Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rubbing Elbows With The Famous Only Makes Them Sore

I have often referred to myself as a female Forrest Gump. I'm just a simple girl, really, but I have found myself flitting on the periphery of fame since I was very young. I tell these stories to friends here in Byron from time to time but I can see the internal eye roll happening and the silent, "Uh Huh. Sure," being uttered in the recesses of their brains. They either don't believe me or are summarily unimpressed. Let me drop some names:

Bob Seger (Do I need to tell you who that is?)
Madonna (Ditto)
Doobie Brothers (Ditto again)
Mike Binder (Actor, movie director)
Lee Iacocca (Saved Chrysler in the 1970's)
Stone Phillips (News)
Chris Hansen (Dateline)
Bob Woodruff (News - injured in Iraq)
John Bowman ( Actor/comedian)
Insane Clown Posse(Rap musicians)
Bob Stewart (who????)

Bob Seger's manager, Punch Andrew's lived across the street from my best friend Karen on Beach Rd. in Troy, Michigan. When Seger was first starting out - before "Katmandu" was a breakout success, Punch schlepped the albums out of his car. In fact, he gave Karen several copies and told her to pass them around because ."Soon this guy will be famous." It was probably 6 months later, I was standing in the shower with my orange Panasonic bowling ball shaped radio set on CKLW when I hear the first riff of "Katmandu." I knew it instantly and I rocked out stark naked with shampoo running down my face until the last sounds faded away and the dj started talking. It's a wonder I didn't break my neck.

Madonna grew up in Rochester, Michigan. She attended Rochester Adams High School with my husband's step brother. More interestingly, her brother Tony worked for a time for my father in law in the building business. In fact, Tony holds the honor of being the guy that wrecked their work truck in the first ( and last) week of his construction career.

In college I dated an actor/comedian. His name was John Bowman. He was with the local Boar's Head Theater in Lansing, Michigan and part of a comedy act at the comedy bar where I worked. We dated a few times and I can attest that he was a world class kisser. An actor's ego is a fragile thing so when I came back from spring break engaged to Dave, that pretty much ended the relationship. I like to think his broken heart is what prompted him to look for bigger opportunities in entertainment and it must have worked too. Every once in awhile I'd see him in a movie ( peripheral parts) and on tv ( Miami Vice - killer of girls that he dressed up like dolls - oh so creepy!) and finally, he was the last comedian to appear on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. AND GUESS WHAT! He did a bit on the Michigan Hand Map and I SWEAR TO GOD - I gave him the punchline all those years ago. That boy owes me some money.

Bob Stewart. Ever heard of him? Probably not, but I guarantee you have heard his talent. Bob was my next door neighbor and very first boyfriend. He used to come over on hot summer nights and watch "The Ghoul" - a 1970's Detroit latenight Elvira type show. My heart skips even today when I think about our first kiss (August 22, 1974) and then the subsequent on again, off again mack sessions we had throughout junior high. Teen hormones aside, Bob was really talented. He had this uncanny ability of picking up an instrument and just playing it like he was born with it. He could just sit down at a piano and play, instantly composing on the spot as he played. Then, he would go to another instrument and play it and on and on. He would record all of this on a huge reel to reel that sat on top of this old upright piano. He turned me on to Deep Purple; Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and well, never mind ( See July 4th blog concerning Jackpot and you can figure it out.)

Bob left for California in 1985. I remember sitting in his downstairs family room on a visit back to Michigan when I was 3 months pregnant with my first child. He had been out to Cally for awhile but was contemplating going out to California for good. I told him to go and give it a whirl. Twenty 24 years later, Bob owns Stewart Sound, a full service post production something or other . He is an accomplished composer and the winner of not one but TWO Emmy's. He is married and father of ( at last Christmas newsletter) 2 boys. He is the only guy I have ever heard refer to his wife as a) one of the coolest people he knows and b) so darn cute. If one measures success by what they accomplish, then Bob is a success. If one measures success by happiness, then Bob is an astounding success.

I like to think that is because of me. . .but I know better.

And that's ok, I sure as heck don't want to ride the coattails of those who have "made it," and claim a fame of my own. I measure success by happiness and with that yardstick, I am one of the most successful people know. How about you?

For a full disclosure of how and why I am connected to any of the other names listed- feel free to ask, but promise not to roll your eyes!

THIS JUST IN. . . Diane Roth Helbig wants us all to know she went steady with Bob Woodruff for one week in 6th grade. Molly, do you want to weigh in????

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I walk a lot. Ostensibly, I started the walking to break up the monotony of the daily elliptical workout. It has since become a welcome respite from the barrage of stimuli one encounters even just sitting at home.

My walks have taken me from one side of town to the other ( and I know what your thinking - what kind of challenge is that?), out to the golf course, up to Water Rd. and down to the river. It has taken me through the alleys of Byron, many of which I did not know existed, the prairie trails of the Forest Preserve, short cuts over the railroad tracks and, recently, through the cemetery.

The walk through the cemetery shook me up. The Byron Cemetery has two parts - the old and the new. The old section is a lesson in Byron History. It contains the graves of town founders, names for which if you have ever read the book about this town ( Reflections) you would recognize. It is fascinating to walk around the family plots and get a sense for what Byron must have been like in the 1800's.

It was the new section that gave me pause. Entering at one end and following the U shaped road that takes one through the new section is, I realized, another history lesson of sorts. It is the history of my time in Byron marked by the names of those I have known even marginally, and whose life's have had an impact on mine. The too many names I knew glare back at me like movie scenes that mark moments in my life. People affect each other without ever having to really know one another. I knew many people out there but these names sprung out and stayed with me all the way home:

Andy Patton - The first time I saw Andy was when he was peeking out of the infant backpack on his mother's back. These big eyes looked up at me followed by a toothless smile. That moment made me change from my childless stance to wanting children. He was a cub scout, car enthusiast and finally, a marine. Andy was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Andy was buried at Arlington but a beautiful memorial stands at our cemetery.

Hib Reber - A classic car enthusiast, Hib's passion has been a big part of summer in Byron. Between the Cruise Night's at Sam's Drive -In and the Memorial car show at Byronfest, his passion is one shared by the males of my family who look forward to these events every summer.

Brian Blanchard - Brian was the brother of one of my best friends Julie. I did not know him well, but knew enough to know he was troubled and left life far too early.

Jeff Blanchard - Another brother,I never knew at all. He departed life in a fatal accident and even though I never knew him, his passing became part of who Julie is and for that reason, he is important.

Hink Blanchard - Julie's dad. If Hink didn't have one, you didn't need one. The father of my friend would give you the shirt off of his back if he thought you needed it and then several more he had stashed in the garage just in case. The man had at least one of everything. Need a hoop for an antebellum skirt? Hink had one.

Del Roberts- After a 10 minute interview and completed application, Del gave me $55,000 for a construction loan in 1984 and said, "if you need more, come back." Small town banking at it's best. Brain aneurysm.

Johnny Huber - a sweet little boy who fought like a trooper in this 5 years, but finally lost his battle with cancer. I conducted many small group lessons at school on the bench in the lobby given in his name.

Amber Huber - A sweet young woman in the beginning of adulthood. Ironically, her family lived next to the other Huber's and both have tragically lost children to cancer.

Darlene Lundgren - My personal breast cancer hero. Darlene was the organizer of the school support staff union as well as knower of all things important in the middle school offices. She was dedicated to her job and missed few days due to chemo - once working from her hospital bed to get registration work done.

Kyle O'Connor - Another tragic end. Kyle was a funny, quirky little 4th grader who died in a freak accident in 6th grade.

Donna Nelson - Donna was the young mother of two young girls when she was diagnosed with cancer. She came to parent night with her pain pump at the ready and took notes so that she could fully grasp what her children needed to do and get it in order so that her husband could accomplish it when she was gone. She was honest about her condition and open to what might come after she departed the earth.

Mike Childers - One of my favorite people ever. Mike was a life long Boy Scout and sometimes Girl Scout ( if the situation called for it) and proud of it. He worked with Dave but dedicated his life to his kids taking them caving, camping, biking etc. He was kind and giving, had no fear of appearing goofy and was a master pancake maker. Mike left us far too soon and far too abruptly. Brain aneurysm, my age.

Josh Teel - Josh was my friend Deb's son. He was 26 when a driver blew a stop sign and threw him from his motorcycle at a country intersection. Deb taught me what healing is all about.

Lee Zimmerman - The matriarch of one of the most supportive and bonded families I have ever know. Her daughters, Penny, Paula, Pam, Patti, Polly and if there are more they live out of state but their name begins with "P", show up in force at any event where one of them, their children, there nieces and nephews, grandchildren, etc are being honored and offer gallant ovations of pride. They are there for each other through every step and stumble, laughing and loving all the way.

I feel compelled to mention those other's who have passed and are buried either in the Catholic cemetery or up on German Church Road or other places. . .

Michael Fletcher - I used to watch him, as a 3 year old, escape out of the front window of his house on the highway, run to the end of he driveway, and insight truckers to blow their horns. He was a dare devil, but a freak accident took his life before he could transfer that zest for excitement to cars.

Tommy Vanderjack - The highway is a dangerous road, requiring constant vigilance. He was thrown from the car as it plowed toward the river, killing him instantly. Tommy was in third grade.

Rick Hahn - An attorney in town, Rick was liked and respected by many. A life long Byron resident, he married his best friend. The only time I ever saw Rick anything but happy was when he had to chew out his middle child who, having just gotten braces removed, refused to wear mouth gear while playing soccer. Oy was he mad! Rick memories still make me smile. He was my age.

Abe Johnson- sold his farm to Commonwealth Edison, made a fortune and built a house in town where he and his sister could live out their lives. I lived next door. Abe spent his summers tending his potato plants, which he lived on all winter. The man generated less trash than we gather from our bathroom container every week, living like a pauper.

Russ Groves - Big Russ. What a shock. Russ was married to my friend Deanna and they had 2 kids. Big, burly, tough, Russ was a huge softy always willing to do for others. He used to sit in the last pew in church and make faces at the choir as they sang. Sometimes I feel like he is still around. Heart attack, my age.

I've lived in Byron a long time, longer than I've lived anywhere else in my life. It stands to reason that I would become part of the ebb and flow of life in a small town, but I never realized how even little moments with people have lasting impact on my life. And so, as I let myself back into my house I feel inspired to get on my knees and give thanks.

Friday, July 3, 2009

4th of July Memories

Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, the 4th of July was a day where we planned some kind of family outing to mark the glory of independence. That would include the Detroit River fireworks extravaganza, a Pop's concert at Meadowbrook Hall and finally the "Gary Newtson Drove to Canada and Smuggled Back Illegal Fireworks" show which always occurred when most of the world was heading to bed.

A few pops, sizzles and pows later, Jack Cornell would come barreling through the bushes that divided our properties threatening to call the police. Jack, whom we always called Jackpot due to a beer belly that would make a 3rd trimester pregnant woman proud, liked to drink a little. He was a staunch high school principal by day, but by 5 p.m., Jackpot was letting his hair down. By midnight, he loved everyone and everything and all he really wanted to do was light off a bottle rocket or two ( as long as they don't land in my pool damnit!)

Dick Jones would show up moments into the show carrying his british flag and a whole cadre of his own illegal fireworks, "To show you chaps that we really are still in charge!" And the grown males behaving like 10 year old boys hijinks ensued usually with the cops making a few passes in front of the house and ending with the adults sitting in Jackpot's cabana while we kids swam in the pool until 2 a.m. telling the officer standing at the pool gate, "Why yes, we saw someone was shooting off fireworks but we have no idea who. . . occifer."

Those were the "Big City" days. Now, my 4th of July's are spent in Mt. Morris, Illinois. The parade starts at 1 p.m. with people staking their claim along the parade route the night before - setting up chairs and spreading blankets. Remarkably other people respect this process and no ones stuff gets taken or even moved!

The Mt. Morris parade is a LONG parade lasting a good hour. No parade there is ever complete without the Shriner's zipping by in the airplane 3 wheelers, threatening to mash the toes of those in the way. The Shriner's do a lot of good with their hospital programs but they do even better in the parade arena. They come complete with their own keg equipped bus that follows behind them in the parade, collects them at the end and ushers them off to their next gig. . .while they work on draining the keg. The number of parades scheduled before Mt. Morris determines just how drunk they are when they whiz by us. It's a known and accepted given. Get Jimmy off the street and away from the curb, the Shriner's have been to 3 parades already!

The tried and true sign that the parade is coming to an end are the horses. When the various riding clubs, ranches and miniature horse breeders come through, it's your signal to stand up. The final entrant is the manure wagon which is pulled by 2 kids while 2 more shovel up the horse pies and throw it in the wagon. No one leaves until the manure wagon has passed and you have offered appropriate applause to the kids who are shoveling the poop.

The parade is followed by a 4 hour eating and drinking fest presided over by -Papa Ken and Grandma Gerry. The meal starts with Pat's Hootless Wings ( wings prepared like Hooters, but without the Hooter's girl), chips, dips, chicken, hamburgers, brats, salads, and Cindy's pies. Cindy makes the best, bar none, pie crust in northern Illinois and I look forward to them every year.

As the sky begins to darken, you can hear the faint strains of the Mt. Morris "Let Freedon Ring" band playing at the school football field; a signal that it's time to head up there for fireworks. The entire football field and surrounding grounds is packed with families from small towns all over the area seated on blankets or lawn chairs. As the band strikes up the "Star Spangled Banner," everyone stands, then the vehicle carrying the "Let Freedom Ring" queen and her attendants are ferried around the track as she waves to her people. Little girls watch in awe as they imagine that someday it might be them while little boys are running around with sparklers or tossing footballs. But, when the first report of the fireworks is heard, everyone settles down, lying on their backs and watches the most spectacularly colorful display of fireworks ever blossoming in the sky.

It's nice to NOT worry about getting arrested. How do you spend your 4th?
Happy 4th of July, however you spend it!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Her? She's My Cousin

I was a cub scout den mother. There, I said it. This is critical information key to understanding the story I am going to tell. My best friend Deb and I were co-leaders for our sons' cub scout den. I came to it by virtue of a moment of insanity and anger when I realized I could not complain about the way an organization was run unless I was willing to step in to facilitate a change. For the record this occurred about the time I had read Steven Covey's, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People and was feeling empowered by my "roles" and personal mission statement which long ago got buried by the myriad corpses of self improvement books and plans, diet books and exercise videos consumed by me.

Not only was I a leader but, in my zeal to make a change, I was the Pack 147 secretary for whom the responsibility of planning large pack activities and correspondences fell upon. And so it was, I was the designated writer of the letter in response to our Chamber of Commerce's sudden refusal to pay an agreed upon sum for services provided during Byronfest.

Byronfest ( which will be an article of it's own ) equates to one big drunkfest during the weekend after the 4th of July. With three separate stages featuring bands from throughout the midwest, two adjoining beer gardens, the Taste area for food and a carnival among the slew of activities scheduled for the weekend, it is a mega money maker for Byron and requires a town full of volunteers to pull off. One of the fundraisers for Pack 147 was a clean-up crew that showed up Saturday and Sunday mornings bright and early to clean up the beer garden area. A deal had been struck between a scout "official" and a crony from the chamber whereby they would pay $500 to the Pack in exchange for clean-up services. This deal was made in the early years of Byronfest, but with the influx of new people and attrition of the scouts. . .the players were no longer in the game. And being a small town, the Pack continued to fulfill their portion of the deal until we received "The Letter." When "The Letter" arrived a month after Byronfest, we opened it with anticipation only to find a check for $50 and and explanation. Basically and eloquently written by the Chamber Representative, who, I am sure was directed to word it with a kind firmness, it simply stated:

Please find enclosed a check for $50 for services rendered during Byronfest. After a meeting to discuss disbursement, we agreed on this sum for several reasons. . . .blah, blah, blah. And finally, we did not see any of your fine young men on either morning working to clean the area in any capacity. Therefore, please accept this check and we thank you for all your work over the years.


Beth Cxxxxxxxx

Directed by the Pack Leader to send a letter of "thanks" back to the Chamber, I penned the following:

Dear Ms. Cxxxxxxxx,
Thank you for your generous check of $50. Being a service oriented group that attempts to teach our boys the virtue of honesty and hard work, we are grateful fr any opportunity to raise funds for Pack activities. Perhaps you are new to this community? It has always been the practice of Pack 147 to raise funds through adult services. Ergo, we have never sent our fine young men into the beer gardens of Byronfest the morning after to clean up. We do not feel that an environment that promotes public drunkenness and urination into the wee hours of the morning, nor the grounds covered with vomit, used prophylactics, and discarded underwear is an environment conducive to raising well adjusted boys. Blab, blah, blah.

Very truly yours,
Judi Coltman
Pack 147 Secretary

Stuck it to them, didn't I? High 5's all the way around!!

That letter has haunted me in the past few years. I had fun writing it and pictured the person I sent it to reading it and getting all flustered. It was a great vision until about 3 years ago. Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to become friends with 2 of the kindest people you can imagine. Their son and my son are good friends and have run together on the Track team that has gone down state for 4 years. Just spending time with them makes me smile. Who are they? Yeah, you guessed it-- Ed and Beth Cxxxxxxxx. I've never mentioned the letter to her. . . but I guess now she knows, huh Beth!

In Byron, the ubiquitous 6 Degrees of Separation is really only 1.5 and everyone is someones cousin. It pays to talk nice because the person you blast may become one of your best friends!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cougars and Cute Boys

Life has a way of keeping me humble. Last Wednesday I turned 48 and while I am not one of those people who feel the need to deny my years, I sometimes feel the need to reassure myself that I have not slipped into the point of no return.

So, 48 year old me keeps a strong alliance with 17 year old me, allowing 17 year old me to look at "cute boys" ( and I DO TRY to stay in the beyond 20 range, really I do,) while 48 year old me tempers the thoughts with wisdom and good judgement ( stop laughing!!) The first time my two "me's" merged, bestowing upon me a huge dose of humble was last summer at the beach. 17 year old me noticed a very cute boy with surfer long hair, golden tan and a contagious laugh. 17 year old me, admired the boy while 48 ( ok then 47) year old me firmly kept my mouth from gaping open. He was so, so cute. And, as I followed his movements for the better part of 2 hours while I sat in my beach chair reading a book, I harkened back to my glory days when I KNEW he would have been my beach boyfriend. I did this until I noticed him approach this beautiful woman who was clearly older than he. I immediately called her, "The Cougar." She gently rubbed his shoulders with sunscreen before he headed back out into the surf. As he grabbed his surf board he turned back to The Cougar smiled and said, "Thanks Mom!"

48 year old me told 17 year old me to go take a shower. Instant humble.

But it keeps coming. My oldest child is 22. He invited me down for a final Mom's Weekend at college in April where we did the "Mom Bar Crawl." At one point a large group of young men burst into the bar asking, "So where are all the cougars?????" I instantly, as I often do, shouted back, "Over here!" and then laughed because I knew they had not heard me. . .thank goodness. 48 year old me was relieved and proud. I thought I had 17 year old me quelled and in check - FINALLY.

Ha! Last Saturday, we were at a graduation party for the daughter of a friend. There was a DJ there playing a wide range of music but kind enough to spin "Love Shack" for the parents there and it got us all out on the dance floor. We danced, we jammed, we sang and then I looked up and made eye contact with a cute boy standing off to the side watching the parent show. He had these sparkling eyes, a genuine smile, and hair a little long that curled out from under his baseball cap. And. . .he was watching me. It was a little disconcerting but somewhere 17 year old me was smiling back. When the song was over, the cute boy yells, "Mrs. Coltman!!! You used to drive me to pre school with Drew!!!"

Humbled again.

Cougar? Me? I'm thinking I'm more like an old house cat these days.