The Spider’s Web

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my friend Donna.  I’m sad to report that Donna has left this world.  When I think of friends who are far away.  Those who can return, and those who cannot, I turn to this poem.  It’s one of my favorites.

The Spider’s Web (A Natural History)

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.

Thanks, Mom

Today is my birthday.  I guess when you reach a certain age, you spend more time looking back and evaluating rather than looking ahead with anticipation.  My age and my mind would suggest that I’m at the half-way point between the two.  This year I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about my mom.  After all, she’s the primary reason I’m here.

I’m not sure what started me thinking about these things.  But I do realize I haven’t given it much thought until just recently.

Here’s how 1963 went for her.  She’s 19 and will turn 20 in November.  She meets the boy (he just turned 19) who would become my father, they fall in love immediately and are married just a few days later.  None of the parents approve of the whirlwind romance and marriage so they sneak off and have a neighbor serve as the witness.

She gets pregnant almost immediately.  I was 27 when Curtis came along and 30 when Travis was born.  Even at those ages, I felt wholly unprepared for parenthood.  I can hardly imagine what it would have been like to be 19 and expecting a baby.  While all this is happening, tensions are mounting in Viet Nam and people my dad’s age are worried about being sent to war.  Thankfully, these fears were lessened because he had a job on the railroad, working with my grandfather and the railroad was still considered an essential service and therefore exempted people from the draft.

In the fall, the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the World Series and the Cubs finished in 7th place.

November rolled around and at the height of being pregnant, the president was killed.  I know from reading about that time and those weeks following Kennedy’s assassination, the stress level of people in this country was at an all time high.  A week later, Mom turned 20 and I can’t begin to think about what she was thinking during that period of time.

I made it into this world a few hours before leap year, 1964, and the rest is history.  Mom and Dad did a fine job raising my brother and me.  We were the first two in our family to go to college.  We both ended up with advanced degrees and have adequate lives.  In addition, we both know how to cook, clean, and wash dishes.  A product of having a mother who worked and taught us to be independent.

Dad died in his early 40s and after that, Mom went to Ames and became the housemother at my brother’s fraternity.  There, she inherited another family of boys who challenged her in different ways, but she loved every minute of it.  Today, she and her husband Don, do whatever they feel like doing and that’s just how it should be.

Thanks, Mom!

Ralph Branca’s Cameo in Parental Guidance

Photo by Tim Sieck

This weekend I went to see Parental Guidance.  Make no mistake, it will win no awards and it may not be remembered at all six months from now.  I went to see it for two reasons.  It was at the Palace Theater in Vinton, and I’ll spend $3 to see just about anything, and it stars Billy Crystal.

There’s a theme that runs through the film.  Billy Crystal is an unemployed baseball announcer and he carries around an iPod loaded with famous announcer calls in baseball history.  He has a grandson with a speech impediment, and in one scene he has the boy listen to the call of Bobby Thompson’s shot heard round the world.  He tells him to close his eyes while he’s listening and he’ll be able to see the action.

At the end of the movie, while at an children’s orchestra audition, the boy steps up to the microphone during a break and recites, word for word, the radio announcer’s call of Thompson’s homerun.  No stuttering at all.  Just a perfect recreation of the call.  The camera pans to the judges, and right there in the middle of the table, is Ralph Branca, the pitcher who threw the pitch that Thompson hit out.

Most people would have no clue it was Branca.  It’s incredible that at 87, he is still a good sport about what was undoubtedly the worse moment in his baseball career.

Better Days

Every so often, a Facebook post catches you off guard.  We all love to check our feed from time to time, just to catch up on what our friends are doing.  A clever status update, a rant about a political figure, or a shout of encouragement about our favorite sports team.  This morning was different for me.  This was the post that greeted me as I looked at my “close friends” list.

Today was a tough one – Rhonda and I went to church and – after some oxygen mishap – visited my dad to tell him that the new chemo is not working and my body cannot take anymore. We just held each other and cried – it broke my heart. It was good to have Rhonda, my big Sis, and my niece and nephew there to hold us and each other. I have started on home hospice and we will be focusing on quality of life. My dear family and friends, I hope you know that I love you all so much and I feel wrapped in the blanket of love and positive thoughts you send my way. Please continue to pray for Rhonda and our families – for God’s healing love and presence in our lives and peace as we follow the road ahead.


The post was from my good friend, Donna.  Donna is a warrior.  We’ve known each other for over a decade now.  When I met her, she had already beaten breast cancer twice.  When I visited her in Memphis in November, she was just starting a new course of chemo to battle the stomach cancer that had found its way into her body.  This post brought instant tears and stopped me in my tracks.  So I’m going to think about better days.  And Donna, when you read this, I hope you will too.

The date was August 3, 2006.  Donna and I were working in St. Louis with a client.  During the meeting, the talk turned to the Cardinals and the new Busch Stadium, which was had just opened that season.  We said it would be fun to go to the game and see the new ballpark. The client promptly said that there was no way we would be able to get a ticket,  every game was sold out long before the season started, and we should just hit the sports bar and watch it on TV.  Challenge accepted.

I remember it being hot that day.  We drove downtown about an hour before game time and parked about 6 blocks from the stadium.  We hadn’t walked more than a block before we found a scalper and a pair of tickets.  Upper level, outfield, on the first base side.  We found our seats and settled in for a great night in the heat of summer.

Cole Hamels pitched for the Phillies that night, against Jason Marquis.  The Phils sent nine men to the plate in the top of the 3rd and the rout was on.  By the bottom of the 5th, the Cardinal fans, mostly dressed in Pujols t-shirts and jerseys, started streaming for the exits.  No sense watching a beat down in the sweltering heat.  At that point, Donna and I started seat jumping.  By the seventh inning, we were about eight rows behind the Phillies dugout watching the game from seats that felt more like Lazy Boys than stadium seats.  It was a fantastic night.  Philadephia won 8-1 and we got to see the new stadium in its first year of existence.

Those are the days I’m focused on right now.  Donna, I hope you find time to close your eyes and think about warm summer nights, subway rides, and Yankee Stadium.  Your friends love you.  We all hope things will be better.  What can be hard for us is realizing that what’s better, is not always what we hoped for.