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Gratitude, Personal Reflection

Back in the Bleachers

It was the perfect recipe. Perfect, though we couldn’t have known it before all the ingredients were there.

  • One small, midwestern town, where family lines run deep even as the population dwindles.
  • One school with a void where the music and band programs used to be.
  • One grand idea by an alumnus.
  • A few dozen eager alumni plus a handful of current high schoolers; all qualified band geeks.
  • One natural leader grabbing the reins with equal parts optimism and get-it-done practicality.
  • Homecoming Night
  • Nostalgia, added to taste.

When I graduated high school and then left for college in 1999, I was in one frame of mind: don’t look back. I wanted new, more, and different. It took years and plenty of road behind me to appreciate my school age years. I’m still working on it, honestly.

My parents continue to live in Stephenson, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As well, at least a few members of our family have resided within a reasonable drive of our hometown since graduating high school. All seven of us siblings have made it a priority, as life allows, to continue gathering at the home in which we all grew up. So, fully leaving behind my small town roots was never my path, and for that I’m thankful. 

In more recent years of this age of social media, I found myself reconnecting with high school friends. It was exciting to discover where our roads took us. Some were surprising and some not. I began to appreciate the memories with these individuals and enjoyed seeing each other’s adventures and families on Facebook and Instagram. Still, I didn’t attend reunions or make a point of reconnecting in person with more than a scant few people.

Among the best of my high school memories are the band memories. I loved band. There were only a few high school classes or programs I’d say that about, and band might be at the top of the list. So, when I was invited to join a Facebook group a few months ago called SHS Alumni Pep Band, my curiosity was high from the start.

Sawbridge Studios copyright 2022

The idea came from my old friend Ron. He’d recently learned that the Stephenson schools are now without both a music and band program. It saddened him, as it did all of us discussing it on the group’s page, and he proposed that we bring back the pep band for homecoming night of the varsity boys’ basketball season. The delightfulness of the idea was apparent, but could we do it? Was it even practical to try? Did any of us remember how to play? With ample brainstorming and reminiscence, enough people committed to the plan and there was no looking back.

I found myself signing on for my first hometown event in 22 years, and the closest thing to a high school reunion I’d yet to experience.

The level of interest and the reach of the appeal was fascinating. We became a group spanning five decades of graduating years. Literal generations in the same ensemble.

A couple months out from the homecoming game, we scrambled to find usable instruments and resurrect our dormant skills. Scott, a fellow ’99 graduate who lives in Stephenson again with his family, jumped on the tasks of digging up sheet music for each instrument and dispersing them online for all of us. He reserved the band room, now set up for Spanish classes, so local alumni could practice together.

I took my saxophone in for a tune up (aka to make it functional again) and borrowed a former bandmate’s extra alto sax to start practicing in the meantime. Later I found out my instrument, used when my parents bought it for my older sister before handing it down to me, would cost several hundred dollars to repair. The repairman was frank about it not being worth the investment. I’m still sad over not playing that saxophone again but thank goodness for my friend’s loaner.

Relearning the old pep band standards felt like a montage of comedically inspiring efforts. It was slow to start but eventually my fingers remembered what they were doing and my lungs built up a smidgen of endurance. It took a little longer each practice before my jaw started aching.

After a few weeks, I still doubted I could play the songs with other people. When it worked out to be in Stephenson for one of the Sunday afternoon practices, I loaded up the saxophone and arrived at the high school with all sorts of nerves. However, it only took stepping through the door of the old band room for those nerves to change to joy. We warmed up our instruments and greeted each other enthusiastically. I felt that coming-home feeling that belongs to the rare pieces of youth made up of only good things. Whatever that piece might be for you, for me it was band.

What I got a taste of during that practice was in full force on homecoming night.

The gymnasium was filled to the doors. Where typically only half of the bleachers are pulled out to hold the fans, this time every section was packed with people. That alone set the tone for the alumni band. There was a hint of stepping back in time to the games of our own high school years, when it was unheard of to only fill up half the gym. The entirety of the band seemed to adopt an unspoken mission to answer the excitement of that crowd with generous enthusiasm in our songs. Personally, my children’s eagerness to see their mom play in the band was contagious. I was thrilled to watch my family’s proud faces as they spotted me on the bleachers.

In the end, I think we thoroughly surprised ourselves. We were somehow all members of the same band despite our widespread ages. Playing together felt natural. The presence of our beloved band directors – teachers who remain favorites in countless students’ hearts – challenged us to hit the right notes… and roll through the notes we missed.

Sawbridge Studios copyright 2022

I can’t summarize everyone else’s emotions from that night but all of mine were tethered back to gratitude. As I write this a month later, that is still what I feel more than anything else.

For the crowd’s call for more songs after the game finished. For hugging my band directors. For blooking around from my seat on that bleacher and seeing friends. For the reminder of the greatness of a small town, and the celebration of the gift of music to a community and school. I’m grateful for all of it and for playing a part in it.

Sawbridge Studios copyright 2022
Sawbridge Studios copyright 2022
Sawbridge Studios copyright 2022

After the game, many of us trekked out to Belgiumtown Bar & Restaurant, a country tavern a few miles off the highway with delicious food and the friendliest bartenders around. They stayed open hours past their normal closing time and we savored minute after minute of visiting over drinks, laughter, and old favorites on the jukebox.

Sawbridge Studios copyright 2022
Sawbridge Studios copyright 2022

The reconnection of that night with the friends, the town, and myself filled my soul with good things. There’s no mistaking the value of it in this (and every) era of our lives. I hope very much that each person who played in the band or attended the game that night received a share in that goodness.

One of the post-game encores.
Books, Personal Reflection, Writing

Best Walk Ever

The weather yesterday, high 30s and sunshine, had me longing for a run. I settled for a superb, solitary walk on the mostly clear rec trail. I kept at a steady clip around a four mile loop I used to run on a lunch break sometimes.

Once the pavement was under my shoes, the ache to run passed and my mind’s gears got to grinding. It used to happen like that on a really good run and I was giddy over the experience yesterday. My, oh my, it’d been a long time since my imagination slipped into writing mode that easily.

Idea after idea took shape for the novel I’m currently writing. Each one flowed from the one before it. All of it made me grin as I walked through my town and filled my lungs up with fresh air.

Three times before reaching home, I ran through each of the notes and scenes I was writing without a pen. I repeated them to myself in the order they’d come to me, and at the end of each round, more new material came. It was a feast.

When I arrived home, I rushed through explaining to my husband why I had to get to my notebook and pen. I had to write all of it down before any of it disappeared, as unrecorded ideas are apt to do.

I don’t know how long I spent writing. I don’t know why everything worked yesterday when it so often does not.

I know I have eleven pages of new, solid character and plot development and scenes for my novel. I know it was a walk to rival any of my favorite runs.

I’m grateful, and I can’t wait to eventually share this book with you someday.

Personal Reflection, Writing

Breaking Through

I wrote for hours yesterday.

Those words bring tears to my eyes. It’s been almost two years since I could say that, since the words flowed like they did yesterday.

Today I woke up with much contentment in my heart. It’s hard not being able to be what you are and feel like you don’t know how to return to that person. Yesterday was enlivening.

Family, Motherhood, Personal Reflection

Things to Teach and Things to Learn

He talked me into introducing him to racquetball this week. I found it laughable that I’d be able to teach him a game that I never knew how to play well. I hadn’t even played it badly since college. That’s nearly twenty years, fyi. I’m on that ‘getting old’ track nowadays.

My boy sees it so differently. He was excited for a full week for this. He counted days until his sister’s next gymnastics class. He dressed with this event in mind when he got ready for school. When I’d asked him that morning why he was wearing an undershirt beneath his t-shirt, he explained that he’d be more comfortable in the tank top during racquetball so now all he had to do was take off his t-shirt to be ready to play.

He was ready.

Each time it came up, I warned him that I wasn’t very good at it but I’d try. I didn’t want him to expect too much. I didn’t want to disappoint him.

He could not have cared less. That’s a contagious thing and by the time we got onto that well-worn court, I was inching closer to that same state of mind. A freeing change, by all means.

We had a blast. It was SO MUCH FUN. We both just tried. We celebrated the times it played out in our favor. We talked through some of the times it didn’t.

What hit me afterward was how I could have spent the past week looking forward to this. I could have joined in my son’s excitement. I could have rejected focusing on something negative that was not in my power to change (in this case, my past experience).

The things we sacrifice on the altar of self-doubt. Of fear. Of unfounded expectations.

My boy did not care about my skill level when he asked me to play the game together. I felt compelled to answer an expectation he never even held. I needed to soften the blow of disappointment when he discovered how little I could do.

Whether or not I could teach him the game of racquetball, I did have options of what else to teach him. Confidence or doubt. Whether the good should eclipse the imperfection, or vice versa. Believing in strength or highlighting weakness.

When he asked me at the end if we could play again next week, I didn’t miss a beat in answering yes. Nor did I hesitate to declare that I would be excited for it until then.

Lesson learned, this time around.

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Intentionality, Personal Reflection, Short Story, Writing

Writing and Reconnecting

At odd little times, I feel a bubbling up of my writing intentions. The water of motivation comes to a boil and I truly believe, in that minute, that I will sit down with my notebook and words will pour out of my pen. On a drive, out in my kayak, in the shower, in the middle of a meeting, and in an array of other circumstances, my lungs fill with an air of faith in my will and abilities as a writer. I smile over each occasion, convinced that this time it’ll carry me through from the intention to write to the act of writing.

Then I sit down with that notebook. I hold that pen in my hand. And nothing happens, save a few crossed out words and sometimes a few corresponding groans of aggravation.

I think it’ll be a while before I’ll be joking again about writer’s block, as writers are apt to do. Or maybe I’m learning the lesson that if I’m able to genuinely joke about it, then any block I have can probably be broken with the right effort.

Either way, this week it came down to this: Write something. Anything. Just write it.

Do I want to write a novel? A novella? A short story or flash fiction piece?

Yes. To all. I have one of each started.

Alas, all of those stories are still hiding inside the pen, unwilling to show the rest of themselves on the page. I’ll coax them out. I believe that. They will come. In the meantime, in this dry season, I must write or go mad. Or sad. Or bad. (“Maybe that’s already begun,” she mumbles to the empty room.) So, I’m writing here, to my readers, whomever you may be.

While I’d much rather have any one of those stories to offer you, I thought I’d start by introducing you to them. Seems reasonable to hope that writing about them could kickstart writing them. Fingers crossed.

Now, temper that excitement, my friend. Anyone who has asked before knows I prefer to share very little of my works-in-progress. Think teaser rather than trailer.

*The flash fiction story is inspired by a pregnancy test in a Walmart bathroom (not autobiographical).

**There is a multi-part short story of an overworked med student in need of renewal and romance.

***The novella idea formed during Mass one Sunday in Advent. Its themes are a bit gut wrenching for me as I write… in a good way. It is a story of family, healing, and faith at Christmas time. A novella is a new endeavor for me and I’m excited about it.

****Lastly, the novel. The project I most wish would begin to flow. The project of which I’m least willing to divulge details. It is a standalone story, not a sequel to The Hidden Legacy. It is a contemporary story set in Michigan. And that’s about all I’ll share for now. Please don’t hold it against me.

This is good. Writing at all is good. Reconnecting with readers and directing my thoughts toward my projects is good. Thank you for being part of it.

To be continued. I promise.

Dignity, Family, Gratitude, Motherhood, Personal Reflection, Worthy

Believing Them

One of the things my kids have taught me is to believe I’m worthy of admiration. For all the years I can recall, I’ve felt like a pretender whenever I received recognition, whether big or small. I felt like an impostor or a fraud as I thanked anyone for a compliment. I wondered how long it’d take for someone to figure out my actual abilities and charms, or lack thereof.

In their earliest years, children are blunt, honest creatures. This applies to the positive and negative alike, as there is no natural filter between their thoughts and their tongues. As much as this exposes us adults to harsh critiques and awkward commentaries from our little chatterboxes, it also pours over us the soul-saturating water of honest praise. Their compliments are pure. Their admiration is authentic. What else could be right but to accept the gifts of them? To BELIEVE them?

This lesson hasn’t squashed the voice that whispers I’m a pretender. Now there’s a contradictory voice though, and it sounds a lot like my children.

#parenthood #parenting #momlife #boymom #girlmom #mothersday #worthy #nofilter

Faith, Family, Motherhood, Personal Reflection

Until Then

A week ago, I snuggled my 5 1/2 year old daughter as she cried through question after question about Heaven and her Auntie Cheryl. When I’d hugged her goodnight several minutes earlier, Annie became teary eyed and said she wished she could see Cheryl. I squeezed her and told her it was okay to be sad and at the same time we could remember the things that made us happy while we were with Cheryl. Her smiles and laughter and hugs. She nodded and kissed me goodnight. Then as I reached her doorway,  Annie blurted, “But Mom, all those hugs and smiles and laughs are done!” and broke down in tears.

So we hugged each other some more and both our tears wet her pillow. Eventually the tears mostly ceased and she began with her questions.

How will we find Cheryl when we get there?

Are you sure she’ll remember us?

What does Heaven look like?

And several more.

I did my best and waited until much later to let my sobs out. I tried to share her sadness while also sharing wisdom. But, oh, how far from wise I always feel now.

The next morning, after she was dressed for school, she came to my desk where I’d started my workday.

“Mommy, when you and Daddy go to Heaven, I’ll want to go too, but I won’t get to yet.”

A few more tears. More hugs. How do I explain? How do I accept it all myself? I don’t know, but for her sake and mine, I’m trying.

The next day, these photos were in my Facebook memories. I marveled at the time that passed. How could that Christmas be nine years ago? How could Cheryl be gone almost 5 months now? As I considered these numbers, I thought next of eternity. Nine years – a blip on the spectrum of time. 5 months – next to nothing. Someday… someday that’s what it will feel like too. Until then, it simply feels like too much.