The other Memorial Day

May 30th was my dad’s birthday. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about him on Father’s Day. Since only 2 people knew of this blog’s existence back then, I’m doing a “rerun”:

I think of my own father, Herbert, who also was the father of four. His wife died at age 33, of leukemia, just a few months after the diagnosis. Dad was left to raise four children under the age of 7 all by his lonesome. How do you survive that gut punch, that heartbreak, that total meltdown of your world? In many ways, my dad never did fully recover. But he did the best he could. We moved from Jersey City, NJ to Hagarville, Arkansas – from the big city to the tiniest speck on the map in the foothills of the Ozarks. “Culture shock” doesn’t do it justice. However, it was a great place for us to grow up with a single parent, and has made my life experiences richer.

We were dirt poor, but our dad bestowed gifts upon us that were priceless: kindness, integrity, compassion.

Herb passed away in 2010. I miss him every day. To anyone who has lost a father, this beautiful song by Billy Bragg is for you.

And to add a bit of “bonus footage” to the rerun, there’s another great song about missing your old man below. My friend Tim Condron (check out his Second Takes blog) lost his father, a Norwood, Ohio firefighter, while we were in college together. His dad contracted Hepatitis B on the job, while coming to the aid of an overdose patient.

(You can read the entire article Tim wrote for Cincinnati Magazine here.) Tim and I took several classes together at Xavier, as we were both communications majors. Shortly after his father passed away, Tim put together a video of still photos of his father with this song as the soundtrack. It was one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever seen.

Here’s to you, Herb and Jim, and all the other good dads who are no longer here, yet always present.

 

Cover band, uncovered!

Church festivals are a big deal in Cincinnati. Every Catholic church in the area has a weekend where they transform their parking lot into a mini state fair (minus the livestock), complete with games of chance, rides, food booths, bid-n-buy, etc. Many parishes will even set up a stage and book local bands too.

Our parish festival is a couple of weeks from now, so they posted the schedule for it in the church bulletin:

I love how they had to emphasize that the local cover band called “Naked Karate Girls” wasn’t actually naked.

Because we all know the church ladies would NOT approve if they were.

The Friday night band is called Devils Due. Maybe that one needs a disclaimer too:

*This band does NOT feature any devils. But they may play some INXS.

 

 

 

This was their finest hour! (Actually, make that 19 hours.)

It wasn’t much of a story, really, just a brief blurb buried in the Cincinnati Enquirer on a few changes that Xavier University is making to their on-campus basketball and volleyball arena, The Cintas Center. But man, did it open a giant can of memory worms for my old XU crew.

Xavier is installing a new craft beer bar in an upper corner of the basketball arena, and the bar they are installing is the same 35-foot cherryback bar that was in The Norwood Cafe, a legendary hole-in-the-wall bar just off campus that was demolished a decade ago when Xavier expanded their campus footprint.

“The Woods” as it was called, was a throwback from a bygone era, when the city of Norwood had a General Motors plant. The bar would open at 5:30 a.m. for those GM third-shifters looking to have a beer — or a famous “Double Beamer” of coke and whiskey — before their morning bedtime. Long after the GM plant quit making Camaros, the bar hours remained the same. For Xavier University students, “opening the Woods” became a thing, a badge of honor, bragging rights: you’d stay up past the closing time of Dana Gardens (the other XU watering hole) at 2:30 a.m., and find something to occupy your time until you could stumble into the Woods at 5:30 a.m. for a nightcap that was really a morning cap. But there was also a legend (or myth) about a few hardy Musketeers who had both opened and closed the Woods – staying there from the time the bar opened until the time it closed… 19 or so hours. Well, straight from the “it seemed like a good idea at the time” book, my friend LJ and I realized that our senior year exam schedule would allow us to complete that feat. Challenge accepted!

L to R: yours truly and LJ. Men on a mission.

We knew we had to pace ourselves, so we limited our alcohol intake, and we also spent most of the daytime hours playing darts and doing yearbook-style legacies/prophecies for all of our buddies. When they showed up that evening, we had an impromptu ceremony, with the reading of the legacies and a gift exchange where each guy brought article that was unique to him. We pulled names from a hat and whoever’s name you picked, you got that person’s keepsake. Which is how Paul from Cleveland wound up with my treasured and oh-so-stylish “Hawg Hat” that no true Arkansas Razorback fan would be without.

Haters gonna hate the Hawg Hat

Bill Clinton has been called a pig by many.

When I read the article about the Woods bar being installed at the arena, I emailed a link to “the gang” figuring it would be good for a chuckle or three. But the response was overwhelming. Nearly every guy weighed in — including our friend Matt, breaking his self-admitted “radio silence” of several years. They brought up memories not only of that night, but of other notable events during our time together on campus.

 

Matt giving Ned his patented “helicopter spin”… he let go a couple seconds later.

I’ve read that women’s friendships are based on shared emotions, and men’s friendships are based on shared experiences. Or as this Wall Street Journal article puts it:

Researchers say women’s friendships are face to face: They talk, cry together, share secrets. Men’s friendships are side by side: We play golf. We go to football games.

Some of my best friends in the whole wide world are in the photos above. Just a bunch of kids from Cleveland and Akron and Strongsville in Ohio and Tampa and Middletown, Connecticut and Louisville and Indianapolis and the West Side of Cincinnati… and Clarksville, Arkansas, of all places. Thrown together in a dorm and learning how to get along. Doing some stupid stuff, but living to tell about it. And living to re-live it… even at our advanced age.

So thank you, Cintas Center, for installing the bar from the Norwood Cafe in your arena. As a season ticket holder for men’s basketball, now I’ll be reminded of good times spent with great friends at least 16 times a year. Maybe I’ll even have a Double Beamer to celebrate. But not 19.

 

No cause for alarm(s)

Three of our kids wrapped up their school year yesterday. Our daughter Leah has a Latin exam today (sounds like fun!) and will be finished before noon. That means I’ll have three glorious months of no kiddie wake-up duty.

And if you’ve never tried to wake up a teenager, I suggest you go poke a rattlesnake nest with your bare hands, it’ll be less painful.

Oh sure, I’ll still get up at the crack of dawn. I’m a 52-year-old guy… nature calls early and often for me. But it’ll be nice to have just a few minutes to spare.

Now that the kiddies are ready to sleep in, I just need to work on the kitties

Enjoy your summer!

 

 

Make every day a Ray Day

I work from home on Tuesdays, and if the stars align, I’m able to sneak in a workout at the Mt. Washington Recreation Center near my house between the time my oldest son heads to high school and the time I have to wake my youngest for grade school.

I used to go to the Rec Center nearly every weekday morning, back before my kids started high school and had an earlier wake-up call. There was a morning crew of about five to eight “regulars” at the Rec back in those days, including an elderly gentleman named Ray Neyer. He was a friendly chap, always smiling, sharp as a tack even in his 80s. Ray became the unofficial mayor of our assemblage.

Yesterday morning I went to the Rec, and one of the other morning workout warriors had made some muffins and brought in some oranges to celebrate “Ray Day” – because he died on May 23, 2015 at the age of 86. Think about that for a moment: someone who only knew Ray from their gym time together each morning was so impressed by him that they were celebrating his life two years after he passed away. That tells you what kind of person he was. His obit certainly shows that he led a fulfilling life:

Ray was a graduate of St Xavier High School (’47) and University of Notre Dame (’52). He was a decorated Korean War veteran. After an honorable discharge Ray worked in and owned the family business Al. Neyer, Inc. with his father, uncle, brothers, sons, nephews & niece until retirement. He received numerous industry awards and held various industry association officer positions. Ray was an active (to say the least) volunteer with The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, Mt. Washington School, North Fairmount Community, Meals-on-Wheels, and Mercy Hospital. In retirement, he was also a regular patron and friend at Mt. Washington Recreation Center. He was also a Board member/Trustee at the Reserve of Turpin Condo Association. Ray received numerous community and organizational awards due to his many contributions and accomplishments: St. Xavier HS’s Insignis Award, the ACI Spirit of Construction award, the WCPO Hometown Hero award, and the AARP Andrus Award for Community Service among others. His final act of giving was to donate his earthly being to the University of Cincinnati. He was an exemplary son, brother, husband, dad, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather, friend, mentor, sounding board, citizen, and all-around great guy. He always left everyone with a smile on their face. 

May we all be so lucky. But it’s not really luck, is it? Ray could’ve stayed home watching Matlock reruns, but he chose to stay active, he chose to get involved, to give back… and he put in the effort to leave folks with a smile on their face. We can do the same, in our own way, to brighten the lives of those around us. Let’s make every day a Ray Day.

 

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