When I thought about doing this project with my daughter, Nicole, I was excited, but kind of afraid of what it may dig up. We are both so touched by our memories and experiences in a way that often brings us to tears and leaves us feeling raw. It’s a bit unnerving to know you are intentionally going to a place where, emotionally, it can leave you feeling stripped and vulnerable. Also, the decision to go to Pine to do this was loaded with memories. Many of them painful and will likely remain unresolved in our lifetime. We owned a home here for years and at one time, I thought I might make this my retirement community. It was just 9-10 years ago, I was already living up here 30-40% of the time. That was a different time, and my life has changed so much since then. Despite the trepidation, there are just those times when it is right and proper to step into that space. I couldn’t be with anyone better than Nicole to step into that precious and private place of our heartfelt memories. She and I share a pretty gung- ho spirit when it comes to walking into these opportunities.
What has always haunted and stirred me was how some movies and songs would cause such an immediate response in me and lead me to a return to a specific place and time. Watching It’s A Wonderful Life or Going My Way never fails to take me to another place. I guess watching the little Irish mom of the old priest hugs her son in Going My Way always reminds me of how much my mom and I love and treasure each other. I so identify with George Bailey as a guy who loves the people in his world and works his tail off his whole life for the benefit of others. He cracks when he feels his life didn’t matter, and he considered himself a failure, but thanks to his Clarence, he finds his way back to the truth and he makes a difference to so many, and his life mattered so much. I need reminders from Stacey, my mom, and my kids, that I matter and make a difference. I forget and crack sometimes.
I first heard the song “Autumn” by Edgar Winter when I was in the 6thgrade in 1974. We as a family were getting ready to move to Texas from Cincinnati, and that song shook my young heart when it spoke of the grief experienced when you lose something and someone you treasure. I was on the verge of believing that I was losing my family by moving across the country. It was a devastating feeling, and I so identified with the lyrics, “I can’t demand anything of myself now…” when the pain became so intense. There are days this is still true. Loss is so hard to take.
Many other songs evoke a happier response in my heart. Anything by Jimmy Buffett, but mainly “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Tin Cup Chalice” or “Little Miss Magic” takes me to a place I always long for- the beach, the ocean and a sense of an easy-going life. Those songs and others have been the soundtrack to my adult life. How could I touch Buffett and the impact of his music in the narrative of my life without mentioning Nicole and I danced to “L’Air de la Louisiane” at her wedding? Time and place. Breathtaking and merely priceless. It was a replay of what I had seen in my mind the evening of March 20, 1990, at Desert Samaritan Hospital. Those moments of dancing with her were the culmination of a vision I had the moment the nurses placed her in my arms just a minute after she was born. I read the book The Jolly Mon(that Jimmy wrote with his daughter Savannah Jane) to the kids when it came out in the early ’90s, and I always wanted to write something together with my daughter. Dreams do come true. It chokes me up now as I think about it.
When Grayson and Nicole were in preschool, I had to pick them up a couple of nights each week when their mom worked late. They would love to ride in the back of my pickup truck the short distance from our mailboxes to home. When I would stop to get the mail, they would jump in the back, and I got in the habit of playing Jerry Jeff Walker’s “That’s What I Like About Texas” really loud with the windows down. I would drive laps first forward and then backward in the cul de sac in front of our house with the kids laughing and laughing while Grayson would call out to me to play ‘The Burrito Song” again and again for him. My neighbor Pam would come out and smile at us as I was driving in circles in front of our houses. That song always takes me back to that place and that time. Laughs and smiles. There are so many of those moments. I love to laugh and create those memories all the time. Going fishing with the kids was always special to me. Their sister Miranda and I were getting blown almost to Idaho when we were out on Bear Lake in Utah when a storm came up and had to be rescued by a guy with a wave runner. We reflect on those times with great affection, and it drives us to each other now as adults as we make plans to make more memories. Our past gives life to our futures. I spend so much of my time orchestrating more times and experiences for my adult kids and their families now for us to enjoy. It never gets old.
I visited the Cincinnati Reds Museum a few years back with my cousin, and I was not prepared for my response when we wandered up to the second floor to see the Joe Nuxhall exhibit shortly after he passed away. Joe pitched for the Reds and was the color analyst for the Reds radio broadcasts for decades. As a kid, I burned through dozens and dozens of 9-volt batteries for my transistor radio as I listened to nearly every Reds game I could with my radio under my pillow. Seeing the greats in the museum from the Big Red Machine- Bench, Rose, Morgan, and Perez, stirred my sense of nostalgia deeply, these guys were my heroes, and I dreamed of one day getting to play with them when I grew up. When I heard old Joe’s voice playing on those featured recordings from those great moments of those Reds broadcasts, I just stood there as the tears welled up in my eyes as I reflected. I have the same feelings at this time. I love the Reds. It’s that simple. The Reds remind me of connecting with my dad and fitting in with the men of the family. The Reds remind me that home is always Cincinnati, even though I have made my home in Arizona for nearly 40 years. The Reds remind me of the importance of family. Family meant so much to me growing up and now even more as the patriarch of my clan. Nothing trumps my love for my family. Home is safe, familiar, and so important. Especially to a kid who moved around quite a bit as he was growing up. These two themes are intertwined in my lifelong baseball team. Crazy how baseball and a team evoke so much emotion and secure a place in this world for me.
I believe without a doubt that my fascination with nostalgia is just one of the ways God has shown His great love for me through the revisiting of my life’s experiences. I am careful, understanding my visit to those past times and experiences are a guide to stay and live in the present. I live for those moments and experiences like this weekend. My dear friend Greg McLaughlin gave me some of the best advice ever years ago as I was finding my way as a parent. He said, “Don’t give your kids things, give them experiences.” It’s become so much a focus of our family. I’m awed by the pictures and accumulated memories of the life I have lived, particularly in the last few years., just since Stacey and I were married. Home, family, music, movies, and books…all of these leave my heart full of gratitude. Being a blessing to others despite life’s hellacious times is now my life’s endeavor. Thank you, Nicole, for joining me this weekend and for choosing to walk this life with your dad still. I will never forget and always treasure the times when it’s just you and I. Priceless.