After visiting my mom this Thanksgiving, I picked up a box of papers that she had set aside for me years ago. In it, was this story I wrote in grade school some forty years ago.
The text reads as follows,
My Magic Carpet and I
It was just another day when I was reading my Spider-man magazine, when I turned the page and I saw an advertisement for a magic carpet for $10.99. I had my money saved so I sent in for it.
Three weeks later they sent me a yellow and red magic carpet. There was only one problem though, I didn’t know how to drive. Then I said, “I sure would like to know where there is a driving school for magic carpets,” Right then my magic carpet took me up in the air. It stopped in Egypt where there was a sign saying ‘Go to Jonny’s flying carpet school’.
So I walked in with my magic carpet and asked how much it cost.
The cashier said, “One dollar please.”
“Hmm, that’s cheap,” I said, “where should I go to?”
“The right please,” the cashier answered.
“Will you come in?” asked a man, “my name is Jonny and you would like to know how to ride a magic carpet do you?”
“Yes.” I answered
“The secret is just to tell your magic carpet what to do.”
“I know that, but, what about all the other stuff like the clutch?”
“Strictly for show.”
I left with a dollar down the drain.
But I kept my magic carpet. From then on it was just my magic carpet and me.
Having spent the busiest month of my work year in order to join my siblings to care for my 88-year old mother as we transitioned her over to assisted living, I found myself entering a hidden world of elders where so many extraordinary tales were waiting to be told. I’ve hashed through my mind several chapters and standalone stories worth their weight in gold. But today, a different one emerges.
One thing I realized both when I was gone and especially when I returned, was how extraordinary my co-workers were during my absence. I always knew I worked among a group of people who care about each other and have each other’s backs, but I had not experienced the impact of it firsthand until now. Many reached out when I was gone to provide support and assurance to not worry about work. Others offered more words when I returned and had to find my footing once again. So many picked up the extra weight that comes with the start of a Fall semester at a university and shined while doing so.
As I thought about my local work family, another one, full of colleagues from other universities who I meet with regularly and who also sent me words of support and encouragement during this time, came to my attention.
As I was heading to bed last night, I received an email from the Program Manager of my Higher Ed Forum, a group of higher education professionals in the IT Help Desk industry that meets three times a year at various schools throughout North America. We meet and engage in intensive meetings on the latest topics of interest in our profession, share ideas, and open our campuses and hometowns to each other. We work hard and play hard together and grow close in the few days a year we connect. We come from all walks of life and backgrounds, yet find a common thread that makes it easy to share and open up to one another. We have seen each other go through marriages, divorces, sickness, childbirth, losing loved ones, and now, losing each other.
When I saw the email reach my inbox with the subject line of “Sad news”, I thought for a moment that someone was leaving the forum. I didn’t expect to hear that Rion Morgan, a young and brilliant light of a man, was one of the victims of the Plano, Texas shootings this past weekend. I had only met Rion on a couple of occasions when he attended meetings, but he was quick to participate both in our professional discussions and our after hours gatherings. He had a smile that was contagious and a warmth that made you feel like you had been longtime friends.
One of my absolutely favorite nights out was in November 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas when our forum met at Texas Christian University. We had just completed a Vertical Lessons leadership program with Manley Feinberg which included “mastering” the indoor climbing wall at TCU. A group of us found ourselves wandering the area after dinner and landed at the Fort Worth Water Gardens. It was dusk as we walked down into the gardens and I remember Rion very quietly and sweetly offering me a hand as I found my footing down the steps in the dark. When we came upon the Mountain sculpture, of course, we decided it was an opportune moment to scale it. It wasn’t until afterwards that we noted it may not have been the safest thing to do in our street shoes (Belay off!) when we saw the “no climbing” sign on the wall. If there is one thing about this group, it is that you always go home with a story!
I didn’t know Rion well, but I will always remember his light and he will always have a special place in my heart and be a part of this extraordinary family.
With the temperatures warming, the urge to hook up The Doghouse to the Outback and head down the road with my favorite traveling partner in toe, grows. While prepping for some new adventures, here’s a pictorial year in review of my travels with Norbert!
April – HDI (Help Desk Institute) Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida with a stop in Central, South Carolina:
Norbert and I trekked down to Orlando for one of my work conferences where he landed us a free upgrade to a business suite that included a full bar and lounge. Along the way we made a stop in South Carolina where we stayed with a friend’s friend and were treated to some great food, conversation, drink, and a beautiful day hike.
Black rat snake who didn’t appreciate our presence #hiss
This rookie RV’er learned some good lessons during this first trek out with The Doghouse which included knowing ahead of time where you are heading in a campground and not taking 1600 lb trailer up a muddy hill even if you have all-wheel drive, accepting help from strangers when needed, and understanding that a place in Kentucky called Lonestar has nothing to do with Texas and everything to do with its abundance of ticks. The best part of the trip was hanging out in The Doghouse during a rainy night, drinking cold brews and exchanging laughs with friends.
June – SUP with your Pup class and Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Enroute to Fredericksburg campground
Rest stop with the big rigs
All of my travels have had their significance, but this trip east was a decision I made unlike any other. It was the result of a culmination of events in my life and in the world around me that tipped the scales (we’ll save that for another blog post though).
Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis, but call it what you will. I came to the realization that I had spent too many years trying to live up to others’ expectations or waiting for abc to happen, or for xyz to come along… When another trip with friends changed too many times, I decided it was time to walk away and do something for me. I had read a book the year before to teach Norbert how to standup paddle board with me and had found a class back east that the author taught. I hopped online, found an upcoming class, and before I knew it, I had signed up for a class in Virgina.
I searched for places to stay with Norbert and nothing was appealing or particularly cheap (I paid an extra $50/night in Orlando during my conference to have Norbert in the hotel with me). Long story short, I bought a Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket Trek, now dubbed The Doghouse, so my boy and I could travel with ease. My second trip with it would be a cross country trip to this class as well as a campground in Shenandoah National Park where I met up with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in about 20yrs (NOTE: This IS the year the Cubs won the World Series)
July-August – Copper Harbor, MI
We traveled north to Copper Harbor with some friends where the boy and I paddled everyday in walking distance from our campground while my pals took a mountain bike class. The waters of Lake Superior (north of the Lake Fanny Hooe, where we paddled) was crystal clear (and cold!) It definitely made me think more about what we do to our environment and the abundance of potable water that Americans take for granted.
September – Colorado
Longest road trip to date. I went to Colorado for several reasons. I had been thinking of joining a Cricket Rally in Eagle in mid-September. Then, I received a wedding invitation from a friend who I wasn’t particularly close to but felt a strong kindred spirit connection. Maybe it was the mountains, but something drew me, and I knew I needed to go and be present. It was a long drive, but I was able to keep Norbert entertained with my singing.
Serenading Norbert #1
Serenading Norbert #2
Serenading Norbert #3
Serenading Norbert #4
Norbert and I made our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Steamboat Lake State Park, Carbondale (where I took a day trip to the Maroon Bells and another to Delta where I saw another dear friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years), and then to Sylvan Lake State Park. After my two-week trip, I can say with certainty that I’m in love with Colorado.
Trips in the Great Sand Dunes, Carbondale, and Sylvan Lake State Park (Norbert w/ Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket founder and architect, Garrett Finney)
Trip to beautiful Maroon Bells and to Delta to see and old friend and one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known.
My first planned trip in 2017 had to be cancelled due to some unexpected events, but I worry not. As I get more comfortable going off the beaten path and off grid with Norbert, I know new adventures await.
Perhaps it’s time to pull out a map and toss some darts…
As I reflect on the year past and concede the death of my childhood on many levels with the loss of famed figures such as Florence Henderson, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and Pat Summit, there is one ending that occurred in 2016 that I rejoice in, and continue to process as the days and months pass. I was born into a Cubs fan family and have bled Cubby Blue throughout my five decades on this earth. This year I saw the end of an era – the Era of the Lovable Losers.
1976-77 fifth grade class photo in my favorite Cubbies t-shirt and Cubby blue suede shoes with red laces (I snuck out of the house with a sweater over my shirt so my mom wouldn’t know I was wearing it for my class photo)
Watching the final outs, streaming on an iPhone 6S, as the Cubs earn their ticket to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
Like many Cubs fans, the post-season flooded me with memories of watching games with my Dad, and in particular, a late season game in August of 1984. That was the year I truly believed the Cubs were going all the way and was also the last year the Cubs only sold Bleacher seats (good ol’ Bleacher Bums) on game day. Dad and I stood in line and were able to get one of the last tickets sold in Standing Room Only in the Bleachers. The sun was ablaze and my poor Dad looked like a lobster at the end of the day. I don’t remember the game much, but there was most definitely hope in the air. I had heard from my brothers that Dad attended the last Cubs World Series game, Game 7 against the Tigers on October 10, 1945, but I also seemed to know it wasn’t something to bring up. At that game in 1984 though, I asked him about it and he told me how he took the train across town to go to the game. He stared out to the field and recalled how the Tigers were clobbering the Cubs before the first half of the first inning was over. As he unfolded the heart wrenching details, his eyes drifted back to that place and time. I silently listened as he spoke of players whose names were unknown to me, what they did during the season, how great they were, and how they came apart in that final game. It was an extraordinary moment. In it all, we stood there in the August sun with a new sense of hope.
Last game I went to with my Dad
Since that time, I never fully believed in my heart that the Cubs were going all the way like I did as a teen in 1984 — not again, until this year. As many others have stated, this team was different, this team was special. I “watched” each post-season game with my brothers and sisters via text messaging with Dad’s spirit nearby. I also found myself connecting with old friends via Facebook, many of whom I have had little connection with other than the Cubs. That is one of the magical things about baseball – regardless of differences, depth of connections, frequency of contact, baseball seems to bring people together, even non-baseball fans. It is a common thread and it is something we need more than anything today.
So, when I wondered out loud about the possibility of going to Wrigley for a World Series game, one of my closest and wisest friends quipped, “Pay for experiences, not things,” and I took it to heart.
Long story, short, I found myself going to Game 5 at Wrigley Field which was potentially the final game of the World Series since the Cubs were down 3-1 at that point. I knew I’d regret not going to see it if it turned out to be the last time the Cubs played a WS game in my lifetime. So, I bit the bullet, and with a few clicks of an iPhone app, had a ticket to my first night game at Wrigley. It was glorious. My seat was phenomenal – Section 102, Row 9, Seat 1. When Eddie Vedder came out to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” I couldn’t imagine anyone better. Moments later, Vedder topped it when he asked the fans to sing along with Harry and he and the left field jumbotron pulls up a video of Harry Caray. An audible “Oh!” came from the crowd, followed by a choking of tears, followed by huge smiles and joyous singing. That is baseball magic. The game was a nail biter, but the Cubbies came through and held off the Indians with a 3-2 win. Until November 2, 2016 it was the greatest baseball game I had ever attended.
The field is calling and I must go
Found my brother Dan amongst the masses after the Cubs take Game 5
I bought tickets for Game 7 along with two friends on the way back from Chicago the next day. It may take another year or ten before I am able to truly process that game. There will never be another like it in my lifetime, I am certain of that. Many will discuss the highlights and dissect and reconstruct the game pitch-by-pitch, but the collective emotion that was in Progressive Field that night between both Cubs and Indians fans, was something beyond adequate description. I had a level of stress in those final innings that left me holding my pounding head and rocking side to side with only the ability to cry out, “We Love You, Cubbies!” because I remembered hearing Joe Maddon once state in an interview how he would hear that one Cubs fans up in the nosebleeds and how much that meant — I was going to do my part (which I also did by not getting my hair cut for the last two months of the season so not to jinx the team)…
What was most magical about being at that game was how much it felt like we were transported back to a 1970s baseball game (sans the electronic scoreboards and jumbotrons). Players and fans alike, displayed a sportsmanship that seems rare these days. I sat with a mix of Cubs and Indians fans. We expressed our excitement of being there, shared stories of family members passed with each other, and teased each other in good spirit as the game became more tense. Two Cleveland fans sitting behind me offered and traded seats with two friends so we could all sit together. During the short rain delay, someone yelled out, “How ’bout we just call it a draw?!” and many on both sides agreed we should. When all was said and done, there were handshakes and congratulations and empathy expressed. I’ve never witnessed a sporting event like this in my life. Then again, none of us there, ever had.
Brought Dad to Game 7 with me
Nosebleeds were great seats!
I will always be a true blue Cubs fan, win or lose, but can say that Cleveland is now my second favorite team and I wish them final victory someday as well (so long as it’s not against the Cubs).
Before any other, there was Peanuts, a beastly Malamute/German Shepherd mix from my Hammond, Indiana neighborhood. With a fierce teeth-bearing bark and a heavy chain hooked between him and a maple tree in front of his house, he was feared by most in the late 1960s/early 1970s blue-collar neighborhood.
The furry beast had gotten loose one day and interrupted a game of tag. All the bigger kids had run off when they saw him approach. Frozen in fear, I offered up my hand to Peanuts in hopes that he would sniff and let me pass. Instead, he opened his mouth and took my hand into his carnivorous chamber, halfway to my elbow. I expected to find a nub at the end of my arm when he was done, but instead, he licked and licked.
In retrospect, it may have been the remnants of the Dreamcicle I had earlier that afternoon that encouraged this greeting. Regardless of the reason, we had an understanding from that point on, and he became my trusted friend that day. There were countless times in my early youth, I would sit under that maple with him and share my deepest secrets, sometimes soaking his fur with my tears and falling asleep curled up next to him. Without judgment and with the utmost compassion, he would listen and made me feel safe in a world I was quickly learning wasn’t always kind.
To this day, he still visits me in my dreams and visions, bringing comfort.
It wasn’t until adulthood, I finally brought a dog into my everyday life. The first was Achates, a gregarious chocolate lab who would balance any item on his head for as long as the human required. He saw me through my first act of dog motherhood in all its grandeur and error.
Scout, the broken-legged puppy found off the highway that my vet pawned off on me with the expectation that she may limp and never be particularly mobile. Wrong. Scout made a habit of jumping our three-foot fence in a single leap several times before we figured out how she escaped the backyard.
Doc, the one not quite wired right. His Weimaraner energy was endless. He ate two couches and was constantly counter surfing no matter of how much he was exercised. A day after emergency surgery from a burst spleen, he tried to go for a run. If I had to come up with one word to describe him, it would be “Go!”
Then there was Earhart, the quiet, stoic and protective one who had more dogonality than any other I’ve known. She would wait for the right opportunity to grab a piece of food off the table when you left the room, would turn her back to you when she didn’t get her way, and learned in her senior years, the joy of unraveling toilet paper rolls. Though she was never overtly affectionate, she would show her love by finding a spot next to you and lean in with all her weight.
During my Doc and Earhart years, I was also joined by Tucker and Maddie, my step-dogs, who were as much a part of my family as any other. Maddie had the spirit of a youth. When we’d take her hiking in her elder years, she would fearlessly bound up and down the hollers leaving herself nearly lame for a day or two afterwards, but always with a glint in her eyes. And Tucker, a giant yellow lab, who I’m fairly certain was the Buddha incarnate.
Also, in October 2005, there were the hundreds who touched my heart during a 10 day recovery effort in Tylertown, MS, post-Hurricane Katrina. In particular, those big canines in the Back 40 at the Best Friends Animal Rescue sanctuary will always be embedded in my soul. I learned more about trust, forgiveness, resilience, and love from these beautiful beasts than any human could ever teach me.
My home (yellow tent) amongst my pack
Will never look at a blue tarp in the same way again
And then there is, of course, Norbert the Miracle Mutt, who my same vet of 25 years who brought Scout into my life, brought Doc back from near death, and has cared for all my fur companions through the years (it’s no wonder her birthday falls on National Dog Day), brought this little man into my life. Even at five weeks, his eyes would study my every move and there is no doubt, we imprinted on each other at a critical time in both our lives.
Words cannot truly describe what dog is; what “dog” brings to our lives. Yet I know that many understand, without the words.
So, I’ll go get a baked dog treat and dip it in some organic peanut butter and present it to Norbert and tell him he is the best boy in the world and he will look at me and say, “OMG! It’s peanut butter AND a treat! PEANUT BUTTER ON A TREAT!!! YES! This is the best thing in the world ever!!!!!!!”
Tonight I learned of an old friend’s passing. I hadn’t seen Kathy in about 30 years since we graduated from high school but had reconnected recently via Facebook. We didn’t interact other than a couple of Likes and Pokes on FB and peeks into each others’ online life, but as I sit here tonight toasting to her I think back to another time.
My first middle school slumber party was in the basement of her house where a gaggle of teenage girls convened and screeched as we watched Psycho (I believe I showered with the bathroom door open for several weeks following). A few boys from our school stopped by and tapped on the basement windows so we all snuck out and wandered the streets of Hammond in the wee hours, sipping on a warm communal beer that one of the boys took from his house. At one point we stopped by Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant on Indianapolis Boulevard where Kathy and I stole several rolls of toilet paper that the group later used to “TP” and “For Sale sign” friends’ houses. We were such rebels!
Another memory was getting on someone’s moped (maybe Jeff Dixon’s?) and riding on the back of it with her at full speed in a park (Baring Parkway?). We hit two hills in a row, went airborne, and landed sideways. Though the moped had seen better days, we were both lucky to come out of it without any broken bones or worse. We had huge cuts, bruises and knots all over from the crash, but the thing I remember most was how after we made sure we were both okay, Kathy turned to me and just laughed and laughed. We were covered in mud and blood and completely thrilled with ourselves.
Many years have passed and memories of that time are a bit foggy, but my heart is heavy tonight as I say goodbye to someone who knew at such a young age how to truly live in the moment. RIP, old friend.