I have been lucky enough to have witnessed some breathtakingly beautiful sunsets. I stood at the top of the Eifel tower and watched the last rays of sunlight sweep swaths of orange across the sprawling city of Paris like a paintbrush. I stood next to my wife and watched the sun sink behind the Santa Maria Della Salute basilica and seemingly set fire to the Grand Canal of Venice. I’ve sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon and watched the waning sun explode with one last flourish and light up the Arizona sky with brilliant shades of pink, purple and red. Out of all the sunsets I’ve seen in all the exotic locales, none of them compare to one particular sunset I once watched at Gouveia Vineyards in Wallingford. Not to be Debbie Downer, but that sunset was the last time I saw my mother alive.
My mother had been experiencing a lot of pain for months, but on a whim, out of my own curiosity to see the new winery and because I thought she could use a drink, I took her to the Vineyard. That evening she was relaxed, happy and for the moment, pain free. “How do you feel?” I asked as we sat down to drink our wine. “I feel great, she said, this is beautiful.” We shared a bottle, laughed and talked about life as the sun set below the rolling Connecticut hills. Two months later, she was gone. Now I actually saw her a couple of times before she passed away. I saw her hold my son Patrick at his christening and I was with her, talking to her in the hospital the day she passed. I choose to remember her last day as the one when she was happy, laughing, pain free and drinking wine rather than seeing her ashen and in pain, uncomfortably holding my son for a photo op at a christening or frightened, looking to me for some sort of help as they wheeled her away into the surgery that would ultimately be her last earthy endeavor.
I’ve been back to Gouveia Vineyards dozens of times since that evening with my mom. It might seem like a sad or bittersweet place for me but I love it there. It has one of best views in all of Connecticut and it serves alcohol. How can you go wrong? One of the main ideas of the Real Life Survival Guide is to make the best of the lot you are given, out of lemons, make lemonade or as the man in The Shawshank Redemption said, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” In this case, I will always choose the former rather than the latter. So to my reasoning, what better place is there to do a radio show about getting through life as best you can than a Vineyard? That’s why I recommended Gouveia Vineyards as the setting for Episode 49 of The Real Life survival Guide. Life has its tough moments but with a little wine and some tips from the Real Life’s guest editors you just might make it out alive.
For the first topic, Elizabeth Petry brought up the thoroughly awful experience of being stuck with couples while they argue. Liz said she has been stuck in cars on long drives while a married couple berated each other. Eric Lehman finds that if he uses humor and pretends to be a child asking for his mommy and daddy to stop fighting that it defuses the awkward situation. Amy Nawrocki likes to remind the dueling lovebirds that she is indeed in front of them and it’s not comfortable. Duo mentioned that when his get together, “WASP homies” they don’t argue but give each other looks that say, “I hate you with all of my heart.” I recalled a pleasant evening of Pictionary with an unhappy couple that went something like this.
Wife: “What is that drawing?”
Husband: “It’s a stick figure of a man on the moon. The thing I had to draw was the man in the moon.”
Wife: “I want a divorce.”
The conversation then moved on to our physical well being. After suffering through debilitating sinus infections, Eric asked, “How do you succeed and work hard while maintaining your health?” Liz gave the sound advice of eating well and exercising. I mentioned how I get sick all the time and blamed my fantastically rakish lifestyle and my sons who love to mine the gold that layeth in the secret caverns of their nostrils. Since March I have been working on a cold so epic that it feels like Bronze Age Greek warriors have hidden themselves within my chest and sinuses in order to sneak them inside the walls of Troy.
Amy Nawrocki then brought up the issue of luck and the role it plays in our lives. Are our successes all our own doing or are they just the byproduct of being lucky or is good luck the byproduct of working hard? Eric said, “When you’re working hard and pushing in all directions, you end up making your own luck.” Duo raised the point that there is a fine line between having control over your destiny and ending up in a tough spot by no fault of your own. Amy said that she wants to be able to appreciate when things really are going well and to have the perspective to understand that when things are bad that it gets better. I was unlucky enough to choose to become a NY Jets fan. I must have run over a unicorn or punched a leprechaun to cause the hell that I’ve been through, If good or bad luck is nothing but the byproduct of our choices then In the words of the crusader knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I, “have chosen; poorly.”
We next touched upon the question of how much time is reasonable when dealing with our children’s extracurricular activities. My seven year old plays single A baseball which takes about three and a half hours to get through a four inning game. I want to be kind, but it can be excruciatingly painful to watch. Bruce has had to sit through countless swim meets, Duo pushed his sons at anything they took an interest in and Eric was pushed in every direction by his parents when he only liked and only felt adequate at two things. There was no consensus as to what to do or how much time is appropriate but the bonus of having my child play a sport was the joy of watching him stand at 3rd base and tuck his T- shirt into his pants for an entire half inning. He tucked that shirt in so deep and pulled those pants up so high he looked like Fred Mertz, from I love Lucy, with a massive wedgie. One father bragged about his son hitting a home run, I bragged about my son’s waste band being above his nipples.
As we wrapped up the show we took stock of the first 49 episodes and discussed where the show had been, where it was going and what it had accomplished. Liz said that Bruce has built a great community of people. Eric believes that the show has created a new format and Amy finds the show offers a place to have substantial conversations. I see the show as a way for people to feel connected through mutual experiences and humor. Duo eloquently took in the surrounding hillsides and used it as a metaphor for the perch from which we view things in our lives and the hills in the distance that we have yet to climb. Duo was right, there is always that next hill on the horizon that we have to reach and get over but once in a while, in the midst of climbing, take a break, relax, find someone you love, sit down, open a bottle of wine and enjoy a sunset. Get busy living.