Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why I Love Great Writing

Recently, I've read two stories that stuck with me.

The hitch: They were both about dead people.

The first was a long, thoughtful piece by Jeremy Markovich about race car driver Dick Trickle.

                                                                 Photo: SB Nation

The second was a brilliant obituary about a retired nurse named Mary "Pink" Mullaney.

It would be hard to argue either story had a happy ending. Trickle committed suicide after a long bout with untreatable pain, and Ms. Mullaney--who left behind an amazing 'To Do' list for the rest of us-- no longer graces this Earth.

But what both pieces did, brilliantly, is make me wish I'd known the person who inspired the story.

To me, that's what great writing does. It puts us in another world--whether that of a hard-partying short track driver or a Catholic grandmother who carries chicken sandwiches in her purse in case she encounters a hungry person.

Both writers sought to reveal truth. Both wrote with obvious love for their subjects. But what made these pieces special were the anecdotes, the little details that showed the character of the deceased.

Rather than say he was a 'hard-partying, hard-working' driver, Markovich told about the night Trickle became the oldest Rookie of the Year in NASCAR history.

Instead of describing Ms. Mullaney as 'generous,' her biographer made up a hilarious list of how she'd treated hitchhikers, homeless people, and invading possums.

If you have time, check out both stories. My guess is you'll wish you'd met these folks--or, like me--that you'd written these wonderful pieces.

Cheers...and Happy Reading!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Letter to Oklahoma State Football Players (From a Fan)

Dear Oklahoma State Player,

I've often wondered how you feel as you walk down Hester Street on Saturdays. How it feels to have hundreds of people wave and cheer, offer high fives, and hold up signs with your name on them. I've wondered what you think when complete strangers ask for your autograph or hand you their orange-clad babies for a picture.

As a fan and alumnus, I've even wondered sometimes whether you feel used. If, perhaps, you're walking along thinking, "These people don't know me. They can't possibly care about me as a person...or know what I've gone through to get here. They're only cheering because I give them wins."

The truth is I'll never know how you feel when you make that walk on game days.

But I can tell you what it's like to watch and cheer and offer high-fives to the young men who've chosen to play football at Oklahoma State.

I'm delighted when one of our Cowboys makes good--whether that's getting signed to a pro squad or being hired to coach high school ball. Come to my house on Sundays and you'll see me cheer like crazy when Kendall hits the gap in San Franciso, when Dan drills it through the uprights in JerryWorld, or when Dez drags defenders ten yards after making the catch. Like the rest of the Cowboy Nation, my husband and I shed bitter tears when Darrent Williams was killed--then wiped our eyes for a different reason when Donovan Woods earned his Super Bowl ring. (I still have your jersey, Number Eight.)

I don't know how you feel about us--the fans and Alumni. But here's how we feel about you:
Good looking kids, huh?
The day you chose Oklahoma State, you became family.

You're family because we realize you had other options. Some of you committed to Oklahoma State when our stadium was a joke (Rust-Oleum, anyone?) and our record was worse. And even after we started winning, we understand that a kid growing up in Houston or Dallas could opt for the 'bright lights, big city' experience at a larger school.

Yet you chose Oklahoma State.

And that makes us family.

Are families perfect? Heck, no. We mess up sometimes. We struggle and make mistakes, especially when we're young. (I've always claimed partial credit for Eskimo Joe's phenomenal success. Thankfully, I've matured since.) We're not perfect. We don't expect you to be perfect, either.

And we don't stop loving you when you're not.

Ask anyone from the O-State family about Prentiss Elliot (former player who got into legal trouble) and you'll get: "I heard he's doing better now, and I'm glad." Even after the furor this week over the Sports Illustrated article, an alum tweeted about Artrell Woods (a major source): "Makes me sad. I cried when he caught that catch (after coming back from a terrible back injury)."

We want you to succeed. We're sad (for you) if you don't.

Because you're family.

So when you see me cheering for you on Saturday, know this: I'm cheering because you decided to work, sweat, and study at the university where I met my husband, earned my veterinary degree, and where I want my children to attend.

Because you chose Stillwater, we've heard the same chimes ringing from Edmon Low, walked on the same sidewalks (with their goofy chalk reminders), and sat in the same freezing classrooms. You know better than to swim in Theta Pond (and to visit Voodoo Village if you got suckered into it), and you've felt Gallagher-Iba rumble when the Sooners came to town. Like me, you've waited in line at Whitehurst, cussed the walk from Morrill to Ag Hall, and wondered what genius came up the name Classroom Building.

That makes us family.

After college, whether you wind up in Houston or Chicago or Los Angeles, try this experiment:

Put on your OSU gear and walk around. See how long it takes until someone flashes you the 'Pistols Firing' sign or says "Go Pokes." It's happened to me in places like New Orleans and San Diego and Seaside, Oregon. I guarantee it'll happen to you.
If you're the gregarious type, stop and tell the person you played football--then get ready to be peppered with questions about your life and career and whether you have kids and how often you get 'home' to Stillwater.

Because that's what family does.

How does it feel to be a Cowboy football player? I'll never know. But I can tell you how it feels to be an OSU alum... feels like coming home.

Cheers...and Go Pokes!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Abyss

Our tiny rural school lost one of its own last weekend.

His name was Austin. A good kid. Well-liked and from a nice family, he'd seemed as healthy as any seventh grader on the playground. Third-hand accounts are always suspect, but apparently he'd been running, went for a drink of water, and collapsed.

His older brother was with him the whole time.

So this morning I looked at our little family, at our three-plus-one* children, and thought about all the precautions we take to keep them safe. The healthy food, early bedtimes and limited electronics, the visits to the doctor and dentist. I thought about teacher conferences and late-night parent strategy sessions and how we've chosen where we live based on the quality of schools. How every life choice starts with them.

And then I thought about the tears, the joys, and the tiny insistent worry that never goes away--that your kid will be the one struck by lightning. That you'll be the parent forced to grieve.

To say it's a nightmare is a poor cliché.

To say you'd never truly be happy again probably gets close.

We've known other families who lost children. At the funeral of their four-year-old daughter, my college friends talked about their precious girl, trying to describe her quirks and endearing qualities for those who'd never met her.

Our daughter was the same age. I remember listening to them, sobbing, wondering how anyone could really know our sweet child without having been there the Christmas she stepped into three-inch Barbie heels and chased her brothers around the living room. Without knowing she always puts on her best velvet dress to play in the sand pile, and that she likes to snuggle after her bath.

Who could truly appreciate our beautiful daughter when her daddy's the only one who saw the camel she drew last week during church...and the only one who heard her giggle through the service because she'd drawn a pile of manure behind it?

No-one loves our children like we do because no-one knows them like we do.

And no photos, no stories can truly describe them.

Maybe that's the real tragedy of a lost child. That the treasure we've held and cherished and looked forward to presenting to the world will forever be known only to us.

My friends buried their daughter six years ago. And they do have good times. They celebrate and laugh and enjoy their growing family. But when anniversaries roll around--their daughter's birthday, the day she passed--you sense the deep, painful abyss in their lives.

And so, like this weekend, when other parents lose a beloved child the rest of us can only swallow the lumps in our throats and try to listen to the stories they tell about their sons and daughters...

...and then go home and hug our own.


*We're blessed to have a friend staying with us. She won't understand how much joy she adds until she has children of her own.