In Search of My Father

There has been a surge in interest in genealogy. People are wanting to know where they came from. For Americans this is particularly intriguing as we more than most have a myriad of cultures, places, and ethnicities embedded in our DNA. My genealogy was three fourths completed years ago even before the internet was able to accommodate such research,  through intense effort by family members.

A distant relative from France traced my maternal grandmother’s lineage. It turns out that  a Louisiana governor whose name was Pierre Bourguignon-d’Herbigny is in fact one of my ancestors. He fled France during the time of the revolution and arrived in Pennsylvania in 1790 where he took a wife. He eventually moved to New Orleans in 1800. He became Governor of Louisiana in 1828. In 1829 he was killed in a horse and buggy accident in Gretna, Louisiana on the west bank of the Mississippi River from New Orleans.The author of the book written 1979 was Michel d’Herbigny of Lille France. There was a lot of work that went into this book as the sheer number of relatives produced from the line of Derbigny ( the Americanized spelling) is staggering. Well into the book there is section detailing where a woman named Louisiana LaBarre married a man named John Wagner. That union would produce two offspring, Peter John Wagner in 1884 and Anna Wagner in 1895.  Their father, John Wagner, died the same year of Anna’s birth and her mother would pass away four years later, which meant that Anna Wagner would grow up in an orphanage in New Orleans. Anna Wagner was my grandmother.

On January 19th, 1884 the SS Prinz George, which had left Sicily in 1883, arrived in New Orleans. Among the passengers was Nicolo Cuccia and and his wife Calogera. This had been a grueling voyage that came at a great cost as their eleven month old son Giuseppi had died while the ship had been anchored in New York harbor a month earlier. The Cuccia’s would go on to have eight more children in New Orleans. In March of 1897 their sixth child, Giacomo, was born. Giacomo, later to be called Jake, was my maternal grandfather. This information was gathered by a cousin, Mike Stapleton, who still resides in New Orleans. Jake Cuccia and Anna Wagner would eventually wed and have six children, including a daughter named Joyce in 1923. Joyce Cuccia was my mother.

In 1823 Belgian immigrants arrived in Rosiere,Wisconsin. Joseph and Barbara Wautelet began a family that generations later would result in the birth of a son to Fabian Wautlet ( an e having been dropped from the surname at this time) and his wife Rose Meyer Wautlet. The son, Merle, would be one of ten offspring born to Fabian and Rose, nine of which survived to adulthood. The year Merle was born was 1925. Merle Wautlet, later to be known as Merriel Wautlet, and then finally Merrill Wautlet, was my father. My cousin Kay Warning, a Catholic nun, compiled all of this in a book in 1997.

The problem with genealogy is that it gives you facts but lacks background. You can only surmise what your ancestors were like. Without a direct oral history to give you the nuance and details of their lives you are often left with questions. My father passed away suddenly when I was eleven. I never got to know him as an adult. I never got to seek his counsel or ask him questions about his life choices. The man I loved so much died without me having a chance to find out what kind of man he was down deep. So I went looking for him. What I discovered was that he was an enigma, but a highly regarded one.

My journey started by asking my family members in New Orleans what my dad was like. He had spent much of his adult life there and had been married to my mother for twenty years when he died in 1970. What I found were reoccurring themes. He was universally regarded as being intelligent. That he was someone that was considered wise and people sought his counsel when they had problems. That he was easy going, friendly, and tolerant.  I knew he liked sports, as we often watched football together. I knew he had been a Merchant Marine in World War II, and later a merchant seaman until he met my mother. I recall him being handy around the house and that he was able to make routine repairs. I knew he enjoyed a cold beer after work. Sometimes he would bake Chocolate Chip cookies, which I later learned is something all my Wisconsin relatives do. What was lacking was insight. Why did he leave his home in Wisconsin? What drove his desire to see the world as a young man? What were his beliefs on politics and religion? What I was getting was the surface of the man. He stayed married to a volatile and challenging woman until his death. What was his reason for such devotion to someone who could be so unstable and fiery one minute, and sweet and loving the next? I needed and wanted to know more.

I decided to query my relatives in Wisconsin. He had left home at the age of 17 so many of his younger siblings knew little about him as well. With the death of his older brother as a child my father only had four contemporaries for me to select from. His older sister Arleen, his sister Marian, and his brother and sister Karl and Carol, who were twins.

My late Aunt Arleen did did give me some of the insight I was yearning for. She said my dad was highly intelligent but had little interest in school and often skipped going to class. He had a strained relationship with my grandfather. This made sense to me. I often asked my father questions about his dad and his responses were vague. All I knew was that my grandfather was a carpenter who died suddenly at the age of 51 from a stroke. I’m fairly certain my dad never had a chance to reconcile with his father any differences that may have had, and that this must have bothered him.

Aunt Arleen told me my dad left home as a minor at the age of 17 to go join the Merchant Marines and that while my grandmother was reluctant to grant permission it was my grandfather who persuaded her to let my father leave. My late Uncle Karl confirmed for me that my father’s relationship with his dad was tempestuous. He said that after my dad left home from that point on contact was limited to letters he wrote my grandmother and an occasional brief visit home. I do recall relatives coming to visit us in New Orleans and we in turn traveling to Wisconsin to visit them. One of my most vivid memories is seeing my dad’s eyes well up with tears when we were saying good bye in the summer of 1970. We were heading to Germany in  a few weeks, as my dad had been transferred there for work. He would pass away four months later. It makes me wonder if he felt somewhere deep inside if his time was limited and that this would be the last time he would see his mother.

After all of that I felt I had hit the wall and was just going to have to accept the fact that there would be some things about my dad I would never know. Then a year ago I saw an ad for I knew it was run by the Mormon Church, and that they had the most extensive genealogical records on earth, in part based on a belief we all came from a common descendant. I decided to check out the free trial. I had one goal in mind, to see if there was anything in there about my dad that I didn’t already know. With no hope at all I rolled the dice and much to my joy I struck some gold.

On the website were links to some records from my father’s time at sea. I found four ship manifests. The first was dated 1944. It listed my dad as being 19 years old standing 5’11 and weighing 175 pounds. The ship he was on had left the Marshall Islands near the equator in the Pacific Ocean and arriving in Seattle that same year. Also in 1944 was a manifest that now listed my dad as being 6’0 and 180 pounds on a ship that left the island of Saipan and arrived in San Francisco.

in 1946 he was listed as being 20 years old, 5’11 and 185 pounds, and was on a ship that left Mobile, Alabama, went through the Panama Canal, and arrived Honolulu. In 1947 at the age of 22 he was on a ship that left Port Said, Egypt and it docked in New York.

My puzzle began to connect. It wasn’t that my father was a bad student, he was an unmotivated student. He craved knowledge but wanted it first hand. He didn’t want to read about the world he wanted to see it, experience it intimately, not from a text book. I can only imagine how many other sea voyages he had between the ages of 19 and 22 or the years after that. How many books he must have read during his time at sea when there was no satellite television. The people he met and the cultures he came in contact with.

I was on a roll now. I abandoned Ancestry and went on memory. I found the community in India he lived and worked in for almost two years in the early sixties. I found the plant in Wales he worked at just before his death when we were in Germany. I recalled bits and pieces of conversations now about places such as Shanghai and Rotterdam. My father was a man of the world and now through my computer I visited the places he had been and began to make sense of the man I loved and admired.

In all honesty there are still missing pieces and questions that will remain unanswered, particularly since almost all of his peers are deceased. I’m ok with that though. As an adult myself I realize some things are yours and yours alone. What I came away with is that following your dream isn’t always easy and there are consequences at times. My father’s desire to be true to himself, and having the courage to leave home and go into the great beyond leaves with me a great sense of pride and admiration for him.He packed a lot into his 45 years and and in the process touched a great many people. Everyone I had ever spoke with about him always had left me with the sense that they not only liked and respected him, but in many ways they revered him. Now I have a much better sense of where that presence and quiet command came from. I think my search is over…for now!




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Live to Ride…Ride to Live

Everyone has a favorite holiday. Whether it is Christmas, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July we all have a time of year we look forward to and count down the days. For me, being a son of New Orleans, it was Mardi Gras. It always has been my favorite time of year and always will be.

For those not familiar with Mardi Gras, or Carnival, it is a time period of revelry leading up to the Lenten season, which is sacred to Christians. Catholics make up a large portion of the population of New Orleans, so having a last hurrah before we make penance awaiting the coming of Easter is a big deal. No place throws a party like New Orleans, and while Mardi Gras is now celebrated in other cities, the New Orleans experience is like no other. Parades, masked balls, and other events make it a non-stop party for about a month.

As a child my parents took me to numerous parades but Mardi Gras Day, also known as Fat Tuesday, was the culmination. Schools and offices were closed and everyone wore costumes. During the 1960’s I was a comic book collector. My favorite was Batman. There was also a Batman television series. As such , every year for about five years I dressed up as the Caped Crusader in a costume sewn lovingly by my grandmother. It wasn’t of the standard of today’s modern costumes, but when I donned my cape and cowl as a five year old there was no doubt that for at least one day the city of New Orleans was safer under my watch. Hearing the cries of “Hey Batman” just reaffirmed what I already knew.

We would wake up early that morning and drive to my grandmothers house in an area now called the Lower Garden District. Once we arrived I would berate my mother until we left the house and made the four block walk to St. Charles Avenue to await Zulu, Rex, and the truck parades Crescent City and Elks. We would stand and yell “Throw me something mister!” until my voice gave out. Rain or shine we were there and afterwards we would trek back to my grandmother’s home, exhausted, to go over our haul for the day and visit with other family members. As evening approached we would head home and I always fell asleep in the back of the car. Getting up for school the next day was a challenge at best.

After my father suddenly passed away my life was in turmoil. My mother was now a widow with an eleven year old to raise. She ended up purchasing an apartment house in Uptown New Orleans a block and half off of St. Charles Avenue. The rent from the apartments, combined with social security, gave us income along with place to live. More importantly I was at center stage for all the parades. For years our home was a gathering place for Carnival. After college I moved back to New Orleans and lived in one of my mothers’s apartments. During the Mardi Gras season my friends would  move in with me for days at a time and it lead to some funny circumstances.

One afternoon I went to my apartment and found a stranger laying on my couch. I came up to him and asked who he was. He responded by saying ” Don’t mess with me man. I know the dude who knows the dude who owns this place!” I then said “I’m the dude.”

On another occasion I came into my apartment to use the bathroom and saw a very attractive girl standing by the bathroom door. I walked up to her and before I could say a word she uttered “There’s a line.” I just looked at her and said “It’s my bathroom.”

I was now old enough to actually know people who rode in parades and I was always envious. At that point in my life I didn’t have the resources to justify the cost of joining a Mardi Gras Krewe, so I just became content to spectate. When someone on a float recognized you that was always special, as you usually got pelted with beads, doubloons, cups and other items. When I was still in college My uncle and two cousins rode in Babylon. The year my uncle was King my cousins rode together on the same float. Upon seeing me one of them hit me square in the chest with a bag of doubloons. Upon impact, ( as an aside getting hit with a bag of doubloons hurts..a lot), the bag exploded and my feet and ankles were promptly engulfed by kids and other people. You learn at an early age never to pick doubloon off of the ground, unless you want to risk getting your hand stomped on, so I just backed away. My other cousin summoned me to the float, holding a big bag full of throws.

As I ran towards him he tossed the bag to me, which I caught. At the same time a guy literally jumped onto my back and reached over my shoulders and tried to wrest my bag from me. Locals know that it is courtesy to let someone being summoned to a float catch their prize. However Mardi Gras attracts tourists, and alcohol flows freely. This guy apparently was not local and was, shall we say, imbibed.

At first I just said something like, “Hey man that’s my cousin and he threw this bag to me.”, but it became apparent that this person was not going to be reasoned with. At that point I leaned forward and then thrust the bag back as hard as I could, hitting my antagonist squarely in the face. He fell off my back and landed on the street.

New Orleans police are among the best in the world at crowd control, primarily due to Mardi Gras. Skirmishes of any kind are dealt with swiftly, usually with cops on horseback wading those two thousand pound animals into the crowd. In this case before I could turn around two of New Orleans finest had me by each arm.

As they lead me to the sidewalk I calmly related what had happened. They both had seen it and were sympathetic. Our police always use force as a last resort. One of the policeman just said, “We were coming to get the guy off you. It would have better if you hadn’t knocked him out.” With  bit of a grin he then said ” Do you have any other relatives riding tonight?” When I said no they told me to go on my way and have a good time, but not to put any more tourists in the street.

One of the most treasured Mardi Gras throws was a spear. I related to a a friend of a friend who was in my apartment during Mardi Gras, ( remember I had a bathroom), that you had to know somebody on a float to have any chance of getting a spear. The next day I was watching a parade when I heard my name called. A rider was holding a spear and beckoning me to the float. As he handed it to me I realized it was the guy who had been in my apartment the day before. As the float rolled away he called out ” You know somebody!!”

As the years passed I did get to ride in two suburban based parades, and it was fun, but it was not the same as a New Orleans parade. After my mother passed I kept her apartment open and had many memorable Mardi Gras events there. Then I relocated to Shreveport, over three hundred miles away, so my wife and I could be closer to our two special needs sons that were in a care facility. While Shreveport celebrates Mardi Gras, for me it was not the same. I feared I would never be a part of it again. In addition I had been a basketball coach while living in Shreveport during college, and was now doing that again on a volunteer basis when I moved back. The basketball season ran right through Mardi Gras, so even attending a parade in New Orleans was impossible. As the years passed I became very homesick during Mardi Gras. I decided I wanted to join a Krewe, and I knew exactly which one.

Le Krewe d’Etat was formed in 1996 by a group of young New Orleans professionals. It has evolved into one of the finest, if not the finest parade in Mardi Gras. Known for it’s satirical themes and adherence to old line Carnival traditions, it is a must see for any Mardi Gras attendee. The Krewe parades in prime time on the Friday evening before Mardi Gras. It has a long route. staging uptown on Jefferson and Magazine streets, working it’s way down to Napoleon Avenue before turning onto St. Charles Avenue and heading downtown. It was my first and only choice, but wanting to join is not enough.

Admission to Le Krewe d’Etat is by invitation only and your name must be submitted by two existing members. The vetting process is stringent and prolonged. as many as four hundred names may be submitted with as few as twenty selected. I had to resign myself to the fact that even if I was sponsored it might be years before I got in.

I went to my closest friend, who was a member, and told him what I wanted to do. Without hesitation he said he would do his best for me, but to not get my hopes up. I really didn’t have a Plan B. If I was going to ride I wanted to be with the best. I just crossed my fingers.

After months I learned I had made it through the first round. Nothing was assured but I felt more hopeful. Then a few weeks later I got a phone call. I had been accepted for membership! I hung up the phone with a broad smile on my face. I was now a member of the best Krewe in Carnival. I was going to come home for Mardi Gras and ride right past the corner I had stood on for so many years waving to riders in other parades. The difference now was that those people would be waving and yelling at me!

I sent my dues in promptly and ordered my throws. My buddy began to instruct me on the protocol of the Krewe and the rules. The rules were vital for secrecy, tradition, and most importantly safety. While riding you had to be harnessed with your safety strap at all times, you could never remove your mask once the parade started, and no one but members were allowed on the float.

Our floats were fashioned in the old style of traditional Mardi Gras. Our theme was secret and not revealed until the day of the parade. As part of our swagger we did not have a king, but rather a Dictator, whose identity was a guarded secret. We also had a High Priest whose identity was also unknown. We used authentic flambeaux, which is oil ignited flames that lit the way for the floats and dates back to the 19th century. We had bands, and of course, the most clever, satirical, and irreverently themed floats in all of Mardi Gras.

I learned I would be riding on the same float as my friend. Also on my float were friends from my grammar, high school, and college days. At our luncheon the day of the parade I was initiated into the Krewe and saw many more old friends, including past work colleagues and clients. We ate like kings and were entertained with music and ceremony.

After lunch we left our downtown New Orleans hotel and ventured en masse into the French Quarter to gather in front of the Old Absinthe bar. I felt splendid in my suit and Krewe tie. I was also wearing a Krewe favor on my lapel and our Tri-Color specialty doubloon that had the theme of that years parade inscribed on it. It was held with a lanyard in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold.

Around three o’clock I went back to Krewe headquarters to get dressed for the ride. All the floats had racks with costumes on them labeled with the riders names. There were men in starched white coats there to help you dress while a band played in the background. Of course a bar was also set up to help riders get into the proper spirit of the occasion.

After I was dressed I exited the hotel and boarded a charter bus that was outside. The busses stretched all the way down the street. Once all the members were accounted for we headed for the staging area with a police escort.

Upon arriving we got off the bus and headed to our various floats. I found mine and entered through the rear, scaling a steep set of wooden stairs. Once on board I moved to my assigned position. My throws were already loaded and ready to be disbursed to the crowds that waited for us.

As we began to roll staying steady become a priority. The tractor pulling your float moves in a start and stop kind of rhythm that jerks you around. In addition the float space is intimate so you are standing on your bags of throws until well into the halfway point of the parade. It is not unusual to lose your balance, at which point you grab onto anything to keep from falling.

The crowds on Magazine are enthusiastic but not very deep. Once you make the turn onto Napoleon Avenue you can hear the noise level rise as the crowds get larger and more animated. The real rush happens at the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon. Now all you hear is a deafening roar as people scream and point at you.

You feel like a rock star on a stage performing. People are yelling, holding signs, pointing. You see families with children on Mardi Gras ladders, a New Orleans invention that is essentially a box seat that small children can sit in to see the parade while a parent stands on the ladder behind them protecting them from getting hit with beads and other trinkets. When my son was born a Mardi Gras ladder was one of the first purchases I made. One fond memory was me bringing him to visit my mother a week after Mardi Gras had ended. He is profoundly autistic and wanted me to go get the ladder out. He is also non-verbal and try as I may I could not get him to understand that Mardi Gras was over. So I finally got the ladder and we went out to St. Charles Avenue and watched cars go by. I got a lot of strange looks and few reminders that Carnival was over, but he was having a good time and that was all that counted.

I’d like to be able to tell all my male readers that we throw to everybody but the fact is if you have a float full of men, girls, children, and the elderly tend to get the most attention. One of the defining moments for my wife came at a Mardi Gras after we had been married about a decade. She was not catching as many beads as she had in previous years. With a slight nod of my head I pointed to a ladder next to her, on which a friend of ours two college age daughters were standing. They were draped in beads. My wife just shook her head and went back to our apartment.

As you ride you begin to interact with the crowd, gesturing, pointing back, even talking to them. It is an amazing and exhilarating experience. You feel even more joy as you realize you are part of a celebration that is one of the most unique in the world. I was on the sidewalk side of the float but on the other side, which faced the neutral ground, ( median for the rest of you not from New Orleans), the crowds were as far as the eye could see, stretching all the way across the other side of St. Charles Avenue.

Eventually you wind your way into downtown and finally to the end. You come off the float tired and sore but still on a natural high. You make your way back to Krewe headquarters, turn in your costume, and venture back to your hotel room. Some hardy souls venture back into the night for more revelry but for me it’s a hot shower and the bed. Even after my second ride the ritual was the same. The late hours are now the domain of younger men.

Our Krewe motto is Vivite Ut Vehatis, Vehite Ut Vivatas. Translated it means Live to Ride, Ride to Live. For a New Orleans boy nothing sums it up better!
















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Sports Journalists: How Low Can You Go!

When I was a teen I loved sports and wanted to write about them. I became Co-Sports Editor of my high school newspaper and was able to get a job as a stringer at my home town newspaper, the Times-Picayune. My job was to attend sporting events and gather statistics so a story could be written.Visiting the newspaper office, seeing my heroes at work trying to beat deadlines, it was exhilarating. Every time I showed my press pass the stadium gates would magically open for me. I was a professional.

When I went to college I became the sports editor of our newspaper and took a journalism class. I also worked as an assistant to our Sports Information Director. I sat on arena floors and in the press box. During that time my interests drifted to coaching but I never forgot the important tenets of journalism, Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. I had an Associated Press style book that was my guide. When I wrote stories I stuck to the facts and conjecture was reserved for an occasional editorial. When I did author an editorial  I used reliable sources to to support my conclusions.

My most memorable editorial came when I wrote an article supporting my college’s basketball coaching staff. The year before the head coach had been abruptly fired. He was replaced by an assistant coach with less experience than the other coach on that staff. The following year a few players became disgruntled an were openly talking about transferring. Since I heard many of these player remarks first hand I felt I was in a strong position to write an opinion piece.

My editorial was essentially an admonishment of those players. I expressed that for the sake of seniors on the team, the student body,  the morale of the team and the school, that such remarks should be kept in the locker room. My take was that if you were unhappy leave, but leave with dignity. I never mentioned any players names, but the piece was controversial. One player called my editor accusing me of yellow journalism and damage to his reputation. My editor responded by saying that until he called she had no idea who I was writing about, and that if people were treating him differently, or saying things to him, it was because he must have actually been one of the players complaining. To make things worse for me the players in question were friends of mine. Never the less I exercised my right of free speech and did not quote these young men directly, since I was not given permission to do so. I protected my sources but was writing about actual things I had heard. In the end some of those players did transfer, but those that remained behind, along with many students, felt I had done a good service to our school with my editorial. More importantly I did not express an uninformed opinion. I had facts supporting me.

Over the years I have watched sports journalism evolve and change. Rather than inform the emphasis seems to be more on inciting emotion and strong feelings by using speculation rather than facts. In my opinion this is all news reporting now, but as a sports fan I find it particularly vexing. Howard Cosell, a lawyer by education, was the first to start this trend. Now there are hundreds, if not thousands, like him assaulting us in print, on air, and through the web.

I played and coached high school sports. I also spent time with collegiate coaches at clinics I attended. What I took away from those experiences is that managing player performance from one level to the next is an extremely complex endeavor. College athletes were the best players at their  high schools. Elite college players were among the best in their region. Professional athletes were among the best in the country, and in some cases depending on the sport, the world. The expertise required to manage performance at the highest collegiate or professional levels is not something that can be understood from a distance. The untrained eye only sees what occurs in the game and the eventual outcome.

The media has mitigated this somewhat by hiring past players and coaches to offer commentary and insight. Because of their life experiences their observations in my opinion are worthwhile. Their delivery or style may or may not be to my liking, but their credibility is sound. Unfortunately there are numerous journalists who now prefer to exist exclusively in the world of conjecture and for the most part I feel they are unqualified to do so.

As I type this blog post I understand fully that in this day everyone has a platform. The goal is to get an audience, and the best way to get an audience is to create controversy. This approach has spawned a whole new breed of journalist. Rather than report facts they speculate on them. They offer their insights as to why teams play well or not, why coaches made their decisions or not, and why teams are winning or not. They make predictions that they are never held accountable for, unless they happen to somehow come true. You probably won’t see a sports journalist write about the things they missed or got wrong. My issue is that by and large in the print media these so called experts are ill equipped to write those views. They lack the experience and insight needed to give validity to their conjecture.

Now I am not without sin. I have gone on tirades on Facebook, Twitter, texts, you name it, about coaching decisions, player performance, play selection, etc. My only solace is that these rants are out of frustration because deep down I want those players, coaches, and teams to be successful. Just because I played and coached high school basketball doesn’t give me the right to judge anybody performing on a bigger stage. I’m just a fan, which is short for fanatic, which in part explains my behavior. Fans have done this forever, and players and coaches understand the pendulum of emotions they feel. I have argued on line with other fans. It’s what we do. We are not paid to do it, and in reality our views often have no credibility.

I expect a higher standard from a professional sports journalist but I’m not always going to get it. The smaller market print journalists I read are going to keep on writing about the dismal failures or glowing successes of the teams they are assigned to cover while still subjecting us to their so called insights. If a team is doing well you can trust them to tell you why they think that team is having success. If a team is faltering you can turn to this oracle and find out exactly what they are doing wrong. I have to believe that if you could ask any player or coach the one thing they would like to be rid of it would be the post game press conference. These men and women, who are at the height of their professions, have to endure the inane and sometimes asinine questions and remarks these so called experts have for them. I would think going through this exercise on a regular basis would be excruciatingly painful. I’m a banker now and I can only imagine what my life would be if the press came in and questioned me on loan decisions. As an aside we do undergo this with government audits, but those questions are based on their real knowledge and understanding of credit risk. But if I had to endure questions from the uninformed.. well let’s give it a try.

Banker: Any questions?

Sports Journalist: What would you attribute your decline in your lines of credit for the year end? Are your customers unhappy with the service your bank is providing.

Banker: Not at all. Many companies pay down their outstanding lines prior to year end.

Sports Journalist: How come a financial institution will fix a residential mortgage for thirty years but on a commercial building they will require a much quicker pay back. A building is a building.. right?

Banker: Not at all. Home mortgages are a totally different market and product. Commercial buildings have a whole different level of rate risk and their values can fluctuate much more dramatically.

Sports Journalist: It seems you bankers are requiring a lot more paperwork these days. I remember when a person could walk into a bank and just get a loan with a handshake. It seems like overkill to me.

Banker: Do you have a question?

Sports Journalist: Uh yeah, why all the paperwork?

Banker: Banking is a highly regulated business. We are mandated to disclose and provide information to the client to insure their protection. All those documents are required by law.

You get the picture. Instead of forming relationships and reporting facts sports journalists are just critics now, bestowing harsh assessments or glowing accolades based on their own intuitive rationale. Good sports journalists obtain reputable sources to support their allegations, but now if a writer thinks something he can just write it and mask it as fact rather than what it is, an uniformed opinion. Maybe some day the tables can turn and the players and coaches can get these print journalists in a room and ask them why they wrote certain things, or made certain remarks. That would be a press conference worth hearing.
















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The Inside Joke!

Humor is a wonderful gift. Being able to laugh and laugh often is essential to one’s well being. Laughter comes in all forms. Comedians, movies, books, are all ways to experience and appreciate humor. There is one form of humor that is particularly special, and that is the inside joke. It is a moment or occurrence that takes place among a select few, and those instances not only serve as a vehicle for laughter but as a source for great stories, and a common thread that binds those people for life.

I was on a trip to the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament in Detroit. We were at the hotel bar when one of my friends, named Bill, ordered a Corona. Rather than let him enjoy his beer I felt the need to educate him. In my role as a banker I had financed some breweries in the past and wanted to share my vast knowledge. I proceeded to explain that beer is best when it is served as fresh as possible, is not exposed to light, and was not subject to changes in temperature. I pointed out that Corona came in a clear bottle, was imported and shipped warm, thus making it older in terms of shelf life, and that it ranked low in consumption it it’s home country of Mexico. I finished by saying that it’s popularity was directly due to shrewd marketing. Even the lime wedge used in the ads was misleading in my opinion. Because of harsh water people south of our border would use citrus to disinfect the edge of the can or lip of the bottle.

Bill took it all in. When the waiter came back around to take orders my pal looked  up and without batting an eyelash said firmly “I’ll have a Corona.” Of course the whole table howled and from that point on Corona became a rallying cry.

Recently I accepted a job at a new bank that was a great opportunity for me. As part of the orientation process I went to the community where the bank was founded and visited with our Chief Executive Officer, a man I knew fairly well. Upon entering his home he greeted me warmly and asked if I would like a beer. Stating the affirmative I followed him to the kitchen where he opened his refrigerator and said in a joyful voice “How about a Corona?” Of course my friends on the inside got a huge laugh out of that one. The fact that my CEO’s name is Bill also made it even funnier.

On another Final Four Trip, this one in Indianapolis, we were having dinner at an iconic steak house in town called St. Elmo’s. Myself and my close friend Jay agreed to pick up the check. Our same friend Bill, (Mr. Corona), selected the wine. The wine he selected, Silver Oak, was not cheap. When Jay and I saw the final bill I got a little faint but we laughed about it too. Bill tried in vain to pay but we insisted on covering the tab. A few months later Jay invited me to dinner with some friends of his. He was the host but gave me the wine list. With as straight a face as I could muster I looked at him and said “How do you feel about Silver Oak?” To his credit he ordered it! Of course only he and I got that joke, and he got the bill! By the way if you like wine you should try Silver Oak as it is extremely good!

A few years ago my friend  Gary and I were having a beer at a New Orleans bar called The Mayfair. The Mayfair is very cozy and he and I were seated next to the pool table. A rather shaggy looking guy playing pool kept glancing at us and smiling. Finally he spoke. He said it gave him great pleasure to see a father and son out drinking together. Now my buddy is only three years older than me but he was already sporting a full head of gray hair. I almost spit my beer up laughing while Gary slumped in his chair. Composing himself my pal responded by saying “I would have been less offended if he had said I looked like a steaming pile of pig S&#@!” Of course from then on he was Dad to me and I was Son to him.

Once a month a group of us get together to play poker. The games are low stakes and range from Bourre’, a Cajun card game, to more traditional games like seven card no peek, seven card stud, and variations of those games with wild cards. Generally everyone takes turns shuffling the cards, except me. A neck surgery I had a few years ago left me with some dexterity issues in my left hand. After watching me shuffle cards just once I was relieved of that duty and renamed the Claw. Only our group gets it when someone raises their hand in clutched fashion. The bright side is I don’t have to shuffle cards now.

Of course if you must know I am holding back some of my best stories. After all what is the value of an inside joke if you blog about it?









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We Are Not Alone!

I have a very close friend who believes in UFO’s. While he has strong opinions on most everything I find this belief compelling because he has the courage to aver this publicly. I think all of us believe that given the size of the universe there has to be life out there somewhere. But my friend is absolutely certain of it and one night he tried to prove it.

Once a month I play small stakes poker with a group of friends. The ante is twenty bucks and a large raise is a dollar. We eat, drink, listen to music, watch television, and play cards. We meet in a fabricated “Club House” behind a business one of our group owns. It’s a typical boys night out. But not this night.

My friend who is convinced that we are not alone stepped outside to get some fresh air. He had folded his hand so the rest of us were still playing. Suddenly he reappeared, calm but with a glint in his eyes. “I just saw a slow moving object in the sky with red and blue flashing lights.” he said in a matter of fact tone. Then he went back outside.

We all turned to each other. Cards could wait. This was our chance to make first contact. We got up and ventured outside. As we went into the open air our friend was looking up  into the night sky staring at….the night sky. No red lights. No blue lights. No aircraft. Nothing.

He explained that in the time it had taken him to come tell us about the sighting the UFO had disappeared. It was too slow moving to have been a conventional aircraft but must have accelerated away.

Now my friend is a trained geologist and our whole group is well educated. We have a lawyer, CPA, banker, car dealer, petroleum land man, and a corporate sales executive. So it was only natural that observations would be made. But one question burned brightly. Why would a UFO visit a Shreveport Louisiana Auto Mall?

Me: “We are real close to Barksdale Air Force Base. They would have had to pick it up on radar. Where are the intercept jets?”

Our Friend: “They are probably coming right now!”

Landman: “There are no more jets at Barksdale. They were moved. They just have the big bombers.”

Our Friend: ‘They have jets! I have seen them come in on approach.”

CPA: “Maybe they are just refueling or there for repairs.”

Our Friend: ” Then that means they have jets!”

Lawyer: ” I don’t know why a UFO would come to the Shreveport Auto Mall? Maybe they want to steal a Toyota Prius and learn about our Hybrid technology?”

Me: ” Maybe we are being invaded! Like in the movie Red Dawn!”

Lawyer: ” I rented the Red Dawn remake on NetFlix. It was awful!”

Me: “The remake?” It never even made it to theaters! How bad was it?”

Lawyer: ” The new Red Dawn made the old Red Dawn look like Schindler’s List!”

In the mean time no UFO reappeared. We all went back inside but my friend remained undaunted, and honestly I think that is admirable. I’m not sure what he saw out there but in the face of unbridled sarcasm he stood tall and never wavered. He says he wants to go with them when they come back. That would be quite an adventure. My friend could teach them to play poker. But I would urge against watching the Red Dawn remake on the in flight movie.








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On November 1st, 1966 New Orleans, Louisiana received an expansion franchise in the National Football League. It was All Saints Day so our new team was called, naturally, the Saints. I was seven years old, and a love affair was born.

Those first twenty years was a trek through the wilderness. Losing seasons and national ridicule was our onus. We couldn’t even make the playoffs yet alone win a playoff game. But after Tom Benson, a native New Orleanian who made his fortune in the automobile business in San Antonio, bought the team all of that changed.

Since Benson became the owner with a few minor exceptions, the years under Mike Ditka and right after Katrina, the Saints have been a solid and often elite franchise. When they won the Super Bowl in 2009 all the pain of those early years was erased.

Now in 2014 I find myself reflecting on all those Saints teams and the men who wore the Black and Gold. So I decided to come up with my all time team. It may spark some debate, but that is fine with me.


Punter: Thomas Morestead

The Saints have actually had some decent punters. Lord knows many of them got to practice their craft more than the fans would have preferred. Tom McNeill was a league leader for the early Saints teams. But Morestead is the whole package. He can punt for distance. He can directionally kick and pin a team deep, and he also kicks off and holds on field goals. Foremost he is a football player. If he has to make a tackle to prevent a return for a touchdown he has no problem putting a hat on you.

Kicker: Morten Andersen

While I may have a soft spot for Tom Dempsey, who up until this year held the NFL record for longest field goal at sixty-three yards, the obvious choice is the Great Dane. A Hall of Fame nominee he is the all time leading scorer for the Saints and won numerous games for the Black and Gold on last second clutch kicks. Maybe the biggest faux pas of the Jim Mora era was allowing him to be picked up on waivers by the Atlanta Falcons. He ended up becoming their all time leading scorer as well.

Kick /Punt Returner: Michael Lewis

Local product Tyrone Hughes was an electrifying return man for New Orleans, and John Gilliam returned the first ever kick off in New Orleans Saints history for a touchdown, but the nod goes to the Beer Man.

Special Teams: Steve Gleason

These guys are special, and none more so than Gleason. The blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons on September 25th, 2006 ensured that the Saints first game in the Superdome after Katrina would be a classic. But even without that play Gleason was a game changer on coverage teams. He is now battling Lou Gehrigs disease but with his No White Flags charity he remains an iconic figure for the Saints and the city. Curtis DeLoatch was good but Gleason was the fire in the belly guy every team should have.


Safety: Sammy Knight and Gene Atkins

Dave Whitsell, Tommy Myers and Frank Wattelet ( yeah maybe the name had something to do with it), warranted being in the conversation but in the end Knight and Atkins were my guys. Undersized and not fleet of foot somehow Sammy Knight always found a way to get to the football. Atkins was a ferocious headhunter on those stifling Saints defenses in the late eighties and early nineties, hence his nickname Gene, the Hit Machine, Atkins.

Cornerback: Gene Howard and Dave Waymer

This was a hard one because in my opinion we have never had an all pro shut down corner. Some may argue for Eric Allen or Mike McKenzie but they did their best work early in their careers for other teams. Tracy Porter was given consideration as well, but Dave Waymer played solidly for years and ended his career as the all time leader in interceptions for the Saints. Howard was a standout on those early Saints teams. He played on woeful defenses but was a steady and solid football player. He knew that he would be making a lot of tackles against running backs and would have to cover longer because of a weak pass rush, but he always gave his best and never complained.

Linebacker: Pat Swilling, Vaughn Johnson, Sam Mills, and Rickey Jackson

Because Saints teams have played both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses I selected four players and I am thankful for that because I don’t know how you leave any of these guys off. They were the Dome Patrol. They anchored the league leading defenses of the Jim Mora era and were voted the finest set of linebackers in the history of the NFL. Swilling was a relentless pass rusher. Johnson could run and hit with ferocious intensity. Mills, aka the Field Mouse, was the leader and most cerebral of the four. Standing only 5’9′ he was never out of position, a superb tackler, and seemed immune to fatigue. Jackson was our iconic player. A defensive end at Pitt, he played in the shadow of Hugh Green. When he joined the Saints he became an instant star and second only to Lawrence Taylor as a linebacker in the NFL. They were first linebackers to ever make the Pro Bowl as a unit.

Tackle: LaRoi Glover and Bob Pollard

Glover was a superb and unstoppable pass rusher. Lightning fast he dominated everyone in his way. He was the best defender on Jim Haslett teams that were schizophrenic, explosive one game, submissive the next. Pollard is another homage to those early Saints teams. He was a stalwart on defenses that had few supporting cast members of his calibre.  Derland Moore and Norman “The Big Wiggle” Hand were also solid players but for my money Glover and Pollard were better.

End: Jumpy Geathers and Frank Warren

Joe Johnson and Renaldo Turnbull were solid and both capable of spectacular plays, but Geathers and Warren were monsters. Geathers was big, strong, and fast. He was also durable. Warren was an explosive player who could line up inside or outside, run around you or run over you. Both played the run well too.


Tackle: Willie Roaf and Stan Brock

Roaf is the easiest pick I have. A perennial All Pro and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame he is not only the best tackle the Saints ever had, he may be one of the best  players ever for the Saints period. In a game on the road against Atlanta the Saints ran almost every run play to his side and on pass plays he handled his opponent like a rag doll. He had great strength combined with the balance of a ballerina. Brock was a solid player with a mean streak. On one televised replay I saw him extend his left arm against a pass rusher while pounding his opponent in his midsection will a balled up fist. Stan didn’t screw around.

Guard: Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans

There have actually been several players at this position who were notable. Jake Kupp, Conrad Dobler, Emmanuel Zanders, and Brad Edelman were all very accomplished. But the road to the Super Bowl went though All Pros Nicks and Evans. in 2009 the Saints ran the ball superbly and kept Drew Brees on his feet. Without Nicks and Evans we don’t bring home the big prize. Ben Grubbs, Nicks replacement, made All Pro this year so this ranking could change in time. Evans made All Pro again as well.

Center: LeCharles Bentley

This is another position where the Saints had some good players. Jonathan Goodwin, Jerry Fontenot, Jay Hilgenberg, and Jeff Faine were all excellent players. But for sheer dominance it was Bentley. He could blow you up or keep you out. He didn’t stay with the team very long and losing him to free agency was a major blow. The emergence of Goodwin into an All Pro player was not foreseen but fortunate for the Saints as they made their Super Bowl run in 2009.

Tight End: Jimmy Graham

Graham is not an all around tight end, as his blocking is suspect, but he is so good at what he does receiving that he goes to the top of the list. Henry Childs, Dave Parks, and Hoby Brenner were also stalwarts, with Childs and Parks also having the ability to go deep. But Graham is an All Pro and a phenomenon. With only a year of college football before he entered the NFL, if he stays healthy he will rewrite the record books. He was the top vote getter at his position for the Pro Bowl this year.

Wide Receiver: Joe Horn and Wes Chandler

Marques Colston is the all time leader in almost every receiving category for the Saints. Most of the records he broke belonged to Eric Martin. But none of them had the big play capacity of Horn and Chandler. In 1980 with Archie Manning at quarterback, the thunder and lightning combo of Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath at running back, Henry Childs at tight end and Chandler and Ike Harris at the receivers made the Saints offense one of  the most feared in the NFL. It was the first Saints team to have a non-losing season at 8-8 and many of those players made the Pro Bowl that year. Chandler was fast and acrobatic. He could outrun you and out jump you. He made spectacular catches look routine. Horn was a major free agent pick up from Kansas City. Arrogant, unpredictable, and controversial he was still a big time receiver who was unstoppable at times. With the strong armed Aaron Brooks at quarterback Horn stretched defenses like no other player in a Saints uniform.

Fullback: Hokie Gajan

Buford Jordan was outstanding for the Saints but Hokie was unusual in that he could break off big runs from scrimmage along with the ability to get those tough short yardage gains. His career was  cut short by injury but when he was healthy he was a total package. He could block and catch passes out of the backfield. His burst up the middle against the Dallas Cowboys resulting in a long run for touchdown is one of the most memorable plays I have ever seen from a running back wearing Black and Gold.

Running Back: Deuce McAllister and George Rogers

This is where it got tough. Dalton Hilliard was an all purpose back who could do everything and broke numerous team records. Reuben Mayes was an explosive runner with great speed and change of direction. Had he stayed healthy he might have made the list. Chuck Muncie may have been the most gifted running back to play ever with his combination of speed and power, that gift wasted by drug abuse. Even the early Saints had a one two punch of Andy Livingston and Tony Baker. Ricky Williams flashed signs of brilliance, but drugs were his bane as well. Pierre Thomas is also a football player who can do multiple things for an offense. But for sheer ability to run the football McAllister and Rogers stand alone. McAllister was fast and strong, but it was his resolve that made him special. Against the Falcons I saw him drive through several players en route to the end zone, some clinging to him on his back, using sheer force of will to score. He played hurt. He played with dignity. He was team player and he got yards when there was no hole to run through. Rogers led the league in rushing his rookie year under coach Bum Phillips when every team the Saints played knew who was getting the ball. Also a combination of speed and power he was hardly ever brought down by one man.

Quarterback: Drew Brees

If Archie Manning was playing for the Saints today I have no doubt that he would be ranked among the best to ever play the game. He is still my favorite player and always will be. Having said that Brees still gets the nod, and not just for his incredible statistics. After Katrina the city of New Orleans was a question mark. Many thought the team would move, and that was a real possibility until NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in and eliminated that option. But without Brees the Saints may have floundered for years. He only had one viable option in free agency but he not only agreed to come play for the Saints he committed to the city. Like Archie he bought a home in the city limits and became a true New Orlenian. He lead the Saints to the NFC championship game in his first season and a Super Bowl victory in 2009.

Head Coach: Sean Payton

You have to give a lot of credit to Jim Mora for leading the franchise to its first winning season and first ever playoff appearance. I also think some acknowledgement should go to Jim Haslett for coaching the team to a division title and first ever playoff victory. But there is no doubt that Payton is the best coach the team has ever had. Two NFC championship appearances and a Super Bowl title say it all. Another milestone was reached when the Saints finally got their first playoff win on the road. The best may be yet to come.

So there you have it. The best of the Saints. An intimidating defense combined with a blitzkrieg offense with a mastermind coach. Did I leave anyone out?








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In Case You Didn’t Know…..

Over five decades I have noticed a few things and drawn conclusions from those observations. With the new year upon us I thought it was time to share some of these with my readers.

1) THE ELDERLY LOVE YARD AND ESTATE SALES: This is a total befuddlement to me. I continue to buy consumables, ( gas, clothing, food), and I upgrade my technology. But the stuff at these sales, (furniture, art work, knick knacks), I have all of that I need and more. I tend to believe people that are ten years older than me or more would have all the stuff like that they need. But apparently they don’t. And when they leave this earth that stuff will be sold at yet another yard or estate sale. And the cycle continues.

2) ATTENDING A SPORTING EVENT DOES NOT MAKE YOU A FAN: When I was growing up if you went to a football, basketball, or baseball game you were going so you could actually watch the contest. You knew who the teams were, who the best players were, and all the statistical data on each team. If you went to someone else’s house to watch a game you got a TV tray, and on that was a sandwich, chips, and a drink. You were there to watch the game. The people who didn’t like or understand the sport stayed home and read a book. Now you have parties at people’s houses and tailgates at the games. If you are part of the elite you can attend the game in a suite. Many of these “fans” vaguely know about the teams competing, the rules, the players. For them it’s just a big meet and greet and a chance to dress up in that team’s colors. God forbid the weather is anything other than 72 degrees and sunny! My family in Wisconsin go to Green Bay Packer football games in snow and below zero weather. They endure the same challenges their team does. But the party goer has gone home rather than get a little wet, and his or her seat is now empty.

3) LOVE MEANS HAVING TO SAY YOU ARE SORRY….A LOT: Like most people I am familiar with the tear jerker Love Story, where Ali MacGraw’s character, shivering in the cold, tells her husband that famous line about love and apologizing. Well it was a tender and heartfelt thing to say but if you want your marriage to last you better ignore it. I have said I’m sorry more times than I can imagine and I will continue to apologize as often as I need to. When you stop saying you are sorry that is when the trouble really starts. Most arguments are over stupid things anyway. Apologizing lets you move on, and get a hot meal..or more!

4) AS LONG AS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT TEARS..MEN DO CRY AT MOVIES: I have cried at movies, but when guys cry it’s for different reasons. I cried when Dennis Hopper as Shooter Flatch told the Hickory Huskers in the movie Hoosiers to not get caught watching the paint dry. I cried when Carl Brashear, played by Cuba Gooding  Jr. in Men of Honor, was trying to walk across a slick court room floor in a spun copper diving suit on one good leg towards Rober DeNiro as Master Chief Billy Sunday. As Gooding struggled Sunday barks “Cookie I want my twelve steps!” At that point I am out of my chair and on my feet with tears streaming, willing Brashear to report to his Master Chief! We don’t cry at sappy love stories. We cry when men or women take on severe challenges, and win. Shooter was an alcoholic rising to the occasion when his son’s team needed him. Brashear was an African-American diver who was discriminated against and wanted to come back to active duty with an artificial limb. Helping him was the very man that wanted to run him out of the Navy. Rudy when he sacks the quarterback in Notre Dame’s last home game and is carried off the field! Gale Sayers when he gives his Comeback Player of the Year award to Brian Piccolo! Niagara Falls!! All of those movies were based on real life stories, which made them even more compelling. Yes we weep, but they are manly tears.

5) WHEN YOU TRY TO PASS THE SLOW MOVING YAHOO IN THE LEFT LANE HE WILL SPEED UP: The left lane is for cars and trucks to pass other cars and trucks. If a vehicle gets in the left lane and drives slowly it really screws things up. But try and go around this oblivious motorist from the right lane and invariably that is when he will hit the gas! He doesn’t want to drive fast but he doesn’t want you to pass him either. Don’t confuse this guy with moron who rides your bumper when you are trying to pass the slow driver!

6) I KNOW I’M OLD BECAUSE I KNOW EVERYTHING: Yes I officially know everything. I have the experience and mental acuity to solve all problems. If you don’t agree with me then you are wrong. Oddly there are people older than me who think they know everything. But they are wrong. Now I don’t disagree with my wife, but between you and me she’s wrong too. If everyone just did what I told them to do everything would be so much easier.

7) DON’T TOUCH MY GRILL: Men have been cooking meat over a fire for eons. Outside, in the elements, just men, meat, fire, and secret sauces. Yet some people think they can pop the lid or pick up the tongs. Anybody who touches another man’s grill is asking for trouble!

8) EVERYONE’S NEIGHBORHOOD, TOWN, CITY, STATE IS THE BEST: I’m convinced nobody lives in a crumby place. If they live there it’s better than where you live. Statistics, crime data, unemployment, school ratings, taxes, none of that matters. If you live there it’s better than where everyone else lives…until you move. Then that place is better!

9) EVERY TOM CRUISE MOVIE IS THE SAME: If you watch any movie with Tom Cruise he will be cocky, he will get the girl, he will be running with his back ram rod straight and his arms pumping, he will have a scene where he gets mad and end it with a contorted face and a fist pump, and there will be at least one fight sequence where he can flip and have his hair fly in the breeze. He will also face adversity and have to reflect on his life. I liked him better when he was just a supporting cast member in The Outsiders but even in that movie he does a hand stand on a fence.

10) EVERY PHOTO OF A GROUP OF TEENAGE OR COLLEGE AGE GIRLS IS THE SAME: They have their outside knee bent, a hand on their outside hip, and their head bent to the side. Is this a rule now for photographs? Was there a meeting and instructions handed out?

I have  a lot more but ten observations is plenty. If you don’t agree with some of these go back and read number 6! Happy New Year!!!














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Yes I’m Thankful

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and like most holidays I tend to get lost in all the activities that have very little to do with the real reason for the celebration. But there are good reasons many of us should give thanks. I had something happen to me recently that really drove that point home.

First I would like to reminisce on something that happened a long time ago. My father was a pot room foreman for Kaiser Aluminum. Kaiser had facilities to mine ore and create aluminum located all over the world. My dad was often assigned to these various plants for tours of duty to train the local workforce to run the facility. Many of these plants were start ups. He and my mother went to West Virginia around 1955 and in 1959 I arrived. I was born across the Ohio river in a small town called Gallipolis. In 1961 we returned home to New Orleans. Shortly after coming home my father was slated to be sent to India for eighteen months. Because of this the whole family received innoculations to provide immunity to the broad array of diseases that were rampant in that country. Those shots made me very ill. So ill that the physicians administering those vaccinations wanted my parents to sign a waiver releasing them from blame should I succumb to side effects brought on by the vaccines. They refused, and my father had to leave without us.

I was age two when he left. When my father was due to return I was not yet four years old. I remember that we went to the airport at night and we were actually outside on the tarmac when my dad’s plane landed. It was cold and I was in a heavy coat with a hat on.

In the distance I saw a tall figure step down the stairs from the parked aircraft. He had on a long trench coat that was black. He seemed far away but I knew exactly who that man was. Without warning I bolted from my mother and began running towards the silhouette in the distance.

I heard my mother’s cries for me to stop but I just kept running. Apparently, because of dramatic weight loss, she did not recognize the man I was hurtling towards. But I was never in doubt. That man was my father.

As I closed the gap between us I could see his features come into focus. He stopped walking and took a knee as I leapt into his arms. I grabbed him as hard as I could and sunk my face into his shoulder. And together we rose up as one.

Last weekend I was invited to attend a football game in Baton Rouge. Due to a crazy array of events I ended up not getting to see the game in person and was irritable when I got up that Sunday to go home. My wife and I attend Catholic Mass every Sunday with our two autistic sons, but with me being three hours away I knew the odds of getting to their facility in time were not good. My only desire was to get there as quickly as possible. Had I been able to actually attend the game I would have been content getting to their school late, but to miss the game and not attend Mass with my family left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

I arrived at their school at ten o’clock in the morning. Just as I was getting near the sidewalk leading up to the chapel, the doors opened up. The first one out was my oldest son. He is twenty-three now and about six feet tall.

He looked up and saw me in the distance. Instantly he began to run in my direction. His gait was so familiar. His legs moving up and down like he was running in between tires on the ground and his arms raised upwards with his hands even with his head.

He hit me at full gallop, wrapping his arms tightly around me. His voice making the squeal that he utters when profoundly happy. He stopped, looked at me with a broad smile, and then hugged me tightly again. He then whispered Daddio, which is how he says daddy. It is one of a handful of words he can actually say aloud.

My mind immediately flashed back to that night in New Orleans when I expressed my love for my father the only way I knew how. My son was now giving me that same unconditional love I felt for my dad. I hugged him back, so grateful for him and what he had given me.

In 1970 I lost my dad. I was eleven. Over the years I lamented that I had been deprived the opportunity to have had meaningful conversations with my father as most young men do. When my two sons were born with severe mental disabilities, I lamented yet again, feeling cursed that I would never have father and son talks with either of my boys. But on Sunday I realized that what I have with my sons, and what I had with my father, was much more than any chat we could have had. I had a chance to show my dad how much I truly loved him and I was shown by my boy how much he truly loves me, in a way that spoke volumes.

And for that I am thankful.





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I’m a Cat Guy Now!

We have a cat. A little black cat named Spooky. And I love her. And that is saying a lot because I used to despise cats.

Cats to me were aloof, independent creatures that allowed you the “honor” of taking care of them. Sometimes they were even hostile. Finicky and arrogant, to me compared to a dog they were vastly inferior pets. My dogs are loving and devoted animals. I would never bring a cat into my home and put up with their quirks. Well never say never.

Almost two years ago my wife Jen called me saying she needed the pet carrier. There was a kitten living at the school that was missing a piece of her ear. The teachers had been feeding her but the principal made it clear that she was going to call animal control and have her removed.

Now I was dead set against this idea but my wife was adamant. Jen said she would be no trouble, that the cat would stay outside, that she would be responsible for her. I was not happy about it but I relented. We now owned a cat. I even disliked the name she gave her, but Jen thought it was appropriate since our new addition was solid black and it was close to Halloween.

The first week was as Jen said. Spooky stayed outside and came home to eat. But even though she was around ten months old she was little. And I was constantly going outside breaking up cat fights and running off the much larger felines that roamed our neighborhood. Spooky was game but she always got the worst of it, and it started to bother me. I found myself proactively going outside mad as hell, making it clear to the other tabby’s in the neighborhood that our house was off limits.

About the second week Jen informed me that Spooky was going to have to be spayed and would have to stay inside for a week. I warned her she would have to be supervised so she didn’t rip her stitches. And I also reminded her that Spooky had never been inside before and would be very anxious about that. I told her to stay with her in my office and be prepared for a long night.

Jen brought her home after the surgery and about 8:30 they went in my office. I have a bed, TV, computer, and a full bath in there so they should have been comfortable. About 11:00 that night Jen came in and woke me up. She said Spooky was uncontrollable and that she was unable to watch her. I got out of bed, grumbled about how I told her so, and trudged to my office.

When I arrived I found Spooky half way up my curtains that cover a series of windows floor to ceiling. I reached up and gently pulled her loose. She looked perplexed and angry. I looked at her and told her that I knew she was hurting but that we both needed to rest, and that I was going to lay down in the bed with her so we could go to sleep.

I then proceeded to the bed and we went to sleep. All night. She curled her paws around my hands and did not let go.

From that point on Spooky was my cat. She healed up and still spent hers days outside but every evening she came home and stayed by my side. She slept on my back, next to me, on my hands, even on my head sometimes. She also would not let the dogs come near me anymore, especially our poor little Chug ( Chihuahua/Pug) Otis.

If I left town for a few days Jen told me Spooky would walk around the house wailing. When I came home she would try and ignore me but finally wouldn’t be able to stand it and would come get in my lap.

If I am taking a shower Spooky waits outside the door. If I am at the computer she climbs up into the chair with me. Some nights she stays out after dark. Jen will call for her to no avail but If I go outside she will appear from the roof, tree, or a fence and walk up to me. She buries her face in my hands until I scratch her cheeks. At night I can feel her nuzzling me and putting her paw on my face, careful not to scratch me.

Now she is still a cat and has all those predatory instincts. Birds, rodents, lizards are all in jeopardy but she is being nicer to Otis now. In fact he is now allowed back in the bed with us. I wake up most mornings with Otis sleeping between my legs and Spooky curled up with one or both of my hands secured in her paws.

Now I’m not going to fill my home with cats. My overall opinion of them is still the same. But I have to admit that when it comes to Spooky I have to make an exception. She is one black cat I was lucky enough to have cross my path.


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We Went to Disney World….Again!

My wife and I just returned from Disney World. We took our oldest son to celebrate his 23rd birthday. We have been to Disney so many times I have lost count. As the parents of two sons with autism, Disney was a place that they could enjoy and we would not be so conspicuous. Still the boys generally made things memorable for us, and unfortunately others. In fact in my archives of this blog you can find a post that details some of the more, shall we say illuminating, experiences we had traveling with them.

But this post is not about my sons. It is more of an observation of all the other people that vacation at Disney World. After multiple trips I can spot them a mile away. If you have been to Disney some of these people you will recognize. If you have never been you might still find this interesting.

ROOKIES: These are the people with their map of the park in their hands. They look at the map, gaze up, and then look back at the map. If they are not looking at their map they are usually vocalizing the mission for the day. ” First we hit Space Mountain, then we need to get to the other side of the park and get on Splash Mountain!”

RUNNERS: They are the most excited. Once they get into the park they begin to dash to their favorite attraction. Runners are often rookies but not always.

POWER WALKERS: They want to run but are self conscious about it so they walk so briskly they can’t help but look silly. Combine a power walker with a rookie holding a map and you will have collisions with other guests.

SCOUTS: These are the people that leave their group to go check out the attraction they want. You would think these would be children but most scouts are dads. They want to lead.  You can often hear frustrated wives pleading with their husband to stay with the group only to be dismissed with a wave of hand or ignored altogether. Scouts often become….

LINE HOLDERS: These are often dads who get to the attraction in advance and then let the six immediate members of their family cut in when they arrive ten minutes later. Most folks ignore it but every once in awhile you will hear “What the hell?”

STROLLER PEOPLE: These are the young families who have small children. The problem is that 21st century strollers are the size of Buicks and these conscientious parents insist on rolling down the middle of walk ways as opposed to getting on the sides. Their strollers also have numerous attachments that often crash into you as they pass you. The worst are stroller people with kids old enough to walk. Their legs dangle awkwardly from these rolling tanks but we wouldn’t want six year old Johnny to get fatigued!

SCOOTER PEOPLE: The worst offense yet. Like many well intentioned ideas, (why deprive grampa of a family vacation if he is on oxygen), the scooter probably was incorporated as a value add with the best of intentions. Unfortunately many people riding these things have other issues that political correctness keeps me from stating the obvious. But you know who they are. They too ride right down the middle of he road and are also loaded down with bags, water bottles, etc. I saw a woman with a knee brace using a crutch to get around the park. Now she is a true hero!

THE OBLIVIOUS: These are the folks that suddenly stop moving for no reason and come to a dead stop in front of you. Rookies are big time offenders but stroller people and scooter people do it too. You would think that common sense would tell you to move to the side somewhere and get your bearings but not these folks. I saw a teenage kid sitting on the ground in front of the exit of a park who seemed to have no problem forcing people to step around him. Knowing incarceration would hinder my own vacation experience I resisted the temptation to put my foot in his chest.

TRAFFIC JAMMERS: The oblivious are the main culprits but large groups do it too. I saw a congregation of about ten people just stop and block almost a whole walk way. Disney security had to intervene and explain to these people that this was a bad idea. Unfortunately no one in that group apparently spoke english.

WE ARE THE SMITH FAMILY..WE ARE GIRL SCOUT TROOP 547, WE ARE…: What they are is a herd of humanity all wearing the same color shirt with some kind of logo or saying emblazoned on the front so you and everyone else in the park will know they were there and who they are. You might think they came up with this idea so they could split up and find each other later but they never split up.

HAT PEOPLE: I like a cap as much as anybody but Disney headwear is among the most ridiculous you will find. The only place a Donald Duck hat looks normal is at a Disney theme park. So while these folks look a little, pardon the pun, goofy at the park they will look a lot worse wearing that hat to the mall at home.

FAST PASS DISRUPTORS: The fast pass is a great idea. It allows you to schedule a time to ride a popular attraction and not wait an hour or more in line. It works great until the person in front of you waits to get to the entrance before getting their pass out. You wait while they dig around looking for something they should have already had in their hand when they got there.

THE INDECISIVE: Ordering food is a crap shoot. The best way to dine at Disney is to make a reservation at a sit down restaurant and eat like a civilized person. But if you venture into one of the counter service restaurants you have to guess right. Getting behind a single person is no guaranty of quick service if he or she is one of the indecisive. Despite the fact that menu is limited to maybe three choices this person waits until they get to the counter to start pondering their selection. The misery can be further compounded if he in fact is ordering for others. When he turns around and yells back at his wife, “Will Sally eat a hamburger or should I get her the chicken nuggets?” you know your fate is sealed.

BAD PARENTS: We know kids get excited at Disney World but they still need guidance. I saw a mother with two young twin boys. They were playing on the rails that divide the lines. They were sitting on the lower rung, holding the top rung and leaning backwards. It was no big surprise when one fell backwards and cracked his head on the concrete floor. He screams, she screams, and his brother laughs. She picks him up, calms him down, and then says nothing when they start hanging on the rails again. The line starts to move and she walks on. The kids hang behind, holding the rest of us up. Then they start weaving in and out of the lines. After about a minute she realizes her kids are gone. You also have parents who force a child to ride something they are afraid of. As the screaming echo’s  around the building you understand why this is the happiest place on earth.

THE REST OF US: Amid this sea of stroller people, scooter people, runners, and power walkers are the rest of us. We are walking calmly, waiting patiently, and are self aware.

On the drive back home my wife was saying how great our trip was. I think we will be seeing Mickey again soon. But next time I’m going to suggest we only go to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. They serve beer in those parks.





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