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DHS Classmates

DHS Classmates

Fathers & Sons

September 24, 2017

Jeffrey, to the right.

Pics of Jalen Spriggins that will make you smile!

My father, Steve Tackett, died one year ago today due to liver failure caused by Stage IV cancer.  He breathed his last as my son and I were landing at Hobby Airport in an effort for Camden to see him one last time.  I had been saying goodbye for almost nine months.  A big thank you to Allen and Tre Cage, who allowed me to work remotely for over two months so I could be with my Dad off and on over the last eight months of his life.

How does one best pay tribute to his father’s memory?  I hope at some level my life is a reflection of what I learned in my Dad’s dying days.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Unless you’ve continued to live in the Dickinson area, are related or have remained a rabid Gator fan, chances are that you won’t recognize the young man in the pictures.  If you look to the left in the parents’ night picture, a face you recognize will emerge.

I had originally intended a post exclusively on Jalen Spriggins to post on his first day of college.  Hurricane Harvey ruined that plan.  I’ve since been looking for the right time and here it is – the one year anniversary of Big Steve’s death.

Jalen was the recipient of a scholarship this year in my Dad’s name.  That might lead you to believe that someone in my family had come up with that idea.  Let’s just say it was a member of my extended family.  Karen Beauchaw reached out to Stephanie, Maryann, and I earlier this Spring.  She had learned of a hard-working, smart young man soon to be a graduate of DHS who needed some help to attend UTSA.  She wanted to provide him the financial assistance he needed and put the scholarship in my Dad’s name.

This was an easy cause to get behind.  The fact is that I had received a scholarship from local businessmen in the Dickinson community that allowed me to attend the college I wanted to attend.  It was now my time to give back.

This blog was the perfect excuse for me to satisfy my curiosity about Jalen, so I reached out to him.  The results of that call revealed three things: 1) a case of mistaken identity; 2) my limitations as an interviewer and conversationalist; and 3) a worthy recipient of a scholarship with Steve Tackett’s name on it.

Let’s start with the mix up…When I saw the “Spriggins” name, I knew the family.  Somewhere along the way, some relayed that Jalen was the son of Troy Spriggins, a former Gator football star.  That made sense.  I’d worked at the Dickinson School Dept. with Troy and liked him.  I had once witnessed Troy perform an act of superhuman strength unloading pallets of paper from a box truck.  The idea that his son would be a starting H-Back for DHS just made sense…except it wasn’t true.

Naturally, the first thing I asked Jalen when I got him on the phone was about his father, which veered in a different direction when he explained his dad had played baseball, not football.  Jalen’s dad was Jeffrey Spriggins, fellow graduate of class of ’89!

The interview was pretty short.  It reminded me of some of the conversations I had through the years with his dad, Jeffrey.  Jalen’s a man of few words.  Very polite, accommodating, genuine, and sincere.  He’d answer any question I asked, I just needed to ask the right question. Interviewing Jalen was a job for Darlene Powell Price, not me.

Here’s what I learned in the half hour we spent together.  Jalen’s interested in study political science, business, and pre-med.  He chose UTSA because it wasn’t too close, nor too far away.  He might walk-on in the Spring to play football, but he had to establish himself as a student first.  Jalen was a kid who chose good friends and stayed away from trouble.  And, yes, he knew Troy, Archie, and Stanley, among others.  I wished I’d asked him if he knew Cain and Marcus and some of the guys with whom Jeffrey enjoyed playing baseball.

I came away feeling really good about Jalen and his future.

The story doesn’t end there, though.  The elder Steve Tackett’s death was the biggest driver of my blog, gatorsonlylater.com (GOL).  Through this blog and social media, I have reconnected with dozens of my former classmates and kept tabs on hundreds of others.  The best part is that other people have reported similar experiences through GOL.  It’s amazing what I have learned about shared memories through the lenses of adulthood’s life lessons.  Thanks to each of you who have participated or gone along for the ride.

More specifically, GOL led me to Kathy Rose.  We bonded over cancer.  Kathy shared her writing with me.  We somehow became closer than we ever were as kids.  Because of Kathy, I had the opportunity to learn how to fund raise (hint: find a cause or person in need people care about, then get Kendal Smith Lake and John Scarborough to make inspiring videos).

GOL and my time in Dickinson reconnected me with Karen Beauchaw.  I could never say “no” to anything Karen or her husband, Wayne, ever asked of me.  That led me to helping Jalen but it also set me on a path of learning about scholarships for high school seniors (and, how if you don’t have a foundation organizing the activity, you better be on top of your game).

Harvey came.  I was watching my hometown succumb to the floods in real-time, thanks to CNN, The Weather Channel, and social media.  Then, the most amazing thing happened…GATA spirit took over.  Dickinson was no longer a town of black, brown, and white.  Instead, it was what I remembered – a town and a team where everyone was blue and white with a little red trim (stole that straight from the Dub Farris playbook).

Then came a late night text message from Allison Farris Fox.  Along with Allison and two big-hearted former teammates (Eric Driskell and Bernie Smiley), I’ve been able to take the lessons I’ve learned in 2017 and apply them to the “Adopt A Gator” campaign, raising money so needy DHS students harmed by Harvey’s devastation could continue their college dreams.

In summary, this post was intended to be about Jalen Spriggins and his father, Jeffrey.  As you can see, though, it’s just as much about me and my Dad.  As I reflect on the past year, the impact it’s had on me, and the goodness that has somehow flowed from such a hurtful event, I now know his death was not in vain.  As much of an old school hardass as he could be, I know he’d be proud.

The happiest picture I have of my Dad, bottom left; of course, it was taken when he was a Gator coach!

 

DHS Classmates

The Helpers

September 18, 2017

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”― Fred Rogers

This past week, my hometown flooded. Hurricane Harvey crashed into the Texas Gulf Coast, and inundated Dickinson, Texas with water. I awoke Sunday morning to urgent texts from my brother, who is currently living in Korea, demanding to know what was happening with my parents. I quickly logged onto Facebook to see childhood friends posting desperate pleas for help and devastating photos of the rapidly rising water.

I finally did hear from my parents. Mom was safe at a a church retreat further inland. My brother, who was visiting my parents, was also safe at a friend’s house. And Dad, too, was safe on the second floor of their home.

Their home – my home for much of my childhood and all of my adolescence. It was a home that, despite being a few blocks from a bayou and despite weathering numerous storms, had not flooded in the decades we had lived there. That home was knee-deep in water and the rain was still coming, and high tide hadn’t hit.

From the safe distance of 2000+ miles (3500+ km), I watched as my hometown flooded. Dickinson was one of the hardest hit communities early on in Harvey’s path, and thus received much media attention. I obsessed over news reports and social media posts about the flood. I felt so helpless and powerless seeing people I love and care about losing so much and in peril of their lives. I actually felt physically ill when friends posted requests for evacuations from rooftops or desperate pleas for somebody to check on their aging parents with whom they had not had contact. By the time I saw familiar images of my youth – now underwater – flashing on international news stories, I was numb.

Hurricanes and floods. These aren’t new experiences for me. Growing up on the Gulf Coast, they were so much a part of my experience that my friends and I often played “Hurricane” – a game where we saved all of our stuffed animals from crashing waves and rising waters. I’ve lived through my share of storms. And as a pastor, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the devastation of such storms from a theological perspective. So, when faced with this disaster from afar, I turned to some of my writings from the past for comfort.

I pulled out the article I wrote after spending a summer in Nicaragua, observing reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Mitch. I pulled out the reflections written after Tropical Storm Allison when I was serving as a chaplain in a flooded hospital in the Texas Medical Center. And I pulled out the sermon I preached the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, a sermon congregants said was one of the best I’d preached. But none of these comforted me. Reflections on God’s presence in the midst of disaster did not ease my anxiety. Contemplating the various images of water throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures did nothing to abate the dread swelling in my spirit.

But I did find consolation. Surprisingly, it came from the same source as my anguish. It came in my obsessing over social media. It came from the responsive actions of my hometown, in images of care and concern from my people.

– There is the woman, two classes behind me in school (and Sunday School), who was out in her inflatable kayak for days getting people out of their homes (her boat could get places where bigger boats could not). Oh, and she had a sprained wrist through it all.

– There is the woman, whose mom drove me to school every day of sophomore year, who coordinated boats up and down various streets of Dickinson. The U.S. Coast Guard was asking her where to go!

– There is the man, who was a dishwasher at the seafood restaurant where I bussed tables when I was 15, who was out on his boat, rescuing people from rooftops and second floor windows.

– There is the woman, from my 8th-grade soccer team (we were Bay Area Champions!), who now lives in Sweden, who was coordinating rescue efforts via social media, matching evacuation requests with boats available.

– There is my cousin, who closed his restaurant to the public but still worked with the employees (those able to come in) to make meals for shelters and first responders.

– And there is my dad, who opened his home to neighbours from single-story homes, providing shelter to multiple dogs, grown-ups, and kids, including a two-week-old baby.

– The list goes on…

The above quote from Mr. Rogers has long been meaningful for me. I’ve quoted it in papers and sermons. And “looking for helpers” has often been a solace for me in the face disasters and devastations. But this time, when disaster struck home, when I looked for helpers in response to the flooding in Dickinson, I didn’t see anonymous heroes. Instead, I saw people I have known for decades. I saw lifelong friends. I could not have been more comforted or proud.

A few days ago, Susan Cook, the kid sister of my high school friend / choir rival Diane, took this photo of the flooded sanctuary of Faith Lutheran Church in Dickinson. It’s striking, the image of Jesus reflected in the flood waters. What’s more striking for me is the image of Jesus reflected in the faces of Dickinson – helpers, heroes, volunteers, victims, survivors, supporters, family, and friends.

 

Rev. Rachel Frey

Edmonton, AB

DHS Classmates

Adopt A Gator Now!

September 11, 2017

 

Allison’s dream, as it was first shared with me…by my sister!

Calling in the calvary – the DHS Alumni group

 

 

To donate to the “Adopt A Gator” campaign follow this link: 

https://www.com.edu/giving/adoptagator 

 

The last time I saw Allison (Farris) Fox was in May of 2010.  Before that, I’d met her for either dinner or lunch in the Spring of 1993 in San Antonio right before I graduated from college.  Before that…High school graduation?  Her parents packed up and moved to San Antonio shortly thereafter.  Allison and I were probably closest…when we were in fifth grade. 

So when my older sister Stephanie passed on a Facebook Messenger message from Allison to me late Friday night a week and a half ago, I was a little surprised.  Or should I say “terrified”? 

Allison had a big idea.  She’d already enlisted Eric Driskell, a.k.a. Cat Daddy.  Allison knew Cat wouldn’t be able to say “no” to helping the people of Dickinson.  Now she wanted my help.  Her vision was to raise money so that students of cash strapped families in Dickinson recovering from Hurricane Harvey could still attend college.

 

I was immediately overcome with a wave of nausea.  I tossed and turned and didn’t sleep that night.  This is how I react when I know I have to do something hard that I’m not sure I can do. 

The following day, I pulled in two key resources.  The first was Karen Beauchaw, who runs the DHS Alumni group.   She was my neighbor growing up.  Karen and her husband, Wayne, were surrogate parents to me.  I knew she would help, although I didn’t know exactly what I was asking for.   It was Karen who captured Allison’s vision into a perfect sound byte – “Adopt A Gator”. 

I then reached out to Bernie Smiley.  Since Bernie agreed to be interviewed for my blog, I’m pretty sure we’ve interacted more since than we ever did as kids.  Bernie is a professor at College of the Mainland (COM).  He could validate Allison’s vision and maybe give me some ideas.  He had spent the earlier part of the week ripping up carpets in his home in League City but was now driving to a nostalgic concert in Nacogdoches when he took my call. 

Bernie’s take was that it was a GREAT idea and that, in fact, he had planned to challenge his department to donate to a similarly aimed COM scholarship.  He began talking to me enthusiastically about the kids we could help and the different possibilities across different programs.  His passion for the idea was on par with his passion for music, which, if you know him at all, is saying something! 

Less than a week after Allison first reached out to Eric and I, we had a functioning web page that laid out what we were doing and why and could accept “Adopt A Gator” donations to College of the Mainland.  The “Adopt A Gator” campaign accepted its first “word of mouth” donations over the weekend!  Tomorrow September 12th, we launch “Adopt A Gator” in earnest. 

With that in mind, I’d like to explain what we’ve done and why… 

First, pictures are worth more than words.  You can hear Allison speak about this project, follow this link:

https://linksharing.samsungcloud.com/1505236830824CKMEcJq

“Adopt A Gator” is a fundraising campaign that is entirely focused on helping Dickinson students adversely effected by Harvey and enrolled at DHS in 2017-2018 attain their education goals exclusively through COM.  “Adopt A Gator” is not its own foundation.   

The team (Allison, Eric, Bernie, and I) emphasized 1) getting something in place quickly and 2) providing financial aid for college to as many as possible of the DHS students who needed it most.  In other words, our mission and COM’s capabilities were a natural match. 

In addition, we could leverage COM’s foundation such that all the proceeds of your donations went directly to funding students’ education.  We were not required to cover any administrative expenses, which often run as high as 10%; COM leverages their existing staff to run their foundation for “free”.  Even if you pay with a credit or debit card, the full amount you donate goes into the scholarship fund. 

Furthermore, we could establish the criteria for who received awards, as well as name the group of people to review and score applications to the “Adopt A Gator” fund.  Bernie Smiley is leading that team!  Bernie is the perfect choice – he has dedicated his career to helping these types of students. 

Students will be eligible for awards across three different COM programs: 

  • Full-time COM => high school graduates who enroll at COM 
  • Dual Credit => high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors that can rack up 30+ hours of college credits for which they also get credits toward their high school graduation; if fully leveraged, may reduce four year college costs by as much as 25% at a fraction of the cost 
  • Collegiate High School =>motivated high school juniors and senior who can attain an associate’s degree from COM before they graduate from HS; may reduce four year college costs by 50% 

Each of us is funding a scholarship and we challege you to join us!  We are excited to do this for our community in a time of need!  Give if you can, especially if you were fortunate enough to be outside Harvey’s path of destruction.  Here’s the link: 

https://www.com.edu/giving/adoptagator 

You’ll be hearing from us…G.A.T.A Gators! 

DHS Classmates

That Time My Hometown Went Underwater As I Watched From The Other Side of the World

September 6, 2017

It’s too early to try to get first hand accounts of Harvey.  I did ask some people who had the same experience I had – watching on TV and social media – to share about their experience.  This from Jeremy Parks, who lives in an undisclosed location somewhere in Asia.

Bean-Head Tackett, as usual, has bitten off more than he alone can swallow; now he wants the rest of us to chew. If the communal response to the tragedy in Texas has taught us anything, it should be that some things do indeed take a village to accomplish.

Good call, Stephen.

I’m one of those living too far away to help (Asia), and I am too disconnected from local residents to coordinate rescues or services. I’ve been gone too long and possess few local ties. Instead, I bit my fingernails and hit “reload” on half a dozen webpages, including Facebook.

My sister, class of ’87, works at a group home. She pulled an extra-long shift on the 24th/25th, went home for a nap, and returned Saturday morning around 9. Her replacement could not arrive, so she stayed through the storm and returned home some time on Monday. Her wards were content and fairly unaware of the tumult outside, knowing only that the usual schedule was not being followed.

Her son remained stuck at a friend’s place, having watched Mayweather outclass McGregor before realizing he had no way home. The rest of my sister’s family watched the waters rise near their home in Alvin.

We both tried to figure out what was up with Dad.
As morbid as it sounds, I’m glad Mom wasn’t here for Harvey. Her electric wheelchair could be charged up, but the hospital bed and electric Hoyer lift for moving her around required an active plug. The prospect of no power for days on end and floodwater sweeping around a woman he could not carry would have sent my father over the edge. As it stood, Dad simply had to worry about himself and his home of 48 years or so; one which has never flooded despite its proximity to Dickinson Bayou.

Dad hears less than I do, and lacks a smartphone, so we don’t call and can’t text.  He spends no time on Facebook. The only way to get news was to hope he would stop flood-proofing long enough to check his email; it didn’t happen. The second-best approach was to ask his relatively new neighbors. They bought the house from one of those neighborhood friends you never really miss once they move and turned out to be God-sent. Literally.

They and Dad hunkered down together, watching the waterline. They –thankfully – had iMessage and Facebook and were young enough to know how to use them. Through them, Sister and I kept tabs on Dad’s stress levels and eating habits.

He came through OK. My sister got water in her car, though I think it will come out fine.

Second to worrying about my father, the most stressful thing for me was the sheer helplessness. I could do nothing about floods and winds; I simply wanted to help. Asking me to watch events unfold and do nothing to help is roughly akin to asking your grandma not to rock a baby. I had to watch other fire up the boats, form human chains, swap addresses and phone numbers for those needing help. Even now I’m watching others gut houses and carry food; all I can do is send money, and count my blessings.

DHS Classmates

Blog, Interrupted

September 1, 2017

“I couldn’t just sit there and watch it on TV anymore.  I had to do something.” – anonymous Galvestonian citizen rescuer, who braved the storm in his john boat to pull families out of the water in Dickinson

 

One of the unintended consequences of being the father of a one week year old infant is that you are awake throughout the night and learning in real-time the devastation of Harvey to your hometown, even though you’re 2000 miles away safely in your bed.

Natural disasters in Galveston County are not new or novel.  We grew up with severe weather.  What can be said is that this storm was unique for a couple of reasons.  First, there are neighborhoods Dickinson that have historically been impervious to previous storms; they “bend but don’t break”.  Maybe the streets flood, you lose a shingle or two, or you lose electricity, but water never enters the house.  From all accounts, this storm was different.  This FB post this AM from Jenni Martin Fairbanks:

Jenni Martin Fairbanks added 2 new photos.

9 hrs · Houston, TX ·

I just learned that my childhood home in Dickinson flooded, and I’m bawling. We never flooded when I lived there. I watched it come inches from our front door once when I was in the 6th grade, but we were spared (random rain storm – not even a hurricane) – quite frankly we were spared by Mother Nature many a time. We are no longer the owners of this house, but my family owned it from the time it was built in 1977 until around 2008 or 2009 when my sister and her family moved. I hope whoever owns this house knows what a place of love it was. I’ve been listening to Miranda Lambert’s song “The House That Built Me” lately as I process why it hurts so much to see my hometown flooded. Dickinson made me the woman I am today, and I am proud. The walls of this house witnessed many a tear, much laughter as well as the mundane day to day happenings. My momma took her last breath in this house – unexpectedly. She was my very best friend, and the pain of her loss is deeper than words can describe. Lots of the big things of my life happened in this place. My momma and daddy loved me well on Thornwood Circle. I will forever have a sting in my bones when I see this house and the landmarks of this town. I hope whoever lives here in this house carries on the deep family tradition of love, commitment, and service to make this world a better place. I wish them well in these days of horrendous Hurricane Harvey. (P.s. That open window in this pic was my bedroom). Lynda Amason Pat Orrill Tamberlyn DeAnn Genevieve Foster Meador Shannon McGlothlin – my forever neighbors:)

 

The second reason Harvey was different was the coverage.  FB was dominated by posts on Harvey both from inside and outside the effected area.  Somehow, people were able to keep their phones charged and use them to provide those of us connecting to them through social media images and commentary of what they were experiencing firsthand.  The mainstream media and networks also featured round the clock coverage of Dickinson.  Specifically, watching CNN and especially The Weather Channel (TWC) made Dickinson appear to be the epicenter of storm damage.  TWC spent most of Sunday following a reporter first on a flatbed truck and later in a boat as his team cruised up and down 517, Deats, Hwy 3, and Spruce, Lobit, and Maple Drives.  On Sunday, I remarked to Kyle Gupton on FB that TWC cameras and reporters kept floating by the home he grew up in and which his mother still resides.  Shortly thereafter, Kyle posted this (you can see that he’s watching from the Seattle area because of the “Bothell today note in far left hand corner:

 

Kyle Gupton

August 27 at 2:33pm ·

That’s our house on the right.

 

 

The effect on those of us watching from outside the range of the storm is that you felt like you were there experiencing the storm firsthand but unable to help.  Read this exchange between Rachel Frey and Kyle Gupton:

 

Rachel Frey‎ to Kyle Gupton

August 30 at 6:40am ·

How is your mom doing? How are you doing? Watching from afar, while not the same as being in the flood waters, is traumatic in its own way. Peace to you?

Comments

Kyle Gupton Thanks Rachel. She’s okay as can be. Safe at least but worried about the future. I’m pretty much the same. Watching from afar is definitely traumatic in its own way. I’ve never wanted to be in a disaster zone so much in my life.

 

Here’s the amazing thing.  The whole experience conjures the opening line of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  As we watched the stunning loss and heartbreak of our community and then the volunteers on the ground rescuing survivors, our classmates mobilized.  Some like Rachel Frey, Emily Clock, and Ann Bell Worsley were using FB and their cell phones to guide people to assistance and provide Public Service Announcements (PSA).  Others were out in boats saving people.  You couldn’t help but feel the teamwork and pride, even 2000 miles away.  It’s still going, as I can see Sonja Faul Blinka and Michelle Hathway Martin delivering food to former classmate, Brian Moss and his family.  The energy hasn’t dissipated…GATA Gators!

 

This post will likely be the first of many about events and people surround the “500 year storm” named Harvey.  Candidly, there are better people to tell this tale.  People who were there.  I’m looking for your contributions.  Please reach out to me, whether it be with your story or pointing me to the hurt or heroism of someone we mutually know.

 

Here’s what I’ve sketched out for the upcoming weeks, although not necessarily in this order:

  • Cries for Help => people using social media to get assistance for their trapped loved ones
  • Bearing Witness => those who provided video and commentary from voices we trust
  • The Connectors => those who set about using their phones and FB to organize and help
  • The Rescuers => this needs no description
  • My Window into the HEB War Room

 

If you have better ideas, let me hear them.  Let me close with this post from former DHS science teacher and coach, Kurt Olsan:

 

Kurt Olsan

13 hrs ·

Love this town Love the school, Love these coaches, and really Love these kids!

DHS Classmates

My Name Is Luka

August 22, 2017

Not everyone that appeared on my original list has been open to appearing in my blog.  One person overcame tremendous odds.  She was willing to share her story with me under the condition of anonymity – she didn’t want to bring any shame upon her family.  Many who read this have amazing powers of deduction and could likely back into her identity.  If you do, please don’t announce publicly.  Let’s respect her wishes and journey.  She isn’t in the picture above – I’ve included it to mean that she was one of us and many of us.  Below is a carefully redacted speech she made after being named a Shero, an award for heroic women.  I am so proud to call this woman a classmate!

Shero Speech

I want to thank all involved in creating this program, for the opportunity to be here today to share my story with you, as well as for the honor of being nominated as a Shero.  I must admit that it is a bit intimidating to address a room filled with teachers.  I’ve agonized over the many possible grammatical errors that could be noted!

Did you know that in 2001, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,802,000 substantiated cases of child abuse?  This abuse includes an increase of 2.3% in physical abuse, 7.1% in neglect, 1.2% in child sexual abuse, and 4.1% in psychological abuse over the rates of abuse in 2000.

During 2001,   31,051 children were removed from their homes nationwide, as a result of substantiated cases of abuse, only to be returned to the very homes they were removed from and re-victimized within that same year.  Even more alarming is that 1,300 child fatalities were reported in 2001 as a result of child abuse.

It never ceases to amaze me that a country with the ability to develop the technology to drop an atomic bomb on the country of Japan to end the war in the pacific in 1945….the same country that was able to develop the technology to allow Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon in 1969…didn’t have the forethought to enact laws to protect children until the late 1970s.  It wasn’t until the mid to late 1980’s and, even until the 1990s in some states, that the legislation was actually enforced!!  And, even in 2005, we fall overwhelming short of the mark when it comes to actively enforcing the child protection laws and funding the appropriate programs to protect our most valuable resource…our children.   It’s ironic that we now have a government agency called “Homeland Security” when we can’t even protect the children in our homeland.  Abuse rates are rising, not falling.

A researcher named Wilkes published a paper in 2002 in which she said “Child abuse, not school violence, is the true epidemic of violence in American Society.”  Even in the wake of the terrible tragedy in Minnesota this week, I believe she is correct.

I am here today because I am one of those children for whom there were no laws to protect.  Along with my siblings, I endured a considerable amount of abuse.  Unreasonable perfection was expected of each of us.  This perfection included perfectly made beds, perfectly kept rooms, and absolute perfection on any academic measures.   A score of 97 on a spelling test was enough to seriously put one or all of our lives in danger or to result in being tortured with our worst fear, which for me was being zipped up in a sleeping bag filled with garden snakes.

I have been asked if there was someone along the way who helped me.

I wish I could say that I had a teacher, like a dear friend of mine, who has taught early childhood education in a local school district for the last 8 years. A teacher who is acutely aware of, and concerned about the total well-being of the students in her class. A teacher who would have been willing to stand up to any authority to be sure that I was safe.  But, I didn’t…I was a weird and unattractive child who sat quietly and never interacted.  I did all of my work well and never caused trouble.  None of my teachers ever indicated to me that they noticed the marks I came to school with, although I don’t see how they could have missed them…never noticed that I was so frightened of the thought of having to bring homework home to do, which would suggest to my dad that I was goofing off, that I would beg to skip lunch or recess just to finish all of my class work.  They certainly never took any measure to intervene on my behalf.  I felt pretty much invisible to them.

I wish I could say that I had an aunt, like another friend of mine, who would have called the police to immediately come to my house had she heard the screaming in the background when she called to talk.  An aunt who would have risked her relationship with her own sister in order to do what she knew was right.  But….I didn’t….all of my extended relatives pretended they didn’t notice.  Even if they had called the police, since there were no laws to protect children, and we lived out of the country, there is probably little that could have been done.  But knowing that they tried would have made a huge difference in my life.

I wish I could say that there was someone in my church, like a woman I know well from my current church, who alerted appropriate authorities when she noticed inappropriate activity pertaining to children in a family in a church in which she was just a visitor!  But….I didn’t…instead, I watched every Saturday evening as my dad went to confession and was absolved of all of his sins for the week.  The parish priest used the sanctity of the confessional to justify his refusal to act to protect my siblings and me.  I sat in church every Sunday, and just like at school, I was again invisible.

I wish I could say that I had a mother, like my current mom mentor, who would have read to me and played games with me…a mother who would have gone to every possible effort to structure my world in such a way as to give me every opportunity for success and happiness…a mother who would have taught me about Jesus.  But, I didn’t…. I had a mother who stood by silently and watched the abuse happen.  She didn’t participate, but she didn’t stop it either…a mother who became angry at me when I was the target of abuse, as if it were my fault for being so bad, instead of directing her anger at the abuser.  Instead of teaching me about Jesus, I had a mother who taught me about shame and guilt and fear.

You know, in my very early adult years, I came to view my mom as a victim herself.  A part of me found it easier to accept her failure to protect us if I saw her also as a victim. I felt like I had made some sense of peace with that.  Then, a funny thing happened.  On Mother’s Day in early 2000, my son was born.  The very minute I saw him, I knew that I would give my life to protect his.  Suddenly, I was a mother, and I no longer understood how my mother could not have protected her children.

Although there were no people in my life that actively helped, I did have three very important things:   God, imagination, and soccer.

Let me start with God…. When my mother died, I discovered, in one of her drawers, an old letter from my grandfather addressed to me.  It was a very sweet letter.  The final message in the letter was “I pray for your safety and your spirit daily.  I have many masses said specifically for you.  Hold tight to your faith and you will always go the right direction.”  It was at that moment that I realized that it was my grandfather’s prayers that intervened in 1994 when I was crying uncontrollably believing that God could never accept me and led me to look across the room to where my college roommate’s Bible sat on her nightstand.  It was his voice that said “if that is true, your name will be in the book…read it and see what you find.”  I fully expected to find my name on a list somewhere in that book.  From a Thursday night to late Monday morning, I read cover to cover nonstop.  It was his prayers that led me to John 3:16  “for God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  It was his prayers that led me to the conclusion that since I am a “whosoever,” then I count too!!   And, just in case you are wondering, my name is not included in the Bible.

I believe it was my grandfather’s prayers that put the next two things in my life…two things that were vital to my surviving my childhood to become one of the 22.1% of abused children who can be called “resilient.”  It was my grandfather’s prayers that led me to a life grounded in my faith in God.  A life that includes my incredible husband and my two beautiful children, my adoptive parents and adoptive younger brothers, extended family and friends, and all of the amazing opportunities for fun and for service that have been placed in my life.

The second thing I had was imagination.  Even before I could read, I would stare at the pictures in the few storybooks I had.  My siblings would bring them to me, and I would guard them carefully.  I spent many, many hours in various hiding places throughout the house just staring at the pictures.  I began to imagine that I was a princess from a far away country that had been destroyed by bad guys.   I pretended that I was hidden with this bad family and that one day I would rejoin my real family who loved me.  I had one prize possession, which was a crystal necklace that belonged to my grandmother. This is that necklace.  I pretended it was my princess necklace.  Little did I know that I would one day realize that I am in fact a princess…I am God’s princess, and I belong to His royal family.

Once I could read, I spent countless recess and lunch periods in the library lost in stories about other places and other people.  It was in those books that I realized that my family was not the norm.  It was also because of my love for reading that I believed I could escape and create a life of my own free from all of the ugliness in which I grew up.  I also firmly believe that my love for reading helped my brain rewire itself when I sustained an injury to my left temporal lobe at age 7, resulting in damage to my expressive speech.  The verbal part of my brain was so strong, that it has allowed me to compensate for constructional injuries that I have to my right anterior parietal lobe.  I tell my left from my right by which hand has my wedding ring.

And, just ask my husband, I have absolutely no ability to accurately navigate directions using a map.  Please, please, just print the written driving directions for me from yahoo!!!!!

Last but not least, I had soccer.   I began playing soccer as a 4 year- old child.  Soccer served a number of valuable purposes in my life. The first was that it helped my body to be physically strong, which I believe helped me sustain the extreme stress I endured.  Secondly, it was the first place where I learned to channel all of my anger and negative energy into something positive.  It was a release for me, and it taught me that I could do something good with all of the pain I held within.  Finally, unlike the chaos in my family, on the soccer field there were rules that were always followed and the same consequences for violating those rules were always applied equally across players and teams.  As a soccer player I learned to work with other people toward a single goal.  I learned to trust that my teammates would be in their correct position to receive a pass from me, and I learned to be dependably in my position should the ball come my direction.  The soccer field was the only “safe” place in my life.  School was not safe.  Church was not safe.  Home was the least safe place of all.  The soccer field was the only place I was able to let down my guard.  It was the only place I did not feel threatened or frightened.  Everyone’s hair was in a ponytail, everyone wore the same clothes, and bruises were a badge of honor rather than something that made you look weird and ugly.

One day last Spring, a flyer came in the mail advertising registration for youth soccer in my community.  I noticed that children could begin playing soccer at age 3.  My son would be 3 before the registration deadline so he could begin playing that summer!  I was so excited!!!  He was happy to play, but he just isn’t the least bit aggressive.

I soon realized that I had done a very good job of teaching him that sharing and taking turns was very important.  I would tell him to go after the ball and his response would be “but mom, it’s not my turn!”   Three solid years of consistent parenting just went right out the window!

Whenever another child would fall down, my son would stop, run back, and make sure they were OK.  He was particularly interested in spending most of the game holding hands with a pretty little girl!   I admit I was a little bit disappointed that it wasn’t looking like he would turn out to be the avid soccer player I was, but I realized that my son didn’t need soccer to learn that the world is a safe place.  He has my husband and me and the many other people who love him to teach him about that. Most importantly, my son has Jesus as a model.  Besides, my daughter, who was then 15 months old, had no problem slide tackling the other children and snatching the ball!!

I am very pleased to say that I am living proof that contradicts the preponderance of evidence suggesting that children with traumatic childhoods cannot go on to have normal, happy lives.   I have been happily married to my husband for five years.  He is my best friend.  He loves me despite all of my quirks, which admittedly, are many!  I have two beautiful children that I absolutely adore.  They are both smart, sweet, and absolutely precious.  While my daughter failure to learn a healthy sense of her own mortality leaves my husband and I with many new gray hairs daily, I delight in watching her because she really is me without the horrors of childhood abuse.

Contrary to the literature, even without an appropriate mother model as a child, I have become a good mom.  I shower my children with love and hugs and kisses every day.  I read to my children.  I play with my children.  I listen to my children, and I respond to their needs. And, no mother grizzly bear could hold a candle to the fierceness with which I protect them!

As for my career, well, I think I’ve done pretty well.  It’s taken me a bit longer than some people, but I’m getting there.  I’ve found that the pain I’ve endured during my life is a perfect channel to express genuine empathy for women at the end of their lives.  I’ve also found that I have the opportunity to offer them hope beyond breathing at the end of the day.  I am able to tell them a story that culminates in eternal life with Jesus.

My friends often comment on how they are so amazed that I handle so many responsibilities and activities with relative ease.  I work at my clinical placement, sometimes upwards of 40 hours per week, am always prepared for classes, keep up with friends, participate in church and volunteer activities, take care of my house, AND, actually participate in the my marriage and in the lives of my children!  I generally just smile and shrug it off because what they don’t understand is that my ability to manage so much comes at a huge price.  I lived the first 21 years of my life in a state of absolute fear.  My “fight or flight” response was always activated. I have an incredibly high stress and pain tolerance.  When you think about it, managing all of the great things in my life, in addition to the bumps in the road from time to time, really isn’t that big of a deal.  This level of stress tolerance is an attribute I pray my friends will never have to acquire.

I think that it is important for me to be sure that you understand that even though I have overcome tremendous barriers, I am not without scars.  There are physical scars that will always be on my body, and there are psychological scars that will always be with me.  I still sometimes have horrible nightmares.  I continue to have an incredibly strong autonomic fear response when I do something less than absolutely perfect.  From time to time, there are smells, sounds, and specific places that cause me great distress.

I will always have trouble with word finding because of the damage to my left temporal lobe, and I will always have trouble with reading maps and doing math because of the damage to my right anterior parietal lobe.

The road to where I am now has been long, bumpy, and very twisty.  It wasn’t easy and there were many road blocks along the way, but I made up my mind, a conscious choice, that I would not allow my past to destroy my future.  What I’ve learned over the years is that the bad things in my past have much more power over me if I attempt to avoid them than they do if I face them.  For example, I am still quite concerned about sharing my story publicly.  This is the first time, outside of church, that I’ve shared it.  ☺

Instead of separating my life into two sections- then and now- I have integrated them and by doing so have gained a tremendous amount of insight into the reasons I react the way I do to things and to the emotions I feel in specific situations.  All of these things have shaped the person I am today.  A person of whom I am quite proud.

My greatest challenge is forgiveness.  The very foundation of my faith is challenged on this one.  I believe that no sin is greater than any other sin in the eyes of God.  It all separates us from Him. If I believe that the death and resurrection we celebrate this Easter weekend was sufficient to wipe my slate clean, then I have to believe that it is sufficient for my father if he chose to seek it.  It doesn’t seem at all fair to me.  But then, God’s grace and mercy are exactly what we get when we don’t deserve it.  However, this, too, is a challenge I can overcome because “I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Thank you.

DHS Classmates

Don’t You Forget About Me

August 15, 2017

I started gatorsonlylater.com with the idea that I would initiate it and build momentum, but that ultimately other contributors would step forward to tell their stories in their own fresh voices.  Perhaps someone would do as I have done by reporting other people’s stories interlaced with my own.  Life is a shared journey. Those with whom we walked in our youth are still with us.  Not all of us are in regular contact with even our closest friends from high school.  I’ve found we still carry each other in our minds as memories.  Or, in some cases, on our backs as wounds that just won’t heal.

I’m proud to say that the first step forward towards that larger vision of a community of contributors will occur in my next two blog posts.   The first is a piece by the inimitable Jeremy Parks.  Somehow, Jeremy lives on the opposite side of the world and we are closer now than we were when we sat next to each other in class every day.  It’s a miracle of technology, for sure.  I am grateful for that bond.

In the haunting piece below, Jeremy reflects on his time and friendship with the now deceased David Gregory.  It’s haunting, whether you knew David or not.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“Everything ends eventually, Dave.”

David Dwight Gregory, class of ’89, was my best friend. He appeared out of the blue in 5th grade; I didn’t even know there was a school in Bacliff, much less that they’d force kids to trek to Dunbar Elementary.

And now, nearly eight years after we met, Dave and I were arguing in the parking lot at Pine Drive Baptist Church. Heatedly.

Like most friends, Dave and I found ourselves as buddies for no discernable reasons. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” In our case, “you-too” centered on trust.  We simply recognized the other as one who would not take advantage of momentary vulnerabilities.

For being great friends, we surprisingly pursued none of the same activities. I dabbled in band, speech, and drama before settling on cross country and track. Dave chased baseball, football, and karate. Our senior year he decided to go for track, tossing the discus. More on that later.

I tried, as any good Baptist boy would, to get Dave to come to church with me, though my reasons were more fraternal than spiritual. He instead attended a Church of Christ with his maternal grandparents. They lived just off Baker Drive by the high school, right next to Baker Drive Baptist Church. You remember – as you were driving down Baker from the school parking lot towards 517, it was the last street on the right.  Turn there and his grandparents lived in the first house on the left. Had a carport and, as I recall, a red pickup.

Memory says we were thick as thieves at McAdams; reality likely disagrees. We represented best, or only, friends for so many years my mind incorrectly extends that same degree of closeness back through all of junior high. Our extra-curricular activities, as already noted, took us in differing directions. The pressures of our respective home lives, especially as they bled into our school existence, turned us inwards and away from deeper friendship. The distance between our working class homes meant we said a final good-bye each Friday, and spent entire summers without contact.

In high school, though, we hit our stride. Inside jokes. Matching class schedules. Ski trips. Pranks involving Mr. Fore and a toilet lifted from a construction site. Attempts to see how many free glasses of water we could get from fast food establishments between the end of a movie and the start of curfew.

Eventually, he joined the track team. Despite his choice of discus, he ran in the mornings with the distance runners before school, down Owens Drive towards what is now the Green Caye golf neighborhood. I think he just wanted to belong.

We spent much of our senior year planning to attend Texas A&M. I have no idea what we were thinking. Our parents could not afford to send us. We had no money. Even so, we made our plans….until spring. Thus, the argument.

Long story made short, I shifted my allegiance to Texas Tech. Dave was furious; more to the point, he was hurt and confused. I was abandoning our dream of heading off to the same school, sharing classes and dorms and who knows what else. Perhaps on a certain level I betrayed the trust that characterized our original connection. At any rate, David foresaw our disparate college choices as signaling the end of our relationship. Hence, my response.

“Everything ends eventually, Dave.”

______________

Dave represented a sort of yin to my yang. In the manner of first-borns everywhere, David castigated himself for every mistake. Once, while playing kickball, he flubbed an easy fly ball at third base. Instead of scooping up the ball and tagging a passing runner, Dave clapped his hands to his head and yelled in frustration. The runner scored. Easily.

I, on the other hand, gave my mistakes a free pass.

I had my own intensity, though. Tackett describes my anger in junior high as “volcanic” and I’m not inclined to disagree. I went toe-to-toe with whomever – teachers, friends, strangers – over anything. Dave was far more relaxed. Anger, as a general concept, did not form an essential part of his personality.

He did sometimes hate, of course, aiming at a poorly populated group of targets. Jo Saitta, the geometry teacher, topped the short list of despised teachers. No one, though, came close to Michael “Psycho” Hoffman.

Dave took Honors Geometry just after lunch with Mrs. Saitta. She permitted students to enter during lunch and hang out. Hoffman, amongst others, routinely arrived early. Dave often arrived well before the bell and would submit his homework in the basket before leaving to visit the toilet. Hoffman, whose studied and deliberate displays of apathy served largely to call attention, would remove the homework and bury it in the back of David’s overstuff clipboard. Those gathered would laugh.

Dave flunked that last quarter of Geometry, forcing him to re-take an entire semester. Those present only admitted Hoffman’s acts once the ink had dried on report cards and Psycho had quit the state.

Hell hath no fury, as the saying goes.

You know, for all the years we were friends I could never remember his exact birthdate. I’ve never been good at birthdays, and I’ve matured into an adult who barely remembers my own. Even so, birthdays matter to kids, yet I could not recall his.

For the record, it’s either the 13th or 15th of February. I always aimed to give him a card or something on the 13th. At worst, I would have been guilty of celebrating early; better that than late.

David had a little sister – Candace – who followed in the footsteps of siblings immemorial by irritating him with her mere presence in this earthly plane. Years later, he admitted a deep respect and admiration for her. David’s mom, Marilyn, worked at Boeing, or Lockheed Martin; something with airplanes. I never knew what his father did, but Dave expressed immense pride for his dad’s work in keeping their extended family safe and secure.

___________

Dave and I survived the argument over colleges. He applied to Tech. We weren’t able to share dorms, but we shared friends and meals and general collegiate silliness. He approved of my very last girlfriend, and worked on learning sign language to join our chats.  We played tennis together, a new sport for him, over the summer; at least, when we weren’t working together at the DISD maintenance department.

By Christmas of 1992, I was married and attending Lamar University. Dave came to the house on his way from Lubbock to Bacliff for the last untroubled visit we would ever have.

He’d grown a beard. A thick, wooly, barely-trimmed beard. Dave, who once likened kissing a smoker to licking the bottom of an ashtray, smoked. Dave, who swore on the ruined lives of alcoholic relatives he would never drink, had become an alcoholic. He’d been fired from on campus jobs and faced academic expulsion.

He returned to Bacliff and faced the music his situation had composed. He left Tech, joined AA, and began putting things back together academically by attending College of the Mainland.  It was not to last.

Sometime around that elusive birthday, Dave had a stroke in his sleep. His diminutive mother wrestled him down the stairs and to the first of many doctors who helped the family address the cancerous brain tumors; slowly growing tumors that explained the slow pace of Dave’s reading; the hand tremors he had in high school; the changes in his behavior as a young adult.

He died in September 2001.

“Everything ends eventually, Dave.”

____________

Our argument displayed something fundamental about our personalities.

That sentence I tossed at him aptly summarized the fatalistic pessimism that permeated my thoughts back then. Everything gets lost, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Doesn’t matter what we do because we lack the power to affect our own fates. Move along, nothing to see here.

Dave did not see life that way, and as a result he was a far better friend to me than I was to him. I think he knew he needed our relationship more than I. That didn’t sound right – I desperately needed Diamond Dave’s presence.  I meant David acknowledged the need that I refused to admit. He pursued our friendship deliberately while I slouched along because he believed it was possible to control the fate of our relationship.

He took the classes I took. He chased the sports I played. He applied for the same jobs I did. He shifted his scholastic loyalties to the same university as I, even during the summers. He learned sign language when I did, and briefly majored in the same subject.

But the tumors changed everything.

My life went forward along traditional lines. Marriage, college, graduation, graduate school, job, kid, mortgage. Dave stayed home.

When he wasn’t being treated for cancer, he volunteered at K.E. Little Elementary. His sweet nature made him a natural for hanging out with kids. We saw one another when I was in town visiting the parents.  His parents eventually built a house over next to the high school on the same street as his grandparents.

And for him, that’s where everything ended eventually.

DHS Classmates

Dr. Kimberly Dambach Doyle will see you now!

August 11, 2017

You’ll never see a pic of Kim by herself and most are with her family

Lot’s of pics of Kim and her many athletic events

Work team!

Kim and her husband like to travel and vacation

  1. It’s summer and my wife is due any day now. I apologize – I just didn’t have the time for the audio or a transcript.  Hope that doesn’t take anything away from the time I spent with Kim Dambach Doyle – she has an incredible story to tell.
  2. The interview started off with some excitement.  Kim’s 16 year old son was testing for his pilot’s license (her dad was a former pilot).  Kim was attentively conversing with me while simultaneously listening to air traffic control.  I honestly don’t know how she was doing it; that’s a superpower in my book.
  3. Kim wasn’t on my radar until earlier this year.  Even then, I didn’t make the connection with her actual identity because on FB she’s Kim Doyle, not Kim Dambach or Kim Dambach Doyle.  You may be in the same position, in which case you should add her to your network of friends.
  4. I’ve stuck fairly rigorously to my original list so far in this project.  Kim Dambach Doyle is one of the first exceptions I’ve made.  What got my attention is that Kim ran the Boston Marathon this year.  That’s at least two of us from the class of ’89 to participate in that event.  I don’t think anyone would have guessed that of either of us.
  5. Kim’s voice sounds the same, but her manner of speaking is more confident and deliberate.  I have to say she looks great, as well!  How many of us can say we continue to look our best at 46?
  6. “Dr. Doyle” is a neuropsychologist. Very impressive!  Feel free to do what I did and google what that means.  She works with patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, dementia, etc…
  7. Kim is serious about her fitness.  She played soccer in HS, but come on…Orange Theory three times a week?  V02 Max training on the track?  Marathons?  More on the trickle down to her family later.
  8. The call began as too many of these calls began with an apology.  I’m pretty sure that Kim was the first girl to ever show any interest in me.  And I…didn’t handle it well.  That’s probably an understatement since both Kim and I list that experience as one of our five biggest regrets from high school.  I’ve relived it over and over in my head since that day and wished I could go back in time and change.  Thank you, Kim, for your forgiveness.
  9. A common Hollywood trope is that of the “butterfly” – the classmate that kept to themselves or maybe was even rejected in youth that emerges later in life as successful and accomplished.  May I submit to you my nomination as the “butterfly” of the DHS class of 1989 as Kim Dambach Doyle! She is a sterling example of what psychologist’s refer to as the growth mindset.
  10. Kim and I probably shared more classes, but the one I remember is Dr. Bauer’s freshman Honors Biology course.  A lot happened in that class.  We had a teaching change (Mrs. McKee began as our teacher).  On 1/28/86, that’s where we several of us learned about the Challenger disaster.  Personally, I’ve never come so close to failing a class as I did for procrastinating on a flower pressing project.  There was an incident where the science teachers coffee was poisoned with formaldehyde.  Dr. Bauer made science fun.
  11. Kim remembered something that I had forgotten…Somehow in the midst of all of Dr. Bauer’s class, Kim Dambach and I managed to talk regularly…about stuff like religion.  Looking back, how exactly did we manage to talk about religion in an otherwise well run classroom?
  12. Kim moved to Dickinson in the 5th That surprised me.  As far as I knew, she had always been with us.
  13. Kim had a challenging upbringing.  She was the youngest of eight children, with a seven year age gap between she and her nearest sibling.  That’s basically like being Nicholas Bradford from “Eight is Enough”.  Until her family settled in Dickinson, she moved around a lot because her father was in the military.  Like many of us, she grew up in a rigid household with tension between the parents.  Then to top it all off, her dad taught ROTC at the high school.  Her response to this environment was largely to keep to herself, put her head down, and do what she needed to do to move on.  Kim said something that summed up how many of us felt: “a lot going on at home that I didn’t want people to know about and talk about”.  When faced with these situations, some kids push out make friends to find surrogate families.  Kim narrowed her circle and wishes she had, in her words, spent more time getting to know her classmates.
  14. Kim describes her high school self almost exactly as I had written about her in preparation for the call; “hiding in plain sight”, I wrote, and just trying to blend in.  It was a survival tactic at home and at school.  I had no idea she was getting picked on.
  15. Kim describes herself as an adult as independent and more outgoing.  She’s found her people as an adult…isn’t that what it’s all about?
  16. Kim went off to the University of Washington for nursing school, only to have to leave to come home to take care of her mother who developed and died of breast cancer.  She later re-entered college and graduated from Hardin Simmons.
  17. She has a great story of her journey in faith.  I’m not even going to try to recount it here, but it’s worth listening to Kim tell it or read in the transcript.  I loved that we share a common affection for Pope Francis!
  18. With Kim excelling academically, I was curious how she didn’t end up in the G&T program.  Was she somehow overlooked?  Was she poor at testing?  None of the above.  She was offered the opportunity, but her parents declined it.  Man, we really could have used another girl in those classes.
  19. A heartwarming story is that Kim and her husband adopted her great-niece, Madison.  This couldn’t have been easy.  Most people sit back and watch things happen but don’t act.  Madison is lucky that Kim has such compassion and conviction.
  20. My absolute favorite part of the interview is asking Kim about what grievances of Kim as a mother her children would carry with them into adulthood.  She didn’t even have to think about it.  First, her insistence that her kids participate in long running events with her (some would constitute this as physical abuse).  She also doesn’t permit her children to participate in social media.  That’s what you’d have to call a tightly run ship!
  21. Like so many of us, Kim left Dickinson and never really looked back.  She hasn’t stepped foot in Dickinson since 2000 when her mother passed away.  She’s kept in touch with Karen Ganze, Frances Ovesny, and Jeremy Parks.
  22. I thought her recommendations for me to interview were interesting.  Casey Fisher doesn’t want to be found.  Rosalia Serbia…who could put me in touch with her?
  23. If Kim is here in the area again for the Boston Marathon, I will be there to cheer her on. What an amazing woman she has become!
DHS Classmates

Express Yourself!

August 1, 2017

Darlene & her Mom – looking great!  Great that they’ve become so close

Same pose, years later – Logan has grown I’d say!

Early family photo

These photos speak for themselves…

You can listen to the audio here:

http://www.tapeacall.com/ztjf7te2p7

Attached is a copy of the transcript if you prefer to read the source interview.

REV file 07312017

  1. Okay…raise your hand if you’re surprised I spent two hours talking on the phone with Darlene Powell?  I didn’t think so.  Darlene was high on my original list because she’s always been an amazing conversationalist.  I knew she could carry this blog entry without any assistance from me.
  2. The first thing you’ll realize if you haven’t spoken to Darlene in a while is that she sounds so different.  This was a curve ball; so many of the people I’ve spoken with sound exactly the same.  She still has her Kim Carnes-ish sounding voice; it’s just the pace of her speech finally sounds so…Texan.  When we were younger, Darlene was so energetic and expressive in her communication – she could easily have passed as someone from the Northeast.  She’s changed.  More relaxed.  She says more comfortable in her own skin.  More on that later.
  3. It’s not surprising that Darlene is in a customer facing role in her career.  She’s spent most of her career in insurance (did she own insurance agency).  She could likely sell me anything.  One of my favorite takeaways was how a friend suggested she might have spent her career in an alternative universe…as a radio DJ.
  4. Based on my post-election “politics on FB” experience, I should have had Darlene even higher.  I have made my feelings about Donald Trump and his administration known.  That has led to some admittedly unproductive exchanges with former classmates.  Those same conversations often lead to the people I’ve known in adulthood interacting with the people I knew in my youth.  Worlds colliding!  Here’s the funny thing about Darlene.  On several occasions, Darlene has waded into these FB encounters and made cyber friends with people on the other side of the argument.
  5. Think about that for a second.  Social media is a place where even close friends can misjudge what you’re saying because there is no tone to your voice, no pace, no body language.  Jokes are risky.  Darlene communicates in a way that gets past all of that.  Even people who disagree with her stance online like and respect her.  It’s like magic…That has been amazing to watch.
  6. I always liked Darlene Powell.  It’s funny how much I remember liking her considering how little I interacted with her.  I knew that I wasn’t close to Darlene, but I was around her and listened to her talk enough in school and church that I felt like I knew her.  Nope!  I have to wonder if Darlene experiences that often.  So…we spent most of the time on the call with me getting to know the younger Darlene better.
  7. I knew that Darlene’s father had been in law enforcement and politics.  I knew that she was a Daddy’s girl.  I didn’t know that her parents divorced when she was 3-4 years old and that her father had mostly raised her.  Think about that…this was the 70’s and 80’s.  Her Dad worked as an ironworker, then in his 30’s went back to school, began doing police work then held a series of elected positions, including village marshall and constable.  He must have been quite a man.
  8. Didn’t realize that Darlene was an athlete.  I never associated her with softball or soccer.
  9. I didn’t know Darlene started her freshman year at a military school in MS, only to transfer back to a private school in Houston.  She then spent her sophomore year at Clear Creek, only to return to Dickinson to finish out HS.
  10. Listening to Darlene talk about her younger self was eye opening.  Her viewpoint is that people didn’t like her because she was too forthright, too loud, and tried too hard.  It’s not like I am some perfect barometer for how people are perceived by peers, but I don’t remember anybody ever saying anything negative about Darlene.  I only remember her as fun to be around and having an infectious laugh.  As I’ve learned through the course of this project, many of my classmates had antagonists and real struggles of which I never knew of.
  11. Darlene lives in Dickinson, but she’s also lived in Austin and then later in South Florida.  I love that she’s moved back to Dickinson and works at McRee Ford.
  12. The driver behind her move back to Dickinson is bittersweet.  Her Dad was sick and needed her help.  He already suffered from Parkinson’s when he found out he had cancer.  The decline was a slow and painful three years.  The story of her Dad, his illness, his reaction to the meds, and the impact it had on his behavior is the hardest portion of our conversation. I will say that the idea of burying the man who raised you two days before your son turns one and have a petting zoo scheduled for the party makes for a memorable story.  I would start around min. 50 so you can hear how her life was heading until family responsibility intervened.
  13. If you’re not following Darlene on FB, get on the bandwagon.  It’s worth it if for no other reason than her enthusiasm for martial arts (through her son) and the people in that community.  I look forward to the updates on Logan.
  14. If you already follow Darlene, then you know she subtly changed her name.  She acknowledged that, after 17 years of marriage, she recently divorced.  She was very complimentary of her ex, but I can relate to how she seems to be experiencing the divorce…relief.
  15. Darlene still keeps close contact with Nanette Tucker Waegner and Tara Tedder Miller.  A shoutout to those two!
  16. Another of my favorite things about Darlene is her public service announcements on FB about local traffic, construction, etc…She’s very civic-minded.  Probably a legacy trait of her Dad’s.  I wish I had someone up here who did the same kind of thing.
  17. The other item that Darlene and I go back and forth on social media about is the current opioid crisis and addiction.  We didn’t dive into her specific experiences re: addiction, but she’s pretty open about it.  She’s emerged a stronger woman.  If I had a friend or family member with a problem, Darlene is the first person I’d call or try to put them in touch with.
  18. I enjoy listening to Darlene talk about her son.  I know…moms love their kids.  When she starts talking about Logan, you can hear the change in her voice.  The enthusiasm.  The energy.  That said, the funniest aspect of the conversation is listening to the two of us talk about our two sons.  She the social butterfly, with an introverted son.  Me…the introvert, with the social butterfly son.  Raising kids just wouldn’t be any fun if it were easy, right?
  19. The Darlene conversation is ongoing…stay tuned.
Classmates DHS Classmates

Mother Theresa

June 26, 2017

 

Hug time!

Young love

Christmas family pic

10 year HS reunion with Lori Apgar, John Paul Parks, Marcus Nalepa, myself, and Theresa

 

If you were on this trip, you’ll want this picture!

April of 1989 in HS (right) and college graduation – compare to her daughter’s graduation above

Two trophies – I wish I’d made time to see Theresa and the varsity women’s volleyball team play

 

Here’s the audio.  Sorry for the slow start.  Just cut and paste this into your browser to play:

http://www.tapeacall.com/htrzuqtd8c

Here’s a transcript for those of you who love to read: RE8f889084720f0f2673fa4536b5c0d651

Theresa Cernosek (now Theresa Varnado) was never the attention seeking type.  That much hasn’t changed.  According to the friends in the Dickinson area with whom I’ve personally kept in touch, Theresa has been MIA since heading off to Southwest Texas State.  You can hear us going back and forth on it starting about 2:15.  She would have made my list, regardless.  That she had seemingly disappeared just made how her life has turned out even more intriguing.

  1. Only in the past few months did I realize Theresa was even on social media.  If you go out on Facebook, you can find her under her married name.  Her social media presence is low key; she maintains just 50-60 FB connections.
  2. In high school, she was beautiful, smart, athletic, and sang in the choir, yet was still somehow hard to find.  I was curious.  When I walked into health class our senior year, I saw Theresa sitting there.  I all but pushed a classmate half my size out of the way (kind of like a box out in basketball) to sit next to her.  I then preceded to chat her up for the entire semester.
  3. The best part?  I liked Theresa even more than I expected.  You couldn’t help but respect her.  She was inherently different from the other girls I’d known growing up.  Though she liked to laugh, Theresa was mostly serious and didn’t suffer fools particularly well.  She wasn’t just coasting along – she was making an effort and had high expectations for herself and I suspected others.  You’ll hear me refer to her on the audio as a “perfectionist”.  Theresa refers to herself as a “people pleaser”.   To use her words from our interview, she was a classic “high achiever”.
  4. Last point on high school-era Theresa…It’s kind of funny, but I still remember the name of her boyfriend senior year who went to LaPorte and played soccer.  I was torn…I despised the LaPorte soccer team, but couldn’t help liking the guy.  It did seem a little unfair that she dated outside of DHS circles but was likely a good predictor that she was ready to move on and never look back.
  5. Several aspects of Theresa’s adult life were surprising.  For example, Theresa is the first person I’ve interviewed who stayed home to raise her kids.   That decision caught me by off guard.  As she acknowledges herself, she just seemed destined for a high responsibility career.
  6. Theresa had laid the groundwork for a satisfying career when her eldest daughter was born.  She talked about dropping her infant daughter off for a week before she made the decision to stay home.  If you listen to the audio, you can hear a defiant ring of emotion in her voice about that decision some 18 years later (her eldest daughter just graduated).  That’s moment in the call is what I’ve thought about most since she and I got off the call.  Staying home to raise her two daughters is clearly one of the key turning points of Theresa’s adult life.
  7. Here’s something that didn’t surprise me.  Theresa’s never at home and her kids are deeply immersed in their favorite activites.
  8. Here’s my favorite lines from the interview around min. 25:25, where Theresa is talking about parenting: “It’s been really difficult, even with just two kids.  I don’t even know where to start.  It’s been great.  I wouldn’t give it up.  But it’s been challenging.” That’s got to be as good a description of raising children as I’ve heard.
  9. For someone like Theresa, the corporate world is a great environment to find tasks, projects, missions, and promotions to feed her need to achieve.  It’s not nearly as messy as child raising.  I don’t think she has any regrets, but you have to respect the sacrifice she made for her kids, in that sense.
  10. That was not the big takeaway, however.  The real theme of our conversation is the journey of personal growth she’s experienced as a parent.  Perfectionism and children can make for a tough mix.
  11. The hardest lesson for me as a parent is that, though your child is of you, they are not necessarily like you.  Time and again, Camden has disabused me of any notion that he was anyone other than just…himself.  As I listened to Theresa talk about her daughters, I couldn’t help but think that she had met with many of the same lessons.
  12. She starts talking about her eldest daughter first around min. 5:30, then again around 25:30.  Theresa’s eldest daughter just graduated from the performing arts high school in San Antonio and is headed to UNT to study music.  This kid has been doing musical theater since she was eight!  I think of the younger, always in control Theresa, then I think of the people I’ve known who’ve really excelled in the performing arts. There’s a book or TV show in there somewhere, with that premise.
  13. Right after the segment about her older daughter, Theresa begins talking about the younger sister.  Successful gymnast.  Olympic aspirations.  So good that Theresa homeschooled her for four years so that her athletic schedule could be accommodated.  You can listen to Theresa talk about the injuries that derailed gymnastics.  Her daughter has since transitioned to dance.  Now, her youngest is enrolled at the same performing arts HS for her freshman year from which her oldest just graduated.  She’ll be training with dance professionals for two classes a day.
  14. Theresa has two daughters.  One attended and one will be attending the “Fame” high school in San Antonio.  How exactly did this happen, you might ask?  Theresa takes no credit (I’ve heard Theresa sing – she’s much better than she gives herself credit for), but says her husband plays the guitar and encourages his daughter’s artistic impulses.
  15. Theresa has spent the past seven years in San Antonio.  She confessed that the moving away from her family and her husband’s family has been difficult.  She also described it as liberating and a step along her personal growth journey.
  16. Somewhere around min. 10:45, Theresa spends some time talking about herself.  She’s now asking what is it that she wants to do and balancing that with the needs of others, after a lifetime of trying to make everybody else happy, especially her parents.
  17. As I’m reading through the transcript of our conversation and thinking back on our conversation, what I felt toward Theresa in HS is the same way I feel toward her now after reconnecting at 46 – I still really like and respect her.  I really enjoyed her openness and honesty as an adult.  I remember her as more guarded in HS.  We have to get her to a reunion!
  18. Her next gig?  Teaching yoga.  Never would have guessed it.  Then again, sounds like 18 years of dedicated parenting has been nothing if not flexibility training.