The Story of a Picture

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The picture caught my eye immediately – children playing on a football field during a summer youth football camp captured in a moment of pure joy and excitement.  It is a remarkable picture that tells a story reaching far beyond a week of football practice.  For me, the moment captures a culmination of history.

To most who flipped through the newspaper that day, the picture may have been given only a momentary glance with no second look and certainly no second thoughts.  Children play in Owensboro, Kentucky all the time and this would seem no different from any other.  But for myself and thousands of other people who have worked for and/or graduated from the Owensboro (Kentucky) Public School System – the picture captures a century and a half of a proud heritage.  It is a legacy of bringing children from all races and backgrounds together into one remarkable place and there offering them a chance at a life beyond anything they could have ever expected while together achieving more than anyone could ever hope.  Of all the things I can look back on in my life, my personal history with the Owensboro School System, one that both my children proudly experienced as well, may be the one thing I am most proudly identified with.  Most people know me as “Mr. McFarland” from Owensboro Middle School, where I served for twenty years.  When I am home I still hear young people calling my name though I have been retired now for two years.  But I was just one of thousands who worked to make that extraordinary school system extraordinary.  And that picture captures a moment that tells me all the work through the years has accomplished something far better and far more sustainable than simple knowledge of the ABCs.

Look deep into that picture and you will see kids living life together.  They are black and white, small and large, heavy, skinny, all wearing different clothes from different stores who live in different houses with different families who survive on different levels of income.  It is probable that some are rich, some are poor, some may be gifted as students, some may require special services.  But here they are together.  Owensboro Schools (like all other schools in America) have been challenged since the early 1960s to accept students of all ethnic backgrounds.  It has not always been easy.  There have been tensions through the years  and certainly more to follow – there is no denying that.  But here in this picture you see children who do not seem to care what the skin pigmentation is of the others.  They are playing – and in this moment of what looks like complete joy and liberation, the concern about a racial divide seems light years from their thinking – as it should be.  Owensboro schools have challenged their students to live out their lives color blind with regard to race and though that challenge is ever-present – look at this picture and tell me if we have made progress.  Absolutely!

But there is more to this than simply students together in a picture.  This is an unscripted, candid shot where no one is posing or trying to look their best.  And that is what makes it so special.  The smiles captured in this moment are contagious and this is what parents pray for each morning they send their children to school.  Don’t be fooled.  Parents want their children to be successful but what they really want is for their child to be happy.  Here I am speaking as a parent myself.  If I was a parent of one of these students captured in this photo – I would sleep much better tonight having seen their happiness first hand.  Without knowing it – this photographer gave those parents the greatest gift of all.  The saying that a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child is true and Owensboro schools may never give parents a better report card of their children than to simply say – they are happy.

But there is more still.  The jersey-wearing young man laughing in the center of the picture is a former student of mine that I remember as a middle schooler.  I remember him to be a young man not blessed with great size or athletic ability but one who had heart.  He never backed down from a challenge and coaches could always depend on him giving you everything he had.  Owensboro schools have won nearly thirty state championships in their history because of students just like him.  Certainly there have been outstanding athletes – some All-Americans and future pros.  But always it was young men and women of not great size or skill that won championships.  They won time after time because someone convinced them they were just as good as anyone else.  And with that – they became believers that they could achieve great things and then did.  This picture captures a moment in which that young man with the heart of a lion passes on that tradition to the next generation of “Red Devils” and now we can look and wonder who will be the next champion.

Very soon a new school year will begin back home in Owensboro, Kentucky and a new generation will begin their tenure as students of the Owensboro Public School system.  In that group of students there may be future doctors and lawyers – maybe a president will even emerge.  The truth is we really don’t know what those students will achieve in their lifetime.  It would be my desire that somewhere along the way in their journey a moment will be captured much like this where they will be seen as happy, healthy and loving the life that stretches out before them.  Let Owensboro Schools forever be the place that makes those moments happen.

Forever a Red Devil, Steve McFarland

 

 

 

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Painting With Sue

Lisa gets me into more shi..,stuff.  Now it’s painting.  In her defense I have dabbled in art and painting for years but never had a lesson.  The story of how she got me involved with a local artist here in Cambridge is a typical example of the unusual discoveries she manages to dig up everywhere we have lived.

While visiting the “Hopalong Cassidy Museum” one Saturday a couple of weeks ago, Lisa felt nature call and asked the proprietor about restrooms.  She was gone for quite a while and I started to think maybe something was wrong.  As it turned out she was directed to a downstairs area of the building to use the restroom and discovered what looked like an art studio.  Upon her return to the main floor of the museum she informed me that I had been signed up for an art class.  “Let me get this straight.  You go to the bathroom and when you come back – I am in an art class?”  She explained that upon looking around at the basement art studio she deduced that art classes were held in the room and confirmed that with the museum curator.  He explained that local artist, Sue Dodd, held classes there twice a week and gave her Sue’s phone number.  Lisa called and signed me up and that was that.

I met Sue at her studio for my first lesson last week and I have to confess – we had a blast.  Sue Dodd is a self-taught artist who specializes in acrylics.  At seventy-four years of age, she displays a wonderful love of people along with marvelous artistic skill that looks as good as ever.  She showed me some of her work and I was very impressed.  Several murals on the side of buildings here in Cambridge proudly display her skill as a muralist and her studio walls are lined with examples of her art.  To learn she is self-taught made what I was seeing even more impressive. As it turned out, I was her only student that day and the one on one attention she gave me was very helpful – especially for my first lesson.

She had a scribbled drawing of what we would be painting and I had to confess – I had no idea what I was looking at.  She said it was a scene from an apple grove.  Okay – whatever you say, Sue.  I was seated in front of a canvas board that had been primed and ready for painting.  She poured paint of various colors on some paper plates in front of me and my first lesson was underway.

After chalking off our center line (or focal point) she showed me how to dab various colors on my brush and then I watched her use sweeping strokes to create the background sky.  Her skill was evident from the first sweep of her brush and I never could quite match her colors or brush skills.  Her trees angled up into the misty sky she had created and she guided my hand to do the same.  At times she would suggest I rotate my canvas on the easel to get a better angle or to create an effect that only a skilled artist would understand.  We created shadows and light, apples and ladders and bushes and grass and fog.  We listened to old music she had playing on her radio and at one point we sang “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”.  She made me laugh and I made her laugh and we just had fun.  By the end of the two hours I had a completed painting.  Not bad.

I’m not sure I will ever be as good an artist as Sue Dodd – probably not.  But I am glad to have made that connection.  I hope Sue and I get to spend more time painting together before our time here in eastern Ohio is through.

And just think.  If Lisa had not gone to the bathroom – Sue and I may have never met.

Frame it!  Steve and Lisa

 

Famous People Everywhere

While we were living in Kingman Arizona last summer, it seemed appropriate in that western setting to find out that Kingman celebrated its most famous citizen – a cowboy movie star named Andy Devine.  The town named one of its major roads “Andy Devine Avenue” and held “Andy Devine Day” and an annual rodeo in his honor.  We never expected to find out that two thousand miles away here in Cambridge, Ohio – we would find that another famous cowboy is celebrated.  Cambridge is known as the birthplace and boyhood home of William Boyd (Bill) – better known as “Hopalong Cassidy”.

Lisa and I discovered this fact as we perused some of the antique stores here in the area.  Hopalong Cassidy memorabilia seemed to be everywhere and I finally asked one of the locals why and he explained that Boyd was born here in Cambridge.  To be accurate – Boyd’s family actually lived Hendrysburg, Ohio (just east of Cambridge) where he was born in 1895.  His family moved to Cambridge when Bill was six years old.  They lived in the Cambridge area until 1909 when the family moved to Tulsa Oklahoma.  Bill Boyd ended up in southern California with his grandmother after his father was killed while working for the Tulsa Water Company when a water main exploded.  His migration west would eventually land him in Hollywood and (as they say) the rest is history.

Today only a few indicators of William Boyd and his “Hopalong” fame exist here in Cambridge.  The “Hopalong Cassidy Museum” is a privately owned shrine to his life and movie career that describes itself as both a museum and an antique store.  Lisa and I took a Saturday morning stroll through the museum recently and found it both quaint and amusing.  There still seems to be great pride among the older citizens in their most famous son and Lisa or I would never want to make light of that.  Memorabilia from the early 1950s era in which “Hoppymania” swept the country is showcased in various rooms in the museum (We learned the building was once the Cambridge hospital).  His popularity was a little before mine and Lisa’s time and to be honest, I never remember ever watching a “Hopalong Cassidy” movie.  Perhaps someday I will find one of his movies on DVD and sit down and watch.  I feel connected to him in a way having lived here in Cambridge, Ohio.

It  is interesting that Cambridge has very little to say about another famous person born in this town.  John Glenn was a famous astronaut and US Senator who was born in Cambridge in 1921.  Glenn grew up just down the road in New Concorde, Ohio and there is a high school named after Glenn in New Concorde along with other landmarks that celebrate his life.  Perhaps New Concorde worked out a deal with Cambridge that Cambridge could have Hopalong Cassidy if New Concorde could have John Glenn.  You can judge for yourself who got the best deal.

Small towns that Lisa and I have lived in or visited have interesting histories and many (if not most) have a famous son or daughter that is celebrated with little museums or festivals. Here are some examples of some we have experienced:

In Addison, Alabama where Lisa’s brother and his family live, they celebrate the life of Pat Buttram – who was famous for his role as “Mr. Haney” the squeaky voiced salesman on the old sixties sit-com, “Green Acres”.

We lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and, of course, there is no place in America with more history.  In Gettysburg vendors sale pen and pencil sets made from wood taken from trees that were alive during the famous Civil War battle.  In Gettysburg even the trees are famous.

Our stay in Stone Mountain Georgia was another location full of history.  The city of Stone Mountain was destroyed during the Civil War and the area is rich with war history and hero’s.  The area played a role in the famous Civil War locomotive chase known as “Andrew’s Raid”.  Walt Disney produced his own version of that story in the 1956 film “Great Locomotive Chase” starring Fess Parker.  The Confederate Memorial sculpture on the north side of the mountain was designed by Gutzon Borglum, who began the carving but later abandoned the project to complete his most famous work, Mount Rushmore.  Borglum is not a native son of Stone Mountain Georgia, but does connect those two famous landmarks.  Borglum also sculpted the North Carolina memorial located on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg – another interesting connection of our travels.

And finally.

While in Loma Linda, California I discovered that a famous person from my childhood had a rather strange connection to that southern California community.  Alan Reed, who was the voice of Fred Flintstone, upon his death, had his body donated to the Loma Linda University School of Medicine – where Lisa worked in 2013.  I never did find a statue of Alan Reed or Fred Flintstone anywhere on campus.  I may start a campaign.

Come to think about it – maybe that would be an interesting angle for small towns around the country to take that do not have anyone famous to call their own.  Though they may not have anyone famous born in their little town  – perhaps they could get famous people to die there.

Hopping Along!  Steve and Lisa

Blessing the Children

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not burden them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there.”  Matthew 19: 14-15.

Jesus loved children.  There are a number of stories in the scripture that bear witness to that fact.  I thought of that this week after an experience I had during my morning walk in downtown Cambridge.  Each day after I drop Lisa off at work, I spend an hour or so walking from one end of the main downtown area to the other.  Most often I encounter people starting to arrive at work or city workers sweeping sidewalks and watering the potted plants that hang from the street light poles. The world everywhere is just waking up at seven in the morning and Cambridge Ohio is no exception.  Most of my passing encounters with other people during my walks happen with just a mumbled  “Good Morning!” greeting and nothing more.  That was not the case this past Friday morning.

At one point during my journey I passed an apartment building and noticed a little boy playing near the front door.  It is important to say that the apartment door was no more than three feet from the sidewalk where I walked and the little boy was playing in a brick section of the walk directly in front of his door.  I noticed the child did not have a grass area in which to play but had managed to dig out some dirt between the bricks to maneuver his little trucks and cars.  He was rutting out roads between the bricks and had managed to mound up enough dirt for hills to push his toy trucks over.  It is amazing how much I noticed in the few seconds it took for me to walk up to and past he and the little play area he had created.  Lisa is right in saying that I normally don’t notice anything.  She has said I would not see a moose if it was in our back yard.  She is right about that.  But this time I noticed all these things about this little boy playing outside his meager apartment.  And then something amazing happened.

Every now and then in my life an idea will hit me so sudden and unexpected that I am convinced something supernatural is involved.  My hunch is that I am not the only person to have experienced this.  Where my selfish thoughts are typically on the mundane issues of my own life – this idea, this unexpected thought, seemed so unusual – so outside me that I knew I had to act on it.  And I knew that the idea was not just mine alone.  God had just shown up.  My steps quickened as I rounded the corner out of sight from the little boy playing and I headed down the main street of Cambridge on a mission.

The “Dollar Store” on Wheeling Avenue, the main street of Cambridge, opens early each morning and it was there that my unusual and unexpected idea started taking shape.  I scanned the aisles quickly and soon found the toy section.  I searched for a few minutes until I found exactly what I needed.  After paying the cashier – I headed back out into the morning sunshine and back to the little boy.  It’s sad to say but I thought about my next move as I headed back down the sidewalk and realized that in this perverted world I had to be careful when talking or interacting with children.  Fearing my actions may be misinterpreted – I thought through what I would do next.  The final idea in this grand scheme came to me as I approached him still playing near his front door.  As I walked up beside him I laid the yellow “Dollar General Store” bag down and said, “I remember playing trucks and cars when I was a boy.  Have fun!”  And with that I walked away.  I did not want the boy to follow me or ask any questions.  I don’t even know what his reaction was.  I just wanted him to have what was in the yellow bag.  When he did look inside he found twelve brand new toy trucks and cars.  But by then I was long gone.

Jesus worked in people’s lives and then often left without really knowing what happened.  Often He healed people or blessed their lives in some way and then went away.  Being God I can assume He really did know the effect of His ministry.  It was  HIs purpose to move forward and not linger as He fulfilled His earthly mission.  In the story of Jesus and the children – He blessed them and then departed.  We don’t know what effect that blessing had on those children – my guess is that it was profound.  But He left – for whatever reason.  Maybe He did not want to draw attention to Himself – I don’t know.  The important thing is that He blessed them.

This past week I had the opportunity to bless a little boy playing on a dirty sidewalk here in Cambridge.  I write this not to shine light upon my good deed.  The truth is my good deeds come far too infrequently.  This is to say that an unexpected miracle happened just off Wheeling Ave. in Cambridge Ohio.  Jesus showed up and, through me, blessed another child. For an instant it felt like I was standing on holy ground and I had a profound sense that in that moment – I was not alone.

What a lucky man I am to have been there.

Be a blessing!  Steve and Lisa

 

150

This marks the 150th blog that has been posted here at trippinwithsteveandlisa.com.  Two years ago Lisa and I set out from Owensboro, Ky. (following my retirement) and headed for Hanover, Pa.   It would be the start of an adventure that has taken us from there to southern California, Arizona, Georgia and now, eastern Ohio.  There have been many wonderful experiences but also some long, lonely nights of missing family and friends.  This blog has served as a way to stay connected to our friends and family and to share our travel experiences.  It is my hope that something I have written has brought a smile to your face or touched your life in some way.  If that happened – I thank God.  We have had almost 15,000 hits on this little blog over the past two years and as many as 1600 readers for one of the articles.  I am humbled by the response of many who have told me they have been encouraged by these stories and observations from our travel experiences. 

It has been my intention to write in an open and honest voice and have learned that many readers relate to the experiences I have shared – including some of the painful realities of life as Lisa and I have experienced them.  I have left myself open to extreme criticism and exposed our lives to the world and its harsh judgements.  Writing is a vulnerable activity and once that “Publish” button is pushed – the world has access.  I will continue to expose that part of our lives to the world and pray that God will give me a voice for others who share similar life experiences. 

People often tell me I should be a writer.  Over time I realize that I am a writer – I just don’t get paid.  I write because I have to – it is just part of who I am.  Forgive me if I sometimes fail grammatically – I am writer, editor and publisher and I make mistakes.  Thank you for overlooking the errors. 

Who knows where God will send us from here or what adventures lie ahead?  Lisa and I are just glad you have traveled this road with us.

God bless all of our readers and thank you!

Steve and Lisa

Small Town Fireworks – Yeah Right!

Disney World has spectacular fireworks – every single night.  We should know.  We have seen them multiple times.  There is just nothing quite like the quality and quantity of pyrotechnics they fill the skies with 365 nights a year.  Granted we have helped pay for many of them and we carry a little guilt about how that money went up in smoke – literally.  But no regrets.

The problem with Disney is that nothing can quite live up to their standards.  You will never be in a better amusement park, ride better rides, stay in nicer resorts or eat better food than what Disney offers.  The truth is – Disney sets a standard for entertainment that nothing can rival.  Lisa and I knew when we were told about the “spectacular fireworks show” being staged here at our campground that they would be boring and may not be even worth our time – being the arrogant, know-it-all, seen-it-all Disney-philes that we are.  But, we had nothing better to do so we took our lawn chairs and headed over to the lake front to get as good a view as possible for what was certain to a big exploding joke.

The “Spring Valley Campground” is, apparently, the place to be on the fourth of July in eastern Ohio.  Every camper and tent space was occupied over the long weekend and hundreds of others paid the five dollar entry fee to sit out under the stars for the big show.  People at Lisa’s work had even declared it to be the “must-see” event of the year and some had even asked to park near our camper just to secure a spot for their car.  I was certain that none of these yahoos had ever experienced anything like we had – we being such world travelers you know.  Well hold onto your sparklers folks!

First, I need to describe (the best way I can) the location of this “big show”.  A rather large, oval-shaped lake sits in the center of our campground with a spacious, grassy bank on one side and a wooded hill on the other.  The fireworks were set up to be launched along the shore in front of the wooded area and spectators gathered with their lawn chairs and blankets along the grassy bank opposite.  There really was not an obstructed view and my only fear was that these amateurs igniting the things – would launch one into the unprotected crowd just a hundred yards or so away.  Fortunately that did not happen.  At one end of the lake a temporary stage had been set up and a southern rock band played into the evening as the sun began to descend.  The unusually cold weather had Lisa and I wishing we had brought a blanket and some hot chocolate to keep warm.  As the band finished their set we heard “The Star Spangled Banner” being sung by the lead singer and we assumed the show was about to begin.  After a brief interlude, the band returned for several more songs and mercifully announced they were going to be wrapping up their concert with a crowd favorite – even encouraging people to sing along.  I guessed they were going to do a version of “God Bless the USA”.  Instead they broke into their big finale – wait for it – “Sister Christian”.  That’s right – “Sister Christian”.  Our patriotic juices flowed.

As the anthem finally (and mercifully) ended we noticed fireworks being launched across the lake and to say they were mediocre is overstating their impact.  I have seen more impressive bottle rockets. The low flying sparklers were launched one at a time for the next five minutes and then suddenly the show was over – or was it?  We could see more fireworks on their launching pads along the shore across the lake set to launch and (I was sure) amaze everyone.  You could almost hear Lisa’s eyeballs rolling.  And so the wait began.  As the night grew colder Lisa and I were not sure it would be worth freezing over.  By the looks of the preliminary show we were, in fact, certain it would be smarter to watch fireworks on ‘YouTube’.  But we waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Fifteen minutes passed and still we waited.  People in the crowd began muttering about technical problems. Men with flares moved along the shore across from us and we watched and wondered why the long delay.  Another fifteen minutes passed.  By now Lisa was scrunched up in her seat trying to not freeze to death and I had stretched my sweatshirt over my knees like a little girl waiting for the school bus on a cold October morning. People started shouting across the lake at the fireworks crew.  One yelled, “Hurry up! I’ve got to pee!”  Chants started up, “Fireworks!”, “Fireworks!”, “Fireworks!”.  Still nothing happened.

Finally Lisa and I decided we had enough.  We folded our chairs and started walking back toward our camper.  My thought was that the thousand or more people still waiting would be rioting soon if something didn’t happen and it may be better to get home now before the real shooting started.  As we walked up the grassy slope toward the road we heard “The Star Spangled Banner” again being played – this time a recorded version. Perhaps the organizers were trying to calm the agitated crowd with more music but, as the anthem neared its end, fireworks flew into the sky across the lake cascading into an impressive red, white and blue spray.  The show was finally underway.  Lisa and I unfolded our chairs and sat down again to watch what was certain to be a massive disappointment.

‘Holy Mother Of All That Explodes!’  Over the next thirty minutes our little campground was transformed into Valley Forge, Gettysburg and Epcot – all in one.  Explosions of color filled the sky and lit up the wooded hillsides as rocket after rocket soared into the night.  At several points during the show the rockets propelled out of their canisters in machine gun like speed bursting over the lake in massive explosions.  Multi-colored bursting bombs of red, green, blue, silver and gold dazzled the onlookers as Lisa and I sat completely stunned.  Clouds of smoke-filled the entire valley and at times covered the on-coming explosions underneath.  Enormous cascades of fire drifted down from high above – at times nearly reaching the water below while others crossed the sky and each other in comet-like streaks of white.  And that was just the first five minutes. Over the next twenty minutes there was no pause from the pyro-technic onslaught.  We were not just impressed – we were in stunned, mouth-gaping shock.  I was certain we would find dead fish floating on the lake the next morning from all the gun powder dropping into the water.

The show continued until finally the grand finale sent balls of fire from the docks that stretched out into the lake while more were simultaneously launched from the shore. In a final burst of pyrotechnic magic – blasts of fire flew from the trees on the hill (Yes, you heard that right – they were launched out of the trees on the hill) and all exploded in a burst of color and flash that would make Francis Scott Key proud.  Un-freakin-believable!  I stood and whistled and cheered as the show ended and the smoke drifted over the lake below.  The men (and woman perhaps) who had launched the fireworks waved their orange flares above their heads to the cheers of a standing ovation and then threw them into the lake.  How cool was that?

Lisa and I walked back to our camper in almost stunned silence.  Finally I said it.  “That was as impressive as Disney.”  She agreed.  The only thing missing from the “Spring Valley Campground” fireworks show in Cambridge Ohio was Cinderella’s Castle.

And they may have that here next year.

Love, Steve and Lisa

Even Flawed Diamonds Sparkle

When my dad passed away in November 1988, my mom was determined that I have his diamond ring.  Given to him by his grandmother who raised him, the diamond is nearly two full carats in size and one I was proud to wear – for a while.  The truth is I am just not a diamond kind of guy – it is just not my personality to wear gold, diamonds or other bling.  With my mom’s permission I had the diamond reset into a ring for Lisa and always think of my dad when I see it sparkle on her hand.

She often has people comment about the size of the diamond and question if it is real.  The stone has maintained luster all these years and most people who see it often comment about its beauty.  But there is something most do know about the ring.  It has a flaw.  If you look closely into the center of the stone – you can see a dull, gray speck that may ultimately diminish its value.  You have to look close and you have to know the ring well enough to know where to look.  But there really is a flaw.

If there is one thing that is the perfect reminder for me of my father, it is that ring.  Like all fathers, including myself, there are things to be proud of – things to gladly honor and brag about.  But there are also flaws in every father on earth and my dad was no exception.

Today (July 5, 2014) would have been my father’s 97th birthday.  I can’t believe that time has passed so quickly.  But in thinking about him today I find myself appreciating not just the good things about him – but the flaws as well.  Maybe only men can understand this – but it seems there is something almost innate in our maleness that demands that we find honor in our dads – no matter how flawed they may have been.  Maybe time has a way of removing some of the painful memories of growing up and the many mishandled situations our fathers may have stumbled through.  As a father myself, I know that fatherhood is the most difficult job in my life and often there are no helps available.  There have been countless situations when I have looked for answers from my own experiences with my dad and come up empty.  I realize that my dad and I have something in common – we are both flawed.

But the diamond ring still sparkles.  My dad did an amazing job raising my brother and I and I am so appreciative of his life and dedication to his family.  If I could point to one particular thing that made the difference for me it was that he was always available. My dad was not a great business success in his life – was a low ranking fireman for nearly thirty years with no ambition to be more than a hose man.  But that did not matter to me.  As a boy, there was nothing greater than seeing him in his uniform.  I could not have cared less if he was captain, fire chief or multi-millionaire – he was my dad and that was really all that mattered.  As a firefighter he worked twenty-four hours at a time but would then be off for forty-eight – so it seemed he was always home and always available to me.  That was the greatest gift he gave me – himself and his time.

My brother and he never got along and the struggle he had with that relationship must have been made up with me.  He never went anywhere without me by his side.  He took me to every Owensboro Red Devil football game, every Kentucky Wesleyan basketball game, and we even took in a Pittsburgh Pirate baseball game once in 1970 in Cincinnati.  When he had to go pay bills – I was with him.  Unlike so many fathers that I knew growing up – he did not just send us to church.  He went with us and we sat together – always.  As a young boy there was no place I would rather be than with him.  But, as I got older, his demands for my time felt suffocating and like all father-child relations there were strains and tensions that we somehow found ways to work through.

I look back on my dad’s life and realize that he did an amazing job raising two boys considering the situation of his own life.  My dad did not really have parents to show him how to be a father.  He was raised by his grandmother after his mom died when he was a small boy. His father remarried and had little or no contact with him after that.  I recently received a letter he had written to his father while he was in military school during his teenage years and it spoke volumes about their relationship.  He wrote to tell him he had improved his grades and that he hoped he would be proud of him.  My hunch is my dad never thought his father was proud of him.  Reading that letter broke my heart but also helped me understand him a little better.

My dad wanted me to be things that he never was.  He had aspirations for me to be a great athlete and pushed me hard and then harder in that area.  Over time I began to resent him for that and by the time I reached high school was so burned out by youth sports that I refused to play.  It is a painful memory of my past that I regret but have learned to accept.  Like him – I wanted my father to be proud of me.  I think he was.  When Lisa and I married and Justin came along – he became proud “Pap-Paw Mac”.  Heather was born only a month before he passed away – but I know he would have loved her beyond measure.

One of my last fond memories of my dad was being with him to welcome back his beloved Kentucky Wesleyan College basketball team after they won the national championship in 1987.  I remember John Worth II, an All-American guard on that team and good friend to Lisa and I, coming to him after he got off the bus and hugging him.  My dad cried.  It may very well have been the last really good moment in his life and I will never forget Johnny II for that.  Four months later my brother Gary would pass away suddenly and my dad was never the same again.  His health failed and the broken heart of losing his oldest son would never mend.

Since he passed away in 1988 there have been so many times that I wish he was here.  I wish he could have seen Corey Crowder when he played for Kentucky Wesleyan and I am certain he would love watching Andrew McCutcheon roaming centerfield for the Pirates.  He was on my mind during both Heather and Justin’s weddings and I know he would have loved little Conner Jack, his great-grandson.

July 5, 2014.  I am 54 years old and still cry at the thought of losing my dad – nearly twenty-six years ago.  I am still working to accept the flaws of his life and will probably be working through that till the end of my days on earth.  But from a distance no one can see the flaws – only the sparkle.  And, boy, does that diamond sparkle.

Tom Lea’s son, Steve