Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Remembrance on the Feast of the Holy Family

For those readers who may not have know, I grew up Roman Catholic and still actively practice my faith. One of the readings at today's mass has been very special to me for several years. I wrote about it three years ago and am reposting it today.

Memories ofttimes have a way of pervading our daily lives, bringing special meaning to certain sights, sounds, days, or occurrences. Today was one of those days for me.

In the Catholic church, the Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. One of the readings at church today was from the Book of Sirach, which may be unfamiliar to those brought up in other faiths or Protestant religions, since Sirach was not included in the Hebrew Bible.

The Book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) is largely a collection of ethical teachings. Today's reading for the Feast of the Holy Family:

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.

With my father in the church pew next to us, my siblings and I loved to elbow each other and smirk when this passage was read. The line that elicited the action, of course, was "Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him." Little did we realize that when my father grew older, dementia would begin to take over his life. We have always considered it a blessing that my dad's body gave out before his mind.

I felt like I was okay with my dad when he passed away. Although his birthday and the anniversary of his death pass by each year without much trouble, the Sunday after Christmas is always the day that gets to me. I remember a sanguine young guy sitting next to a father who worked his ass off for his family...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Very Different Christmas

I, like many other people across the world, grew up spending Christmas Eve and Christmas with my family. In fact, every Christmas Eve had been spent at my parents' house with my mom and dad and siblings ... until that one Christmas.

One of my older brothers, the King of Komps, moved to Australia after getting his teaching degree. My parents made a couple of trips to see him, including one that fell in December -- including Christmas! They were 10,000 miles away and it didn't dawn on me until late in December that I would not have the Christmas I had always known.

I was home from college for the holidays that year, and my younger brother was still living at home. We suddenly realized that we had no plans for Christmas Eve. We decided to go out to a local restaurant for dinner and opted for a "traditional" Christmas dinner. I had fried catfish and my brother had spaghetti!

We went home that night, opened some presents, then sat wondering what to do. The answer: we cranked up the stereo and brought out some beer and just sat around talking. The phone started ringing and one friend after another, anxious to get out of their house and family celebration, accepted our invitation to come over, listen to some tunes and hang out. Before you know it, we had this excellent impromptu party with many of our best friends. It was not exactly the traditional way to spend Christmas Eve, but it certainly did the trick that night!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my readers and anyone else who happens upon this blog this holiday season. I feel blessed to have a wonderful family, a great job, and a satisfying life. I am thankful for the many friends I have made via online poker, my trips to Las Vegas, blogging, and other online outlets.

Enjoy the season!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Revisiting a Post from Several Years Ago

Fellow blogger grrouchie recently posted about needing to make a "real post." I know the feeling.

It is Saturday morning just before 8:00. I finally have a little time off from work, but man -- the last day was challenging and busy. It included dealing with several tricky personnel issues and seeing if my son's flat tire could be repaired. I staggered home at 6:30 p.m., had a quick dinner, and anticipated watching a Chicago Blackhawks - Vancouver Canucks hockey game. Unfortunately, I was so fatigued after several busy weeks at work that things didn't work out so well. I started watching, then got ready to telephone my mom. The next thing I knew ... zzz ... I kept falling asleep and only caught bits and pieces of the game. Sorry mom -- your son didn't call because he was asleep!

I woke up later on, talked on the phone with Tony Bigcharles, traded texts with Pete Peters, then ... fell asleep on the couch for the rest of the night -- something I rarely do. So here it is, Saturday morning, and I was up before 7:00 a.m. I started thinking about how, ever since I took over as head of my department, my life has changed. Even though my job is extremely challenging, I derive great satisfaction from doing it well. Instead of spending time playing poker, however, I now seem to spend time dreaming about playing poker. Time and energy seem to be my constant foes. My blogging has certainly suffered as a result.

By chance, I happened upon some old posts from a time when what I wrote was certainly more heartfelt. I decided to repost one old story today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Getting Dragged into the Past

Last night I was making a quickie food run for my son and myself, grabbing a few items from the local sandwich shop. As I was heading toward home, I got tired of listening to the latest Chicago White Sox spring training report, so I went to the FM dial and hit up the local oldies station. I began to hear the all-too-familiar beginning of Pure Prairie League's Amie. The song is ingrained in my brain from a long-ago party and a long-ago girlfriend. Suddenly, I was back in 1980 and 1981.

I had just received my bachelor's degree in Psychology and was looking forward to graduate school. After all, Illinois State University had given me an assistantship -- meaning that I would get free tuition and have a job working for the Psychology Department. It was the beginning of the Reagan era, and a nice, conservative guy like me was right in the mainstream.

When I started grad school, however, I was a fish out of water, plunked right into the middle of an ultra-liberal department that had no use for traditional conservative values. I just didn't fit in, and really didn't have many friends in the department. I gutted it out through my first semester and didn't let my unhappiness get to me since I was busy driving around central Illinois giving intelligence tests to elementary, middle, and high school students, taking a full-time load of classes, and teaching an Intro to Psych class of 275 since the instructor, my boss, was in the hospital for several weeks.

When the second semester came, however, I was in a quandry. I didn't want to be in school there, yet didn't know what to do or where to go. Returning home and feeling like a failure was not an option. So ... I did nothing for several weeks. I was planning on dropping out and was therefore unmotivated to do any school work. And then I met her ...

Dee was a sophomore and was a member of a campus service club to which I belonged. She was attractive and had an air of excitement about her -- a great combination. We started going out, and suddenly I had a reason to stay in grad school. But yikes -- I was about five weeks behind in my work and had a huge test coming up. I was stressed to the max and received help from one of the instructors I knew, learning enough about self-hypnosis in a short time to convince myself to do a 15-hour cram session with only a ten-minute break. I passed my big test with a B, and suddenly things were not as desperate as they had been.

The dissonance between myself and my colleagues, however, continued to wear on me, and I probably seemed like this very needy dude to Dee. I had always been a cocky guy, so this feeling of a little neediness was new to me. I'm sure she felt it, and always seemed to keep a little distance from me emotionally.

I felt like I wasn't getting enough out of the relationship, and actually decided to go all in (the only poker content in this story!) and tell her that I needed our relationship to grow or else I'd have to bail. Unbelieveably, she agreed with me. I hit the heart I needed on the river!

Unfortunately, this relationship was destined for failure since Dee's father had just accepted a job several hundred miles away, and Dee would be moving with the family after the spring semester was over. Having had some experience with long-distance relationships, I knew this one was was doomed.

Unfortunately, when Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise in "Cocktail") said
"All things end badly, or else they wouldn't end", he was right. I won't go into all the details, but the end was just plain sad. She moved away, and I was heartbroken. Girls who went out with me over the next six months probably remember me as the biggest asshole they ever dated. And they were probably accurate in their assessment.

Skip to 1983. I was in the first year of my first professional job. I had heard that Dee moved back in state and was attending the University of Illinois. I had to be there for a conference on a Friday in February, and I even looked up her number and address in a phone book while on campus that day. I decided not to call, but thought that I would put myself in fate's hands. I walked the quad at lunch and figured that if I was meant to run into her, I would. Mind you , this was a campus of 35,000 students!

Believe it or not, in a moment straight out of Dan Fogelberg's
Same Old Lang Syne, I ran into her. The girl who swore her career was so important to her that she would never get married early was engaged. Fortunately for me, the woman I was dating at that time eventually became my wife, so I was not shattered by the news. It was, however, a feeling of melancholy I will never forget.

Even now, in 2008, whenever I hear
Amie on the radio, all those feelings come flooding back. Fogelberg captured the moment beautifully:Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain...

I pulled into my driveway, grabbed the food, and went inside my house. I didn't really feel like eating my Greek salad. I decided to play in the MATH tournament, letting poker soothe a soul that had been bruised so many years ago ...

So ... even though we have rough times, we persevere. Many thanks to Bob Berger, the psychology instructor (not even mine, mind you) who cared enough to see a young guy who was struggling, invite him into his office, and give him the tools to get himself back on track. I wouldn't be where I am today if not for him. Tragically, he had a massive heart attack several months after he helped me and was found dead in his house. I never had the chance to really thank him.

Today, though, the focus will be on life. My wife doesn't know it, but after we go out for breakfast this morning, I am taking her to the Humane Society so that we can pick out a new kitten or cat to replace our wonderful cat, Boyfriend, who disappeared this summer and never returned. Life is good.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snow, Work, Eating, Booze and Neighbors

Yes -- the nasty snow traveling across the United States hit home yesterday and today. The snow started falling late in the afternoon yesterday, just as some of the previously fallen snow had melted. Getting around yesterday evening was not too bad, but it looks like more snow got dumped during the night and is still continuing.

Yesterday was a unique work-social day. My morning started with a breakfast meeting of all the directors in my area of the workplace. We ate at a popular local spot and had a nominal work agenda. After the meeting ended, I went into the office for a couple of hours to get ready for the lunch I arranged as a holiday celebration for my staff. Upon getting to my office, I was welcomed by seeing this sitting on my chair:

Not bad!

I arranged a lunch at a newly opened Mexican restaurant. Although we had heard some good things about it, my family, sans me, had tried it out and were very critical. Thankfully, almost all my staff thought it was a great place. And, although I requested that they save their money and not get a holiday gift for the boss, they ignored me and got me a gift card for this place:

Yes -- I work with a bunch of great people!

After the meal was over and most scurried off to pick up kids, go grocery shopping or just enjoy the rest of the afternoon, a few of the guys and I went to the bar to have a beer and just chat about guy stuff (Animal House, strip joints, beer, women, etc). I am fortunate to work with some guys that are like brothers to me.

After picking up my daughter from high school, I waited for my wife to get home and get dressed so that we could ... go to an evening party hosted the big kahuna of my workplace! Catered food, good wine, friendly co-workers -- a wonderful way to end an excellent day. I had had a difficult last week or two at work, so it was nice to be reminded -- in spades -- about how fortunate I am to have a job I have loved for twenty years  -- one filled with many quality people.

So as I lay snuggled in my bed writing this on my laptop this morning, I have found that, to my total amazement, apparently my next door neighbor is using his snow blower to clear my driveway and sidewalk! Considering that the neighbors in my area have never been very friendly to my family and considering that last year someone in the neighborhood, apparently tired of hearing the Christmas music that my wife had blaring with her flashing lights, stole the music master unit, only to return it a couple of weeks later, we are shocked. Several weeks ago, in raking up a ton of leaves that had fallen off our trees or had blown into our yard, I even raked some of the leaves in my neighbor's yard the had accumulated near the property line. Had that led to this act of generosity? Hmmm ...

To top off this excellent life run, it looks like I can get into a poker home game tonight. Yowsa!

If you are living in part of the great area blanketed by snow, enjoy your winter day.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Rock to the Rescue

A great concept -- rockers coming to help those in need. Tornadoes destroyed several houses in central Illinois, and this is one of the many relief efforts in the area.

Illinois bands Styx and REO Speedwagon headline a night that also includes Richard Marx, Ted Nugent, Survivor, Head East, Larry the Cable Guy and Brushville.

And oh yeah -- I will be there on the main floor. Rock on!