Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Triumphant Return of Johnny Bag of Donuts

There was a time, more than half a decade ago, when Johnny Bag of Donuts roamed the halls of our Elliott Avenue house at night, especially around bedtime.  He lived in J.P.'s imagination, and in mine, throughout the day, really, but he visited us every night when I put J.P. to bed.  

Telling J.P. a bedtime story was so very often the highlight of my day.  Bedtime routines with little ones are always special.  Always memorable, especially when viewed through the prism of raising a child that's hit double digits in age.  Even more so when you traffic in nostalgia and sentimentality, as I do.  Ah, yes, the good old days. 

Johnny Pasta begat Johnny Bag of Donuts and he stayed with us for at least a couple of years.  

Every night, at bedtime, J.P. would hop into bed without a fuss eagerly anticipating a new story or the continuation of a story from the night before - Vol. II or, sometimes, III, IV or V.  I had a whole intro I would do first, then I would recap the previous night's story.  This was key when it was a multi-part story, continued the night before at the penultimate moment.  In my recap, if I missed a key fact, J.P. quickly corrected me.  

God, it seems like yesterday - literally - that I was laying on the floor in the dark on the rug, next to his bed, with a pillow under my head, letting my imagination run wild as I spun a yarn about Johnny Bag of Donuts' latest adventures.  He would get so excited during the story that he would sit up in bed, enraptured by the tale and worried about what might happen next.  

I always wove him into the story, along with various and sundry characters from our every day, neighborhood lives.  The setting, often and particularly as he got older, was a sports event - an NBA game in Memphis, bobsledding at the Olympics, Vanderbilt football, Titans' football, etc.  Sports figures were ever present, some more than others.  Kobe Bryant was a regular and, for some reason, Zach Randolph was, too.    

The cast of characters at Bongo Java - in the old days, of course - almost always played supporting roles in the stories.  E.J., Megan, Adam, George, Chad, Chuck, Mitch, Hunter and so many, many more baristas, long since gone from our Bongo Java - that's another story - all whom had showed J.P. so many kindnesses in the early years of his life and were rewarded with recurring roles in the adventures of Johnny Bag of Donuts.  

The best and most special part, for me, was that those few minutes at bedtime were something J.P. and I shared together.  Just the two of us.  Father, son and our imaginations running wild.  Just.  Being.  Together. 

When Joe came along, of course, bedtime routines were different.  It was virtually impossible to focus on Joe alone, because J.P. had to be put to bed, too.  Then, again, maybe I had other things weighing on my mind.  Real life things.  Maybe I didn't use my imagination enough or spend enough time thinking up stories to entertain Joe at bedtime.  It made me a little sad, when I thought about it.  Either way, I tried a few times off and on with Joe, but telling him stories at bedtime never really caught on with him.  

Until recently, when Johnny Bag of Donuts enjoyed a renaissance after her appeared in our home, again, this time accompanied by his sidekick, Joey Mustache.  

By way of explanation, Joey Mustache was the character I'd created a few years ago to serve as Joe's alter ego in my stories.  A 3 or 4 year old boy with a long, brown Fu Manchu mustache that was the envy of everyone he came into contact with.  It didn't catch on with Joe, then, but by damn, it has now.

A few weeks ago, around the time of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Joe was having trouble sleeping through the night.  He'd wake up at midnight or 1 p.m., crying and upset, because he couldn't fall back to sleep.  Jude and I took turns going upstairs to check on him but it made for a few nights of fitful sleep for us.  

One night, to change things up at bedtime, I told him a Joey Mustache story in which Joey and Johnny Bag of Donuts - brothers, of course - were selected to play for the National League in the MLB All-Star Game.  It was a multi-part story, Joe slept through that night and the next several nights and I'll be damned but Johnny Bag of Donuts - and Joey Mustache - were back in town and staying at our Linden Avenue house for a while!

Now, each night, Joe rushed to get in bed by 8:15 p.m. and asks me to tuck him in first, so he can hear about the latest adventures of Joey Mustache and Johnny Bag of Donuts.  Currently, our heroes are playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the world champion Houston Astros, in Chavez Ravine.  It's the top of the 7th inning and the Dodgers are up 3-0.  Lance McCullers - he of the wicked curve ball - has replaced Justin Verlander and is pithing for the Astros.  

Much to Joe's surprise and delight, the Bentonian (a.k.a. Benton right, J.P.'s friend) has replaced Clayton Kershaw and is pitching for the Dodgers.  Joe sat up in bed and squealed last night when the Bentonian struck out Jose Altuve with a 104 mph pitch. 

And I smiled, content, as I watched him from my spot at the foot of his bed.  

I wish this baseball game would last forever.  I wish these times would last forever.  I wish my boys would (and I) would stay young forever.

Welcome home, Johnny Bag of Donuts and Joey Mustache.  I've missed you.  Why don't you stay with us for a while? 

In fact, how about if you never leave?   

Saturday, August 11, 2018


We arrived home last night from our week of vacation at Zion National Park, with a one night Vegas stay thrown in on the back end.  For sure, it was a week to remember.  Highlight?  There were many.

  • Listening to Tom Petty Radion on Sirius/XM on the way to Springdale, UT, in our rental Chevrolet Tahoe.  Joe was in heaven and, in truth, so was I.  His love for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers knows no bounds which, of course, makes me happy beyond description.
  • Two hikes up the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park, first with Scott, Jacqui, Ben and Ellie Russell, then with the Sullivan clan (Terry, Meg, Terry, Tommy and Holden).  The first hike was led by a park ranger, Christine, and was a definite highlight.

  • Lots of late afternoon pool time our boys and the entire group.  J.P., Joe and I invented a game (the invented games are always the best) with the Waboba ball where J.P. and I took turns guarding each other, like a defensive back on a receiver, throwing the ball back and forth to Joe.  
  • The Desert Pearl Inn.  Our room was amazing.  Two rooms, two huge bathrooms, a kitchen (dishwasher, refrigerator, stove, microwave and an island with bar stools) and a big back porch that was 10-15 yards from the Virgin River.  We were .8 miles from Zion National Park.  I know that because we walked to the park the first day we hiked the Watchman Trail.
  • Watching Jude and the boys play in the Virgin River one late afternoon after a morning of hiking.

  • Deep Creek Coffee Shop, a place I discovered a couple of days in to our visit.  It was a half mile or so down from the Desert Pearl Inn and the only real coffee shop I could find in  Springdale, UT.  Good baristas, good coffee and really nice place for me to sit outside as the sun came up and have a cup of coffee in the early morning solitude.

  • Dinners with the group every night.  It was fun watching the kids interact, usually at a different table, while the grownups talked quietly.  Oscar's Cafe, Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. and Zion Canyon Brewery. 

  • I had forgotten how nice it was to talk with someone as you're hiking.  On one occasion, when we took the Sullivan's on a hike up the Watchman Trail (our second trip), Meg Sullivan and I walked together for a bit and talked about raising boys and my mom.  It was special, sharing thoughts on kids and having someone I don't know too well listen, with a sympathetic ear, as I discussed my mom's situation and her ongoing battle with Alzheimers.
  • Talking politics, late one night, with Jacqui and Scott Russell.  Jacqui has worked in Washington D.C. for the federal government for many years and I always enjoy discussing politics with her.
  • Hiking in Bryce Canyon.  It was a little more than 2 hours to drive through Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park.  We piled everyone into two vehicles to take advantage of the free entry to national parks if you have a 4th grader with you - who knew? - which was key (we had two, J.P. and Ellie Russell).  It was 73 degrees in Bryce Canyon and we hiked the Navajo Loop and Queen's Garden Trail, just under 3 miles.  It was our most challenging hike of the trip and one of the most beautiful and interesting.  Jude and Joe turned back halfway through and the rest of us continued on to the end of the loop trail.  The elevation drop was significant, so whichever direction you hiked, there was going to be a hard, uphill hike at the end.  We ate lunch at Subway afterwards - and learned that Tommy Sullivan hates Subway - then drove back to Springdale, UT, where the temperature was more than 30 degrees higher (105 degrees).  In retrospect, we probably should have planned a shorter afternoon hike in Bryce Canyon after lunch, but some of the kids were tired (including mine).

  • On the ride back from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park, we decided to take a short hike right after we entered Zion.  The parking lot at the trailhead was full, so we parked on the side of the road.  As we struggled to get our gear together in 100 + degree heat, I looked toward the front of our Tahoe and noticed that J.P. was swaying and about to stumble into the highway and faint.  I yelled at Jacqui and Scott to grab him, which they (thankfully) did.  He was about to pass out.  J.P. vomited several times, then Joe vomited.  Needless to say, we scrapped the plans for the afternoon hike in the heat and drove the rest of the way home.  J.P. was fine after eating and resting for a little while.
  • Hiking the Narrows was probably the highlight of the trip for me.  I wrote about that earlier but it was a memorable day for me because of what J.P. and Joe, individually, accomplished.  I'll forever remember the time Joe and I spend together on that hike up the Virgin River, carefully climbing over rocks underneath the surface of the cool river water.  Considered alone, it was an amazing, unique hike with beautiful scenery.  Sharing the experience with Joe, alone, was something I'll treasure until my dying day.

  • Afternoon quiet time.  Jude and Joe napped, while J.P. and I watched a couple of documentaries.  Spitfire (a documentary about the figure plane) and Ferrari:  Race to Immortality. 
In summary, it was damn near a perfect vacation.  I'll miss not going to the beach but the trip to Zion National Park with the Russell's and the Sullivan's was a trip of a lifetime, for the boys and us.   

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Narrows

I'm sitting outside Deep Creek Coffee Company at 6:20 a.m. in Springdale, UT, a few blocks down from our hotel.  It's still dark, but the sky is slowly lightening up.  As I sip my coffee, I gaze to my right and see jagged peaks of some sandstone mountains.  It's a beautiful sight.  Cars drive by carrying people to Zion National Park to get an early start on hiking.

What a peaceful way to start our last day of vacation.

It's been a great week.  Great for our family and great for me.  More about the week and out time with Jude's college friends later.

This morning, I want to write about our day yesterday hiking in the Narrows, probably the signature hike in Zion National Park.  It's, in essence, a hike up the Virgin River through a series of slot canyons with the walls of the canyons rising hundreds of feet on both sides.  For much of the hike, we literally walked up the middle of the river, sometimes in ankle deep water and sometimes in thigh or waste deep water.  It was unique and amazing, probably one of those rare once in a lifetime experiences.

The danger of hiking the Narrows - or any slot canyon - is of a flash flood.  In 2015, eight people died in the Narrows when a flash flood hit without warning.  Once you're on the hike and in the slot canyon, there's no way for anyone to reach you or warn you because there's no cell service, obviously.  There are no park rangers in the Narrows and it's an out and back hike.  One way in and own way out.  

The danger of a flash flood is rated by the National Park Service every day.  Yesterday, the rating was "possible."  It's an art, not a science, because rain in much higher elevations, nowhere near Zion National Park and Springdale, UT, can cause a flash flood that arrives unexpectedly in the Narrows.  That's what happened on July 11, 2018, thankfully at night, when several trails were damaged. 

Wednesday night, we rented our gear from Zion Adventure Company - waterproof (sort of) hiking boots and walking sticks, critical for maintaining your balance in the river.  Our group got up early and left the hotel at 6:45 a.m.  We parked in the visitor's parking lot at the Park entrance, got on a shuttle and headed up to the last stop.  I dozed off and on during the 40-minute shuttle ride until we arrived at the last stop.

First, we hiked the River Walk, a mile long paved trail that led us to the entry point into the Virgin River.  It was a gorgeous morning, a little on the cool side.  We wore long sleeve pullovers or lightweight jackets, as it would be hours before the sun was directly overhead and reached the floor of the Canyon.  There were few people ahead or behind us, although that would change later.  Finally, we reached the end of the trial and into the Virgin River we went.

It's hard to describe what it was like hiking up the Virgin River.  Clambering over rocks, big and small, in the river, then walking for short periods on a narrow strip of sandy beach on the side of the river.  The walking sticks were a big help, especially in the river, because the footing was relatively treacherous.  The rocks weren't really slippery, per se, just uneven.  The toughest part, I think, was that since the water was muddy, it was impossible to see exactly where you were stepping or what your were stepping on, as a result of which there were many stumbles and near falls over submerged rocks big and small.  It was different, interesting and challenging.

The canyon walls towered above us on both sides for, as a I said, hundreds of feet straight up.  We could see a strip of blue sky above us, but that was all.  It was a strange sensation, for sure.

Jude and I figured Joe, the youngest in our group of 13, wouldn't last long, particularly after the mile long walk just to get the starting point.  The plan was for me to walk back with him and return to the hotel to wait for the others.  Sure enough, shortly into the hike, he began to get tired and fussy.  J.P., of course, continued his weeklong quest to keep up with the big boys and surged to the front of the group.  After hiking in the river for a bit, I suggested that Jude catch up to the group while I stayed with Joe and turned around.  She agreed and soon enough, it was just Joe and me.

Joe was hungry, so we stopped, and he ate half a chocolate Cliff bar.  He was ready to turn back.

As we ate and rested, I asked him why he wanted to go back to the hotel.  He wanted to go swimming in the pool.  After I told him we wouldn't be swimming until late in the afternoon and reminded him this was his one chance to hike in the Virgin River, he changed his mind, much to my delight.  He wanted to keep hiking.

Suddenly and surprisingly, Joe was transformed into a hiking superstar.  No complaining or whine.  None.  "Let's keep going, Daddy," he said, over and over again.  I couldn't believe it.  I told him he was half man, half mountain goat.  And he was.

We made out way up the Virgin River, holding hands whenever we hiked in the river or over uneven terrain beside the river.  We meandered, taking out time and stopping often to rest or talk.  Nowhere in particular to be and no time limit in mind.  Just a father and his youngest son, hiking together in one of earth's beautiful, hidden spots.  It struck me that I should cherish that moment because, realistically, it was unlikely he and I would be hiking the Narrow together again, just the two of us.

Up head, we saw Jude walking toward us alone.  The rest of the group was ahead and we learned from her we were close to the fork of the Virgin River.  That's a good turning around point, I thought, so the three of us hiked on to the fork.  Joe, of course, wanted to continue hiking, but Jude and I agreed it was best to turn around.  We took the right fork - opposite the fork the group had taken to Wall Street - and walked to a small waterfall - where we joined a couple gazing at it in wonder.  They took turns climbing the waterfall in the narrow, narrow canyon.

Much to Joe's delight, I climbed the waterfall, too.  He wanted me to do a cannonball when I climbed/jumped back down, which I most certainly was not going to do.  With my luck, I would have landed on a submerged rock.  Either way, it was a good way to end that part of our hike.

As the three of us slowly and deliberately make our way down the Virgin River, I began to worry about J.P.  He got overheated on the way back from Bryce Canyon the day before.  I knew his hike back down the Virgin River with the group would be hotter and tougher.  I mentioned it to Jude and I could see she was worried, too.  Again, if there's a problem in the Narrows or someone gets sick or hurt, there's no help nearby.  The only option is to carry the person out or send someone ahead to find a shuttle and call for a park ranger.

Finally, Jude, Joe and I reached the trailhead and began the long, hot mile hike back to the shuttle stop, the sun beating down on us from overhead.  Jude and were quiet, alone with our thoughts about J.P. and regretting that one of us hadn't stayed with him.  When we got to the shuttle stop, Jude wanted to stay and wait for J.P.  I quickly vetoed that idea, because I knew he was two or three hours away from returning and it made no sense for the three of us to wait of him in the heat with no lunch. She begrudgingly agreed and we rode the shuttle down to the Visitor Center and drove back to the hotel.  Joe was upset because he though we were leaving J.P.

Jude made Joe lunch and I made myself lunch.  Then, Joe and Jude laid down for a nap.  I read and waited.  And waited.  And waited, for J.P.  I said a silent prayer as I it got later and later.  2 p.m., 3 p.m., then 4 p.m.  No word from anyone.  Jude and Joe got up and still, we waited.  The longer we waited, the more worried we became.  I suggested to Jude that there's no one else we'd rather have looking out of our son, keeping him safe, than her friends from college.

I heard nice, looked up, and J.P walked in the back door.  Tired, but safe.  And happy.  He looked up at us, a little puzzled that we were so relieved to see him.  He was hungry, really hungry, so like the pre-teenager he is, sat down and ate leftover cheese pizza and Ruffles potato chips.

Both boys home, safe and sound, I drove up to Zion Adventure Company and returned our river hiking gear.  While I was there, I asked where I could go to have a beer and unwind for 30 quiet minutes.  They sent me to the Bit & Spur, a small bar/restaurant just up the road.  It was the perfect spot for me to have a beer or two - Provogirl Pilsner (quite tasty) - and reflect, which is what I did.

I was so proud of both of my boys for what they accomplished in the Narrows.  Joe, for hiking with me all the way to the fork in the Virgin River, with enthusiasm and without a single complaint after we let the group go on ahead of us.  I didn't see anyone Joe's age - 6 - who hiked as far as he did.  JP, for completing his hike past Wall Street, accompanying the rest of the group and boys in the group that were all older than him - 15, 14, 14 and 12.  And both hikes were no joke, I can assure you.

All of those thoughts were in my head, as I sipped my beer in the Bit & Spur.  I didn't want to leave the bar, in a way, because the moment was idyllic.  My boys are growing up and I'm growing older.  Those moments are so fleeting.  Here and then gone forever, like a late summer evening.

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."


One of my favorite quotes of all time and certainly appropriate for how I felt yesterday, sitting at the Bit & Spur, sipping my beer and feeling blessed and nostalgic at the same time.  


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Visit from a Friend

I'm pretty sure this will end up being one of my all-time favorite photos of my mom.  Mike Corley, high school and neighborhood close friend, college roommate our freshman year, fraternity brother and, really, friend for life, came in from Sarasota last Friday and asked to visit my mom.  In the midst of a busy day as I prepared to leave town with my family for a week in Springdale, Utah and Zion National Park, I managed to find time to meet Mike at my mom's place after lunch.

And, damn, am I glad I did.

Watching my mom's face light up when she saw Mike was something I'll never forget.  It's strange and touching, too, because I don't think she knew who he was, or at least she couldn't remember his name.  However, I could see that deep in the dark recesses of her mind or, maybe, of her very heart and soul, that she knew this was someone whom she had laughed with, cried with (when Mike's longtime high school girlfriend and our dear family friend, Jennifer Grizzle, died), yelled at, and most of all, just loved with the deep, abiding love only a mother can have for a son and his best friends.

I saw and felt all of that in an instant as sure as I see the people around me this morning in Springdale, Utah, in the Deep Creek Coffee Shop I'm sitting in, sipping the first good cup of coffee I've had in 3 days.  It was ephemeral and it was palpable, which I'm coming to believe is the yin and yang of the Alzheimer's journey we're on with my mom.

When Mike and I walked outside to the parking lot after our visit, he seemed to be a bit shellshocked.   He had the familiar, sad and troubled look I see on friend's and loved one's faces who haven't seen my mom in a long time.  It's hard for them, I know, to see my mom in her reduced state, physically and mentally.  It's jarring to see someone who had a flame that burned so brightly with  laughter, humor and, well, life, to have her flame reduced to embers that flare only once in a while.

I also saw, on Mike's face, a look of sympathy for me, and for my family.  The kind of look you can only get from someone who was with you as you transformed, or tried to, from a teenager to an adult.  Someone whom you talked with late into the night about things insignificant and important, at least to an 18 year old's mind, like we did during our freshman year of college in our dorm room at Reese Hall.

The best part of the visit was when Mike was kidding my mom shortly after we arrived, sitting with her at a table in the common area.  She laughed, looked at him, and stuck her her index finger up in the air, giving him "the fake bird."  My mom's signature move for so many years.  Mike laughed, my mom laughed and I laughed.

And, for just a few seconds, my mom's flame flared and burned brightly again.  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Room at the Top of the World

There's beauty everywhere.  Sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find it.

And then somedays, thankfully, you don't have to look very hard at all, because beauty is right there in front of you.  That was yesterday morning with mom, for me.

On the heels of an encouraging team meeting at NHC Place to review Mom's progress and current condition with the staff mid-week - great appetite, funny, a pleasure to deal with - I drove down yesterday (Sat.) morning to see her.  When I arrived, she was up and had finished breakfast in the common area.  She was sitting in her wheelchair, watching television, nodding off a bit.  She smiled when I sat down beside her and we talked for a minute or two.

I suggested we go for a walk, she agreed and I wheeled her to the doors, punched in the code and off we went down the hall.  Lately, on weekends, we've been walking to a small courtyard inside the facility, where we can sit against the wall, in the shade, and watch the birds feed at a couple of bird feeders nestled underneath 3 or 4 small trees.  That's where we went yesterday and I settled into a rocking chair beside her, after I positioned her wheelchair so she could look at the flowers, trees and birds in the courtyard.

Mom was alert and in a good mood.  She laughed when I showed her part of a video of Joe reading "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus," by Mo Willems.  I took a couple of pictures of her and posted them on Instagram.  She laughed as I tried to explain to her how Instagram worked, especially when I told her that her picture had been posted for all of the world to see.  We talked some more, watched the birds and settled into the kind of comfortable silence you can only enjoy with someone you've known your entire life.  

After a few minutes, I looked over and saw that she had nodded off.  It was a beautiful summer morning in Nashville - not humid with the early temperature in the low 80's - although, of course, it got hotter later in the day.  Every now and then, she woke up and looked over at me.  We sat there for a while longer, just the two of us, my mother blissfully unaware of anything other than the moment in which she was living.

There's a kind of Zen in that, I think.  Maybe, just maybe, as she has settled in at NHC Place, a tiny bright spot of this terrible disease that's robbed her of so much is that my Mom is living in the moment.  Yesterday, at least, for one Saturday, she was happy and at peace.  I was, too.

And it was beautiful.  

Friday, July 6, 2018

Coming Down from the Mountain

For the past week, we've been staying with our friends, the Allens, in a cabin at Mugg's Pond in Sewanee.  Jude, JP, Joe and I stayed in the same cabin 2 years ago for my 50th birthday.  A few months ago, Susanna Allen and I planned the week up here and it's been a blast.

Unfortunately, with Jude just having changed jobs, her time with us on the mountain (as they say) has been limited.  She was here Saturday and Sunday, then came back up Tuesday night to be here for Wednesday (the 4th of July) and drove back home yesterday morning.

During the day, the boys (JP, Joe and Cooper) have been in the St. Andrews Sewanee All Sports Camp, while Russ, Susanna, Ella and I hung out.  The boys have caught fish in Mugg's Pond, just a short walk from our cabin.  We've hiked the Bridal Veil Falls trail - Susanna, Ella and I did it twice.  Ella, 13, had to be coaxed to join Susanna and me on the first hike to Bridal Veil Falls.  I couldn't help but smile when she said it was her favorite part of the trip as she gazed in wonder at the waterfall in the middle of the forest.

To say it's been a much needed, relaxing week for me is an understatement.  All Star baseball is over - more on that later.  The week of the 4th of July has been fairly slow at work, so I didn't miss much.  My mom's been on my mind, as always, but I'm comfortable with the fact that Tracy and Alice have been seeing her regularly.

Mostly, it's been going for a run in the morning after dropping the boys off at camp, coffee at Stirling's Coffee House on campus, lunch at home, a nap or reading in the afternoon, pick up the boys at camp and figure out where to go for dinner.  Lots of down time and lots of good, fun conversations with the kids.  I finished one book - Janesville:  An American Story, by Amy Goldstein (fantastic read) and started another one.

I discovered a trail run close to the cabin, just off 41A.  I've run the Beckwith's Point Trail twice.  It's rocky with lots of tree roots and very hilly, but under the cover of the forest almost the entire way.  In total, out and back, it's about a 3.4 mile run.  I love trail running, especially on new trails.  The first time I ran it, I found a bit of nirvana.  Spotify songlist (the Haunting) in the background and me, running.  Difficult trails like Beckwith's Point require more concentration and engagement so I can avoid falling ass over tea kettle or breaking another toe.  Maybe that takes my mind off things, that focus on the physical act of running.

Yesterday, my friend, Russ, and I ran the Beckwith's Point Trail together.  I don't think he really knew what to expect and it was difficult - for him and me - but he enjoyed it.  It's just a different feel from running on pavement.  Different in a good way.

We set up a tent on University Avenue that Russ brought the evening of July 3, so we would be ready for the 2 p.m. parade through Sewanee on July 4th.  The kids - especially the boys - had a blast catching candy from the people driving the cars and riding on one of the three floats in the parade.  Sewanee is a small, campus town and it was at its finest on July 4th.  Craft tents, lemonade stands, a pie eating contest, a dog show ("the Mutt show"), a tent of locals selling homemade BBQ (very tasty) and the parade.  Very Sewanee.

Why do I love it up here so much, up on Monteagle Mountain?  I've thought about that a lot.  I enjoy being so close to Sewanee, in much the same way I enjoy living so close to Belmont U.  There's a certain energy and youthful optimism on a college campus.  The temperature, of course, is a good 10 degrees cooler than in Nashville.  That's helpful, for sure, in July.  Trails to hike and run on are everywhere.  I love that.  Most appealing to me, maybe, is the slower pace.

It's been a good, relaxing week.  I'm already reentering reality, working for a couple of hours yesterday and today.  Almost time to get back at it.  But, until then, one more afternoon and night with the boys and the Allens on the mountain.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Past is the Present

Chris Reber, a longtime friend of mine, reached out to me this week.  He and his family were coming into town from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to see his mother, Martha, and he wanted to visit my mom.  Of course, I said, and we agreed to meet at NHC Place to see her on Saturday morning.

By way of background, Chris and I have been friends since 7th grade or, for 40 years, if any of you are keeping score at home.  We've not been as consistently close as I have been with others, like Doug Brown and Mike Matteson, but our lives certainly have intersected over the years and, when that happens, we pick up like we never missed a beat.

His father, Dave, coached me in football and was someone I was very fond of.  Dave had a tough go of it in later years before he died, but he always seemed to pop up in my life in unexpected ways.  His stop-mother, Carol - she and Dave were married for a time in the 1980's and early 1990's - was and is a close friend of my mom's.

Chris was always very close to my mom.  In his inimitable way, Chris often stopped by our house during high school to see my mom - whether I was home or not - and to help himself to the snacks my mom kept in the pantry.  Zingers, Twinkies, Ho-Ho's, King Dons, etc.  If Hostess made it, it was in our pantry and fair game to forays by Chris (and other friends) when he stopped by our house.

Chris and I, and our families, have a shared history.  It's just that simple.  And he was always - always - one of my mom's favorites.  She adored Chris.

So, yesterday morning, Chris and Dean Moyer - another longtime friend of mine from our Northside Junior High School days - arrived at NHC Place at 8:45 a.m.  I met them, individually, up front, and walked them back to see my mom, who was still in bed eating breakfast.  Chris brought a box of Hostess Ding Dongs, apropos for sure.

My mom was in a good mood and her face lit up when she saw them.  I don't think she recognized them, but she knew that she knew them, if that makes sense.  More importantly, she knew that they loved her.  Chris and Dean lavished attention on her and she laughed as they joked with her and kidded her.  Chris and Dean are funny together, a way that only old friends can be.

It was a powerfully emotional morning for me and, after we said our goodbyes to my mom, I was a bit overwhelmed by, well, a lot of things.  I cried as I drove to J.P.'s baseball practice.  Tear of sadness  mixed with tears of appreciation and happiness, too.  I'm still trying to process my emotions today and understand why I was so profoundly affected by their gesture.  

What I can say this morning, though, as I finish my coffee at Portland Brew and get ready to head down to see my mom, is the fact that Chris and Dean would take the time to go see my mom meant everything to me.