The Parting Glass

The Parting Glass
The State Fair was a Hank thing. In the past 33 years I can count on less than one hand the times I was there without him. I didn't know if I should go this year because I was afraid I couldn't handle it, but Dan, a friend of Hank's, works in the K9 State Police show, so on Labor Day our friend Meghan and I decided to go to see him. A day that I had dreaded turned out to be, well, magical. Very hot, but magical.  

After visiting Dan we meandered through the Horticulture Building.  I had such an other worldly feeling.  Not pushing Hank in his wheelchair at the Fair felt so empty and strange, but on we went and meander we did.  

We made our way to The Eatery where we bought a chicken tender meal, always a Hank Klueber State Fair staple.  We toasted to Hank with the tenders, and just sat like we would had Hank been with us. We were present with the people, and the noises and smells.  It was peaceful and the air felt thick with grace, like it had always felt with him.  We never rushed with Hank, it was always a moment by moment time.  So we sat, ate our tenders and fries, cried some, and sat some more. When we felt ready, we got up and moved on. 

We debated about going into the Art and Home Center to see the quilts, and the paintings and photography, and that great toy circus exhibit on the top floor that is always the same but has a beautiful old timey feel.  We decided instead to measure ourselves, and moved on to the Center of Progress Building.  On our way to the side entrance we saw a friend I hadn't seen since Hank passed. Linda works every year in the Pan-African Village, and we've always made it a point to stop and pay her a visit.  She shed some tears with us, sharing how it just didn't feel right without Hank there.  She said, "Hank DID the Fair!  And if he had a dollar for everyone who loved him he would have been a very wealthy man!"  My heart swelled.  I guess you never stop feeling proud of your kids.

The Dairy Building was our last main stop, because here was another place where we relaxed and stayed awhile. Here is where we would all share a gigantic turtle sundae that Hank would absolutely delight in, and sometimes a big ol' glass of sugary lemonade. (He had been on a strict diet for years, but on Fair days it was no holds barred.  We even devoured his favorite fried dough nuggets in his honor on the way out.  We toasted with those too.) So we sat quietly near the butter sculpture for who knows how long. We enjoyed just being there.

When we had first entered the Fair there was music in the distance.  We'd arrived just in time to hear a wonderful Irish group called The High Kings sing their last two songs.  Their final tune was  "The Parting Glass," and in retrospect I can see that it had set the tone for the day. It is a heart-stirring song about, well, parting, and it felt like Hank was singing it to us.  Hank had a lovely vocal tone, and I always thought that if he could have talked he would have had a beautiful singing voice.  Yes, Hank singing "The Parting Glass," maybe with a rousing chorus sung with my Dad who couldn't carry a tune in a basket, but who was always happy to raise the voice that God had given him.  I could picture Hank and my Dad, arm around shoulders, singing that poignant Irish melody.  The words shot straight to my heart. Hearing that song was a gift, and I will carry it with me forever.

Thank you Hank (and your Grandpa) for raising my heart with your song. Thank you for your incredible light, for your big and hearty life, and for the many magical, grace filled State Fair days.  

"So fill to me the parting glass and gather as the evening falls
And gently rise and softly call goodnight and joy be to you all."

Marty and The Birds

Marty and The Birds

Hank's Dad, Marty, has been a bird man longer than I have known him.  When we were first together, he had his Yellow-naped parrot, Stanley, and was raising several parakeets and cockatiels.  Together we acquired a Meyers parrot that we named Ethel (after my mother) and a Senegal parrot named Frank.  Over the years Marty’s passion for raising the small birds waned, but Stanley, Ethel and Frank stayed on.  Now there is just Stanley, who is 38.

Shortly after our Hank passed away in March, Marty began being visited by a female robin. Indoor birds had always been his thing, but now here was a wild bird showing up at his bedroom window every morning and throughout the day...pecking at the window and making her presence known.  Marty named her Henrietta.  (Hank's formal name was Henry so this seemed like the right way to go.)

Every morning Marty would text me and give me a report of Henrietta's (now affectionately known to us as "H") comings, goings, and pretty insistent window tappings.  He had learned early on to recognize H by her specific features because she flew around him often throughout the day and would let him get quite close.  One day she even followed him into his studio by his garage, did a quick sweep around the room, flew out, landed on a little branch and just looked at him.  H had become his friend, and I was growing very fond of her by proxy.

A few weeks went by, maybe months (right now time feels foggy to me) and lo and behold H got herself a boyfriend.  Since Hank's middle name was Vincent, H's newfound love became Vince and yes, we called him V.

So everyday Marty watched as H and V flew around and started to hang out more and more in the tree by his bedroom window.  H had begun a nest there when she was first visiting but nothing came of it.  Now, with V on board, things got busy.

Marty called me one morning and told me that they were really serious about this new dwelling.  So Marty went into his garage and found an old tarp that had threads hanging from it.  He began pulling threads and laying them on the grass by the tree.  H and V  scooped up the thread pieces, added them to their nest, and Marty became a proud participant in the building of their home.

Things really started cooking, and H was staying in the nest most of the time.  She had learned to trust Marty, so she was fine with him watching her and keeping track of the soon-to-be family's progress.  However, when I was there I was very careful to stay back from the window because she didn't know me.  We wanted to do everything we could to keep our bird friends feeling safe.

What a time this was,  what a perfect, beautiful time.  Through our sadness at no longer having Hank with us, we'd found a little family of birds to focus on, talk about, and truly enjoy.  God gave us those birds...I am convinced of that.

Not long after H started sitting consistently in the nest, two little heads popped up.  I couldn't believe how quickly this was happening.  (Those of you who are real wild bird watchers will probably find none of this very fascinating, but to us it was all a miracle of timing, and of love.)  One of the heads reached up higher than the other, so Marty named him Stretch.  The other sort of bobbed up and down so, you guessed it, he was Bob.  Of course we don't know if they were male or female, but little boys they were to us.

Marty told me that if I wanted to see any of the action that I had better get over there pretty soon.  Having raised birds himself he had a sense of how fast things would go, so off I went.

I sat in a gray chair in Marty's bedroom and just looked at H as she rested so patiently and lovingly with her little ones.  I was content watching her, being with her in that peaceful way.  Suddenly V swooped in with a mouthful of worms, Stretch and Bob's heads came flying up and in their mouths went the food.  It was amazing to me, and I was so grateful that I was there to see that.

As I write this, I know that all of this served my mother heart in a deep way.  My longing for Hank seemed to have been given a place to land.

Marty gave me daily reports on the growth of S and B, and I went over about a week after they had hatched, sat in the gray chair, and watched.  I couldn't believe how big they had gotten.  But while I was there they were just sitting in the nest with their beaks wide open, waiting for one of their parents to return and fill them.  I couldn’t watch for very was hard for me to see them so hungry and vulnerable, and I was worried about them.

As they grew, I was so afraid they would fall out of the nest.  Everyday I asked Marty if he thought they would be okay and he always said, “We’ll see.” And then one day there they were, sitting on the tree branch, NOT falling off and, in what seemed like a flash, they were gone.  There was no sign of them anywhere.  By God it appeared that they had made it! They had made it through this incredible, beautiful, scary process.

I guess somehow we all make it through this beautiful, scary process.  Some of us go though it longer than others, and some processes are scarier than others, but we all make it through to whatever our end is or might be.

I don't know how old Hank was when I stopped praying for him to be able to walk and talk.  I'd spent so many years watching the physical milestones of other children go by him. Gradually I came to accept, and I believe he did too, that his body was his body and that we would always work to make his the best body for him that it could be, the best of all of who he was that he could be.  So, my prayer for him became simply that he would live to his highest potential.  I think he did that.  

Now I pray that my loved ones and I follow Hank’s beautiful lead. I hope that H, V, S, and B do that, and I hope that you do too.

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