The Lincoln Highway

For our latest Road Trip Adventure, we drove most of the old Lincoln Highway. This should be particularly impressive given that, prior to this trip, I’d never even heard of the Lincoln Highway.

We needed to get from Southern California to Ontario, Canada (where we were traveling to visit friends). When I was in the preliminary phases of planning our route, we happened to see a segment on TV about the old Lincoln Highway, which tracked generally with the route I was considering. We ordered some guide books, and the Lincoln Highway road trip was on!

The general direction of the Lincoln Highway

The general direction of the Lincoln Highway

As we soon learned, the Lincoln Highway was one of the first U.S. transcontinental highways for automobiles, conceived in 1912 by auto executives and enthusiasts (who decided that naming it after the martyred president would increase its chances of success), dedicated in 1913, and ran coast to coast from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Over the years, the roads were improved and numerous realignments were made. Gradually, it was replaced by the numbered highway system, and today Interstate 80 serves as the primary highway from New York to San Francisco.

As with Route 66, it takes some detective work to identify and follow the original Lincoln Highway route. Using guidebooks, I planned the general course, with hotel and lunch stops and a few interesting attractions (like museums and parks) along the way. My husband is the chief navigator, so he usually takes my itinerary, researches the precise route and then downloads the route onto our Garmin GPS.

One of the problems with this trip is that neither one of us did as much advance work as usual. My husband bought three Lincoln Highway guidebooks, which I put aside until I had time for trip planning. I later picked up two of them (apparently misplacing and forgetting the third, which had most of the turn-by-turn directions) and knocked out the itinerary (including our return trip) in three marathon sessions. My main concern was to give my husband ample time to work on his prep work, but he ultimately opted to do the navigation on the road as we went.

We left home on a Thursday and drove two days to Ely, NV where we picked up the Lincoln Highway (we had previously driven Highway 50 west from Ely, which was essentially the Lincoln Highway route). We drove east eight days on the Lincoln Highway, to Valparaiso, Indiana, never staying more than one night at each stop, and averaging about 200-250 miles per day.   Initially, my husband navigated along the numbered highways (50, 40 and 30) that roughly correspond to the original Lincoln Highway, but he became more purist once he actually began reading the guidebooks and discovered old brick, gravel and dirt stretches off the paved highway. The more stickler he became, the longer our drives as we looped and turned on the old highway segments. Near the end of our Lincoln Highway adventure, we stopped at the National Lincoln Highway headquarters in Franklin Grove, IL. There we signed the official log, and saw the turn-by-turn book I left at home AND the interactive map on the Lincoln Highway Association website, both of which would’ve been extremely helpful had we used them.

As a result of our sub-par preparation, my poor husband was pulling 12-17 hour days, between the driving and the navigational research each night. He claimed to be enjoying himself, but the bags under his eyes grew dark and his patience grew thin. To keep himself awake driving, he listened to 60s music at 100 decibels, requiring ear plugs for me. Once, I excitedly, but unwisely, exclaimed, “This is it!” regarding a particular historic stretch of Lincoln Highway. Between the music and the Garmin and his hearing loss, my husband heard, “This isn’t it!” and missed a turn. Which was, of course, my fault.

The Lincoln Highway in Iowa is well marked with these signs

The Lincoln Highway in Iowa is well marked with these signs

In spite of it all, we amazingly enjoyed our grueling Lincoln Highway journey, although it felt more like an accomplishment than a vacation. It took us through parts of the country we otherwise might never have seen. We happened upon a wonderful restored steam train station and museum, and ate in a cellblock at a restaurant (former jail) in Ely, NV. We visited the Mormon Tabernacle and Temple Square in Salt Lake City, the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie, WY, (and learned all about the real Butch Cassidy), the Archway in Kearney, NE, and the fabulous Durham Museum (former Union train station) in Omaha, NE. We detoured slightly to visit the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, IA (after all, when would we ever be near West Branch, IA again?). We saw miles and miles of corn and soybeans. We found stretches of original brick road from the 1920s. We drove on “seedling” miles, original mile-long stretches that the proponents of the Lincoln Highway paved to convince the public to invest funds to pave more road. We visited museums and learned more interesting U.S. westward expansion history.

At Valparaiso, IN, we diverted from Lincoln Highway and cut up through Michigan. Now that we’ve tasted the Lincoln Highway experience, and have the tools to do a better job planning (and know, among other things, to do shorter legs) we look forward to finishing the Indiana to New York segment someday and earning our Lincoln Highway certificate. Yes, you too can order and receive a certificate from the National Lincoln Highway Association if swear that you actually finished the whole thing!

Watching History

Today I sat mesmerized, by a part of a political convention I haven’t watched live in many years – the official roll call of delegates, at the Democratic National Convention. I watched the entire thing, all the way to Wyoming, when the roll call went back to Vermont, and Bernie Sanders nominated Hillary Clinton. With a rush of unexpected tears in my eye, I witnessed the nomination of the first woman for U.S. President by a major political party.

I was deeply moved as I watched our democratic process at work, hearing each state delegation proudly declare their accomplishments and unique attributes. “Home of the Cleveland Cavaliers,” said Ohio. “The state where the big choice is red or green (as in chiles)” said New Mexico. “Birthplace of eight U.S. Presidents,” said Virginia. I watched in awe as each delegation cast their respective votes for the two candidates, but then agreed on the party’s choice, a woman, for highest office in the land.

Last night I listened as First Lady Michelle Obama gave her remarkable, inspirational and powerful speech, a call to action, which demonstrated leadership, discernment, and wisdom. I recalled that, several years ago, when someone asked me to choose who, among any living person, I’d like to have lunch with, I answered Michelle Obama. I’ve always admired her intelligence, humor, parenting, and integrity, and thought her unique role in history would make for a fascinating (and fun!) conversation.

With all the chaos imbedded in this election, it seems that the historical significance of this week is being overshadowed by politics. It seems that younger generations of women may not appreciate how big a deal this really is. To think about the progress of change for women from Hillary to Michelle, leading to the opportunities now open to the next generation of women is remarkable.

Thank you to the women who paved the way

Thank you to the women who paved the way

I think about my mother, valedictorian of her high school graduating class in the early 1940’s. She received a degree, with honors, from the University of Michigan, with a double major in chemistry and biology. The only job she could land was a lab technician/administration position at Dow Chemical, junior to younger and far less educated men. She became so bored that she quit and joined the Navy as a WAVE. At Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI, she met my father, an OCS instructor. Within a year, my parents were married and shortly thereafter, when my mother became pregnant with my oldest brother, she was out of the Navy and her professional career was over.

I thought about my own career. During my law school days in the early 80’s, women comprised less than 30% of the student body. I was constantly asked (even by one law professor) how, as a woman, I planned to fit in any kind of legal (or otherwise) career with marriage and family. After I graduated, my first job was clerking for a judge at the Santa Clara County Superior Court. When I rode the elevator to my office on the 8th floor, older men (usually judges or other lawyers) would say things like “Honey, can you push 4 for me?” When I was conferring with judges and lawyers in the courtroom or chambers, I was asked to fetch coffee and make photocopies.

When I began my corporate career, there were few women in positions of power. The one woman in upper management at my firm had devoted nearly every waking hour to her career, giving up marriage and family, and she was tough as nails. She became an important mentor to me, and when I was pregnant with my son, she decided to make me a role model, fighting successfully for me to take a two-month maternity leave and return to work on a part-time schedule. All of this was perfectly legal at the time, but rarely done for fear of career repercussions. I credit her with blazing trails and opening doors for me, facilitating my successful career.

My mentor relayed stories to me from her career, and the sexism (both overt and veiled) she encountered. She was taunted, shunned from the “old boys network” where important client and corporate decisions were made, and relegated to menial work. She worked tirelessly, and tenaciously stood up for herself and her clients, developing a reputation for being “difficult” and a “b*&!” for behavior that would’ve been applauded as “assertive” or a “go-getter” in her male counterparts.

I see many similarities between my mentor and Hillary Clinton, who are about the same age.   My mentor was a whip-smart, organized, capable, stubborn, tough, thick-skinned woman, qualities she needed to excel in a man’s world. Although warm and funny with trusted friends and associates, her learned steeliness suggested a cold-heartedness to others. I suspect that many of the criticisms of Hillary’s personality also stem from the survival tactics she has adopted over the course of her long legal career and in the public eye. It takes a tough woman like Hillary Clinton to scale a mountain like the presidency.

So, today I pause to celebrate and savor the remarkable accomplishments of strong female role models on display in Philadelphia this week. Younger generations may find it unsurprising that we are on the cusp of electing our first female President, but that in itself speaks volumes to the great progress women like Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have wrought in my lifetime.

Who knows? Maybe next year, after she leaves the White House, Michelle Obama will have time for our dream lunch, and we can compare notes, and reflect on our lives and the progress of women in this country, and I will personally thank her for her inspirational leadership.   After all, the message of today is, a girl can dream big, right?

Travels with Flat Monica

I have been neglecting my blog lately, but only because I’ve been traveling and having way too much fun. I particularly enjoyed a recent trip to the Big Apple with my new close friend Flat Monica.

Originally, the trip was conceived as an epic birthday gala for my friend Real Monica. We have a tradition in our book club of celebrating milestone birthdays with a special expedition. In the past, we’ve typically stayed closer to home in Southern California, but Real Monica decided, for her milestone birthday festivity this year, she wanted us all to visit Tracy, a book club member who moved to New York a few years ago.

We went about planning our trip, finding dates that worked for everyone, exploring various activities and shows, and coordinating travel schedules. Ultimately, three of us (in addition to Real Monica) committed to the trip.

A few weeks after we purchased our airline tickets, Real Monica announced she couldn’t go (it’s a long story). The rest of us conferred and decided (what the heck!) we would go anyway. Our imaginative and creative friend Kathy hatched the idea of taking Flat Monica (a takeoff from the old “Flat Stanley” craze I only slightly remember) and showed up with two laminated photos of Real Monica (now Flat Monica) for us to haul around New York City.

Flat Monica proved to be an ideal travel companion. She fit in our purses and backpacks, did not require travel costs, space, food or her own bed, went along with all of our plans, never complained or got lost, and, no matter what happened, kept the same smile on her face.

We had a ball planning, staging and executing Flat Monica photo shoots all over town and posting them on our group page. To kick things off, we filmed a video tribute of Flat Monica behind a pie with a lighted candle, while we sang happy birthday, ending dramatically as one of us (off-stage left) blew out the candle on cue. We photographed Flat Monica kayaking on the Hudson, enjoying two plays, listening to commentary on an architectural boat cruise, sampling rice pudding at a trendy eatery, and strolling through Central Park. In fact, at Strawberry Fields, in Central Park, we ran into two young men from Australia, one of whom was carrying a life-size Flat Mom (a photo of his mother) and we introduced and photographed Flat Monica with Flat Mom.

Some of the many Adventures of Flat Monica

Some of the many Adventures of Flat Monica

At one of the (Way Off-Broadway) plays, an odd affair involving puppetry and video, we took Flat Monica backstage post-play and photographed her with the star, a Flat Monica-sized puppet (he waived the “no touching” rule and put his arm around her). We took Monica to a 7-Eleven store on 7/11 and plied her with a free Slurpee, and then took her on a mine tour in New Jersey. And when we dropped our friend Sara off at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (where she was staying the following weekend while she visited her son) we photographed Flat Monica in the lobby with the ornate London-built clock and under the 800-thread-count sheets in Sara’s room.

Real Monica seemed to enjoy traveling vicariously through Flat Monica. And Flat Monica made a delightful portable companion, providing us with hours of amusement. All in all, I highly recommend taking Flat Friends along on travels, especially when Real Friends can’t go. Since I was the last to leave New York, I flew home with Flat Monica (in my carry-on, although I let her look out the window a few times, much to the amusement of the 8-year-old girl sitting next to me). As I now write, Flat Monica is smiling at me from the coffee table, and, since we had so much fun together, I’m seriously considering taking her along on more trips.

Speak Up!

Be_A_VoiceRecent events have caused me to think deeply on how I am called to be a woman of integrity in such a broken world. I find myself weeping over the hatred and violence in our daily news. What am I to say or do in the midst of such overwhelming pain? How can I make a difference? The political discourse has become so nasty that I often keep my thoughts to myself to avoid simply becoming another talking head, or worse, part of the problem. It occurs to me, however, that my voice is my power, and it may be more important than ever that I fearlessly use my authentic voice.

In her book “Faith and Feminism,” Helen LaKelly Hunt uses the story of Sojourner Truth to illustrate the search for voice, as one of the five stages of women’s ‘Journey Toward Wholeness.’ Sojourner Truth was a shy nineteenth century black female ex-slave who changed her name and courageously and effectively spoke out for the abolitionist and early feminist movements. Helen writes that Sojourner Truth’s life teaches us “when we are able to speak our truth we gain a new ‘name,’ a new voice – that is, a new empowered self-concept and identify.” “A search for voice is the search for self.”

Based on my own experience, and countless discussions with other women, I find that we too often experience a reluctance or inability to express ourselves boldly. We compromise to avoid hurting others feelings, or making waves, or appearing too aggressive. We find it easier to bypass the large or troublesome people in our lives rather than engage or confront them. We may have a trusted group of confidantes with whom we share our authentic selves, while putting forth a more guarded, or accommodating, public self with others. Although it is clearly not prudent to share everything with everyone, there are times when it is important to assertively express our true needs, beliefs and opinions.

This has been a lifelong growth area for me. Growing up the shy, youngest child with two older brothers, I had to work hard, in a military family that valued high intelligence and achievement, to be taken seriously. In school, I pushed myself relentlessly to overcome my own self-perception of insignificance, and vividly remember being pleasantly surprised to discover how talented and intelligent I was relative to my peers. I found that I had highly developed interpersonal skills, no doubt attributable to navigating my male-dominated family dynamics. On the other hand, I still carried that small internal voice which caused self-doubt and suppression of expression.

Over time, I grew very comfortable with the sharp verbal sparring favored in my male-dominated workplace and developed a thick skin. I could be a tough negotiator when it came to work-related issues and learned to stand up for my positions. But, to this day I know I often avoid expressing personal opinions contrary to others. I know I gravitate towards people with whom I share similar views, and avoid those who don’t. It’s just easier to share my beliefs with people who agree with me.

However, my inability or unwillingness to speak up only contributes to unbridged chasms (political, religious, etc.) in society, robs me of the opportunity to have healthy robust discussion, and diminishes my moderate, Christian, feminine point of view in society. I risk not being truly known by others, losing self-respect and not asking for what I need or want. I suspect there are countless other temperate voices who are silent for similar reasons.

Even within the church, if I am reluctant to question authority for fear of appearing sacrilegious or disrespectful, I may actually do a disservice to the church. As Helen LaKelly Hunt writes in Faith and Feminism, “if a religious institution does not support an issue that is based upon Christ’s teaching, it’s imperative to challenge the institution, not the teaching.” The early feminists understood this distinction and were instrumental in bringing change to church policies that suppressed, divided and excluded.

In short, my personal search for voice is a journey not only toward my own wholeness but the world’s. I was reminded of this recently when I stayed up until 1:30 AM (way past my bedtime) with two of my book club friends over a glass of wine. We were bemoaning the state of current politics, with two of us feeling it is rather pointless to publicly state our views on social media. My other friend passionately admonished us to speak up. She challenged us to think about chapters in world history where courageous voices made a difference, and conversely where silence allowed hatred, violence or intolerance to triumph.

“God’s wisdom is not a pathway of escape but a road of faithful engagement,” writes Mark Labberton in his book “Called.” “God’s wisdom breaks passivity and leads to action. If we don’t take action, our house is built on sand, even if we profess that it’s built on rock.”   Speaking up is action, with consequences, and we have responsibility to ourselves and to the world to speak our truth in love, respectfully, but with conviction. I may not change entrenched minds with my words, but I should strive to be a seeker and speaker of wisdom, and may then, through example, influence those looking for alternatives to the noisy mainstream talking heads.

Of courage, John O’Donahue writes in “To Bless the Space Between Us”:

“Close your eyes,

Gather all the kindling

About your heart

To create one spark

That is all you need

To nourish the flame

That will cleanse the dark

Of its weight of festered fear.”

Oh Lord, in this time of great strife, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and give me wisdom and courage in thought, word and deed.

Texas!

We just finished a three-week road trip, two weeks of it in Texas. Our excuse this time was to visit our son in Corpus Christi for Mother’s Day weekend. And since we’re retired, our thought process went, why not make it a road trip and do a little exploring?

Our rather random itinerary

Our rather random itinerary

We were pedal to the metal to get to Corpus Christ in time, but then took our time meandering home. Even so, it’s a big state, and we only scratched the surface. But, after a full two weeks in the great state of Texas, here’s some of my take-aways:

Everything is big! The state is big, the roads are long, and the steaks are huge. It was important to plan stops carefully as it’s a long way between towns and there’s extended stretches with no cell coverage to check hours and options. One day we visited Fort McKavett State Historic Park, which was 17 miles west of Menard. When we arrived in Menard at 11:30 am, it seemed too early to eat, so we continued to the Fort. When we returned at 2:10 pm, our lunch spot had closed (at 2:00 pm), so we continued to the next town. We reached Ballinger at 3:05 pm and found everything there shut at 3 pm.  It all worked out, though, as that night our appetites matched our massive rib eyes at Joe Allen’s Steakhouse in Abilene.

The weather can change on a dime. Being accustomed to Southern California, where we never think to check the weather before going out, I was surprised at how often, and quickly, the weather can change in Texas. We had a beautiful Saturday in San Antonio, and decided to drive to Austin on Sunday. About halfway there, we suddenly hit torrential rain. We had the windshield wipers working on high gear, and still couldn’t see ten feet in front of us. We continued our snail’s pace and got there safely. Fortunately, we were going to the LBJ Presidential Library, a perfect rainy-day activity. By the time we finished, it was bright and sunny again.

Texas wildflowers

Texas wildflowers

The wildflowers are spectacular. As we drove through the hill country of western Texas, the countryside was strewn with vivid displays of wildflowers in every shape and color. I especially loved one type of wildflower that had a red center and bright yellow petals. I’m not sure what it is, but it made me very happy.

Texans are friendly. People were very sociable, proud of their towns, and eager to talk to newcomers. My husband has a habit of blurting random things (like “looks like you got your hands full!”) to complete strangers (a habit our son found mortifying as a teenager) and he fit in perfectly. They’d smile and blurt right back, or even blurt first. When we ate at Joe Allen’s Steakhouse, the Texan with the boots and hat at the next table looked over at my steak and asked (loudly) what I was eating and if I wanted to share. I smiled sweetly and said, “Get your own!” which caused the whole group to howl with laughter.

One day we stopped in Beeville, where my husband did his advanced flight training in the late 60’s. The former Navy base is now an eerie ghost town, with the structures and runways still there, but abandoned. As we were leaving, we came across the general manager. When my husband explained our situation, he smiled warmly and offered to give us a personal tour of the old base. The GM, who turned out to be the same age as my husband and grew up in Beeville, was a wonderful host as he drove us around for almost an hour, filling us in on the fascinating post-Navy history of the facility.

Texas made my hair curl. I could gauge the humidity by my hair. The whole time I was in Texas, my hair was abnormally curly. I gave up trying to style it. I’d wash it, brush it out of my face and then let it go wild. Some days, I closely resembled a French poodle. I noticed that the further from the gulf coast we drove, the straighter my hair. If I ever lived in Texas, I’d need to learn and incorporate some humidity-busting tricks into my beauty routine.

They talk funny in Texas. This is one accent I really enjoy. For some reason, stories are funnier with a Texas drawl. And they seem to really enjoy spinning their yarns. In our conversations, there was rarely a quick answer to anything. Instead, there was usually a “great story” that bolstered any normal response, and I didn’t always understand the connection…but the tales were always entertaining. And the word “y’all” is sheer genius.

Thank you, Texas, for a wonderful trip. And y’all take care of my boy, you hear?!

Hurray for Keenan!

As most of my friends well know, I am an obsessed Keenan Reynolds super-fan. Keenan is the outgoing senior quarterback for the Navy football team, who racked up killer statistics in his four-year Navy career, with records and statistics impressive not just for a service academy player, but remarkable for any elite NCAA Division 1 player.   He finished fifth in the Heisman voting and I blogged about my extreme disappointment that he was not invited to the ceremony in New York City in What the Heisman Trophy Says About Us

Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I am so fanatical about Keenan. Certainly, his is a good underdog story, and we all enjoy the David beating Goliath tales. I also feel a pseudo- (or maybe psycho-) maternal affection for him, since he was my son’s classmate at Navy. (I find myself inexplicably tearing up over news of him, which is both touching and a little weird.)

But it may also be partly due to (my perceived) current shortage of inspirational national leadership. I am usually a political junkie, especially during presidential election years, but I can barely bring myself to follow this election. The news terrifies and depresses me. Instead, following coverage of Keenan Reynolds, who to me represents the good in our country and an example of a healthy role model, has been a welcome distraction. And it is frankly deeply comforting when, sometimes, good things happen to the good guys.

It all started because our son was one class ahead of Keenan at Navy, so we attended the majority of Navy’s home games with Keenan at quarterback. We met many of the players, including Keenan, multiple times at various events. It is easy to develop a maternal-like fondness for Navy players, as they are all such inspiring young men, each with compelling life stories and aspirations. I blogged about my growing obsession in The Basketball Tripleheader: My Life as a Groupie

But even among this impressive group, Keenan stood out as a leader of leaders. I believe he is an example of what we should look for, and nurture, in our leadership:

Humility and Presence

Keenan was given his first start at quarterback as a freshman (highly unusual at Navy), took full advantage of the opportunity, worked his tail off, and never looked back. I probably read or saw every interview featuring Keenan (as previously mentioned, I’m obsessed). As he became more and more successful on the field, I half expected a cockiness or arrogance to emerge. Instead, I watched, incredulously, as he developed steadily and surely from a somewhat reticent teenager (suddenly thrust into the spotlight of leadership) to a humble yet confident, engaging and endlessly impressive young man.

I recently read an interview with Scott Strasemeier (Sports Information Director for Navy), who marveled that Keenan, in his four remarkable years at Navy, has been under intense scrutiny and given countless interviews to the press, and that he has never once made a mistake. Not one flubbed speech or misstatement or missed opportunity to give credit to others. In fact, it was Keenan’s consistent insistence on deflecting praise from himself to his teammates and coaches, to putting the team’s success first, that initially made me such a fan.

Flexibility, tenacity and patience.

I am impressed with how Keenan has handled adversity. He has openly shared that playing in the NFL has always been a dream of his. However, he recognized and accepted that the five-year military commitment required of Navy midshipmen would be a significant hurdle to overcome (although recently there have been allowances made for exceptional athletes to facilitate their professional athletic careers). He stated emphatically that he would be honored to serve his country, pursuant to his own personal commitment, in whatever capacity he was needed, even if that meant never playing football again.

I learned this year that there is something called the NFL Scouting Combine, which is apparently a big try-out for college players. Keenan was not invited. He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game in January (another great opportunity to shine for the pro scouts), but as a running back not a quarterback. Despite all his records and success as Navy quarterback, he was deemed too small with too little arm strength for the pros. He later recounted that his father called him, somewhat angry that Keenan was not given a chance at quarterback, but Keenan was grateful for the opportunity to play, in any position. He reportedly wowed the scouts in practice but had to skip the game because of a back strain.

Accepting that the only chance he would have in the pros would be in a position other than quarterback (the position he played his entire life), Keenan worked out as a wide receiver with the Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots and attended a pro day with the Baltimore Ravens, and began working with a punt receiver coach. All the while meeting his academic and military obligations at Navy, and consistently deflecting questions about his future and restating his commitment to the needs of the Navy.

Loyalty, Poise and Values

What most impresses me about Keenan, and what I believe is the bedrock of his leadership, is that he lives by a durable set of personal core values. His upbringing with strong, supportive parents, extended family and a faith community has provided him a solid internal and external support system.

A good leader should have exemplary character and must be trustworthy. A good leader “walks the talk” and in doing so earns the right to have responsibility for others. Keenan, as a “plebe” (freshman) quarterback, was put in a position of leadership on the field over others who mostly outranked him off the field. He had the strength of character to lead, not from ego, but through loyalty to his teammates, poise under pressure, an exceptional work ethic, and a selfless drive to make the team and his teammates better. He earned the respect of his teammates.

Good Things Happen to the Good Guys

After four years of watching Keenan blossom at Navy, it has been exciting to now see him recognized on a national level:

  • Even though he didn’t play at the East-West game in January, he was made a unanimous captain for the East team. Also during this game, he won the Pat Tillman Award, which “is presented to a player who best exemplifies character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service. The award is about a student-athlete’s achievements and conduct, both on and off the field.”

    Keenan's Navy Jersey #19 retired

    Keenan’s Navy Jersey #19 retired (Navy Athletics)

  • On February 28, 2016, the Naval Academy announced that Keenan Reynolds would be the last player to wear No. 19. Besides Keenan, only Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino, and Napolean McCallum have had their numbers retired by the school.
  • Following what I considered a regrettable snub by the Heisman committee last December, I was delighted to see Keenan honored with the James E. Sullivan Award on April 10, 2016. Presented by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), this award is given to “the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.”
    Winner of the AAU Athlete of the Year Award

    Winner of the AAU Athlete of the Year Award (www.navysports.com)

    Past recipients have included Tim Tebow, Michael Phelps and Peyton Manning. Keenan attended the ceremony with his mother and his speech (which of course made me cry) was a model of humility and grace, giving credit to his family, his faith, and his teammates for his success.

    Keenan at a press conference discussing his future with the Ravens

    Keenan at a press conference discussing his future with the Ravens (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)

  • On Saturday, May 30 (I watched the NFL Draft live on my iPhone, something I have never done and never thought I would) in the 6th round, with the 182nd pick overall, the Baltimore Ravens selected Keenan Reynolds, as a wide receiver. I cried tears of joy as I watched the video feed of Keenan taking the call from the Ravens flanked by his mom, dad, little brother, and teammates.
  • The Secretary of the Navy has recently recommended that Keenan be allowed to play full-time with the Ravens, and that he fulfill his military commitment through the Reserves. The Secretary of the Defense must still approve this recommendation, but by all accounts, it is considered a formality.

I admit I am somewhat torn (as are many in the military community) as to whether Keenan should be allowed to play pro football full-time and immediately, without any active duty service commitment. Part of me would rather have someone of Keenan’s caliber protecting our country (his service selection was cyber-security) as opposed to knocking heads on Sunday. (And what if he gets a concussion? my psycho-mom-self worries.) However, it has been a joy, and an opportune diversion to watch the development and emergence of this fine young man. Wherever he lands, either in the sports world, the military, government, or business, he will be a beacon of light, and it soothes my spirit to know that we are producing the next generation of quality young leaders like Keenan Reynolds. And you bet I’ll be rooting for him on Sundays!

A Sibling Story

Last week was National Siblings Day.  Facebook made me aware of this special day, in addition to the many other special days I never knew existed. I enjoyed the photos posted by friends of themselves with siblings, but I was suspicious that National Siblings Day was merely an invention of social media. I learned from Wikipedia, however, that National Siblings Day was created in 1997 (before Facebook), that there is a nonprofit organization to promote it, and “the holiday is intended to be a celebration of the relationship of brothers and sisters.” Unfortunately, no further guidance is given on appropriate means of celebration.

Since National Siblings Day seems to be legit, and proper observance and customs are rather vague, I thought I would celebrate (a week late) by recounting one of my favorite sibling stories. This is a story I have told for years, but just recently learned (from my sibling) a heretofore-unknown and shocking plot twist.

To set the stage, I have two older brothers, Tom (the oldest) and Jim. This particular story involves Tom, who is seven years older than me. During much of my childhood, Tom served two main roles in my life. One was as my protector. If anyone in the neighborhood was bullying me or giving me any problems, all it took was a word to Tom and he’d be off to “talk” to the perpetrator and I was usually never bothered again. However, his other, more problematic role, was that of my tormentor. Tom loved to scare me, for sport, usually through the telling of terrifying tall tales.

This photo says it all. Here I am as a baby with my brother Tom, already terrified. Even while kindly helping with my bath, he's already plotting his scare tactics.

This photo says it all. Here I am as a baby with my brother Tom. I look nervous. He’s thinking of a good horror story.

One evening, when I was around five, Tom was helping me get ready for bed, and the story he chose to tell me was The Lip Story. Now, Tom had a mole right over his lip, and there was some discussion in our household at the time as to whether he should have the mole removed now that he was getting close to shaving age. So, Tom asked me if I’d like to hear the completely true story of how he got the mole. Intrigued, I of course said yes.

Tom began by saying that, on a day before I was born, he was outside during the winter in Michigan (where my family was from originally). It was very cold, and Tom, in defiance of specific instructions from our mother, decided to see what would happen if he put his lips on a car door. What happened, he recounted, was that his lips froze to the door. Our mother then frantically called for an ambulance. The men in the ambulance, he said, were forced to cut Tom’s lips off his face. Thankfully, they took Tom and his lips to the hospital and sewed them back on. The mole, Tom explained, was connected by a thread to his lips and served as an anchor, holding them in place.

Finishing his story, Tom paused for dramatic effect, looked at me and declared, with all sincerity, “So, its very important that they don’t cut off my mole. [Another dramatic pause] Because, if they do, [pause] my lips will fall off.”

At this point, I ran screaming to my mother. When I found her, I was a bawling mess. She calmed me down and asked what was wrong. When I finally recovered, I spit out “Please, [sob] don’t cut off Tom’s mole!!!!!” [More sobbing] After calming me down again, she asked why. “Because, [sob] [sob] his [sob] LIPS WILL FALL OFF!” [Loud wailing]

At which point, as I recalled, my mother dismissed me and yelled “THOMAS ROBERT, COME HERE!” After which, as I also recalled, he received a very long, very stern lecture behind closed doors. And after which, Tom reappeared and sheepishly told me he was sorry he told me this untrue story and that his lips would not fall off if his mole was removed.

This is how I told this story for years, and the telling got more and more dramatic. It even became one of my son’s favorite stories. So, at a family reunion in July 2014, with both of my brothers and their children present, my son asked if I would tell The Lip Story. I of course obliged, and even acted out the more dramatic parts. It was perhaps one of my greatest performances ever. The entire family, young and old, was laughing hysterically.

And then, when I was finished, my brother Tom, who was very amused and still proud of The Lip Story after all these years, asked if he could add further details on the very long, very stern lecture our mother gave him. This being new information to me, I urged him to continue. I couldn’t wait to hear the details of how, exactly, my mother lowered the boom on him.

Tom picked up the story where he was called into a room with our mother for his very stern lecture. He said that Mom looked at him, tried for a moment to keep her composure, then burst out laughing. She laughed and laughed, silently, until tears were streaming down her face. Then Tom began laughing, silently, and the two of them rocked back and forth, giggling and weeping until they laughed themselves out. Then Tom left my mom, found me and apologized and then went to his room and laughed some more with my other brother.

I was stunned. Then I was indignant. This new slant put my sacred story in a completely different light. How could she?! All these years I thought my brother had paid dearly for his cruel joke. Instead, my mother and brother were in the next room yucking it up.

With my brother Tom, who still spins a great yarn.

With my brother Tom, who still spins a great yarn.

But, I’ve come to love The Lip Story even more, because my brother’s postscript sheds light on another, cherished, part of our childhood. Our new joint story reveals a mother who delighted in us all, who had a great sense of humor, and who was able to make each of us feel understood in the midst of this skirmish.

A wonderful gift from siblings is the insight they can provide about our parents. So, Happy Siblings Day to my two cherished brothers, and thank you for making my stories even better.