Rich Wilhelm

Archive for the ‘marriage’ Category

The Moments

In Cliff Hillis, fatherhood, Laurel Hill Cemetery, marriage, Uncategorized on May 30, 2016 at 9:45 am

My younger son Chris and I were cruising down the Schuylkill Expressway early on a recent Saturday morning, one of the only times you can legitimately use the word “cruise” when describing a trip down that legendarily congested road. As we headed east, our friend Cliff Hillis was advising us to hang on to the moment, once it begins. Not to get stuck in the moment, but to catch a glimpse of the ephemeral nature of life and to realize when you are in the process of having a moment that you’re never going to forget.

Cliff wasn’t physically with us in the car, but his Song Machine CD was. Chris is slowly embracing pop music, one song at a time, so it took some repetitions of the first few tunes on the CD before we got to “Hang On To The Moment.” Once we did though, I realized that hanging on to the moment is one of the primary items on my agenda right now.

Chris and I were headed to Laurel Hill Cemetery, making “Hang On To The Moment,” a appropriate soundtrack. Imagine the infinite amount of life moments represented in a cemetery holding more than 80,000 permanent residents!

We were on the way to witness the removal of the General Meade tree, a Norway Maple more than 160 years old. This tree had shaded the grave site of General George Gordon Meade ever since his funeral in 1872. The tree was beautiful but had reached the end of its natural life.

Think about the moments that tree silently witnessed. Of course, the Meade funeral was the most famous. Meade’s body was brought to the cemetery via the Schuylkill River and President Ulysses S. Grant delivered a eulogy. But the tree was witness to hundreds of other, smaller, funerals over the course of its lifetime as well.

Once we arrived at Laurel Hill, Chris and I observed the early stages of the tree removal and then took a walk deep into the south section of the cemetery. At one point, we were as almost as far away from Laurel Hill’s gatehouse as you can get, while still being in the cemetery.

We visited the small mausoleum of William C. Dulles, a 39-year-old lawyer who had the misfortune of boarding the Titanic in 1912. Here was a man who was forced to become suddenly and grimly aware of the limited amount of moments in one’s life. How did he react? Very little is known about Dulles, so we don’t know what those last moments of his were like. We only know what is noted, somewhat oddly, on his tomb: “Died from Titanic, April 15, 1912.”

Not far from Dulles lies Charles Vansant, the first victim of the infamous Jersey shore shark attacks of 1916. He was just 25 years old when he waded into the surf with a dog 100 years ago this July 1. Again, not much is known about Vansant these days, only that his quarter century of life moments ebbed that summer day, as he was surrounded by shocked family members and onlookers.

While in the south section, we also visited the stump of another recently removed tree. It was under this one that fictional character Rocky visited the grave site of his also-fictional wife, Adrian, and contemplated the moments they shared.

So, yes, a walk through Laurel Hill can be a reminder to hang on to the moment. But of course, you shouldn’t need a  graveyard stroll to get what Cliff is saying in his song. Each time our life changes in some way, we’re invited to hang on to the moment.

The day I met Donna.

The day Donna and I got married.

The days that our sons Jimmy and Chris were born.

The day my dad died.

These, and some more private to mention here, are the days when I was being gently told to hang on to the moment. I’ve tried to listen and do just that, but the moments get so slippery after awhile, it can be hard to hang on, especially as the mundane details of everyday life threaten to swallow up every waking moment, including those when one ought to be sleeping.

During the next two weeks, we will celebrate the end of Chris’ middle school career and Jimmy’s high school graduation. Moving on to high school and college will surely bring changes for our boys–changes that we can tell have already begun–and life will never be the same for any of us.

It is an exciting time. A sad time. A scary time. A time of change and growth and opportunity. A time during which I want to wrap my wife and our sons up in a huge hug that lasts a long time, even as Donna and I wave the boys in the direction of their futures and just tell them, “Go for it, whatever it is.”

And it’s a time to hang on to the moment.


Too Much Thyme on My Hands

In fatherhood, journal, journal keeping, marriage, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity on April 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm



Earlier this week, Donna and I made two dinners in a row that featured fresh basil. As often happens when I’m dealing with herbs and spices, my mind drifted to an essay I wrote quite a few years ago called “Too Much Thyme on My Hands.” It was about spice racks and about having too much/not enough thyme/time on one’s hands.

Plus, it gave me permission to craft sentences that involved multi-level spice/Styx lyrics puns. Now, that’s high concept.

I had to search hard on my old blog website, but I finally found “Too Much Thyme on My Hands” back among my February 2009 entries. I am posting it below, since time and what I do — and could do — with it has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

For now, I am posting this exactly as I wrote it. “I’m just going to leave this here,” as people seem to be fond of saying on social media these days. I will note, though, that the 11-year-old and 6-year-old I mention are now 18 and 13, headed off to college and high school in the fall. That’s what time does, you know.

As for me, the fact that I originally wrote the following piece seven years ago says everything I need to know right now about the acceleration of time.

I don’t really subscribe to the whole “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” philosophy. I think it’s way too simplistic. But one thing I do know: generally speaking, men dig spice racks; women, not so much.

I vaguely remember when Donna and I got married and set up housekeeping in 1992. I mentioned the inherent coolness of having a spice rack in our kitchen. Donna was decidedly noncommittal on the issue. As it turned out, Donna thought that the idea of a specific rack for spices, to be displayed on a kitchen wall, was kind of silly.

Since that time, most men I’ve spoken to on the spice rack issue have admitted to their enjoyment of the concept, while most women have expressed opinions similar to Donna’s. There are exceptions, of course, in much the same way as there are women who actually enjoy progressive rock band Rush, despite the oft-told-tale that Rush is very strictly “a guy thing.” (In fact, it was a Rush concert review in which I first encountered the phrase “sausage party” to describe a group consisting entirely of men.)

Anyway, I bring all this up because today Donna and I cleaned out a cupboard in our kitchen. The cupboard contains a lazy susan which had gotten overrun through the years with all manner of grocery products, including quite a few little plastic jars of various spices. When we did our cleanout today, Donna and I established a few policies in order to be consistent in what got discarded and what did not. We determined that any spices that were opened but did not contain any discernible “sell by” or “use by” date would be thrown away, in order to most successfully achieve the goal of cleaning out this little corner of our kitchen as much as possible.

While doing this cleanout, we found at least three (and maybe four) opened, but undated, containers of thyme. Clearly, we had too much thyme on our hands, though it was a mystery to us how we actually accumulated all this thyme. However, adhering to our pre-established policy, which we believed to be sound, and not knowing when the next time we’d use thyme would be, we ditched all the thyme. Now, we have no thyme in our house.

When you think about it, is it any wonder we had too much thyme on our hands? I mean, when I think about my life over the last five or ten years, I think about how we’ve often gotten so caught up in getting from the beginning to the end of any particular day that it’s become easy, very easy, to lose track of both the thyme, and the time, that we really have.

The result of all this, it seems, has been this unbelievable acceleration of time, in which Donna and I have suddenly been homeowners for more than ten years, and we’ve got kids who are 11 and six years old. And, of course, we take a peek in our cupboard and discover at least three, and maybe four, separate containers of thyme.

I believe this is what noted singer/songwriter David Byrne was referring to when he wrote,”Well, how did I get here?” in the Talking Heads song, “Once In A Lifetime.” Interestingly, Byrne was much younger when he wrote that than I am now, but he was clearly onto something.

So. How to deal with the loss of all that thyme? And time? First of all, it’s a good idea to reflect on the notion that the time I’ve spent being married to Donna and raising Jimmy and Chris with her hasn’t been lost at all. It has been time very well spent. Also, I’ve realized that the time I have left from this moment (spent with the amazing music of Thomas Dolby, a glass [or two] of wine, a pen and a notebook) onward is to be savored, much like thyme, used in a particularly good recipe, is meant to be savored. Of course, we no longer have any thyme in our kitchen, but we can pick some up at the supermarket the next time we need it. That is the huge difference between thyme and time.

Shiny Happy People, Revisited

In love, marriage, R.E.M., Uncategorized on March 12, 2016 at 4:02 pm

IMG_1027It was 25 years ago — March 12, 1991 — that R.E.M. released Out of Time, their seventh full-length studio album. It proved to be a career-changing release for the band. Not only that, Out of Time became the soundtrack to a pivotal time in my own life. This was true of R.E.M. albums before and after Out of Time but probably never more so than it was with Out of Time.

I don’t always remember where or when I bought some of the albums that have grown to be my favorites, but I remember very well the late afternoon — or maybe it was lunchtime? — that I acquired Out of Time.

No, it was definitely late afternoon. In any event, I know exactly who I was with when I bought Out of Time. I was with my girlfriend, Donna.

This was new to me. The whole girlfriend concept, that is; I had bought R.E.M. albums before. Donna and I had been on our first date just a few weeks earlier and everything was new to us when we walked into Sounds of Market that afternoon. New, but already promising.

We walked deep into Sounds of Market, a Philadelphia institution kitty-corner from the monolithic John Wanamaker building, and quickly found Out of Time, which was the object of our quest. The album was available on both CD and vinyl and I pondered which format in which to buy it. I briefly considered buying one of each, but oh, how indulgent and ridiculous that seemed! I opted for the CD, which was, after all, the audio wave of the future.

Regrets, I’ve had about three dozen. Not buying Out of Time on vinyl that day is one of the minor regrets worth mentioning.

Early reviews indicated the Out of Time was R.E.M.’s “love” album, and in their 25th anniversary retrospectives, musical pundits are still calling Out of Time R.E.M’s love album. But, in typical R.E.M. fashion, Out of Time presents few straightforward looks at the subject matter du jour. You’ve got your obsessive love (the massive hit, “Losing My Religion”), your dark love (“Low” and maybe “Country Feedback”), your uncertain love (“Me In Honey”). Out of Time is a gentle album, a retreat from the rockier tracks on their previous album, Green, but it’s not necessarily an easy album. Love is, after all, awesome but complex.

Out of Time is deceptively complex.

One song does seem to be fairly on-the-nose when it comes to expressing the basic concept that love can bring happiness. That song is called “Shiny Happy People.”

Many serious R.E.M. fans loathe “Shiny Happy People.”

I do not hate “Shiny Happy People,” but consider the context. It was purely coincidental but, the more I was listening to Out of Time as 1991 progressed, the deeper Donna and I were falling in love. As far as I was concerned, Donna and I were the shiny happy people Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and special guest Kate Pierson were chirping about. And I was totally OK with that.

I’ve often pondered the hatred that people have toward “Shiny Happy People.” I think some fans just dislike because it is quite atypical of the R.E.M. sound that they grew to love as 1980s college kids. This simply wasn’t what R.E.M. was supposed to sound like. I believe that even today, there are fans of R.E.M.’s ’80s work who have never recovered from the betrayal of “Shiny Happy People.”

Of course, there are people who might not have cared as much about  R.E.M. as serious fans, but still hated “Shiny Happy People.” I think, for those people, it wasn’t the “happy” that annoyed them so much as it was the “shiny.” Most people are generally in favor of the happiness of others, but nobody really enjoys watching other people flaunt their happiness. You know, being all shiny about being happy.

But that’s what we are at the beginning of a good relationship, don’t you think? Shiny and happy. We want other people to know that we’ve found love, and occasionally, most of us can be kind of obnoxious about it.

Donna and I are still together, 25 years to the day that we entered Sounds of Market for me to buy Out of Time. To be honest, the “shiny” that we were feeling that year has faded a bit. A quarter-century of life and love and all that entails will do that to two people. We’re slightly tarnished but we can still see and feel the happiness.

“Slightly Tarnished Happy People” never would have been the hit that “Shiny Happy People” was. But it demonstrates nicely the complexity of love hinted at by Out of Time.








Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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