Things happen in threes, right?
Well, here’s an interesting one for you. The story of how three men — gone from this world, at least physically — continue to make their presence known to those they’ve left behind.
What’s the connection here, you ask? You know, the part of how I mentioned things happen in threes. So, here goes.
As I write this, it’s the fifth anniversary of my brother Tim’s passing. Still so hard in some regard — yet getting better. If that makes sense.
Regular readers know how much this threw me. Absolutely threw me — to the point, really, of needing to talk to someone about it. A professional someone. That really helped.
How do I make sense of it? Well, I stopped doing that. And that’s the key. I don’t understand. I never will. But I’ve stopped trying to understand — because that’s part of what was killing me. Point is, I try to keep his memory alive through my daily life whenever I can — and with the kids through prayers and stories and pictures.
It’s always hard around Erin’s birthday because of the closeness to it all — but it just goes to remind me how incredibly blessed we were to have her at that time — when the world was so dark, there was one little light shining. And, well, she still does.
And so does he.
So that’s one. But that’s the one you’ve know about from before.
A friend of mine lost his brother earlier this week. The good news is the suffering is over. This man battled cancer until it took every bit of his fight. My friend is haivng a hard time — who doesn’t when you lose a big brother?
I tried to share with him the ‘expertise’ I have — but I’m not sure it helped. What has helped, no doubt, is the outpouring of emotion my friend has seen as people have responded to his brother’s death.
I guess you could say he’s somewhat of a local celebrity. He was known by many — respected by them all. So my friend has that going for him — seeing how much his brother has impacted not just him, but — literally — thousands of others.
I tried to tell my friend to enjoy that part of it. To see what an impact his brother had on people. And he certainly did.
I remember when Tim died, how I was completely blown away in learning about his work life — and hearing directly from those people about how he influenced them.
That’s what I hope for my friend. That he continues to see how much his brother influenced so many. And that through that influence, his brother lives on, not just in their lives, but in his.
So, between my brother and my friend’s brother, that’s two death anniversaries within the same week — one ‘fresh’ and one five years.
Here’s the third — also with a death anniversary within just a few days of the other two — yet this person has been dead for 25 years — which is damn near impossible to comprehend.
I didn’t know my friend’s brother that just died, but I certainly knew of him.
This person, who died 25 years ago, I did know. He was a friend. Our familes were close — and always will be, to some extent. That’s what growing up in a small town does.
I remember being at their house plenty of times, playing all sorts of things. And I remember my friend and his sister and brother being at our house and swimming in our pool.
I remember going to high school and being one year behind my friend. I remember how good of a musician he was. And I swear if I think hard enough, I can still remember the sound of his voice. The smile on his face is a given.
He died just before his high school graduation. A sad, sad situation for all involved.
So where, possibly, could be the good in this?
It’s simple, really.
Twenty five years later, he still lives on in the hearts of people who knew him. Who were his friends.
No. Who ARE his friends. Death doesn’t break a friendship.
The younger brother of my friend posted something about the 25th anniversary on facebook. The comments were incredible. Because that’s what happens.
People don’t forget. I’m sorry, but they don’t.
They might not always talk about someone, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about them. And when they do, the stories that are shared are so precious — and always remembered so vividly.
So here we’ve talked about three men who are dead — less than a week, five years ago and 25 years ago.
And, yet, they are alive — and are being kept alive.
And that’s what’s so important in life.
That people who have influenced, continue to influence. Those around them. And those who loved them.
The way to do that? The way to help me and my friends who have lost their brothers?
To share stories, if you have them. To understand that we want to know what you remember — no matter what it is.
We want our brothers to continue influencing those who they were close to. And in these three situations, that’s totally the case.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
I’m headed back to Disney World this summer for the first time in, well, a long time. More than 35 years, in fact.
Summer of ’76 — Bob and Jackie packed the four of us up in the station wagon and we headed due south. Next stop, the Magic Kingdom. Since that trip, I’ve done Epcot and Universal, but I’ve never been back to the Magic Kingdom.
I don’t have many memories from that trip. And, those that I do have are more centered on the actual trip itself — the stories that a family travelling in a station wagon are destined to have forever.
One of the few memories I have of the actual Magic Kingdom revolve around the “It’s a Small World” ride. I don’t remember it for a great ride. Rather, I remember it for the annoying song that I can still hear in my head — as if I was six-year-old on the ride today.
The point, in case you’re trying to figure this out, is that Walt Disney was right.
It really is a small world.
And, the thing that’s happening now is this — as I get older, the world gets smaller.
At first, I wasn’t a big fan of this notion. Well, both notions, actually – that I’m getting older and that the world is getting smaller.
I can’t fight the age thing, obviously. Though if I could, I certainly would.
But the getting smaller part? I’m a lot more open to this than I would have been just a couple of years ago. Those that know me best, know that I’m actually more shy than social. Hard to believe for some, but 100 percent true.
When I’m in a new situation and/or environment, there are typically two things that help me ‘loosen’ up and become more of my self.
The first usually take the longest. It’s simply a matter of me feeling comfortable in the situation/environment. That could be just becoming more comfortable in the physical space or, more likely, taking my time to get to know new people before letting them know more about me. Before really letting them ‘in.’ Once in, it’s a different story. But it takes a while for me to let someone in. Always has.
The second part of this can get me to my comfort level faster. That’s finding out that, in this new situation/environment, that I actually have a connection with someone there. Usually, you don’t know that connection exists. Maybe it gets discovered in a meeting. Maybe it gets discovered in casual small talk. Either way, when it does, it makes, at least me, anyway, much more comfortable.
Sometimes, that connection is short-term, but it still has a huge impact. One of my previous posts addresses just that situation when I made a deep connection with someone who knew my Dad. I didn’t expect the connection to happen at all — and it came about only through small talk. And thankfully it did, because I still remember that moment fondly. And I know I always will.
Other times, it’s more long-term. And that’s more likely with friends and co-workers. With friends, it’s that no matter how long it’s been since you’ve communicated, you’ve always got some connection. It doesn’t matter how your life has changed, there’s always something there to bring you back — if you wish. For me, there are two situations here that I don’t want to be brought back. I’ve been hurt enough to want that. However, I can acknowledge that if that ever changed, there’s enough in the background (enough of a connection) to at least have a starting point.
With co-workers, it’s a little more challenging — at least for me. But the beauty of this is when you find the connection, the relationship often times goes from colleague to friend. And that’s what’s cool. My workplace employs nearly 3,000 people. I figured it wouldn’t take too long to make some of these connections. And, well, I was right. Start the conversations strictly about work. Get more comfortable. Learn more and discover a connection — whatever it is. It’s a great feeling when it happens. Because it just means you’ve not only gained the trust of a colleague, you’ve gained the trust of a friend.
And, in the grand scheme of things, there aren’t many things that trump the trust of a friend. That’s always been part of my thing, too. While I don’t necessarily hang in big circles, I do hang in tight circles.
The point of this mess is simple. What’s not simple is how I’ve gone on trying to explain it.
As I get older, the world is becoming smaller. There are more connections. And that’s a good thing. Particularly for someone like me, who doesn’t have any easy time otherwise — believe it or not.
Sometimes, those connections are more — and this isn’t the right word — emotional. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to make a connection with someone because you know some of the same people. You can make a connection because of a shared experience, for example. Does that make sense? I hope so.
In that sense, the world becomes smaller because you discover you, believe it or not, aren’t the only one going through something.
The other side of it, though, is making a connection because you do know certain people that someone else knows. You find common ground. In other words, the world gets smaller. There are more connections. There are more shared experiences. It makes sense when you think about it. Person A knows 100 people. Person B knows 100 people. Person A doesn’t necessarily know Person B. However, when they do have a chance to meet, they discover common connections — and that gets the ball rolling.
Usually, at least for me, if the ball gets rolling, good things happen. And, when good things happen, it all ties back to what Walt Disney said years go.
It’s a small world, after all.
Brace yourself, this post has nothing to do with death.
Still with me then? Good. I’m glad.
So I had a pretty awesome experience last week. If we are connected on Facebook, then, well, you’re sick of hearing this again — I flew in a Blackhawk helicopter!
Well what does that have to do with my job in healthcare? Nothing. Or, maybe it does. Let me explain.
Each year, the local chamber of commerce offers a program designed to expose new leaders (that’s apparently me) with the opportunity to learn more about specific things happening in our area, in a variety of topic areas. The group (there are 22 of us) consists of people from healthcare, education, defense, finance, healthcare and a few other industries. We meet once a month to learn more about a particular topic.
We’ve done healthcare. We’ve done education. We’ve done judicial. We’ve done economic development. Along the way, this program has given me the opportunity to tour behind the scenes of an area casino, spend time with a judge and tour a prison, take part in an amazing program that aims to prevent teens from being distracted drivers and more — including the opportunity to listen and talk to industry leaders in this area.
While the program is teaching us new skills and techniques of leadership, it’s also showing us just how much is ‘in our backyard’ and how the area in which we live are so dependent on all of the industries we are observing.
That was never more prevalent than last week.
Our focus? The military.
Now, this part of the world is heavily connected in the military community. We are, among other things, ‘the submarine capital of the world’ — since the world’s best submarines are, in fact, built here. We have a naval base that employs more than 10,000. We have a major service academy in our area, too.
We are military focused — yet for some reason, the leadership class hadn’t taken on the topic of the military.
Until this year.
Because this was the first time, the military partners involved in the tour rolled out the red carpet. And, well, that’s where the Blackhawks come in.
I, along with a few others, was completely stoked for this experience. Here I am a week later and I’m still in awe of what we did, where we went and how we got there.
The morning started on the base. On the way to the Blackhawks, our national anthem was played over the speakers for morning colors. Everyone stopped and it was hard to not feel different hearing it where we were — and with what we were about to do.
The Blackhawk was incredibly smooth — that’s what shocked me the most. It was such an easy, effortless ride. We touched down at the local National Guard camp and got a tour there, as well as multiple speakers explaining the Guard’s role and much more.
Back in the chopper for a 30 minute tour of our region — just an incredible experience to fly over places I see everyday and get a completely different perspective on the area I call home and all that’s around it.
We landed at another local facility where Blackhawks are maintained and refurbished. I had no idea this was going on in my community.
After that tour, one more short ride where we landed on the front lawn of the Coast Guard Academy. An absolute special experience to do that and then be toured around the Academy by a cadet, before joining up with senior administrators for lunch in the officer’s club. You couldn’t leave the Academy without being impressed.
When we did leave, it was in a van this time (so depressing!) for a ride back to the base where the tour continued with a trip inside a submarine simulator used for training, followed by a look at how submariners train for deep water rescues and then finally aboard an actual US submarine in port for minor repairs and preparations to be made before its next significant voyage — which, according to the commander, could be as long as six months. Where to? He, of course, wouldn’t say. But, with all the continued drama in the Mid East, I couldn’t help but think this sub would soon be Syria bound.
So, Mike, you’re probably asking…here you are, more than 700 words in and you really haven’t explained the point of this.
Well, I say, it starts with the title of this post — ‘Behind the Fence.’
When the morning started, one the military types told the group that our access that day would take us ‘behind the fence.’ That we’d get to see things (the sub simulator) and do things (um, fly in a Blackhawk!) that others just don’t get to do. All of this, he said, was to show us ‘the other 1 percent.’ He wasn’t referring to the uber rich and talking taxes. No, he was talking about the 1 percent that protects the freedom we enjoy every day — without ever really thinking about it.
In exchange for this access, for this unique experience, he asked for something very simple in return. He asked for us to take what we saw back to our world and share it with people we know. To tell them not just what we saw, but who we saw doing it. And to see how much pride was involved.
So, here I am. Letting you know what a day this was.
Now, I’ve basically lived in this area my entire life, save a few years here and there. Obviously I know the importance of the military in this area. But, well, maybe I underestimated that a bit. I had no idea there’s a training ground not far from here where soldiers train in mock villages to simulate what they might discover in the Middle East. I had no idea that helicopters from 13 states along the east coast are brought here to be repaired/refurbished. I had no idea of the size and scope of the National Guard. I had no idea how impressive the Coast Guard Academy would be. I’d been there before, sure, but for a football game. I had never set foot in an Academy building until last week. I was thoroughly impressed.
The base. I had no idea how big it was. I had no idea how many sailors go through submariner school. I had no idea what life was like on a submarine. I had no idea how much work goes on when a sub is in port preparing for its next destination. I had no idea of the true economic impact the military has on, not just this area, but the state as a whole.
Flying in a Blackhawk. That was fun for me and the others in the group. But for the team flying us, it’s more than fun. It’s there job. For everyone we met that day, it’s more than just a submarine or a helicopter. It’s a job. But it’s really more than that. It’s about freedom. Their freedom. Our freedom. My freedom.
My nephew served and did multiple tours in Iraq. I’m proud of him. Or at least I thought I was. But now I’m even more proud of him — and the many others. Now that I got a better glimpse into the life, the work and so much more, I can start to appreciate the sacrifice even more. The sacrifice they make for me. And for you.
The point is, I understand it more. And I wish you all could experience what I was so beyond fortunate to experience. Who knows. I may never fly in a helicopter again — let alone a Blackhawk. I was given an extraordinary opportunity. One for which I’m thankful. And one which I wanted to share with you. Not just because I was asked to do it. But, well, because you should know. Particularly if you live in this area, you should know the incredible work that’s going on right in our backyard. It’s more than the obvious. It’s the stuff you’d never think about. Right here. This close.
And for that, those of us that live here should be filled with immense quantities of both thanks and pride.
It’s been a while, eh? Yup. Sure has.
This story is worthy (at least I think it is) of a return to the blog. So, well, here goes.
Here we are in early February, and, well, surprisingly I didn’t write anything January 30 — the 12th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It’s been sort of a tradition here at I Got Nothin’ that I’d write my annual letter to him — usually complaining about how much I missed him and how his death has affected me and all that. And, for the record, I do miss him. And, well, yeah, it affected me. Maybe just a bit.
But, none of that this year.
No visiting the cemetery on his ‘anniversary’ either. First time in a while that I haven’t done that. I’ve been recently, though, so it’s not like I’ve abandoned that practice.
I made the choice to not write the letter. I made the choice to not go to the cemetery. One little Facebook status was all I did that day. And that’s a good thing. I promised myself that I wouldn’t force the anniversary of his death on you — and, more importantly, on me.
I remember him a lot. Did I need to have the specific day to ‘publicize’ him to my friends (or, even, myself)? Because, if I ever have to do that again, strangle me. I’m not saying I’ll never post another letter that I write to him. What I’m saying is that I was in a decided pattern of behavior around his death (as well as Tim’s). That’s a pattern that I wasn’t growing very fond of. It was the all-consuming pattern. Not so much a fan of those.
Besides, my going in the opposite direction, by not forcing the memory, by just letting things be as they are, well, I discovered that good things do happen.
Just like they did today. Honestly, this is one of the most touching moments that I’ve had about my Dad since his passing. It might not seem that way to you. Or, maybe it does. I don’t know. And, it’s one of those ‘it doesn’t really matter’ moments. It affected me. And for that I’m grateful.
Here’s the story…and I’m already apologizing to you for the length of this. It’s not a short story.
So Aidan is a second grader at Sacred Heart, the Catholic elementary school within our parish. Erin goes there, too. It’s a great place for them. And, after spending my entire elementary schooling in a Catholic school, I’m pretty happy they are in one now.
We are just wrapping up an annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week. It’s primary goal is awareness. But it also does some fun stuff for kids and families to get involved. One of those things is what made today special.
The local Catholic high school, St. Bernard’s, hosts an annual art show during Catholic Schools Week. Each year, they solicit art projects from area Catholic elementary schools and they are then displayed in a true exhibit space within the school. It was very cool to see. And part of the reason for that is because Aidan had one of his projects selected for display.
Because the show is in the school, I had called ahead to check on whether or not it was possible to come by late in the afternoon. The art teacher called me back and said he would be there late, so no problem at all coming toward the end of the day.
A student led us down to the gallery room and, after a bit of searching, we found Aidan’s picture — a really cool snowman image. I’m not sure where he gets the talent from, but it certainly looked good to me. While we were in the room, the teacher walked in and welcomed us and asked if I was the one who had called earlier in the day. Nothing fancy in the conversation. At least not yet.
He was just telling us about the show, how he enjoys getting the elementary schools involved with the high school. That sort of thing. Then he told Aidan that he went to Aidan’s school as a kid, so that was neat. And that he still lives right across from Aidan’s school. So very slowly a connection was being made here — at least unbeknownst to me.
At one point in the conversation, the art teacher, who is clearly still passionate about what he does, stated that this was, in fact, his 40th year at the school Forty! And that’s where it clicked.
Not because this man has been doing this for 40 years (but, um, wow!), but because I wondered if he might possibly have known my Dad.
How would he have known him? Well, some of you probably don’t know that my Dad was, first and foremost, an educator. He taught elementary school and then moved into administration and, for a time, he served as assistant superintendent of schools in the Norwich diocese where St. Bernard’s is located. In fact, he was very involved with St. Bernard’s early on and had worked closely on a variety of projects there.
I wasn’t sure if I should bring that up, though. I mean, this guy has been teaching 40 years. Imagine the people he’s met over the years. And, well, Dad left that job in the mid 1980s. I didn’t want to ask and be told no. Nor did I want to ask and get a tepid response and think he was just being polite. So, I didn’t say anything.
As it was time to leave, the teacher said he’d walk us back to the front lobby of the school. I didn’t think anything of it, because it was quite a walk with some twists and turns. Besides, we were still chatting about a variety of things.
As we went down one hallway, there was a huge portrait of a former bishop in the diocese — a bishop that I had known because of my Dad. Ah, I said, I know him. I met him a long time ago when my father worked for the diocese.
And that’s when I could tell the teacher did know my Dad. “I thought so,” the teacher said. “And that’s why I wanted to walk you out. I recognized your name when we spoke on the phone and I wondered if maybe you were the same family.”
“That’s us,” I said.
The teacher told me that he remembered my Dad. And then he did the coolest thing. On our walk, he took us to the chapel within the school.
He went on to explain how two statues in the chapel were only there because of my Dad. That these statues had been in another school and somehow ended up at the administration office where he worked. And at one point, in discussing needs for the chapel, my Dad mentioned these two statues to the teacher and, well, that was that. So now, as you go in the chapel, the statues are still there.
Even though he said he had known my Dad, I wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to react — until I heard this story. He definitely remembered him. He definitely remembered this story. It wasn’t like he was just being polite.
He also knew my Dad had passed and made reference to that a couple of times. I thanked him for sharing the story, that it really meant a lot to me to hear something like that — particularly something so unexpected.
And then he said something that really got me — that really made this an emotional homerun for me.
“Because of those statues,” he said, “your Dad has left a lasting impression that is with us every day.”
He sure has.
For me, this was huge. It helped me understand that, yeah, you don’t have to force memories. They will come. And it’s not just me that has them. Other people remember my Dad, too. I lose sight of that sometimes. Make that a lot of times.
But, seriously. I didn’t sign up for this today.
No, we were just going to an art show.
We were just going to find a picture of a snowman.
Turns out we found a whole lot more.
And I’m really glad we did.
Amazingly, I’m not here to write about death. Does that mean you’ll stay? Hope so. But, whatever. I mean, they are my words.
But it’s your choice?
Still here? Good.
You might learn a little more about me tonight. Why?
Well, for some reason, I’m feeling ridiculously sentimental tonight.
That’s OK, right? Wait. Why am I asking you? Of course it is. Remember, my words.
(But I am glad that you are reading them.)
So, this sentimental thing. I’ll try to explain.
Maybe it’s because we took the kids trick-or-treating tonight in my old stomping grounds. We’ve done it for the last few years, but something was different about tonight. Not sure what it was. It’s great to go there because my sister and her daughter join us. Or, we join them since they live in the neighborhood now. And I think that’s part of it. That we’re giving the kids a memory they’ll look back on in the years to come. Lord knows I’m looking back on it. I remember going to each house in the neighborhood. Who gave out the best candy. Who pulled pranks. Who kept the lights off. I did this year after year with Steve, Steve, Gary, Tim, Pete and Tim. Just great memories. The neighborhood was alive tonight. And what was even cooler about it? Coming home, signing on to Facebook and seeing other people comment about how great it was there tonight, too.
And, in terms of making connections there between now and then. Well, it happened at two houses. One is still owned by the family that I’ve know there forever. Though instead of the parents handing out the candy, it was the kids. And by kids, I mean, they were my age. And one of the two works where I work now, so that connection continued. And then another house, next to the house I played at the most growing up…well, the people that live there now? One of them works with me now, too. So it’s kind of like the old and new coming together. Only I didn’t know she lived there until tonight. Makes our next conversation an easy one. Good times tonight. Great memories.
Why else am I feeling sentimental? Maybe it’s because both my mom and my nephew have hard incredibly hard months medically — yet both are home. Where they belong. Neither are 100 percent, but each is getting stronger by the day. And, well, that alone is a good thing. I’m done asking for good vibes. For now. I’m just thankful to all who shared them. And, well, I’m just thankful they are both home. We’re the closest non-closest family you’ll ever know. And what I just wrote right here, well, that means a lot. Good times tonight. Great memories to come.
Hmmm….still want another reason? Well, I just read a friend’s blog tonight for the first time in a long time. This is a blog I used to read every day. Heck, this is the blog that made me start a blog. I miss this friend. She and I don’t talk as much as I wish we still would, but I think she knows that we’re always connected. I’m hoping we have the chance to get together for dinner some time soon. Because I want to hear more of her stories in person — and not just in a blog or a vlog. I think I have the connection with this person that it really doesn’t matter how long we don’t talk — because when we are together, it’s always easy to talk. Simply put, she’s the little sister I never had. Ready for dinner when you are.
More? Of course there’s more. I mean, when I get sentimental, I get sentimental. It’s all in, so to speak.
Well, I’m going to see two of my closest friends this weekend with a trip back to Marist. I’m wishing another friend could be there, but alas, that won’t work out this time. What I really wish — at times — is that another person could be there. But I’m not sure that’ll ever happen again. I don’t think about that person much, but when I do, well, it’s just a sad situation. What I’m most glad about is that I have some amazing friends and I’m looking forward to walking campus, going back to check out the places we lived, admiring how much the place has changed and realizing how much we really haven’t changed that much since we first got to know each other back in (gulp) 1988.
What else? Well, I’m digging my new job. Totally digging it. Of course, it’s not really new anymore. Not after having been there for more than a year. But I’m really enjoying it and starting to make my mark a bit — or so it seems. At the same time, there’s one part of my old job that I really miss. So much so that I’m doing it again this holiday season. It’s not part of my old day-to-day job, it’s completely separate and doesn’t interfere at all with my current job — or I wouldn’t do it. But it’s a way for me to get back to something I loved doing for eight out of the last 10 holiday seasons. And I heard tonight that a lot of people are looking forward to having me back. That works for me. First ‘meeting’ is 11/7. And, honestly? I can’t wait.
Ok, we’re getting to the end, but there’s still a bit more. We had some family pictures taken a couple months ago and they just came in this week. A huge package arrived at the door and out they came. First really good shot of the family. First really good shot of Renee and me. Two awesome shots of Aidan and Erin. At one point, when I was struggling what to pick out, the photographer said, ‘think of what photo Aidan and Erin would want hanging in there house some day.’ Great perspective and it, well, made it easy at that point. They are lifestyle shots — all of them. And, well, it makes me think we’ve developed a nice little lifestyle here.
The last reason why I’m feeling this way — or at least another good reason why I might be….my birthday is tomorrow (or today, depending on when you are reading this). I’m turning 42. Every day. Every step of where I’ve been has brought me to this place. And you know what? It’s a good place. I haven’t always realized that. Maybe haven’t always appreciated it as much as I should. Maybe have been distracted by things beyond my control. But, at least I realize that now.
I’ve got family. I’ve got friends. I’ve got the best health I’ve been in for some time.
Yeah. It’s good. It’s real good.
So thanks for being a part of it. Seriously. I don’t always say it (yeah, that again), but I think it. A lot.
Go through life and you always discover people who — for whatever reason — make an impact on who you are.
For me — and for many others — one of those people died this week.
It wasn’t a surprise. He’d been sick. Does that make it easier? Of course it doesn’t. It just makes it more real.
Ironically, I was on my way to a funeral earlier this week when the text came in:
“Lost another great one this morning.”
I froze. And, well, for the first time ever, I pulled over to send a reply message back:
“One of the greatest.”
Many of you reading know who I’m referring to, so a lot of what is to come here won’t surprise you. But to those of you who don’t know this man, maybe the next few minutes you spend here will make you want to say a prayer for the hundreds — and I mean hundreds — of people who are saddened by the loss of this great man.
What made him great? You can ask me, but I’m not sure I can tell you. It was sort of a thing where you just had to experience time with him to understand. Maybe the best thing to say is his greatness was in his commonness — yet he was by no means a common man. Does that make sense? It does to me.
He was simple. He was hardworking. He was honest. He was a family man — having been born into a huge one and raising a great one. He was a proud man. And for what he accomplished in life and how he impacted people, he should be proud. And nothing should make him or his family prouder than the amount of people who are going to pay their last respects to him Friday and Saturday.
A friend sent me a message that said, “so many people that shaped our lives are going to soon.”
Amen to that.
This was a man who shaped so many lives. In such subtle ways.
A man I had such admiration for. Such respect for. Such love for. How could anyone who ever met him not have those three things? Simply impossible.
I just have so many simple memories of him. And, again, that plays into his greatness. Nothing incredible. Just normal things. But lots of them. And all good.
Besides the fact that he’s the father of a dear friend, my connection to him — like many others — was through sports, particularly baseball. I wish I had the chance to see him play because this is a man who was drafted by the Mets in 1962. He was a Yankees fan, but one you could talk to because the only thing he loved more than the Yankees was the game itself. And that’s where we connected. Our conversations were always so much fun. More like arguments, really. Two stubborn Irishmen trying to prove a point — often times the same point yet one person had to ‘win’ the argument.
This man taught me more about hitting in 10 minutes than I learned in 10 years. Too bad it was after my playing career was over. He was a coach at the Little League where kids in my generation grew up during the summer. He coached softball — and that’s where he made the biggest impact on the lives of so many. Teaching them how to play the game. And always doing it the right way. So spending time with him watching others was so great for me. He taught me to see things I’d never seen before. “For God’s sake, Michael, watch the hands. Everything is in the hands.” I can hear his voice to this day. And I know exactly where we were when he said that to me.
But what he really did was help teach me respect for the game. How it should be played. What lessons you can take from it. What value it has besides just runs scored and someone winning. That sort of thing. You know, what’s really important.
And I’m not special here at all. He taught this to so many. Yes, it’s true. He taught them to hit better. Field better. Throw better. But he taught them to play better. To appreciate better. To respect better.
And he started with my friend, his oldest daughter.
When we were in high school, I was the sports editor of the school newspaper, and I wanted to write a feature story on my friend. She wasn’t the strongest, the fastest or the most talented. But her success came because she got the most out of her abilities by working harder than anyone else.
Hmmm. I wonder where she learned that from?
As I was thinking about her dad today, I remembered that I still had a copy of that school newspaper, published Tuesday, February 23, 1988. I knew the end of the story was about her dad. I just had to find it. And I’m glad I did.
These are the last two paragraphs of that story:
She credits her father for helping her along. She says he has always stressed hustle, hustle, hustle.
“He always told me, ‘Give 100 percent. Do the best you can, even if poeple don’t think it is enough. As long as you know that it’s enough inside, it’s good enough.'”
A pretty good lesson, eh?
She learned it well.
And so did everyone else who was touched by this man.
Yes, the text I got earlier this week was true. We have lost another great one.
And nothing is greater than the legacy he leaves behind.
So today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 77.
But I’m not writing about him. Not now. Maybe not later. I mean, well, eventually. But this won’t be a birthday post like I’ve done in the past. Have I thought about him today? Sure I have. A lot, actually.
But I’ve also thought about other things in my past — and that’s what brought my here. Maybe it was on a whim. But so what. I’m here. And, well, apparently, so are you.
(Thanks for that, by the way.)
The inspiration for this post came from a strange thread on Facebook that started with an innocent comment about a friend’s interest in roller derby. She commented about another friend who would make a dynamic player. I made a comment that, even now, the two of them would kick ass.
I know that doesn’t sound like much but it then led to a look back at the roller rinks of southeastern Connecticut and southwestern Rhode Island, under 21 nights at a couple of now defunct establishments and old-school top 40 radio.
What do these things have in common? Simply, they are institutions of my childhood and early teen years. So, by default, they have an automatic place saved in me. A place where I can always go and pull out some fabulous memories — just like I do about my dad. But, as I said, I’m not writing about him.
So, those of you that grew up in and around Pawcatuck, maybe you’ll appreciate some of these things.
Since I started this thought with roller rinks….let’s start there.
Remember Galaxy when it was down at the beach and Roll-On America in Groton? And of course Wes-Skate in Westerly — Friday night sock hops, anyone? Now Galaxy is in Groton, ads are on the radio and I want to take the kids there. I never could shoot the duck, and I’d probably kill myself trying now, but forget the socializing nights as teenagers, remember the birthday parties and school nights roller skating — because there were a lot.
Maple Breeze. Do I have to say much more than that? I drove by today and was saddened. I went to the auction of when they sold the place — just to see whose hands would be on the property, knowing they’d never do it justice. I went to the property auction, and, as a result, have two special things in my garage — the old clown face and the golf ball sign that says, “Don’t Bounce Me.” On a perfect summer night like tonight, it was the place to be. Mini golf, go karts, bumper boats, water slide. And friends. Always with friends. Aidan and I were mini-golfing in North Conway this week and all I could think about was wishing I had the chance to take him to the best course ever.
There was always music playing at Maple Breeze. Always the local radio station. Maybe it was Fun 102 or 102.3 The Wave. Maybe it was RI104 before it became WRX, 103.7. Or, maybe it was the grand-daddy of the day — Q105. I have an affinity for the Q since I interned there and, most recently, was on the morning show a few years ago with Franco and Nancy and then Nancy and Shawn. But, the point is, more than a few of you reading this had red and yellow Q105 bumper stickers on your bedroom door or car.
So as some of you know, I went to St. Michael School. And, not sure about you public schoolers, but whenever there was an SMS school function, we always — and I mean always — ended up at Bee Bee Dairy in Westerly for ice cream. An equally good pizza place now, but each time I go in, I think about a Bee Bee Dairy sundae.
And speaking of St. Michael’s…Saturday morning basketball league at the Pawcatuck Junior High School Gym. St. Mike’s, West Vine, West Broad, Deans Mill Green, Deans Mill Gold. Great coaches and refs and great stuff for us kids. Even cheerleaders for the girls. Every Saturday morning…two games. And the gym was packed. Or at least I remember it that way.
Nothing could be written about sports in Pawcatuck without mentioning Pawcatuck Little League. I’m a little biased. Ok, a lot biased. I practically grew up there. I have immense feelings for the place and the people who made it into arguably one of the top complexes in the country. Gibson. Knowles. Lenihan. Walsh. Crowley. Cray. Seriously, I could go on and on, but I won’t….I’ll miss too many people. It makes me crazy to go to my own Little League now and see what it is compared to what I had growing up. If I ever moved back to Pawcatuck, that would be one of the reasons. Call me crazy, but it’s true. I remember the boys team that won the district and you’d think they had won the World Series….I remember the girls teams that were good enough to win the World Series. I remember all of it. It’s just a part of me. And always will be.
Back to St. Michael’s for a bit…how about the summer festival? Another institution growing up. Are you kidding me? Charlie LoPresto and family making fritters in the corner. Bingo in the other corner. The white elephant booth. Charlie Shea calling, “put a dime down, win a dollar. put a dime down win a dollar.” My first gambling experience at the dice wheel where they’d sweep losing quarters off the board into rain gutters. The putting green contest where a prize was a free pass to Maple Breeze. The moonwalk when it was there. Pony rides on the convent lawn. And fried dough. Oh, the fried dough.
Wilcox Park and summer pops. Seriously, remember when it all started? Remember the glow sticks you’d get? Remember how early you’d have to get in the park?
And speaking of the park, remember McCrory’s nearby? You could go in and get popcorn — and everything else.
What about Besso’s on the bridge? A must stop before every movie to get penny candy when it was still just that — a penny.
And after the movies, you’d go to McDonalds. I mean, what else would you do? Of course, if the show was at the United, you’d be happy if you could sit in the balcony.
And the United was close to China Village — a mainstay for ‘special occasion’ dining.
So many memories. So many things to talk about. I mean, I didn’t even mention Rosalinis. I didn’t mention Thanksgiving Day football. I didn’t mention Del’s Lemonade. I didn’t mention “Smiley” working at the DQ. I didn’t mention the Westerly Community Credit Union holiday hoops tournament. I didn’t mention the wall. I didn’t mention the pavillions.
It doesn’t have to be mentioned to be important. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a significant event in your life either. It just has to be something — that when you look back on it — it makes you smile.
I apologize for typos and the ‘rush’ of my writing here, but the inspiration was there to get down a few thoughts and, well, that’s just what I did.
What I really hope is that some of these memories trigger some positive thoughts for you. I am blessed to have grown up in a very cool part of the world with a lot of very cool people around me. Some of them are still around me. And some of them aren’t. And often times you don’t think enough about the ones that are still around until they are gone. But it’s when they are gone that they can sometimes have the greatest impact on you.
Happy Birthday, Dad.