Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's Ornamental

I hate winter, but Christmas brightens it up for me. I always decorate as soon as I can—sometimes after the last bite of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. (I am opposed to doing it sooner than that.) Last year at this time I was renting a room from a friend. She doesn’t always put up a tree, but she did last year—I think at least in part for my benefit. I appreciated that she did that. A lot. It was a nice tree. I enjoyed sitting and looking at it. But, it wasn’t my tree. I was trying to figure out why that mattered. Mine wasn’t any nicer than hers—in fact, hers was nicer than mine. Hers wasn’t a whole lot different than mine. So, why did I miss my tree?

I got the answer this year when I started decorating my tree the day after Thanksgiving. I opened my tin of ornaments and it may as well have been a passport for a trip down memory lane. (I’m not sure why I’d need a passport for that particular trip, but that’s what popped in my head, so I’m going to roll with it.)

As I pulled each ornament out, I remembered its significance. In some cases the only significance was that I got it on clearance for a good price. But, in some cases, it was special because of who gave it to me.

I had two ornaments from Becky. Both have my name written in gold; one is dated 1986 and another 1987. Becky was my Sunday school teacher at the time and gave each of us in the class an ornament each year. One is circular and has a nativity scene, the other is bell-shaped and depicts an angel praying. Both are special to me and remind me not just of Becky but of Olivet Christian Church.

I have two ornaments that remind me of my friend Mary. One she gave me and it reads “Our friendship is a special treasure…Christmas 1992.” We had become friends in 1982 (seventh grade). In 1992 10 years seemed like a long friendship. I’m happy to say that in 2010, it’s a longer friendship by 18 years. The other ornament that reminds me of her is one that I bought for her in 1995….and never gave to her. It remained wrapped for a couple of years. We’d see each other periodically, but I never remembered to bring the ornament with me. Besides, giving it in July would have been weird. Finally, I unwrapped it and started hanging it on my tree. Every year when I place it, I smile and say to myself, “Merry Christmas, Mary!”

The tree shaped ornament I got from Barbie stands out because of its size and non-traditional colors—pink, purple and teal. She picked it because those are her favorite colors. The ornaments on my tree are predominantly red, not by plan. You might think I’d be inclined to hang hers toward the back so it didn’t clash. I don’t. Barbie is not a back branch kind of person. So, every year it stands out in much the same way she stands out in a crowd. And it makes me smile.

As I pull out the silver ornament from Mom I am reminded of a kind gesture. I had come home from college and I stopped by to see Mom at the post office when I got to town. She mentioned she had sent the package off. “What package?” I wondered aloud. “Oh, I don’t think I was supposed to tell you that,” she replied. It turns out that someone at the dorm had tried to coordinate a surprise where each of our parents would send an inexpensive gift and the RA was going to present the gifts at our dorm holiday party. So, surprise ruined for me, no big deal.

I then mentioned that I imagined my roommate’s dad (her only living parent) wouldn’t send her anything as they had been on the outs. Sure enough, the day of the big surprise came. Almost everyone was surprised and were excited to open their gifts. Mom sent me this silver ornament, but as I suspected, Shari’s dad hadn’t sent anything. What I hadn’t expected was that my mother sent her something. It was an ornament just like mine. It arrived via FedEx so that it would get there in time. There is no doubt in my mind that Shari would rather have gotten something from her dad. But, I suspect she appreciated not being the only one without anything to open. As I hang mine on the tree, I wonder if she still has hers. I imagine she doesn’t. I wonder how she’s doing.

There are ornaments from other friends—a baseball ornament from Dave; a mouse with a candy cane from Lavon; a hand-painted mouse ornament from Jordan when she was a wee one; Santa Claus ornaments from Kathy and Kathi; a skier from Joan; manger scene and angels from Matt and a fan from Ilena. Some date back around twenty years, some just a few years. Each reminds me of these people and what they mean to me.

Then, there are a few ornaments that remind me of places I’ve been and the people with whom I went. I have a baseball ornament from Cooperstown which reminds me of my road trip with Jamey in 1999. I have a set of three ornaments from Greece which conjure memories of my trip there with Kathy to visit her son, Jameson over Thanksgiving 2006. There is nothing Grecian about them other than the fact they were purchased there. For all I know they were made in China. (Three out of the four of them survived the plane ride home…that’s why it’s a set of three. )

And, it’s not just the ornaments. I have a Christmas centerpiece from Barbie, a fabric wreath from Mary, candles from Wade, a mop angel from Michelle, a snow globe from Joan, a snowman from Kathy, snowmen and candles from Dave, and…the list goes on. Some of these friends have moved away, some I’ve lost touch with, some I remain close with, all have been an important part of my life.

So, yes, my friend’s tree last year was beautiful and it helped brighten my winter, but it couldn’t quite substitute for my tree because there are no substitutes for my friends and what they mean to me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankfulness, Givingness

Many of us will have the day off from work.
Many of us will be surrounded by family and friends.
Many of us will share an abundance of food.
Many of us will gather in the comfort and warmth of our homes.
Many of us will lift up our thankfulness for all that is good in our lives.

Some of us will not.
Some of us must work, perhaps a second job.
Some of us are without a job.
Some of us will be alone.
Some of us will spend the holiday without a departed loved one for the first time.
Some of us are unjustly incarcerated.
Some of us won’t have enough or anything to eat.
Some of us will look for shelter in the outdoors with only a blanket for warmth.
Some of us will lift up thankfulness for a simple gift that many of us take for granted—a blanket, a scrap of food.

This Thanksgiving, as we lift up our thankfulness, we might also ask that our hearts be filled with givingness.
A givingness that smiles and provides rest for the weary.
A givingness that offers company to the lonely.
A givingness that provides a shoulder to catch the tears of the grieving.
A givingness that seeks justice for the injustices.
A givingness that feeds the bellies and nourishes the souls of the hungry.
A givingness that provides shelter for those who have none.
A givingness that offers warmth and security to the cold and frightened.

A givingness that produces more thankfulness that produces more givingness.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cancer Sucks!

Those of you who have known me since 2008 or before are aware of my past participation in the Breast Cancer 3-Day with my friend, Kathy--in Kansas City in 2006, Seattle in 2007 and the Twin Cities in 2008. (I probably asked you for money.) During that time, we produced a periodic newsletter to share our training and fundraising progress as well as information about breast cancer.

In most issues we had a feature called "Profile in Courage" which was about someone who was fighting breast cancer, or who had survived it or who had lost their life to this $%$#ing disease. These articles were often contributed by people we know about someone they loved. In at least three cases, the person who was featured was fighting the disease and has since lost the battle. I'm sad to say, tonight I learned of a fourth.

Karen passed away on Friday. I didn't know her well. In fact, I didn't know her at all until we featured her in our newsletter in May of 2006. Her daughter and niece submitted the article. She was a co-worker of Kathy's. She was one of our biggest supporters. She volunteered with us at Starlight to help us raise money. She was at our vendor party last fall to support Kathy and Kathi in the Phoenix walk (I retired). She read every newsletter and, I found out last year, shared them with her daughter and family.
She was a strong woman, a loving mother, and a doting grandmother. Below is her Profile in Courage.

Profile in Courage—Karen McCommas
(Contributed by her daughter, Amanda Dey and her niece, Shelly Ballesteros)

Breast cancer awareness has always been part of our family - our maternal grandmother had a bilateral radical mastectomy long before either one of us can remember. Her victory over breast cancer provided proof to her daughters (and granddaughters) that being diagnosed with breast cancer was not a death sentence. For the females of the family that meant monthly breast self-exams and regular mammograms.

My mother (and aunt), Karen McCommas, was no exception. She performed her self-exams and had regular mammograms until we moved from Texas to Kansas in November 2005. I had given birth just before the move and as always, my mother was there to help. Instead of finding a job immediately she took care of my newborn for six months. She then began her job search— after temp jobs, leaving a permanent job, and then waiting for insurance to kick in at her current employment, it had been around two years since her last mammogram.

In August 2006 she discovered a lump on the side of her left breast. The biopsy results came back positive for breast cancer. By September 2006 she had a left mastectomy with a second surgery to retrieve lymph nodes that were missed during the original surgery. The lymph nodes showed almost complete replacement of normal cells with cancer cells so the treatment plan was an aggressive one.

Every two weeks she received chemotherapy and then would give herself injections every day for 10 days following treatment. She scheduled her treatments for Fridays so she could rest over the weekend and return to work on Monday. Even after sleepless nights and all the side effects of the chemo she still went to work every day. She is still going through Radiation treatment which should be finished by May.

Throughout it all, Karen has maintained that positive and bubbly attitude we know and love her for. She has never complained, never let being diagnosed or going through the various treatments get her down or prevent her from living her life. Karen is an amazing woman, full of courage and an enormous amount of strength.

Having breast cancer has never prevented Karen from the joys of being a wonderful Nana to my very active 2 ½ year old. She has been the epitome of strength – reminding us all that no matter what life gives you, you can overcome any obstacle.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Waiting Game

I'm not good at waiting. Whether it be waiting for the pizza delivery person to arrive or waiting for water to boil, I'm just not patient. But, I'm especially not good at waiting for medical tests.

On September 17 I had my annual screening mammogram. On September 20 I got a call from the breast center letting me know they saw a "density" on my right breast. They explained it's probably nothing and could be anything, but they wanted me to come in for a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound. I scheduled the next available appointment, which was September 30.

I woke up on September 21 and realized there was no way someone as anti-waiting as I am was going to make it until September 30 without driving myself bonkers. I understood it was almost certainly nothing, but sometimes you want more than "almost." Especially if you've watched your sister go through breast cancer treatments. So, at 8:00 am I called the breast center to see if there was any chance I could get an earlier appointment. They told me to come in at 9:00 that day. Peachy!

I was glad to hear them say that I would have some sort of an answer right then. Yay! No waiting! I had the diagnostic mammogram first. In case you're wondering, the experience is pretty much like a screening mammogram except they compress it more and they focus on a specific area. When they looked at the pictures, the density wasn't as clearly defined, but the doctor advised that I go ahead and get the ultrasound just to be sure.

On the way to the ultrasound, the gal who escorted me asked if I had been called back before. I hadn't. After all my previous mammograms I had gotten a letter in the mail saying that everything was A-OK, come back in a year. I was a little annoyed that they went off script this year by calling me. She said, "you're probably freaking out, then." I said I wasn't (much) and that I kept reminding myself that it was probably nothing. She told me to keep reminding myself that, because it usually is nothing.

On the ultrasound they spotted a small nodule. I saw it on the screen, but I didn't ask the technician any questions about it. She escorted me in silence back to the breast center. I tend to crack jokes when I'm nervous (or any time I get a chance, really) so when we walked past an exam room that had a treadmill in it, I said, "At least none of my tests today involved a treadmill." She laughed.

Back at the breast center, the radiologist confirmed the presence of a "suspicious abnormality." A biopsy was recommended and my doctor's office would be calling me about that. She asked if I had questions. I was sure I should have about a dozen, but I asked none. She said if I came up with any, I could ask the nurse when she called or I could call them. She handed me a pamphlet about breast biopsies and I headed out the door. The gal who escorted me to the ultrasound spotted me in the hall and asked, "well, did it go alright?" I didn't know how to answer. I smiled, "yes, it went fine, thanks."

Yes, it went fine. At this point, I still realized it was probably nothing. 80% of all breast biopsies are benign. Yay! But, please God, make me one of the 80%, thanks!

I had to wait a whole day to get the official order from my doctor to schedule the biopsy. Of course, I wanted to schedule it for the next moment possible, and they were happy to oblige...except the next moment possible was October 4. Twelve long days away. Seriously? OK. This non-waiter was going to have to learn some patience. Like now!

I spent the next few days reminding myself that it was probably nothing and that even on the off chance it was something, it was pretty small, thus nothing to worry about. Early in the waiting period, I was about 96-97% sure it was nothing. But, by about day 6, that grew to about 99.99999999%. But the waiting was still getting on my nerves.

A week before the biopsy, a nurse from the breast center called to walk me through the procedure. It went something like this. "You will be getting an ultrasound guided core needle biopsy. They'll find the lump again on the ultrasound and the doctor will mark where she wants to enter your breast. They will numb you with lidocaine. The doctor will make a small cut where she will enter with the instrument. The instrument has a core needle, or hollowed out needle on the end and she will use it to collect samples. It will make a clicking sound when she collects a sample. She'll deposit the sample in a container and then go back in to collect a total of 3-6 samples. When she is done, she will insert a titanium marker so that we can watch that spot on future mammograms. We'll apply pressure for 10 minutes to stop the bleeding. We'll cover with steri-strips. Then, we'll take you in for a mammogram so we can get a new baseline for your right breast. Bring a supportive bra that you can sleep in because you'll need to wear it for 24 hours. Any questions?"

I don't remember what questions I actually asked, but the one that was reverberating in my brain was, "Really? You're going to give me another mammogram after all of that?"

Anyway, the day of the procedure finally arrived. I was told to arrive 45 minutes early, so I did. I'm not sure why that was necessary unless they wanted me to get really familiar with their waiting room. Luckily a friend had come along so the wait went quickly.

They called me back on time and had me change into the lovely short smock thing they provide. Then, I had to wait for the ultrasound tech. More waiting. But, it wasn't a long wait. She took me back to the room and explained that they suspected it might be a papilloma, which is benign, but would probably need to be removed. But, there was a chance it was nothing at all. That sounded good to me. It sounded like worst-case scenario is that it's benign and needs to be removed.

She went on to describe what would happen during the procedure and it was pretty much as described a week earlier by the nurse. Pretty much. When she got to the part about the needle, she said, "Oh, and we have this new instrument we're going to use today. You'll be the first one we've used it on. Instead of having to go in multiple times to collect samples, this instrument collects multiple samples on one insertion. We've never used it on a human before, but we've used it on a fake breast with peas."

Really? Really.

I'm all for the latest gadgets and gizmos when we're talking computers or ways to make my tv-watching experience better. But, do I really want to be the first person whose breast they've used an "instrument" on? Well, OK. Even better, a representative from the company who makes this fine instrument was there and wanted to observe so I had an extra person in the room.

The procedure was pretty much painless. (Even the post-biopsy mammogram was pretty pain-free.) When they injected the lidocaine, they could tell by the way the lump behaved that it is probably just fibrocystic changes or something...not a papilloma. But, they'll test the tissue to be sure. Waiting on those results as we speak. As they inserted the titanium marker they assured me it wouldn't set off the metal detectors at the airport. I asked if I could at least brag to my friends that I have a titanium breast. They said I could. Be jealous. (It's a tiny little ribbon shaped marker.)

So, now all that is left to do is wait for the official word. I am not at all anxious about it, but looking forward to the official news and an end to the waiting.

(Reminder: October is national breast cancer awareness month, so I feel inclined to remind my gal friends that if you are due for your annual mammogram, schedule one soon!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Remembering Patsy

She was the woman who brought me into this world.

And, by God, she could take me out of it.

She was a simple woman.

She was a complicated woman.

She laughed often.

She grumbled a little...some days a lot.

She was the woman in the stands at my softball games who, when the ump made a bad call, would stand up and yell, "nuts and bolts, we get screwed." Aw, thanks, Mom.

She was filled with sage advice. "Whatever you do, don't ever get married. Live with someone if you want, but don't get married." Or, "If you don't like someone, call them a sow. A sow is a lot worse than a bitch."

She was the woman who would sit in the yard in her bra and shorts folding clothes. Which wouldn't be a horrible thing since it was the back yard. Except we lived on a corner lot.

She was a woman who would give the shirt off her back to help a friend. (Maybe that's why she sat outside in her bra?)

She was my mom and she is missed.

Patsy Ann Hickerson Riggs
August 20, 1930 - September 6, 2005

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Goodness, Graciousness

I was just coming to check on my friend and look what I got,” I heard him say as the van door slid shut just before we pulled away. What he got was a warm meal, some hygiene items and a blanket.

His name was Dave and I encountered him last night on my first venture out in the Uplift van to deliver meals and necessities to the homeless in Kansas City. I was subbing for a friend who does this on a regular basis.

At every stop, we found our guests to be gracious and appreciative. “Thank you so much. God bless you.” We often didn’t have what they needed. “That’s, okay,” they’d say. It wasn’t okay for me. At least half of them asked for shirts and we didn’t have any. I have a drawer full of t-shirts at home—about half of which I never wear. It’s time to go through it again.

We met some who were witty and funny. Two, at separate stops, proudly boasted they had the same waist size they had in high school. By and large they looked out for one another. One stop was across the street from some police activity. One of our guests had been over there. He pointed at the others around the van, “They tried to warn me to stay away from there, but I didn’t listen.

And we met Dave. I don’t know where we were exactly—underneath an overpass somewhere. When we first arrived at this particular stop, we didn’t see anyone. One man came out of the darkness. We served him a plate of pasta with meat sauce and green beans. He came to the side of the van where we offered him hygiene items and other things he might need.

Then, his friend, Dave, came to the van. We served him. He chatted with his friend. He chatted with us. When we asked how he was he said, “Pretty good. I woke up on the right side of the dirt this morning.” As with everyone else, we offered things he might need. Toothpaste? Shampoo? “What I really need,” he said, “is a blessing.

He asked if we could pray. At his urging, we joined hands and he led us in prayer. I don’t remember all the words, it rhymed and I wondered if it was memorized from childhood. One line was “Thank you for all you have given us today.” Perhaps the reason I don’t remember the rest of the words is because I was struck by that line. I am grateful for all that I have, but I don’t often take time out of my day to say thanks for it. The message at church last Sunday was essentially the less you have the more you tend to appreciate what you do have. That was the case for this man.

When I was asked to volunteer, I had no idea what to expect. In the end, I was just helping out my friend, and look what I got. Thank you, God, for all you have given me today.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I opened a can of worms. You can guess how it went from there.

So, I was having a “post the blog entry or don’t post the blog entry” debate with myself and essentially said so on Facebook as my status update. A word of advice: don’t do that unless you’re ready for several people to advise you to post it AND you’re actually prepared to post it. I was not prepared or ready on either count.

My initial hesitancy was just that it got a little more personal than I was prepared to share on the worldwide web. I made it a little less personal, but still I’m not sure I’m ready to share it. I let a friend read it and asked for her advice as to whether I should post it. She’s pretty conservative and private so I fully expected her to caution me against posting it. She didn’t. But still, I am reluctant to do so. I told her I’d think about it over the weekend. The weekend passed. I still wasn’t ready. That’s when I posted my status update.

I appreciated all the feedback I got, but now, I am even more hesitant to post it because, frankly, it’s really not all that good. I feel like there’s this expectation that it will be this moving piece. It’s not. At all. It was just me rambling, as is usually the case.

Anyway, I’m going to sit on it a while longer. Maybe I’ll post it. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll rewrite it entirely and share it in a new form. One thing I know is that writing it in the first place was healing in a way. Maybe that’s all it needs to be.

Going Home

Center, Missouri. Population 644 (at the 2000 census). About 100 miles northwest of St. Louis and about 20 miles southwest of Hannibal. Home.

I’ve been back home a number of times since I moved to the Kansas City area more than 18 years ago. From 2001-2008 I went back about once a month to check in on Mom and/or Dane. Those brief visits didn’t allow for much time to visit with people outside the family or to really connect with the town I called home for 18 years.

Looking for an opportunity for Dane to catch up with old friends, this past weekend I attended what my childhood friend now refers to as “the social event of the season”—Center Park Day. There is apparently some debate about how many years this event has taken place, but it’s been 59-ish years. My aunt recalls the circumstances around how it was begun. I wasn’t around then, I just remember it was a much-anticipated event for the youth of the town. (Adult views were probably more varied.) In my day, it was always held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August (election day). It is now held the last Saturday in July.

The Park Day of my youth included hourly cake walks and prize walks, kiddie parades, best decorated bike and trike contests, frog jumping contests, a bingo stand, the penny pitch, a dunking booth, water fights…the list goes on. At lunch time, they would randomly stop a family with out-of-state plates—presumably on vacation—at the four-way stop (yes, THE four-way stop…there is only one) and invite them to join us for lunch. They’d be ushered onto the stage and introduced and given a few gifts like a cooler and a road atlas or something and then they’d get a free meal. I always thought that would be an odd experience for anyone. Can you imagine?

Many aspects of the Park Days of my memory continue today. I watched a little girl carry a frog that was bigger than her forearm and plop him down on at the starting line of the frog jumping contest. I didn’t see the best decorated bicycle contest, but I spotted a bike adorned with streamers and wondered how it fared in the contest. The dunking booth was up and running. Dane won a German chocolate cake in the cake walk. My niece, Hannah, won a bike helmet in the prize walk. I watched from afar as youngsters fired water hoses at the barrel suspended from a line. Somewhere I have a plaque from winning the water fight in nineteen eighty-something.

This year, some of the things I remember were gone, but new things entered the mix including a newlywed game where a boy I once babysat was a contestant. There was a “Center’s Got Talent” competition and a “Minute to Win It” game based on a TV show. This suggests that while Park Day is rooted in tradition it can evolve with the times.

The absolute best thing about Park Day, though, is the people you see. I saw former classmates (from grade school through high school) Wendy, Beverly and Joni. I spotted Wendy with her son and asked, “Is this your little one?” She replied, “Yes,” and then she whispered, “He’s a mean little shit.” It warmed my heart to know she hasn’t changed. Beverly was there with her son selling cold water to raise money for a field trip (or something). Joni, who can proudly claim to have never missed a Park Day in 40 years, was there with her teenage daughter and they were looking forward to entering the look-alike contest. (I didn’t see it and I don’t know who their competition was, but they should have had a good shot at winning.)

I saw former Sunday school teachers, and softball coaches and a history teacher and lunch line ladies. I saw former softball teammates, Amber and Dawn. I saw parents of former classmates and friends—Joann and Charles; Mac and Leona; Bert; Judy; and Nancy. I ran into people who I used to see regularly on Sunday mornings at Olivet Christian Church—Ron and Lisa and Jan. All of these people helped shape my life in some way.

I tend to think of Kansas City (or Overland Park or whatever) as home now, but it’s no Center. I think the thing I like most about where I work and where I go to church (both of which have about the same number of members/employees as Center has residents) is the sense of community I feel at each of those places. It’s the sense of community that I first experienced in that little town that is but a speck on the map in northeast Missouri.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

He was a good man...

I went to a visitation tonight for a man I've known about 8-9 years. Don, who was the father/father-in-law of friends of mine, died just 15 days shy of his 90th birthday and 2 months shy of celebrating his 70th wedding anniversary with his wife, Lu. He liked people. Pretty much anybody. He'd lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it. He touched a lot of people's lives in his time on this planet, and mine was one of them.

I've shared a number of Easter and Christmas dinners with him over the last several years. My love life (or lack thereof) seemed to be a concern of his. He couldn't understand how I could possibly be single. He used to tell me, "You're a good woman. Any man would be lucky to have you." I'd respond by saying, "Well, tell that to any man." I think he thought I meant that as I once overheard him doing so.

On one occasion, he told me about one man in particular that was just perfect for me. Don informed me that "Al" (name changed to protect the innocent) was a good man and he had a nice house and all kinds of nice qualities. Sounded good. Except he lived in a small town in Nebraska about 5 hours away where Don and Lu were living at the time. Don didn't seem to think the distance should be an issue. I did.

Six or seven years ago, after they had visited over the holiday one year, I went with my friend to drive them back home to Nebraska. Don was hopeful that it would work out that I could meet Al during my visit. On the way there, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel for lunch where I continued to hear about the virtues of Al and how we should get together. Lu piped up and said, "Al? He's too old for her." Don said, "Well, he is not. He's not that old." Lu responded, "Well, he collects social security." I guess 60-something is still pretty young if you're 80-something, but as a 30-something (at the time), I was thinking that might be a little too old for me. Add to that the distance and it just was not meant to be. But, I got a good laugh out of it all. At least he had his eye out for me.

Don's teenage granddaughter wrote and read a beautiful tribute to him tonight. It was also a tribute to Lu and their nearly 70 years of marriage. Don's love for Lu was always apparent whether they were bickering or smiling at each other. He thought the world of her. While I found his quest to find a man for me amusing, I think in the end he just wanted everyone to have a little piece of what he had with Lu.

He was a good man and he will be remembered fondly by many.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Uncle Bud

The Fourth of July serves as a reminder to me of those who fought for our independence and those who subsequently fought for this country. Thus, it seems like an appropriate time to tell you about my Uncle Bud. I never knew him, so the details are sketchy at best. I'm sure my brother who remembers more stories than I do and my aunt will fill in some of the details for me.

He was born February 8, 1925 in rural northeast Missouri. He died March 2, 1945 on Iwo Jima. I don't know a whole lot about what happened in between. I know he was the lone son and second oldest child of my grandparents in a family of four sisters. I know he was a farm boy. I hear he had a sense of humor. His full name was Edwin Earl Hickerson. I don't know the exact story about how the nickname "Bud" came about, but I think it had to do with one of his sister's not being able to say his name.

I know he, like me, liked the St. Louis Cardinals. My mother used to tell me that Dizzy Dean was his favorite player. My aunt has a different recollection of who his favorite player was. My assumption is maybe he had different favorite players at different stages of his life. Whatever the case, it's interesting to me how something like baseball can connect generations even if they never met each other. When I visit Busch Stadium and see Dizzy's name, I think of Uncle Bud.

I don't know much about his service to the country. I know that before he went to Iwo Jima, he was at Camp Pendleton. I don't know where else he might have served. Just a couple of years ago my brother, Mark, discovered via an online search that Uncle Bud was mentioned in a book called "Immortal Images" which was about the flag raising on Iwo Jima. We learned that he, along with four Marines, volunteered for a dangerous mission to scale Mt. Suribachi on February 22 while it was still under enemy control. These five men have the distinction of being the first patrol to scale Mt. Suribachi. My uncle survived that mission, but was killed eight days later on the island.

His death had a huge impact on his family, as you would expect. Certainly when his name came up over the years, he was remembered with fondness, but the sadness also seemed close to the surface.

My mom worked at the post office for years and I often would ride my bike with her in the evening to the PO to take down the flag that flew in front of the building. It was important that it come down every evening because the flag was not supposed to be flown at night unless it was illuminated. This one wasn't. It also had to come down at even a hint of rain because it's not supposed to get wet (unless it is made of weather-resistant material, which most are now.) She had the utmost respect for that flag and treated it accordingly. As I think about that, it occurs to me that the flag was essentially all that she had left Uncle Bud. The respect she showed to that flag seemed to be an extension of the respect and pride she had in her big brother.

That's about all I know, or think I know. If I had a time machine, I'd travel back to meet Uncle Bud and learn more about what he was like. Maybe talk a little baseball or something.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Road Trip!

I recently spent a week with 27 teenagers (and 4 other adults) on a mission trip to Denver--by choice, even. It was a great experience. There were times when my patience was tested, as you might expect under the circumstances, but it was good. In addition to getting to know the kids a little better, I got to meet my friend Nora in person for the first time. (Maybe I'll explain that in a separate blog entry.) She joined us for dinner one evening at the church where we stayed.

On this trip we volunteered at a center for abused and neglected children, we cleaned and boxed food at a food pantry, we cleaned at Ronald McDonald House, we weeded at an urban garden, and we sorted books for a thrift store. In the evenings, the kids prepared meals for the group and we participated in worship together. Friday was our fun day and we got to go whitewater rafting, which was fabulous even though the water was 38 degrees.

I learned some things about the kids throughout the week. One: During worship I was struck by how insightful and thoughtful the kids were about what they experienced during the week. Two: When there was a job to do, they did it. I was particularly impressed by how they labored in the hot sun at the urban garden. Three: They're caring and compassionate people. Some of them may display a layer of orneriness on top, but the care and compassion is just under the surface. Four: They're funny. I love a good sense of humor.

I also learned a few things about myself. One: I was not made to sleep on sofas or drive up a mountain road. Two: I am perceived as "cool" by at least a smattering of the teen population. (By "smattering" I mean one or two teens.) Three: I'm 40. (OK, I already knew that, but this trip was the first time that 40 felt "old" to me.) Four: I have a lot to learn and there is a lot to be learned from the younger generation.

It was a long week and at the end of it all I felt like I needed a vacation after my vacation, but I'd do it again if the circumstances allowed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Tyrone was a boy from a neighboring town in our school district. He went to elementary school in our town because that’s where the special education program was conducted. Dane was also in that program, I think primarily because he needed someone to write out his homework answers. This was long before computers were common in schools.

Tyrone was one of only a few black students. Dane was the only student in a wheelchair. That’s irrelevant to the story except I’ve sometimes wondered if being “different” brought them together or if it was just the way it was supposed to be. Whatever the case, from my vantage point, Tyrone was a helpful soul and I would often see him pushing Dane through the school. It was an old building with stairs and no elevator. Tyrone was usually the one helping get Dane up and down those stairs. Tyrone made Dane laugh. Dane made Tyrone laugh. They were buds.

I don’t know if they remained as close through junior high and high school but they continued to be friendly. Tyrone played sports. Dane went to most of the games and kept stats (unofficially, in his own head, he wasn’t a statistician). Their lives were different.

When I was a freshman in high school and Tyrone and Dane were juniors, I played basketball as did Tyrone. The practice schedule alternated such that one week the girls would practice early followed by the boys practice and the next week it would switch. This particular day, the girls had practiced early and as was usually the case when that happened, I was waiting in the cafeteria for Mom’s taxi service while the boys practiced.

I sat there doing my homework when all of a sudden one of the players burst out of the gym and asked, “Where’s Coach Mac?” Coach Mac was the JV girls basketball coach and was often called on to help with medical issues—perhaps taping an ankle or evaluating an injured knee. I knew from the look of panic on this boy’s face that this wasn’t an ankle or knee injury. I pointed toward the teacher’s lounge. He sped off in that direction.

I wanted to peek in the gym and see what was going on. But I didn’t want to. Coach Mac entered the scene. An ambulance was called. Word came from inside the gym that Tyrone had collapsed on the basketball court. He didn’t survive.

It goes without saying that his life was too short. I wish I had the foresight to have told him how great I thought he was for the kindnesses he extended to my brother. I guess at 14 you just don’t think about that. Even as adults, we don't do it often enough. None of us knows how much time we have to wander this planet, but we can only hope to touch at least one person’s life in a meaningful way. Tyrone did.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Weaving it Together

It's only my second day of this and already I'm stumped about what to write. Not that I will write every day, but I have been thinking about what to post next. I thought about posting a survey here to have my throngs of fans vote on which topic to write about next. But then I remembered I don't have throngs of fans.

So, I've been thinking about the two things I have already posted and how they relate to each other and decided to sit at the computer and type about it and see what happens. One is a story about Mom. The other about Dad. Where do they intersect?

Dad died in February of 1985. That summer was the first softball season he wasn't around to ask me how many home runs I was going to hit. I listened to Cardinals games every year as far back as I can remember, but that year the Cardinals games provided a distraction for me. Tommy Herr, Ozzie Smith, Jack Clark, Willie McGee and all the 1985 Cardinals made my summer. When they made it to the NLCS, no one was happier than I was.

Listening to Game 5 with Mom that October, when Ozzie came to the plate in the ninth, I announced he would hit a home run. Mom informed me that would be unlikely. First, because it was Ozzie (not exactly a home run threat) and second, because he was batting from the left. He had never hit a home run from the left. I knew that, but I didn't care...he just had to hit a home run. Yet, when he did, I couldn't believe it. Except I did. We all know what happened after that. The Cards won Game 6 and advanced to the World Series facing the Royals. Bad call. Ruth grumbled. Royals won. But, it was still a magical season. Just more magical for the Royals fans! (For the record, I don't actually attribute the Royals winning to the call.)

Fast forward to June of 1991 when I learned about Dad not being my biological father. That's a story unto itself, but I'll spare you the details. Let's just say the first time I saw Mom after that, I felt a little differently about her. Was I angry? I don't know. Probably. Disappointed? Perhaps. Mostly I just had questions. Questions I knew I couldn't ask.

Fast forward again to May of 2001 and that Mother's Day at Busch Stadium. Here was a woman who was a shell of her former self. Alzheimer's is ugly. She was in there somewhere, but not really. I had mostly reconciled my feelings about the whole paternity drama, but I still had questions. By then I knew I would never get answers, obviously. Going to that baseball game that day was a way to go back to that time when there were no questions--except, "can Ozzie Smith hit a home run from the left?"

This year, on my 40th birthday, some members of the 1985 Cardinals were in town for an exhibition softball game with the 1985 Royals. I didn't learn about it until that very day, but as soon as I did I got a ticket and went. They'd gotten older by 25 years, but for that hour or so, I was 15.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

For Dad

As Father’s Day approaches I’ve spent some time thinking about my dad lately, as I'm sure others have. He’s been gone for just over 25 years, but I have fond memories of the man.

I don’t remember when my dad first got sick. It seemed like he was in and out of the hospital, sometimes ICU, through much of my childhood, but maybe it wasn’t as often as it seemed. I recall my Aunt Deana Mae taking my sister and me to the hospital to see him once. We were too young to go to his room, so she ushered him into the hallway to blow kisses at us through the glass. I don’t know how long he had been in the hospital that time. Maybe a day? Maybe a week? Long enough for us to miss him. That brief encounter was a joy.

Dad retired when I was in second grade, so he was the one who packed my lunch—he regularly made fried egg sandwiches for me at my request even though he couldn’t understand why I liked them, knowing they would be cold by the time lunchtime came. He was the one who greeted us when we got home from school. He’d ask what we learned and more often than not we didn’t learn anything…at least to hear us tell it.

He never made it to any of my softball games, but he would faithfully ask before I left for each game, “How many home runs are you going to hit?” Then, he would request a report when I returned. Come to think of it, I don’t think he ever made it to a school function either, but he always asked about it. In fact, I only remember him coming to the school once and that was to pick me up when I had gotten sick in the 3rd grade. Somehow it felt like he was always there even if he wasn’t physically present. That’s remained true over the last 25 years.

When I was 21, I learned that the man I called Dad and who had died 6 years earlier was not biologically my father. This is something I had somehow suspected, so it shouldn’t have been particularly shocking, but having it confirmed still managed to rock my world at least for a time. That is, until I focused on what Dad was instead of what he was not. I don’t know what my biological father thought about my existence, but I know that Dad loved me. He was my supporter. He taught me right from wrong. He was there for me. He was a simple man. He was a great man. He was, is, and always will be my dad.

Thank you, Dad for all that you did for me.

A Moment to Remember

Below is something I wrote as a weekly devotional around Mother's Day and it is what prompted my brother to suggest that I should start writing a blog.

It was May of 2001. I couldn’t decide what to get Mom that year. I’d been browsing the store for about an hour when I looked up and saw the sign: “Make this a Mother’s Day she’ll always remember.”

“That’d be a trick,” I thought.

I don’t recall what the sign was trying to sell me, but it didn’t matter. Mom had Alzheimer’s and I could have given her a tiara atop a ham sandwich and she wouldn’t remember it the next day—maybe not even later that same day—never mind forever. I walked out of the store empty-handed.

On the way back to Mom’s house, I turned on the radio to listen to Jack Buck tell me how my Cardinals were faring that day. As I listened, I reminisced about being in the car with Mom some 16 years earlier when during Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series, Ozzie Smith homered to win it in the 9th inning and Jack instructed us to “Go crazy, folks!” We did. Baseball was one thing my mother and I had in common.

That’s when it occurred to me: I may not be able to give Mom a day she’d always remember, but I could give her a day she would enjoy. I could give her a moment. She and I had never been to a Cardinals game together.

On Mother’s Day I loaded up Mom and Dane and we made the two-hour trek to Busch Stadium. Mom must have asked at least 15 times on the way there, “Now, where are we going?” And at least 14 times on the way there, I questioned my own sanity for coming up with this idea.

It turned out to be a little logistically challenging to maneuver Dane through all the secret wheelchair passageways as the guard escorted us and all the while trying to keep Mom from wandering away. But, we eventually made our way to our seats.

I don’t remember all the details of the game. I remember that the Cardinals won. I remember that each time J.D. Drew came to the plate and the fans yelled, “Drrreeeeeeeewwwww,” Mom would ask, “Why are they booing that poor boy?” I remember Mom singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” along with the crowd. I remember her smiling. I remember thinking, “this is a Mother’s Day I’ll always remember.”

A few months later, we went back to Busch Stadium for Mom’s birthday. Many times on the way there, Mom asked, “Now, where are we going?” Each time I replied as though it was the first time she asked, “We’re going to a Cardinals game, Mom.” To which she usually responded with a simple, “oh.” Except once when she asked, “Didn’t we do this not too long ago?”

So, while Mother’s Day 2001 wasn’t “a day she’d always remember,” some little piece of it stayed in her memory far longer than I thought it would.

Thank you, God, for life’s moments—moments shared with family, friends, or strangers and moments experienced in solitude. Help open our eyes to these moments as they occur so we might appreciate their simplicity and joy amidst the chaos of a complicated world. Amen.