Many years ago, not long after my first arrival in Eugene, Oregon, which was around 1969, I was invited to attend a Christmas caroling party. A man I knew at that time knew the couple who hosted the annual event and I attended as his guest.
The people in the group would gather together and then travel by car to various homes around the Eugene/Springfield area where old people lived. Some of the old people we visited that night were shut in, they seldom got out of the house, and had little or no social contact because they lived alone. We would enter their homes singing and then sing two or three more carols for them. They had all been told we would be coming, and some of them had cookies and candy waiting for us when we arrived.
It was a big night for them and it was tons of fun for us. I recall entering one old woman's house singing Silent Night as we filed in. Our routine was to sing a song upon entering and then ask the person we had been singing for if he or she had a favorite they would like us to sing for them.
This particular old woman was all but totally deaf. We sang Silent Night for her upon entering and then asked her if there was a favorite she would like us to sing. "Oh please sing Silent Night for me. It has has always been my favorite and I haven't heard it in such a long time," she replied.
The leader of our group smiled and gave us a starting pitch telling us that we should sing Oh come all ye Faithful instead. When we had finished, the old woman thanked us saying, "I have always loved Silent Night. Thank you for singing it so beautifully for me."
That night I met a lot of people; not only the old people that we had caroled for but also people within the caroling group who quickly became close personal friends. Amongst these people there was a woman who was a housemother for a sorority house on the University of Oregon campus. A few years later when two of my sisters joined me in Eugene, I introduced them to the housemother.
Soon after that initial meeting it became a common practice for us to drop by from time to time to have a cup of tea with our other mother, the housemother, who liked to be called simply "mom." We would sip tea, swap stories and laugh at the old times. One of my sisters and the housemother became pretty close friends. My sister would often drop by the sorority and visit with "mom," so they could talk "woman to woman" while I was not there.
It was after just one such visit when I returned from one of my dark sojourns through the city park that I found my sister carefully examining a lamp. It was a cute little thing with a very decorative porcelain base. It seems that the housemother was on the verge of throwing it out when my sister rescued it.
I don't recall what it took to fix it, something simple I know that. My sister was the one who actually repaired it and returned it to the sorority where our other mother, "mom," expressed disbelief that a woman could do something as complex as repair any device that operated with something as complicated and dangerous as electricity.
Thus it was that about a week later another old woman was standing at our door. She was a friend of the housemother and she too had a lamp. This one was an antique floor lamp and she had been told it could not be repaired. I looked at it and I knew it could be repaired.
She left it behind and in a day or two, after I found the correct parts, I repaired it and left it by the door for when she returned. I put a copy of the receipt for the parts on the lamp but I didn't think of charging her for my labor. It wasn't like I was working for her or something. I had simply fixed the old lady's lamp.
That opened the door. That old woman had a bunch of projects she needed help with and she also knew a whole bunch of other old ladies that all needed help. That is actually how it got started. At first I would go through a couple of weeks at at time with nothing to do. But just as often I was booked for two weeks or more with jobs.
That's basically how it was the whole time I was fighting my depression until I worked my way out of the other end of it. Over time the sphere of my work area increased until I was traveling as far south as Phoenix, Arizona, and as far north as the Canadian border to complete projects for various people.
It is important to stress here that even though throughout this time I often felt terribly alone, depressed and valueless I was never really alone. As I have stated previously, the universal forces from beyond continuously held my hand and I was given everything I needed to complete the struggle I was engaged in with my personal demons. When I would find myself broke, all at once a job would come through and I would earn just what I needed to get by for a bit longer. I never had much extra but I always had just enough.
At that time I owned a couple of old worn-out Ford vans which I used as work trucks. One of them had indeed belonged to an old marine who died. After his death it was bequeathed to his grandson who painted the word "Ahimsa" across the front of it. He left his grandfather’s sticker that said, "Semper Fi" attached to the back window.
It was a kind of a camper van but nothing like what I describe as Bobby Weaver's motor home in my satirical novel, The Interstellar Incident. I sold that van to a couple of hippie wannabe kids who intended to drive it from Portland, Oregon to the Burning Man gathering perhaps a dozen years ago.
More and more my work in those days was taking me to Portland, Oregon, and after a while I finally gave into it and moved up there. I had resisted going there for many years because I thought it such a huge place. But from within the gay and lesbian community of Portland and through the family and friends of that gay and lesbian community, I was being kept too busy to turn my back on it.
In time I informally rented a room in a friend's house and I parked myself there. During all of that time I had a computer of one kind or another and I did write occasionally. But I never tried to publish anything and I never wrote anything that I fantasized would ever be published or read by anyone else.
I had given up on that. It had done nothing but bring me down. I repaired things instead. I made my way by using the skills I had been born with that helped me understand how things work. I have a natural inclination, an almost psychic sense, that lets me know what is wrong with something before I have even attempted to fix it.
Of course I have made mistakes, some big ones in fact. But by and large I only need to know a bit about what is not working to know what to do to make it go again. Over the years I have built brand new houses from the ground up and rescued others that were slowly sinking into the dirt. I have unclogged sewers and rebuilt whole residential electrical systems. And yes, I have fixed a couple of lamps along the way as well.
Others who have done this kind of contracting have become financially comfortable, but that never happened for me. It was always a, "hand to-mouth," existence for me, and I seldom was in a position where there was anything extra to fall back on or waste on foolishness of any kind.
In that house where I rented a room there were several other tenants. It was a big old craftsmen style home on three levels. Christmas time was rolling around and of course I had no money to buy anyone anything. I had family that expected me "home" for Christmas so I knew I would not be in Portland for that celebration, but I still felt like I should contribute something to the Portland festivities.
Having nothing else to offer I turned to my computer. I had been toying around with this silly little idea I had for a Christmas card. Among my construction contracts I had participated with a friend who remodeled greeting card stores. As a result I had read many amusing cards and I knew how funny they could be.
So the day before I left town for the holidays, I sat down and wrote out a short story based on that card idea I had. Instead of doing the art work which a card would have required, I wrote out a description for each of the scenes that would have appeared on the card. The whole story was set on a tropical island so there was nothing about it that was anything like a traditional Christmas until the very last line.
I would happily share that card with you on this blog except that it was lost in a hard disk drive crash some years back and I would have to reconstruct it from memory. Perhaps one day I will do that. But that card doesn't belong to me now even though I created it. I gave it to my friends and housemates many years ago.
I printed out the text for my card idea and left it with them on my way out the door early in the day on Christmas Eve. Evidently the group was in the kitchen preparing the Christmas feast when they chose a member of the group to read out my story. He is a wonderful man but he has no patience with anything superfluous. He doesn't like extra words or beating around the bush. His unspoken motto has always been, "If you are gonna say it say it!"
As I was later told he slogged through the story slowly building up to the very last line. And he complained anytime I repeated anything, even though such repetition was all part of the story line I had created. But upon reading the last line to the group the whole place erupted into laughter. They all thought it was one of the funniest things they had heard in a long time.
I had given them something for Christmas which would not fit in a box. But the joy I brought them with my words was as valuable as most of the gifts they later unwrapped. And it was valuable to me as well.
From that experience I was once again reminded that I could write. I have no degree, no formal education that says that I can do any such of a thing. But I knew it inside and that experience was just one of many other similar experiences which reaffirmed what I already knew. The universe was holding my hand again or perhaps I should say still. It is that knowledge and reaffirmation more than anything a university degree can offer, which is the first step down the long road of becoming a published author.