Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Love Story


Editor’s note: I wrote this five years ago but updated it a bit this a.m.

Twenty-three years ago next today, Karen and I got married. In Knoxville, Tenn.

I’ve written about this before, sort of, here. That post details how we found a good restaurant for after the vows. (We got married in a small chapel in a part of Knoxville called Old City. It was just us, the preacher and a couple of witnesses at the ceremony.

But I haven’t written about why we chose Knoxville or that particular day to get married (or at least I don’t think I have – I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 posts, and I don’t remember them all. I went back through a few of them today to see if I’d written this one before and I couldn’t find any evidence.

So here goes …

I’d asked Karen to marry me some months before. OK, I’d asked her in February. OK, it was a Saturday night. Actually it was Sunday morning, just a few minutes after midnight. OK, it was Valentine’s Day. Call me a sentimentalist. I’ll plead guilty.

She said yes, but we didn’t set a date or anything (we’d been living together for several months). And we didn’t tell anybody.

Time marches on, and we moved to Gastonia a little later, where I worked at the newspaper and she worked at the hospital. Sometime later that year, I’m thinking it was in September, Karen’s car broke down one Sunday afternoon on our way back to the Hellmouth of Weird from Charlotte. A very nice guy with a couple of teeth who enjoyed the dirt-track races in Clover, S.C., stopped to help us and gave us a ride back to G-town. We found out the car was basically not going to be repairable, so we went to a local dealer to buy a used one. No problem, we found one that served us well for a long time.

But when we went to insure it, Karen’s insurance company – which was cheaper and better than mine – told us we had to be married by the end of November (we were buying the car together). No problem, we thought, we’re planning to get married anyway.

Of course, as it often does, life gets in the way.

I can’t remember exactly how long after that it was, but Karen’s mom came from Pennsylvania to spend her week at the condo she owned in Gatlinburg. We were planning to go spend the weekend with her there with Mimi and her friend, Lovey. While there, we decided to go to Dollywood. Now, Karen’s mom had had a heart attack some time earlier, but she on the whole was doing well. We thought.

Because after a long but thoroughly enjoyable day at Dollywood, we went out to eat in Pigeon Forge. And sure enough, Mimi started feeling poorly. By the time we left, I had to call 9-1-1 for the first time in my life and get an ambulance. They took her to a small medical clinic there and immediately shipped her to Knoxville, the site of the nearest large hospital, where she was to have bypass surgery the next day.

So we set up camp in Knoxville for a week or so, and a few weekends after that, while she recuperated. Strange as it may sound, we grew to really like the city and we soon decided that’s where we’d get married.

Because, remember, the insurance company clock was ticking.

They finally let her out, and we drove her back to G-town to stay with us awhile as she continued to recuperate.

But it wasn’t to be that simple. Something strange, it turns out, often happens with heart-bypass patients. They can develop a chemical imbalance and get severely depressed, and that’s what happened to Mimi. She just completely shut down and became unresponsive. So on another Sunday morning, I called 9-1-1 again.

She wound up spending some time in the hospital where Karen worked. But once the medicine kicked in, she was fine, almost immediately. But it’s mid-November now and the clock is really ticking down. Because we really couldn’t leave town while she was there, and we didn’t want to get married in G-town (way too much potential for bad karma). But then Karen’s sister came down and flew back with Mimi to Pennsylvania.

Which left us about a week or so to get married. Luckily, it was Thanksgiving week, which meant we had some time off. So we went to Knoxville to get the license and then back for the wedding that Saturday. We stayed in a great BandB, had a wonderful ceremony, a great meal and have had a great life.

Of course, I guess that was pretty much – wait for it – insured.

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies. – Aristotle

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Sad days in Happy Valley


Today’s post is a special guest submission by my wise and wonderful wife, Karen, who went to grad school at Penn State.

The recent allegations of sexual abuse by former Penn State defensive coach Jerry Sandusky have taken me back to another time and place: my days as a graduate student and teaching assistant at Penn State, and the memories of sharing Penn State football with my dad.

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, Penn State was our team. Sure, we’d root for the Steelers in the Super Bowl, but talk always surrounded what was going on with our boys in the nameless blue-and-white jerseys. And the game of the week was always on – sometimes the radio, occasionally television (a rare thing since there were only 10 channels back then and no ESPN).

My dad was a shipping clerk, so we didn’t have the privilege of snagging some tickets for Beaver Stadium and taking a 1.5-hour road trip to State College. Our relationship with Penn State was purely long-distance. But the team from Happy Valley was one of the things that made my dad truly happy, and one of the few ways we could connect.

When it came time for college, I wasn’t interested in going to Penn State. It was too big for me, coming from a high school class of just 180. And my friend Jenny was going there. So I picked a smaller state school down the road, Bloomsburg University – but my team was still Penn State.

During college, I changed my major to communications and became involved in intercollegiate public speaking (forensics). This opened doors to a paid graduate education, coaching the speech team and teaching public speaking. I applied and was accepted to three great schools, but the best offer came from the closest one – my old friend, Penn State.

That was in 1983 – the year after Penn State had won the national football championship. My dad was genuinely excited – my kid is going to Penn State, and hey, did you know she’s a teacher there, too? You would have thought I was coaching football, not public speaking (although the two years I was there, the football team was “rebuilding” and won another national championship in 1986, the year after I left).

During the next two years, my dad and I exchanged calls frequently about the football players in my classes (genuinely decent guys and excellent students), the upcoming game of the week (I froze my butt in 50-yard line seats for $12 each as a graduate student), and my one and only conversation with JoePa himself, as just he and I passed on a downtown street (Hi Joe, how are you doing today?) We even drove past Beaver Stadium a couple of times during campus visits.

In his later years, Dad had a Saturday night ritual. He would “clean up”, don his favorite blue blazer, white shirt, grey pants and red tie, and hang out at the nearby Ramada Inn. His favorite game was to go there on the night of a home Penn State game, and pretend he was a visiting color commentator for ABC Sports. I’m not sure how many people believed him, but he sure had fun telling stories.

Even after I left Penn State in 1985, Dad would still call me to talk about Gary Brown, a Penn State running back (1987-1990) from our hometown of Williamsport. Dad died in 1989, so he never knew that Gary went on to play in the NFL for eight years, and later coach. He would have liked that.

I’ve only been back to Penn State once since graduate school. I probably wouldn’t recognize the campus today – or Beaver Stadium – which is now twice the size it was when I went there. But my memories of the school, and the team I shared with my dad, have remained strong. More than once, I’ve had an employer acknowledge the value of my Penn State education. And even though I live in ACC sports country now, I still proudly declare my love of Penn State during football season.

I don’t know if Joe Paterno failed to do the right thing by not doing more regarding Sandusky. Many times, someone in his position (and of his age) is often protected from ugly by the people who surround him. Maybe his judgment was clouded, or his faculties were beginning to fail (he was 75 at the time). Maybe he should have retired a few years ago, before he started to embarrass himself in other small ways. If he was negligent on this one, he doesn’t deserve a pass. But if he honestly didn’t know exactly what happened in the locker room – or he felt like he was following procedure, then I’m genuinely sorry for him.

I’m just sad that an excellent educational institution and what I knew to be an outstanding football program has been tarnished forever by this horrible situation and a few individuals in power positions who made some very bad decisions.

My dad would surely have something to say about this. And he’d call me up to talk about it. If he still could.

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Sun Comes Up, It’s Friday Morning


Now Playing: Beethoven’s 9th, by far my favorite classical piece. Haven’t decided whether I’ll skip the third movement or not (I usually do).

The title of today’s post is from one of my favorite Cowboy Junkies song, which is really a series of kinda random reflections on a particular day: “Thinking of things that don’t have to add up to something,” as Margo sings it.

So that’s what I’m going to do today, my last day at home before beginning a contract copyediting job at Red Ventures here in the Greater Indian Trail metro area (actually, it’s technically in Fort Mill, S.C.). I’m looking forward to it, but it means my blogging will be limited to nights and weekends, so it might be awhile before I post again. Or not – you never know.

Sun Comes Up, It’s Friday Morning … and I still hate using microwave ovens.

OK, I do use them when I have to. They’re OK for heating leftover pasta or soup or chili or stuff like that. But warm a steak in the microwave? You might as well eat leather. Chicken? You might as well eat rubber. A pork chop? Well, you get the point.

When I do use them, there’s usually a little quirk involved – big surprise, right?

I like to set the time sequentially. By that, I mean that if I want to cook something three minutes, I either set the timer for 3:21 or for 2:34, whichever is likely to give the best results. For four minutes, 4:32 or 3:45.

It just seems to make the food turn out better.

Sun Comes Up, It’s Friday Morning … and for some reason I’m reminded of all the one-legged people I’ve known in my life. Actually, I know why I’m reminded of it. A Facebook friend of mine posted yesterday that she was going camping this weekend for the first time. And going camping reminds me of people with one leg. I’ll get to why in a minute.

There was my biology teacher in high school, I think his name was Mr. Robinson. We only had him for not quite one semester – I’ll get to why later. Mr. Robinson, if that was his name, had been a star basketball player at some small college or another. At least in his mind, he had some NBA prospects. But he’d lost a leg – I can’t remember which one – from the knee down in a car crash – possibly on the way to camp.

And boy was he bitter about it. I got along with nearly every teacher in high school – but he was the exception to that rule. I thought he was prickly, a smart ass and a know-it-all. Which meant he was something like me. We argued over projects – I did a half-assed one on fruit flies in which I drew – and I can’t draw at all – a cartoonish fruit fly. He ridiculed it, begrudgingly admitting that the info in it was good even if the illustration sucked.

I considered him a crappy teacher, and we weren’t headed for a good outcome. But then Mr. Robinson, if that was his name, got fired. We heard he got a DUI, but I don’t know this for fact. The best part was that they replaced Mr. Robinson, if that was his name, with a former beauty queen. And she might have been nicer than she was pretty. It was her first job, and we kinda ran all over her, even though we liked her – we LIKED her, liked her, in fact. Or at least I did.

The next two one-legged people I met I liked much more. Both, as it turns out, and I swear I’m not making this up, worked in newspaper photography.

Second things first, I’ll take about Jamey, whom I met when I worked at The Gaston Gazette. Jamey was the photo editor and a good guy in a department of good guys. I don’t claim to know for sure, but I think he was missing a leg from birth. (He also had some issues with his fingers.) He wore a prosthetic leg and managed to get around just fine. Sometimes he’d tap the prosthesis, which would remind you it was there.

I left after four years there for Henderson, where I was editor. And we brought Jamey in primarily as our IT guy (we shared him with another paper, but I have to admit we got more than our share of work from him because of our prior relationship). He helped me create and manage the website, and he was a mentor for our young but outstanding photographer, Ashley. I’ve lost touch with Jamey, but I think he’s still in the Raleigh area.

That leaves the other one-legged photographer I’ve known, my friend R.D. Benedict. R.D. lost a leg to cancer when he was a teenager. But I’ve never known a less handicapped person in my life.

I met R.D. when he started working at The Daily News in Jacksonville. He was a local guy, and his primary role was to prepare color separations for the newspaper. (It’s one of those processes that was there for awhile and now isn’t – as, sadly, is true about so much of newspapers.)

R.D. had a prosthesis, but I never saw him wear it. He used to say it was uncomfortable.

He preferred to just pin up his jeans or shorts and use crutches. But he was pretty nifty on crutches. R.D. could balance a plate of barbecue and a beer better than anybody. He could whip me bowling (OK, he abandoned the crutches and just hopped down the lane to the foul line for that).

Best of all was going to King’s Dominion with him and his now wife, Steph. Because we had a “handicapped” person in the group, we didn’t have to wait in line for any of the rides. We just moved right to the front. And if we wanted to ride again, they let us. What a great deal!

But here’s how “handicapped” R.D. was in reality. He’s the one who drove us from J-ville to Northern Virginia – pretty good haul.

Here’s another example of “handicapped” R.D. was. Whenever we’d go camping (see, I told you I’d get back to it), R.D. would set up the tents. We had some great times hanging out at the Northwoods Tavern, too. R.D. and I had a magic trick that had everyone at our table mystified. I miss him a lot.

Sun Comes Up, It’s Friday Morning … and I don’t understand Twitter at all. Oh, I understand how to use it, and do. But I’m not on it all that much. What I don’t understand is the follow notifications I occasionally get. I’ve had a few from Arthur Murray dance studios around the globe. I guess they just see the name. But I got one this a.m. from an organization of young professionals here in Charlotte. Professional? I qualify – sometimes. Young? Not so much. And then I got another this a.m. from someone who promised to give me the latest news on handball. Who know there was any?

Sun Comes Up, It’s Friday Morning … and I really, really want to beat N.C. State.

“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

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