Artie and Tommy are Together Again

Writing my book, Always Look for the Magic, started out as an exercise to keep memories alive, to keep those stories that my dad told from disappearing. It turned out to be much more than that for me as I wrote and edited. It became a connection with my parents and their families before me. Especially Tommy (my Uncle Tom).

Uncle Tom passed into Heaven last month. My dad, Arthur, the big brother, has been there since last October. It is a comfort to know they are together again.

I grew up in Maryland and lived close to tons of relatives on both sides of the family. My parents grew up across the street from each other, so everyone knew everyone else. When I was six, we moved from the Baltimore area an hour away to near Andrews Air Force Base where my dad worked. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point, Uncle Tom, Aunt Audrey, and their three kids moved our way. We saw them a lot.

I know that as a kid I didn’t appreciate what was being built by those times together. It may have looked like eating dinner, playing badminton in the backyard, an epic game of Monopoly, or listening to the more musically inclined jamming in the basement; but it was family building blocks. Blocks of time that knitted us together.

Now we are all over the country. My three siblings and I and those three cousins all live in different states. Different regions, too. We don’t see each other often – in some cases it’s been over a decade.

Arthur and Tom, 1930

My cousin, Mark, and I have kept in contact more due to the fact that we both had our dads living with us and both had the privilege of being with them during those last days and weeks. We understood each other. It was comforting.

How does it work when you haven’t lived near each other in over forty years, that you can talk like best of friends? It works really well. For us, it’s aided by the fact that our dads both were Christians and we are, too. But I also know that somewhere deep in the foundations that were built when we were young, there was always a bridge to family. It’s like a draw bridge that you can lower and reach out to each other across the miles whenever you need to make the connections. It’s amazing.

I had a texting conversation with my cousins that lasted nearly two hours. We sent each other pictures and reconnected where necessary. We joked around and made fun of each other. I laughed and I cried. What a gift!

As a tribute to my Uncle Tom, I want you to know that he was a truly wonderful uncle. When Bob and I moved my parents into our house last September, he was on the phone to me with unsolicited (but good) counsel. “Bonnie, it’s not easy living with old people,” he told me.

I’m not sure if that was a quote that he picked up from my cousin when they moved under the same roof or if down in his basement he kept an even older person than his 88-year-old self, but I appreciated his call.

“Remember,” he warned, “it’s your house. You don’t need to change everything for them.”

Hum, I wondered, what had it been like for my poor cousin and uncle during their transition? I’ll be sure to never ask!

“Also, my brother can be difficult,” he added.

Can’t we all!

After my dad died, Uncle Tom called my mom about three times a week to check on her. They had been like best friends/siblings growing up together. They shared their love for the Baltimore Orioles and music and, of course, my dad.

As my father’s hearing reached the point that made telephone calls difficult, Uncle Tom and Mom did most of the communicating, especially during baseball season. Uncle Tom would call and complain about the Orioles or they’d relive the highlights of a victory.

Two of my own sons are Oriole fans like their grandmother and uncle. Eleven years ago, our son Jesse was growing concerned that his grandmother had not been to Camden Yards since its opening in 1992, so we made it happen.

Of course, we took Uncle Tom with us to the ballgame. This was the first up-close-and-personal experience that Jesse had with his great-uncle. It was love at first sight as Uncle Tom let Miguel Tejada have it for messing up at shortstop – standing up and booing him and telling anyone who would listen that the Orioles should get rid of him (in so many words). Since my dad was more of a fan-by-marriage, Jesse had never experienced a rabid Oriole fan of the male persuasion. It made his day.

What a fond memory that is for me – four generations at the iconic ballpark bonding over the Baltimore Orioles.

More important than his love for the Orioles, he was a prayer warrior and vocal about his walk with Jesus. I liked the way he referred to my dad as his big brother. I also can’t forget hearing him call his two sons “the beauties.” He was always part of my life whether near or far. I will miss him.

Sweating the Small Stuff

I know you’re not supposed to eat late at night, but last Friday our late-night snack turned out to be a good thing. Bob and I were watching TV and it was almost bedtime when I realized I was hungry. I grabbed a banana, an unusually healthy choice. Bob headed to the pantry to take inventory. I heard a muffled noise from the pantry, which is around the corner. It’s hard to spell these things but it sounded something like “whoa, whoa, mwahhhhhhhhh!” and was followed by silence.

“Bob,” I repeated three times as I went toward the sound. But Bob was no longer in front of the pantry. Bob was in the family room and assured me he was okay. Okay for a man who had just had a mouse run across his bare foot. (I know it’s awful of me, but I was glad Bob discovered our intruder. He handles those things much better than I do.)

Acceptable Garden Mouse

Acceptable Garden Mouse

So, you know that saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.”? I don’t think they were talking about a mouse in your house. I could feel anxious beads of sweat (also small) break out on my furrowed brow. This was another first for us – a rodent in the house.

We have been talking about our Bucket List of things to do while we still have the energy to do them. Extracting a mouse from the house did not make the list. Even if it did, we would not want to start on that project at 11:00 on a Friday night. And when I say “we,” I mean Bob.

I would have been happy for him to get right to it, but he wanted to go to bed. Bed – the place where you sleep. The place where a little mouse could come and crawl over you while you sleep. Maybe we should pull an all-nighter and do some serious binge watching.

Bob, in his even-tempered way, assured me that the mouse went to the opposite side of the house from our bedroom. He was certain it wouldn’t come near us. Neither of us has any experience with this, and I am always amazed at the things that Bob knows about and wonder where he acquired his vast array of knowledge. Still, I had a feeling that Bob was pulling a “B. J. Surhoff.”

Sidebar – B. J. Surhoff used to play baseball for the Orioles. Bob is very good at stating facts like he has no doubt about their authenticity. For instance, when the kids were growing up, we used to collect baseball cards. Being from Baltimore, we raised our children to be Oriole fans, so those were the prized cards. One day one of the children asked if we knew what B. J. stood for. Without batting an eye, Bob said, “Brian James.” We all believed him. Why shouldn’t we?

Years later, we learned that Mr. Surhoff’s name is really William (Billy) James, hence the initials. I have to give Bob credit for being close and credit for giving that assured “dad” answer, but he lost some credibility. Plus, we all love to bring that up whenever we get the opportunity.

So, he admitted that his was an educated guess about the tendencies of mice as well as an effort to get some sleep. I stuffed a towel under the bedroom door and slept like a baby. (Thank you, Jesus.)

Do you see a mouse in this picture?

Do you see a mouse in this picture?

I think the mouse slipped in while we were having tree and shrub work done last Thursday. We must have disturbed his environment; and with all the going in and out I was doing, he found an opportunity.

Not to brag, but the weather down here in Orlando is so amazing right now that we have had all of the French doors open to our pool. We think the little guy must have made a break for it, because there has been no sign of him, which is comforting and a little disconcerting all at once. We have traps set with peanut butter crackers in them, but no mice have been caught. I will confess that the smell of peanut butter makes me want a snack, but I will resist. After all, that’s how this whole thing started.

Famous People Who Almost Know Me

This morning for some strange reason, I started trying to list in my mind all of the famous people I have come in contact with.  I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that I’ve been watching the Orioles in their pennant race and listening to Jim Palmer do color commentary during the games.  I once met Jim.  I’m sure he remembers.  Anyway, here is the resultant list of famous people who almost know me and the moments when we sort of met.

#1 – My Ah-choo Moment – One day I was walking through the mall and I heard a sneeze.  To my surprise it came from Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson.  Now normally I would never (probably never) approach a celebrity while out with his family, but you can’t let a sneeze just hang there without a proper caring response.  So, yes, I was able to give Jameer a blessing – a “God bless you” blessing.  Surely that would not count as an invasion of privacy.  Now since I am a fan, and I’m old enough to be his mother; and especially since this happened during the play-offs, I added, “You need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.  We need you to stay healthy.”  He thanked me.  I’m counting that as a conversation with an NBA superstar.

Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

#2 – My Stand-Out Moment – Traveling home on a plane from Atlanta, I was in coach sandwiched between my husband and a young man of about twenty.  As I engaged him in conversation, I discovered he was a close friend of Dwight Howard and was, in fact, traveling with Dwight, who was enjoying the additional leg room offered in first class.  Dwight would often fly this fellow back to Atlanta with him so that they could both visit their families and friends there.  I think that’s pretty stand-out of Dwight – it could only be sweeter if he flew him first class, too.  As we disembarked, we saw Dwight sitting on a bench with his buddy.  Dwight’s knees were under his chin.  He was way too tall for that bench which was designed for mere mortals.  Of course, the entire story is now tainted by Dwight’s inexcusable flight from Orlando to Los Angeles, but since I did wave goodbye to my new friend as he sat with Dwight, this still counts as Dwight almost meeting me.

#3 – My Jab-in-the-Ribs Moment – A few years ago while visiting Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the stadium of my beloved Baltimore Orioles, I was thrilled to see All-Star first baseman Boog Powell manning his restaurant under the green tent behind the centerfield bleachers.  Boog’s BBQ is famous for ribs and, of course, barbeque.  The big man himself was happily greeting passersby and I was able to introduce myself to him and shake his beefy hand.  I spent my tenth birthday watching him and the rest of the 1966 Orioles playing at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.  My mother is the quintessential Oriole fan and has pioneered the art of fandom in our family, so this was quite the day for me.

#4 – My Squirrelly Moment – Bob Ross is best known as the painter of “happy little trees” who offers painting lessons on “The Joy of Painting,” but he is lesser known as the guy to whom kids took injured squirrels.  Bob Ross died in 1995, but before that time he was a resident of our little neighborhood.  I did not know that he had an affinity for needy squirrels and birds, but my kids figured it out.  They had witnessed him opening his front door to them with a squirrel on his shoulder.  I never met him myself, but I’m counting him.  We still refer to his house as “The Bob Ross House.”

Bob Ross
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

#5 – My Hall-of-Fame Moment – Back in the 1983, Oriole pitcher and now baseball Hall of Fame member, Jim Palmer, endorsed Jockey Underwear.  He was making an appearance at the local mall, and I made it my mission to get his autograph for my mother.  I strapped my daughter in the stroller and took my four-year-old son by the hand and waited in the long line.  Thankfully the kids were happy, so happy that the local news station caught us on film and we made the six o’clock news that night.  “We” is an overstatement though, as it was only my daughter and I who were on the news.  My son was brokenhearted as he watched and there was not a glimpse of him.  I’m pretty sure that was the birth of sibling rivalry in my family.

How about you?  Who is on your list of famous people who almost know you?