Monday, May 12, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (May 12)

It’s been another gloomy day, cool and overcast and, now, increasingly breezy. I wore a sweater vest over a long-sleeve shirt today and felt that I didn’t dress warm enough. Rain is in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow. I just checked the garden to do a little weeding – just had to get outside for a little bit -- and all the plants look healthy. The ferns literally burst upon the backyard scene during the past week. We’ve had enough warm weather and precipitation for everything to be ahead of schedule actually. I remember some previous Mays around Mother’s Day when the leaves on the trees were still in the bud stage. When I survey the scene outside the sliding glass doors of the family room, it almost looks like summer, there’s so much “full” green.

I still have half a flat each of marigolds and begonias to plant. I debated with myself whether or not to dig some earth once I finished my weed patrol, but I couldn’t get into the mood. I won’t have a lot of time this weekend as Andy is playing in another baseball tournament – two games on Saturday and one on Sunday. We’re invited to a party – the entire family – Saturday evening. Fortunately, the majority of the planting is done.

 All four of us had commitments yesterday evening. JoAnna attended the annual Wisconsin Women in Government banquet at the Frank Lloyd Wright Convention Center in Madison. She went to that event directly from work. Both boys had soccer games, Eddie’s at 5:30 in Middleton, and Andy’s in Fitchburg, a 20-minute drive from here, at 6:45. Fortunately, I was able to make arrangements to have Andy ride to and from his game with one of his teammates. Eddie’s game concluded at 6:30, which gave me enough time to buy him a Happy Meal on the drive home and then get to a library board meeting at 7:00. That meant that Eddie was home alone for an hour or so, not a new experience for him. He knows not to answer the door or the phone in that situation. I told him the approximate time that Andy would be home.

I smelled gas in the house last night and again this morning. It seemed to be coming from the furnace, which I had turned off about a week ago. This morning I called Madison Gas & Electric, and a service rep arrived within the hour. He found a hairline crack along the inlet side of the gas valve. I have no idea as to how this happened as the valve is inside the furnace. We had already decided to replace it during the summer. It has needed a major cleaning during each of the last three heating seasons. Another major expense, but we have our home equity credit line to pay for it, so we don’t have to make any special financial arrangements to have this project done.

JoAnna just returned from the health club, her first visit there in a week. Monday evening the two of us took a 40-minute walk. It seemed a little weird coming home from work after the boys had already been home for two hours, having supper together (tacos), and then JoAnna and I leaving the house after the kitchen was cleaned up. 

The boys haven’t seen too much of us today,” I commented during our walk. But then it’s a refreshing change of pace for JoAnna and I to have some time together. It’s nice to be able to trust the boys on their own. 

JoAnna and I can tell that the school year is coming to an end. The boys haven’t had any homework this week. Andy has two or three field trips per week between now and the last day of school, probably something to do with the 5th graders being “seniors” at Elm Lawn. Eddie’s class also has a number of outings scheduled, including a trip to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo next Thursday. I think I might volunteer as a chaperone for that one.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (May 10)

The Mother’s Day brunch at Mayflower Drive included a mixed fruit salad, Pillsbury orange rolls, scrambled eggs, hash browns (the frozen Ore-Ida variety), and sausage links. Everyone ate heartily. In fact, the rolls disappeared before I could get my hands on one of them.

During the afternoon, JoAnna went par-3 golfing with the boys while I cleaned up the house (kitchen and living room) and worked outside. I mowed the grass and then thinned out the ground cover on the north side of the yard and transplanted the excess (16 plants altogether) to a bed along the south side. I divided them into two clusters of eight and planted some marigolds in the middle. Until yesterday, I could never figure out what to do with this area of the yard.

After spending five hours outdoors getting my hands dirty, I was ready for a hot shower. Any thoughts of a restful, relaxing evening were dashed when Andy asked, “Could you pitch to me, Dad?”

JoAnna did speak up for me. “You should let your dad take it easy. He’s been working all afternoon.”

I actually enjoy pitching batting practice to Andy, so it wasn’t a chore or an inconvenience at all. And since he has about 10 baseballs, I don’t have to immediately run down every ball he hits.

When we returned from the park, Larry and Alice were at the house. It was just a brief overnight stay for them. We sat around the living room and talked for awhile. We all went to bed at 9:30, Larry and Alice sleeping in the boys’ beds while the boys slept in their sleeping bags in Mom’s and Dad’s room. After turning over soil for four hours, I was certainly ready for the early bedtime.

Larry and Alice were on the road by 7:15 this morning and JoAnna left for work shortly thereafter. Both boys were in a very lethargic mood. It was difficult to get them moving. Andy was still sitting at the kitchen table eating a bowl of cereal at five after eight.

“C’mon, you’re going to be late, Herman!” I told him, the urgency in my voice giving these words a sharp edge. I think Andy and Eddie were probably marked down as tardy today. I hope that’s not an indication of how the rest of the week will go.

So much for now. We send our love.

Friday, May 9, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (May 9)

So far this weekend has been dedicated to sports. After spending the day in Wisconsin Dells, attending a futures planning workshop sponsored by the South Central Library System, I returned home in time to make sure that Eddie was ready for his Friday evening soccer game. The day had been cool and overcast, but unlike Thursday, no rain had fallen, so the likelihood of the game being postponed diminished as the day progressed. (The field that Eddie’s team was playing on doesn’t drain too well.) 

At game time, a light rain started to fall. I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt over a t-shirt but had left my jacket and an umbrella in the van. Fortunately, trees hug the field, and even though the leaves were just baby sprouts, so to speak, I managed to find protection from the precipitation.

It rained on and off throughout the game. The field should have been mowed as the grass was very long. Any ball kicked on the ground screeched to an immediate halt. By the end of the game, all the kids had wet socks and shoes and their hair matted into weird shapes from all their running around and the styling quirks of the rain. Eddie’s team lost 3-0.

We checked the driveway for a dark blue Buick before going out to eat. Larry and Alice had planned to visit us one day this weekend on their way home but we had no idea when that would be. Only the Saturn was in the driveway. We ate at Pasqual’s, one of our neighborhood restaurants, and then stopped at Blockbuster to rent a video for Mom and Dad and two Playstation games for the boys.

Saturday was devoted to baseball. Andy played in a tournament in Cross Plains, just seven miles west of Middleton. His team played three games, at 10:30, 1:30, 4:30, so we were at the park where the tournament was held for eight hours. Eddie, of course, didn’t want to go. When I got out of the shower, I heard Andy calling his brother’s name.

“Do you know where Eddie is?” he asked me through the door. “We can’t find him anywhere.”

Oh great, I thought, he’s run off somewhere and we’re going to have to search the neighborhood for him.

I don’t know why I initially thought he left the house, as that has never been Eddie’s style of avoidance. When I gave his disappearance some further thought, I knew exactly where to look. It was where Andy ultimately found him. In the “crawl space” of one of the captain’s beds.

Once Eddie was in the van, outside of a 20-foot range of a television set, he was in a very pleasant mood. At the tournament, he either entertained himself or found some kids to play with throughout the day, without a single complaint. In fact, JoAnna and I had to scan the park occasionally to make sure we knew where he was. He never once searched us out, seemingly thriving on his independence.

Game one was a seesaw affair, which made for a very exciting contest. Middleton took what seemed to be a commanding 6-2 lead in the middle of the game but quickly surrendered four runs. Their defense really let them down, especially their inability to hold runners on base. In one instance, Middleton’s pitcher walked a batter and then let him take an extra base when his head momentarily left the game. The player trotted to first and immediately stole second. Throws from the outfield were sometimes made to the wrong base. With an 11-8 lead going into the bottom of the last inning, Middleton was able to keep their opponent scoreless.

Andy had a pretty good game. Although he struck out his first time up, he singled and walked in his next two at-bats.

The second game turned out to be a pitcher’s duel. Waunakee scored two runs in the top of the 1st and looked as though they were going to make things tough for our guys. But that was all they scored. Middleton came back with two runs in the bottom of the third, and then scored the winning run on a bang-bang play at home plate in the bottom of the sixth (of a six-inning game). Final score: 3-2. Andy batted twice, called out on strikes the first time and booming a fly ball to right field (for an out, unfortunately) the second time.

Andy pitched two scoreless innings in game three to help his team nail down a 8-6 victory. The score was 8-0 in the final inning, but Middleton’s third pitcher of the game lost his control after getting the first two outs and walked five batters in a row. Andy struck out and walked in this game. He definitely needs to work on his hitting. JoAnna suggested I take him to a batting cage. We did that once last year, and Andy really enjoyed that kind of batting practice session. It can get a little pricey, though. If I recall, I think it costs something like $5 for 12 balls.

As it turned out, both Middleton teams, the 11 year olds and the 12 year olds, won all three of their games. In fact, the 12 year olds didn’t allow their opponents to score any runs. All three games were shut-outs.

Yesterday was not a good day for baseball. The weather was cool, overcast, and breezy. Many of the fans were wrapped in blankets, wearing winter jackets and gloves. I suppose the good point is that it didn’t rain.

We didn’t get home until 6:30. All of us were feeling drained from being outdoors all day. Neither JoAnna nor I were in the mood to make supper, so I went out to get Chinese for us and pizza for the boys. JoAnna and I watched the video we rented the previous day, but she fell asleep with Boxer on her chest less than halfway through it. I must have dozed off during the final minutes because I can’t for the life of me remember the ending.

The ballfields in Cross Plains are located next to the middle school, and I happened to notice that there were all these old cars parked in the lot in front of the entrance to the school. Before the second game, I wandered over there and checked out the exhibits. A 1947 Chrysler Royal reminded of a car that Min and Lila used to own. I can clearly remember sitting in the spacious back seat– to a little boys it seemed like riding in a living room – on the cloth upholstery with the rope handle attached to the back of the front seat out of my short reach, my view out the windshield partially obscured by a visor. I think the Starks actually owned a Plymouth, but except for a few extra Chrysler flourishes, they were pretty much the same car. I saw a number of seventies-era cars that looked as though they had been lovingly attended to by Dale. A collector of unique and odd models (“I’ve got 21 cars,” I overheard him say) had a 1952 Allstate on display. This car was marketed by Sears for just two years (1952-53) but was manufactured by the Kaiser-Frazer company. Another car I spent some time admiring was a 1958 yellow-and-white Ford Fairline hardtop convertible. There was a 1940 Chevrolet coupe that I would have enjoyed driving on the back roads of Dane County, feeling as though I had been transported back in time. 

We woke up to blue skies and sunshine today, which means I’ll be able to return to the yard work that been on hold for the past week. I feel bad that the boys and I don’t have any special plans for JoAnna this morning to celebrate Mother’s Day. The week was so hectic I didn’t get around to buy any cards, which I should have done when I bought your card and Larry’s birthday card. I’ll have time later in the week, I told myself. Wrong! The boys and I made cards last night right before we went to bed, composing a message on the computer, printing it onto a sheet of paper, folding it in half, and then gluing a picture of them from their first communion last Sunday onto the front. I did buy JoAnna a book on Wisconsin’s participation in the Civil War, her special area of reading interest. We’re going to 11 o’clock mass this morning since JoAnna is serving as lector. The church is hosting a Mother’s Day brunch, but when I mentioned this option to the boys they didn’t seem interested. 

Right now I need to exercise, take a shower, and then review breakfast options.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (May 6)

I’m taking a late morning break at work, chicken noodle Cup-a-Soup steeping within my reach. Who knows, I may be eating my lunch without knowing it.

When I got out of bed this morning, the sky looked harmlessly overcast. I was surprised to hear water still running when I turned off the shower an hour later. Rain started to fall shortly after 7:00 and hasn’t stopped since. I had hoped to work in the yard this evening, but that activity doesn’t seem too likely right now. I imagine that Andy’s baseball practice will be canceled, even if the rain stops within the next couple hours. I don’t see any improvement in the weather forecast for the weekend. At this rate, I’m not going to complete all the planting and transplanting I want to get dome before the Memorial Day weekend.

Yesterday Eddie and I had a difference of opinion over how to proceed with his book report, which was due today. The assignment was to read a book on animals and then to answer the questions on a sheet of paper the teacher handed out. Earlier in the week, when Eddie showed me what he intended to report on, I realized he didn’t understand what his teacher had in mind. He planned to read the information on a single page of one of his dinosaur books and use that as the basis for his report.

I planned my approach to this problem carefully, since I knew Eddie would put up an immediate fuss once I offered an alternative, one that he wouldn’t be able refuse since Dad was not going to take “no” for an answer. I checked out three books from the library – one each on the bald eagle, wolf, and stegosaurus. When I returned home from work yesterday, I laid all three on the kitchen table and told him to choose which one he wanted to read.

“Eddie, your teacher wants you to do a book report. That means you have to read the book first, not just a page out of a book,” I explained to him, watching his face harden and his eyes go squinty as the full meaning of my words registered.

Initially, he resisted my suggestion, making a reference I didn’t understand to a certain type of dinosaur in the book he was planning to use.

“Here’s what you need to do, Eddie,” I said, putting up my hand as if to stop the words coming out of his mouth. “Pick one of the books on the table here. You can either read the book to me or try to read it on your own. You can’t use that book,” I said, pointing to the one on the table in front of him, “ for your report. That’s not how your teacher would want you to do this assignment.”

My tone of voice became insistent, which Eddie interpreted as something else. “Why are you always so mean to me?” he wailed, his eyes filling up with tears. He got up from his chair and started to leave the room.

“Eddie, you want mean. I’ll show you mean,” I said in exasperation. My threat was meaningless, though. I had no intention of screaming or striking him into submission. I just needed to vent some hot air, release some of the pressure that this stand-off was causing.

“Eddie, please, sit back down here,” I said in a calm and measured voice. “We need to get this assignment done tonight. Now pick out a book and let’s get going.”

He stopped at the threshold of the living room, and then returned to the table.

He selected the book on wolves and opted to read it on his own. I told him he should remain at the table, but five minutes later I found him lying on his bed – still reading, fortunately. Then he changed his mind and switched to the stegosaurus title. Soon I heard a complaint about “too many hard words”. Reading alone wasn’t going to work, so we sat together on the living room couch and Eddie read all 32 pages (an average of 60 words per page) without a break.

Once he finished the book, we returned to the kitchen and he wrote out the answers to the questions on the report sheet. All told, this was an assignment that took nearly 90 minutes, and I had to be there throughout providing encouragement and assistance. I made a mental note to myself: “JoAnna and I really need to work with Eddie on this reading this summer.” Otherwise, he is going to be at a great disadvantage when 3rd grade starts. For a second-grader, Eddie has below-average reading skills. He doesn’t seem to have developed a sight vocabulary. Even two and three-letter words have to be worked out phonetically, which is why I question the effectiveness of exclusively using phonics in the teaching of reading.

Later in the evening, Eddie told me in his sweetest tone of voice, “Thanks, Dad, for making me do my work. I’m sorry I got angry.” It was an exhausting process for him. At the completion of his assignment, when I told him that I was going to go outside to weed the dandelions in the back yard, he said, “I think I’m going to rest in the hammock for awhile.” Even though he had earned the privilege of watching TV, he didn’t even have the energy for that activity. He did rouse himself before too long, though. The boys and I played catch for awhile, after which the two of them went across the street to play with Matthew. 

JoAnna missed the homework confrontation as she was at an Airport Commission meeting, a Dane County board on which she serves. She did hear Eddie statement of gratitude, though, so I gave her a rundown of what had transpired.

Boxer continues his skittish ways this week. I really think he considers Rusty an intruder; the two don’t seem to get along. During the day, Rusty is nowhere to be found. When I come home for lunch, only Boxer greets me, filling the house with his pitiful whining. During the evening, though, Rusty wants to be part of the family – or maybe the family cat. Both litter boxes and food dishes are in the utility room and sometimes Rusty will post himself right in the doorway, which intimidates Boxer to the point where he won’t even make an attempt to go into this room. We learned of the consequences of this standoff last night. At bedtime, Eddie informed us that Andy had discovered a pooper in his room. Why Andy had to sent his brother as messenger, I don’t know.

 “That’s your job!” I said to JoAnna.

She waited until a commercial break during Law & Order so she wouldn’t miss any of our favorite program.

Naturally, we assumed that Boxer was the culprit, as he occasionally used Andy’s room as a litter box when he was a kitten.

Rusty is old enough to be Boxer’s great-grandfather. He’s 14 and has a weird, almost laughable shape: a fat body on skinny legs. His coat is a very pretty reddish-brown coloring – hence, his name. Even when we are in Two Rivers, he tends to keep himself scarce. I’m sure there have been some weekend visits where we haven’t seen him at all. Rusty’s not a people cat. 

Anyway, our catsitting service ends this weekend, as Alice and Larry will be picking up the rotund one on their return trip from Kansas.

Monday, April 28, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 25)

As it turned out, we didn’t have pizza Friday evening, but neither did we go out to eat. We couldn’t agree on a place that pleased everyone. JoAnna and I considered going out ourselves, but we felt that the boys were in too much of crabby mood to be left home alone. I went out and got some Chinese take-out. The boys had to fend for themselves. JoAnna and I took advantage of yesterday’s beautiful weather and accomplished quite a bit outside. I cleaned the windows in the family room, inside and out, and then put up the screens. JoAnna mowed the front yard and then moved the patio furniture out of the shed, including the umbrella for our picnic table. I washed the plastic chairs and then set them up in their usual arrangement. I also tied some string around our five clusters of peonies, so that when these flowers bloom in another month or so, the stems won’t sag to the ground. We took a break during the middle of the afternoon to pick up Andy at his baseball practice, getting to the field early so we could watch the last 20 minutes of batting practice.

Because of Andy’s improved attitude at school, we allowed him to have a sleepover last night. He invited Matt Ziegler, one of his classmates and a soccer teammate. For supper, I cooked hamburgers on the grill, and JoAnna purchased the ingredients for s’mores. The boys spent most of the evening with the Playstation controls in their hands. They went to bed around midnight, and Andy and Matt were up this morning at 6:30, Eddie sleeping in another hour.

Sunday evening

I don’t know where Andy gets the energy. In spite of his lack of sleep, a baseball practice from 1:00 until 3:00, and a soccer practice from 4:00 to 5:30, he still wanted to accompany Mom to the club so he could play some basketball. He did look very tired when he was stretched out on the couch in the family room after supper.

Eddie also had a soccer practice today. Right now he’s watching The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park, a special privilege since we usually don’t allow any forms of TV on a school night.

I spent about three hours today cleaning the windows, inside and out, in the living room, dining area, and kitchen. I also did the grocery shopping after dropping off Andy at his soccer practice. Except for all the boys’ activities, it’s been an uneventful day for JoAnna and me. After supper, a delicious pork roast, we reviewed our summer calendar. May is a very busy month with soccer and baseball and end-of-the year school activities. June will be busy with baseball games during the week, but so far our weekends look open. Not so July and August. Once we hit Independence Day, we have only one unscheduled weekend between then and the start of school.

Time to wrap this one up. The movie’s just about over, which means I have to start think about herding the boys toward the bathroom. Shower time. Then it’s homework time for Eddie, a very short math assignment he’ll be able to finish in a couple minutes followed by 15 minutes of reading. I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to just sit back and relax with a book myself.

We send you our love.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 24)

The sky has cleared, the almost forgotten sun is shining, and the temperature might reach 60 degrees today. The gloomy siege of weather has ended. Nevertheless, I still feel a little bit chilled. That’s because I finished watching Andy’s soccer game not too longer ago and it was still a bit on the cool side at 9 o’clock this morning. The Barracuda, Andy’s team, won convincingly, 6-0. Now Andy is playing a game called Twisted Metal III on his Playstation as he awaits his 1 o’clock baseball practice.

Andy has been both fascinated and repulsed by the coverage of the school shootings in Colorado. 

JoAnna mentioned that he was reading newspapers articles about the tragedy the other evening. He seems to have reached the saturation point today, though.

“Why do they keep talking about the incident?” he asked me after leaving the kitchen, where JoAnna was watching the news on TV.

“To understand why it happened and figure out how to prevent it from happening again,” I told him. 

“Don’t they know it’s a bad influence on kids,” he persisted, which I found to be an interesting comment. For unstable kids who want to make a very public exit from this world, all they need to do is look at the nonstop TV coverage for an answer.

Monday, April 21, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 21)

Our cool and overcast weather continues. Daytime highs have been in the low 50s so conditions can’t really be described as unseasonable. During the night, the temperature approaches freezing. Yesterday we had a late afternoon downpour that forced the cancellation of Eddie’s soccer game and Andy’s practice.

So far this week, we’ve been sticking to the menu that JoAnna and Andy planned on Sunday. Spaghetti, with salad and Pillsbury garlic sticks on Monday; grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup yesterday, a meal that I missed out on since I was working; round steak and noodles, with corn and crescent rolls tonight. JoAnna called a few minutes before 6:00 to let us know she was delayed, to start supper without her. While I was cleaning up the kitchen, I prepared her supper plate, covered it with Cling Wrap, and put it in the refrigerator to be microwaved when she returned home. The Dale method.

Tomorrow, soft shell tacos are on the menu, but only if I stop at the grocery store to buy the shells. Pizza, probably not homemade, is what’s on tap for Friday, after Eddie’s soccer game in Mount Horeb, which means we won’t get home until after 7:00. The last time we were in Mount Horeb, for one of Andy’s basketball tournaments, JoAnna and I enjoyed a fish fry at the Main Street Grill. Maybe it will be time for an encore.

Saturday is an open date, not that we have any particular plans, but Sunday dinner will feature a delicious pork roast, a cut of meat we don’t buy too often.

Ever since baseball tryouts on Sunday, Andy has been anxiously awaiting a phone call from one of the coaches. Fifth and sixth graders were to be selected for two teams by this evening. I attended the city council meeting last night and didn’t get back to my office until 9:30. I found a note with the message, “Paul, call Andy.”

Andy couldn’t wait to tell me the news, I figured.

He was asleep, of course, when I returned home, but JoAnna said he’s on a team with a lot of the same guys from last year: Ross, Johnny, Riley, Drew, and Brent. He’s so excited. Practice starts this weekend, weather permitting. Our gloomy conditions are predicted to last through the weekend. We even had another prediction of snow. (I thought that convention ended last week!) 

Andy is going to be very busy with sports over the next month. He’ll still be able to play in most of his soccer games, but baseball will take priority. Andy will play in two tournaments in May, which take place on the 3rd and 4th weekends of the month.

I received a call from Andy’s teacher today while I was at work.

Oh-oh, I said to myself. What’s happened now?

Mrs. Ball must have sensed my concern, as she quickly explained her reason for her call.

“I have some positive news I wanted to share with you,” she said.

She went on to describe how things have changed for the better quite dramatically since the conference we had last month. She mentioned that Andy has made a special effort to contribute in the classroom, eagerly volunteering to participate in various activities. I thought it was very considerate of her to share this news. To me, it’s the sign of a committed teacher. Too often kids get reprimanded for their negative behavior but not rewarded, or even recognized, for the positive things that they do. That’s an important cautionary statement for parents, too. (Just giving myself a little reminder.)

Delayed reaction. A few paragraphs ago, I thought I heard someone say “goodbye” and the side door slam shut. From somewhere outside, I can hear the dull thump of a basketball being dribbled, but that might be our neighbors playing with their 3-year-old son. So I get up from this chair momentarily and walk to the kitchen window to investigate. Sure enough, there’s Mary Ash, her son Matthew – along with Andy and Eddie. Matthew could be a babysitting prospect for Andy. Hard to believe our big guys will be 12 years old this September and in middle school. I was looking at some baby pictures the other night and had to ask myself, “Where did those days go?” Diapers. Daycare. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Watching Dumbo three or four times in one day. The night after night after night after night I would tell Andy the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, sometimes with some very abrupt and strange variations if he was in the mood.

And now he’s almost as tall as his mom.

Friday, April 18, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 18)

I’ll finish this letter while I have some peace and quiet. JoAnna and the boys went to the health club tonight. She’ll exercise while the boys play around in the pool. 

Andy’s team lost their soccer game, 7-0, against a team that took first place in the fall league. The sun was shining during the first half, which kept the parents, standing along the sidelines, from feeling the full effects of a fairly strong breeze. A dome of clouds appeared during the second half and blocked out the sun’s rays. Suddenly it felt like early March. We were all very eager for the game to end, a sentiment we didn’t share with our sons, of course. 

During the afternoon and early evening, JoAnna was at the annual Democratic Party Leadership Conference in Merrimac, about 30 miles north of Middleton, where she conducted a couple of workshops. A friend of Andy’s, Rex Johnson, spent most of the afternoon here, most of their time challenging each other to various Playstation games. I didn’t have a particularly productive day. I finished reading a book (Little Green Men, by Christopher Buckley, a very funny spoof on Washington and the politics of UFO’s) and continued the yard work on the south side of the house. Saturday evening JoAnna and Andy went to the health club. I sat at the kitchen table and watched a movie on TV (Airplane, which had me laughing uproariously at times). Eddie was setting a mini-Lego world on the top of the bookcase next to my desk. During the commercials, I’d check out his progress. 

We went to 9 o’clock mass this morning and then stopped at Scott’s Bakery, usually referred to by us as “The Donut Shop”, on the way home. I went grocery shopping after JoAnna and Andy had completed a menu plan for the week. At quarter to 12, I drove Andy to the high school for the Babe Ruth League baseball tryouts. I didn’t stick around to watch the kids to through their paces. When I returned to give Andy a ride home, though, I heard reports from both Rex’s and Meaghan’s dads that Andy was sure to make the team. Andy, too, felt very confident about his chances. He said he did well in the various hitting, pitching, throwing, and batting drills the coaches ran them through. 

The weather today has been overcast and cool, with intermittent rain showers, so I postponed cleaning the windows. I had even considered putting up the screens in the family room when it looked as though the sky was clearing during the middle of the afternoon. That turned out to be a false promise of pleasant weather. Instead I went through my closet and filled up a large plastic bag that was distributed at the end of church today with old clothes -- shirts and pants and sweatshirts that Eddie has outgrown and shirts that I haven’t worn in over a year. The clothes will be dropped off next week at church for St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic charitable organization. 

Eddie played in a soccer scrimmage at 4:30 today. I wore my windbreaker and still felt chilled. Unlike most of his teammates, Eddie wore only his jersey, nothing warmer underneath, although I thought I had brought along a long-sleeve shirt for him. I found it on the kitchen table when we returned home. He had brought along his windbreaker, which he wore when he was on the sidelines, but didn’t seem to be bothered by the cold when he played. JoAnna brought along an umbrella since the intermittent sprinkles had returned when we left the house. The Sailfish played two quarters against a 3rd grade team and lost by a score of something like 7-2. Eddie scored a goal to give his team a short-lived lead. 

Dinner took ten minutes to get ready once we were back home. A beef roast had been cooking in the crockpot all day, with red potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery. Biscuits and corn completed the menu. Great meal for an unseasonably cold spring day. 

It was a rewarding weekend for those of us who love to hate the Yankees. They got swept by the lowly Tigers, getting outscored 16-3 in the three-game series. Your Mets aren’t doing too bad, Mom, although I see they lost today. Eddie’s scout troop scheduled a Brewer outing for the first Sunday in May, but that is when the boys have their first communion. Larry, Alice, and Cindy will be spending the weekend with us. Larry and Alice, by the way, should be back in Wisconsin within the next week or so. 

So much for now. We send you our love.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 17)

Yesterday was report card day. JoAnna and I have been a little concerned about Andy’s schoolwork. Last week he brought home a “Math Progress Report” for the third quarter. 

                                                   Unit 7 Unit 8 Unit 9 
Daily assignment average (60%)         48       84       63 
Test average (40%)                            82       96       81 
Overall unit score                              62       89       70 

Unit 7 covered coordinates, area & circles. Unit 8, algebra concepts & skills. Unit 9, fractions & ratios. His final grade for the quarter: 74. For some reason, he fell down on his homework during the 7th and 9th units. In fact, midway through the quarter, Mrs. Ball, Andy’s teacher, telephoned me to express her concerns about Andy’s suddenly cavalier attitude toward his school responsibilities. He wasn’t noting down his homework each day in his assignment notebook. Consequently, he wasn’t handing his homework in on time. I started to get suspicious before this incident, when Andy always answered my question, “Did you do your homework?” with “I don’t have any.” The three of us – JoAnna unable to get away from her office in the middle of the afternoon -- met a few days later and that seemed to be all the incentive Andy needed to dump his bad attitude. 

So anyway, we knew that Andy was getting at least one “C” on his report card. JoAnna and I prepared ourselves for the worst. 

Yesterday Andy called me at the library as soon as he returned home from school. He was very eager to share the results of his latest report card. Even though I was working at the reference desk during a busy part of the day, I told him, “Well, tell me how you did.” 

No wonder he was pleased with himself. 

His other grades include: 
  • Reading B+ 
  • Spelling A- 
  • Language Arts B- 
  • Social Studies A 
  • Science A-

He even read me the note that his teacher had written: Andy has made a real effort to apply himself and organize materials, finish work on time and use class time for assignments the last part of the quarter. Keeping working, Andy! Andy had an ulterior motive for his call, of course. 

“Dad, can I have my Playstation back?”, he asked with proper deference. 

“That’s a family decision, Andy,” I responded. “We’ll talk about that later today when Mom is home.” 

I’m perceived as the easier touch, so the boys are never too happy when Mom is added to a decision-making equation. If you recall, Andy’s punishment for his temporarily poor attitude at school was to be denied the aforementioned electronic game and the possibility of any sleepovers. Last night we negotiated the following terms: the Playstation will be available from Friday afternoon (as long as all homework is completed) through 6 p.m. on Sunday. I’ve been keeping the Playstation equipment in my office at the library. In that way, Andy can’t “cheat” and use it when he and Eddie are home alone after school. 

Eddie also brought home a good report card. His teachers are very pleased with his progress in reading and language arts, where he is in a modified, i.e. special education, program. In a “Project Read Assessment”, an attachment to his standard report card, he received achievement grades of mostly S’s, for Secure (child can apply the skill or concept correctly and independently.) In the two areas where he is graded on his regular classwork – Science/Health and Social Studies, Eddie received the highest grade possible: S+. In the Individual Development section of his report card, most of his evaluations are S (for satisfactory). His one problem area is a result of his perfectionism, “accepts constructive suggestions.” For the first quarter, he received an “N” (for needs improvement); then an “I” (inconsistent) for the second quarter; and now a “P” (progress shown) for the most recent grading period. At least he’s making steady improvement here! 

As I noted in my journal yesterday, Madison must have hosted a joint conference of the American Meteorological Society and NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). Snow? What snow? The feel and sounds of spring were in the air yesterday. I started to clear away some of the debris in our expansive bed of perennials along the south side of the house, serenaded by the constant buzz of lawn mowers in the distance. Although it was overcast through most of the day, the clouds had dissipated by the late afternoon so that I needed my sunglasses when I drove Eddie (west, into a blinding sun) to his soccer practice. 

Right now it’s time for me to get out of my sweaty exercise clothes and into the shower. Andy plays his first soccer game of the season this morning and needs to be on the field in 45 minutes. Later today I may decide to start my semi-annual window-cleaning chore – and that’s the best word for it, although listening to a book on tape helps the time pass quickly -- since there is only a slight chance of rain showers predicted for later today.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 15)

It’s awfully quiet around here right now. Andy is stretched out on the couch playing with his Game Boy. Boxer is studying the back yard through the sliding glass door, probably on the lookout for some rabbit or squirrel. Eddie and JoAnna are attending the final Cub Scout pack meeting of the year, one of two conflicting events on Eddie’s calendar. The other is a reception for students in the Middleton-Cross Plains school district who have entries in the annual art show. I stopped at Elm Lawn school, where the pack meeting was being held, to see if Eddie might want to attend the final 15 minutes of the reception, but he was too involved in some craft project all the boys were working on. I didn’t even ask him if he wanted to leave.

Boxer escaped from the house early Tuesday afternoon while I was bringing some groceries into the house. I chased him around the yard for a half hour, but he refused to respond to my entreaties. In fact, he hissed ferociously at me and would have probably sliced me to ribbons if he hadn’t been declawed. Have it your way, I said finally, and returned to work, feeling a little guilty, though, about leaving our cat to the elements. What am I going to tell JoAnna, I wondered, if Boxer takes off or I find him as road kill? Actually, it was a beautiful day – lots of sunshine with a temperature in the mid-60s, and Boxer never ventured too far from the house. Eddie was able to lure him from under one of our cedar trees along the driveway when he returned home from school. I think that Kitty Meowsers had come to the conclusion that he was a house cat, although he’d probably enjoy occasional outdoor privileges based on the amount of time he spends looking out our windows.

Both boys have a few soccer practices under their belts. Andy has his first game Saturday morning, but the weather might not cooperate. Rain and snow and predicted for tomorrow. JoAnna thought she heard anywhere from 1 to 4 inches. No way, I said. It’s not gonna happen! Just when our daffodils and tulips are starting to bloom. (The bunnies got to our crocuses – curse those furry little pests.) The lousy weather is expected to last through the weekend, which will affect the Babe Ruth Bambino baseball tryouts on Sunday. If the weather improves, Andy will spend the early afternoon at the high school baseball diamond. Otherwise, he and the other 11 and 12 year olds trying out will be in the gym. If Andy makes the team, which is very likely since he was on the traveling team last year, I’m not sure how he’s going to juggle soccer and baseball through the end of May.

Eddie plays his first game on Tuesday. I’ll probably have to miss it since that is my night to work. I better check the schedule since I think that’s the game Eddie is supposed to bring a treat. And, of course, forgetting to bring a treat is a very serious crime!

I did a little yard work Wednesday evening, clearing dead growth and dried leaves from the hostas and other perennials in the front yard, removing the first of the season’s weeds, picking up the silver maple debris – such messy trees – littering the front lawn. I’m looking forward to getting our yard back in shape between now and the Memorial Day weekend.

JoAnna and I were in bed at 9 o’clock last night, but not because we were tired. Wednesday evening is our time to watch back-to-back episodes of Law & Order, our favorite TV show. We caught a new episode on NBC, followed by a rerun from what JoAnna figured was probably the first season, based on the cast, on A&E. Her folks got her hooked on the show last December, and she got me hooked a couple months ago. Jerry Orbach, who played Harry McGraw on a few episodes of Murder She Wrote, plays one of the police detectives in his typical loose, wisecracking style. Sam Waterston, one of JoAnna’s favorite actors, plays a district attorney. Neither can be considered the star of the show. That would be New York City, since all of the exterior scenes are shot on location. All around, it’s very an extremely well-made program, currently the best on TV as far as I’m concerned. But then, what do I know? I don’t really watch anything else on a regular basis.

Monday, April 14, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 15)

This letter will be the last that I send to you in Arizona. JoAnna says that you’ll be back in Two Rivers by the end of the month. Back to reality!

We’ve been experiencing a lot of April showers lately. We had a couple periods of rain during the week, including a soaking downpour that started late Thursday evening and lasted throughout the night. Yesterday we had beautiful weather through the late afternoon when a bank of gray clouds darkened the western horizon. It has been raining on and off ever since, which makes today a good time to stay inside and tackle some cleaning projects or just take it easy. JoAnna’s doing the latter right now. She’s sacked out on the couch watching a biography of Cher on VH1.

“I can barely keep my eyes opened,” she told me a few minutes ago.

The boys are on the other side of the house waiting for a friend to come over, someone who lives just a block away from us.

JoAnna and I started our spring cleaning yesterday. The house was begging for our attention. We started out with the living room/dining area/study, covering every surface from ceiling to floor. The cabinets and buffet were cleared out and cleaned, and then the contents were more efficiently organized. We also tackled the kitchen, again from top to bottom. We didn’t have to clean all the cabinets since JoAnna had rearranged some of them to accommodate the new dishes and glasses we got at Christmas. While I was cleaning the kitchen countertops, JoAnna tidied up the hallway between the kitchen and garage and then removed all the Abrahamson campaign clutter that had accumulated around the computer during the past three months. I’m so glad this election is over. Shirley was easily re-elected to the Supreme Court, beating her opponent handily, by a 63-37 margin. Sharryn Rose couldn’t even win Brown County, her home base.

Friday evening we hosted a card party here. Sheepshead, of course. We started at 7:00 and played until nearly 11:00. Nobody was really into the game. It was the first time this year that the group has gotten together for cards and we were more interested in talking and joking. JoAnna made hot tamales, and our guests brought various snacks – chips and cookies, mostly. Jon Erpenbach brought along Joey and Amy, his two children, so the boys had someone to play with. Amy is just crazy about Boxer, but, unfortunately, the feeling is not mutual. Amy is much too rough with him. Boxer was a basket case by the end of the evening. When we were saying goodbye to our guests, I held him so he wouldn’t make a dash for the open door. He bit me rather forcefully on my left index finger, the little runtski. He was all wound up after having been chased around the house by four wild kids for much of the evening.

JoAnna decided we’d go to church this morning since she didn’t want to get cleaned up for church after our housecleaning and then get all grubby again during the workout at the health club. Andy accompanied her and played basketball while she went through her routine. Eddie and I stayed home. I finished writing a letter to Mom, and Eddie watched TV. Mom, by the way, is doing fine. Dad had become such a burden, the Parkinson’s completely immobilizing him during the last couple weeks of his life. Both JoAnna and I were surprised, almost shocked, by her appearance at Christmas. She had lost so much weight. Some of it is attributable to an overactive thyroid, a diagnosis made by her doctor earlier in the year. I’m convinced that an equal part was a result of the ongoing stress of taking care of Dad. Mom was determined to keep him at home and, fortunately, Hospice was there during his last days so he could die peacefully and with dignity. Now Mom can get back to having a life of her own. 

The boys and I had a nice visit in Warren for a portion of the last week in March, during the boys’ spring break from school. We went shopping a couple times, once to the Jamestown (New York) mall, once to the Warren mall. We took Mom and Barb out to lunch one day. Otherwise we just hung out. Our evening meals lasted for three hours, with the family, including Larry and Kim, who always joined us at this time of the day, gathered around the dining room table for food and conversation.

The boys and I spent April Fool’s Day on the road. We stayed at a motel in Hammond, Indiana, just outside of Chicago. The boys spent most of the evening in the pool. I joined them for awhile, but then wrote a note to Mom while they continued to splash around. We had a great time in Chicago. On Friday, we visited the planetarium, walked through Grant Park to the Art Institute (not a very big hit with the boys, but they did enjoy the arms & armor exhibit) and the Museum of Broadcast Communications (featuring oldtime TV and radio memorabilia), and then walked back to the car – over an hour of walking altogether, which resulted in a few complaints from the boys during our return trip. It was a beautiful day for walking, though.

Around 3:00, we checked into our motel, the Best Western River North, located a few blocks north of the Chicago River and six blocks west of Michigan Avenue. We thought we’d be able to get in a swim before supper, but the pool was closed for repairs. Fortunately, a Nintendo game was attached to the TV in our room. That evening, we saw the Chicago Bulls make history, losing to Orlando by the largest margin in the team’s 33-year history. On Saturday, we went to Lou Mitchell’s, one of my favorite restaurants, for breakfast, took a trip to the Skydeck of the Sears Building, and wandered around the Lincoln Park Zoo. We returned to the United Center that evening to watch a hockey game, the Chicago Black Hawks vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hawks won in the final minute of the game, 2-1. It was, admittedly, an expensive weekend, but I don’t think I went over budget. I have to wait until I get my next Mastercard statement for the final verdict. The boys and I are determined that Mom will accompany us on our next trip to Chicago.

It looks like JoAnna has fallen asleep. I thought we were going to continue with our spring cleaning today, clean the bathrooms, specifically. I should attend to a couple areas I overlooked yesterday – the closet next to the front entrance and the cabinets next to the dishwasher. There’s also a couple loads of laundry to do, and I should go through my closet and chest of drawers and bag up a donation of castoffs to Goodwill. I also need to finish filling out our tax forms. JoAnna has me feeling lazy, though. Maybe I’ll just stretch out on the living room couch and continue reading the book I started yesterday, Little Green Men, by Christopher Buckley, a very funny novel about a George Will-type commentator who becomes convinced that he was abducted by aliens. Buckley deliciously spoofs the pomposities of Washington.

Later that same day.

I was able to check off most of the chores on my to-do list, while JoAnna continued to sack out on the couch. She must have used up all her energy at the health club last night. During the early afternoon, she did get up and prepare a round steak in the crock pot for supper and then completed the meal preparations between 5:30 and 6:00. Otherwise, she was snoozin’ or surfin’, the perfect couch potato. Eddie’s soccer practice was canceled. Andy’s lasted nearly two hours. Right now JoAnna is preparing the boys for their first communion, which takes place the first weekend of May. We hope to see you here then. We send you our love.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On This Date in 1999

I have a little bit of time before I have to drive Eddie to his Cub Scout meeting. Yesterday, on a beautiful spring evening, he had his first soccer practice, and I taxied him there and back since JoAnna had a meeting after work and didn’t get home until 7:00. Andy’s team practiced on Tuesday at a park in the Town of Middleton, about five miles west of here. JoAnna drove him there and then dropped off Eddie at the library since I had to work until 6:45, when it was time to attend a parent meeting and pick up Andy. The parent meeting was over by the time I got there since one of the coaches had given JoAnna (and others) the wrong time.

As you can deduct from the first paragraph of this letter, it didn’t take long – a day, actually -- to get back into our busy schedule.

JoAnna returned home from Pennsylvania on Monday morning about 10:00. She was beat but went to work anyway, until she couldn’t keep her head up and eyes opened. She was home at 3:00 and immediately changed into her pajamas and crawled into bed. That evening -- after getting dressed again, of course -- she spent a couple hours at the AFSME headquarters doing phone-banking for Shirley Abrahamson.

I spent Monday doing wash and getting the house back in order. I also did some grocery shopping since the milk smelled as though it was close to go sour and the bread had an about-to-mold aura about it. The boys played roller-hockey in the driveway, watched TV, and generally ignored their dad except when they were hungry. Even though I had taken the entire day off, I debated about going into work to check my mail and catch up on my email, but I saved that stuff for first thing Tuesday morning.

Today started out beautifully, but clouds began moving in during the midafternoon and now it is raining, with some muffled thunder occasionally thrown in. Looks like we’ll be getting quite a bit of precipitation this week, which will be good for the grass and the perennials that are already a couple steps beyond peeking through the ground. Our daffodils and crocuses have just started to bloom. I noticed that a cluster of crocuses I planted in a section of the front yard last fall have become bunny food. They just can’t stay away from those new plants. After the first season, I guess they’re just not tender enough.

The boys are already looking forward to their next Chicago trip. We talked about taking a day trip to Wrigley Field some weekend this summer. If Sammy Sosa is going to have another fence-busting season, we better order our tickets now. The problem is, we haven’t finalized our summer schedule yet. Considering what we already have on our calendar – the Nelson family reunion in the Twin Cities, our Bastille Day party, the Richard family reunion in Louisiana, and two or three baseball tournaments, I don’t think we’re going to have many weekends left. Maybe a night game during the week is a better idea.

Were you able to read about the first part of our Chicago adventure? I should have enclosed a magnifier. I always write so small when I use blank greeting cards as stationary. Am I trying to get my money’s worth or ruin people’s eyesight?

You might be interested to know that we were eyewitnesses to history at the Bulls game. We were there to see most of the biggest loss in the team’s 33-year history. How the mighty have fallen, as they say. Andy was ready to leave before the end of the third quarter, which gives you a clear indication of just how bad the game was, but I insisted we stay until Orlando scored 100 points, which occurred very early in the fourth quarter. As a result of our early departure from the United Center, we didn’t have to fight the crowds and quickly hailed a cab back to the motel. 

By the way, Toni Kukoc did play, Barb. He must have made a quick recovery from whatever injury he had. He was the Bulls’ leading scorer with 13 points.

I guess I was somewhat surprised that the game was sold out – the Bulls’ 558th sellout in a row. An article in the March 25th New York Times offers a reason for the team’s continued popularity.

During their reign, the Bulls had become the darlings of celebrities and business tycoons, a favored night-on-the-town entertainment for people from the woodsy, wealthy North Shore. But now it is possible for a man like Rick Peterson, who works for an auto parts business in the working-class south suburbs, to take his 15-year-old son to the game, without forking over the equivalent of a house payment.

Our seats, one row below the very outer ring of seats on the top tier were $22 apiece. They probably could have been scalped for five times that amount last year.

We started out Saturday at Lou Mitchell’s, a loop restaurant known far and wide for its breakfast menu. I had eaten here three times previously, twice with JoAnna, during the mid-80s. I chowed down on a huge omelet (turkey, swiss, tomato, and mushroom) and a side of hash browns, while Andy settled for a bagel and Eddie picked at a Belgian waffle. From here, we walked to the Sears Tower a few blocks away and snaked our way, along with hundreds of other sightseers, to the bank of elevators that took us to the Skydeck. Before taking the 70-second trip to the top, we saw a 15-minute film entitled “Above Chicago”, which, of course, featured only the attractive portions of the city.

Our bird’s eye view was limited due to the day’s hazy conditions. We couldn’t see much beyond a one-mile radius of the loop. Back at ground level, the boys uttered cries of “I’m hungry” so I bought them slices of pizza at a conveniently located Sbarro’s.

From here we drove a few miles north to Lincoln Park. At first I thought we weren’t going to find a place to park. Lots of other people had the same idea we did, but having a basic familiarity with the city, my nose led us to a parking lot located on the Lake Michigan side of the park just west of Lake Shore Drive. The boys rollerbladed for a while but changed back into their shoes when we learned that rollerblades were not allowed in the zoo.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is a very compact facility. We were able to make a leisurely stroll around the grounds and through the various animal houses in less than two hours. Then it was back to the motel to relax for awhile. We were denied the amenity of a swimming pool since it was undergoing a renovation. As a consolation, the boys were able to play Nintendo in our room.

We ate supper at a nearby restaurant and then took a cab to the United Center. Our driver got us there in record time, shaving $2.50 off the average fare we paid on Friday. I handed him a $10 bill for the $5.40 fare and told him to keep the change. “You are the champion,” I added. The boys seemed impressed with my generous mood, figuring that Dad will buy me that jersey (Andy) and cap (Eddie) tonight. They were right. Dad broke out the plastic. The hockey game wasn’t anywhere near a sellout. The arena seats around 21,000 and at least a quarter of the seats must have been empty. We saw a great game, a much better contest than the previous evening, the Black Hawks pulling out a 2-1 victory in the last minute of the game. Where Eddie had been lethargic through most of the basketball game, except for the halftime break, he was into this game from start to finish. Our seats, though located in the third tier, put us right on center ice, providing a panoramic view of the action. At the Bulls’ game, one of the backboards partially obscured our view since we were located in the “end zone”.

Sunday morning, after checking out of our motel, we walked around the area looking for a restaurant where we could eat breakfast. Everything didn’t open until after 11:00, it seemed. We saw some activity in front of a place we had checked out the previous evening, the Rainforest CafĂ©, when there was a 45-minute wait for a table, and of course that didn’t fit into our schedule. Here’s a description of the restaurant from its promotional brochure. 

You’ll be immersed in a tropical wonderland with dazzling special effects: cool mists that permeate through cascading waterfalls; gentle tropical rainstorms (off to the sides; the customers don’t get wet), thunder and lightning; huge mushroom canopies, animation featuring Tracy the Talking Tree, butterflies, crocodiles, snakes and frogs, trumpeting elephants and other wildlife, all moving within the surroundings of larger than life banyan trees, with the sounds and aromas of a tropical rain forest. 

The boys loved this place. Our service was very leisurely, purposely, I think, since a store is attached to the restaurant, so we ended up spending nearly two hours here. The place is designed to provide a shopping experience as much as a dining experience. Fortunately, I only had to pay for the latter. The boys didn’t even ask to buy anything. I think they already appreciated how generous Dad had been during the past week. As a result of our visit, Eddie has decided that he wants to be a city planner and live in Chicago. I wish I could pinpoint the time that he made this career choice during the weekend. Maybe he picked up on some offhanded remark I made while we looking at this scale model of the loop area while waiting for our turn to go up to the Skydeck.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The City Stadium, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Home of the Green Bay Packers from 1925 to 1956.

Located between Green Bay East High School and the East River.

The stadium originally seated 6,000.  Was eventually expanded to 25,000 but quickly lost its charm after World War II.

The Green Bay Packers.  Other Homes of the Packers, 1919-1964.

Friday, March 21, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (March 21, part 2)

On Friday, during the return trip from Warren to Middleton, I spent most of my time in the passenger’s seat writing down my thoughts about the past few days. I used the backs of picture postcards I bought at the first rest area we stopped at. 

“What are you doing, Dad?” Eddie asked once he and Andy and Mom finished a round of 20 questions. 

“I’m writing some postcards,” I answered cryptically. 

“Who are they for?” he wondered. 

“They’re for all of us. I’m writing about Grandpa and everything that’s happened recently,” I explained.

And so, I’d like to share these thoughts with you. You may not understand all of the references or recognize all of the names, but I think you’ll enjoy reading these reflections nonetheless.

I left the house at 2:52 Tuesday afternoon, coinciding with the boys’ dismissal from school, timing my travel preparations and houseorderly tasks to perfection. I found Eddie standing expectantly along the curve of Elm Lawn School’s semi-circular driveway.

“Where’s your brother?” I asked him, a trace of annoyance in my voice.

I scanned the area looking for a blue-and-yellow Michigan jacket.

George Mavrolis, the school principal, approached and made a comment about the unseasonably warm weather. He then asked Eddie if he knew when the first day of spring was, but Eddie seemed not to hear him and continued to gaze at some unfocused distance.

“Eddie, Mr. Mavrolis asked you a question,” I prompted, my words accompanied by a little nudge to his shoulder.

Eddie refused to make eye contact but managed to mumble the correct answer. 

I was on the verge of asking George if Andy’s class had been dismissed, but two things stopped me from forming this question. First of all, I didn’t want George to think that Andy had fucked up (again), to put it in the crude vernacular. Then Andy walked out of the school. 

After a quick stop home so Andy could drop off his trumpet case and pick up a couple pillows, we drove to the Loraine Building just off the capitol square. All three of us rode the elevator to the ninth floor to retrieve Mom and escort her to the van. JoAnna’s desk is located just outside the Attorney General’s office, which provides a spectacular view of the capitol. 

We merged onto the interstate at 4 o’clock and remained in motion, for the most part, until 10:00. We chose the direct route through Chicago, which resulted in stop-and-go delays along a stretch of the Kennedy Expressway from two miles west of O’Hare until a mile or so past the I-94 interchange. I felt stressed and eager to give up my turn at the wheel. Occasional yelps and squeals from the boys only served to exacerbate my anxiety. A few times I turned my head and barked a staccato “Boys!” over my right shoulder. 

We switched drivers at the first rest area east of Gary on the Indiana Toll Road. Since it was too dark to read and I wasn’t in the mood to continue listening to The Good Mother, I turned my thoughts toward our destination and started to fret about our arrival time, doing some math, mostly subtraction, in the process. 

Let’s see. We left Madison at 4 p.m. The visitation at the funeral home begins at 2:00 tomorrow afternoon. That leaves us with 22 hours. Minus one for the change in time zone. 21. With the delay through Chicago, the entire trip will take 12 hours. 9. Before I worked my way through these calculations, I had a panicky vision of pulling into the driveway of 4 East Third Avenue at quarter of 2, the four of us racing unsuccessfully against time to get into our dress clothes and drive to the funeral home before the first mourners arrive. 

We stayed at a Motel 8 literally a stone’s throw from the Wauseon exit of the Ohio Turnpike, 356 miles under our belt, which erased my fears of a chaotic tomorrow. Andy quickly slid into a pouty mood when his parents took control of the TV, JoAnna and I preferring to unwind to scenes of urban realism (Law & Order) instead of cartoon fantasies. 

At 5:30 a.m., the alarm quickly buzzed its way into my consciousness. It took us an hour to rouse ourselves, get dressed, and pack the van. I returned the room key to the office and helped myself to two cinnamon rolls, the most appetizing continental breakfast choices. I would have eaten one myself had some coffee been brewed, willing to make a rare exception to my now-in-its-second-year java prohibition. 

We arrived in Warren at quarter to 12. JoAnna became weepy when she embraced Mom, but Mom kept her composure, which I felt was a significant sign of things to come. Ruth Benander, Dad’s sister, had arrived the previous day, flying into Jamestown from Chicago via Pittsburgh, after a bus trip from Rockford to O’Hare, a tiring trek for anyone, let alone an 85 year old who had just lost her sister-in-law, her dead husband’s twin, and her beloved younger brother in a 2-week period. She looked worn down, deeply tired, the flip side of her sunny appearance and vivacious manner when JoAnna and I saw her at Charles’s wedding during the late afternoon of February 28th, a few hours before she learned of Ruthie’s death. 

We changed clothes at the house rather than drive the seven miles to Larry and Kim’s camp, where we’d be spending the two nights of our brief, “unscheduled” visit. A single question looped through my mind at this time. How am I going to react once I see Dad’s made-up, withered body lying in a casket? 

Not as strongly as I anticipated, it turned out. We all approached the open casket cautiously, Dad’s presence like the subtle pull of the moon. I briefly studied his face: the unnaturally orange skin tone, the larger-than-I-remembered nostrils, the lips sewn shut, pursed into a position that the Parkinson’s Disease had made it impossible for him to do on his own. I walked away knowing that I’d never be able to obliterate this sad image from my mind but fiercely determined to focus on images of happy and proud times: Dad’s authoritative yet kindly presence in the pulpit, his ear-to-ear grin while water-skiing behind Uncle Harry’s powerful Chris Craft, his joie de vivre in the company of friends like the fellow Lutheran pastor and his wife Warren and Anna Hollertz. 

I nervously awaited the first guests to arrive at the funeral home, occasionally feeling a trickle of perspiration run down the side of my body, soaked up by my t-shirt before it reached my waist. I hoped to first greet people I didn’t know (or didn’t remember) to help me finetune my emotional thermostat. This approach was quickly overruled as soon as I caught a glimpse of the first arrival. Yolanda Peroski (the mother of Mardi, one of my best friends from high school) walked straight toward me, bypassing Dale at the head of the reception line. As soon as she embraced me, my self-control collapsed and I blubbered some incoherent remark in response to her expression of sympathy. I quickly regained my composure, not because I was embarrassed by the tears reddening my eyes, wetting my face, and thickening my voice, but rather because this emotional bubble burst of its own accord and allowed me to proceed through the rest of the afternoon (and evening) in an almost serene state of mind. 

Mom gave her children much to be proud of. She conducted herself with great poise and dignity, graciously acknowledging the many heartfelt expressions of sympathy. She never once lost her composure and always had a ready word to diffuse any discomfort or tension that might have tried to creep into the room. 

During the two hours of the afternoon, the people seemed to come in waves. At one point, the three main rooms of the funeral home were filled with people and the sound of overlapping conversations. Then, as if Mark Patterson, the funeral home director, had waved a magic wand, the rooms cleared, allowing the family to break formation, sit down, bend or twist at the waist to relieve lower back pain, get a drink of water, and talk quietly among ourselves. 

The boys, not surprisingly or unexpectedly, were not able to last through the entire afternoon visitation. I think Eddie found it too creepy being in the same room with a dead body, even if (or, more likely, especially since) it was Grandpa’s. Barb volunteered, perhaps a tad too eagerly, to take the boys home. She seemed surprised when JoAnna and I informed her that they could be left on their own for an hour. 

“I think I’ll have some tea before I come back,” Barb announced, as if to tell us not to expect her immediate return. 

Warren and Anna Hollertz arrived around 3 o’clock, and after working their way through the reception line – you could see Mom’s face visibly light up when she greeted them – they talked with Ruth until 4:00. They joined us for a portion of a well-deserved intermission at the house. The food – cold cuts, buns, pasta salad, fruit salad -- was all donated by considerate well-wishers. Feeling a need for some fresh air, JoAnna and I excused ourselves to take a walk, enjoying a taste of mid-March, later-afternoon balminess. Our route followed a wide, narrow rectangle: Conewango Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street to Water Street to Fifth Avenue, and back across the creek to Conewango. Then we joined the others at the dining room table. 

The first hour of the evening visitation provided us with a mostly steady stream of hands to shakes and sympathies to acknowledge. If I choked up at Yolanda’s appearance, how sloppy am I going to be when Barb and Mardi arrive? I wondered. As it turned out, they showed up separately and both received a clear-eyed, catch-free greeting from me. With no guests to greet during the second hour, Barb and Mardi and JoAnna and I shot the breeze until it was time to leave. 

Time to backtrack, to rewind the tape two hours and twenty minutes. The phone rang as we were getting ready to leave for the evening visitation.. Standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, I was able to pick it up on the first ring.

“Hello,” I announced cheerily.

“Is Marion there?” a familiar voiced asked.

“Yes, she is, but we’re just about to leave the house for the funeral home. Is this Gen?” (Gen is Mom’s younger sister. She and her husband Ed live in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.) 

She seemed both surprised and disappointed that I had been able to identify her voice, as if I had uncovered a secret before she could spring it on us. And this phone call was all about a BIG surprise. 

Less than ten seconds after I handed the phone to Mom, we heard her exclaim, “You’re in Warren!?” 

Gen was calling from the room that she and Ed had just checked into at the Holiday Inn. Earlier in the week, Gen had informed Mom that they wouldn’t be able to attend Dad’s funeral, no doubt already having planned this sisterly bit of subterfuge. JoAnna and I haven’t seen Gen and Ed since Larry and Kim’s wedding almost 12 years ago. Gen has a prominent widow’s hump due to her osteoporosis, but otherwise looks great. She still colors her hair, which helps to solidify her status as Marion’s younger sister. Despite his heart problems, Ed looks to be in good shapes for his 75 years. He’s still as quick as ever with an amusing story or a witty aside. After the evening visitation, they joined us for another of our relaxed family gatherings around the dining room table. We adjourned around 10:00, and an hour later, Mom and Dad and the boys were at the cabin, in bed, with the lights (and TV) off. 

When I called home the previous Sunday evening to learn the specifics of Dad’s funeral arrangements, Mom asked me to read two scripture passages at Thursday’s service. How could I refuse? Immediately, though, I had to ask myself: Emotionally, am I going to be up to the task? 

Before going to sleep Wednesday and right after waking up Thursday, I carefully practiced reading both passages, Philippians 4: 4-7 and I Corinthians 13 (the entire chapter), concentrating on the longer passage. Sometimes I reread a certain phrase or sentence until my tongue and lips could form the words effortlessly. “Childish speech” provided the biggest challenge, saying these two words in succession without sounding like my speech was slurred. 

The funeral was scheduled for 11:00, but the family had to be at the church at quarter to ten since there was a final visitation and viewing of the body one hour prior to the service.

An impressive contingent of ministers, numbering more than a dozen, attended the funeral. Jim Seeley, on of my best friends was grade school, was part of this group. We had a chance to reminisce about the grief we used to give our Sunday school teachers and the wiffle ball games we played at the Jefferson Street schoolyard. I neglected to mention our Saturday afternoons at the bowling alley with Dave Blair and Bob Feldman, which we dubbed “Beat the Jelly”, a reference to Jim’s protuberant stomach, a shape he has maintained through the years.

Mom had selected Roger Thelin, Howard Ford, Tom Scarcella, as well as her three sons to serve as pallbearers. Later, JoAnna would comment on how unusual this arrangement seemed, that the immediate members of the family generally do not serve in this capacity.

“It would have been nice if we could have all sat together as a family,” she said.

As it turned out, there was not enough room for me to sit in the family pew.

As we wheeled the casket to the front of the church, I could feel a succession of small tremors of emotion inside of me. I was unable to sing along to the first hymn, “Amazing Grace”. In fact, I found that I couldn’t even mouth the words. 

The scripture readings took place early in the 45-minute service, after a choir anthem. I read the two selections with surprising assurance, although halfway through the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, I felt another one of those emotional bubbles start to rise up my throat. I was able to swallow it unobtrusively, my voice remaining unbroken, although it must have had a quivering pitch for a brief moment. When I returned to the pew, Roger Thelin leaned toward me and whispered, “Great job,” as my body convulsed slightly while it briefly wrestled with a strange mixture of relief and grief.

During the bishop’s homily, I felt a stab of emotion when he made reference to Dad’s retirement party at this same location in 1981and quoted one of the parishioners as saying, “We are going to miss him. We love him so much.” To my ears, the sharp sound that involuntarily escaped my throat seemed to echo throughout the church, carrying with it a jagged note of pain.

A luncheon was held in the church’s fellowship hall immediately following the service. Once people had finished their meal, Mom visited each table and chatted amiably with our guests. She seemed to know every move that was required of her in this difficult situation, as if offering help and giving advice were, like Abby and Ann Landers, her life’s work.

Drained by the intense emotionalism of the past 24 hours, I was relieved to return to the house and unwind. I did so in grand style, falling asleep on the recliner in the living room for two blissful hours of unconsciousness. I woke up refreshed. The family, all ten of us – Mom, Larry, Kim, Barb, Dale, Ruth, JoAnna, Andy, Eddie, and me – went out to dinner Tootsie’s Restaurant at the Holiday Inn. For Mom, this was her first evening out in more than three years, perhaps even twice that long if I really think about it. Dale surprised everyone by volunteering to pay the tab. Larry and I couldn’t even talk him into a three-way split. Later, JoAnna and I wondered if this outcome had been prearranged. Mom had a certain determined look on her face toward the end of our meal, I noticed, as I was keeping an eye out on the waitress for our bill. 

The evening ended with one more gathering around the dining room table. 

Dad will certainly be missed, but his death was a welcome blessing. Parkinson’s had reduced him to a mere shell of his former self. During the last ten days of his life, he couldn’t sit up, eat solid foods – had become as helpless as the day he was born, had come full circle in his 83 years of life. The visitation and funeral helped me, and the rest of the family, I’m sure, to put a big exclamation point at the end of his life. As we heard so many times on Wednesday and Thursday, Dad touched many people’s lives very deeply. 

The boys and I will be back in Pennsylvania at the end of this week. Mom will no longer be housebound, all her days taken up by her duty as Dad’s caregiver. For the first time in a few years, she’ll really able to focus her attention on the boys.

Hope all is going well with you in Arizona. We send you our love.

On This Date in 1999 (March 21)

With the beautiful weather yesterday, our thoughts turned to baseball. I took the boys to Dunham’s, a sports store, to buy Andy a new glove. His current one will be given to Eddie once it’s restrung. Andy also needed a pair of baseball cleats. The ones he wore last summer are a size 6. He now wears a size 9, but I bought him a size 10. There will probably be at least one shoe size of growth between now and August. Eddie also needed new baseball cleats – Andy’s old ones are too worn for hand-me-downs – which I hope he’ll also be able to use for soccer. After this shopping trip, we found ourselves an open baseball field at the old Elm Lawn schoolyard, just a few blocks from the house, and warmed up by throwing the ball around. Eddie no longer flinches when a ball is thrown at him. I threw batting practice to both boys, Andy quickly regaining a mid-season swing. He hit a few sharp line drives to left-centerfield that would have gone for extra-base hits in any of his games. Eddie was a little slow in getting around on the ball, all of his hits going to the right side. Andy volunteered to pitch to me. “Don’t swing hard, Dad,” he cautioned. Ever since my softball days in Oshkosh, I’ve been known for my nasty line drives up the middle. Andy’s has been on the receiving end of a couple of those, so he’s always a little gun shy when he pitches to me.

We talked about using the batting cages at Vitense Golfland but ended up playing miniature golf instead. I had a two-stroke lead over Andy going in the “back nine”, but he erased that advantage and went on to beat me by at least three strokes. Once we returned home at 3:30, JoAnna having finished whatever she needed to do at the campaign office, I picked up the numerous dead branches littering the front and back yard. Middleton must have had some high winds during our brief absence. I also checked the lawn for areas that will need additional reseeding this spring.

During the early evening, leftovers on the menu for supper, JoAnna went to the health club and Andy and I played catch in the open lot next door to us. After I skyed him a series of high pop-ups, Andy threw about 20-25 pitches, just to start the process of getting his arm limbered up.

We have more sunshine today, so from inside the house, it looks very pleasant outdoors. That’s not the case. Blustery conditions have kept the wind chill in the teens range so far today. I still plan to walk to work, though. Later today, Andy has his first soccer practice of the season – indoors, fortunately. 

Before I know it, the boys and I will be on the road, making our way to Pennsylvania again. I’ll probably start packing on Wednesday evening so that everything will be ready to put in the car on Thursday. Following last year’s itinerary, I’d like to leave Middleton at noon, which means getting the boys out of school early. That will make the trip through Chicago less grueling. 

Time for me to take a shower and get something to eat if I want to avoid feeling rushed later this morning. 

We send you our love. The boys and I are looking forward to our return engagement. Andy offered a suggestion for our itinerary during the week. “We should take Grandma to the mall in Jamestown.”