Saturday, August 25, 2012


I’m having a hard time trying to find the words for what I’m feeling.  Maybe I’m not sure what I feel.  It’s odd thinking back on my childhood, to all of the crazy pranks, misdeeds, insights, breakthrough moments, times when I was sure that I was not the same kid I was just the day before.   So many of those times I shared with one person.  My neighbor growing up.  Rick.

We moved to Merrillville, Indiana (back then we had a Gary address – Merrillville had not yet incorporated) in 1962.  Rick and his family lived right next door.   He was my earliest friend.  We raised each other as much as anyone.  We went to school together and played together and got into trouble together.  We ate at each other’s houses, spent nights together, had our first girlfriends around the same time.  There weren’t many milestones in my early life that I didn’t share with Rick. 

We went to Catholic school – Saints Peter and Paul.  It was less than two miles away, so in about second grade we walked to school.  Every day.  When our big brothers were still going to Peter and Paul, we walked with them. They sort of watched over us.  When we grew up a little, and our older siblings went to high school, we took charge of my little brother Dan.  Day after day, year after year – we walked to school together.  All the way through our sophomore year in high school.

We had many of the same teachers at Peter and Paul.  We learned cursive together, shared homework assignments and stories of our wacky teachers.   We developed some silly games like finding a can to kick all the way to school, hiding our cans in bushes near the campus, then kicking the same can all the way home.  For weeks at a time. 

Rick’s family had 5 kids (modest for Catholic standards back in the day).  We had 7.  And some of us matched up pretty closely in age.  We always had a game of something going on and many of the players were from our two families.  They were much more athletic than us.  Rick taught me how to throw a baseball and how to bat, how to throw a spiral and how to tackle.  He taught me how to shoot a basketball and how to dribble.  While I never got very good at any of these, I couldn’t have been a regular kid at all in our neighborhood if not for Rick and his brothers. 

We were altar boys together and even got smacked around by Father Wood after mass when we weren't holding our hands properly and couldn’t say the prayers in Latin the way we were supposed to. 

Because we lived close enough to walk home for lunch, we were drug mules - only it was candy we smuggled back to Saints Peter and Paul from Ameling's Sundries - a little store that sold penny candy.  It was like something out of the Andy Griffith Show.  Little old Mom and Pop behind the candy counter counting out flying saucers, and Snaps and licorice and Necco Wafers and Smarties.  Wooden floor worn down smooth.  Little tingly bell over the door announcing customers.  It was at the corner of 57th and Harrison I think.   How many times did Rick and I walk into that store ready to get our own sugar fix?

 We had tin can telephones from his bedroom to our kitchen.  My big sisters used to tease him mercilessly, giving him cherry bellies until he got too big and strong to hold down.

I was just talking about Rick the other day to my wife.  He taught me to drive a stick.  It was in his dad's old black Ford pickup truck.  It had a three speed on the column.  He taught me the hardest thing first.  Stopping on a hill and then starting up again.  It was on Harrison Street on an incline at a RR crossing.  What a right of passage.  That was one of the last times I saw him.  

While I did not keep up with him at all since my family moved away from that area after my Sophomore year - I am such an jerk about keeping up with old friends - I knew Rick longer than anyone.  All of these images of him are rushing back to me.  Playing soccer in the back yard or kickball or football or cream-the-kid with the ball.  Snowball fights.  Kick-the-can at night.  Camp fires in Maysack's Woods, where once we nearly burned the forest down.  They had a great basketball hoop over their garage.  We could play there anytime we wanted - even if they weren't around.  He was with me once when we were walking back to school at lunchtime and I was bitten by a dog.  He went with me to Sister Anastasia's office where they patched up my hand.  When I look at my hand I can see the scar.  I always will. 

They had a great TV antenna and could get UHF (we only had 4 stations including Educational TV which we would never watch).  So we spent a lot of time watching TV in their basement.  We regularly watched The Three Stooges after school.  We played pool and ping pong.  He and his older brothers - mostly Gene, who was in my brother John's class - turned me on to the best music.  Stuff my folks would never let me listen to.  Hendrix and the Who, Alice Cooper and Steppenwolf.

He was weird about his hair.  He would comb it straight down and wear a hat to school because he was all self-conscious about how frizzy it was - but he wanted it long.  It was the 60's after all.  I remember getting into a fight with this guy named Danny Smith in their backyard over a snowball fight.  Probably the only real fistfight I'd ever been in.  After the fight was over, Rick sort of comforted me.  Told me what a dick Danny Ford was.  

We talked about everything from girls to music to sports.  We shared every thought unselfconsciously.  Every dream.

Rick is gone now.  I got an email from a mutual old friend.  He left and I didn’t get to say goodbye.  I am so sad that I didn't make the effort over the years to catch up with him.   I can't say I'll miss him since I haven't talked with him in probably 30 years.  But I'll miss the idea of Rick being out there.  My best old childhood friend.  Besides my own family, I don't know I've spent so much time with any other person. 

I don’t pretend to know that much about life after death.  But I hope that in some way Old Rick knows what he meant to me and to all of us he left behind.

Good bye old friend.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Holy Line

         C        /B    Am     /G                      Dm                            G
I’m goin’ on a mission, you see God has spoken to me
     C       /B           Am           /G                     Dm           G
I’m gonna do his holy work, gonna save the family
        F                        G                                                           C      /B         Am
I know it’s during the workweek, but I’ll make the sacrifice
             F                                                  G                   F                  G              C
Gonna buy me a chicken sandwich, Dr. Pepper – hold the ice

Thought about working in a shelter, maybe serving up some food
Got to consider my limited resources, and give to the greater good
Gonna get me a chicken sandwich, teach these people what is right
You know it’s just an abomination, holding hands out in plain sight

Gonna get me a chicken sandwich, and answer someone’s prayer
Maybe get a side of waffle fries, just to show that I really care
And I’ll buy a big fat soft drink, at least a quart or two
Just to thumb my nose at the government, yeah, let’s see what they do

Thinkin’ about serving at that soup kitchen, or donating to the poor
Instead I’ll get me some fastfood, make it quicker to Heaven’s door
Or holding babies in a hospital, or reading to kids at school
No, I’ll just get me a chicken burger, my mama didn’t raise no fool

I remember the lessons that I was taught, way back in Sunday School
To love your neighbor just as yourself, and apply the golden rule
But these people are way too different, they’re not like lepers or the poor
And these public displays of affection, GOD they make me sore!

I thought about volunteering, way downtown at the food bank
But instead I’ll buy me some chicken, fill up that old fuel tank
Thought about teaching Sunday school – how Jesus helped the sick
Then I considered the chicken sandwich – pickle?  No pickle? Hard to pick

I’m going on a spiritual retreat, right down to the chicken store
And wind up on the right side, of this nasty culture war
As far as feeding the homeless, I’ll leave that for the others
I’ll go stand in that chicken line, with my holy sisters and brothers

Monday, August 13, 2012

Senior Moment

There were a lot of things leading up to the moment. 

This summer as we watched the Olympic games, Heidi and I would snuggle up on the couch almost every night.  Since we are both early risers, it meant that we had been awake all day, usually working and playing hard.  So naturally, at around 11 we started to snooze.  Of course, our nightowl boys and their friends would come in after we had fallen asleep and see us on the couch with the TV on.  Just as I had seen my dad asleep in his old easy chair when I would sneak in from my late night prowls when I was a kid.

Then there was this nasty muscle spasm that has had me in its grip for weeks now.  I can’t pick up heavy objects, can’t really run, can’t water ski.  There have been doctor visits, prescriptions, etc.  Just old guy stuff.

Then there is the fact that our dog, Sasha, is getting old.  I mean really old.  She’s still happy.  She still likes to go out for walks, but the young, spry, energetic dog, who used to pull me for our five-mile runs is long since gone.  Now we walk her to the corner and back so she thinks she’s been on a real walk.  And I sure don’t run five miles any more since I’ve had arthroscopic surgery on both my knees.

Of course, both of my parents have passed on now leaving me an orphan. 

We are thinking a lot about retirement, have our financial plan all outlined.  While that is still years away, Heidi talks about it all the time. 

Many of my third-grade students can outrun me on the playground field – no more races in my future with eight and nine year olds.

Both of the boys will be in college this year…   making us…  wait for it…  empty nesters. 


So we were at the movies the other night, taking Devin and his girlfriend, Shae, out for a night on the town.  We get up to the window and I tell the pretty young woman taking the money that we would like tickets for, “Four adults, please.”  Devin reminds me that he and Shae are students.  “Make that two adults and two students.”

Then the young woman at the ticket counter says, “Are those adults senior tickets?”

Not one to take offense at anything to do with age, I replied that, “No, we’re not seniors yet.”  Then I remembered getting all of that AARP stuff in the mail.  And that my mom insisted that I could get a senior coffee at MacDonalds last summer when we stopped there for her beloved soft-serve cone. 

Cautiously, I asked, “What is the age considered senior?” knowing full well that we had a long time ahead of us before we could officially be referred to by that label. 

She smiled.  Maybe she was a little embarrassed at having asked the question.  “Fifty five, sir.” 

WAIT… WHAT!?  55?! 

“Wow, sure.  We’ll take two student tickets, and two s-s-s-senior tickets.  We’re both fifty five.” 

I guess it makes sense.  I’d only be middle aged if I lived to be one-hundred-ten.  Not much chance of that.  And while we won’t be collecting social security for a long time, yeah, the signs have all converged. 

My beard is turning white, my bones are getting creaky, I am a little scared getting on the roof to blow the leaves off.  Sometimes when I hear myself sing, I sound like an old man. 

At school, every once in a while, in the middle of a conversation, my students would slip and call me “Dad.”  A couple times last year, one of my students mistakenly referred to me as “Grampa.”  At the time it was endearing. 

There’s no sense in not owning it.  I’m what my brother Pat (an automotive repair guy and 15 months my senior) calls a “high mileage vehicle.”  Still, there was that moment, the first time I paid for senior tickets to a movie that I will always remember.  It’s not sad exactly.  It is what it is.   But it was just sort of momentous for me.  You know, just another stage.
OK, maybe not quite this high mileage.

And just so you know?  We saved twelve bucks on the movie.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Shopping for College

The other day we were out and about with our youngest son, Colin.  We were shopping for college stuff for his new dorm room.  If you have college-aged kids, you know what I’m talking about.  Or you may remember going out with your folks and doing the same…  extra long sheets for the dorm room bed, bathroom stuff, a new stash of socks, new shorts and t-shirts, etc.  It is sort of a right of passage.  He is bringing a microwave and a little freezer.  His roomie is bringing a TV and a small fridge.  Of course he’ll have his guitar, a poster of the Beatles, his stack of CDs, his computer and all kinds of personal things.  All of the stuff that makes him uniquely Colin. 

There were lots of other parents and their kids at BED BATH AND BEYOND doing the same thing.  Alarm clocks (which most kids don’t use these days – in favor of the alarms in their phones), shower shoes, new bed linens, dorm-room-trash-cans, little bathroom caddies for holding toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and stuff - and all kinds of things one gets when one goestocollege for the very first time.  When one movesawayfromhome for the very first time.  Moves away from home.  Away from home.   Away. 

There is something beautiful to me about watching teenagers with their folks.  You see what the parents looked like when they were 25 or 30 years younger.  And you get a glimpse into the future faces of these youngsters.  There is something poignant, something so very real about seeing the interactions between these younger versions of these adults and their parents.  The teens trying not to seem scared or unsure of themselves.  The older ones trying not to seem scared for their kids, trying not to seem sad at the prospect of that empty bedroom, that quiet house. 

There is no question about their relationships.  Adults/their offspring.  There was this look on the faces of many of the moms and dads.  This look of pride in their kids – coupled with a look of sadness and of future loneliness.  There was an anxious look on the faces of many of these young adults too.  This look of  Ohmygod, this look of isthisreallyhappening?   I-can’t-wait / but / am-I-really-ready-for-this? 

Or am I just projecting these feelings? 

I remember when my dad dropped me off at college.  It was a big deal.  We didn’t spend a whole lot of time together, just the two of us.  He took the time to pack my stuff, drove hours away, helped me move my junk inside that sweaty old dorm room in Wright Quad, took me out to dinner, and gave me $40 to tuck into my pants pocket.  Something he told me not to report to me mom.  A secret.  Perhaps the only secret we ever shared. 

And I remember being scared.  I would miss my little brother, my homies – most of whom were younger than me.  I would miss my mom and riding the high school bus.  I would miss my room, my bunk bed, my woods and my lake.  I knew I would be home before too long.  But it wouldn’t be the same, right?  I would be visiting from college.  I would meet a whole bunch of new friends.  I wouldn’t have any monitored time I would have to come home or be in bed.  I could listen to music as loud as I wanted. 

And it was a BIG moment for me to move.  And I was anxious, scared, homesick, proud, on-my-own, curious, free, lonely, I was legitimately my own person.  I could be whoever I wanted to be with no parents to tell me when I had to do anything. 

It was a sort of, ready or not situation.  I just wasn’t sure f I was ready.

I think Colin is more sure than I was.  But he is probably having some of the same thoughts and feelings I had back then.  2012 - 1975 = 37 years ago.  A lot has changed in 37 years.  He has a car.  I didn’t have one until I was 21.  He has a computer and literally thousands of songs in his music collection.  I had a BSR turntable and a couple dozen records.  He’ll have a TV.  If we wanted to watch TV we had to go to the lounge and negotiate what to watch with everyone else on the floor.  Of course there were only 5 stations. 

But I am guessing that he is feeling a lot like I felt.

All I know is that I am going to miss that child-young man living in our house.  Those late night I-Love-You’s, those hammering drums and that guitar and his singing in full voice.  I’m going to miss cleaning his whiskers out of the sink, and picking up the empty food containers in his room.  I’m going to miss that super spicy food he prepared and the lessons he taught us about physics, black holes and whatever else his current passions are.  I’m going to miss him turning us on to new music that we would have never come across on our own.  I will miss his liberal politics and sense of social justice. 

While I miss that baby-toddler-little boy-adolescent he was.  I will miss the fine young man he is now.  Oh, he’ll be back.  I know.  He won’t be that far away.  We’ll probably see him nearly every week for a while. Bt it won’t be the same.  He knows it.  We know it.  It’s all part of the natural process.  It’s all good.  Still…

I can’t help but think of that old Robert Munsch book called I’ll Love You Forever.  I love that book.  When our boys were little we read it to them pretty often.  It follows the relationship of a mom and her son as he grows from a baby to a fine man.  There is a hook in the story, a repeating little song that the mother sings to the boy all the way from when he is a tiny baby until he is a full-grown man.

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be

There is this part that describes the boy’s shift from a nine-year-old to a teenager…

Well that nine year old, it grew and it grew and it grew until it was a teenager.  And it had strange friends and it wore strange clothes, and it listened to strange music.  Sometimes the mother would say, “This kid is driving me crazy!”

But at nighttime when that teenager was asleep, the mother would open up the door to his room, crawl across the floor, look up over the side of the bed and, if that great big kid was really asleep, she would pick him up and rock him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and sing…

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be

Funny how your perspective changes over the years.  Colin used to be that baby.  Then that little kid.  Then that teenager.  Now he is the young man who is as much a friend as a son.  How blessed are we?