Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Heat Check and a Little Brother Who Thinks He's Steph Curry

Yesterday, in the second game of an early morning basketball doubleheader at JT Moore MS, J.P. took his first visit to "the zone," and he took me along with him as I watched from the scorers' table.

In a game the boys ended up losing, J.P.'s teammate, Braden, hit his team's first basket.  The next time down, J.P., playing wing, took a pass from Cooper, dribbled to his left, then shot a 10-footer.  In it went.  The very next time down the court, Cooper fed J.P., who was a little deeper on the left wing this time.  Without hesitation, J.P. let a 12-foot jumper fly.  Nothing but net!  I could hear Marv Albert in my head screaming "Yessssssssss!"

I turned to Jude and Joe, sitting to my right behind me, and yelled "heat check!"  Jude looked puzzled and only understood later, after I explained to her what a "heat check" was in basketball.  Joe got it, and later told Grandma and Grandpa about J.P.'s "heat check" game.

Our boys rebounded the ball and headed down court again, setting up the offense.  On a designed play, J.P. ran the baseline and set up on the left side.  Braden fed him the ball and I was almost on my feet - ignoring the fact that I really shouldn't cheer or coach from the scorer's table - as he let fly 15-footer.  The ball hit the rim, rattled and fell through the net.  His third basket in a row.  His teammates were standing on the sideline, screaming.  Our fans behind me were cheering.  I looked back at Jude and Joe and yelled, loudly this time, "HEAT CHECK!!!!"

J.P. ran back down the court to get in position to play defense, an impassive look on his face, complete devoid of emotion.  That's when I knew he was in "the zone," that place in sports, especially basketball, where time slows down or stands still, there is no sound, the basketball feels natural in your hands and the basketball goal looks as big as at the ocean.  You have no idea what the score is or how much time is left on the clock.  Every shot you take feels like it's going to go in and they all do.

I've been there, but as an average athlete, only a handful of times.  The most memorable was during an early morning basketball game at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville during my third year of law school, 25 years ago.  Thankfully, my friend and fellow lawyer, Carl "P." Spining was there to witness it.  Every time we discuss it, he still shakes his head in disbelief at how hot I was that morning.  I never experience anything like that in basketball again.  For one morning in one game, anyway, I knew what it felt like to play the best basketball I was capable of, and I still remember the feeling.

That's were J.P. was yesterday morning, even though he might not realize it.  Cooper fed him again the next time his team had the ball and J.P. took his fourth consecutive shot, which rimmed out.  It's probably for the better, because my head would have exploded if he had hit four in a row.  Simply amazing.

Joe and I went to visit my mom after J.P.'s second basketball game.  We watched "Planes" with her for a little while, then drove back to the house so Joe could change clothes for his game.

Our close friends, Russ and Susannah Allen, brought J.P. and their son, Cooper, to Joe's game at Eakin ES.  Joe was very, very excited to have Russ there, who coaches J.P.'s team.  As I've said before, I think, Russ is Joe's unofficial godfather.  Joe idolizes him and Russ loves him like a second son.

Joe was a little down early and complained to me on the bench that no one was passing him the ball.  I pointed to the scoreboard and reminded him that basketball was a team game and that his team was leading 8-2.  It's hard to explain to a 5 year old that basketball at that age doesn't involve a lot of passing.  He rallied emotionally after a rough patch and was fine.

Early in the second half, Joe ended up with a loose ball and dribbled up the right side of the court.  Dribbling at that age, mind you, is a loose term, as almost all of the boys (especially and including Joe) dribble two or there times, grab the ball and take a couple of steps, then dribble again.  The referees are indulgent but great at stopping play and teaching the boys how to play properly.

Joe drove toward the basket, in a little traffic and pulled up from five or six feet away, and shot the ball toward the 8-foot basketball goal.  It went in, a "no doubter," and he celebrated as he ran back up court in imitable Joe fashion.  He looked up at the crowd, pointed at Russ who was sitting to he top row of the bleachers, and waves his fingers in what he believes is the "money sign."  Then, Joe looked over at me on the bench, held his hands above his head, brought them together, and pretended to "stir the pot and cook it up" - James Harden's signature celebratory move.

I couldn't stop laughing.  I looked like Russ was going to fall out of the bleachers.  Jude just shook her head, smiling.

A minute or two later, Joe stole the ball and drove up court again, this time all alone with defenders chasing him.  Rather than drive down the right side of the lane for an uncontested layup, he pulled up from 10 feet or so and shot a jumper on the run.  Just like Steph Curry.  It rimmed out, of course, and I laughed and laughed and laughed.

That's Joe in a nutshell.  Enthusiastic, self-confident, exuberant and completely with a lack of self-awareness when he's playing sports that will serve him well, I think.  Beautiful.

It's Sunday morning and I'm sitting in my usual spot at the Frothy Monkey.  I'll pack up my laptop now and head down to see my mom.  It's a beautiful, warm January day outside, with people already wearing shorts.  That's nice after the snow, ice and single digit temperatures from last week.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Short Answer

With winter weather approaching - or at least what passes for it in Nashville - Independence HS moved their basketball games against Brentwood HS, my alma mater, from tonight (Friday) to last night (Thursday).  They also moved the games from Independence to Brentwood, which worked great for me because it meant I could swing my Brentwood HS on my way home and watch my niece and goddaughter, Kaitlyn, play basketball.

Kaitlyn has been a four year started at point guard, which is interesting, because neither Gary nor Tracy are particularly athletic.  Watching Kaitlyn play high school basketball has been a joy of mine, although I haven't gotten to see her play as much as I would have liked.  This year, her senior year, I've committed to seeing as many of her games as I possibly can.

Kaitlyn loves the game of basketball, although her love of the game has waned a bit over the last couple of years due for reasons I won't go into high now.  This is my view from afar and my view only, but Kaitlyn's love affair with basketball ended prematurely.

Several years ago, before she was in high school, I nicknamed Kaitlyn "the Short Answer," in a transparent attempt to convince her to shoot more.  If Allen Iverson was "the Answer," I wanted Kaitlyn to be "the Short Answer."  Although I still wish she would shoot a little more, she is the consummate point guard.  She has great court vision, is an exquisite passer and almost always makes the right play.  She's an excellent ball handler.  She plays hard on defense and is almost always in the right place at the right time.  What she may lack in quickness or athletic ability, she makes up for with a high basketball I.Q., near perfect positioning and a keen sense of anticipation.

In many ways, she's the basketball player I always wanted to be but never was when I played many, many years ago.

Kaitlyn probably could play basketball for a small college - at least I think so - but I think she's ready to be finished with basketball.  I think she wants to focus on her studies in college and, really, just being a college student.  There's nothing in the world wrong with doing that, particularly since playing basketball in college would take up an inordinate amount of time.  She's a brilliant student and is looking at academic scholarship money wherever she goes to college which, of course, is fantastic.  To say I'm proud of her would be an understatement.

Her Independence HS girls' team has struggled this season, as in the past three seasons.  They have a new coach.  Hopefully, they'll finish strong in district play and maybe win a couple of games.

Okay, back to the game against Brentwood HS.  It was her team's best game of the season at least among the games I've seen.  I was proud, really proud, of how hard Kaitlyn and her teammates played.  They were playing against a better team, for sure, that was better coached.  Still, they fought hard and actually had the ball down by four points at the end of the first half.  Rather than wait for the last shot of the half, however, one of her teammates drove the lane and missed a shot early in the shot clock.  A player from Brentwood HS rebounded the ball, drove up court and was fouled as she made a layup.  Just like that it was halftime and Independence was down by seven, when they could have cut the lead to two points with better clock management.

The second half was similarly well played.  Independence HS fell behind by double digits early, then Kaitlyn and the other guards began trapping Brentwood HS's ball handlers as soon as they crossed midcourt with the ball.  The result of their aggressive defense was several turnovers by Brentwood HS and the lead quickly evaporated with Independence HS cutting it to four, then two points.  Kaitlyn and her teammates could never get over the hump, though, and ran out of gas midway through the fourth quarter.  Kaitlyn fouled out and Brentwood HS pulled away, ultimately winning by 10 points or so.

The officiating was objectively horrendous.  Because the game had been moved to Thursday night, the regular TSSAA officials weren't available and there was one, maybe two, fill in referees.  We were sitting almost directly behind the Independence HS bench, along with several family members of Kaitlyn's teammates.  As the one referee - who clearly was a fill in - continued to make bad call after bad call against Independence HS, I got angrier and progressively louder in voicing my displeasure.  I wasn't the only one complaining about the officiating but, in truth, I may have been the loudest.

At one point, after a bad call, I yelled "When do the real referees get here!?!"  That drew laughs from the crowd and, it turns out, a few players, too.

After I got home after the game, my brother-in-law, Gary, called me.  He told me that in the locker room, after the game, some of Kaitlyn's teammates were asking whose father was the one in the suit yelling during the game.

"That's not someone's father," Kaitlyn said.  "That's my uncle."

"He was awesome," the girls replied.

And I've been chuckling about it ever since.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018


I'm sitting in the library at NHC Place after visiting with my mom for a little while.  I often stop by the library after I see her.  It's quiet - there's never anyone here - and it's a good place for me to collect my thoughts and get in a better frame of mind before I leave.

It's not a particularly large room, so it's cozy and most importantly, peaceful.  There are a pair of yellow, comfortable wing back chairs, with lamp in between, that I like to sit in and read.  There's a table in the middle of the room with four chairs, where I'm sitting right now.  There's also a couple of small desks with a computer on one of them.  Best of all, there are built in bookshelves filled with books for residents to read.  I think that's what I like best about the room.

I brought donuts today, as I often do on Sunday mornings when I visit.  I sat with my mom and 4 other ladies at a table and chatted.  They all ate donuts, which made me happy.  It was interesting to watch my mom and the lady sitting next to her - whom I don't know - interact and try to clean the donut glaze chips off each other after they were finished.  My mom, ever the nurse and caregiver, showed the lady how to put the brakes on her wheelchair so she could stand up and brush herself off.

My mom isn't strong enough to stand up on her own anymore, not by a long shot.  In fact, Alicia - the nurse in Aspen Arbor - offhandedly mentioned today that my mom had eaten breakfast a little late because it had taken two caregivers to rouse her and get her up this morning.

My mom seemed diminished today.  Smaller and thinner.  Weaker and more helpless.  She was in a good mood and seemed content, unlike yesterday.  That was nice, of course.  Still, I can't shake the feeling that time is running for her.  I don't t think she is going to be with us much longer.  I have a strong sense that God is not going to let her linger here, on earth, helpless and unable to recognize or communicate with anyone.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that's going to be his gift to her and to us.

It's hard to believe that almost exactly a year ago, she was able to attend a few of Kaitlyn's basketball games, walking with a cane, no less.  She was able to follow, generally, what was going on and to cheer when Kaitlyn's team played well.  Now, she can't get our of her wheelchair or go to the bathroom without assistance.  That's hard to fathom and hard to accept, for me, anyway.

Now, I'm going to drive to Nashville and go to church at St. Patrick.  I'm scheduled to do the second reading today.  I'll get through my reading and put on a false smile for my boys to disguise how sad I feel and how much I miss the mom I used to know before Alzheimer's stole her from me and my family.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 in Review

In 2017, I've written a lot about my mom's declining health, the toll Alzheimer's disease has taken on her and the impact of her ordeal on me and my family.  Yes, it's been a dark year for me at times but not all of the time.  For today, I thought I'd post only happy memories from 2017.

To steal a line from retired former Nashville Banner sportswriter Joe Biddle, below, in no particular order, are some "random ruminations while wondering whatever happened to John Jefferson . . . "  Okay, not really ruminations but happy memories for me.

  • Thanks to the generosity of friends like the Allens, Sweeneys and Wrights, we discovered Seven Hills Pool and spent a few quiet, lovely late afternoons and evenings there as guests.  Seven Hills is a neighborhood swimming and tennis club that I fell in love with from the minute we walked in the doors this summer.  For me, it was like climbing into a time machine and setting the dials for the Brentwood Dolphin Club in 1978.  It felt like home.  On several occasions, we took the boys there and had dinner with our "baseball friends," watched the kids' swim together and jump off the diving board and had a beer or two.  
  • Jude and I devoured the S-Town (Shit Town) podcast, by This American Life's Brian Reed.  I think my friend, Doug Brown, turned me on to it.  Soon, several of our "baseball friends" listen to it, as well.  Jude and I spent several nights discussing the protagonist, John B. McLemore.    
  • Before we moved my mom from Maristone to NHC Place - which was at the best thing that happened to me all year long - I made a habit of stopping by my mom's place during the work day to see her.  Often times, I stretched out on the long couch in her apartment and napped for 20 or 30 minutes, a soap opera playing quietly on the television.  My visits with her were a temporary oasis in the midst of my hectic, stressful life.  I miss those naps on her couch.
  • Our trip to Santa Rosa beach was a highlight of the year, as always.  The Allens were staying on 30A at the same time, so hanging out with them made it even better.  I'm a little sad we'll miss the beach the end of this summer, though, since we're headed to Utah to vacation with Jude's college friends.
  • Baseball.  The Dodgers and Junior Dodgers.  In the spring, I coached 19 boys on two teams (4, 5 and 6 year olds with Joe) and, as 13 on the Dodgers (JP's 9-10 year olds).  In the fall, I coached two teams only with most of the same kids.  There were lots of baseball highlights for J.P. and Joe.  In our final game of the fall season, at a key moment, J.P. hit a line drive that almost broke the pitcher's arm.  It was scary, for a moment, but amazing when we realized that the pitcher was okay.
  • I've always run, but I began to make running more of a priority in my life in 2017, particularly the last part of the year.  I'm hoping that continues into 2018.
  • The Predators.  Damn, their run to the Stanley Cup Finals (vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins) may have been the sports highlight of my life.  I saw every home playoff game in person.  The entire state - hell, the entire region - adopted the team and reveled in their success.  It was amazing to be a part of it, for sure.  
  • Lots and lots of reading.  Jacksonland by Steve Instep, The Force by Don Winslow, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Darren Wang, Flight of Passage by Rinker Buck, We Were Eight Years in Power:  An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bluebird, Bluebird were notable.  
  • I've written at length about Tom Petty's death and how profoundly it affected me.  For one thing, I vowed never to miss another show I want to see.  The cool thing, though, is the way J.P. and Joe have become such big Petty fans in the aftermath of his death.  The last three months, it's almost all we listen to in my truck.
  • Musically with the boys, it was a huge year for Kraftwerk.  For some reason, one morning at breakfast, I played a couple of songs from Computer World on Alexa and the boys were hooked.  We wore that album out for several months, especially as Joe and I drove him to school every day.  When Chris Reber and were listening to that album on the way to Franklin High School in 1982, riding in his VW Bug, I never though I'd be listening to to it 35 years later with my sons.  
  • Bonnaroo, as always, was a good part of my year.  Doug Brown making a cameo appearance made it even better.  My friend, Paul Jennings, generously allowed us to stay in his cabin in Monteagle, which was perfect.
There's more.  There's always more, but those are a few of my fonder memories from 2017.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reflections on Christmas 2017

Christmas 2017 has come and gone, lights and Christmas decorations around the neighborhood are coming down and it's almost time to began the post-holiday winter grind.

Some noteworthy moments for me, some good and some not so good, from the Christmas season -

  • As always, playing hide and seek withe Jude and the boys in the Christmas trees at Santa's Trees (Hillsboro HS) was a highlight of the season.  Also as always, I end up wishing we had done it more than once.
  •  The Elf on the Shelf.  Moving him every night, which this year was my responsibility, and watching the boys look for him every morning.  It's a joy that they still believe wholeheartedly in the Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus.  I wonder if that will be the case, for J.P., next year.
  • The weather has been nice, for the most part, and too cold until the last few days (14 degrees this morning).  That's allowed for a lot of outstanding running for me, including the other day after work when I saw a white squirrel in Pinkerton Park.
  • Our last Governor's Christmas Party at the Governor's Mansion and our last Christmas tree lighting and party at the State Capitol.  We've all felt a little bit special attending these events that last six or seven years through Jude's job as Director of the Children's Cabinet.
  • For me, seeing my favorite coffee shops and houses in my neighborhood decorated for Christmas has been great.  It always is.  The share sense of celebration and anticipation is reassuring.

  • On a lark, the boys and I going to the Evergreen event organized by my friend, Courtney Little, as a benefit for Renewal House.  It was outside at a vacant lot he owns near Houston Station.  While kids cavorted in the dark and adults huddled around the fire, others (including me) bought handmade Christmas ornaments.
  • Spending Christmas afternoon with my side of the family at my sister's house in Franklin was a memory to cherish, especially since I'm not sure how my mom will be doing next Christmas.

  • It was great to spend time with James and Megan (Jude's brother and sister-in-law) over Christmas.  Watching them navigate the landscape of having two children 3 and under brought back a lot of memories, mostly good ones.
  • I organized our annual office Christmas party and dinner, which was held a couple of nights ago.  Having it after Christmas really worked well.  Drinks at Bastion were fantastic and dinner at Hemingway's Bar and Hideaway was good.  It was a good time, as we recognized Alisha Warner's decade with PNM.
  • In what has become, for me, a holiday tradition, I played hooky from work one day after Christmas.  I saw "Ladybird," a great movie, at the Green Hills movie theatre, followed by a beer at the Smith & Lentz craft brewery in East Nashville and coffee at Bongo Java East.
  • When - sadly - the inflatable Santa Claus "in a hot air balloon" that the Elf on Shelf brought the boys a few Christmases ago died, I was prepared.  Christmas morning, Santa Claus delivered another inflatable for Jude, since she had sent a note up to him with the Elf ("Cooper Allen Elf," by the way) on his nightly trip to the North Pole.  I think I outdid myself (see below).

  • The highlight that topped them all was watching the boys on December 26, when they opened up the X-Box Jude and I had gotten them.  J.P.'s reaction was priceless and I'm so happy I videotaped it.  Knowing that Jude and I are not fans of video games, he was shocked and stunned as he unwrapped the box and realized we had given them an X-Box.  Initially speechless, he jumped up and tackled Jude in a bear hug.  It was priceless.

And, last but not least, our Christmas tree.  

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas with Mom

I'm grabbing a quick cup of coffee in a nearly deserted Box on 10th Avenue before I head down to see my mom.  Jude, the boys and her family are planning a trip to the Opryland Hotel this morning.

My sister, Tracy, hosted our family at her house in Franklin yesterday afternoon to celebrate Christmas.  Earlier in the day, she and Alice picked up my mom from NHC Place and brought her over to Tracy's house.

The significance of the event in the context of our family history wasn't lost on me, given the relative certain of the continued decline of my mom's health.  I had to at least acknowledge the possibility that it might have been our last Christmas together, as a family, at least with my mom semi-cognizant of what was going on around her.  I hate to write that, but it's true.

For the first coupe of hours after we arrived, my mom was alert and in good spirits.  She sat contentedly in her wheelchair and seemed to enjoy interacting with her grandchildren, J.P., Joe, Kaitlyn and Matthew.  Christmas in our family has always been somewhat chaotic, particularly when it comes to opening presents.  You see, we're not an "open on present at time family," like Jude's.  We're an "everyone opens their presents at once" family.  Yesterday was no different, although perhaps a little subdued under the circumstances.

Resurrecting a tradition that my mom always acted like she loathed (but secretly loved), I tossed balled up wrapping paper toward her after I opened up one of my presents.  She looked up, surprised, saw me, then grinner ear to ear and laughed as she weakly threw the ball of wrapping paper back toward me.  For just an all too brief moment, the veil of sadness, anxiety and confusion that constantly envelopes our lives lifted and we reverted to our old Christmas selves.  Me, in the role of joker and prankster and my mom in the role of witting victim, laughing all along the way.  Just like the good old days.

Trace and Alice transferred my mom to the couch after while.  Unfortunately but predictably, the veil lowered again too soon, and I noticed my mom taking short breaths like she does when she's getting anxious.  I tried, but there was nothing I could say or do to help her settle down.  She no longer laughed at my jokes or the funny faces I made to her.  Likely, it had something to do with night falling or, maybe, she was just tired.  I walked into the kitchen and gave Tracy a knowing look and she nodded, got up, and began to wind down the gathering.  Within a few minutes, Jude, the boys and I were packed up and in my trusty 12 year old Yukon traveling north to our house in Nashville.  And Tracy, Gary and Alice took my mom back to NHC Place.

Not to be trite, but often times if you watch and listen, really listen with an open mind and open heart, there's a moment in times of sadness or trouble that you can learn from or that is uplifting.  I had just such a moment yesterday evening before we left.

As we were saying our goodbyes, I stepped into the kitchen to say goodbye to my sister's husband, Gary, and to thank him for hosting and cooking for all of us.  He stopped cleaning the kitchen for just a moment, looked at me genuinely and openly and out of the blue, quietly said a word or two to me.

"Remember to enjoy the time you have with her.  Even the tough times."  I nodded, knowingly and appreciatively, then gathered my boys and walked outside as Gary resumed cleaning the kitchen.

Gary lost his dad a couple of years ago.  His mom died this year.  He spend a great deal of time in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, helping her and spending time with her the last few months of her life.  "Gary knows of what he speaks," I thought to myself on the drive home.

And that's what I'm going to do, I decided, in 2018.  I'm going to try to enjoy the time I have with my mom.  Every single minute.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Reflections on the Morning of Christmas Eve

I'm sitting at the Frothy Monkey having a quick cup of coffee before the day begins in earnest.  The boys and I are going to go see my mom, then we'll head to church for the 4:30 p.m. Christmas Eve service.  I have some wrapping to do and some organizing of presents, but I think I'm finally done with shopping other than picking up some items from Walgreens for Jude's stocking (an old joke b/w us - Santa brings Jude and me things like toothpaste, deodorant, etc. for our stocking).

Tentatively, it looks like Tracy and Gary will pick up my mom tomorrow and take her their house, where we'll have Christmas in the late afternoon.  I think they're going to check the weather and see how my mom is feeling before making the final call on whether to take her out tomorrow afternoon.

It's been a bit of a struggle for me this year to get into the Christmas season.  My mom's plight is never far from my mind and my heart.  It's taken away from my usual enjoyment of December.  Normally, this time of year rejuvenates me emotionally and that just hasn't been the case.  I wonder if that will change for me or if this is just the new normal, given that my mom's condition is not going to improve.  In fact, it's only going to get worse.

I'm trying to appreciate the visits I have with her.  I know, at some point in the not too distant future, she's going to be gone and I'm going to wish I had the ability to stop in and see her - to see her smile and hear her laugh - even for just a few minutes.  This ride we're on with her near the end of her life is strange and complex, in terms of how it makes me feel, not just about her but about life in general. 2017 has been a difficult year for me, probably the worst of my 51 on this earth.

We had a nice visit yesterday afternoon.  When I arrived, she was watching a Christmas movie - The Christmas Project - with a few other residents.  I sat down beside her and as we watched, she laughed and laughed at the movie.  She wasn't really following what was going on but she was enjoying herself.  We didn't say much to each other, but we were content, I think, just being together.  And that meant everything to me.  It really did.

Sometimes I wonder why I continue to post on this blog, particularly since the subject matter has changed from J.P. and Joe to my mom.  Writing helps me work things out in my head, I think.  It allows me to verbalize my emotions and feelings, which in turn helps me understand them.  Part of me feels like I'm going to want a record of this time in my life, even though it's painful to experience now.  I think I want the boys to have a record of the end of my mom's journey, too.

Also - and I should have said this long ago, but I'm going to say it now - it gives me a measure of comfort to know that there are friends and family interested enough in me and my family to read this blog, even occasionally.  It feels like someone is listening to me and, I guess, thinking about me and maybe sending good thoughts my way.

So, thank you for taking the time to listen.  It helps.  It really does.