The Colonel’s Plan – Clearing out for Christmas

Janury 11th, 2018

Dear Daddy —

The Christmas Tree from People’s Drug. Why the circle of chairs, you ask? There was some concern about how the dogs would react to the tree. In days gone by, it was kept in a playpen, to protect it from the cat. The cat loved laying in the playpen under the tree. The dogs were indifferent, chairs or no chairs.

Let me tell you about Christmas. Our first Christmas without you. The first Christmas the world has had without you since 1921. And, in 1921, Christmas would have been celebrated—at least in Pensacola, North Carolina, without streaming music, without CD players or vinyl record players, even without a radio. Your Daddy owned the first radio back in those hills, and neighbors came to visit in the evening just to listen to it. But that was years later.

Christmas would have been celebrated without electric lights on the tree or the house, without telephones so that out-of-town loved ones could call. Your Grandpa and Grandma Rathbone would have had to come through the woods or around the bend in the road to visit the log cabin where you were born. (Although I think your Grandma essentially lived with you anyway. She delivered you.) Your Grandfather Jake Wilson was five years dead, and his wife had married for a third time.

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The Colonel’s Plan – A New Year Without You

January 3rd, 2018

Dear Daddy —

This is the third day of my first year without you. I want to tell you all about Christmas—not that you had time for such things—and all that’s been happening otherwise. But, before I do that, I had to tell you—

I get it!

In one of my favorite Monty Python sketches, Graham Chapman wants to do something about the noisy church bells next door, and he opines, “If only we had some kind of missile!” Well, I DID have some kind of missile… until we gave them to museums.

All those late, endless nights that we spent working, when I was yawning, my eyes were closing, and it was usually cold—because we were usually working outside—I never understood what it was that drove you to work so hard. We worked on cars, we worked on the house, we worked on building shelves to hold the stuff that you kept bringing into the house, we went and picked up the stuff and brought it into the house. And, might I remind you, the stuff included B-52 gun-sights, half-ton antenna mounts, giant darkroom enlargers and 12-foot long gas lasers. Oh, and missiles. Five missiles, At least their noses. Those, at least, you wired up and used for your actual, paying work.

But I never understood how it was that you kept going until all hours. You never seemed tired. You actually seemed cheerful, for a change. Cheerful, that is, until something didn’t go the way you wanted it to. But you were especially cheerful when the rest of us told you that we were tired, bored, cold, and just wanted to stop.

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The Colonel’s Plan – The Pre-Christmas Break

November 29, 2017

Dear Daddy—

The Chocolate House in 2015

I’m going to stop writing for a while, and go back and read what I’ve written. I’m not sure what all I’ve talked about, and I need to take stock. There’s so much ground I need to cover, it’s hard to hold it all in my head. I guess that’s the point of putting it in writing.

Did I talk about the plumber’s first visit, or the day I realized you had not actually run any supply lines through the house? Did I talk about cleaning out your rented storage space? I know I talked a little about how we came to move in here, but did I tell the whole story? How many rooms have I touched on?

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The Colonel’s Plan – Thanksgiving

November 27, 2017

Dear Daddy—

I’ve allowed another long break in writing to happen. It’s been a very busy time, and, of course, it’s been Thanksgiving—our first Thanksgiving without you. Mother’s first Thanksgiving without you in 66 years. It went well. There were irritations. There were arguments. I think that’s the definition of a family holiday gathering.

We ordered a turkey from Maple Lawn Farms. As long as we’ve lived in Clarksville, just around the corner from them, we’ve never done that. I think I was three or four the time, just before Thanksgiving, that Mother drove by and I saw all those turkeys on the lawn and asked, “Are we getting one of those turkeys?”

For some reason, we never did. But this year we did, and my whole family spent the night before in your house. Renee brined the turkey the night before, and got up at four in the morning to start cooking it, so that dinner could be ready by noon. Susan had to work the afternoon shift.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Losing it

November 15, 2017

Dear Daddy—

I suppose it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect to undertake a task as big as this one and never lose my temper; never come to the point where I think maybe I should just walk away; never feel despair.

Of course it’s not reasonable. I’m a human being, and I have feelings. More, I’m a strong human being, and you always told me strong people have strong feelings. Over the course of the past week, those strong feelings have gotten the best of me. I won’t go into detail. What upset me is my problem, not yours, and I have to solve it. And it involves others who don’t deserve to have half of the story told in public (since I’m sharing these letters publicly) without the chance to tell their side of it.

It’s enough to say that things started to get to me, and I came to the point of asking myself, “Do I really care that much about this project? About this house? Am I really willing to commit the rest of my life to maintaining a house that I could not afford to buy on my own?” Because, let’s be honest, I never could. I consider myself professionally successful, but my household income would buy maybe a third of this house you left behind. There are those who would say that it’s a white elephant, and that I’m throwing good money after bad trying to hang onto it. To say nothing of the fact that Mother may need the money that’s tied up in it, someday, so it’s still anybody’s guess whether it can stay in the family at all.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Putting Things Off

November 8, 2017

Dear Daddy—

After some cleanup, this was still between us and my Grandmother Clara’s piano in the music room.

I’m in bed, sick. I don’t get sick very often, but I got this stomach thing four days ago, Saturday. I get very hungry, and, if I don’t eat, I feel like I’m going to throw up. Then, if I do eat, the food never seems to settle well. I haven’t actually vomited, but it’s not pleasant. Saturday was a shame, because it was Yoji’s memorial. Beatrice and Ursula had arranged a wonderful meal for everyone. I ate, but it’s hard to enjoy eating when your stomach is screaming at you.

I keep thinking I’m getting better, but today at work I got hit with a headache on top of the nausea. I had my flu shot, but I feel like I’ve got a touch of something. Mother and Susan have been complaining too, and none of us have eaten the same things. Something may be going around.

Today was my first day that wasn’t all-day meetings, the first in a long time. I was done by about 11:30, and then this illness just hit me like a baseball bat upside the head. Isn’t that perverse? That my body apparently waited until I had a clear schedule to allow me to be sick? That 11:30 meeting, by the way, was scheduled for two hours, but over in 15 minutes. I was reviewing my FY18 operating budget with our administrative team, and they were amazed at how well-prepared I was. I don’t know if you would be proud of me, or ashamed, because my being “well-prepared” consisted of my being reminded that the meeting was coming, realizing I had done nothing to prepare for it, and then making a  last-minute push.

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The Colonel’s Plan – One Clean Table

November 6, 2017

Dear Daddy —

Charles and Dawson are in North Carolina today, staying at the Chocolate House, our vacation home in the mountains that you built over 60 years ago. Like your house here, it’s unfinished, but less so. It’s smaller, so there was less to finish. Dawson sent pictures of your military marker. Your headstone is not yet in place because, ironically, the supplier for the stone itself was killed this past week.

Thanksgiving is coming up, and we’re making plans. Mother wants a Christmas tree in the music room. We’ve never had a tree there before. We’ve never had much of anything in there before, except junk. Although I do dimly remember, when I was in high school, that the piano in the corner was open and available to play, if badly out of tune even then.

So back to Thanksgiving, 2014, when I began cleanup operations. I started in the dining room. I believe, before the holiday itself, I only cleared a walkway around the table. You had so much loose paper piled up, and loose video tapes stacked everywhere. And beneath the loose stuff was box after box of more stuff. As I recall, I carried 12 boxes just of papers to the West hallway upstairs. (One of the boys recently pointed out to me that it’s actually the northwest hallway, as the house intersects parallel on about a 30-degree angle. But “Northwest Hallway” sounds a bit silly to me. It’s the hallway on the side where the sun sets.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Where Are the Damned Hinges?

November 1, 2017

Dear Daddy —

I’ve made window sills for the kitchen and Ethan and Jess’s room. I don’t know if there’s enough sill stock left to do them all. Not counting the basement, there are 29 windows in this house. In 50 years, you had put sills and facings on four of them: two in the room that is now Mother’s bedroom (formerly her office, before that my bedroom, and before that just “the other room”), the laundry room and the only finished bathroom. You had added sills alone on four more windows upstairs, only because people slept in them and wanted to use window air conditioners. We’ve talked about what happened to the central AC unit, at least in part. (Appropriate, because it’s in pieces.)

I’m moving slowly since the big push to get the bathroom upstairs usable. Wait, I didn’t even tell you that, did I? Gary, one of our plumbers, came on October 18th, and installed the kitchen sink, ran the water to the dishwasher, and installed the blue toilet, as well as water and drains to the sinks I had mounted.

About the toilet, may I just ask…

What the hell????!!!!

Why would you take the seat apart? It was new in its box! A matching, regency blue seat for the toilet you had bought. It doesn’t use standard hinges. The seat and lid are held together by a rod which runs through the back, and the hinges hooked on that. I know, because I still have the identical pink one for the other bathroom.

And—dammit!—it is not designed to be taken apart! Nevertheless, when Gary went to install the toilet, he came to me and said, “The hinges are missing from the box.” They weren’t just missing, they were surgically removed! I told him I’d deal with the seat. I looked through a lot of likely places with no luck. It’s possible they went out when the eCyclers took their last round of junk, because they cleaned out a storage cabinet. So I just put the pink seat on the blue toilet for now, so we can have a bathroom. It looks like it belongs in 2001: A Space Odyssey. You wouldn’t understand that reference, even though we watched the movie together way back when on NBC’s The Big Event.

I have not installed your fancy, glass shower doors yet, but they will fit, and I will install them. We’ve hung Jess’s dorm room shower curtain for now. I did hang the door to the hallway, for privacy. No knob yet. I have a long list of things to do, and I’m getting tired. I hope I’m not just going through what you did, back in the 70s, before you just gave up. I don’t want to give up. I want to finish your house.

Anyway, I’ve searched online for that particular model of Church Toilet Seat for the American Standard toilet, circa 1969. There are no hinges for sale. I may have to buy a replacement seat. They still make them in the old colors. Retro bathrooms are in. It’s funny that my bathrooms are only retro because we waited so damn long to install them. You paid $9.00 each for those seats. I know because I have the receipt sitting right in front of me on your desk, dated 8/13/69. I had just turned four.

(That’s not coincidence, by the way. I have many of the papers concerning the house here on your desk and your drafting table, including your complete plans, dated September 3, 1966. I need to have them scanned!)

I have notes below to tell you about the state of the dining room that Thanksgiving three years gone, but I think I’ll wrap this up for tonight. I still have cleanup to do upstairs, and I don’t have the energy to finish the story right now.

I’ll just say, the hinges, Daddy! Where are the damn hinges?

Love, Steven


The Colonel’s Plan: Anniversary

One year ago tonight, my father left us. No more words this evening, except rest in peace, Daddy. It’s not the same world without you.

The Colonel’s Plan – A Hoarder’s Kitchen in Autumn

October 30th, 2017

Dear Daddy —

It’s been almost two weeks since I wrote. I’m trying to balance my desire to keep up this project with my desire to stay healthy. Every day I put 20 things on my list of things to do today, and I get about 15 done, if I’m lucky. I’m trying not to beat myself up about those five or so undone things, but they do pile up.

The week of the 16th, I had four doctor’s appointments (not all mine—one for Christian, one for the cat) and twelve scheduled meetings. Fitting all that in was exhausting and left me very little quiet time during which I was still conscious. So no writing was happening.

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