Monday, October 25, 2010

Another season gone...

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." Bart Giamatti

As always, especially later in life, my dad would have been enthralled by this past baseball season. I regret the times I drove by the house in the evening, saw him through the front window watching the Yankees on tv, and did not walk over to watch a few innings together. We would talk about the games, however, and I kept current only so I could. Now that he is gone, I have absolutely no interest, but note that his beloved Yankees have fallen.

It would have made for a lively conversation.

Here's one of my dad's takes on the baseball season:

Bart Giamatti would have loved it, the scramble down to the wire, a pair of titans locked in mortal combat, sun drenched afternoons holding off the cold rains as perennial to New England as the glory of its foliage. Heroes all over the lot. Boston and New York at it again.

He thought often of Giamatti as he watched the Yankees and the Red Sox extend their torrid race for a divisional championship down to the final two days of the season. A. Bartlett Giamatti, the Renaissance scholar and former president of Yale, who gave up his brilliant academic career to take on the turbulent job of commissioner of major league baseball, would have loved the drama of it, if not the outcome. He never successfully hid his love of the Red Sox but screened it with his love of the game itself.

He had written eloquently of the game he loved. “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything begins again and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."

“You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high sky alive , and then, when the skies are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. It stops and summer is gone.”

He would have liked to reassure Giamatti, who sadly enough died from a heart attack in 1989, that none of it had stopped this year, at least. The Yankees won their division and thus qualified for the playoffs but the Red Sox also qualified by beating New York the next day and qualifying as the “wild card” entry as a result of their having he highest win/lost percentage outside the leaders in each of the league’s three divisions.

So now he had at least two more weeks of the extended season to look forward to. He fully expected the New York team to ultimately win back the championship they had lost to Boston the previous year. If they do, he fully expected to hear the ghostly voice of Giamatti cry out in anguish while he derided himself for caring so much while others could pass on without a whimper.

“There are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough ones who can live without illusion or even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.”

He could hardly wait for the playoffs to start.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Out of the blue, our boy Harlan turns out to be a thrill seeker. Well, at least a seeker of thrills at the Dutchess County Fair and nearby Lake Quassy and Lake Compounce. Unfortunately, he's still so small there's no way he's riding these things alone...which means either Ilsa or I must ride with him...guess who wins that one!

I kept my eyes closed and my thoughts calm while regretting the recently consumed deep fried pickles and milk shakes. I wasn't sure I'd survive some whirling, spinning, plunging ride at Quassy, and then I looked over to see the look of pure joy on Harlan's face. I wish I hadn't, because then I wouldn't have given in to his cries of "Again, Papa, again!!!" when it was mercifully over.

Anyway, during this summer of thrills, I often thought of this piece from my dad, and am hit with regret once again at all the questions I never asked:

Traug Keller

I had a call recently from Dick Abel, an old friend and classmate. He and I had been in grade school together and later at St. Ignatius, the Jesuit high school in Cleveland. Dick had gone on to become a decorated general in the Air Force, retired last year and had just published a book on Leadership. He said he had run into a mutual friend who told him I was having some trouble and he was calling to see how I was doing. The last time I’d seen Dick was in Cleveland in 2006 at our 45th high school reunion when I was still mobile. That’s a funny story.

We had once been close friends. In the summer of the year before we went into the eighth-grade he and I had been allowed to take a trip together to New York to visit my grandmother, a stern old gal whose attraction for me was her two grown daughters who lived with her in her Brooklyn brownstone on East. 12th St. Patricia and Josephine, Patty and Bo we called them. They were lively and funny with lots of stories to tell about life in Brooklyn. Patty was the older of the two and had been in the Navy during the war. She was sharp witted and irreverent and kept us in stitches most days, not an easy task given the somber mood of my grandmother who had never fully recovered from her husband’s tragic death under a subway train nearly 20 years earlier.

It was pretty exciting for the two of us, a couple of eighth graders going alone to the big city. It was a great train ride in those days. There were Porters who guided us and seated us for lunch in a dining car with crisp white tablecloths and gorgeous glasses and silverware. The whole scene left us speechless though we weren’t about to admit it. We were a couple of cool dudes on our way to Big Town and it would have taken a lot to deflate our balloon. We managed to find our way through the menu with some help from a smiling waiter .We both had fried chicken and agreed it was the best we’d ever had. We showed our appreciation for the great help the waiter had given us by leaving him a 15-cent tip, after haggling back and forth about maybe being too generous.

The ride had been so grand we were almost sad to see it end. The porters saw us off the train and made sure we were headed in the right direction. We figured that the word must have gotten out from the waiter in the dining room about our generosity.
Patty and Bo met us at Grand Central and they were so welcoming we knew we were in for a great time. They took us to Prospect Park one day; to Ebbets field another day and that was fun but mostly we stayed around the neighborhood and soaked up a lot of the things that were different between Brooklyn and Cleveland. It was fun just listening to people talk. “Brooklynese,” Patty called it.

Other things, too. Like a wagon selling vegetables that would pull up in front of the house, and another one for sharpening knives and one that kept calling for trash. They didn’t have things like that in Cleveland. We hung around the house mostly for the first several days and then asked about going to Coney Island, which we had both heard about We asked the girls if we could go and they agreed. The next day they put us on a subway heading toward Coney Island with careful instructions about when to get off and how to get to the amusement park from the subway stop. The last words from the gals before we left my grandmother’s were to enjoy ourselves but not to go on the parachute jump because the ride was frightening.

The first thing we did at Coney Island was to look for the parachute jump. What a sight! It was higher than a football field is long and towered above us like some steel-ribbed giant. We watched as people came down off the ride screaming and hollering and looking as though they’d had a wonderful time. We couldn't wait to go on and so we did.

We sat in the same canvas chair wedged together and were hoisted up and up and when we were close to the top I remember looking around and you could see all of Brooklyn and the ocean and it was for a few seconds a place like no other in this world . Then we hit the top and started down and our stomachs disappeared. We were in free fall for the first 60 feet that lasted at least an eternity. We both knew we’d never stop falling and I remember thinking, God what have we done and then the cables caught hold and we began to drift down toward earth. The sun still shone, the ocean was still beautiful and blue off to the east and we were alive. Alive. It was so peaceful. Except…

Next to me Dick was shrieking like someone had done him grievous harm and there was no one around to help. I had to shush him and nudge him in the ribs a couple of times before he stopped and then we landed and Dick climbed off the chair and regained his old cocky self. I asked him about his tizzy fit later but he was quick to change the subject and I left it alone.
A couple of days later we again climbed aboard the New York Central train and were whisked back to Cleveland. Dick and I remained friends but we were never as close. He was on the football team and I played 00 basketball. We hung around with different crowds.

Then in 2006, I ran into him at our 45th high school reunion. He was kind of the toast of the group, a tall, tanned still sandy-haired, still youthful looking general in the Air Force. A Vietnam hero. Everybody was showering him with accolades. He was being praised to the rafters. It was getting downright tacky.

I stood up, quieted the crowd, and told the Coney Island story. Hell, I embellished it. The group broke up. There were catcalls, cries to have him stripped of his medals, jeers about his manhood.

Then the general stood up. He looked like he could still run 100 yards in full gear in under 10 seconds. The crowd quieted and he began to talk. “Hell, Traug,” he said. “Memory certainly does play funny tricks. The way it was, you were doing so much screaming, the attendants came rushing over to calm you down. They were afraid you’d drive people away.”
The class erupted again. No question who they believed. They heaped shame on me. I slunk away.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


George Steinbrenner died and so many memories flood forth…

My brother Matt was a fervent Yankee fan in his youth, and we spent many a summer afternoon watching the Yankees play games on Channel 11. WPIX. Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, and Frank Messer announced the games with such offhand style and wit that even 10 year old boys could hear the poetry in it. Someone put Rizzuto’s ramblings into verse a few years ago, and it’s lovely. Here’s a sample:

Prayer for the Captain

There's a little prayer I always say

Whenever I think of my family or when I'm flying,

When I'm afraid, and I am afraid of flying.

It's just a little one. You can say it no matter what,

Whether you're Catholic or Jewish or Protestant or


And I've probably said it a thousand times

Since I heard the news on Thurman Munson.

It's not trying to be maudlin or anything.

His Eminence, Cardinal Cooke, is going to come out

And say a little prayer for Thurman Munson.

But this is just a little one I say time and time again,

It's just: Angel of God, Thurman's guardian dear,

To whom his love commits him here there or everywhere,

Ever this night and day be at his side,

To light and guard, to rule and guide.

For some reason it makes me feel like I'm talking to


Or whoever's name you put in there,

Whether it be my wife or any of my children, my parents

or anything.

It's just something to keep you really from going bananas.

Because if you let this,

If you keep thinking about what happened, and you can't

understand it,

That's what really drives you to despair.

Faith. You gotta have faith.

You know, they say time heals all wounds,

And I don't quite agree with that a hundred percent.

It gets you to cope with wounds.

You carry them the rest of your life.

My dad was never a big Steinbrenner fan, mostly because of things like this:

Some Thoughts on George…Traug Keller

The New York Yankees handling of the Joe Torre “resignation” started some memory chords humming for me last week. The situation had George Steinbrenner’s and, peripherally, his two sons’ clumsy hands all over the deal. It’s a story much in the sports news these days and I’ve been hopeful that the full Steinbrenner story would emerge.

A friend of mine once wrote George Steinbrenner a letter after the New York Yankees owner had fired Billy Martin for the fifth time. “Mr. Steinbrenner,” he wrote. “You are a horse’s ass. Sincerely, Peter Hillyer.”

Pete had shown me a copy of the letter and asked what I thought of if. “It’s okay,” I said, “but not strong enough.” Pete asked me why I felt that way about George who as far as he knew had never spoken ill of me. So I told him. My Steinbrenner story goes back nearly 50 years.

“I was working for a public relations agency in Cleveland in the early sixties and I ran into a former associate of mine at the CLEVELAND PRESS, Ben Fleiger. Ben had left the newspaper to become General Manager of the Cleveland Pipers, an entry in the newly formed American Basketball Association. George Steinbrenner, a Clevelander, had bought the team.

“How goes it with you, Ben?” I asked. He and I had always been friendly at the paper. He had covered the Indians and I had been the swing man in the department, covering high schools, harness racing and basketball among other things. I had broken the story about Cleveland getting an ABA franchise under Steinbrenner’s ownership. I could see that Ben was nervous and kept looking around to make sure nobody could hear him but he was clearly anxious to talk further.

“Look, why don’t we sit down and have a cup of coffee,” Ben said. “I’ll tell you a few things.”

Once we got settled in a booth Ben began to unburden himself about Steinbrenner.

“He’s a beast of a man,” Ben started. “He holds back people’s paychecks ‘till it suits his mood. He explodes at the drop of a hat and he fires people without a second thought. He is pompous, vain and arrogant. You ought to see how he treats John McLendon.”

This got my attention. John McLendon, the coach of the Pipers, had been a favorite of mine when I was covering the Pipers. He had come to Cleveland from Tennessee State where he consistently won national small college championships. He was the first college basketball coach ever to win three consecutive national titles and he was the first black coach ever in professional basketball.

He was a big leaguer in every sense of the word. Trim and dapper, soft spoken but with an aura about him that commanded respect, he was his own man. He coached the Pipers first in their formation as an amateur entry in the National Industrial Basketball League, which was a notch below the pros, and built the squad that would move into the ABA the following season.

But not with him at the helm. He lasted just half a season. He quit the Pipers when Steinbrenner insisted he would not pay the players if they did not win the playoffs that year. He didn’t need the work. He became Cleveland State University’s athletic adviser and basketball coach.

Years later Buck Showalter, a Yankees manager, quit after being backed into the same kind of corner that McLendon had felt he was being put in and that Joe Torre resigned over. McLendon put it clearly to Harvey Araton of the TIMES in 1995, “The thing I would tell anyone who has experienced George is that you can’t let him destroy you. He has that need—I now call it the Steinbrenner syndrome—to take credit for everything. You have to be amused by it, then move on to better days.”

Better days, indeed for John McLendon; he became a member of the U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee in 1966 and the Olympic coaching staff in l968 and 1972. He was named to the basketball Hall of Fame in 1978

Meantime, the Steinbrenner dynasty rolls on: George entering the twilight and two sons who had, at least, acquiesced in the Torre “resignation”.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A visitor to the garden yesterday was wearing an old fashioned Philadelphia Phillies cap, and I was immediately flooded with memories from my youth of my passion for baseball and the Phillies and statistics and the drama of sports. I've let that all go in my recent adult life, though I suspect if Harlan takes an interest I may again, too.

In thinking of all that, I remembered this piece my Dad wrote. It covers a lot of ground in a few paragraphs, and the first line in which he admits the genesis of his story is a piece he read in the New York Times reminded me of something outgoing poet laureate Kay Ryan recently said when asked what she would be doing with her time now.

“I plan to do a lot more bicycle riding. I got a beautiful new bike and am looking forward to riding it more. I also want to do more woolgathering—idle rumination, daydreaming—which is absolutely essential for poetry, and which I can do on the bicycle.”

My dad was a great woolgatherer, and a story in the Times or in a magazine would often prompt his woolgathering. An image I still see often when walking through the garden in the mornings is of my dad in his golf cart, a section of the paper on the seat next to him or on his lap, while he stares off over the marsh: gathering wool.

The Night They Closed Toot Shor's, by Traug Keller

It was a long Sunday piece in the New York Times and what caught my eye was the picture of a smiling Toots Shor, whisky glass in hand perched on a stool at the bar in his famous bistro. The story was written by his granddaughter, Kristi Jacobson, who is producing a documentary on Toots and his legendary New York pub. It reminded me of a long ago story about the place and the memorable “Night they closed Toots Shors.”

Shor’s was a New York landmark, a bistro where sportswriters and athletes and assorted celebrities flocked to get a good drink and a solid meal. It was the watering hole of choice for the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Jack Dempsey and a legion of other highlighters who savored the hug and handshake they’d get from Toots himself when they stepped across his threshold.

It was 1958 and I was a young sportswriter in Cleveland taking my turn working the night sports desk at The Cleveland Press. That meant, among other things, reading the AP and UPI sports wires which each night clanked out yards of sports copy for their client newspapers across the country. I’d select those stories of interest to Cleveland readers, editing and sending them on to the typesetters downstairs so that, when the sports department makeup man arrived in the morning, he’d have an ample supply of wire copy galley proofs to go with local stories the department members had written.

It was also up to the night desk man to handle the incoming stories from department members who were on the road covering out-of town games. That included making sure the incoming copy from the sports columnist had arrived, was read, edited and formatted for that very large space down the left hand side of the first sports page.

A fellow named Frank Gibbons was the paper’s sports columnist at the time. Gibby was an oversize character who was as good as you get in the business. He was an exquisite writer with a sharp reportorial sense, and he combined the two to produce some memorable columns

He also drank his share and then a bit and I’d often run into him in the late-hour drink spots on Cleveland’s famed Short Vincent St., a favorite venue for horseplayers and other interesting types. As often as not, he’d be carrying at least half a load when I’d see him, and I often wondered how he carried it off while turning out some 750 words six days a week. He was always glad to see me and would inevitably buy me a drink. He’d make it seem like we were fellow travelers on one of life’s rockier roads.

It was on one of those nights that he told me he was leaving for New York the next morning to be on hand for the closing of Toots Shor’s, a favorite spot of his and one he visited every time he was in New York. I wished him well and told him I’d be working the desk and would look for his column. He promised to file early before he got on to saying goodby to Toots properly.

Along about 2:00 a.m. the next morning I began to worry. No column from Gibby and no word about when it would be coming. Meantime, the wires had been filled with stories about the closing of the pub, all of them carrying in their lead the line, “the night they closed Toots Shor’s.” Some of it got to be downright sloppy, a bunch of tired sportswriters sounding as though they’d lost their best friend and for all I knew maybe they had.

By 4:30 that morning I was desperate. Still no Gibby and still no word. I feared the consequences to Gibby for failing to deliver the column, a real no-no in the newspaper business, and I had sympathy for the morning crew who would be facing that huge hole on the first sports page. All I could figure was that Gibby had tied one on at the closing and wasn’t in shape to file.

I began pulling the wire stories together, stealing a bit here, a piece there and weaving it all together with Gibbons-like prose. By 5:00 I sent it off to the composing room under Gibby’s by line with the headline-what else-“The night they closed Toots Shor’s.” I prayed it would pass muster with Bob August, the sports editor, who had an eagle eye for style. I was getting ready to go home when the phone rang.

It was Gibby. “Where the hell have you been?” I railed at him.

“Just take it easy, boy,” he said. “I was up to see Roy Campanella in the hospital. He’s still in there from that car crash in January. He’ll live but won’t ever play ball again and just maybe he’ll walk some day. Now take this down and slug it, “Gibbon’s Saturday Column”. Then he started to dictate and with the phone tucked under my chin I typed as Gibby began his piece.

“New York is a city filled with magic and misery. On the high end of the misery scale it’s a two-ton automobile that crushes even a strong man’s legs.”

He then went on for the next 15 minutes dictating the column to me and when he was done had me read it back to him. It was a magical piece, filled with Campanella’s words and emotions, tied together by Gibby’s splendid prose, the kind of copy that the Red Smiths and the Ring Lardners and the like would turn out on one of their good days. Snatches of it still linger in my mind and to this day I can recall with great clarity my thoughts and emotions on that early morning graveyard shift as I typed Gibby’s words, the only sound the teletype machines clattering in the background. He traced Campanella’s early background as the son of a white mother and black father, his years with the Brooklyn Dodgers and his trials as a black man forced to endure the same kind of racial heat that his teammate Jackie Robinson took, the two of them black together in Branch Ricky’s noble experiment.

“What do you think?” Gibby asked when he was done.

“Not bad,” I gulped. “I’ll send it down.”

I had to scramble to recover the earlier version I had sent to the composing room.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The first Saturday in May.

Well, here we are, the first Saturday in May without my Dad. He was a lifelong horse racing fan, and Derby Day was a favorite. His enthusiasm was contagious, and we always found ourselves interested in the race. A particularly happy memory is of the time my mom and dad and Ilsa and the three New Canaan Keller kids and I visited Mecca: the OTB in Brewster on the afternoon of the race. No one won a dime, but we couldn't have had a better time.

There are two very fine versions of a short story in my dad's collection about the track; my good friend Geoffrey Nielsen wants to name a hedge fund "Two Dollar Winner" in honor of one of them. My father could have lived several alternative lives, and life as a down-and-outer at the track was one of them, as was the life of a sportswriter covering the races. When I was very young, he turned me on to Stephen Crist, then the New York Times racing writer. He was without peer, and reading his blog ( today, I was shocked to find it has been 20 years since he left the Times. I remember clearly talking to my father about it at the time.

Here's a piece he penned after last year's spectacular race. It's my dad at his best: short, sweet, to the point--a glance back in time, a shrug. What's the journalist's term for the last line of an article? Whatever it may be, my dad was a master.

I've included an audio bit of my dad reading this piece sometime this past year. The initial quality is a bit rough, but it improves greatly. I think I will likely listen to it a thousand times. And tomorrow, for sure, I'm going to OTB.

The First Saturday in May, by Traug Keller

The first Saturday in May has always been a red letter day for me and I make sure I carve out a spot to watch the Kentucky Derby in peace. This year’s Derby was no exception and I was rewarded by a masterpiece of a race won by a long shot hardscrabble horse named Mine that Bird, ridden by a hardscrabble jockey from Arkansas named Calvin Borel.

As always, the race produced some excellent writing and this year it was Joe Drape of the NEW YORK TIMES. Writing the overnight story Drape wrote:

“Sometimes this game brings you to tears. Sometimes it feels right to be wrong. And always it is better than O.K. when a man in a black cowboy hat and an almost-handlebar mustache, a Cajun jockey with more horse sense than book sense, and a scrawny $9,500 gelding sends tears streaming down your face.”

That caught it just right for the sentimentalists among us. For me, the Derby has always been more than just a horse race. It’s a memory trip back to good times and long, passionate discussions about horses and good writing.

I got into the newspaper and sports writing business because a friend of mine named Bill Braucher was writing horses at a small newspaper outside Cleveland. He was a fine writer and never better than when he was writing about the racing scene. His stuff had come to the attention of no less an icon than Red Smith, the great TIMES sports columnist, who promised him the racing beat in New York when Joe Nichols passed on or retired.

Well, Joe Nichols hung on forever and finally Bill grew tired of waiting and was offered a job with the MIAMI HERALD covering the Hialeah and Gulfstream tracks, which he did for a number of years. Later he was tapped to cover the Miami Dolphins when Don Shula was named coach. Bill and Shula had been classmates at John Carroll University. When the Dolphins won the NFL championship, Bill wrote a book about it called PROMISES TO KEEP. It was a good read and was written in Bill’s fine narrative hand. He later wrote a book called NO CHEERING IN THE PRESS BOX, which made pretty clear the distinction between objective reporting and being a cheerleader for your hometown interests. That would be a worthwhile read for the television people these days.

Bill’s father had been a sportswriter who had some drinking problems, injured himself and couldn’t travel with the teams. He then wrote for the NEA producing the copy for the cartoon, OUR BOARDING HOUSE, for many years. Bill had his own share of drinking problems, as did most of us who spent too much time in saloons. I was never able to get the racing beat at the CLEVELAND PRESS where I worked as a sportswriter. That job was held by a dapper little guy named Isi Newborn who picked up a measure of national prominence by picking Dark Star over Native Dancer to win the 1953 Derby at huge odds.

Bill died of cancer a couple of years ago and Isi is long gone.

I think of them both at Derby time each year.

Update: Ilsa and I took Harlan and cousin Henry to OTB. We bet 5 horses to win...including the winner!!!!! Net profits: $35, immediately spent on dinner and ice cream. Thanks, Pops, for guiding our picks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Great Trip

There's my dad, a freshman in college, just a couple of years older than his age in the story he recounts below. I heard this story many times, and I'm sure my brothers did, too. Each retelling would focus on whatever element he hoped would convey the import of the lesson he was trying to pass along. My father never offered unsolicited advice--he believed in the power of anecdotal evidence. He also believed that while he often knew what was best for us, we'd ultimately have to figure it out for ourselves...which we sometimes do.

A Great Trip, by Traug Keller

It wasn’t much, but it was the best I could do on short notice, I’d told my wife Terry later.

The six of them were sitting around the dinner table after one of Terry’s great meals –the Kennedys and the Johnsons, and they got to talking about great trips they’d taken. Each one was better than the one before it. The Kennedys talked about their long-ago honeymoon cruise to the Greek Islands, the Johnson’s had a great story to tell about their Alaska cruise and his wife topped them all with her account of a solo trip she’d made recently to some Eastern European countries. She’d gone by herself, because I wasn’t doing much traveling these days because of some health problems and she was born with the traveling bug. Not that it bothered me, I’ve done enough traveling and there wasn’t any way I could keep up with the rigorous pace Terry sets on these trips. So I begged off.

But Tom Kennedy kept poking away and stressing the fact that it didn’t have to be recent, just the best ever. So I started in and as I told my wife later, I just got carried away as one thing led to another.

“Long time ago and nothing like your trips,” I said, “but I certainly do remember it well.”

“It was back in the late Forties, maybe even 1950. It was the summer before my junior year in high school. Farley Gallagher and I were hanging around Rosine McLaughlin’s house one warm evening. We were sitting on the front porch, trying to win Rosine’s favor, both of us no doubt, while we groused about not being able to find a job for the summer. The economy had slowed just a touch that year after the breakneck pace of the years right after the war.

We were probably talking a little loudly, each of us trying to look like the sharper go-getter in Rosine’s eyes, I guess. Then this fellow from next door pops onto the porch and Rosine introduces him as Mr. Carlson who owned a paint factory on the east side of town. He said he’d heard us talking about having trouble finding a job and he’d come over to see if we might like to work for him that summer mixing paint.

“Well, we’ve never mixed paint before but we’re quick learners,” Farley told him and I jumped in to let him know that we were both taking the Classical Course at the Jesuit high school and, hey, if you can learn Greek, you can learn to mix paint. I guess we impressed him with our credentials and we agreed that $1.50 an hour would be fine and arranged to meet him at his plant on E.55th St. the next morning at 7:30 to start mixing paint.

Oh boy. Did we mix paint! The way it worked was you would sit on a 50 gallon can of paint and pull another 50 gallon can in front of you, uncap the can, plunge your mixer in and start turning, 100 turns of the paddle per can to make sure each was thoroughly mixed . When you were finished you cleaned your paddle and pulled over another 50 gallon can. The cans were on an assembly line that looked like it went out the door and all the way across Lake Erie. We shared mixing duties with two other fellows from 55th St., neither of whom were studying Greek.

Farley and I lasted to the middle of August. Sitting across from each other mixing paint we’d cooked up a plan to take a driving trip after we’d accumulated enough money. Farley said his dad, who was a big deal doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, had agreed to let Farley use his Buick for the trip. He had another car, Farley told me. He even gave us some travel material about Maine and one of the things we learned was that if you hiked to the top of Mt. Cadillac you could be the first in the entire country to see the sun rise. Wow. We decided to do that.

We got side tracked the first day out in New Hampshire when we saw a sign for a State Fair. At the Fair we saw a tent with a barker in front urging passers by to see “the lovely Bonnie Ray in all her glory.” Farley said that meant she was naked and we ought to go in. The barker wouldn’t let us in, claiming we were too young so we waited till he got involved with someone and we snuck past him. Sure enough, there was a naked girl doing a dance on the stage. It stopped both of us cold. She was this incredible alabaster statue come to life, just the slightest sheen of perspiration on her skin. Blond hair just right. Neither Farley nor I could take our eyes off her. She did this exotic dance—at least this product of an all male Jesuit education and prudish parents—thought it was exotic and I know Farley did too, but he wouldn’t admit it because after all he was a Senior and I was only a Junior.

She finished, we stumbled out, the barker screamed at us, we ran for the car. We tore out of there. We’d have to step on it if we were going make it up Mt. Cadillac that night. We made one stop. Farley got us a six pack of Bud. He said we’d have to sleep out on the mountain that night and we’d need something. He also bought a box of animal crackers.

We found a road that took us half way up the mountain, parked the car and hiked. We both were wearing loafers and I was getting a little nervous about just having a polo shirt on. It was getting chilly. It took us a couple of hours to make it up to a clearing where there was a sign that said “Sunrise Lookout.” There was nobody else there. It was as dark as anything I’d ever seen. The wind had picked up and was making a racket in the trees. It felt like it was getting colder by the minute.

We didn’t have a blanket, of course, so we devised a plan to sleep sitting up with our backs against each other facing in different directions. We drank the beer. It was the first time I’d ever drunk any beer outside my home and it tasted good. All night we heard animals scuffling around. Farley said it was squirrels; I wasn’t so sure, given his track record so far. We didn’t sleep much but morning finally came; clouds covered the sky, horizon to horizon. No sunrise that we could see. We hiked back down to the car.

Farley and I kept going following our original plan of going down along the coast and spending a couple of days at Old Orchard Beach. We saw a lot of girls there and we drank some more beer. Somehow, though, we’d lost our edge. I never figured out why—was it the sight of that alabaster vision or the climb up Mt. Cadillac? I never have figured it out.

Last week I had an e-mail from my sister Barbara in Cleveland telling me that Farley Gallagher’s obituary was in the paper that day. He’d suffered a massive heart attack according to his wife Rosine. Barbara wanted me to know because she thought I’d remember him.

Nobody said anything after I finished, and the evening just kind of wound down.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Morning Drill

In cleaning up the garden this glorious and bizarre spring, we've come across many a tooth marked ball, all belonging to beloved Emma, of course. These warm early mornings are when I used to get my first glimpse of both my dad and Emma each day. Sometimes my dad and I would chat, sometimes I'd throw a few balls myself, sometimes, when my dad looked pensive and Emma was resting at his feet, I'd leave them alone. Here were my dad's thoughts from one such morning:

He wondered at the great stamina of the dog, especially since she was packing an extra 10 pounds or so on a small frame. Mornings, he’d take her out for her exercise before her breakfast. He’d sit in a garden chair and toss tennis balls--50 times up and down the incline she’d go.

He’d know when she was beginning to feel the effort when along about the 35th toss she would start detouring to the fishpond on her way back. She’d dip the ball in the pond to clean it off, while she caught her breath and then would come back to him looking for more. At the 50th toss, though, she was done for the day. She’d hold the ball in her mouth and stretch out in front of his chair, and he’d pet her and tell her what a great dog she was and how well she had performed her primary duty of chasing the tennis ball. If only everyone did their job so well the world would be a great place, he often thought.

Quiet then, and invariably he would look out across the gardens and down to where the metasequoia stands. It is his favorite tree, shaped like a pyramid with needles that fall like leaves in the fall with a shimmering gold tint to them. In the short span of six or seven years it had grown to a height of 35 to 40 feet. Not huge yet, but it would get there, said Joe, his son who had planted it and who managed this place called the Garden of Ideas.

The tree was just one of the horticultural delights in the gardens, but it was the one most in his sights and the thing that triggered his morning speculations. Considering it on most mornings never failed to jump start his thinking about everything from the grandkids to the state of the country’s affairs, He worried a lot these days about the war in Iraq, about India’s and China’s growing powers, about the state of the environment and the president’s cavalier attitude toward greenhouse gases. He worried about Iran and our new policy of pre-emptive war. He worried about Africa and Aids and problems in Nigeria.

He nearly always worried about the country’s fiscal health. He could barely breathe when he thought about the calamitous path we were going down, piling on enormous debt in order to pay for a disastrous war while at the same time working to extend the tax cuts for the country’s richest citizens. He worried about the Democracy, which had suddenly grown fragile to him. He didn’t worry on his own account; the runway for him and his wife was short enough that the chickens wouldn’t land in his living room. But the grandkids, they’d be sleeping with those chickens. He’d bet on that. Still, his oldest grandson, at 15 a whiz on the internet game circuit, hadn’t appeared to be concerned during his last visit and had even told him that he worried too much.

The dog was growing impatient and began nipping at his shoes, prodding him to get upstairs and dish out the Purina. He picked up the ball and tossed it down the hill. She looked at him disdainfully and he was sure he heard her say, “I don’t do 51.”

Right, he thought, and went upstairs.

Friday, March 26, 2010

This slice of spruce is all that remains of a tree I planted with my father some 38 years ago. I recall the day clearly, which likely prompted the tinge of remorse when I fired up the chainsaw. It's a strange and powerful thing to live on the land you roamed as a child. You see lots of ghosts and find memories in holes. Sometimes time compresses, then collapses, and you're left standing inside any one of those rings. A whiff of this tree and I'm nine again, knee deep in a hole I've helped dig with my father to accept the roots of this tree I will one day cut down with the chainsaw skills he taught me, only to take a picture of it today, when he's gone and I'm left with only his words...

...which go like this:

When my son and his crew cut down the two blue spruces that had long graced the edge of the woods on our property, he was thoughtful enough to bring up a slice of the trunk for me to take a look at. He was putting me on a bit because he knew how I winced whenever he cut down one of these old timers.

His tree arguments were always the same: if they stand in the way of some greater good like beautifying the area where the tree is located, it ought to come down. I labeled that his “greater good” argument. I almost always agree after a short general argument in defense of trees, which, after all, have a certain claim on our own history. But he’s so beautified the area where we live with his plans for what has come to be called the Garden of Ideas that I invariably get no support from anyone on the tree issue and down they come.

So he brought up this slice of the Spruce, which I remember planting when we first moved into our house back in 1972, 34 years ago. Sure enough, I counted 34 rings in the trunk. The tree had accompanied us on our life’s journey in this house on North Salem Rd. and counting the rings brought back lots of memories, high and low. It had been an interesting ride for all of us.

We’d been living in Ossining in New York State after moving to the area with our three sons from Cleveland, Ohio where I’d been working in a public relations agency. My wife, Terry, a school teacher before we married, was just itching to get back into the classroom once she had gotten our three rambunctious sons into school. We had bought this house in Ossining without knowing anything about the area, but it wasn’t too far from White Plains where I’d be working for IBM and it was affordable. It hadn’t taken long for Terry, who was doing the house hunting , to discover that the beautiful house we’d sold back in Cleveland for $28,000 wasn’t going to get us a whole lot even in that long-ago time..

We lived in the Ossining house for five years and it was endurable although not easy. Ossining was a tough river town with a host of racial problems that Terry saw first hand as she began to substitute teach in the public schools. Then a couple of things happened that caused us to put a plan to move from Ossining into high gear. First, a giant Tulip tree—at 75 feet tall it towered over the house—came down in a violent thunder storm and second, we had our first lettuce in a salad from a patch that Terry had planted among flowers in the back yard. We wound up the meal that featured the salad marching around singing “we’re moving to the country.”

But not so fast. This great big three-story Victorian we lived in was in one of those Ossining neighborhoods that had become racially mixed and while that had suited us fine, we soon discovered that the rest of the world was lagging a bit behind. It took us a year to sell that house and when we finally did the price was pennies more than we had bought it for five years before. Meantime, of course, other properties had experienced one of those early Titanic moves upwards.

Oh well, we thought, and Terry intensified her search for a house in the country. She found Ridgefield and a house that by stretching hard we could afford and which turned into our Rock of Gibraltar for the next 34 years. We raised our three boys there, Terry ferrying them in car pools to Fairfield Prep some 45 minutes away when they reached high school age. As soon as each son reached 16 he got his drivers license and was on his own.

College came and Terry started a landscaping business to help with the bills. My business unit at IBM was sold to another company and I faced a move to Minneapolis but avoided that when IBM called me back.

Then I was moved to the city by IBM. We borrowed heavily and bought a condo in the city. Terry became Executive Director of an advocacy group called the Green Guerillas, developing gardens on empty lots. My business unit failed and I was moved back to White Plains. We still had the house in Ridgefield. Terry was invited by the New York Botanical Gardens to start a community outreach program similar to the program she had run in New York for the Green Guerillas. She became the director of the program.

Meantime, the boys began to produce families as they followed their own particular dreams—the oldest a business mogul with ESPN,the middle son a landscape designer running the Garden of Ideas and the youngest with the U.N. in Rome. There are six grand children; they all love the house and the grounds where they can run wild.

I’ll have to explain to them about the Blue Spruces and the greater good. And maybe show them the piece of trunk in my office and explain what all those rings really mean.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Two Springs

My dad and I had a long-running argument about the actual start date of the seasons. I won't bore you with my pedantic predilections; suffice it to say he was slowly coming around to my way of thinking.
After a day like today, he might have sworn fealty forever to my method. What a spring day! I sat in the yellow chair in his favorite spot down by the marsh and let the sun dry my tears.

Here's a piece he called "Two Springs."

Always two springs in the Northeast. One early spring, mean and rainy cold, low, scudding clouds, pewter- gray like an October sky. The land still brooding, the patient kid waiting his turn. The woods dark and unfriendly, a hostile army massed for assault.

And then, spring days like this: brilliant sunshine, sky as blue as baby Harlan’s eyes, the light so brittle, sharp, and transparent it makes giant holograms of the bushes and shrubs painting them all in bas relief. The eyes struggle to take it in. The landscape now beginning to strut. Lemon yellow daffodils splashed across the woodlot’s floor, Magnolias a defiant white on an artist’s pallet. Forsythia ringing the land more yellow than the slickers on the road crew out front. Crab apple buds surging.

He sits in the Adirondack chair at the top of the slope. The dog lays at his feet and basks in the warming sun. Down below, his middle son, horticulturist by inclination and trade, clears the winter kill ringing the marsh. The special quiet of a Saturday afternoon rests on the gardens.

But broken a bit.

Behind him in the house the volume up just enough for him to hear, Michael Kaye and Jim Kaat are on the tube, trying to pull the New York Yankees through the Kansas City game, trying to snap a short losing string as Derek Jeter homers in the eighth to pull them ahead. But now the Royals have come back in the ninth and Mariano Rivera has come in to put out the fire.

He calls down to his son to come up and watch the drama unfold. But he holds up a transistor radio and stays where he is. The Yankees get out of that hole as Rivera in mid-season form strikes out the next two hitters and ends it.

The sun is dropping now behind the woods in the west. He’d had enough and was stiff from sitting too long. Age and his cursed infirmity, he knew. He picked up the walking stick he used to get around the grounds and went inside. The dog followed.

That night, the gardening son is back along with his mate and little Harlan and his oldest son and his wife and their three children. They’d come for dinner, a going-away affair for his wife who was leaving that week for Rome to help out their youngest son and his wife with their new baby.

For dinner that night, she’d made three separate dishes to fit everybody’s favorite taste, lamb shanks, chicken pot pie for the kids and spinach lasagna for the vegetarians. It was a festive and convivial evening. The conversation was lively; the camaraderie flowed along with good wine. Underneath it all was the sense of good fortune and gratitude and the unspoken wish that it could go on forever.

The next day was cold. The daffodils drooped in disgust. Spring in the Northeast. He loved it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

After the storms

It's been an especially long winter this year. About this time of year, my dad would pine for warmth, and during his last weeks he longed for summer and time on the porch. The New York Times, sunshine, and a faithful dog...he never really asked for more.

Here's a piece he wrote about his and mom's late life adventures down south.

To quote some neglected poet, “Its funny how things work out. Or don’t work out.” Sometimes, they’re both true.

It was the Florida hurricane season this year that triggered some thoughts.

He remembered how tough it had been a dozen years ago for them to make the decision to retire early. Like everyone making that decision after a life in the workplace, he and his wife had needed to spend considerable time weighing what looked to be the biggest decision of their lives, although maybe that’s making too big a deal of it..

Naturally enough, the financial outlook was the biggest hole in the road. He was working for IBM, a blue chip kind of employer who had paid and treated him well over the years but wasn’t a sugar daddy when it came to retirement. They wouldn’t be guaranteeing him and his wife a life of endless bliss over the next hundred or so years he expected the two of them to live.

But they did have other things going for them that prodded him into looking hard at the possibilities. His wife had been a major contributor to the family’s financial well being over the years, particularly in the yeoman years when they were putting three sons through college. She’d been a very successful professional and manager with the New York Botanical Gardens and was a director of a major program in the Bronx when the retirement possibilities began washing through their house.

Suppose she were to retire, too, hmmm…She would also have some pension dollars although neither would that be enough to kick them over the to. But it was one more arrow in the quiver and stitched together to the other pieces it could make retirement more than pillow talk.

They had a pretty good life plan worked out for their retirement years. For several years they’d rented a villa or a condo on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, one of the smaller islands in the Lesser Antilles a place where they had vacationed for several years. It wasn’t a fancy island but it had a good solid native middle class and of course that wonderful Caribbean climate.

So they worked out this ideal retirement life that would put them in the Caribbean for six months and Connecticut for six months. Still, no matter how much time they spent with a yellow pad and calculator they couldn’t figure a way to swing any more than the month of February there each year.

They had made good friends with a couple in the condo complex where they stayed on vacations and they were being urged to buy. Buy now while it’s still affordable. Good idea, they thought, but still too big a stretch for their pocketbook,

Their friends kept putting forward all the good reasons to buy and they kept resisting.

And then IBM put a pot of money on the table to induce early retirements. He grabbed his share and left. It gave them the wherewithal to purchase a town house they’d had their eye on in the complex where their friends lived. They managed to buy it although it cost them a little more than they’d hoped to pay. Meanwhile, the couple who had been so keen on their buying a place were ecstatic.

His wife went to the condo for a month in the fall, hired local contractors to gut the condo and then refurbished it to their taste from top to bottom. When she was done they had a real Caribbean gem.

Five months later a volcano that had been dormant since Christopher Columbus was plying his trade suddenly blew its top and devastated their end of the island.

So much for the condo .The Caribbean insurance company was settling with the condo association for pennies on the dollar. The trickle down to owners was tiny.

Retirement was starting slowly.

Meantime their friends had moved on and before you could spell pyroclastic flow, they’d bought a condo in Florida. “No volcanoes here” was their cry and this was the gist of their message last year urging them to get with it and buy a condo in their neighborhood near the water in sunny Florida “Get in while it’s still affordable.”.

They turned that one down on the basis of slow recovery from their earlier financial and emotional traumas.

Meanwhile they were waiting to hear from them their friends about the big differences, if any, between hurricanes and volcanoes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

No stealing allowed

The other day my son Harlan committed his first brazen act of larceny. He asked for a piece of gum, which I allowed, then he proceeded to shield the pack from me while he slid 2 pieces out. This was not a mistake, but an act of pre-meditation, the proof of which was the fast rising blush that filled his face when I called him on it. We had a brief chat about such things, and went about our business.

It reminded me of this story by my dad:

My sister Mary was a couple of years older than me, and as a nice looking gal, she always attracted a bunch of male admirers who were also, of course, older than I . In my memory, they stand out as a lively bunch who were good to me because, I’m sure, of my proximity to the “queen bee”. I still remember with fondness some of their names and even their strong points since I learned a great deal from them.

Huck Woodgate taught me a great batting stance that I used to good advantage wending my way through the baseball sandlot leagues. Sandy Phelps showed me how to go to my left effectively on the basketball court. Tom Jordan talked to me about poetry so beautifully that to this day I have a deep love for that medium and can spout whole reams of the poetry I learned then.

But they weren’t angels either and I picked up some tricks from them that brought me problems with my father who was a no-nonsense kind of a guy with a hard edge to him, picked up over the years in running construction projects and having to deal with some rough types. He was also a black and white disciplinarian and you either played by his rules or you felt the consequences. Not that he was mean, just tough, and hardened maybe by the fact that he was only 5’-7”and, like a lot of small men, felt a need to show he was no pushover.

So I guess it shouldn’t have come as any surprise to me when I ran afoul of one of his black and white judgments and set myself up for his handling of the situation one gentle spring day in Albany where we were living at the time .

I had come home from Kelley’s Pharmacy with the copy of Life Magazine he had given me a dime to buy. When I went to hand him the magazines a couple of comic books fell on the floor. I had of course stuck them inside the Life Magazine and paid Mr. Kelly, who always stood at the cash register, just the 10 cents for the Life Magazine. I’d been doing that regularly since learning the trick from Huck Woodgate who used to boast that this was a trick you could use to get away with anything in places like Kelley’s and even the five and dime on the corner of Main and Manning Boulevard .

“Where’d you get these?” my father was asking. “I don’t remember giving you any extra change.” It was 1941, I was 8 years old and in the third grade , the economy was still reeling from the depression, there was no money for frivolities, and the war was waiting in the wings.

“No sir,” I blurted, “I traded these with Georgie Crystal. We always trade.” I could feel my face burning up, the way it always did when I told a lie. There was no Georgie Chrystal and I could immediately feel the walls start to close in on me.

“Fine,” My dad was saying, “let’s go to George’s house. It must be a grand place he lives in if he can give up these brand new comic books. Let’s go,” and he took my hand.

We must have walked for an hour, my father asking if we were there yet, me stammering out that we were close and I’d know the place once I saw it. I don’t think I have ever been as scared as I was right then, the options all disappearing with the endless blocks we walked, my fear driven by the absolute certainty not only of the physical licking I was sure to get but also by the branding of liar that would be stamped on me forever.

Finally I blurted out the truth; there was no Georgie Crystal. I admitted I had snuck the comic books out without paying for them. I was sorry. And indeed I was and I didn’t even know the half of it.

My father took me by the hand and started dragging me back to Kelly’s Pharmacy. Mr. Kelly was a nice old guy, always willing to give you a little extra ice cream in your cream soda at the fountain. He was a tall, angular character with glasses and white hair. He’d always liked me. He seemed surprised when my father dragged me up to the cash register and said to him, “My boy’s got something to tell you, Mr. Kelly.”

I remember as clearly as though it were yesterday the trouble I had in getting out my tawdry confession to Mr. Kelly and I can still see the look in his eyes as he looked first at my father who was standing behind me and then at me, a sobbing wretch in front of the cash register.

He was equal to the task. He leaned down until his eyes were on a level with my own and recited the list of punishments he could hand out for such an egregious offense from calling the cops with all the implications for a long and lonely prison term that this implied to banishment from the store forever. He went on and on and I can remember my relief and gratitude when his final sentencing edict was for me to instruct all my friends who visited his store that should they ever do anything so dastardly as I had done he would bring the full weight of the law down upon their heads

. I remember the feeling of real relief I had as my father dragged me out of the store, even knowing that I was going home to really get it. I was right on that score; I really got it, the first and only time I ever got a couple of licks from his belt across my bare bottom. Nobody in the house would even look at me, let alone talk to me for the next week—not my parents or my two sisters. I had brought shame on the household.

It took me along time to come to the conclusion that I wasn’t really a scoundrel and over time I came to view the incident as an over reaction on my father’s part. Well, maybe. On the other hand, I can say that I never in my long life so much as stole a sheet of paper or a penny pencil.

Let alone a comic book.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Eulogy for my dad

Not something I ever thought about doing, for sure, eulogizing my own father...

My brothers spoke beautifully at the wake, and I said these words at the funeral. Tough to capture in a few minutes what he meant--means--to me, but I gave it a shot. I had a vivid dream about him last night, and I don't recall my dreams often. He was in his forties, I think, and he was coming up the hill talking to me. I was present-day, and I knew he was dead, but there he was. I chased my younger brother up the back stairs; I called over and over "Did you see him?" I didn't get an answer...

Here's the eulogy.

I’m sure you know the Mark Twain quip: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." And you might know the Jesuit expression: “Show me the child at seven, and I’ll show you the man.”

Well, if I showed you my father in the last month of his nearly seventy-seven year life, you’d know the man very well, and you’d be astonished by how much he knew.

I talked with my father nearly every day over the last twenty years. Sometimes these would be five-minute conversations about the state of the world as I dropped off the mail. Sometimes I’d have some new hare brained conspiracy theory to run by him. Amazingly, he never once insinuated that I was nuts; he was always extremely interested, and oftentimes I’d return later in the week to find he’d done his own research on the topic. From his end, it was always apparent he was looking for some unified theory of the universe.

These conversations intensified in the months and weeks leading up to his death. Two weeks before he died, we talked about Shakespeare’s “All the World’s a Stage” piece from “As You Like It”, where the seven stages of life are outlined, and he quoted from memory the last lines: “Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” He lay back and said, “Wow. How did I get here?” And then we began talking about the various ways life ends.

Later, I had downloaded some stories by a Canadian writer, Alistair MacLeod, for him to listen to on his computer as he lay in bed. One week before he died, I came in to find him listening to these beautiful stories, and he flung his fist into the air and said “I’ve got to play these to my class and say this, THIS is how you write!”

On Monday, two days before he died, with his voice reduced to a whisper, I, an avowed agnostic, told him, an ever more skeptical believer, if there were indeed some afterlife, to somehow show me a sign from beyond. He smiled and whispered a few lines from a poem I didn’t know and squeezed my hand. Later, I traced those lines to an obscure Ohio poet named Paul Dunbar, and the verse goes:

“What dreams we have and how they fly

Like rosy clouds across the sky;

Of wealth, of fame, of sure success,

Of love that comes to cheer and bless;

And how they whither, how they fade,

The waning wealth, the jilting jade —
The fame that for a moment gleams,

Then flies forever, — dreams, ah — dreams!”

That same day, my father said “Put it up, the poem, put it up on the blog”, referring to a piece he’s written this past summer. I’d read it back to him a few days before…he’d spent some of his precious remaining time self-editing in his whirling mind and found it suitable for public consumption. It goes like this:

The poet said,

“I think I shall never see

a poem so lovely as a tree,

For poems are made by fools like me

But only God can make a tree.”

I thought that strange and prob’ly wrong;

Raised in town, I wasn’t strong

On Maples or on Chestnut trees.

But poems I knew and I could breeze

From A.A. Milne through Chaucer’s best.

But know I’m old, and trees it seems

Have changed a lot (Or maybe not),

And this I know, there’s a promise here,

That year by year the Winter’s sere

Turns with help to Summer’s green

And we’re no less than all those trees.

So maybe there is hope for us

That you and I will green again,

A second coming, as it were,

For each and every one of us.

Next to my dad’s desk in a filing cabinet is a folder marked “Story Ledes”. In it are articles about the Islamic Revolution of 1979, metaphysics in a time of terrorism, a sky watch map of the stars for the week of June 28th, an examination of the geologic time scale, an article entitled “Is God a Scientist?, an email from my brother Matt containing a Bobby Kennedy speech on the menace of violence, several articles about the mysterious death of Micky Thompson, a race car driver he knew, a chart explaining the difference between Sunni and Shiite, a magazine containing a series of photos of covered bridges taken by his own father, and an article discussing the teaching of poetry to West Point Cadets. In his last two weeks, he played over and over a mind-blowing six minute history of the universe I downloaded onto his computer.

Unified theory, indeed.

My father was my father, my coach, my banker, my editor, my fan, my hero, my best friend, a man who cared nothing about fame, fashion, or fortune, and above all, my teacher. To the very end.

For in those final two days, when he could not speak a word, I knew his brain was still working feverishly to decode the mystery of it all. The body had failed, but you could almost see the mind racing. And that is his final lesson to us, his three sons, now half-way through our own lives: keep thinking, keep trying, keep wondering, keep searching, keep reading, keep writing, keep questioning, keep hoping; tomorrow’s another day in which to excel.