Love and Marriage

December 22nd, 2014 Gerry No comments

Before I begin today’s story, I need to finish some old business from a previous column.  A while back, I told the story of the Cornerstone caper: the theft of the giant 1917 cement block from the old St. Mary’s Elementary school around 1972. Mrs. Carolyn Gayde, who not only taught school at St. Mary’s, but also was friends Monsignor Easton at the Shrine Parish, (who was known as Father Bill when he was young priest as St. Mary’s) promptly contacted me.  Monsignor Easton, who sadly passed away recently, solved the mystery of what was in the small tin box he found below the cornerstone.  As larcenous youths we had conjectured the box contained holy relics that consecrated the original church, or maybe some rare old coins.

Mrs. Gayde reported, “Monsignor told me that he did find the box, but there was nothing in it.”

So, the mystery was solved, quite unceremoniously, but accurately, as you would expect from a teacher who had the Carolyn Gayde Math Award named after her.  I was also instructed by Mrs. Gayde to make sure I gave her attribution when I publish the The Cornerstone Caper in my next book. You can count on it, Mrs. Gayde.

Although what happened to the actual cornerstone is still unsolved!

Around this same time, I met one Mrs. Gayde’s sons, Chris, at a conference and heard the family history. Carolyn and Bill Gayde have been married for over 57 years, a true-long lived marriage. They raised four children, Peter, Barb, Chris and Julie on Irving Street down the street from the Villerot and Sadlier families. Mrs. Gayde taught 5th and 6th grade at St. Mary’s for 30 years. While Carolyn taught, Bill also worked and was the Scoutmaster of Troop 1614. They both are still active at St. Mary’s.

Like so many of our parents, the Gayde’s present the example of love that survived and thrived and extended into a network that extends and benefits so many lives in and outside of their family.  As I celebrate the beginnings of my marriage in today’s column, the examples like the Gayde’s, lead the way.

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As my 36 wedding anniversary approaches next week, I happened to notice….that I’ve also been married a very long time! You would think this might make me knowledgeable on the subject. I’m not quite that arrogant.

Family

Beyond good old-fashioned love, honor, respect and libido; marriage over decadesgets very complex. Because outside the cocoon of love, real life is…everywhere! Children, employment, unemployment, in-laws, out-laws, health and sickness, grandchildren, more in-laws, bills, budgets, debts, savings, retirement…ha, not yet, deaths, celebrations, defeats, hugs…are just the beginnings of an endless list of stuff getting in the way of love between two people. There is not a finish line.

Those that manage to juggle both love and conjugality through the years are nimble marathoners.

It may be that when a couple emerges through a certain period, the sheer magnitude of what they have accomplished is absorbed and what is found is a human balance beam where humor and history of a life together provides endless entertainment and satisfaction that only the two of them can fully appreciate.

For example, the lovely Kathy and me were having dinner at a local spot and a Tiger’s playoff game was on TV. I was half watching, knowing from decades of dinners that Kathy believes that sports and dinner don’t mix. I couldn’t help myself, though, when Victor Martinez hit a home run.

I half-shouted, “Martinez!”  Kathy face lit up, surprising me.

“Martini’s? You’re ordering martinis? It’s miracle!”

We can’t hear the words, Martinez and martini’s without laughing.  Ok, I agree we’re easily entertained, but I think you see the point.

Case two: Kathy walked into the home office we share and announced: “You bastardized the cords.”

“Pardon me?” was all I could muster in response.

“You bastardized the phone cords. The black cord is connected to white charger, the ipad cord isn’t anywhere to be found, one cord is for three generations ago of phones, our entire digital world is a mess of mismatched cords. You bastardized the freaking cords!”

Flummoxed and befuddled. I hoped for the best and said, “Well, I’ll untangle the bastards, if that will help.”

“That would be a start,” replied the lovely Kathy.

Kathy and Gerry in Yugoslavia

I celebrate several anniversaries with the lovely Kathy.  The first is the day we met in June 1978 on a whirlwind and epic trip beginning with series of flights beginning at Metro airport with stops in Buffalo, JFK, Ljubljana and Belgrad, Yugoslavia followed by overland bus travel to Sarajevo with stops in Titovo-Uzice and Kragujevac.  Before our international study program was over, coinciding with both of our last terms in college, we visited Mostar, Dubrovnik, Venice, Athens and the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini, all on about five bucks a day.  It was pretty romantic stuff…or at least I thought so.  Yet, when I asked Kathy what first clued her in that I might be the guy for her she said:

“When you tipped the waitress and extra buck in the restaurant in the Buffalo airport because she looked like she was having a bad day. I knew you for about 15 minutes and the thought struck me…I like this guy. What if…”

I would have never guessed that.

But I understood it. For me, the moment was on the bus trip and we had been talking non-stop for hours, learning that we both came from big Irish Catholic families and had a lot in common and a lot not in common, as the craggy Yugoslav scenery sped by us. I remember she laughed out loud at something I said. It was a boisterous, full laugh.

I knew right then.

I wish I had a clever answer for why we’ve made it this far.  I do know this: From the first moment on that bus ride to Sarajevo I knew this woman was way, way out of my league.  Thirty-six years later as I see her across a room and a smile is returned, I know this to still be true.  Even through the temple pounding moments when life isn’t running smoothly between us.

And one thing I learned along the way: I am a far better person than I ever would have been without her. I cringe at thinking where I would be if this life together hadn’t started or become unhinged at some point of the journey.

Where would I be if I didn’t have this woman to look me square in the eye in the middle of an intense debate as I wove yet another circular argument and calmly say, “Bite me.”  I love her for just that.

The best part of me is she.

So I try to remember I’m a lucky lad who convinced a lady to join me for love and life and the result is I’m a better man for it.

Happy Anniversary, Kathy.

The Lovely Kathy

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Passages

December 18th, 2014 Gerry No comments

At this stage in my life, and I’ll bet for most of us near our sixth decade, there is a fullness of experiences that enrich us in ways that range from heart-rending to wondrous. With death beginning to visit family and friends more and more often, there is reconciliation that this is just the beginning of that. With the peaceful passing of my mom after a full life, we understand that we are the elders now.  Those are bits and pieces of the wrenching side.

The wondrous side is the births of grandchildren and getting to embrace that utterly unique joy and the gift of having our children’s families moving close to home. There is also the blessing of friendships that span half a century and technology that allows for looks into their lives via gentle Facebook visits (which would be a lot more fun minus the political diatribes, but there you have it.) There is also the depth and richness of long-lived love for family that I couldn’t have possibly imagined as a self-absorbed, ambitious younger person.

So, it seems like it’s time to write about it again, with hopefully some stories that will entertain and reach out to you. My daughter, Moira Clark, has moved back to Royal Oak with her family and has graciously volunteered to help me move into official Bloggerdom, (which sounds a lot like some kind of bad offshoot of a Harry Potter scene) and allow for you to pick and choose what you want to read. Part of my challenge is that I’m really way to easily entertained and you are likely more discriminating.

I think Moira is also using this as an opportunity to repay me for the years of my red pen editing of her high school term papers!

I’ll start here remembering my mom and a little look at love and then there will be some other postings coming soon.  I hope you enjoy the stories below.

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Remembering My Mom

December 18th, 2014 Gerry No comments

I’m reminded of the last time I made a speech that Mom attended. I was about halfway done and she turned to my brother Mike and in a voice loud enough for me to hear, said, “Don’t you think it’s about time he wraps this one up?”

I hear you, Mom!

On behalf of all of the Boylan Family, thank you all for joining us here today, yesterday and over the past week in comforting us, reminiscing, laughing and crying as we remember our Mom, our grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, and friend.

We are also grateful for the family and friends who looked in on Mom with love and affection. The Wagener’s, the Boylan’s, the Holme’s, Wally Bernhardt and Mom’s god-daughter, Kathy McGuffin.  Thank you all for the care and love you showed our Mom.

Mom’s caregivers were blessing from heaven. Teresa Bryant who cared for both Mom and Dad for over a decade is truly a member of our family. Patty Rodriguez and her sisters helped mom peacefully over the threshold of death. Maryanne Geyer and her brother Rick Kain were kind and loving to Mom. Thank you all.

Great thanks also to the St. Mary’s Community, who delivered communion to Mom and made this funeral possible and to Father Chateau for his understanding of our Mom’s funeral wishes.

I also want to thank my brothers, sisters and wife.  It would have never been possible to honor Mom’s wish to die at home without everyone pitching in.  We did our job.

Enough about us…let’s talk about Rita Marie Ford Boylan. Her passing is the end of an era for the Malay’s and Ford’s of Gas City Indiana.  Mom was the last of Teresa and Edward Ford’s children: Mary, who was the matriarch, Walter the Catholic priest, brother John who once convinced Mom to go to neighbors to pick up a bucket of steam and Eddie who could magically produce eggs out of his mouth, Mom’s best friend and Irish twin Marcella, youngest sister Patricia and the youngest Chuck who died in WWII at the age of 17.

Mom was born June 13th in 1922 at home on Stevens Street in Highland Park, two blocks from St. Benedict’s which was the center of a lot of Mom’s early life. The house on Stevens was a two flat and Grandpa and Grandpa rented out the upstairs to help pay the note on the house. They eventually had all 8 children living in a two bedroom flat.

Mom and Marcella were in the same class and life was filled with school at St. Bennie’s. Mom recounts that she earned a lead in a school play and formed a social group with Marcella, Pat Entristle, Liz Wilkie and other called the Highsteppers. Nursing school followed high school where she met her life-long friends: Annamary, Peg, Hildegard, Elsie and Phyliss.

She was a beautiful, redheaded, five foot 2, eyes-of-blue, kinetic gal when she found herself in a speech class at Highland Park Community College and met the love of her life, Bill Boylan. They were a perfect match. He was calm and quiet and Mom was not. When Bill Boylan returned from his duty as Marine in World War II’s Pacific Theatre, they married.

After a short stint at a house on Stout Street in Detroit, they found a home in Royal Oak at 707 Lawson, where they raised their six children. Mom worked nights at Providence Hospital as a nurse before finding a part-time job at Dr. Neumann’s office, a short walk from home. She worked there until she was 70 years old.

Those are the facts of Mom’s life.  Nothing remarkable on the surface.  But Mom was part of what’s been called the Greatest Generation because by the tens of thousands they were the sturdy pillars of our society. They quietly did their duty, worked their jobs, raised their families, honored their spouses with honesty and integrity, decency and civility. The world quaked and rocked around them, but they held firm and their legacy are the values they lived and taught through quiet example…which now shine through three generations.  All of us here had moms and dads like ours.

Here’s what we learned from our Mom and what we taught our children and our children teach theirs:

Mom taught us to be fair and compassionate, especially to those with greater needs than ours

That song and dance is fun and good for you!

That boys wash dishes next to their sisters.

She taught us early on, that racism is intolerable.

She taught us to be kind and to forgive.

To speak up for ourselves and for others that can’t speak for themselves.

She taught us dance by the light of the moon.

But the essence of Mom was her incredibly upbeat and optimistic view of the world and her high-octane energy.  I think that was reason everyone enjoyed being around Mom. We had a revelation about Mom this week when we heard from so many people about their relationship with her.  We heard from cousins that she was their favorite aunt, from the caregivers that she was their favorite patient, she was a favorite neighbor, favorite nurse, even the guy who delivered her morning newspaper said she was her favorite and that she met him at the door and asked him how his family was doing.

You see, if you knew Mom, or really even if you just met her, it was guaranteed that she was going to be asking you questions and giving compliments. Lots and lots of questions! “Tell me about yourself”  ”Your nails look good today” “Is there anything I can help you with?”  ”Tell me about your family, where did you grow up, I really like your shoes. I wish my hair was as long and as beautiful as yours. How are your children doing? Do you have girlfriend? How long? Is it serious? What are you going to do next in your life? Are you happy?

Mom was genuinely interested in people and what their lives were like. And if you asked, she was there with down-to-earth common sense advice. If you were hurting, she was there to comfort you. If you were down, she would make you laugh and if all else failed there was always a song and dance. As a nurse, she could treat your body and as a caring person, she could treat your heart and soul.

One more thing you should know about Mom. She was very competitive and if you know us as a family, it’s a trait passed down to her children and grandchildren. Mom and her sister Marcella were very tough euchre partners. They thrashed most of our grandchildren as young kids as they were learning the game. I remarked at one point: “Mom, Marcella, maybe you could ease up on them until they learned the game. They both looked at me incredulously and said, “Why would we do that? We play to win!”

Mom was extraordinarily proud her grandchildren. She marveled at their accomplishments when she had come from such humble beginnings. Librarian, teacher, coaches, musician, mothers, track and basketball stars, outstanding students, busking across Europe, a sub four minute mile and on and on. And her grandchildren gave her 5 great grandchildren with little Eileen born on her birthday 90 years apart. She was forever seeking their stories and interviewing them when they visited.

It was a full life.

And then there was Mom’s sense of humor. She laughed a lot and hardest at the stories about her own foibles.  Attending the wrong funeral, locking herself out of her car at the bank drive-thru and on and on.

Mom loved to share these and other stories and often casted herself as the dizzy lady. But she had a razor sharp mind, was a strong working mom long before it was popular and was a role model for both her daughters and sons on what a woman could accomplish.

To conclude, our dear sister Sue, who left us way too soon, summarized what both mom and dad gave us in a letter she wrote for their 50th wedding anniversary.

“ My sense of social justice was learned from my parent’s involvement in their church, their support of causes that promoted the welfare of all people.  This did not and does not to this day, play itself out in dramatic speeches but rather in the day to day advocacy for their community of friends family and church and through the example of how they live their lives. Like my brothers and sisters, I wear both of them inside me. When you are raised in a home that tells you everyone deserves a good life, you go out into the world with that in your back pocket.”

Amen to that, Sue.

Mom was a women of great faith in God and she knew that should upon her death she would be able greet her savior in heaven and be reunited with her family and most importantly with her daughter Sue and her Bill Boylan.  I can picture it now: Sue will have a list of activities lined up, well, pretty much for eternity and Bill will take Rita in his arms and begin to dance, gliding across heaven’s dance floor, Dad upright and strong with his lovely redhead in his arms, Mom crackling with energy, her eyes shining up at him.  The music will begin….

Buffalo Gal won’t you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight, Oh buffalo gal won’t you come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon.

We love you Mom.

Passages

December 18th, 2014 Gerry No comments

Love Long Lived

As my 36th wedding anniversary approaches and as I see the Facebook posting on friends remarkable string of anniversaries, like Vicky and Jim Piche’s 40th anniversary and Liz and Larry Schurg, married over 42 years. I went to school with then Liz Richards from the 1st grade through the 12th grade at St. Mary’s and her history reaches the core of a long love.

Larry and Liz Schurg 1972

Liz married Larry Schurg while still a teenager, at St. Mary’s Church in 1972 by Fr. Reckker.  Larry was in the military and they moved to Germany right after the wedding with no TV, no phone, only snail mail as a connection to home. Being on their own helped them to bond and rely on each other.  Their first son, Larry W. was born in Germany  and after returning home, they had four more children, Joe, Lisa, Mike and Christopher, in Liz’s words; as close as stair-steps.

Over the last 42 years, there family has grown to include 19 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. That’s a big family! As if that was a not enough kids to raise, they have had other children move in with them. This is what Liz and Larry call “our Heart Family.”

“We love them as if they were our own because we learned a long time ago that family isn’t just blood, its heart! That is how two people become one family; one love and one heart.”  Liz, I don’t think it can be said any better.  A final note from Liz was: “Most people think of themselves as a couple, as two individuals.  Larry looked at it like were a little trinity, God, him and me.  No problem is ever so large that the three of us can’t handle.”

Generous people with wisdom to share come from many different places and perspectives. Today it comes from the loving home of Larry and Liz Schurg in Ferndale, Michigan. Their arms have reached out and demonstrated the power of long lived love. Thank you, Liz and Larry.

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An Inflated View Of My Own Self-Worth: How a hot air balloon ride led to 147 hours of bad TV.

June 3rd, 2014 Gerry No comments

Today’s story intertwines through a hot air balloon ride fiasco, white-knuckle skydiving, watching 84 hours of television in a week and the road back to launching three point shots. As the saying goes, you can’t make this stuff up!

It all began on with my 40th birthday gift from the lovely Kathy, a hot air balloon ride.

There’s a little backstory to this particular gift. About a year earlier, I had purchased two skydiving passes for Kathy’s birthday, but as the appointed day approached, my throat began constricting as I envisioned hurtling myself out of an airplane. While I’m not afraid of air travel, I do not like heights as a rule. So I did what any other self-respecting acrophobic would do, I finagled out of the sky diving commitment by invoking the good old worst case scenario. I asked Kathy, what would the kids do if we both bit it in a horrible skydiving fiasco?

Kathy muttered something mostly unintelligible, but I thought I heard something like…. simpering wimp. Kathy wasn’t chickening out and along with our oldest daughter Shannon they took the plunge safely and successfully.

But Kathy declared there was no way I was wiggling or waggling out of the hot air balloon ride.

On a humid early evening, we lifted off somewhere near Fenton. I’m guessing it was a pretty cool ride, but I couldn’t really tell because my eyes were closed as I riffed through every prayer I ever knew…. Now I lay me down to sleep….Bless me Father for I have sinned…Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins both venial and mortal…rub-a-dub thanks for the grub, yea God!

My eyes were closed for two reasons: First the height thing. Second, along with Kathy and me were two other passengers who were giants. I’m not kidding; they were a monumental man and woman. We were Lilliputians compared to these folks. Because of the size and weight difference the basket was tilted crazily toward the Brobdingnagian’s*. Added to the mix was our balloon driver, or balloon master, or hot air wizard, or whatever the heck you call the guy who was in charge of this mismatched voyage of the damned. His name was Archie and he was an identical twin of the bass player in the rock band ZZ Top. I was pretty sure that he had as much helium in him as the balloon did.

So we sailed the skies for our 30-minute ride, I looked down once to see a gravel pit and then it was over. We landed nicely enough and I let out a sigh of relief…. just a tad too soon. Because of the size difference between our offensive line companions and us, our basket hemmed, hawed, seesawed and then all 13 feet, 600 pounds of mountain people fell on top of me. The good news was they missed Kathy, but I was crunched, and my right shoulder immediately turned to mush. After the giant and giantess rolled off me they jointly picked me up like I was appetizer and started talking in Low German or some guttural dialect… Wo geiht? Ya est heidegger, schopenhauer, kant or hanna arendt? Or, something like that, but I think it was an apology.

I answered: Vundaag is de worm in! (Which is Low German for: Something is very wrong with this day!)

So it came to pass that at age 40, I found myself in physical therapy for the first time. The diagnosis was a bruised shoulder and tendinitis. The pain should go away. But it didn’t and every few years I would go in for more PT and build up the muscles around the shoulder so I could continue playing basketball and other sports. Except I couldn’t play much golf because the injury had the odd impact of hurting so much that once I reached the 8th hole I had to take the beer ice and make an icy shoulder pack.

Five years ago, now in my mid-50’s, my oldest friend, Jerry McEntee, introduced me to Dr. Gary Gilyard at DMC Sports Medicine. He ordered an MRI (a test which taught me that I had severe claustrophobia, yet another story) and the results were a badly torn rotator cuff and labrum. I should have had the surgery right then, but did I mention I’m a tomophobiac too? Yep, fear of surgery. I’m a veritable cornucopia of phobias!

I put off the surgery for 5 more years, which gave me a good excuse for being a crummy golfer and didn’t prevent me from launching plenty of three pointers. But basketball finally got the better of me. In one of our pick-up games at Shrine Grade School, I forgot that I’m an eyelash away from Social Security and tried to save a game-winning basket by fouling Adam Ruhle on his way to a lay-up. Adam is around 25 years old, about 6′5″ and pretty much in the prime of life. He never knew what hit him. Really, he actually never knew that I hit him with my best Rick Mahorn hatchet job. Meanwhile, my arm was dangling so low I could untie my shoelaces without bending over.

I had no choice now and under the knife I went. Six weeks ago, I showed up at the DMC Surgery Center in Madison Heights and honestly, after the IV drip started, I couldn’t remember a thing past my last recollection of singing the Ballad of Davy Crockett to a maintenance man in pre-op. When I finally woke up it was later that night and I found myself in our recliner chair that had been repositioned in my bedroom. I had night sweats from a nightmare that I was in a straightjacket. I was sort of, with my right shoulder and arm in a sling-like restrictor.

I tried to sit up on my own, but it was a no-go. I couldn’t dis-incline the recliner, so I started rocking the chair, thinking I could launch myself out of it. Did I mention I’ve never taken any painkillers before?

It seemed like a good idea, but Kathy woke up out of the Sleep of the Dead with a jolt.

“What in the name of God is going on?! Why is your chair in the middle of the room? And why are you humming What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?”

I was told later that I was an ideal patient. Again, I have little recollection of the first days of recovery. I was feeling no pain because I had some kind of pain block in a pouch that reminded me of one of those circa 1970 bota bags. I also was taking some kind of pill that shortly after I took it would cause me to suddenly break into song. Kathy said I sang the entire soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne and a Jethro Tull medley.

Kathy told me that she really was enjoying my particularly agreeable, puppy dog behavior.

She said, “I’m going to miss this recovery time we had together. One morning, you came up behind me tapped me on the shoulder and with tears in your eyes, you said, ‘I love you, Kathy. You’re the one for me.”

“But Kathy, I do that all the time, right?”

“Yeah, but this time it was like you were on truth serum!”

The recovery time for my surgery is about 3 months and Dr. Gilyard highly recommended the use of “The Chair.”

“The Chair” was just that…a chair, but with a motorized arm rest that moved up and down, very, very, slooooowly. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? That’s what I thought until Doc Gilyard told me I needed to spend 12 hours a day, every day, for a month, in the chair.

I’m reasonably certain that in my entire life I have not sat still in a chair for more than two hours and 50 minutes in my life. That record was set watching Scarface which was our Christmas Day tradition movie, a decision I still have nightmares about. So, spending half of my day in a chair for the prescribed month would pretty much describe my version of Purgatory.

But sit I did, mostly in front of the TV. I did not realize that there are actually over 400 channel choices of good, bad, ugly and really ugly television. I believe that I may have visited them all, although I also believe my mind was kidnapped by the Muppets somewhere around 146th hour of my video tour-a-rama.

This is what I did learn about round the clock TV:

-There truly is a show for everyone. Christian shows: check. Satanist series: check. Agnostic thong wearers cooking show: check. You name it, TV has it.

-I also learned that many women do not, repeat, do not wear the proper bra size.

-I learned that very late at night you could learn: Who wouldn’t want to be bigger?!!

-I learned that ESPN and TMZ are really the same show.

-I watched both seasons, all 27 hours of House of Cards, a Netflix series you can watch at one time if you had the inclination. I still feel smarmy from that really well done series.

I watched Sister Wendy’s Odyssey where a retired nun does a marvelously quirky job of explaining art. She reminded me of a cross between Sister Jean Romunda and Sister Bernadette Therese, two of my favorite St. Mary’s of Royal Oak nuns.

I finally hit my breaking point when I watched an entire Hillary Duff movie…. and it brought tears to my eyes! That convinced me that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my full sentence of The Chair. I applied for a weekend pass to the physical therapy equivalent of Limbo and while there, I was able to obtain a plenary indulgence, which allowed me exchange 6 hours a day in The Chair for 6 hours of good thoughts and deeds.

It’s six weeks later now and my shoulder rehab is moving along nicely, mostly due to the highly competent physical therapists Stephanie, Ann-Marie and Dawn at DMC’s therapy unit in Birmingham. Thank you, ladies!

The Chair

The lovely Registered Nurse Kathy is also once again my heroine, being extraordinarily patient with her patient. She said it

wasn’t that bad and sometime during the early recovery I took her shopping for several hours, another record for me, and that the bills should be arriving soon.

And to finish the story, several years ago I was shamed into finally sky diving with my youngest daughter Moira. I believe ou

r pilot was the hot air balloon maestro’s twin ZZ Top brother and the skydiving experts name was Hippy Dippy Dave.

But like I said, that’s another story!

* I had to look this up, but Brobdingnag is another island in Jonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels, inhabited by the giants Brobdingnagians.

Counting Blessings – A Thanksgiving Story

November 20th, 2011 Gerry 2 comments

The story below titled, Counting Blessing is truly a Thanksgiving tale, is included in my short story collection: Gerry Tales.  Nearly all the stories in the book are light-hearted and humorous, with much of the fun coming at my expense! This story is different.  I’ll leave it at that. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.  Gerry Boylan.

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I had finished writing this collection of stories and was just about to submit the final version to my editor as Thanksgiving weekend of 2009 rolled around. There is a fine line between life and death, exultation and despair, and as that weekend unfolded, our family brushed up too close to those boundaries. My hands shake and my heart quakes as I begin to tell this story of what families are all about. There is no Irish license taken; this is real life.

On the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving, our daughter Shannon checked into Beaumont Hospital, accompanied by her husband Steve. After nine months of pregnancy, it was baby time! Her mother, Kathy, joined them later in the evening, and, after a night of increasing contractions, Shannon’s labor began in earnest in the early hours of the morning. At 1:30 p.m., Asher Avery Crepeau joined us. Asher is Kathy’s and my first grandchild. As I cradled the little guy, I recognized the same bright eyes that had shone out at me at Shannon’s birth nearly three decades ago. Oh, we’re going to really enjoy this part of life, I thought.
When Shannon had first gone into labor, I had started to call our other three children. They were not expected to join us for Thanksgiving due to job, college, and family commitments, but one by one, they told me that if it was possible to book a flight, they could make it in to see their first nephew. Dan had two days off from his basketball practices at Emerson College (and was feeling good, having just scored his college high of seventeen points, making five straight three-pointers, earlier in the evening). Joe, who is working for the Maine Red Claws, the Boston Celtics Development League team, also had an unexpected break. Moira’s husband, Mike, a smart and generous fellow, told Moira to go see her nephew, earning a nomination to the In-Law Hall of Fame. Moira, a high-school history teacher in a New York City suburb, booked her flight immediately.

So the Boylan family converged, and it was grand. Moira imitated a Hallmark commercial by calling her mom a few minutes before we turned into our driveway and telling her that she really wished she could make it home for the holidays but wouldn’t be able to. When she walked into our kitchen, where Kathy was baking cookies, still on the phone, Kathy laughed and cried.
We enjoyed a great Thanksgiving Day, even though we attended the Lions–Packers game (the Lions got thumped, as expected). My mom led the roster of our guests, including siblings and members of the extended family. The turkey was perfect, the laughs were loud, and before we knew it, the dishes were done, and we could recline in the joy of it all.

Steve, Shannon, and Asher were headed home by Friday morning, and while we left them alone for their first night, Kathy and I began to plot a lifetime of spending time with our grandson. I have to tell you, saying “my grandson” out loud sounded strange and very cool at the same time. Of course, within the first twenty-four hours of his birth, I had invented twenty-seven reasons to tell complete strangers about our new grandson and what a beautiful boy he was.

With Moira, Joe, and Dan home, we took advantage of the helpful labor and brought all the Christmas decorations downstairs. Then the five of us went out together to buy a Christmas tree. Joe and Dan even re-created the family tradition of chasing each other through the Christmas tree lot, although it was harder to hide behind the trees as full-grown adults. For the first time in forever, we didn’t purchase the tree on a subzero day with the wind howling and a slushy combo of sleet and snow pelting us! By evening, the tree was up, decorated, and lit. And so it was that this Thanksgiving was a whirlwind of family blessings.

The next day, the winds of fate changed direction and altered everything.

I was returning from running some errands at around two on Saturday afternoon, and as I pulled into the driveway, I saw Joe in his stocking feet, one hand holding a phone to his ear and the other motioning at me wildly. His face was contorted with a worried look I had never seen before.

“What’s wrong?” I said as I stepped out of the car.

“It’s Moira! Hurry!” Joe pointed past our side door to the house. As I pushed the door open, I heard him say, “Yes, 911? We have an emergency.”

I walked hurriedly through our kitchen and saw our twenty-seven-year-old daughter lying on the floor. Kathy was sitting next to her with her nurse’s stethoscope on her heart.

“I can’t get a pulse, Gerry,” Kathy said calmly. But then she said it again: “I can’t get a pulse.”
My heart raced, then froze. “Is she breathing?” I asked.

“Yes, but very lightly.”

“What do we do, Kathy? Should we pick her up and drive her to the hospital? Beaumont’s only five minutes away.”
“Joe called 911. I think it’s better to wait. They can start treatment faster.”

“What can I do?”

“I don’t know.”

I rushed outside. Joe was in tears, waiting to direct the forthcoming ambulance to our driveway. I decided to move my car to allow it easier access to our house. I wanted to do something, anything, because I was helpless. I rushed back inside and ran back to Kathy and Moira, then turned and ran back to the door. No ambulance yet.

Everything will be okay, won’t it? I thought. Whatever this is isn’t happening, is it? My God, my beautiful little girl is lying on the floor unconscious. We can’t lose Moira.

“Kathy,” I said, “is Moira going to be okay?”

“I don’t know, Gerry.”

I couldn’t catch my breath.

The sound of the siren reached the house, and Joe frantically waved the EMS ambulance and a fire engine to the side door of our home. A portly man in a blue uniform moved toward our door as two younger EMS firemen rushed into our house with their gear. They replaced Kathy at Moira’s side, working toward identifying vital signs as their older colleague asked questions rapid-fire.

“How old is your daughter? Has this ever happened before? Does she have a history of seizures? Is she pregnant? Describe what happened to your daughter.”

Kathy answered every question calmly and professionally, like the RN that she is. She explained that Moira had started having an allergic reaction to what she thought was an antibiotic she was taking for a sinus infection. In a twenty-minute period, she had gone from having itchy arms to having full-blown hives to vomiting in the bathroom to slumping to the floor unconscious. Kathy explained she had given her a Benadryl as the hives appeared and was on the phone calling our family doctor when she heard her fall.

I was listening half to the Q and A and half to the young fireman working with Moira. After installing an IV, they started calling out her vital signs. I only heard one: “Blood pressure is thirty-eight over twenty.” The numbers jumped into my head, and I knew my daughter was in real trouble. I was frightened to my core.

Within minutes, Moira was on the stretcher trolley and then inside the ambulance, headed to Beaumont Hospital with Kathy. I stood in the doorway, watching the ambulance scream off, my heartbeat reaching the same pitch. Joe was sitting on our porch seat, sobbing. He had been there for the entire episode, and I knew we were feeling exactly the same thing. He stood up, and we hugged hard without exchanging a word.

The drive to Beaumont is only a mile and a half long. I backed out of the driveway and waved to Joe, waiting until I was down the block before I began to sob and quiver. I made myself calm down by the time I had parked at the hospital. I was escorted to the critical care section of the emergency room. Kathy was sitting outside a curtained-off area where six people were still working on Moira. Kathy stood up and calmly explained to me that the doctors were using adrenaline and steroids to get her system “up” again.

Just then, a young doctor opened the curtains and walked over to us. “She’s stable and she’s going to be fine,” she said.

For the first time, tears filled Kathy’s eyes. Her face showed the wrestling emotions of fear and relief. She was Moira’s mom again, not her nurse. We grabbed each other for support.

“Your daughter had a very serious anaphylactic shock reaction. I understand she was taking a penicillin-based antibiotic and that that was likely the cause. I also understand that you gave her a Benadryl early in the reaction, Mrs. Boylan. You probably saved her life by doing that. The antihistamine likely kept her from completely shutting down and kept her airway open. She’s a lucky young lady, and she’s going to be fine. We’ll check her in for the night to keep an eye out for an unlikely rebound effect. You can go in and see her now.”

With one concise medical narrative, we stepped back from the edge of a precipice over which lay a damaged future for all of us. Instead of looking down into that precipice, we looked forward—and saw the face of our shivering, scared, and very alive daughter. We had Moira back!

Kathy held her daughter tight, warming her and stroking her forehead. All was nearly right with our world, and I think we all exhaled at exactly the same time.

Kathy prepared to spend a second night with a daughter in the same hospital within a week. Joe arrived to keep watch over Moira, and I took Kathy home to pack an overnight bag.

“Stop at that McDonalds,” said Kathy emphatically on the drive home. “I want a Big Mac.”

“Really? How many years has it been since we stopped at Mickey D’s?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. My daughter is going to be okay, and I want a Big Mac, fries, and a shake.”

And that is exactly what she got.

***
Three days later, Moira was packed and ready for me to take her to the airport for her trip back to her husband, Mike, and their home in New York. She hugged her mom tight and, in a full flood of tears, said, “Thanks for taking care of me, Mom. Thanks for saving my life.” I can’t write the emotion of it all.

Returning home from the airport, I was surprised by a visit from Shannon and her husband, Steve, over for their first visit with Asher. I saw Kathy sitting in her favorite chair with her grandson’s chin tucked neatly into her shoulder. Shannon sat on the arm of the chair, and I saw beside each other three generations. And I can’t write the wonder of it all.

Later that evening, Kathy and I were walking her little dog, Zeke. “I can’t believe how calm you were during the whole crisis,” I said. “How did you do that?”

“I’m a nurse, and I had the most important patient of all,” she said. “But don’t kid yourself. As I held Moira in my arms and couldn’t find a pulse, even with the stethoscope, I thought I was going to lose my little girl. I thought I was going to lose my little girl.”

The aftermath of our thrilling and harrowing Thanksgiving was akin to post traumatic shock syndrome. Kathy explained to me that she was going to be crying on and off for at least a week. Everyone in our family, including Moira’s husband, Mike, has considered all of the “what ifs” and realized how the situation turned out for the best. We’ve stumbled about reconciling the miracle of birth and the fragility of life, and how they will never fit nicely into a box with a bow on top.

Tonight our grandson is in the house and in our arms. And so we count our blessings—and keep the Benadryl ever so handy!

The Swingset Setup

December 1st, 2010 Gerry Comments off

I saw our youngest daughter Moira doing a series of cartwheels in the yard. Yes, she was the accomplice I would need to pull this off. Moira was fearless and coordinated, just the characteristics that were needed. I was up off the lawn chair now, a man of action, a man with a plan. “Moira, I need your help,” I said. I jogged into the work shed to retrieve the swing seats. “Mo, grab that seat and two chains and follow me.” Ah, Moira. She didn’t need an explanation. I picked up the other seat and chains, and Moira and I marched into the house and down to the basement.

I had recently convinced Kathy to let me buy a weightlifting machine, the kind with various stations connected to a pulley system that tied the weights together. It had looked like it was going to join a long line of unused exercise equipment when I developed a permanent kind of tendonitis in my shoulder, but my “aha!” moment had now found the perfect use for the device. “All righty, Moira, here’s what were going to do. I’m going to sit in this leg press station. I’m going to set the weight at a hundred fi fty pounds. I’ll leg press the weights up as high as I can. Your job is easy, but it will require some skill and timing.”

I showed Moira how to hold the S-hook in her little fingers and insert it onto the swing seat just so, and then how to position the combination below the weights I would be holding aloft with my leg press. “Now, Moira, when you’re ready, say ‘go,’ and then I’ll let the full weight come hammering down on the hook. We’ll batter that hook into submission and get this swing set show on the road. Are you with me, Mo?” “Sure, Dad,” said Moira, fully trusting her dear old dad that this was as normal a request as asking her to make her bed. “Now,” I said, “you’ll need to be careful not to get your fingers anywhere near the hook or weights. In fact, at the very last second, just before the weights smash into the hook, just let go. Can you do that, sweetie?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she said again, “Sure, Dad.” Gotta love that kid.

So we began Operation Battering Ram. The thought never crossed my mind that my beautiful daughter could smash her fingers in this cockamamie scheme. Nope, I was sure that the two of us could time this perfectly. I would push up the weights with all the might my skinny white legs could muster, hold it for a second, and let it go. And Moira would time it perfectly. The hook would bounce harmlessly away from the weights and be ready for another hit. My only miscalculation was how many blows from the weights it would take to close the hooks. After a couple of smashes Moira and I could see that we were making progress. The gap had shrunk ever so slightly, but it was apparent this job was not for the weak of heart. After fifteen blows we had full closure on one side of the pesky S-hook. Remembering that we needed to close four hooks on two ends, I did some quick mental math. Success was only one hundred leg presses away!

Moira and I kept at it. Of course, I had no idea how incredibly difficult it was to do one hundred leg presses of one hundred fifty pounds. No idea at all. Moira started singing show tunes, which distracted me from acknowledging that the pulsating veins in my head might have been a sign that my noggin was about to explode. I started to get a second wind when Mo was imitating Ethel Merman in a rousing rendition of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” but I was fading fast as she wound up with “Old Man River.” By the end of the ordeal, Moira was rooting me on. “C’mon Dad, that’s ninety-nine. Only one more, and I think we’ll have it. You can do it, Dad. One more time!” I pushed the leg press outward, drenched from head to toe in sweat. My legs were quivering uncontrollably. I made a little progress, pushing the weights up halfway to 113 the top. Suddenly, Kathy appeared at the basement door. She looked at me, the weight machine, and Moira with the S-hook in hand, and while she was unable to decipher exactly what the hell we were doing, she instinctively knew it was wrong, all wrong. Kathy’s gaze burrowed into the spot right between my eyes. I knew I was toast.

As the words “Gerry, what in God’s name are you—” came out of her mouth, my legs gave out, and the weights came hurtling down one last time. Moira timed her release perfectly for the hundredth time. She picked up the now fully closed S-hook and the swing seat, and showed it to Kathy and me. “Ta-da!” she said. “That’s it, the last one. We’re good to go, Dad.” I’d rather not go into all the details involved in the aftermath of this episode. The polite way to describe Kathy’s reaction would be to say that there would never be sex in our marriage again if I pulled any stunt that resembled this one. On a happier note, our plan worked, and before you knew it, kids and neighbors from far and wide were using the swing set to touch the sky with their toes. I can still see Kathy with our one-year-old son Dan in her lap, gently swinging and singing “Summertime” to him.

Thanksgiving Football Gerry Tales Style

November 28th, 2010 Gerry 1 comment

Joe Pure SportsFor as long as I can remember, I’ve had to compete. I can’t help myself. It’s a lot like leadership. You have to do it, or there’s a fair chance you’re not going to enjoy life much. I’m guessing it’s in the DNA, but it doesn’t much matter, because no matter the reason, you’re stuck with who you are. For about a year, during my neo-hippie phase, I pretended that winning wasn’t really that important, that I could live without betting my entire ego, id, and psyche on a game of pinochle or pickup basketball. It took me two years to get rid of the eyelid twitch and patch of psoriasis from that little experiment in contradicting the nature of things. We are who we are.

My reconciliation with my competitive nature happened when I figured out that I’m not going to win everything, every time, but I damn well better give whatever I’m competing in my best shot, or I’m not going to be happy. The more important revelation I had is that if you mix together a dose of intensity, a dash of obsessiveness, and two parts real life, you’re darn near guaranteed that something funny is going to happen. What I finally learned is that not taking yourself seriously is a requirement for avoiding ulcers, early heart attacks, and colitis.  After we take our best shot at learning just who the heck we are, we get to watch the movie all over again as we pass this inherited casserole of idiosyncrasies on to our unsuspecting children.

Playing sports is probably the best way to avoid the anger management classes the courts will insist ultracompetitive people take after that inevitable road rage incident. It sure helped me. You play, and there are rules, and you follow them, or it will hurt you. I started playing sandlot sports by the time I was eight years old, and organized sports from age ten. We didn’t have travel teams, personal trainers, or specialized sports in the early 1960s. Heck, our parents came to some of the games, but they were way too busy working to see them all. And my teammates and I were a heckuva lot more interested if Marylou the redheaded cheerleader was there shaking those pompoms!

We lined up against the other team in a modified backyard wing-T formation for the First Annual Thanksgiving Day Backyard Football Game. My nephew Will hiked the ball to me, the thirty-eight-year-old dad. I spun and gave a gentle pitch to my five-year-old son Joe, who followed Will and his younger brother Liam into a sweep left, blocking my sisters, Sue and Maryanne, and our still-spry seventy-six-year-old dad. The play worked, and Joe sprang free. He was off to the races and ran quickly into the Frisbee-marked end zone. Except he didn’t stop there. He just kept running with the football, streaking around the garage at full speed and into the side door of the house. We all stood there a bit dumbfounded. I trotted after Joe and found him inside the door, clutching the football and sobbing. “Joe, what’s up?” I said. “That was a good run. Why the tears?” He wiped his eyes and nose with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “It was my first touchdown, Dad,” he said. “I’m just so happy.” Nearly twenty years later, the recollection still brings tears to my eyes. I saw in Joe’s five-year-old eyes all that I love about athletics, all that is pure about sports. A boy, a ball, a touchdown.

A Real American Football Story…with a twist, of course!

October 13th, 2010 Gerry 4 comments

It’s the heart of the football season and I have story that I think even a football widow might enjoy. To set the stage: I played football for nine seasons in row from the time I was 9 years old through varsity football at good old St. Mary’s High School in Royal Oak, Michigan. I played for some bad, so-so and very good teams through it all, the best team being my senior year when we scored 215 points and gave up only 35. I still find it hard to convince people I was a 5′ 7″  135 lb. captain of that team with Danny Colombo and Larry Hermann who played college ball at Wayne State. I wasn’t that gifted, but I did have big mouth and I liked to hit people, unless it was Danny C. in one of those crazy one-on-one drills that have my ears still ringing 40 years later.

I played football with the same group of guys all those years, Lyle Moon, Brad Richards, Tony Brunet, Bob Zajdel, Dave Debastos, Bob Stachel, Chuck Villerot, Pat Rhodes, Steve Wright, Gerry Reed….and along the way we lost an entire talented team to moves or transfers to the public schools…Tim Roy, Mark Rose, Luke Moran, Chuck Schmidt, Bob Munecas, Rick Blatz, Gary Ryniak and Tom Lama. 

One of my very favorite seasons, when fun ruled the roost, was a 4-4 season when I was in 8th grade. Our coaches were Tom Klier and John Hermann, both recent graduates of St. Mary’s High School, but I still am not sure if they ever played football themselves.  They didn’t know much football, and we were just in beginning of our Rebellion Through Ingenuity early teenage phase which was centered on driving authority figures bonkers through a combination of Eddie Haskell and Mad Magazine oriented hi-jinks.  It was a good fit with Coaches Klier and Hermann. They were good eggs, we were pretty good athletes and they never made us feel like our lives depended on winning the next game.  This was the era when when big yellow salt pills were given to us to replensish the salt lost through extreme sweating, but water breaks were thought to give cramps…as a result,  we loaded up on a ton of salt which pretty much dried us up like smoked herring!

We entered our last game, a league cross-over with St. Michael’s of Livonia, with a respectable 4-3 record.  We traveled  crosstown on Ten Mile Road to St. Michaels to find that they did not have a scale for the customary weigh-in. Let me explain: The Catholic Youth Organization, the governing body of the Catholic League, had a rule that no one over 146 lbs. could play. Remember that this is in 1966 and 146 lbs. was huge. I weighed exactly 100 lbs. and our average player was maybe 120 lbs.  It  was a very enlightened rule and prevented the 87 lb. seventh grader from getting crushed.

It became very clear why there was no scale available. St. Michaels had gone out and brought in the descendants of the Purple Gang to play against us. They had ten guys that not only would have broken the scale, but they had 5 o’clock shadows, packs of Lucky Strikes stuck under their should pads and girlfriends who looked like strippers. 

Coach Hermann pointed out to the referees that there were obviously player over the weight limit, but when the zebras saw the blackjacks and brass knuckles come out, they shrugged and said if we didn’t play it would be forfeit.

So Coach Klier gathered us around the goalposts and gave us his best pre-game speech.

“Ok, boys, it’s the last game of the season and St. Michael’s sure appears to be bending the rules. But do we care? No we do not! Why? Because…(he broke out into song..)

We are the Irish, the mighty, mighty Irish

Everywhere we go, people want to know,

Who we are, So we tell them: Read more…

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A Knapsack, A Sign and a Really Bad Tigers Hat

September 21st, 2010 Gerry 1 comment

“The beginning, always start at the beginning.”  I have a lot of ideas bouncing around inside my mind, just itching to get out into the world. The problem is that most of these thoughts should continue to permanently rattle around inside my head and never, ever see the light of day or a pale moon night. I’ve learned over the years to identify these thoughts and steer them to a cordoned off part of my mind that allows them to be sealed for safekeeping into a sort of Tupperware haven for eccentric inspiration. But every once in a while, a cockamamie idea sneaks out beyond my common sense perimeter and reaches the oxygen of real life allowing the thought to bloom wildly into an out-of-control actual event. That’s pretty much how at 57 years old I found myself standing on the side of the road with my thumb out, beckoning for a ride in 100 degree heat.

The train of thought seemed innocent enough. I was publishing a book that very easily could be lost in the sea of a half million books that are published every year. I could distinguish myself if I did something to draw attention to the book, or myself. A theme of my novel Getting There was hitchhiking in the 1970’s…hmmm maybe I could hitchhike a little and write about it. Better yet, since the novel focuses on the main character Luke Moore’s hitchhike on I-75 from Michigan to Florida, I could replicate that trip. Even better than that, I could hitchhike from Detroit to Miami, repeating my very first, real life long distance hitchhike in 1971, nearly forty years ago.

Fiction replicating real life replicating fiction!

That flash of insanity bloomed into my contemporary road story. It may be true you can’t travel the same road twice (or maybe it was a river, or you can’t go home again, but you catch my drift) but I did get to tiptoe into my past as I stood on the side of the highway and performed my off-key hip-hip version of road patter willing the cars to pull over and pick me up.

Yo, I’m an old guy, so stop your freaking ride,

Or I might pass out, pass gas or cap your freaking hide

I’m out here beggin, so don’t you make me mad

Or I’ll place a curse on ya that will make your cracker-ass sad

Yo, I’m an old guy, but that don’t make me no punk

Give me a freakin ride or I’ll rap your head th-thunk!

I didn’t get a ride, but a two roofers pulled over and asked if I was having a seizure..a group of young hipsters yelled “Go, Geez-diddy, go!

Once in the cars, I had to remind myself I was not a kid trying to impress someone…I was an old guy trying to impress someone! Some things just don’t change, I can’t stop selling.

The strange part of this journey was the time standing by myself led to the same wacky introspection that drove me to write Getting There in the first place. As I stood out there in the August liquid heat, my old life on the road, the novel and who I am today seemed to blend together into the deeply satisfying and yet absurd sensation. My mantra became: while I may never be able to make sense of the grand disorder of life, it doesn’t much matter, there is contentment in the nature of human discontent. You just need a sense of humor as the cipher for the ride.

And in spite of the potential for a deeply personal metaphysical examination (which also can be described as slap-happy drivel) this adventure confirmed the most basic and important part of living I have learned: There is a whole lot of funny stuff happening out there in the world!  The theme of the trip turned out to be: You can’t make this stuff up! Which isn’t going to stop me from trying.

My summary of the journey is that hitchhiking as an old guy provided a grand opportunity for boredom intertwined with the exhilaration of the road, peppered with re-connecting with old friends and meeting new road characters. All of this was under the familiar umbrella of laughter, my constant and treasured companion. And yes, the joke is still mostly on me.

Here’s how it went.

There’s a saying we use in my business: Hope is not a strategy.  What’s worse is a poor plan. Hitchhiking from Michigan to Florida in mid-August is a poor strategy and plan. Other than the sauna like conditions, I made some good decisions. Del Fishman, as he promised, showed up at 8:30 am and Kathy waved goodbye with smiling grimace as we sped off in Del’s red Mercedes convertible, willed to him by his dad. I had my trusty and musty Boy Scout canvas backpack with side and front pockets and a gold thumb sewed on by my sister Maryanne in 1972.  I only carried a copy of Getting There, an envelope with my itinerary, an apple, a payday, a bottle of water, a bag of peppermints, my sign, a small Dobbs kit with an arsenal of anti-inflammatories, sunscreen and a really ugly Detroit Tigers hat. In my pants pocket, I carried my brand new Droid X smart phone, which as my daughter Moira reminded me, was clearly smarter than me.

This time around, I was thoughtful enough to use any and all resources at my disposal. Moira flew in from her home in New York and co-piloted Kathy’s mini-van, which they christened The Comfort Station.  The plan was they would wait 3-4 hours and then drive behind me. Because I had interviews and bookstore signings planned in Cincinnati and Knoxville, I needed a back up in case I didn’t get picked up fast enough to make my appointments. This turned out to be a very good idea. So, even though this was a hitchhiking trip that might correctly be described as loony, a Comfort Station mini-van with a cooler and other goodies, a smart phone in my pocket, parka, a gold card and more than a few bucks in my wallet made this a far cry from hitchhiking with Jimmy Colombo to Yellowstone via Banff with $24.62 in my pocket.

But of course I digress, that’s what I do!

Del and I took off around 8:30 am, the top down in spite of threat of rain and headed out to I-75.  I can’t remember what we talked about, except that it wasn’t different than most conversations that this interesting Jew and salty ex-Catholic have been having for 40 years. It’s Del’s world and I do like spending time with him. We went over the Rouge River bridge, which is defining geographical point of interest for me and in Getting There. The worse it smells from the top of that bridge, the better the economy is doing. My sniffer on this trip tells me things are improving.

You can view nearly a century of industrial history from the bridge and it’s worth taking a drive over the bridge and through the neighborhoods, even to the wonderfully named Zug Island. I took my sons for this tour on a weekend day and saw colors in the fumes that don’t normally exist in nature. Other than this toe growing out of my forehead, I’m none the worse for wear. (Digression: a habit or disease?)

I was soon standing at Allen Road, waving goodbye to Del and watching my paparazzi brother David stalking me in the weeds of the right-of-way. Allen Park was always my go-to starting point for my hitchhiking trips, so it made sense to start with tradition, right? It took me a few minutes that the Allen Road on ramp had been re-routed into a service drive of sorts and it was a good mile walk to the actual entrance. I started to hike, sticking out my thumb to any car passing on the service drive. I saw the first of thousands of glances asking, “Whatcha doing out there kinda-old-guy?”

By the time I made it to the ramp, I could see this was not the ideal starting spot I remembered. And my first mistake was vividly clear. It was already 84 degrees and I was wearing blue jeans. Fifteen minutes into this trip and I was sweat soaked. So, I calmly took out my Droid and called my brother David.

“Uh, Dave, this isn’t working so well here, can you pick me up?”

“Didn’t you just get started, bro?”

David came and collected me and dropped me off at the next exit, which had a far longer and more visible ramp. This time I waved David off and strode forward with resolve, but alas, still soaking with renewed and fully open pores.

Now I was officially on the road!

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