Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where I Was When . . .

Younger Son has a project for English class where he is supposed to interview one of his parents about where they were and what they were during certain significant events. I am happy to oblige. Unfortunately, I realize that most of these events are tragedies.

Here’s my list:

JFK assassination, Nov. 22, 1963. I was a 6-year-old kindergarten student. I was in a department store in the early afternoon and I was with my mother and grandmother in a department store in the small South Arkansas town where I grew up. Someone came running through the store, telling us about the shooting. I remember going home and seeing Walter Cronkite on TV somberly announcing that President Kennedy had died from the gunshot wound. I remember how Lee Harvey Oswald was then shot by Jack Ruby. There was hardly anything else on TV for the next several days.

MLK assassination, April 4, 1968. I was ten years old and had only a vague knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was at home with my parents in the evening when we heard about this. I remember hearing a lot of differing views on Martin Luther King in the days ahead. Remember, this was the South in the 60s.

RFK assassination, June 5, 1968, less than two months after the MLK shooting, the final in the tragic trilogy of shootings that gave birth to the song, “Abraham, Martin and John.” I was a ten-year-old, it was summer and school was out. I got up that morning and my mother told me Bobby Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles. I remember watching the footage over and over that showed him going through the crowd in the hotel, then being shot by Sirhan Sirhan. I was haunted by that image for months afterward.

Moon landing, July 16, 1969. I was eleven years old and as I recall, it was a Sunday. I had been at the swimming pool during the afternoon and thought I would be going home to watch live coverage of the first moon walk, but I believe it was well after midnight when Neil Armstrong spoke the now famous, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” My mother, dad, brother and I watched in awe and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Death of Elvis, August 16, 1977. I was 19, between my freshman and sophomore years in college and had a summer job driving a mail truck from a local oil company’s downtown office to its other locations in town. I was on my last run of the day and heard on the radio that Elvis had died. I had never been a big fan but in the days to come I would hear more of his music than I had ever heard previously. He became more popular via his untimely demise.

The 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team victory over Russia, Feb. 22, 1980. I regret that I did not see this in “real time,” only in replays. I was a senior in college. My school was on the quarter system and our winter quarter had ended that day and we were about to have a week-long break. I was leaving the next day on a snow skiing trip and was in the middle of packing when one of my buddies in the same apartment complex burst through my door to tell me the news. I remember hearing a couple of days later, while on the aforementioned trip, that the U.S. had won gold.

The Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, January 28, 1986. This one stands out in my mind more than any of the others because it was four days after Older Son, our first, had been born, and the day we took him home. We were in the hallway of the hospital with our entourage of Wife in a wheelchair (per hospital regulations), our new "precious cargo" being gingerly held in Wife's arms, the nurse who pushed them, me pushing a cart with the flowers, balloons and disposable diapers I had pilfered from the hospital, and my buddy with his video camera documenting everything. We could hear network announcers on the televisions from rooms we would pass, conveying the awful news. If you watch the video of us in the hallway, you can hear it in the background.

September 11, 2001, now infamously known simply as "9/11." I was working out at the YMCA before work. The aerobic machines now have TVs built in, but at that time there were TVs mounted on walls so, unless you had radio head phones tuned in to a designated frequency (which, that morning, I did not), you could only see the screens and not hear. I was on a treadmill and I remember seeing Katy Couric, then the NBC Today Show anchor, and then the screen cut away to what looked to be a fire at one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I really didn’t give it a lot of thought, thinking it was just a fire. I went downstairs and showered and when I got back upstairs, people were crowded around the TVs and I heard what had happened. On the way to work I heard on the radio about the attack on the Pentagon and the aborted flight that crashed in Pennsylvania that had been headed to the White House.

I remember thinking that this could not be happening, not in my lifetime, not on American soil. I called Wife to make sure she was OK (I remember thinking maybe the attacks were nationwide) and to ask her if she thought our children knew about it. It was such a surreal day and I couldn’t stay away from the only TV that we had at our workplace, which had poor reception. I was with another bank at the time and I remember our CEO sent out a mass e-mail lamenting the tragedy but reminding employees that they still had a job to do (I thought that was extremely inappropriate).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Growing Up Fast

When we decided to have more than one child, we made a decision (not consciously at the time) that there would be times that we would have to balance some things. With three, things became even a bit more complicated. I can't imagine how that family in Arkansas with the TV show and NINETEEN children begins to make decisions.

I remember one time when Older Son had a baseball game and Daughter had a softball game at the same time. They were on fields at the same park and I was able to go back and forth between the two. We learned to deal with these things and there were times that we had to choose between two or even among all three. They learned to understand and they knew we were doing the best we could.

Times like that don't happen very often now that ours are 24, 21 and 17 and only one still resides with us, but occasionally we'll still have some conflicts that must be negotiated.

Younger Son's prom was this past Saturday night, here in town, as was a Parents' Dinner for Daughter's sorority at Auburn, a five-hour drive away. Granted, we don't go to prom, but it's a big deal and traditionally, all the parents meet at someone's house beforehand and take thousands of pictures before the group of couples, decked out in their finest, board some type of limo or "party bus" for their night on the town. We did it it with both of our older two.

With this being a first for Younger Son, a junior in high school, there was no question that one of us would have to be here, while one of us would go to Auburn. Daughter graciously told us she would be fine, that we should both stay here for prom, but Wife and I decided that I would head south and go to the dinner. As it turned out, this was the day of Auburn's spring scrimmage and Older Son decided to ride along with me and arranged for a a few of his old friends to meet him there.

We left early Saturday morning and arrived at Auburn around noon. I let Older Son out at his old fraternity house and told him I'd see him sometime Sunday. I then proceeded to go pick up Daughter who proceeded, as she always does, to "own" me.

As usual when she and I are together, we went to lunch somewhere that I, on my own, would probably never choose to go. It was this funky little college-town place adjacent to a plant nursery, cleverly called the "Crepe Myrtle" with a specialty of, get this, crepes! They are made right in front of you and you choose your filling. They were over-the-top good. Daughter always manages to make me try new things.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch as she caught me up on all the goings on in her life and all of her friends. I hung on every word. From there we went to see the school where she is doing "practicum" this semester in a kindergarten class. She showed me the windows of her classroom and explained in detail the educational practices of this particular school. She told me stories of the children she has gotten to know, as well as the teacher under whom she is teaching.

I should have never doubted that this child would be a teacher. She started when she was about six and Younger Son was two and he was her first student. She made him a makeshift desk in her makeshift classroom and taught him off and on for several years. He was not always the most attentive student but he was all she had (her older brother would have none of it, of course) so she made the best of it. And he eventually became a pretty good student under her careful guidance.

Fast forward some fifteen years later and she is in the home stretch of becoming a real live teacher and I have no doubt that she will be an excellent one. To say I am proud of her doesn't even begin to describe my sentiments.

Back to our weekend -- Saturday afternoon we shopped a little, which I had insisted we would not do, and somehow we ended up at Target in front of a pair of sandals that just happened to be exactly what she had been looking for.

Do you even have to ask???? Of course I bought them for her! But it was Target, for heaven's sake. Could have been a lot worse.

The dinner was very nice, outside on a beautiful spring night. I always enjoy her friends and enjoyed being with other parents also. Dinner was over early and she invited me to join her friends for later activities but, at 52, I know my place. I thanked her for wanting to include me but assured her I would be fine back at my hotel with a book I was just getting into.

Sunday morning I picked her up for church. We went to a Methodist church just off campus and it was "Children's Sunday" and there was the cutest little children's group singing, little girls with big bows in their hair and mischievous little boys scrubbed down and cleaned up, whose mothers no doubt had just threatened them within inches of their lives if they didn't stand up there and sing just as they were supposed to.

And as I listened to those precious little ones singing "Jesus Loves Me" in Spanish, which they had learned special for this service, I was taken back to the days when my own precious baby girl, sitting next to me and all grown up now, participated in similar activities, dressed up with a big bow in her hair. To use the biggest cliche known to all parents, where in the world did those years go and how did they go by so fast?! The little girl who "taught" her little brother will, in a little more than a year, be a real live teacher with real live students. Amazing.

And here she is, all grown up, this past Saturday night with her proud "date." I'm afraid he is all grown up too.


Wife reports that all the prom activities came off without a hitch. Younger Son cleaned up beautifully and endured all the fussing his mom made over him off and on all day Saturday until he left. He's pretty grown up now himself. And here he is, with his beautiful date and equally beautiful mother. I told him he's a lucky man.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fishing Tales

Had a great couple of days with my sons this week on the White River near Lakeview, Arkansas, fishing for trout. This area truly provides some of the finest trout fishing in the country and we had a ball.

We stayed at a premier fishing resort, Gaston's, redeeming a gift certificate Wife had given me Christmas of 2008. We hired a guide, which proved to be a good idea, as the nearby dam was generating, making for high water and a pretty fast current.

I think the boys or I could have maneuvered a boat but the one doing the "driving" would have had little fishing time with the current such as it was. With our experienced guide Ron, who is in his 31st year of guiding on the White, the boys and I were able to maximize our fishing time. (Ron was also extremely handy for quickly re-spooling our rods with four-pound test line, efficiently untying our few snarls and knowing the good spots on the river. He was definitely worth his handsome fee).

Older Son truly landed the beauty of the trip with about a 20-inch brown (of course it's gotten bigger since we left the river . . . ). The rainbows we all caught, however, were all nice-sized, beautiful fish. The river was gorgeous with spring in bloom all around, although there was still a definite nip in the air and we had to dress in layers.

Pictured below are Younger son with a nice rainbow he caught, both boys as we stopped for a break one day and, of course, Older Son with his beauty.

Please indulge me here. Even if they are mine, these are some great guys and I am so proud of them. We have a great time together and I never tire of spending time with them. This little trip added another great deposit into the memory bank.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Great Times

Wife and I enjoyed some time back in Arkansas last weekend. We got to Little Rock early Friday night and had dinner with Wife’s parents who are doing very well. They are huge sports fans and we, of course, had to compare our NCAA brackets. My mother-in-law always laments the downward spiral hers begins to take around the Sweet Sixteen, but then she will often end up winning the pot. It looks as if she’s right there in the running again.

She made seven-layer salad, one of my all-time favorites, for dinner. I’ll have to post the recipe sometime. It really can be a meal in itself but she had plenty to go with it. It was a great time.

Saturday morning we hooked up with a few other couples and headed up to Northeast Arkansas for a little annual getaway in which Wife and I always try to participate. We started this tradition twenty-something years ago as a means of getting a little rest and sanity in the midst of raising children, and we have continued it every year.

There are a total of seven couples and with the exception of one who are a little ahead of the rest of us in age and station in life – and who acted as the “sponsors” of our then young church’s singles ministry -- we all met as single folks back in the early 1980s. Most of us got married somewhere between about 1982 and 1987, attended or were a part of each others' weddings and started families around the same time. Four of the couples still live in Little Rock and three – including Wife and me, of course – have moved away. It is rare when all the couples can make it. Wife and I have missed it only three times since moving to Tennessee in 1997. This year six of the seven were there.

We usually go to a bed-and-breakfast type of venue, and try to find one where we can have the whole place to ourselves. Over the years we’ve probably been to about a half-dozen or so. We’ll find one we like and return for a few years, then move on to something else. This year’s was a new one for us and it was a great setting right on a river near Batesville, Arkansas.

In the early years of these jaunts, our children would always ask us, “So what did you do?” and we would always answer that we talked, ate and talked some more (then ate some more). What they didn’t understand at the time was that we were able to have conversations that were uninterrupted and meals that didn’t include Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and sippy cups at the table, and that for 36 hours or so we didn’t have to change diapers, clean up messes or serve as referees to sibling squabbles. Not that we minded any of that, but occasionally a break was/is good for the soul.

The purpose of the gathering today is more to keep the connection going. Even those who still live near one another admit they don’t see each other as often as they would like and this provides a way to catch up on everyone’s lives. The conversations, peppered with laughter, now often start with “Remember when” and “Do you remember . . .”

Of course we now inevitably talk about our latest ailments and “procedures” and the women talk code about the “M” word as if we men don’t know what they’re talking about. There are a few empty nests among us and we’re all quickly heading that direction. Except for the aforementioned couple who are older than the rest of us, there has only been one wedding among our children, and there are not yet any grandparents.

The format is almost always the same. We meet at someone’s house with the intention of leaving about 10 a.m. Some are always late and by the time we all meet and greet, decide who will be driving and who will ride with whom, then swing by and pick up a straggler or two, it’s close to 11:30 before we leave town.

We stop and eat lunch which ends up being an hour-and-a-half or two-hour affair, then we usually have to find ice cream or some other dessert, and stroll into our destination mid-afternoon. More conversation ensues and this year there was a wonderful big deck overlooking the river which was perfect for a leisurely afternoon of visiting.

The evening consists of dinner somewhere, then dessert (always), coffee and more talking and laughing, into the wee hours, around a fireplace. When we start dozing off during conversations it’s time for bed.

Sunday morning usually finds us around a big breakfast table and, interestingly, at this time the conversation often turns a bit more serious and introspective with a few tears interspersed with the laughs. This year was no exception as we ended up kind of spontaneously talking about some of the things that have happened to us through the years, what it’s been like “doing life together” and the ups and downs of the paths we have traveled from being singles, to young parents, to “middle-agers.” We shared stories reflective of the common faith that originally brought us all together and, of course, we talked much about our children.

We were back in Little Rock by mid-afternoon and Wife and I, of course, headed back east. We dropped one of the couples at the airport to catch a plane to Dallas where they now live. Another “B&B Weekend” was history.

Technology has afforded us more opportunities to stay in touch. With e-mail, text messaging and cell phones, we can pretty much communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, whenever we like. We may not always take advantage of these avenues of communication, but they are available to us.

Still, there is nothing like “face time” and, the older I get, the more I realize how important it is and how much I enjoy it. It also has to be deliberate, meaning it requires time, effort and a fair amount of planning. Wife and I always try to make this weekend a priority and get it on the calendar as soon as we can.

In keeping with my belief that preserving connections is important, I already have another weekend scheduled in May when I’ll travel back to my hometown in South Arkansas and get together with some other old friends, some of whom I have known my entire life, whose friendships I cherish.

Times such as this are reminders of how abundantly I have been blessed with family and friends. It’s up to me to preserve that. My not having done so is not a regret I wish to have when I get to the end of this journey.