The Doobie Brothers have long been one of my favorite bands and I was grateful for the opportunity to see them again at the Wharf at Gulf Shores on the evening of July 19. It had been a very stormy morning and I worried that the concert might be a little soggy. But the evening turned out to be a beutiful, warm and humid, but ok for an outdoor concert in the evening.
"Jesus is just alright with me"is one of my favorite Doobie songs and I carried Dashboard Jesus into the concert to take his picture during that song (Call me sentimental). Imagine my delight when they opened their set with that perenniel favoerite. The response of the people around me to my whipping out my plastic Jesus to take his picture with Doobies was great. Once again, DBJ evangelizes. (You can see the picture on his blog).
The Doobie Brothers sounded great for a bunch of geriatric guys. They played all my favorites: Takin it to the streets, Black Water, China Grove, Listen to the Music.
I was not nearly as excited about seeing Peter Frampton as I was baout seeing the Doobie Brothers, but he was enjoyable too! All-in-all a gereat way to spend a summer evening at the Beach.
I spent the weekend of August 18-20 at Gulf Shores, Alabama with John Norton and Monica Bertolino. John rented a condo for the weekend because of the Doobie Brothers and Peter Frampton Concert.
Monica and I took the Ferry from Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island to Ft. Morgan on the west end of Gulf Shores. (These 2 forts made up the defense of Mobile Bay from the revolutionary war era until WW2) That ferry did not exist when I lived in Mobile and it offers an alternative way to get over to Baldwin COunty Beaches. It was kinda stormy, but a fun 45 minute ride noetheless.
It was an off-and-on stormy weekend, but we got some good quaity time on the beach and at three pretty good restaurants: Friday evening at Happy Harbor (across from the Flora-Bama), Saturday evening at Ginny Lane at the Wharf, and Sunday at Cobalt on Alabama Point. Local Seafood (and desserts)are dong violence to my weight loss. But I am back exercising again.
I have been in Mobile for just over a week. I am still adjusting to the reality of being on sabbatical. Like each summer's vacation, the first week or so, I am still remembering 20 things per day that I did not get done before I left; 10 things per day that I could have done differently, and worrying about how this or that will get done. It is one of the reasons I have always tried to take my full month of vacation at once each summer. The first week of that month, I will still be at work. I have feeling it will take a little longer this summer. But that is okay. It is, in a since, laying in the bed I made for the last 10 years when I had my hands firmly embedded in so much of the day to day running of the Newman Center. In that context, I can expect phone calls until I leave the country in September, and I welcome them.
At the same time, I settling into my very part-time gig here at St. Ignatius. The people of the parish have received me warmly and really embraced my preaching style. They are kind to say things like "forget going back West at the end of the year, we could use you here." I assure them that at the end of 2 months they will be willing to let me go ;) It is strange living in a Diocesan rectory. As one might expect, there is nothing approaching "community life" among the guys who live in my house. I have a feeling that this is exacerbated by the reality that it is summertime. They do not share prayer or meals and are busy with their lives. We come and go without accountability to each other. I presume they check in with each other in the context of their work on the parish staff. But as I am not part of that, I feel completely disconnected. They are really nice guys and I am enjoying my contact with them, but it certainly reinforces my love for community life (warts and all). I am grateful for the place to lay my head and for the little bit of ministry that I am doing.
I am missing Tucson some - especially the Newman Center and the Dominican Community. Some part of each day I have been writing thank you notes for gifts I received in the last couple of months. That means that each day, Iam reading cards and notes adn remembering the special time that has been my separating and leaving a home of 10 years.
I have had fun connecting with some people here - During this week, I have spent time with my John Norton, my best friend here in Mobile and his girlfriend, Monica. We had a nice evening out at Felix's Fish camp my first night in town and a great Italian meal on Friday. Ihave also seen my friend Jennifer Duke Lenoir - recently returned to Mobile - a few times. On Sunday, I went to Pensacola to see 2 friends from Tucson: Juliette Moore and Michael Underwood. Juliette retired from the UofA a few years ago. She had been a music minister at Newman for 13 years. Ibaptized Michael 2 years ago. He is in the Air Force adn is assigned to NAS Pensacola for training. It was a fun tme reconnecting with friends and reconnecting with Pensacola.
Monday of this week, Iwas blessed to attend the funeral of Judy Johnson, the mother of Bob Johnson who was in my high school class. I did not know Judy and really went to support Bob - his mother had died quite suddenly. The funeral was a beautiful tribute to a beloved woman.
I have likewise enjoyed reconnecting with Mobile. I only lived here as a teenager and, while vaguely aware of the historic nature of this city, I never really appreciated either its beauty, its grace, or its grandeur. I have, in the last week been reading a lot about Mobile's history. When I have needed to get out of the house, I have been visiting and taking photos of Mobile's beauty. I have become kind of obsessed with live oak trees. Mobile's nickname is "the Azalea City," and one is certainly aware in the spring how appropriate that is. But the Spanish Moss bedecked Live Oak Trees which form a canopy over the main historic thoroughfares of Mobile could easily provide a different nickname: the Live Oak City. After marveling at the size of several trees, I remembered that I had seen the supposed oldest Oak in Mobile when I was in high school. A simple Google search helped my find it again and I was able to once again be impressed by a 300+ year old tree. I have provided some other pictures of Mobile's live oaks as well.
Part of my reason for coming to Mobile as part of my sabbatical was to connect with my family here. It is the part of the sabbatical that is the least defined for me. I have seen my mom, sister, and neices in the last week, but not nearly enough. This is going to take more effort on my part.
JULY 2-5, 2014 - I was not able to get everything done I needed to before going to the Provincial Chapter, so after a couple of days of fun in the Bay Area, I had to return to Tucson to finish sorting and packing my things and to wrap up a few loose ends. My departure time kept getting pushed back from July 1, to noon on July 2, to 3 pm on July 2, to 4 pm on July 2nd. I needed to hit the road - psychologically I needed to finally be finished in Tucson. 2 months is a long time to say goodbye and I needed to make a clean break. But I slao had a pretty clear practical deadline as well. Iwas scheduled to celebrate the 4:30 PM Mass at St. Ignatius on Saturday July 5 and Mobile is a solid 3 day drive from Tucson.
I finally pulled out of Tucson at about 6:30 PM on Wednesday evening. El Paso would be my first stop. Then on to San ANtonio. To New Orleans the 3rd Day and on into Mpbile on Saturday morning. All went smoothly and Imade those stopsaccording to plan. I arrived so late into El Paso on the first night that I was not able to get together with anyone. Ichecked into a hotel and got a good night's sleep in preparation for the next few days of travel. I was able to get together with the family of Megan Winfrey for dinner on Thursday night in San Antonio. That was a welcome break from te road. The trip to New Orleans was relatively easy despite a major traffic delay due to an accident ahead of me on I-10 between San Antonio and Houston. I made a couple of stops along the way, but was really anxious to get this road trip finished. On Friday night Iventured into the French Quarter for the evening to watch the fireworks over the River. It was late and I was tired and the French Quarter felt way too crowded and unsafe soIcalled it a night. I allowed myself to sleep in a little on Saturday morning as Ihad only a 2 hour drive to Mobile. I arrived at St. Ignatius around 1:30 pm on Saturday to find out that not only was I scheduled to celebrate Mass at 4:30, but I was also to hear confessions at 3:30. I was able to get many of my things unpacked in the interim. Ihave arrived. Let the Sabbatical truly begin.
JUNE 30 - On Sunday, I met my dear friend, Bobby Watson and his sons, Nick (my Godson)and Matt in Oakland and we took BART to the City for an afternoon of Giants baseball (vs. the Reds). The only problem was that Sunday was Gay Pride Parade day in San Francisco, which meant that more than a million people decided to ride BART that day. I have been on crowded subways before but this was crazy. We made it the City with very little incident, but the walk tot he ballpark was quite a different story. We saw things that nobody should have to explain to their 10 year old. It was, as is expected, way over the top and completely inappropriate, but nothing that a day at the ballpark could not cure. Unfortunately the Giants lost, but Iwas really there to spend time with the Watsons. I went back to San Jose with them and spent the night. They took me to the airpost this morning for my flight back to Tucson and my final days of life there.
California is an amazing state. And the SF Bay Area is, in my humble opinion, the best of it. The whole region holds a huge part of my heart. The land itself has a lot to offer, but it is really the people who are there that keeps me coming back: friends from the last 25 years who have become family to me. I always feel slightly cheated when I have managed to eek out a few days in Oakland, or San Francisco, or Berkeley, or San Mateo, or San Jose; cheated because it is never enough. I am grateful for the last week. It was, in many ways, the beginning of my Sabbatical (which technically starts today). The Province Assembly was great, but I also got to spend a few hours with various friends.
I love that I can still be surprised by all that the Bay Area has to offer. On Friday, I drove up the very familiar San Mateo Coast from Half Moon Bay to the City, taking in the salt air and rugged beauty of a little hidden gems that many people don't know about (Princeton, Montara, Pacifica). The real surprises came on Saturday when my dear friend, Carrie, took me to the Sacramento Delta Region and showed me some of California's forgotten history. I know a little about the region because of Dominican history which settled our Province in places like Benicia and Antioch. But there are a lot of little communities that were at one time, very important to life and commerce on the huge rivers that feed the SF Bay. We went to the little community of Rio Vista, northeast of Antioch. Still a thriving little bedroom community, Rio Vista boasts an amazing bar called Foster's Bighorn. Its original proprietor, Foster, was a big game hunter who decorated the walls of his bar with the trohy heads of exotic species. While seemingly at odds with Bay Area sensativites, this exotic little watering hole is definitely worth the visit and represents a bygone era. I also stopped in to see the little Catholic Church in Rio Vista. St. Joseph's betrays the Portuguese roots of the local populace in its stained glass, whihch features both St. Isabella and St. Anthony of Lisbao. The real glory of this Church's decor is the huge window which features both the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (made more sweet by the fact that we were there on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart).
The visit to the Church afforded another pleasant surprise. When we arrived, we found the door locked. A gentleman who was seated on the front lawn reading offered to open the doors for us. Iguessed him to be the Pastor, but he told us he is a retired priest. I introduced myself and it turns out we had known each other before but have not seen each other since before I entered the Order (24 years). It was Fr. Dick Bane, who was an associate Pastor at St. Bart's in San Mateo during the time I worked there in the late 80's. We have both aged enough that we did not immediately recognize each other. What a serendipitous encounter!
After Rio Vista, we took a couple of ferries and a number of levy-top roads to the forgotten communities of Walnut Grove and Locke. Walnut Grove was, at one time, a thriving immigrant community with Japanese adn chinese laborers. The japanese community was still large until the Pearl Harbor attacks. There were also large chinese communities in Walnut Grove and neighboring Locke. The Asian immigrants worked in surrounding agriculture and in river commerce and transportation. Today there are many artisan shops in the little town and more than a few people still working in the Delta's agriculture. We had dinner at a little Delta eaterie at Wimpy's Marina, a drink at Locke's famous watering hole, 'Al the Wops,' and dinner at Guistie's Italian Restaurant just outside Walnut Creek. The hour-long drive back to Berkeley provided a great opportunity for more catching up with Carrie and Ifelt really blessed to have two days with her at the beginning of this year of Grace.
JUNE 30: The last evening of our Province Assembly, I was in the Common Room (rec room) at St. Albert's Priory and I overheard some of our younger friars rummaging through the common room cabinets looking for somewthing to mix with Tequila. They settled upon Squirt lemon-lime and one of them said "it'll be like a margarita." I could not help bu think this is the kind of conversation that takes place in Fraternity houses all the time: just looking for something, ANYthing to mix with the liquor on hand. It was a funny memory/juxtapostition.
But it also got me thinking about the nature of fraternity. I have belonged to a lot of fraternities through the years: I grew up in an all-boy family with 3 brothers, I went to an all-men's military school, I am a member of Pi Kappa Phi collegiate fraternity, and finally, I am a Dominican Friar. These experiences share a lot in common: a certain amount of hazing, definite initiation rituals, a lot of testosterone-fueled competiveness and bravado, lots of back-slapping and good-natured ribbing, some not-so-good-natured conflict, and, above all, a strong sense of belonging.
I really enjoyed our Province Assembly. We are a small Province: only 130 of us; but we don't see each other often because we are spread thinly over a huge territory. We have these Assemblies, on average every 4 years. There is always business to get done and, hopefully, that is pretty painless. But the real value of a Province assembly is FRATERNAL. We come together to celebrate what it means that we are Dominican Brothers. We fete our brothers who have been ordained for long years (This year Fr. Felix celebrates 65 years!), we remember those who have gone before by celebrating one of the liturgies in our cemetary among the graves of our deceased brothers, we gather with our classmates and othersof our "generation," we catch up on the current news, and we look forward to the near future. The same stories are told and retold. We laugh. We cry. We share a toast and a blessing. And we hold each other up in prayer. In the end what is best accomplished is a reminder that we are not alone in this life we have chosen. We entered into an Order, a Province, a Community. We have pledged our lives to each other "jusque ad mortem," and the essence of our life is best lived and celebrated in all that means to be FRATERNITY.