Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Flannery Paradigm - Part One (Ragean)

Just because you sometimes hear voices in your head, or occasionally hear cartoon characters speaking to you, or the “mystical orbs” (that Ghost Experts seem to think are spirits, but are really dust) appear every now and again, it does NOT mean that you are insane.  It may mean you have some slight brain damage or epilepsy (my excuses), but does NOT mean that you are insane.  According to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

According to Mr. Einstein’s definition, our Nation (possibly the entire World) is Insane.

I am sure you have often heard the phrase “History repeats itself.”  I believe that it is going to continue to repeat itself until we get it through our collective consciousness that things will stop ending badly when we actually cause things to be improved, be better, be acceptable:  when we change what we are doing!

Having been raised in the family of a Christian Church Minister who was exceptional at sermons, I have learned that the way to tell a story of any type is in a basic format:  Preface, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Summation.  So, that is how I shall proceed.

Consider this the conclusion of the Preface.

PART ONE – The Beginning (or How My Upbringing Helped to Make Me Who I Am)
I am one of the fortunate ones.  The Family that I was born into was (and is) exceptional:  Loving, supportive, intelligent, kind, forgiving.  Let me give a brief summation of the participants:

My Father – Ragon T. Flannery
My dad was a most unique individual.  He pulled himself out of the hills of Eastern Kentucky, which I can assure you is quite a feat in itself, to become one of the most well-respected, well-known Christian Ministers in the Country.  Before becoming a Christian and subsequently a minister, however, he lived quite an interesting life.  But that’s another story. 

I have two very strong and vivid memories of my dad.  The first is when I was about 9 or 10.  I believe we were living in Portland, OR at that time and he had taken me with him to make some home visits to some of the elderly church members.  He told me that they loved seeing a young, bright, pretty face and that he just liked having me with him.  I also just loved being with dad, so I didn’t mind the cheek-pinching, musty smelling houses, and stale cookies.  Well, not too much. 

As we were between visits on this particular rainy day, we passed through a small downtown street and there was a young woman with her face in her hands, sobbing and running down the sidewalk.  Without any hesitation at all, Dad pulled to the curb, slammed on the brakes and told me to stay put.  He jumped out of the car and approached this young woman.  Standing in the rain in his suit (most memories of dad involve him wearing his business “uniform”) I heard him ask if there was anything that he could do to help her.  She started to turn and continue to run away, but he ran after her.  He got in front of her and simply wrapped his arms around her and drew her close.  She struggled for about 10 seconds, while he spoke softly in her ear, then settled into his embrace and sobbed onto his coat.  After several minutes, he handed her some cash and his business card, gave her a last hug and came back to the car.  We drove on toward our next visitation in silence until I finally asked, “Daddy, what was wrong with that girl?”  He said, “She was lost.”  I smiled and said, “I’m glad you found her.”  He just looked over at me and a huge grin broke out on his handsome face.  He said, “That’s what we’re here to do…find those that are lost.”

My other strong memory of dad from my youth is more personal.  I remember so many evenings when I would fall asleep on the sofa, with my head on Dad’s lap, and the television or radio on.  He would pick me up and carry me in his arms to my waiting bed, lay me down, pull the covers up, kiss me and say soft, “I love you.”  I can admit it now…I was usually awake and just loved the experience…and my dad.

My Mother – “Poochie” Joyce Flannery (nee Smith)
Mom will laugh at my including her childhood nickname in this subtitle.  At least I hope so, because it does fit her quite well.  Mother and Daughter relationships can be tricky at best.  Those of you who are a Mother, a Daughter, or both can understand.  I am fortunate that even through the rough patches, my Mom and I have a wonderful relationship.  My parents met at what was then called Cincinnati Bible Seminary in Cincinnati, OH.  Dad was a Senior and Mom was a Freshman.  The day before finals, they eloped and then came back to take their final exams. 

Those who have never been a part of a Minister’s Household will possibly think my “shaky brain” has me remembering incorrectly; but, there are those who can vouch for what I am about to tell you.  A Minister’s Household is never truly JUST his home and his family.  It is the Church’s household.  At any time of the day or night, people would call, drop by, even stay for weeks at a time.  Now, there are people who get energy from being around others and there are those that have energy sapped from them by being around others.  Unfortunately, I am one of the latter.  Fortunately, my Mom is one of the former. 

I like to think of my Mom as a Hummingbird.  She is tiny, beautiful and in constant motion.  Yes, even at her current age, she hardly ever stops and is involved in many peoples’ lives and those, of course, of her family.  With Dad being so involved in the Church, Mom had to care for me and my three brothers, much on her own.  I didn’t know it at the time, but most people don’t have Campbell’s Tomato Soup and crackers for dinner 3-4 times a week or peanut butter and jelly nearly every day for lunch.  Mom did what she could to keep us happy, healthy and on track.  What made it difficult was one of the things that she loved (and I think at times hated) about Dad:  His generosity to others.  If he had $10 left in his pocket and it was all the money we had for another week, he would give it to someone who he felt needed it more than we did.  I’m sure you can see how this would get on a wife’s nerves.

Ministers don’t make much money.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it does me.  I think a good minister is like a good teacher.  They are the ones that are helping people and should be given the financial compensation they need to get by.  I can’t count how many times I heard people say, “You will get your reward in Heaven.”  Believe me, if you are in a position to give your religious leader (or teacher) a raise – DO SO.  They also need the reward now.

Sorry, I’m getting off track on a bit of a rant, so will reign myself in a bit. 

I have many wonderful memories of my Mom and am fortunate to still be making them today; but, in order to introduce her best to those of you who have never met her, I will provide just two.  My Mom taught me how to “hide stuff.”  I don’t mean emotionally, but physically hide stuff!  My kids learned it from me, though we are fortunate enough not to have to do it as often as I did as a child. 

As I mentioned earlier, people were always dropping by the house unannounced and unexpected.  Mom would just yell out, “Hide stuff!”  That meant that the dirty clothes, shoes or toys on the floor, etc., were quickly thrown into closets.  Being the Minister’s Wife meant, to my mother, that our home had to be a perfect reflection of Dad and his work.  Now that I think about it this may have been what made my older brother, Greg, such a good cop in his adult years.  He knew about people hiding stuff and where to look for it! 

The other strong memory of my mother was how I would get up in the night to get a drink of water and find her on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor or cleaning the bathrooms.  There were never enough hours in the day for this amazingly hardworking woman. 

She did our laundry, kept the house clean, cooked for us, made sure we did our homework, got us to school and home again, took care of us when we were sick, spoke at any Church function when asked (which was often), was a member of the Church choir and sang solos at Church quite often as well.  At a Woman of the Year award presentation dinner in San Diego a year or so after Dad died, I mentioned that at Dad’s Celebration Service, my older brother had called him “Indiana Jones.”  I stated that I agreed with that assessment of Dad, but that we also had “Wonder Woman” for a mother.  How could we go wrong?  Well, I’m sure we tried on occasion, but we were always lovingly brought back into the Family Circle.

The Siblings – Sub-Part One – Big Brother, Greg, my Hero
My brother, Greg, was born in Athens, KY.  For those of you unfamiliar with Kentucky-speak, that is NOT pronounced like Athens, Greece.  Here in Kentucky, the A is pronounced as a long A, or as if it had an “I” after it as in the word, “Bait.”  This was the location of my dad’s first church as minister and my mother’s first experience living in KY. 

My older brother put up with a lot from me.  I remember making him eat the actual mud pies I made as a small child and following him around everywhere as most siblings will do to an older one.  He never pushed me away or told me to go home.  We are quite different, Greg and I, but I am very pleased that we have just continued to become closer over the years. 

Greg has had a difficult life, but that is not what he focuses on.  I call him My Hero, because of his amazingly positive attitude in the midst of much adversity.  As a young husband and father, he was diagnosed with Hodgkins’ Disease.  I remember taking him to his chemo treatments and having to pull the car over to allow him to vomit.  He was so ill.  I had never seen him weak before and it was hard to see it then, but he would laugh it off and just keep going.  Fortunately, he beat the cancer and has been free of it for many, many years. 

That’s not where his turmoil ends, however.  After beating Hodgkins’, he decided to follow his dream of being a police officer.  It took hard work and much determination, but he succeeded.  He worked his way up the ranks and was well on his way to being the Police Chief of the World (a very slight exaggeration), when he was hit by a little old lady broadside, while on duty on his motorcycle.  He shattered his leg and scared us all quite a bit.  You see, his treatment related to the Hodgkins’ included removal of the spleen, which is the main organ in the body that fights off infection.  He now has a leg full of metal and managed to make a great recovery; again, because of his positive outlook and determination!  But it doesn’t end there.

Greg worked as a Life Guard for a few years when we were living in Redondo Beach, CA, and continues to surf today (despite doctor’s orders, but that comes later.)  Unfortunately, the heavy exposure to sunlight left him with quite a problem with skin cancer.  He has had more surgery removing skin than I believe he has skin.  He may be just walking around like a skeleton, I don’t know for sure, as I haven’t seen him in about a year. 

Greg was, like my other brothers, fortunate enough to have met the love of his life at a very early age.  He and Cindy met at age 16, I believe, when we first relocated to Anaheim, CA.  They have 3 happily married sons and one newly arrived granddaughter.

Ah, but I haven’t mentioned the infamous year of 2009.  While I was undergoing various surgeries, including two craniotomies, Greg decided I was just getting too much attention and, as siblings will do, had to outdo me!  He was golfing with some friends, who just happened to be fire fighters, and had a heart attack.  Fortunately, they knew exactly what to do, got him to the hospital and he ended up undergoing bypass surgery.  Apparently, the chemotherapy and radiation he underwent from the Hodgkins’ permanently weakened the heart muscle.  After the surgery, which (of course!) he bounced back from with the same courage and optimism for which he has become famous, he was told by his cardiologist that he should not do much strenuous activity if he wanted to remain around for more years.  This included his beloved surfing.  As I can attest from seeing photos, he totally disregarded that recommendation and I can only imagine what else he is doing that he really isn’t supposed to do! 

Basically, I guess the reason my big brother, Greg, is my Hero is his positive outlook and strong faith.  I’ve never met anyone like him other than my Mom and Dad.  What an amazing man.  And he is my brother.  What a gift!

The Siblings – Sub-Part One – Younger brother, Tim
I must honestly say that the main thing that comes to my mind when I think of my brother, Tim, is that doors always appear to open for him at just the right moment.  I know that is not always true, though.  I realize that hard work, dedication and determination has made him what he is today. 

Tim and I were both born in Tulsa, OK, where my father’s second ministry began.  We were the two white-haired kids of the eventual four.  We looked so much alike during our college years, that I was often asked if we were twins.  Other than the fact that he loved to pick on me (more on that later) and all three of my brothers share my passion for music, we weren’t that much alike.  Ever since he was a tiny boy of 2 or 3, Tim has wanted to play baseball.  Our Uncle Hal Smith (mom’s older brother) had been a professional baseball player and had, in fact, hit the 3-run homerun in the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates that tied the game allowing Mazarowski the opportunity to hit the 1-run homerun that won the series.  So, baseball has always been a strong part of our family. 

I have pictures and vividly remember when, for his birthday present at age 2 or 3, he was given a catcher’s mask.  (Uncle Hal was a catcher.)  They didn’t make them for little kids.  I recall seeing him squat down in the backyard in Portland, put the full sized catcher’s mask on and struggle like crazy not to fall over. 

There was also the time when a policeman came to our door in Portland and very seriously told my mom that he needed to speak to her son.  She asked what about as he was sleeping and she didn’t want to wake him.  He said that apparently he had thrown a golf ball and had broken a window in a house 2 down from ours and needed to be reprimanded.  Mom just smiled and went upstairs to wake up Timmy.  He came downstairs, about 3 years old at this time, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.  The policeman was quite shocked.  Seems like Tim had been throwing some of Dad’s golf balls into the air and hitting them with a broom handle and one connected, breaking a neighbor’s window - two houses down the street!

Now to the picking on his big sister!  As my dear friend, Carla, will attest, Tim would frequently get goofy and decide to just pick the two of us up and put us in the closet.  Once, he “took me out in a double play” on the stairway of our home in Anaheim and I seriously sprained a finger.  (Not a good thing for a pianist.)  Never in anger; just Timmy being Timmy.  I guess it was just his way of showing affection at that awkward junior high/high school age. 

I remember driving Tim and his friends all over the place when they were too young to drive.  One summer in particular, I would go across the street to Boysen Park, where he would just be finishing a baseball game.  He would jump into the backseat of my little blue VW bug and change to his other uniform as I drove him to Fullerton College to play yet another game.  Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time at baseball games over the years. 

Tim was fortunate to meet the love of his life during his senior year of high school.  He and Donna are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year (they were married a few months after me and Charlie.)  I think “fortunate” may be too weak of a word to describe how Donna contributed and continues to contribute to the life of my younger brother.  You see, Tim signed with the San Diego Padres following his junior year in college.  Being a professional baseball player isn’t the glamour that many may think.  Tim was on the road at least 8 months of the year.  Donna was there at the homestead, raising their 3 children, taking care of the things that Tim was unable to handle while working in Baseball.  (Much like that of a minister’s wife, now that I think about it!)

Tim turned to music for solace on those long road trips.  Guitar in hand he began to write songs about his career, his family, his pain – his life.  He has so many CDs now, that I have lost count.  His lyrics touch the heart as they reach those emotions that all people have experienced at one time or another. 

“Retiring” from baseball, after a very full career with the Padres, Tim tried to stay away, but I guess it was just in his blood.  He returned as a minor league coach for the Padre organization and eventually as third base coach for the Major League team.  When his pal (and boss) Bruce Bochy signed to manage the San Francisco Giants a few years ago, Tim went along.  He is third base coach for the Giants now and has finally won the World Series Ring that is the “The One Ring” in that world.  (Sorry, I’m more of a nerd than an athlete.)

While several times in my life I have been extremely jealous of Tim and the opportunities that life has placed before him; as I have grown older, I realize that I was not made for that sort of life and I do feel sorrow for the days and months he lost with his family and the personal privacy that has been so greatly reduced as a result of his career.  I haven’t seen him in awhile.  Seems like we’re always on the other side of the Country, but I miss him dearly.  I even miss the middle of the night phone calls he would make to my apartment while he was in the minor leagues to tell me how he had done at that night’s game. 

One of my most vivid memories of Tim is sitting with mom and me at Dad’s bedside as Dad was leaving this world.  Dad had suffered from Alzheimer’s and prostate cancer.  The end was so hard on all of us, especially mom, in that he often didn’t know who we were or even who he was.  After he left this state of being, Tim called my other brothers.  When they arrived at the hospital, we sat around the hospital bed and sang a few last songs for dad. 

The Siblings – Sub-Part One – Baby Brother, Tom, My Baby
Okay, I know the subtitle here looks a bit strange, but I will explain in a bit.  We were living in Portland, OR, at the time of the “announcement” of the new baby coming to join our family.  Dad made the mistake of telling us that we had the choice of keeping our little dog, Peanut, or having a new baby brother or sister to join the family.  We immediately chose the dog.  I mean, what little kid wouldn’t, right? 

A year or so after Tom’s birth, we relocated again, this time to Redondo Beach, CA, by way of Inglewood, CA.  Dad had started a new business called the Church Development Fund.  This organization, which has since become Worldwide and helps churches everywhere, allowed Dad to do what he had done as a minister earlier in his career.  He would go to a struggling church; lead, teach and invigorate the congregation and community; get a new Church building built; then make sure a good minister came to fill his rather large shoes, and move on to the next needy location.  The Church Development Fund is a financial savings institution.  Individuals open savings accounts, even leave monies to the Fund in their wills, and the funds are used to provide loans to communities to start a church, rebuild a church, and support missionaries, etc.  I’m sure they do much more than that now, but that was the basic premise when Dad first started it. 

As this new venture kept Dad away from home a lot and the money coming into the Flannery household wasn’t as a consistent;y as that received as a full-time minister – Mom went to work.  Not only did she go to work, but she went to work as a Kindergarten teacher at a Christian Elementary School in Inglewood, which was about 40 minutes away in rush hour traffic into the Los Angeles area from Redondo Beach.  (Again, Wonder Woman at work.)  We would wake early in the morning, she’d get us all ready for school, drive through the traffic and after a hard day of dealing with kindergarteners, she would drive all the way home, fix dinner, make sure we did our homework, get everyone to bed, clean the dishes and start on laundry.  Most of the time, Dad was away, so I can only imagine how tough it was for her and don’t blame her at all for accidentally leaving the stove top on after frying up some bacon and nearly burning the house down.  (Another story for another day.)

Tom was just a little guy then and I sort of took him under my protective wing.  When we eventually moved to Anaheim, CA, as Dad had decided that he had the Church Development Fund up and running and wanted to return to full time ministry, Tom was elementary school age.  Mom continued to teach Kindergarten at a local public school.  I was now in my teens (Tommy is 9 years younger than I) and I could drive, so it fell to me to be a sort of surrogate mom, when our mother was either teaching, dealing with PTA stuff or doing her other work as a Minister’s wife. 

I admit that I probably taught “my baby” a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have, but still love him today as if he were one of my own sons.  He saw every Barbra Streisand movie that came out as I was a big fan; was the only person under the age of 13 to see Cabaret, even though we got a lot of disapproving looks in the theatre; and was my constant “date” for dinner or lunch at my favorite Japanese restaurant. 

I missed out on a lot of his older teen years as I was off at college studying to be a Concert Pianist, which I decided after 2 ½ years wasn’t really what I wanted to do at all.  (More on that later.)

Tom also met the love of his life at a fairly young age.  He was at Chapman College studying Music when he and Michelle met.  They also have 3 beautiful, intelligent, loving offspring.  (“3” appears to be the magic number in our Flan Clan.)

I distinctly remember Tommy asking me one afternoon when he was about 13-14 to show him how to play a chord on the piano.  Never suspecting what that would begin, I showed him by using an old Elton John songbook how to play the simple chords that Elton always uses.  Within minutes, he was playing (with three fingers on each hand) the chords and singing along.  As many of you may know, Tom now holds a Masters’ Degree in Conducting and is teaching others the excitement, beauty and NEED for music in this life.  To this day, I have never heard a more beautiful rendition of Ave Maria or our National Anthem than that performed by Tom.  He can usually pick up any instrument and, after a day at the most, is able to play it like he’s played it his whole life.

Happily, he and his family moved out to Kentucky about 18 months after mine and we are only about 90 minutes away from each other.  We don’t see each other as much as I would likel but with our busy lives, that’s not surprising.  We do keep in touch quite often though, which delights me!

Thus concludes Part One.


Mr Mel said...

The Flan Clan.... Is this a legal term...?
Ragean, I got your message this morning and went to your Blog... I've finished Part 1.... Wow... Amazing and Full of Family humor. I can see you.. Greg, Tim & Tom.
Plus knowing your Mom & Pops gives it a Very Personal touch... I can hear the longing of your yesterday's mingled with the cartoon characters that are living in your head today. I tell my wife about the Yackkity Yack noise in my head... She kinda looks at me with a tilt to her head. You know... Like a puppy dog trying to hear better.
I'm with you my friend... All my love for you Today

Pauline Benson said...

What a beautiful blog Ragean--I loved reading about your beginnings and each family member. You have been blessed with a wonderful support system ...with the Greatest of all being our Heavenly Father. I will continue to read your blogs and know that I will enjoy them too. You wrote with great clarity and cohesiveness.
Love you.