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.