I haven’t used an alarm clock in more than 20 years. I wake up every weekday at 5 a.m. without fail. On the weekends, I stretch it to 6:00, maybe even 7:00 if I force myself. There is something special about those early hours that I imagine connects me with the farmers and early-shift factory-labor people of the past. Nothing is automated at that hour. I shower and shave with a simple razor, nothing electric.
I take the paper (I still get the paper) from the front step and follow the dog out the back door while I glance at the headlines through the dim outdoor lights. I sit at the picnic table and listen to the morning taking shape--the distant highway rumble, a bird or two singing. It’s still dark and I have long given up trying to know the advantage of daylight-saving time. (By the way, I defy anyone to tell me the advantage with any certainty. I love the guy who says, “Oh, it helps the farmers.” Or the wizard who tries to explain how it helps the kids get on the bus. What the heck are they talking about?)
On this particular morning, I breathe in the cool autumn air, and taste the dampness that forecasts some snow today. It was an especially warm October, so many of the trees on this November day remain heavy with leaves, and some are still green. “We’ll be raking at Christmas,” I declare to the dog that glances at me and closes his mouth for a second as if he has to say something and needs to prepare a response. He shortly looks away, seeing a squirrel coming off the tree, and his mouth falls open. Did you ever notice that Labs seem to smile when they breathe through their mouths? I like that. Everyone should smile that much.
I think about the day ahead--the decisions that will be made and the news that will shape people’s lives. As I look at my house and know that my family sleeps warmly inside, I take a moment to thank God for what has already been given me.
A Regular Routine
After the dog is fed, I do a few simple chores to make my wife’s day a little easier (rotate laundry, load and start the dishwasher, pack my son’s lunch, as I do my own), and I hear the familiar sounds of my home. The furnace kicks on and ticks away as the hot water fills the pipes of this ancient 90-year-old heating system. My dad’s retirement clock on the mantle rings the 5:30 reminder, and there is a peaceful feeling about being alive that is inescapable. I throw the dog a scrap of lunch meat as he heads back to his pillow bed, and I close and lock the door behind me in the darkness.
I climb into my truck, now with 130,000 miles (every one of which I put on myself). It was the first new vehicle I ever bought, and I used my dad’s “A-Plan” from Ford Motor Company to get all the discounts. With the money from the trade-in and cash in my pocket, I bought it in 1993. It was my gift to myself for graduating with my Master of Business. The truck had a standard shift and no air conditioning, since nothing is harder on an engine than A/C, and I wanted to get at least 125,000 miles. On this morning, I was 5,000 miles beyond my goal. Since I leave for work at 5:45, I rarely need air conditioning. What about at the end of the day? I roll down those windows and dig that summer highway breeze. It only lasts three months in Ohio. I still think the decision was a good one.
The Simple Folks
I turn to an “oldies” radio station (anyone surprised by that?), and by oldies, I mean the classics from the ‘30s and ‘40s, not The Beatles or Elvis Presley. I’m talking about Billie Holiday and Mel Torme. Billie’s singing “S’Wonderful” by Gershwin this morning--so pretty and bluesy. I rumble down the Interstate and arrive earlier than expected, so I pull into Eddie’s Diner. Three or four regulars are at the counter. Frying up hash browns with onions, Eddie has his broad back to me at first, then he turns, nodding in my direction. His wife comes to “take” my order, which is a nod, suggesting “the usual?” I return the nod and take the mug she offers. “Someday when I hit the lottery, Eddie,” one of the local mechanics says, “I’m gonna call you to be my personal chef. You’ll never have to work in a restaurant again.” Eddie’s head bobs in mock laughter. “Yeah, I’m gonna go home and wait for that day.” “You’ll see,” says the man, smiling and winking at me.
“Ain’t been a good president since Truman,” says Tom, the wandering old-timer who practically lives at the restaurant. We all smile at him. “Hope your families have a beautiful holiday,” he adds out of nowhere. “Will you see your family, Tommy?” I ask. “Oh, yeah,” and relates a long story about the meal his daughter will fix for Thanksgiving. We all know he never had a wife, never had any children. “That sounds great,” I say. Suddenly, remembering he’ll be alone, Tom asks Eddie, “Will you be open on Thanksgiving?” Eddie shakes his head. “No, Tom, but remember where I showed you to go that day, just in case your daughter cancels the big dinner.” Smiling, Tom nods, remembering his friends at the city mission. I finish my breakfast, including three extra slices of bacon at no charge because Eddie knows I love it. I put two dollars on the community stack that pays for Tommy’s meals throughout the day, and Eddie smiles. His wife waves without looking up from her tomato slicing, and I get back in the truck. Sinatra’s singing “I’m a Fool to Want You” from the heart. He recorded it just after Ava Gardner broke his heart for the last time. What a time capsule that recording was! In darkness, I sit in the parking lot at work while the song finishes.
I key into the building and walk to my office without turning on a light. I then turn on the low lamps, avoiding the large overhead one. After I check messages, the phone rings. Someone from one of the field offices who knows I come in early asks if I saw the game last night. We debate the worth of all Cleveland teams--the Cavs, the Browns and the Indians--and eventually he asks me to fill an order for road salt for his area. I take the order and bid him goodbye. Within the next few hours, my staff and supervisors arrive, and the banter is light and friendly, as it usually is before the holidays when spirits are light. Around 10 a.m., I step outside for a breath of air and look at the golden browns and crimson reds that God has painted into the trees. “Thank you,” I whisper. “What a gift to be alive!”
Happy New Year, dear friends--take the time in 2008 to realize the blessings you have and the miracle that a simple life has always been.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org