Scratch That One Off the List

Several years ago a new term hit mainstream America thanks in large part to a Morgan Freeman/Jack Nicholson movie called The Bucket List. In short, a bucket list is a collection of goals (typically 10-15) that you want to accomplish before you die. In the movie, Jack Nicholson has been informed he doesn’t have much time to live, so he and Morgan Freeman set about accomplishing his bucket list

I have my own bucket list. Though not completely formalized. There are a few items I can’t quite decide whether they belong on this list or not.

As with most lists, the #1 item is the biggest, most important, and typically the hardest to accomplish. I suppose to participate in someone’s #1 bucket list item is as much an honor as completing your own.

Several years ago, my mother developed an attraction to lighthouses. She very much drawn to them. Paralleling their function to the sailor, to how God is with us. She has porcelain lighthouses, lighthouse paintings, lighthouse pictures….she loves her lighthouses! However, in all her affection for them, she had never been to one. There aren’t many lighthouses in the Midwest!

A few months ago she announced she would be coming down to visit the family for a few days in late September. Right away I began thinking “What if I took her to a lighthouse?” There are several along the Carolina coastlines. Most retired, but a few still operating. Unfortunately my wife and I already had plans that was going to limit my opportunity to Saturday – plus I wanted my mom to have plenty of time with the kids.

The initial plan was to go to the Outer Banks (about 6.5 hours away) and see Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras lighthouses. Cape Hatteras is the tallest lighthouse in the US. Perfect! All expressway. Get up early, return home late. No problem. And that was the plan for several weeks.

So my mom arrived on Wednesday, already knowing my plans for Saturday. However, there was a strong storm system moving into the Carolina coast. It threatened to leave substantial rain and high winds for 3 days. Saturday being one of those days. I kept watching the weather looking for a break on Saturday – but no such luck. By Friday the weather was projected to be 4 inches of rain and 40 mph gusts on the Outer Banks. That would be a miserable trip.

But what about South Carolina? I began looking and found a couple lighthouses that were within 6 hours. Perfect! So I told her about the itinerary change and set to leave the next morning at 5am.

Our morning started off with rain. Then more rain. I like rain, but I am not a fan of driving in it. But in her little car I hit the expressway bound for the SC coast. After a good breakfast at Cracker Barrel (as much Americana as lighthouses) we made the 6 hour trip to Beaufort, SC. Off the coast of Beaufort is a small island called Heading Island. On it is a 170’ lighthouse that is now retired. It was a beautiful drive through thick coastal foliage. The humidity was intense!

This was her first lighthouse. Her bucket list item was accomplished – but not completely over.

After an hour of hiking to the top of the lighthouse, souvenir shopping, and a stroll on the beach. We hopped in the car and set our eyes on the southern harbor of Charleston, SC.

Now, I like good coffee as well. I prefer lattes but have developed a liking for this Australian version called a Flat White. Back on the mainland we stopped at a small coffee shop where I ordered a latte. The barista completely dropped the ball. I was crushed….but got over it

After a two hour trek we arrived in the Charleston area, to be greeted by the aftermath of a tornado. Overnight a tornado ripped through a community on the south harbor. Trees were completely decapitated. The trunks of these very tall and rather old trees still stood, but their bushy tops had been ripped completely off. Several acres of one forest looked like expired matchsticks. The emergency vehicles were still on the scene. Yet a couple miles down – no signs of anything.

Finally we made it to the parking area for Morris Island Lighthouse. You park in a cul-de-sac and hike about 1/3 mile to the beach. The lighthouse sits out in the mouth of the harbor about 600 yards off the beach. It is a beautiful site. There is a reclamation project underway to relocate the lighthouse back on shore.

While admiring Morris Island we saw a light flicker on the opposite side of downtown Charleston. About 15 seconds later if flickered again. Was that another lighthouse??? I got on Google and found that Sullivan Island Lighthouse was located over there. It was about 45 minutes away. What the heck!

So we piled into the car and made our way over there, ahead of an ugly storm system. In the middle of a collection of beach houses and condos stood the tower. It was not a round tower like most lighthouses. Instead it had a square tower and at the top was the light. There was a chain link fence around the perimeter. My mom got some killer pictures as the sun was setting.

3 lighthouses! Scratch that off the bucket list!

On the way home I did get a flat white at Starbucks! It was done right.

Once we got north of Columbia we were greeted with strong rain. We had been relieved of dealing with horrible weather the whole day.

We pulled into the driveway at 9:30pm. A total of 16.5 hours on the road. But well worth it. If you took all the alone time she and I have had over the past several years, I am not sure it would add up to 16.5 hours.

Had she come down this weekend we couldn’t go anywhere along the coast because of Hurricane Joaquin. Perfect timing!

I highly doubt I will ever accomplish much on my bucket list, let alone the #1 item. But it was an equal joy to experience this with her.

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Nicknames

I absolutely love a good nickname. Guys love nicknames. Women…you need to get on board. My favorite nicknames are simple ones, and having been a sports fan my whole life, I have heard some great ones: Casey “Big Snack” Hampton, “Iron” Mike Tyson, Karl Malone “The Mailman”, Walter Peyton “Sweetness”, “Booger” McDaniels just to name a few off the top of my head

I read somewhere that a nickname (albeit a positive one) is a sign of endearment. It is actually a badge of honor. After giving it some thought, I believe this is absolutely true! My pets have always been given nicknames: Stink, Pork Lion, Muskrat Jones, Cognac, El Stupido the three foot torpedo. Even my kids have been cursed by my nicknames: my son is affectionately called “The Captain”

However, one of my favorites of all time came from my dad. From grades 8-11 I had a good friend named Scott. Scott, a very little guy, came from a tough background. His dad died when he was young. He ended up being raised by his mother, who was riddled with health problems and ~50 years older. Also living at her home was his two older brothers. Older by 20+ years and both severe alcoholics. One lived in the garage, the other was more or less a vagabond that bounced around from place to place. Or crashing on the couch

Scott was one grade higher than me. We met each other one summer during little league baseball. We had similar sense of humors and just clicked.

We lived about 2 miles from each other, but were separated by a busy road, so once I started driving in 1990 he and I were inseparable. If we weren’t out and about, we were at my home.

One day when I was getting ready to go pick him up to do something my dad said “Where are you and Rollo heading to tonight?” I recall where I was at in the living room when I heard him say it. “Rollo” that was great!

Rollo was a character from the 70s hit sitcom Sanford and Son. Fred Sanford’s (Redd Foxx) son Lamont (Demond Wilson) who in his 30s still lived at home, had a runaround buddy named Rollo Lawson (Nathaniel Taylor). Rollo was a shady character. Though he never really did anything wrong, you could tell he was a shady guy. Nothing too harmful (he liked taking Lamont to “skin flicks”), but you could tell he was not on the up-n-up. He would try to sell himself to Fred as a good guy – a grown up Boy Scout. But Fred knew better and would often call him a criminal. See the clips I’ve added below

So when my dad called Scott “Rollo” I died laughing. That evening I told Scott my dad referred to him as Rollo. He knew Sanford and Son as well and got a kick out of it. It was a perfect nickname. The nickname wasn’t meant to imply Scott was a shady character, it was a guy’s way of busting someone’s chops. We would enjoy it for a few years.

In the summer of 91 Scott went into the Army. It was that or probably end up like his brothers. We would keep in touch throughout basic training. Then he went to Korea and slowly our relationship faded.

It was rekindled in 1997 when he flew in unexpectedly from Alaska to be at his mom’s beside while her health faded. After a week she died. In 1998 I flew to Alaska to spend 10 days with him and his family.

In 1999 he moved to Fort Campbell and we visited a couple times, but the bond was weakening.

My wife and I married in 2003 (he was unable to attend). Then one Sunday evening during the summer of 2004 he called me to say that he had come home from a fishing trip (he was now divorced and living in Washington state with a girlfriend) to see his home completely empty. Long story short he asked for some money. I am not sure the exact amount, but I want to say he requested a thousand. I never felt good about the situation. Call it intuition, call it the Holy Spirit – but I didn’t have the warm-n-fuzzies. And I am a person who likes to give. After talking it over with my wife I sent him $300.

That was the last contact I ever had from him. He never called to acknowledge he had received the money, never answered emails I would later send.

Still to this day “Rollo” is the greatest nickname I have ever been associated with. It is going to be hard to top. As for me (Lamont), I hope Rollo he is doing well.

September 11

It was September 11……..1985. Cincinnati was buzzing because their hometown hero Pete Rose was one hit shy of breaking Ty Cobb’s longstanding hits record of 4,192 hits. Pete had returned to play for the Reds the year before as a player-manager. He was the heart-n-soul of the famous Big Red Machine. He grew up on the west side of Cincinnati, played for the Reds, lead them to multiple world series, was the hero of the 1970 All-Star game played in Cincinnati – then in the late 70s he was traded to Philadelphia. After a few years with the Phillies and a short stint with the Expos, Pete was back home.

The hits record was a monumental achievement. Ty Cobb had set the record when baseball was still in its infancy. Now Pete, some 70 years later was about to break his record.

Pete had tied the record on Sunday afternoon in Chicago, but instead of taking himself out of the game, he stayed in, and almost broke the record had the Cubs shortstop (Shawon Dunston) not made a brilliant play.

The Reds returned to Cincinnati to play the Padres. Monday night the Padres sent LaMarr Hoyt to the mound. Pete went 0-4 with two pop outs and two ground outs.

Tuesday night Eric Show (pronounced “ow”,like ow, I hurt my hand) took the mound. I was sitting at home just like much of Cincinnati when Pete, batting second came up. Marty Brennaman’s call says “he levels the bat a couple times…” then he smacked it into left field for the record breaking hit. It was euphoria! For what seemed like an eternity there was celebration on the field. But there was one scene that did somewhat steal the moment. It was Eric Show sitting somewhat dejected on the mound. There was instant buzz about his reaction to Pete’s moment. Obviously he knew that he would be forever remembered as the guy who gave up “the hit”. Even team mates scorned Show for his reaction

show

Eric Show after giving up Pete Rose’s record breaking hit

Finally things settled down and the game resumed. In fact later in the game Pete would get a triple with a shot to center.

What a magical night, right? Right?

Pete Rose, the hit king, would eventually be banned from baseball. After a 1989 investigation found him guilty of betting on the sport, he accepted an offer from baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti to be permanently banned from the game. This included no induction into the Hall of Fame. On August 24, 1989 Pete was officially banned from the sport where he was king

8 days later Bart Giamatti would die of a heart attack

One year later the Reds, who Pete had been manager of, won the World Series. Pete watched it from home

As for Eric Show. He would continue to pitch for a few more years with San Diego before finally ending his career in 1990. Not long after retirement Eric fell victim to substance abuse. He checked himself into a rehab facility in California in March 1994. On March 16 he was found dead in his room due to an overdose of crystal meth, heroin, and alcohol

The warm late summer Tuesday evening in Cincinnati will forever be etched in folks mind. “Where were you when Pete got his hit?”

In the end though I don’t think anyone “won”. Pete will probably never see Cooperstown. He has spent much of the past 25+ years going to trade shows and signing autographs. Giamatti died and Eric Show overdosed. One could even argue Cincinnati didn’t win either. The shame and frustration surrounding Pete over the last couple of decades has removed much of the magic from that Tuesday night.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday as well.

55 Percent

In 2012 I lost a kidney to cancer. The event came out of nowhere. I was watching football on the couch when at 3:30 I started experiencing some pain in my back. By 5:30 I was lying in bed trying to stretch and work out the pain. By 6:15 I was telling my wife to take me to the ER. By 8:30 I was being told there was a 13cm mass on my right kidney, and they were admitting me to monitor pain and blood loss.

The next day, when things had calmed down a bit, I began to reflect on everything. There was no way the mass was cancer. I don’t have cancer on either side of my family. I am a non-smoker. I was in the middle of training for a marathon….no way it was cancer. Later that afternoon my urologist came into the room, looked at the scans and said “You have renal cell carcinoma – kidney cancer. We have to go in and remove the whole kidney.” 11 days later I went in and had my kidney removed. It turned out to be stage II grade 2 cancer. It is believed that the mass had been in my body for ~10 years. Yet I had showed zero signs.

I recovered quickly from the surgery and within 6 weeks was back to my normal routine including lifting weights and running. Since my surgery I have gone into see the urologist for checkups. The first year I went every 4 months. Then he moved it to every 6 months. With my visit yesterday he is moving me to once a year. He even joked that we can now start getting a little cocky.

As I was leaving his office I asked him something that had been on my mind since that first visit in the hospital September 2012. I said “When you first looked at my scans you told me that what would happen is, you’d go in, remove the kidney and all would be well. How did you know all would be well?”

Very seriously he turned to me and said “I remember you were scared. In all honesty I felt you had about a 55% chance of making it. What good would it had done for me to say that to you?”

55% – yet when going under for the procedure I thought I was near 100%. Gulp

I got to my car in the parking lot, sat down and simply said “Thank you Lord”. All this time I had thought I had be fortunate by experiencing the pain when I did, which forced me to the ER that Sunday evening in September 2012. Turns out, I was in a whole lot more danger than I had thought.

Out of Nowhere

Will was part of a men’s group I’ve been attending since late 2008. He was there every week and ready to discuss whatever material we were supposed to have read the week before. Soft spoken, and a man of few words. Will was divorced (for 15 years) and had two lovely daughters. Both in high school that would often sit with him Sunday morning’s at church.

I noticed that Will lived alone and invited him over to our house for dinner one night in 2010. We also met for coffee a few times, just to chat and have guy talk. I liked spending time with Will. He was never one to talk bad about anyone and always had a gentle smile, a person very easy to spend a couple of hours with. Maybe that is what folks from Holland do (he was born and raised in the Netherlands).

In 2011 Will got excited because the Netherlands had reached the World Cup finals. He was a huge soccer fan, and on the day Netherlands played for the world championship (a Friday I do believe) he wore the most gaudy soccer jersey – Netherlands very bright orange jersey

That fall/winter, Will came to one of our meetings talking about how he had been demoted at work. He wasn’t quite sure why but knew something wasn’t right with himself. At first it was dismissed as depression and was placed on some medication for it. Brent, one of the guys in our group, would meet with Will at a local Starbucks on Saturday mornings. But slowly he began to miss these meetings, claiming he simply forgot.

We started to see a drop in attendance as well on Friday mornings. Then one day he told us, he was actually dealing with memory loss. He was on medication and it seemed to be doing some good, but there was concern from all of us.This was not what we had expected to hear.

Before long he was relegated to the most menial tasks at work. He felt (as did others) that he was basically being told to stay out of the way. His employer didn’t seem concerned with issues surrounding memory loss. Will had great pride, and this had to be a crushing blow to him.

Soon he quit showing up on Friday mornings

2013-14 the changes began to increase. If you were in the middle of a conversation with him, he would completely lose thought. Not in the way we are all guilty of, but in a way that frustrated him. He could tell that he was not able to hold a conversation and it frustrated/embarrassed him. There was no way to comfort him – what do you say in moments like that?

In early 2014 my wife and I were parking at church. Will volunteered to work the parking lot a couple Sunday’s out of each month. While parking the car we could see him wandering aimlessly around the parking lot. It was an extremely sad moment. It was evident that medicine wasn’t going to slow his demon down. It wasn’t long after that when I heard he lost his driving privileges.

The nanny of our neighbor is good friends with his oldest daughter (who is now in college). One day while talking with the neighbor lady she said “Did you hear about Will? He is now in a home for people suffering from memory loss.” Huh? I did some digging and sure enough he was in a facility about 25 miles from where I live. So I drove down there one Sunday afternoon to see him. He was by far the youngest person in the facility. A very nice place I would add, but your heart breaks when you go inside. And it is hard to conceal it. Before long I saw Will bouncing down the hall to give me a hug. We walked to a nearby Panera for coffee and lunch. During that first talk he said he understood why he was there, but felt he would be leaving soon. I knew better. Will wasn’t going anywhere

He expressed his frustrations. There was a lot of anger towards his employer. I just let him talk – or as Super Hero Russell says – I just loved on him

I’ve gone to see him about several times over the past year and unfortunately he is getting worst. During my visit a couple weeks ago I asked him how old he is. “Hmm…….80? No…70….yes 70” Turns out he is 57.

I asked him if there was anything he wanted to do with the men’s group. It took him at least 5 minutes to complete the thought – he wanted to go on another cruise with us. No such thing has ever occurred.

Then he asked me if I had any trouble finding the place – since it was supposedly my first trip down.

Of all the things I do to honor the Lord, I am absolutely convinced this is the thing that brings him the greatest joy. Spending an hour or two with Will each month. It is a learning experience for me. I have never been around dementia (Will is officially diagnosed with early onset dementia), Alzheimer’s or memory loss. I am blessed with the ability to converse. As one person has noted I have a gift to “unpack people” when conversing. So being with Will doesn’t bother me, but it does sadden me. I am grieved with what is going on with him. And it came out of nowhere. So rapid. And there is nothing that can be done.

Other than love on him