ONE LONG SUNDAY

It wasn’t your typical, peaceful Sunday morning.  I’d planned to sleep late and then relax with the fat Sunday newspaper. But my cats had other ideas. Dawn comes early at this time of year, and the boys haven’t grasped the concept that Sunday is a day of rest. They chased each other around the bedroom, and then big, red Tiki came up on the bed and pawed repeatedly at my face.
I figured if Scott and I couldn’t both sleep, one of us might as well, so I slipped out of bed, quickly brushed my teeth, and headed downstairs. Tiki trotted beside me, softly blatting, “Myaah, myaah.”

As I refilled the cats’ water dish, I glanced out of my kitchen window. What? There was a young man lying on the ground in my back yard. Now, this might be common in some neighborhoods, but it’s not part of suburban living as I know it.  As I watched him, he stirred slightly. Okay, at least he isn’t dead.

Photo by Mark Manalaysay for Stockvault

What was I going to do about him? My first thought was to leave him alone. I didn’t know him, after all. And at slightly after 7:00 on this steamy June morning, the temperature was almost 80, so he was hardly in danger from the elements. He would leave eventually.

But what if he needed help? The name Kitty Genovese crossed my mind. She was the New York woman who— urban legend has it—was stabbed to death in Queens, NY, in 1964 while neighbors watched and did nothing. He might be sick, or dying. I can’t just leave him there.

I could call 9-1-1. But wasn’t that overreacting? My neighbors wouldn’t welcome sirens interrupting their Sunday sleep. The young man appeared to be of high school or college age. He had probably just done too much partying last night. His stocky build reminded me of my son’s, and my son undoubtedly did his share of experimenting with intoxicants when he was that age. (As, I must admit, did Scott and I.)  I wouldn’t have wanted someone to ignore my son if he’d passed out in their yard, but I also wouldn’t have wanted them to get him in trouble with the law.

I had to do something. But I didn’t dare walk up to the recumbent figure. He didn’t look dangerous, but how did I know? And in my nightgown, I felt naked. On the deck, I’ll be safe. I stepped out and called, “Hello!  Are you all right? Do you need help?” There was no reaction from the young man.

I hated to wake my husband, but this was more than I could handle. Scott slipped on a robe and hurried downstairs. He, too, called from the deck, “Man, are you all right? Do you need help?” His louder voice roused the sleeper. “Yeah,” he grunted, and then he seemed to drift away again. When Scott called a second time, he gave a thumbs-up.  As we walked back into the house, he slowly rose. When we looked out a moment later, he was gone.

So, it all turned out okay, I guess. But oh boy, this is going to be one long, long Sunday.

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REMEMBERING FUZZY THURSTON–2

When the Green Bay Packers’ legendary guard, Fuzzy Thurston, passed away, I told my blog readers I needed a couple of days to collect my thoughts before I could write a tribute. Well, Fuzzy left us on December 14, almost a month ago. I hope no one is bored or offended by my posting this so long after Fuzzy’s death. I’ve been thinking about him, and I want to state what he meant to the fans and particularly to me.

I knew the public Fuzzy pretty well, although I wasn’t privileged to know the private one. But based on the accounts of his teammates, maybe there wasn’t so much difference between the two. Frederick Charles Thurston was a great-hearted, rollicking man who became a Green Bay icon.

Fuzzy came to the Packers in 1959, the first season under Coach Vince Lombardi, and retired after the 1967 season with rings from Super Bowls I and II. (You can see one in the picture below.) He stayed in Wisconsin and opened a succession of restaurants and bars. He also fronted a tour company for a while. He basically made a career out of being Packer legend Fuzzy Thurston. He mingled with the fans, and they found a lot to love. For many travelers to Green Bay, Fuzzy was the face of the Packers.

With Paul Hornung and Fuzzy Thurston

Over the years, Fuzzy faced bankruptcy and lost his larynx to cancer, but neither dimmed his enthusiasm for life. As Jerry Kramer, his running mate at guard, said of him in Distant Replay (written with Dick Schaap and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1985), “Fuzzy always lived his life as if it might end tomorrow. He jammed everything into it, relished every minute. He was always charging, always up. … Every day, he was like a little boy at Christmas.”

Fuzzy loved to party. In another anecdote from Distant Replay, Kramer recalls stopping by Fuzzy’s home on a Wednesday, three days after the Packers defeated the New York Giants 37-0 to win the 1961 NFL Championship. Fuzzy wasn’t there. He was still celebrating the victory and hadn’t been home since before the game.

I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, during the era when Fuzzy played for the Packers and they won five championships in nine years. To my girlfriends and me, the Packer players were our heroes, our role models, the objects of our teenage crushes. It would not be inaccurate to call them demigods. In our small city, they certainly seemed larger than life.

Each player had a place in our pantheon. Paul Hornung was the handsome playboy. Bart Starr was the virtuous family man. Fuzzy—well, Fuzzy was the accessible one who always had time to talk and joke with us. (I guess that’s why he keeps popping up in the pages of Incomplete Passes.) By his own admission, in his book What a Wonderful World (self-published with Bill Wenzel in 2006), Fuzzy never turned down an autograph request.

In the 1980s, when I was approaching forty, I was terrified at the idea of getting old and became obsessed with those glory years in Green Bay. I turned to Fuzzy during that time. Whenever I revisited my hometown, I could go to one of his establishments—Shenanigans on Monroe or Fuzzy Thurston’s Bar and Restaurant on South Broadway. I could talk to Fuzzy, and if I was lucky, some of his teammates as well—people who understood my attachment to that era. One night I was sitting beside Fuzzy in the bar on Broadway when someone played a song on the jukebox, Mary Hopkin singing “Those Were the Days.” Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end. In a bittersweet moment, we all sang along.

And when my girlfriends and I decided to reunite in Green Bay and see a game, we bought our first ticket/hotel package through Fuzzy. Our reunion became an annual affair. We’ve missed only two years since 1998, and we’ve visited with Fuzzy on many of our trips.

Coming into the 2014 season, we heard that Fuzzy’s health was deteriorating. The cancer was back and spreading; Fuzzy was battling Alzheimer’s as well. He was scheduled to participate in an autograph signing at the Stadium View Bar & Grille in Green Bay on September 13, the day before the home opener. That was the weekend we would be in town. Early that week, it seemed doubtful that Fuzzy would make it. He was so ill that his family gave permission to have his address posted on Facebook. His fans were encouraged to write with messages of cheer.

Saturday the 13th came, and Fuzzy made it to the Stadium View, looking frail but happy to be there, sitting alongside his buddy Kramer. I realized that this was probably the last time I would see the two of them together. Although I’d collected autographs from both over the years, I bought a print of the two guards leading Hornung in the fabled Packer sweep. I handed over my photo for Fuzzy to sign, and my breath caught as a man standing behind him, obviously his caretaker, pointed out the spot where Fuzzy was to write his name and reminded him to include his number 63. Although Fuzzy’s faculties had clearly deteriorated, his signature was sure and strong.

Ever since Fuzzy lost his voice, it seemed natural to communicate nonverbally with him. As I stepped away from the table, I did what I had done several times before. I blew him kisses, and he smiled a little.

Fuzzy made several more appearances with Kramer during the fall of 2014, both at autograph sessions and at Lambeau Field during games. I haven’t heard anyone else use the term “farewell tour”—and I mean no disrespect by using it–but to me that’s what it was. Sports memorabilia dealer Rick Moncher told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an article published December 3, (http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/60s-packers-struggle-against-their-final-foe-b99400418z1-284516901.html), “Some people might look at this and think Fuzzy is being taken advantage of. The truth is, he enjoys this. He likes just getting out.”

Although I was unable to attend, I was gratified when Fuzzy’s family elected to have a memorial service in the Lambeau Field Atrium and invited fans to come wearing Packer green and gold. I thought Fuzzy would have wanted it that way. More than most of his teammates, he belonged to the fans. I send his family my condolences and hope that the past month has not been simply one of mourning, but also a time to draw close and share some wonderful memories.

So what have I learned from my late hero? Fuzzy overcame adversity and appreciated what he had. By all accounts, he enjoyed being Fuzzy Thurston. Here was a man who was happy in his skin—an example we all can take to heart.

I’m not a believer, and I don’t know if there’s anything on the other side, although I’d like to think there is. If there is an afterlife, Fuzzy has found the party that never ends, and he’s raising a glass with teammates Jesse Whittenton and Max McGee. And maybe, if I’m lucky, when it’s my turn to cross over, those old Packer greats will let me stop by for a while. In my mind, that’s a pretty fine view of heaven.

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REMEMBERING FUZZY THURSTON–1

Green Bay Packers legend Frederick “Fuzzy” Thurston passed away yesterday at age 80.  I knew Fuzzy, in the way that we know athletic heroes whom we’ve encountered “up close and personal.”  I’ll need a couple of days to collect my thoughts and write about what he meant to me.  For now, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Incomplete Passes that tells you how Fuzzy touched my life.

In the fall of 2002, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I immediately thought of Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston.  Fuzzy played guard for the Packers back in the glory days, and he lost his larynx to cancer in 1981.  In 2002 (and in fact as I write this was in 2011) Fuzzy was still around, still greeting patrons at the bar he owned, still exhibiting an enormous zest for life.  I decided his inspiration would get me through whatever was to come.

In Distant Replay, one of several books he wrote with Dick Schaap, Fuzzy’s teammate Jerry Kramer told a story in which Fuzzy went out to play golf with some Packer buddies shortly after his surgery.  “You got to give me three strokes a side for cancer,” Fuzzy directed his friends.

‘How could he say that?” I wondered.  “How could anyone ever say something like that?” That quotation stuck in my mind for years.

And then came the day when I’d had my lumpectomy, finished chemo, started radiation, and come up with a lot of bald jokes plus some other humor that’s too black to repeat.  I was on my way to a radiation appointment when a policeman pulled me over.  I looked him square in the eye and said, “Sorry I was speeding, officer, but I’m late for my cancer treatment.”

He took note of my head, filmed with hair a quarter-inch long, and let me go with a warning to be careful.

I relished telling all of my friends the story of how I beat the traffic ticket.  But the best part was that I ran into Fuzzy at Eve’s a year later and was able to share it with him.  He responded with a big grin and a hug.

Thanks, Fuzzy.

 

 

 

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GRIFTER BIRD

A few months ago, I traveled to Wilmington, Delaware, to celebrate my cousin Elaine’s eighty-fifth birthday. Our family group also included Elaine’s daughter Rachel, who’d come from Indiana; Elaine’s son Michael, who lives in Wilmington; and his wife Sarah. (I’ve changed all of my cousins’ names.)

These family gatherings are rather new to me. I’ve tried to be supportive since Elaine’s husband passed away a few years ago. I didn’t grow up with these cousins. My parents hardly ever took vacations or traveled to see my mother’s family.

Now, when we get together, we scrutinize each other and delight in similarities. We are good with words, love animals, and enjoy drinking red wine. Well, perhaps that last one isn’t a family trait—especially since Elaine makes a face whenever she tastes it.

We share our scant common memories, over and over. We like to reminisce about a few days in the summer of 1966, when Elaine and her family made their only trip to Green Bay. I recall Rachel—a chubby, smiling toddler—standing next to our coffee table, pushing cubes of kosher salami into her mouth. I encountered her again, briefly, on my wedding day when she was almost four. The next time I saw her, she was twenty-three, slender and somber, at the funeral of her grandfather, my uncle.

We’d made no plans for Saturday afternoon. The previous summer we’d visited an aquarium and a zoo. But Elaine has lost some mobility during the past year, so that kind of trip wasn’t practical. And we weren’t sure she could sit through a movie. We thought we’d grab some lunch and discuss it.

We were crossing a plaza near the restaurant when we saw a small, brown object on the pavement. At first it looked like a pine cone. As we got closer, we saw it was a bird.

This little bird didn’t look right. It didn’t fly away when we approached. “Isn’t it breathing awfully hard?” Rachel asked.

“Small animals breathe faster than large ones,” I said hopefully. “And babies breathe faster than adults. Is this a baby bird?” With puffy down on its chest, it appeared to be a fledgling.

We wondered what the little bird was doing on the pavement. There were no trees above us, so it probably hadn’t fallen from its nest. Maybe it had tried to fly and become fatigued. Maybe a predator—a hawk, Mike postulated—had seized it from its nest and dropped it before it became a meal.

As I mentioned, we are a clan of animal lovers. Elaine, who has some memory issues, recalls the pets from her youth better than the people. Michael has been a paid employee at two different animal shelters, while I’m a longtime shelter volunteer. At one time Rachel worked for a veterinarian. Our homes are filled with rescue animals. That’s how we are.

If you’re walking your dog, we’ll stop to admire it. We brake for squirrels. So we couldn’t just walk away and leave this tiny creature to its fate. If any of us dared to suggest that, he or she would automatically lose face.

Elaine needed to sit down, so we decided to have our lunch and figure out what to do. Maybe the bird would be gone when we got back. “Oh, that bird!” our server said. “There was a young girl in here talking about it. She wants to be a vet, and she thought maybe she’d take it home.” We wished she had. It made us feel worse to think that the bird might have been there for hours.

When our meal was done, Rachel, Sarah and I hurried back to the plaza while Mike helped Elaine maneuver her walker. The bird was still there. It had been silent before, but now it chirped plaintively and listed to one side.

“I know!” Sarah said. “There’s a bird rescue in Newark, Delaware. It’s maybe fifteen, twenty miles away. Maybe they’ll let us bring the bird there.”

Sarah found the listing and called Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc. They said they would look at the bird. I ran back to the restaurant for a carry-out container and punched a few holes in the lid. Rachel put paper napkins around the bird and lifted it into the container. It flapped wildly when we started the car, but soon quieted. We hoped that didn’t mean it was dying.

Rachel kept checking to make sure the bird was breathing. She decided he was a male and called him Pufnstuf because of his puffy feathers. The bird looked into her eyes and chirped intently. He appeared to be bonding with Rachel.

A half hour later we were on the narrow, wooded road that led to the Tri-State Bird Rescue. Mike and Elaine stayed in the car while Sarah, Rachel, and I went in. We told the receptionist that we were the family who’d called about a bird on the pavement. She peered into the container. “Oh,” she said. “It’s an English sparrow. They do that.”

They do that? “We’ll check him out for you,” the receptionist went on. “But he looks okay.”

Another woman took the bird into a back room. After a few minutes, she brought it back, in a cardboard box with proper breathing holes. “Yes, he’s an English sparrow,” she said. “They like to hang around where people are. They beg, hoping to get fed. I’m sure his parents were close by. He is a fledgling, maybe three or four days away from flying. But he doesn’t look like he’s injured. He’s spreading his wings symmetrically, and he seems to be well-nourished.”

“So what happens now?” we asked.

“Oh, you put him back,” the ornithologist replied.

“Put him back? On the pavement?”

“Well, no, not on the pavement. Is there a wooded area a few feet away? His parents will find him there,” she said.

I looked at Sarah. “You tell Mike and Elaine that we’re taking him back,” I said.

Pufnstuf acted more relaxed on the return trip. He seemed to be enjoying the ride and the attention. “That bird!” Sarah said. “He’s nothin’ but an ol’ grifter!”

There was no wooded area near the plaza, but there were bushes and mulch. Rachel gently lifted Pufnstuf out of the box and set him under a bush. He hopped in circles and chirped loudly. He was more animated than he’d been all day, and we began to think his parents would find him after all.

We’d blown our afternoon. It was too late to go anywhere else, but we didn’t really mind. We’d done our best for the little bird, after all, and learned something about English sparrows in the process.

And, more important, we’d made a family memory.

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RED STRIDER

Me at about 170 pounds, before diagnosis

I never used to understand fundraising walks.  “Why don’t people just ask their friends to donate to a charity?” I’d say.  “Group walking doesn’t cure a disease or feed hungry people.  Why don’t they spend their time doing something more constructive?”

But when I learned about Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, the walk made perfect sense.  You see, I have Type 2 diabetes, and walking is one of the ways I control my disease.

When I was diagnosed, my doctor started me on medication.  But he told me that if I lost enough weight and exercised, I might be able to “cure” my diabetes.  I was skeptical until one day I checked my blood glucose before lunch, and it was 130.  That’s a lot better than the 300 I registered on the morning I was diagnosed, but certainly not optimal before a meal.  So instead of eating right away, I took a brisk walk.  I checked my sugar again when I got back, and it was 86.  That made me a believer.  So walking became a big part of my life.  Walking helped me lose more than fifty pounds and keep most of it off. I’m still diabetic, but I don’t take medication anymore, and my A1c tests are normal.

Not all Type 2 diabetics can accomplish what I did, but many could and don’t bother to try.  “If I walk and blog about it, maybe I can reach some of those people,” I thought.

So I signed up for Step Out: Cincinnati. I registered as a Red Strider–a person who walks with diabetes. I had a choice between a one-mile walk and a timed 5K run/walk. I regularly walk two miles, so the 5K (3.1 miles) seemed like just enough of a stretch. My friends (thanks!) sponsored me and helped me to raise more than $500 and earn a nifty Red Strider T-shirt.

A week earlier it was seventy and beautiful, but Saturday, the day of the event, dawned gray, windy, and in the mid-thirties.  “It’s @#$%^ snowing!” I shrieked as I went out to get the newspaper.  I had planned to wear my Red Strider T-shirt over a thermal shirt, but now I added a second thermal and topped it all with a lined Green Bay Packers shell.  I ended up wearing a lot of Packers stuff:  shell, thermal top, hat, mittens, socks, and fanny pack.  Packers gear is practically guaranteed to keep people warm–after all, it’s designed to be worn at Lambeau Field, in the stands above the legendary frozen tundra.

A few wet flakes were still falling when I reached Great American Ball Park, where the event was held.  I looked around at my fellow walkers and runners.  Most were dressed in layers as I was.  Some wore the event T-shirts over their warm clothes.  I winced as I saw a young girl, maybe ten or twelve, wearing a Red Strider shirt like mine.  I feel bad for the children with Type 1 diabetes.  What’s a blip on my timeline is a major upheaval on theirs.  I may have to decline a dessert or make time for a workout, but the kids endure endless needle sticks and can’t share in some of the fun things their friends do.

(Simplistic explanation:  Type 1 diabetes is generally diagnosed in childhood.  Patients do not produce the hormone insulin.  Without insulin, cells cannot absorb glucose—sugar—which they need to produce energy. So patients must inject insulin into their bodies.  Type 2 patients do make insulin, but their bodies don’t utilize it properly.  Type 1 can’t be prevented, but Type 2 is often associated with being overweight and can be modified or prevented by a healthy lifestyle.)

I exchanged high-fives with a couple and a family of four who, like me, were dressed in Packers garb.  We didn’t outnumber the Bengals fans, but we represented.  “This is the only day of the year when I admire Jay Cutler,” I half-joked.  Cutler, the Chicago Bears quarterback, has Type 1, so he’s a great role model for kids with the disease.

I saw some people with shirts and stickers reading, “I walk for my brother,” “I walk for my best friend,” etc.  I thought of my BFF Pam, who’s had Type 2 longer than I have, but has never been able to control it completely.  Her sugars are higher on medication than mine are without it.  “Maybe the dollars I raised will help fund research,” I considered.  “It would be wonderful if someone came up with a better option for Pam.”

By the time the opening ceremonies started, the snow had stopped.  The words of welcome were warm, but my legs felt cold and stiff as I stood on the pavement.  I essayed a few hamstring curls and knee lifts, not caring how ridiculous I looked, until representatives of the Bengals cheerleaders and the Northern Kentucky University dance team led us all in a warmup routine.

We lined up at the exit to begin the race.  I hung back a bit to let the runners get out first.  Finally the starting gun sounded.  I paced out as quickly as I could, trying to establish a rhythm.  Suddenly the clasp on my fanny pack, which had been buckled around my waist for two hours without incident, gave way and the pack dropped to my feet.  The inexpensive water bottle that I’d clipped to the pack broke, splashing me as I picked it up.  I skittered out of the crowd and found a trash can where I discarded the bottle.   “Great start!” I thought.  “But I’m not worried about my time.  I’ll be happy if I finish in less than an hour.  Heck, I’ll be happy if I finish!”

Left, right, one, two.  Now I had my rhythm.  Down by the Ohio River with the wind in my face, I was thankful for every stitch I had on.  The runners were far ahead now, but there were plenty of walkers both ahead and behind me.  Eight-year-olds scampered past me like puppies and then held up to wait for slower family members.  I was passed by what looked like a beagle mix, trotting alongside its owner.  But I kept in stride.  Volunteers waved us around each turn, cheering us on and making sure we stayed on the course.  I felt sorry for them out there in the chilly weather.  We were moving briskly, but they had to stay in their places. 

One, two.  Near the halfway mark, it seemed that one of my worst fears—common to women my age—was about to be realized.  Would I have to leave the race to look for a bathroom?  “Next time I skip the opening remarks and go right before they send us off,” I told myself.  There were Port-o-Lets near the route, but I wasn’t sure they were meant for us, and I didn’t want to compromise my time.  My mouth was getting dry, but I thought it prudent to pass up the stand where volunteers were offering water. 

Left, right.  We made a turn, and the wind was at our backs.  That helped.  We passed Paul Brown Stadium and the Freedom Center, and GABP was just ahead.  I was going to make it.  There was the clock at the finish line.  I crossed before it clicked over to 52:00.  Then I accelerated as I headed for my true goal—the door marked WOMEN.

Later I learned on line that my official time was 51:17, for a per-mile average of about sixteen and a half minutes.  I also found out that I was the oldest woman in the 5K–but not the last to finish.

A poster at the ballpark asked, “Why do you walk?”  I’d thought about walking to raise awareness among Type 2s, walking for the children, and walking for Pam.  But I realized that I was walking for myself.  I walked to celebrate my body, the changes I’ve been able to make in it, the medical community that advised me, and the active lifestyle that I didn’t have before I was diagnosed.  I’m a Red Strider.  I strode.

And I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

For more information on Step Out events, call the American Diabetes Association at 1-888-DIABETES.

 

 

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WHAT WOULD LOMBARDI DO?

There’s a meme I see often on the Internet—shown here on a T-shirt sold by www.spreadshirt.com.  WWLD–What Would Lombardi Do? It refers, of course, to Vince Lombardi, the late Green Bay Packers coach whose name is synonymous with winning.

I’ve had four days to reflect on the debacle in Seattle: the Packers’ 36-16 drubbing at the hands of the Seahawks. What rankles most—what really frosts me—is the Packers’ failure to throw a pass to All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman’s side of the field. That’s right, the offense operated on half the field. It just seemed so … how can I say it? … so un-Lombardi-esque.

I wrote of Lombardi in Incomplete Passes: “The main lesson I remember is that he didn’t focus on an opponent’s weakness. Instead, he looked for their strength and attacked them there. If the Packers executed perfectly, the opposition couldn’t beat them. We’d take away their best weapon and leave them nothing to use against us.”

Following this philosophy, Lombardi, rather than avoiding Sherman, would have engaged him immediately. It could have been a spectacular fail, in which case the Packers would be no worse off than they are now. But if the play had succeeded, it not only would have put points on the Packers’ side of the scoreboard, it might have taken the crowd, Seattle’s famed Twelfth Man, out of the game.

Did I just imagine that this was Lombardi’s credo, and if it indeed was, why didn’t the Packers’ current coach, Mike McCarthy, go along with it? Was this simply the fevered fancy of a smitten fan, a young girl in Lombardi’s day? Time for some research.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tyler Dunne confirmed my thinking. In an article headed “Packers played scared vs. Seahawks and it cost them,” Dunne quoted Sherman himself, saying via Twitter, “When you are great, you make your opponent adjust to you. You don’t adjust to suit them.”

That still didn’t address the issue of what Vince would have done. But I quickly found corroboration in Vince: A Personal Biography of Vince Lombardi by Michael O’Brien (1987, William Morrow & Company, Inc.). O’Brien wrote: “Borrowing from Colonel Earl Blaik, Vince occasionally tried to destroy an opponent’s morale by attacking its strength. ‘If you can bring down their best men, it’s all over,’ he argued.” O’Brien qualified his statement by saying Vince sometimes took the easy route. But my theory was valid.

More proof comes from Run to Win: Vince Lombardi on Coaching and Leadership, by Donald T. Phillips (2007, St. Martin’s Press): “While the Packers devised separate game plans for each opponent, there also were a number of general strategies that were employed on a consistent and regular basis. One general strategy frequently employed, for instance, was to focus on whatever strong points their opponents had. ‘(His philosophy) was to attack a man at his strength,’ remembered seven-time All-Pro center Jim Ringo, ‘and once they were vulnerable the weaker points would come more readily. That’s the way we attacked as a team.’”

 

Statue of Vince Lombardi outside Lambeau Field

I get it, Coach McCarthy. This is 2014, not 1965. Tradition is glorious, but it also can be terrible to live up to. It can’t be easy to come to work every day at Lambeau Field on Lombardi Avenue, where the walls drip with memories and comparisons (even from people like me, who have never played the game) are not only inevitable but often unflattering. It’s unfair to make you operate in the shadow of a coach who died when you were not quite seven years old, and who probably seems as distant as George Washington to your players. But I believe my argument stands.

Richard Sherman is a talented performer, probably almost as good as he thinks he is, but he isn’t Superman. Coach, you’ve got Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the game. Jarrett Boykin, who lined up on Sherman’s side, may be your #3 receiver, but he generally lives up to his Twitter handle, @BoyKinHeCatch. Couldn’t you have pitted them against Sherman even once? It might not have worked, but it would have sent a different message, not only to the Seahawks but also to the Packers’ underperforming defense.

Okay, I know this was only one game. The Packers can conceivably go 15-1 and meet the Seahawks again in the playoffs. With a few breaks, that may even take place at Lambeau instead of CenturyLink Field. I’ll be in Green Bay next Sunday, and I fully expect to see my Packers throttle the New York Jets …. on Alumni Weekend, with Lombardi-era legends Willie Davis, Bart Starr, Dave Robinson, and Boyd Dowler looking on.

But, Coach Mike, as you prepare for that game, I hope you’ll think what I’ve been thinking: What would Lombardi do? And, whatever it is, for God’s Vince’s sake, do it.

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I NEED TO HEAR MY OWN VOICE

I never feel as grown up as when I’m embarking on a solo road trip.

“What?” you’re saying. “She’s almost sixty-seven years old. How could she feel anything but adult?”

But look at it this way: For the first twenty-one years of my life, I lived with my parents. In January 1969, I moved from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Fremont, Ohio, where I took possession of my first apartment, first job, and first cat. I was engaged then, but didn’t expect to be married for a year or two. Well, circumstances changed. I ended up leaving Fremont in late February and moving back into my parents’ home until Scott and I were married at the end of March.

 

 

So out of almost sixty-seven years—can you believe it?—I have lived on my own for only two months. All the rest of that time, I’ve been somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife. A lot of my decisions have been made for me by others, and the ones I made were skewed toward the needs of others. I haven’t been in control.

But in my car, out on the interstate, it’s different. I can stop when I choose, stay where I choose, and buy what I choose. If an emergency happens, it’s up to me to fix it. And I’m confident that I can.

I’m leaving tomorrow evening for a quick visit to Green Bay. I’m going simply because I want to, and that in itself is a departure. I’m not going for a wedding or a funeral, a class or family reunion, a theatrical performance, or even a football game. I’ll attend the Packers’ Family Night practice, but that’s not the main reason I’m going. I just want to connect with some old friends and meet some Facebook buddies in person.

I’m hoping this trip will facilitate a shift in my life. I haven’t done much writing for the past year and a half. I’ve never really had writer’s block before, but I guess that’s what this is. I don’t have much to say, and what I do write comes out flat. I thought I developed a distinctive voice when I wrote Incomplete Passes. I’m not hearing that voice right now. I’ve started a novel, but after a year and a half, my progress has stalled at 25,000 words. Some authors get that far in a weekend.

So I’m going home, back to where it all started, back to where I first learned to string words together. I’m going to get my feet on flat ground and my head on straight. I need to hear my own voice again. And I think I will hear it when I visit my familiar haunts: Lambeau Field; the rocky, windswept shore of the bay; the downtown nestled on the Fox River.

I hope to come back with a new sense of myself—and, if things work out, something wonderful for you. At least I know I’m trying, and that should help. Watch this space.

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I’M NOT DEAD YET!

It’s been two weeks since the incident, but I’m still getting an occasional funny look at my health club.

On Tuesdays I often attend a water aerobics class, but I missed that one to wait at home for a repairman. Once he’d completed his job, I still needed to work out, so I went to the club. As I approached the entrance, I met my classmate Connie, coming out. She looked at me, did a double take, and gasped.

I looked down at myself.  Was I having a wardrobe malfunction?  But, no, Connie quickly explained. Someone had said in class that they’d heard one of our members, Linda, had passed away. No one knew this Linda’s last name, and Connie had thought of me. Now that she could see I was alive, she was concerned about a close friend of hers, also named Linda and also absent from class. She was heading to the other Linda’s home to check on her.

Now, Linda happens to be a very popular name for women born in the 1940s. One of my BFFs, three months younger than I am, is a Linda. President Lyndon Johnson had a daughter named Lynda, born in 1944. There are actually Linda/Lynda conventions held around the United States, and I bet most of the participants were born in the ‘40s or early ‘50s. I’ve read that 1948 was the peak year for Lindas. Arriving in October ’47, I just missed it.

It’s logical that my water aerobics class, which is geared to women of a certain age, could include several Lindas. Frankly, we don’t all know each other’s names. Water aerobics isn’t particularly conducive to conversation, and besides, people our age don’t remember things as well as they used to. Then there’s the bathing suit factor. For example, most of us know that the lady in the red suit is Carol. If Carol shows up in a blue suit, we may not recognize her. But enough people knew my name to raise concern about me.

It turned out that Connie’s friend Linda isn’t the late Linda, either. We’re still trying to figure out who she is … uh, was. And that’s why I’m still getting funny looks.

I feel sort of like the old man in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Remember the scene where a cart makes its rounds in a plague-ridden village? “Bring out your dead!” the driver calls. A villager carries an elderly man out to the cart and tries to put him aboard. “I’m not dead,” the old fellow keeps insisting. (Eventually the driver conks him on the head and throws him onto the cart. I hope that isn’t going to happen to me.)

What if we never identify the Linda who died? Maybe she wasn’t really in our class. Maybe she’s just an urban legend, like the Beatles with “Paul is dead.”  Do you suppose, if you play, let’s say, the Green Bay Packers’ fight song backward, it will tell you that I’m gone?

As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated.” And that beats the alternative, after all. Except for the funny looks. At least people aren’t crossing themselves at the sight of me. Not yet, anyway.

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SCARY GOOD

“That’s Katie?” 

Recently our niece posted a link to an audio track of her daughter singing “Let It Go,” the Idina Menzel number from Frozen. Katie is eight and has never had voice lessons. But you wouldn’t know that from listening. Katie is … scary good. Hear for yourself.  http://www.scottburkett.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Let-It-Go.mp3

My family has had its share of performers, but no one’s hit the big time. My father dreamed of an acting career. He was lucky enough to land a “real job” during the Depression and opted instead for security. He ended up as a small-town retailer who got his kicks from community theatre. He was a fine actor, though. Once I happened upon him getting into character before a show, and for a moment I didn’t recognize my own dad.

My sister-in-law, Katie’s grandmother, also possesses acting talent. As a girl, she auditioned for a role that could have launched her career. When the call came, her parents politely told the director that their daughter was not available. For years, she didn’t know she’d been chosen. She’s had the good life her parents wanted for her—as the wife of a prosperous attorney—but surely she wonders what might have been.

My husband, a talented percussionist, passed up music studies in college, seeking a more stable profession. He cites intense competition and drug use in the world of popular music, and says that if he’d become a professional drummer, he probably wouldn’t be alive today.

With my father’s blessing, I went off to Northwestern University to study theatre. My professors quickly pointed out flaws in my stage presence. I didn’t have the passion to try to fix them, knowing the slim chance of employment even if I prevailed.

And then came our son, who gets his gift from both sides. As a child, he acted in local commercials and industrial films, and when he was a little older than Katie, he too gave a performance that was scary good. He taped an audition for a feature film called Little Man Tate, scheduled to shoot here in Cincinnati. When he finished reading for the title role of Fred Tate, the adults in the room looked at each other and said, “Oooohh.”  Unfortunately we never learned what the casting director thought, because the project got shelved for four years. By the time it was revived, our son was too old to play Fred.

We couldn’t argue when our son wanted to major in theatre performance. He got his degree, but never had the chutzpah to storm New York or Hollywood. Instead he lives in Seattle, where once again he does the occasional commercial, industrial, or improv show. His most notable gig was a part in one episode of NBC’s Grimm, filmed in Portland. Like so many other professional actors, he makes his living from food service. His agent says he’s still growing into his character type. He could be one of the fortunate few whose careers take off at forty. We’re hoping.

And now … now we have Katie, beautiful Katie who sings with a strangely adult timbre and a natural vibrato. Of course, Katie is only eight. She may announce in a few years that she’s bored with singing and wants to become a veterinarian or a preschool teacher. But in the meantime, we can’t help wondering.

Will Katie be the family member who goes to the top? And what demons will she have to fight to get there? Will she become a star—or just one more person to whom life throws … incomplete passes?

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THE NFL HATES ME

The NFL must hate me. Every year, as I wait for the Green Bay Packers’ schedule to come out, I think they won’t screw up my life as badly as they did last year. Every year they kick me in the face.

It’s my job to arrange the annual pilgrimage to Wisconsin with my friends Pam, Del, and Carla—the trip that provided the basis for my book, Incomplete Passes. “How hard can that be?” you ask. “You pick out a game, pick up the phone, and there you are.”

Well, it’s not that easy. Which game should we see? Should we catch a division rival—Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota? Should we stand by as Tom Brady leads the New England Patriots into town? Frankly, we pick our games by the weather.

My BFF Pam is sixty-seven years old, and she’s spent about forty of those years in Louisiana. That’s a long way and a long time removed from our Wisconsin girlhood. These days, she considers fifty degrees frigid. It’s not just Pam—none of us can take the cold the way we used to. But the NFL is into this “frozen tundra” mystique. They pack the schedule with November and December games at Lambeau Field. Brrrrr.

I survey September. The Packers have only one home game, on the fourteenth against the Jets. The Jets from the AFC? Who wants to see the Jets? It might have been fun to watch our old quarterback Brett Favre play for the Jets, but he hasn’t been with them since 2008. Looks like we’re stuck with them. At least it’s a 3:25 start. The Packer Fan Tours tailgate party begins three hours before the game, so we can eat bratwurst at lunchtime, not 9:00. “You’d eat breakfast sausage at 9:00 AM, wouldn’t you?” I’ve asked. “What’s the difference?” My friends shook their heads and made faces.

The 3:25 start also means I can transport Pam to and from mass before they start closing streets. Atheist driver thanks God!

Can we snag hotel rooms within walking distance of the stadium? After a two-and-a-half hour bus ride a few years ago, over a distance we’d have covered in ten minutes any other day, we’ve decided that’s essential. We’ve stayed at the Springhill Suites for several years now. The pool is tiny—Del takes three strokes one way, three back—but the rooms are big. Hope they’ll have rooms left with two beds. I won’t name names, but one of us snores. We’d save money by booking a room for four, but four boomer women and one bathroom? Forget it. We’d never get out of the room.

Now I just have to wait until Packer Fan Tours posts the prices on their website. I’ve probably checked the website thirty times today, but the prices aren’t there yet. At least this is easier since the advent of e-mail and on-line booking. I used to make phone call after phone call—and I hate making phone calls.

I’d hoped to see a second game this year. The Packers go to Seattle, and my son lives there. But the NFL made Packers-Seahawks the Thursday night opener, the premier game of the season. Not only will there be super hype for the defending Super Bowl champions with their record as yet untarnished, prices for this game and everything around it will be super high. And it’s the week before I go to Green Bay; I’d have to neglect everything else in my life. There’s no way I can do it. See? The NFL hates me.

Time to check the website again. Nope, still no prices. They’ll probably put them up tomorrow when I’m busy volunteering at the animal shelter. Then other people will grab all those rooms with two beds.

Hmm … home opener is traditionally the Alumni Game. I can’t help wondering if Mr. A will be back in town. The player I carried a torch for, the year I turned seventeen—and the object of my unusual midlife crisis. I’m not sure what I’d say, but I’d still like to run into him. I think about it every year. I haven’t talked to him since 1965, and I’m still looking for closure. It’s stupid, yeah, I know.

Wonder if those prices are up yet. … Nope.

But with all the frustrations, this is the time I wait for. In spring, a season of renewal, I look forward to renewing ties with my hometown and three of my dearest friends. Every trip has been fun, but maybe, just maybe, this one will be the best ever. How many more of these reunions will we all be able to attend? How can I make this one special?

Wonder if those prices are up yet …

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