Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Guys

Here's a photo of the boys while we watched the Titans last Sunday at M.L. Rose on 8th Avenue, near our house.  Just because.

Letting Go Just a Little Bit

The last few times I've been to visit my mom at her new place, she's been sitting at a table with "Mr. Tom."  Just the two of them.  As I approach, it's hard to tell what they're talking about or, really, what they're doing.  But as I sit down, my mom seems relatively content and I guess that's what is important.

To get some alone time with her, I wheel her away in her wheelchair - after saying goodbye to Mr. Tom - and we leave Aspen Arbor to go look at the aquarium in the sitting area or just to relax in the sun room.  Sometimes, when it's nice, we sit outside the front entrance.  Usually, after a few minutes, she starts to get a little bit anxious and wants to return to the more familiar surroundings of Aspen Arbor (though she doesn't call it that, of course), and we do.

Yesterday, I ran down to see her in between the boys' basketball games.  Joe played at 8 a.m. and J.P. played at 11 a.m.  After exchanging greetings with Mr. Tom, I wheeled her out of Aspen Arbor and into the library.  I've discovered it's a nice, quiet place to sit for a few minutes.  Books line the built in bookshelves, although it doesn't appear that many of the books are ever removed and read.  I could be wrong about that, though.  As we talked quietly and I made my mom laugh - something I'm still able to do - a National Geographic magazine sitting on the table caught her eye, so I handed it to her.  She thumbed through it was we reminisced about all of the National Geographic magazines we used to have at the house.  I smiled wistfully as she commented on some of the pictures in the magazine.

We said our goodbyes a few minutes later after I asked one of the caregivers to help her transfer so she could go to the bathroom.  She's struggling with incontinence issues and she's too weak transfer from the wheelchair to the commode herself without falling.  For the first time in a while, she was disappointed I was leaving and a little mad that I wouldn't take her to J.P.'s basketball game.  It made me more than a little sad, as I drove back to Nashville, to think that she likely would never see my sons play sports again.

Throughout the day, I reflected on our most recent visits and how something with my mom seemed to have changed lately.  It's been gnawing at my subconscious mind the last week or two.  When my sister, Tracy, and I talked on the telephone last night, she said something that brought things into focus for me.

"Mom doesn't really need us as much as she did."

I let those words sink in for a minute, then nodded to myself and told her I think she's right.  And I do.

The "why" is what I went to sleep last night and awoke this morning puzzling over.  Why doesn't my mom need us as much as she did?

Certainly, she's living in a better place, one more suited to her needs.  Aspen Arbor at NHC Place is just a better fit for her than Maristone.  Now, that may well be because she is in memory care now, which is simply where she needs to be.  The caregiver-patient ratio is lower, there are more planned activities and her apartment is smaller.  She's rarely alone in her room, at least when I go to see her.  At Maristone, she was always alone in her room.  I think that made her a lot more lonely.

She's made a friend or two, especially Mr. Tom.  While I don't understand the relationship and I have no idea what the two of them talk about, I'm comforted by the fact that she appears to be content and at ease sitting and talking with him.  Yesterday, one of the caregiver told me my mom still believes she's working as a nurse, so it may be that she thinks she's taking care of Mr. Tom.  That makes sense, because above all else, my mom always took care of others professionally and personally.

So, maybe she's just more comfortable at NHC Place.  Maybe that's why she doesn't need us as much as she did.

On the other hand, there's the very real possibility that my mom's mental state has gradually deteriorated to the point that she's lost, or at least losing, the ability to connect with us on an emotional level.  That, of course, make me very, very sad.  If true, it's further evidence that we're losing her and that our time with her while she still has some vestiges of her true personality is limited.  Maybe very limited.

It's a bit of a paradox, for me, anyway.  Selfishly, I'm glad it's easier to leave my mom when a visit is over.  I feel a little better - okay, a lot better - that she's relatively content and getting good care when we're not around.  Conversely, it seems like we're headed to a place where my mom is not going to be able to express her love for us in any normal, customary way.  And that's going to be hard to take, I think.

It's a lot to process and I lot to think about, for sure.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The World's Biggest Sports Fan

While tailgating before a Titans' game several years ago, during a part of my life when that was a thing, a friend of mine in describing me said, "Phil knows more about sports than anyone I know."

Sadly, my life's orbit (or his) has taken Big D. out of my life and I miss him.  We shared a lot of good times together, most revolving around, of course, watching or playing (city league softball) sports.

And, now, as I view the world through my 51 year old eyes, I see my sons, 9 and 5, and they are two of the biggest sports fans I know.  This is the story of how that came to be.


My mom left Jackson, Tennessee, for Memphis to attend nursing school in the 1957 or 1958.  To my knowledge, she never played high school sports, not that there were a lot of options available for girls in those days.  What she had going for her, however, was height - 5'8", sharp elbows and, I think, a love of competition.  

I'm not exactly sure how or when it happened, but at some point Jim Stockdale, the coach of the women's basketball team at the University of Tennessee School of Nursing in Memphis (the original "Lady Vols") found her.  Or maybe she found him.  I'd love to know the real story if anyone who reads this blog knows it.  At any rate, she joined the basketball team as a defensive player.  As I understand it, in those days, women still played 6-on-6 basketball and my mom was one of the two players on the court who played only defense.  Over the years, I've heard Coach Stockdale - who has forgotten more about basketball than I will ever learn - say my mom had 5 fouls and sharp elbows and she wasn't afraid to use either one of them.  

I'm meandering a bit here, but bear with me, please.  Many, many years later, my mom, Coach Stockdale and a few other of the other original "Lady Vols" alumni scheduled an annual reunion in Nashville to coincide with the Lady Vols - Lady 'Dores (Vanderbilt) basketball game.  Often time, my mom hosted the entire group at our house for chili and drinks before or after the actual game.  Through those dinners and by attending the games with my wife and later, children, I got to know a lot of my mom's old teammates and friends.  To say it's a special group is an understatement.  Several of them have reached out to Tracy or me the last year to share an anecdote about my mom or just to tell us how much she means to them.  That, in turn, means the world to us, I promise you.

My mom married my dad, Howard Newman, who was a sports fan and, in fact, played high school football and a year of college football at Case Western Reserve.  They me while he was in medical school in Memphis and eventually moved to California where I was born in 1966.  My mom became a hug Lakers fan and used to religiously listen to Chick Hearn broadcast the game on the radio.  Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich and Wilt Chamberlain became the heroes of my infancy through stories I heard about my parents being Lakers' fans.  I think - but can't confirm - that my parents actually shared season tickets with three or four other couples and that I may have attended a game or two.  

After my dad died in 1972, we moved back to middle Tennessee.  I grew up a diehard Lakers fan at a time when no one, and I mean no one in Tennessee, cheered for them.  It was part of my identity, particularly during the halcyon days of the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry.  Magic was my guy and I was a hug NBA fan long before it was in vogue for kids my age to follow the NBA.  My mom encouraged my fandom and we cheered together for the Lakers from afar.  We celebrated the Lakers' titles in the 1980's.  We commiserated together - from afar - when Magic announced in 1991 that he was HIV+ and was retiring from basketball.  We celebrated together - again - during the Shaq-Kobe championship years, as I was back in town after law school.

When I was a kid, my mom and I good-naturedly fought over who got dibs on the sports page every morning and evening (Nashville was a two newspaper town in those days with the Tennessean and the Nashville Banner).  We both read Sports Illustrated every week and anticipated its arrival in the mailbox.  My mom got me a subscription to The Sporting News when I was eight or nine and I absolutely reveled in reading it each week, particularly the columns by national sportswriters like Bill Conlin, Art Spander and Dick Young.  I loved to peruse the baseball box scores.

My mom was huge - I mean huge - Vanderbilt men's basketball fan so, of course, I was, too.  We had season tickets - first two, then later, four - for more than three decades, I think.  I bet I went with her to close to 200 basketball games at Memorial Gym.  Together, we lived and died with Vanderbilt basketball.  She was so superstitious that she sat in the same place at Vanderbilt basketball games and ate the same food at the same time, game after game.  I can talk more old school Vanderbilt men's basketball than anyone I know.  

My mom loved the NCAA basketball tournament.  In retrospect, it was the highlight of her sports viewing year.  It was the same with me.  Captains of her "All-American" team over the years included Steve Kerr, Steve Alford and Wally Szczerbiak.  You know, the good looking basketball players.  I started a NCAA tournament pool in my fraternity house at college before that was really a thing.  We called my room "Tournament Control Center," a send up of  ESPN's early, around the clock coverage of the tournament.

Truly, if there was a sports team or event - World Series, NBA Finals, Super Bowl - she chose a side and rooted for one team or the other.  She simply loved sports.  And she instilled that love in me, for better or worse.  My mom indulged my love of sports as a child in that she allowed me to cover my bedroom wall with  Sports Illustrated covers and other posters.  

My mom encouraged me to play sports, which I did throughout my youth.  I was (and am) an average athlete at best, one with good hand-eye coordination who was smart and knew the right play to make at the right time.  I could play almost anything okay, but wasn't great at anything.  J.P. is the same way, I think, and Joe probably will be, too.  My mom attended every game I ever played in any sport as a kid.  I vividly remember sitting down at the kitchen table after late baseball games on weeknights and having a snack and drink, going over the details of the game with her.  Her support and interest in my accomplishments athletically - as modest as they were - was a constant.  I inherited that from her and I want to honor her by being there for my boys when they play sports.

My mom took so much pride in Alice's accomplishments in sports, particularly in middle school and high school, as we all did.  Alice was below average athletically but she worked her ass off to become a good basketball and volleyball player.  Softball came more naturally to her and was her best sport.  After I left for college, my mom and her friends traveled across middle Tennessee in the middle and late 1980's to watch Brentwood High School's girls' basketball, volleyball and softball teams play.  And I know for a fact that she loved every minute of it.

When I graduated from law school and returned home to work in Nashville in the early 1990's and later opened my own law practice in Franklin, my mom's love of sports was stronger than ever.  It was the hay day of the sports talk radio era in Nashville and my mom was a devoted George Plaster listener, literally for years and years.  We talked on the telephone almost every day to discuss the sports topic of the moment on George Plaster's afternoon sports talk show.  Later, after I was well established professionally in Franklin, my mom called me often in the afternoons to report on breaking sports news as reported by George Plaster on his show.  She loved to scoop me on the latest sports news.  It was a point of pride for her to tell me something about a sports story I didn't already know.

My mom loved the Titans, too, especially in the Eddie George-Steve McNair era, when they were contenders every year.  On more than one occasion, Steve McNair visited her floor at Baptist Hospital  and spent time with the patients, many of whom has been there for quite a while.  At one point, she and a fellow nurse made a bulletin board on her floor highlighting the Titans and their accomplishments.  It had pictures of the players, newspaper articles, etc.  I remember that when Titans' players stopped by her floor, they always enjoyed looking at the bulletin board.  Similarly, the walls in the playroom at her house were covered with sports memorabilia, a lot of it related to the Titans.  In fact, she had framed the front page of the newspaper from the "Music City Miracle" and it hung proudly on the wall.

This just occurred to me, as I thought about my mom's Titans' bulletin board on old 3500 floor at Baptist Hospital, which is now closed (the floor, not the hospital).  The only time she ever got in any trouble in 17+ years working there was when another nurse - on her own, not at my mom's request - clocked her in for the night shift when my mom was running a few minutes late, on the way there from a Vanderbilt men's basketball game.  My mom had planned to mark herself late but the other nurse wanted to cover for my mom when it wasn't necessary.  That story has always been a favorite of mine, because it says so much about my mom, her love of sports and how much her co-workers loved and respected her.

When Tracy's kids, Kaitlyn and Matthew, grew older and began to play recreational sports, my mom of course rarely missed a game.  Soccer (in the early days), baseball and basketball, she was there for almost all of their games.  She took great pride in their accomplishments and, I think, enjoyed the fact that they share her love of sports.  She loved going to Matthew's baseball games and Kaitlyn's middle school and high school basketball games.  Ironically, I realized for the first time that my mom had a real problem - probably dementia or Alzheimer's disease - when Tracy called me in a panic one night about 10:30 p.m. and told me my mom  had gotten lost going home from one Matthews' baseball games Franklin.  She ended up at a store on Nolensville Road, across from Southern Hills Hospital in Nashville, and I found her and drove her home.  That was the night everything changed for her and for us.

One of the low points for me, if I'm being honest, occurred last fall when I picked my mom up from Maristone and took her to one of Kaitlyn's basketball games at Overton High School in Nashville.   She got so confused on the way home and started crying when I arrived back at Maristone to drop her off after the game, because she wanted to go home to her house.  It was one of the worst nights of my life and, possibly, the last time I drove my mom anywhere.

My mom attended many of J.P.'s early soccer, baseball and basketball games, although with three grandkids playing sports by then, she had to divide her time between them.  She saw many of J.P.'s games, though, and a few of Joe's.  By the time Joe started playing baseball and soccer, it was tough for my mom to get around well enough to get to his games.  On at least a couple of occasions, my friends at the West Nashville Sports League were kind enough to help her into the 4-wheeler and drive her down to the baseball field from the parking lot to watch J.P. or Joe play baseball.

Much to my chagrin, both of my boys are Vanderbilt fans, in large part because of my mom's love for Vanderbilt athletics and the fact that she bought them Vanderbilt gear almost from the day they were born.  T-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, posters, etc.  When she still had her men's basketball season tickets, J.P. and I went to a handful of Vanderbilt games and sat in her seats.  That just intensified his love for all things black and gold.  Joe loved Vanderbilt because J.P. did and, probably because I didn't.  That just the way it works.

Which is probably as good of a segue as any to my boys and their love of sports.  They are crazy - and I mean crazy - about sports.  They would watch or play sports 24 hours a day if Jude and I would let them.  They love the Predators, Titans, Dodgers, Lakers (J.P.), Warriors (Joe), Braves (Joe), Cubs (Joe) and Seahawks.  Many, many nights, they beg for us to have a "sports picnic" for dinner, which means we eat dinner in the den and watch sports on television.  J.P. reads about sports constantly, whether it's his favorite magazine - Sports Illustrated for Kids - or a library book about a sports figure.  The boys play football or hockey upstairs it he playroom constantly.  Other times, they quietly look through their hockey/football/basketball/baseball cards and sort them in notebooks, just like I did at their age.

For more than 20 years, Jude and I have been part of the Foodbrothers - a weekly college and pro football pool started by Jeff Williams (aka "El Jefe"), one of Jude's best friends from her days at Tulane University.  My mom was in the pool for several years.  I even took her to Las Vegas for the annual Foodbrothers' Summit on fall.  She always was great at picking winners, against the spread, in football.  When I asked her how she did so well, all she would say is that "she consulted her sources."

It breaks my heart, now, to look back at the Foodbrothers' historical records on the website and see that as recently as 2012, she finished in third place for the season.  Amazing.  By 2014, which is when we know now that her problems began to become apparent, she stopped making her picks each week, likely because she had a hard time operating her computer.  As I recall, now, she started telling me that she felt it was too much pressure to have to make football picks every week.  I should have known then that something was going on with her, but I probably didn't want to believe it.  Prior to that year, she and I would talk on the telephone throughout the weekend and compare our picks or tease one another about who was doing better that week.  At one point, my sister (Tracy), my cousin (David), my mom and Jude were all in Foodbrothers together, picking games against each other every week in the fall.

Last spring, J.P. joined the Foodbrothers' NCAA tournament basketball pool.  And won the entire pool, straight up, at the age 8.  I've won the basketball pool exactly once in 20+ years.  Jude has never won it.  More importantly - to J.P., anyway - he won $500, which we'll probably hold on to for him until college.  He was so proud of himself.  Last fall, I won the Foodbrothers' football pool, so J.P. and I held the football and basketball titles at the same time, keeping it all in the family.

Which brings us to this fall.  J.P., at 9, became the youngest ever Foodbrother when he joined the weekly football pool.  And here's where it gets crazy, or maybe not so much, given who his grandmother is.  He was the weekly winner the first two weeks of the season (winning $100) and he's been in first place for the entire season so far, leading wire to wire.  That's out of 41 people, all adults, most of whom have been in the Foodbrothers and picking games for a long time.  In second place, 17 points behind him, is his old man.  The competition is fierce in our house, for sure.  Jude and I have joked that the the "P" in J.P. stands for "point spread," as in "Johnny Pointspread."  It's crazy and it's fun and if there's one thing I do know, my mom would absolutely love it.

Sports, and the love of sports, is the tie that binds our family together.  That much is clear to me.  And is started with my mom, a single parent likely searching for a way to bond with her oldest child, a boy who found himself without a father at age 5.  Was it a deliberate decision on her part?  I'll suppose I'll never know.  But what I do know is that sports was a currency in which my mom and I traded and a language that we shared.  And now I've passed a love of sports along to my sons and that love brings us closer together.

It all started with my mom, the biggest sports fan I've ever known.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mom Finds a Friend

You know you're a neighborhood regular when you sit down at a coffee shop for a Sunday morning and recognize the woman's English accent sitting next to you from time spent at your favorite neighborhood bar.

That was me, this morning, at Frothy Monky in 12South this morning.  I immediately recognized the voice of a woman I've sat next to at the bar at Edley's on a few occasions.  I don't know her name but she's always in a good mood, laughs a lot and has a heavy (and cool) English accent.

It's Sunday morning and I am about to head south to NHC Place to spend some time with my mom.  I stopped by yesterday afternoon in between two basketball games, a trip with the boys to Lucky Ladd Farm and Saturday night Predators' game vs. the Islanders.

When I arrived I used the code to let me into Aspen Arbor, and walked down the hall toward my mom's apartment.  I glanced through the kitchen and saw eight or ten residents sitting together watching television.  My mom was one of them, which made my happy.  When she's involved in a group activity, I normally don't interrupt her because I think it's good for her interact with others.  I think she needs that and, I hope, it causes her to think, reason and use her mind more than just talking quietly with me.

I slipped into her apartment and spent a few minutes straightening up.  She's still tearing pages out of coloring books and leaving them lying around the apartment.  I left out some cookies I brought for her then stopped to talk with a couple of the caregivers before I left.

They told me a funny story or two and reiterated how much they like my mom.  Already, she's making a mark with her sense of humor, which has remained intact in spite of everything else she's lost mentally.  She laughs a lot, which is something I have to remind myself to appreciate now, because it likely won't always be the case.

Anyway, one of the caregivers pointed out that she was sitting next to "Mr. Tom" and, further, that they normally sat together.  They had become friends.  That comment - that one comment - made me want to smile and cry at the same time.  Literally.

At Maristone, my mom never seemed to be able to connect with any of the other residents or make new friends.  One of the cruelest things about Alzheimer's disease - at least in the way that it's affected my mom - is that her ability to make friends and to be comfortable around people she doesn't know well has vanished in the wind.  Watching this woman who had so very many friends and was so involved socially struggle to talk with another resident has been heartbreaking for me.  Maybe that's changed in her new environment, just a little.  I need to believe that it has, anyway.

I'm off to pick up donuts for the residents and staff this morning, a Sunday morning tradition I've been thinking of starting.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Moment's Peace

Yesterday, I finished a mediation at my office earlier than expected.  With a couple of hours more or less free - there is always more work to be done - I drove to NHC Place to spend some time with my mom.

When I arrived, she was sleeping comfortably in her lift chair, reclined, nestled under a blanket.  I sat down in the other chair, took a figurative deep breath, and unplugged for a little while.  For almost an hour, we sat together with her sleeping and me reading articles about Tom Petty's death and the aftermath that I had saved on my phone.  She occasionally stirred but didn't wake up and I was perfect content to sit with her.

It's interesting - to me, anyway - but something about being there put my mind at ease.  I didn't feel conflicted or guilty, because I was where I was meant to be.  It was a bit of a zen moment, as I was totally present and within myself, in control of my emotions, just kind of being.  Especially lately, those moments are few and far between and, in truth, hard to find.  Somehow, though, I tend to find t them in my mom's presence.

After giving it some thought, what I concluded was this - even in her diminished state, when she's quite literally a shell of her former self physically and mentally, my mom has the ability to comfort me and to make me feel safe and at peace.  That's true love, I think.

It's special and a bit of a miracle to me and probably to me only, that my mom still has the ability to wrap me in the cocoon of her love.

I suspect I'm going to miss that most of all.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Best Saturday Ever

Yesterday was one of those days.  One of those great, memorable, happy days you wish would never end.

As are all of our Saturdays in the fall, it was packed with the boys' sports, a pair of soccer games in the morning and a pair of baseball games in the afternoon.  We were on the go from 9 a.m. at Joe's soccer game to almost 5 p.m., when J.P.'s baseball game ended.  The Saturday sports gauntlet and, as always, I loved every minute of it.

Joe's young soccer team, mostly l5 year olds, played a team of boys that looked like they were two grades older than them.  I could tell from the minute the game started that Joe's team was going to get pounded, and they did.  Midway through the second half, Joe's team was probably down 15-0 when Joe kicked the ball from his teams end of the field, well in front of the midfield line.  It bounced the length of the field and went through he goalie's legs for his team's first and only score of the game.  Classic and a big moment for Joe.

At 11 a.m., J.P.'s soccer team had a grudge match against the USN team.  I called it the "sweep the leg" game.  It was J.P. against all of his classmates from USN, several of whom had given him some grief on the playground at school about in the days leading up to the game.  J.P. wanted this game.  Hell, he needed this game, because he sure didn't want to have to listen to all of his buddies talk trash on the playground for the rest of the fall.

The USN team scored twice early to go up 2-0.  Their best player - one of J.P.'s good friends - ran down the field popping his jersey after his first goal, which I didn't like.  Later, when the same kid scored in the second half, he ran down the field popping his jersey, again, and holding his index finger to his lips to quiet the crowd, like he was playing in the Premier League.  I would have benched him if he were my son or if I was coaching him.  

Late in the first half, J.P. hammered a ball from long range that hit the goalie in the face, bounced off and was kicked in the goal by a teammate.  Assist, J.P.  A minute or so later, J.P. took a nice pass from a teammate and scored on the goalie - his good friend referenced above.  2-2 score.  Now, it's a ballgame.  

The USN team scored early in the second half to take a 3-2 lead.  After that, J.P. literally took over the game.  He was everywhere - contesting shots all over the field, pressing the action, bumping and jostling other players and just leading his team.  It was glorious, just glorious, and one of my proudest sports moments as a father, to watch him lead.  From 25 yards away or so - with Jon and Uncle Carley watching - J.P. took a cross field pass, settled the ball, and pounded a shot over the goalie's left shoulder into the upper corner of the goal.  Amazing!  Jon and I looked at each other in disbelief.  J.P.'s teammates went nuts, chest bumping him and high fiving him.  It was a big time play.  3-3.  A few minutes later, J.P. led a two on one break and made a perfect pass to a teammate for the go ahead goal. 

The final score was 5-3 or 6-4.  J.P.'s buddy - the one popping his shirt and quieting the crowd - fell on the ground in tears at the final whistle.  And J.P. held an index finger pointed toward the sky with a satisfied look on his face.  He had left it all out on the field and led his team to victory.  A big moment for him, for sure.

At 3 p.m., J.P.'s baseball team - the boys I have coached in fall and spring since they were 5 years old - played a team of 10 year olds who had moved down from the majors to the minors (our league) after getting boat raced by the 11-12 year olds all fall.  Their team is comprised of a bunch of kids from a local private school.  Our boys play most of these kids in basketball, soccer and baseball every year and there's a bit of a rivalry there.  Their players (and siblings) tend to be a little obnoxious and, in fact, taunted our boys after a 1 point loss in the finals of the league basketball tournament last winter.  For the Saturday baseball games, they picked up a travel player who played with us when he was 6.  A good kid, good player, almost a head taller than anyone else on either team.

The Dodgers took an early 4-0 lead with Benton pitching and pitching pretty well and J.P. at shortstop.  By the end of the second inning, J.P and the boys were up 5-3.  in the bottom of the third inning, they stretched the lead to 9-3, with one of the runs coming when I gave J.P. the straight steal signal when he was on second base.  It was a gamble, but J.P. slid into third base and popped up and ran home to score, sliding into home, when the ball got away from the third basemen. 

J.P. came into pitch in the top of the third inning.  His control was okay, not great, and got out of the inning after giving up one run.  In the top of the fourth inning, he struck out the first batter, then ran into trouble after he walked a couple of players and the other team scratched out an infield hit.  Our boys got another out, then a run scored and J.P. walked a runner home.  Suddenly, the score was 9-6 our way, with the other team's ringer at the plate with the bases loaded.  A grand slam would have given them the lead.

The ringer worked the count to 3-1 in his favor.  "J.P.," I said.  He looked over at me.  "Dig deep."  He threw a strike.  Full count.  My assistant coaches - who are my good, good friends - and I looked at each other, enjoying the moment.  "Dig deep" I said again, as much to myself as to J.P.  He rocked, lifted his knee and lunged toward home plate, released int the ball as he did.  Right down the middle. The ringer swung the bat, missed the ball and it was strike three!  Game over.  J.P.'s teammate erupted and ran to him as he walked calmly off the field, toward the third base dugout, smiling just a little bit. They hugged him and pounded on his back, then we lined up to shake hands with the other team. 

What a memorable day for J.P.  It's one he will undoubtedly forget about in a week or so, but that I will treasure forever.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Saying Goodbye to a Car

I'm sitting on my back deck on Sunday morning, listening to Lucinda Williams and enjoying a few minutes of peace and quiet before I head down to spend some time with my mom at NHC Place.

Jude and the boys have been in Chattanooga since Friday.  I spoke at a CLE event late Friday, so I couldn't leave when they did.  Truth be told, I needed some alone time to gather my thoughts and recharge my batteries and Jude was kind enough to understand.  So, I stayed here and spent some time alone.

I've had my mom's car - a light blue Honda CRV - for a month or two.  It was sitting in her driveway - obviously not being driven - and we needed an extra car for a few days while Jude was having some body work done on her Honda Pilot.  Once I got it up here, I started driving it a little bit around the neighborhood.  I even drove it exclusively for a few days while my truck was in the shop.  I've had it washed and detailed a couple of times which, for some reason, made me feel good.

I helped my mom purchase the Honda CRV a few years ago by talking to the general manager of the dealership.  He is very close friends with a attorney friend of mine.  They took care of my mom when she bought it and I was happy to help her, of course.

Tracy's son, Matthew, recently turned 16, got his drivers' license and needs a car to drive.  Tracy and Gary wanted to buy it from mom, but I wouldn't hear of that.  I want Matthew to have it and it makes not sense for them to pay for it, particularly after all that Tracy has done and continues to do for my mom.  Most importantly, my mom would want Matthew to have the car and wouldn't hear of Tracy and Gary paying her for it.

The last couple of days, when it hit home that I wouldn't be driving the Honda CRV any longer and that it wouldn't be parked in front of my house, I've been a little sad.  Strange, I know, but driving it has made me feel closer to my mom.  Closer, really, to the person she used to be, before Alzheimer's disease and other complications kidnapped her from us.

There are vestiges of my mom and earlier, happier days, inside the Honda CRV.  There's still a booster seat left over from when she used to occasionally keep J.P. for us.  She often drove him down the street from her house to the Brentwood Public Library.  That stopped, I guess, about the time he turned five years old.  I don't recall her ever keeping Joe on her own.

Although I've cleaned it out for the most part, there are still a few Wintergreen Lifesavers in the car.  My mom always had those in her purse, probably to keep her from giving in to the desire to smoke.  She quit smoking more than two decades ago.  There is loose change which, at some point, my mom handled when she could still make change.  I found a few handouts from an old Sunday school class she attended.

I'm happy for Matthew to have mom's car.  I remember what it was like when I got my first car, a 1966 Ford Mustang, also light blue.  It was one of the greatest moments of my life.  That Mustang represented so much to me.  Freedom.  Responsibility.  Leaving childhood behind.  Fun.  Work.  Promise.  Independence, most of all.  I'll never, ever forget my 1966 Ford Mustang and all that it symbolized for me.

On the other hand, though, it makes me sad to close another chapter of my mom's life.  And to know I won't be able to open that chapter again.  It's gone, forever lost except in my memory.

Damn, this is hard.  Hard and hopeless.