I somehow knew as well as any of the others there.  She didn’t have a name because I was never able to give her one.  I never had the chance.  Standing before me was the child who was miscarried during my first marriage.  “Hello Dad” she said.  “I’ve waited so long to meet you, and now I see that the wait was well worth it”.  I instantly loved that person and held her tightly against me as emotion swept over me like a giant wave.  Strangely, I felt like crying with joy but the tears wouldn’t come.  My newly discovered daughter knew what I was feeling and smiled.  “Don’t worry Dad, you’re OK.  Tears don’t happen here.”  We all sat down and began what would be an eternity of fellowship, talking and laughing about things we had lived and done and about anything and nothing at all. I was petting old Tiger while Tiffy Girl curled up in my lap and purred.

I was just reaching out to grasp the hand of one of my uncles when the scene began to fade.  The cushion upon which I reclined slowly became the sofa on which I was sleeping in the living room.  The sun was up and a large crow was cawing raucously on the top of a spruce tree in my neighbor’s yard.  The VHS tape had finished playing the movie, rewound, and was playing again;  the giant bug was now crawling up the side of the Washington Monument.  I continued to lie there and think about where I had just been.  I don’t know where heaven is and I don’t invest too much time trying to figure out who will get there and who will not.  Decisions like that are made far above my pay grade.  I nevertheless lay there on the sofa grateful for what I took to be a visit with people who waited joyously for our real reunion and at the risk of sounding morbid, I lost all fear of what awaits me at the end of this life and the beginning of the next.