Thursday, December 31, 2015

My favorite blog from 2015

December 31, 2015: the last day of the year. We're expected to write retrospectives today, right? Well, I'm not going to. I've looked back over what I've written during twenty-fifteen and decided I'd rather put my own spin on that practice. I'm reprinting my favorite blog from the year, first offered back in April. I hope you like is as much as I do.

-Marty Cosgriff

John Cosgriff and the Masters

I don't watch golf very often. But I always watch the Masters. Although I do find that I like the game more and more as I grow older, there's a part of me which still doesn't really see the allure. Hitting a small ball hundreds of yards into a cup maybe twice the size of that ball just doesn't seem a very entertaining way to spend an afternoon. Still, I find that golf and I have a history. Lately that's been played out through 'swing and sweeps', combined golf and curling tournaments. They're great fun, especially if, as a curler (as I am) it gets you two more curling games per season. I do look forward to them.

But more than that. My father's youngest brother, my Uncle John, liked to golf. He always bet something or other with a coworker on the outcome of the Masters. He and his boss would pick five guys alternately, and who had the winner won a sleeve of balls. I'm not sure who won most often. But I know my uncle was always proud of his picks.

I golfed with him many times years ago, when he was young and I was younger. We'd go out for nine holes after work many a summer's day. Those evenings were always good fun. If I could relive just one...we would joke and laugh, and simply enjoy the quiet and the game.

He was a lefty. That was fairly rare in golf at the time. His swing seemed unusual even to me, but for a duffer he was okay. I scored my only birdie to this date while golfing with him. The Eighth hole at Dearborn Hills, a 180 yard par 3, a Thursday night in an August the exact date of which escapes my memory just now. I made the green off the tee with a four iron, and hit a 25 foot putt which ran hard left to right right into the cup. I made him sign the scorecard to attest that I had birdied. He remarked, "No one will believe us, because I'm family". It was lightly drizzling as he signed the card under the glare of my car's headlight after that round. I still see him doing it, him down in a squat using the bumper for backing. Why do such things stay in our memories? But when he died, the first thing I did was dig up the scorecard and the ball that I birdied with.

When he had decided he was through with golf he gave me his left handed clubs. Several times I played rounds with them. If you have any idea how poorly I golf, you would know that it hardly mattered from which side of the tee I would address the ball. Might as well play lefty.

I kept those clubs for years. Then I bought a better-than-mine set of used right handed clubs (used better than I ever will), and decided to sell Uncle John's clubs at a yard sale. Who needs two sets of clubs, especially opposite sided ones, right? A young left handed guy practiced swung a few of them, decided that he wanted to golf enough so that it mattered that he ought to have his own clubs, and bought them.

I watched him walk away, dragging Uncle John's clubs behind on the cart which went with the deal. I felt a pang of remorse as the man disappeared with his new found treasure.

I sincerely hope that he has golfed well with them. And I wish I still had those clubs.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

More about customers

And other things about customers...

They always round down. Always.

"How much is that part, Cosgriff?"

"Thirty-three dollars."

"Okay, thirty dollars." No, thirty three. And then remember there's sales tax, doofus.

Then there are the ones who believe inflation is almost a daily event with my prices. They ask things like, "How much is that part, Cosgriff?"

"Thirty-three dollars."

"Wow. They done gone up since last week." No, they haven't. That part has been $33 bucks since 2012. If you paid more than that last week, you bought it from someone but me.

Then there are ones who haven't bought a cable in a couple of decades. "How much is that cable, Cosgriff?"

"$49.30."

"What? Last time I paid $33 dollars!" I don't doubt you did: in 1989.

Ah, customers.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The toenail trimming consumer

Customers, they are the most important part of any sales business. They can be (they ordinarily are) the best thing about sales, and at times the worst. At other times they can be downright odd and unusual, and even slightly disgusting. Disturbing, really.

I remember one guy who sat down while I was welding an end on his drain snake cable. He asked for a pair of wire cutters. So I gave him one, and commenced upon the repair.

He began unlacing his boots. I didn't think much about that; I really only barely noticed it and dismissed it immediately, almost without thought. He was probably just tightening or adjusting the boots, right?

Pulling enough steel cable out of his machine so as to be able to work with, I ground the end flat and secured it in my bench vice. After screwing in a fitting and tacking a weld to ensure it would stay, I shut off my torch and turned to tell him his repair was done. But my voice caught in my throat. He had his boots off and was trimming his toenails with my wire cutters. Talk about being a little too comfortable in your surroundings.

I said nothing. I turned back to my workbench and began tinkering with another repair. Eventually the man said, "Well, what do I owe you?"

'A new set of wire cutters', I should have said. Instead I just stammered something like, uh, ten bucks.

It was surely overreaction, for they were only wire cutters and had been used to cut far dirtier things than someone's toenails. In fact, that idea by itself added to my disgust at what he had done. But after the man left I picked the tool up with a pair of pliers and threw it away. I replaced them with a new pair that afternoon. I simply didn't want to use them after that incident, and boiling work tools (if you're not a surgeon) seems stupid.

To this day I cringe at the idea of someone arbitrarily trimming his toenails with my tools in my workshop. I mean, really? Why would it even occur to anyone to do that?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Day After

Today is December 26, the day after Christmas. Boxing Day in Canada and many of the old British Dominion countries; a day of extra sales in these United States.

I can't speak for Boxing Day but I can speak a bit about the consumerism of my own nation. As if five weeks of bacchanalia wasn't enough, immediately after the Holiday to end all Holidays (so far as the merchants seem to think) we are told that that isn't all. There's still bargains to have to slake your lust for ever more and ever newer baubles and bells. We lament the tax and spend tendency of government; we encourage an earn and spend mentality on our selves. I'm not sure the one's any better than the other.

Take a breath, America. You surely have everything you need and a great many things you simply want, and a great many of those unnecessary. Why not sit back on the 26th and enjoy all that? Revel in the wonderful times and even, yes, the nice things you got for Christmas. Be happy in your family and friends. Don't go after the Next Best Thing. There will always be another once you settle into that shallow mentality.

Take a breath. Enjoy the leftovers and seek more conversation, more interaction with your family and friends. WalMart and Best Buy won't go out of business if you don't taste of their wares today. You family and friends may of necessity go off on their own. Be with them now. Your computer simply can't be made made that much faster and the picture on your new TV can't be made that much clearer. But the rest will go all to quickly and all too certainly.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

Born to raise the sons of earth

Born to give them second birth

Hark! The herald angels sing

"Glory to the newborn King!"

Merry Christmas everybody!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

What? Pay sales tax?

"How much is this cutter, Cosgriff?" he asked.

"$40".

"Okay, I'll take it."

"Thanks. That'll be $42.40".

"What?" he asks in shock. "You just told me it was forty dollars!"

You haven't heard of sales tax, buddy? But we get that reaction all the time when making an over the counter sale. Whether you like sales taxes or not, why wouldn't you expect me to charge it? Do you ask the cashier at Target the same things when she rings you up? Why do you ask me?

Apparently some customers believe that our store is in some time warped part of Michigan where the state sales tax doesn't apply. To this day it amazes me when guys express dismay at my collecting it. I don't get it. If you have a rational explanation for that, I'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Judging book covers

They say you can't judge a book by its cover. Then why bother to put a cover on one?

Well, to entice folks to buy it. That's why there will be photos or a painting or fancy script on a book's cover. Writers and editors and publishers want the cover to sway your judgment.

So, then, the axiom actually means nothing useful. So why employ it?

So that you may feel guilty when you judge something on appearance. Usually this involves something that would generally bring contempt upon itself.

Think about the next time you are blithely told that you can't judge.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Me Grandpaw Hutchins gonna scare them crows

There was me Grandad Joe, and there was me Grandpaw Hutchins. They was both great men; they both mean much to me, more than I might explain. I was graced with more alone time with me Granddad Joe. But me Grandpaw Hutchins, we had a few moments which were treasure.

One of the clearest, it was this day when I were blessed to be up early, afore the rooster crowed as they say, and it happened to be whilst I was in North Caroline, when the family were stayin' with me Mother's folk one summer.

I rub the sleep from me eyes this one day, and I sees the front door ajar. I go up to it, and I sees me Grandpaw Hutchins sittin' on the porch, a small porch it was, with bright white pillars holdin' the roof up at the corners, a loaded shotgun layin' across his lap. That is the home of me Aunt Bobbie today, but it were his back then, along with me Grandmaw. And I asks if I might sit with him.

Sure, he says, and he produces a chair from somewheres. I sit to his left upon it. "What are you doing, Grandfather?", I ask, speaking in some obscure talk and with this odd tongue which were by itself maybe grammatically right in highfalutin' circles.

"Gonna scare them crows from my crop," he explains in a properly rural dialect which I rightly understand. He spits snuff into the plants aside him right after he says that, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

I see straight away what he means. He's gonna blast that shotgun at the sight of a crow so darin' to steal his corn.

I search the skies for them crows. I search it for hours for any speck of predatory bird. I find myself wishing they would come, darin' them to come. I wish to see me Grandpaw blastin' them corn thieves from the sky. I wanna hear that shotgun blast.

If it had ere occurred, it woulda scared me more than them crows. I know that now. Back then, I wanted that old man to rise up and blow them bottom feeders from the sky.

It didn't never happen. That's prolly just as well. It woulda spoilt a great few hours sittin' alone with me Grandpaw Hutchins. A truly quiet hours where I truly felt one with him. To this day, it's been me favorite hour with one o' me two favorite grandfathers.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It's coming: the world's greatest joke

We all have one, don't we? That one favorite joke which we find hilarious but which anyone else would only roll their eyes over. But we think it the world's greatest joke.

My personal favorite is rather convoluted. It takes a few minutes to tell, but for my money it's worth the punchline. You must appreciate puns to appreciate it yourself. In this case, it's a very clever pun more than worth the set up. Honest!

It has produced groans. It has produced, I swear it's true, laughter. Genuine, heartfelt laughter; and not just from me. It has also produced "You kept my attention for five minutes for that?" from a good friend. Hey, good jokes run the spectrum of reaction.

One day I'll tell it. I'll write it down right here and you can judge for yourself. Once I do, you will love me or hate me for it. It's that good of a joke.

Hopefully you're hating me right now for whetting your appetite but not telling the tale right here and now. Gosh, I hope so. If I haven't done that, then what's the point?

But I'll tell you what. I'll tell it in ten days. Is that enough to keep your attention?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Grandma was a spy

I have spoken a time or two around here about my grandfather. Well, his wife, and obviously my grandmother, was a wonderful grandparent in her own right. Like her husband, she had her quirks. She simply wasn't so loud about them. And as she was a spy, I understand her not announcing it to the crowd.

The first I realized she was a spy was back when I was all of 16. I was getting home late one night, about 1 AM. Okay, early one morning. As I was putting the key in the front door I couldn't help but feel that I was being watched. Turning around, I saw no one, but I thought I saw the curtain at the corner window of my grandparents house next door flutter a bit. So I waved at it, tentatively. Grandma pulled the curtains back and returned my wave with a sheepish grin.

So that became our ritual for the rest of the time I lived at my parents' home. If I was late arriving, I would put the key in the lock, step back and wave at the window, and she would invariably appear from behind the drapes and return the greeting.

It seemed however that she was determined to keep an eye on me even after I had married and moved. My wife and I had bought a house down the block on the far side of the street. One day while walking home Grandma asked if I was busy that night. "No," I answered, "Do you need something?"

"Well, I need that tree trimmed," she replied, pointing at the one in her front yard next to the porch.

"I'll be here at six," I told her, moving along.

So I returned then with my saw, and set to work at her direction. After about an hour I asked, "So what's wrong, Gram? Why do you need this tree trimmed?"

"I need to see all the way down to your house," she explained matter-of-factly.

From that night on, when getting home late at my own abode, I would turn towards her house from my front steps and wave. I wonder if she ever noticed?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How to annoy your wife

My wife, Gail, puts up a with a lot from me. With my, shall I say, unusual, sense of humor, she has to. Or she'd just kill me.

How do I annoy thee? Let me count two ways.

We were driving up north to our place in Michigan's glorious Upper Peninsula when I began singing Johnny Horton's classic Sink the Bismarck, which he wrote for the movie about the Allied pursuit of that famous German battleship from World War II. I sang the first two verses along with the refrain and then stopped, the third verse having slipped my mind.

After a couple of miles Gail asked, "Well?"

I, having no idea what she was asking about by then, answered, "Well what?"

"Aren't you going to finish the song?"

"Um, I can't. I forgot the third verse," I replied apologetically.

"But I want to know what happened!" she demanded.

"They sank the Bismarck!" I responded incredulously.

My cheek still hurts from the smack it received.

On another occasion, we were at home at the dinner table eating fish patties. For some reason Gail had the box in her hand, and she read to me, "Do you know that one of these patties has 150 calories?"

"Really?" I asked. "Which one?"

So now you why Groton's is tattoed on my forehead.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What's in a name?

Me old granddad insisted it was true, and who am I to argue with me old granddad?

We get called Cosgrove a lot. We do. It's a natural enough occurrence. The name, she's close to Cosgriff, but Cosgrove being a bit more common, folks gravitate towards it. We get that. But we resent it too. Cosgrove, you see, he stole horses. A horse thief he was. A scoundrel if there ever were one.

Me granddad, he told a tale of the family which dated back to the old sod, to County Tipperary. Why the Irish be so concerned with not merely bein' Irish (who'd not want to be Irish, I ask ya) but with bein' Irish down to the county, well, there's a certain sophistication to that which most of the world cannot understand, their not bein' Irish and all.

So the tale goes, real short here, is that in years gone by we were Cosgroves. Real, true Cosgroves. Then one of them old relatives, he decides that making an honest livin' did nothing to suit him. Dishonesty was his call. Dishonest beyond covetin' someone's property but actually absconding with it. In his case, their horses.

That were bad. Real bad. Folks needed their horses, they did, for plowin' and travelin' and gettin' into minor mischief well short of horse thievin'. That could not be tolerated.

You could not be associated with such foul people and keep your good name. So you change your name, make a good new one. With us, it was to Cosgriff. Cause we could not in no way be associated with a horse thief.

Me granddad insisted it were true. Who I am to debate such a tale?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Living the middle aged life

It all began innocently enough this past Friday afternoon. I arrived home from work tired so thought I'd have a nap. I went up stairs, crawled into bed, and fell asleep.

I woke up at 2:45 AM Saturday.

Well, whaddaya do that early on a Saturday? I picked up the remote and channel surfed, landing on a neat little old movie called Here Comes Mr. Jordan. So I watched it. A neat old flick. Wholesome, clean, a movie like they don't make anymore.

Later in the morning I showered and went to play in a curling tournament. We curled two games, had a few beers and ate fried chicken. You know, enjoying stuff that ain't good for ya. Coming home I was tired, having been up for 17 hours by then, and went to bed.

I woke up at 3:30 Sunday morning.

Well, whaddaya do that early on a Sunday? I channel surfed and hit up a few consecutive episodes of Phineas and Ferb. So I watched them. It's a clever, literate show. Then I logged onto the computer and blogged, checked my e-mail, played a few hands of online poker, and fell asleep on the couch watching an on demand episode of the middle.

I woke up late for 10 o'clock Mass, but had time to shower and make another one at 11. So I did that, stopping on the way home to get a Sunday paper. And a bacon double cheeseburger. You know, food that ain't good for ya. But I was hungry, and I did not get fries or a soft drink because I have some concern for my health.

Being a Sunday afternoon, I began watching American Football, dozing in and out until supper, then dozing more until I woke up at around 2:30 this morning. And it all began again. Ah, the middle aged life.

Huh? You say it sounds like a lifestyle a few years older?

I ought to box your ears for that sass, sonny.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The curling ambassador

He is now 91 years old, and he shuffled into the Detroit Curling Club yesterday afternoon just minutes after I had told a story about him. The same story in fact which I am about to tell you, in an abbreviated version. Joe's got curling in his heart, and is the reason I curl. That is, the reason after my wife put my name in for an open house at the aforementioned DCC. He's the man who came up to me after my short introduction to curling that day to make sure that I had had enjoyed my first curling experience and, hearing that I had, invited me back. He is Joe Livermore, and I'm very glad I was able to see him today.

He was a bit of an imposing figure 30 some years ago, yet he was friendly and earnest. Seeing me standing at the glass watching more curling from the viewing area after my time on the ice was done on the evening of that open house, Joe came over and asked, "Ya have fun?"

"Yes I did", I answered honestly.

"Come to Sinners this Sunday at 9," he said. Often, for a joke, I like to make that sound as though it were a command. But it wasn't. It was an invite, and I knew by his voice that it was sincere. Heartfelt. Joe wanted me to curl. He loved the game and wanted me to love it to.

I should tell you that Sinners Breakfast is an old tradition at the Detroit Curling Club, obviously because it is held on Sunday mornings when you should be at Church. But I fooled them. I'm a Saturday Catholic, so my Sunday obligation had been seen to before Sinners.

Breakfast was served, and I remember distinctly that Joe himself had made up a great batch of friend mushrooms as part of the meal. After breakfast, anyone who wanted to play signed up for a curling match. I did, of course, and enjoyed it more than I had my introduction to the game a few days before. When it was over Joe found me and asked again, "Ya have fun?"

I sure did, I told him. "Be here tomorrow night at 6:45 for the Monday league. We'll get you in a game." I went the next night and have not stopped curling since. Yeah, at times now I think I want to hang it up, but I'm probably fooling myself. It's a grand game. It has grand people playing it.

Joe's first question to me yesterday was, "Are ya still curling?" He knew I didn't curl out of Detroit anymore. He didn't care. I still curled, and that's what mattered to him. We chatted a few more minutes, and then it was game time for me; I was curling at Detroit in a tournament. He let me go, knowing that the game's the thing.

He always taught that curlers should be ambassadors for the game. Joe, in my book, you are the Curling Ambassador.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Bilbo Baggins imperative

I had an interesting conversation with a few friends yesterday concerning what we would like do before we die. You know, what was on our so-called 'bucket lists'. It turns out that mine is rather short, if it exists at all.

I am not a thrill seeker, so hang gliding and parachuting and mountain climbing are way out. Putting myself at risk even in safe activities just for the adrenaline rush just doesn't do anything for me. It honestly strikes me as nonsense. My lone participatory sport, outside of catching and hitting a softball with my granddaughter, is curling. I'm that exciting.

Other than day trips, I do not particularly care to travel either. Simply put, thrills are overrated, folks, and so is travel. You aren't living any better by making your heart race, nor is seeing the world certain to make you appreciate it more. It may, as Chesterton says, make you appreciate it less, for if you've been raised well you know there's no place like home anyway.

Not that there's anything wrong with the things I mention. If you want to see Europe or leap off a cliff with a rubber band tied to your feet, fine. But for me, stuff such as enjoying a conversation with my friends over bucket lists suits me well. A curling match, a day at the ballpark, a good book, being with people; that's what I look forward to.

Call it the Bilbo Baggins outlook. If adventure finds me I might just surprise you, run the risk, and go along with it. Generally, though, as the dear Hobbit believes, adventures only make you late for dinner. If there's something of this Earth better than food and friendship I can't imagine what it is.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The dead frog analogy

Teaching adult education for twenty odd years was fun, and occasionally rewarding. Yet certain moments are bound to stand out. I will never forget the two funniest incidents I have ever had in a classroom.

While grading a short essay for an Economics course, the student was asked the difference between stocks and bonds. In an obvious yet hilarious cut and paste off the Internet (a practice we frowned upon of course and graded accordingly), the answer began: "Stocks were medieval devices of public humiliation and torture." It went on to explain, in some, ah, fascinating detail, the exact nature of certain forms of torture. Reading this challenged my attempts to stay calm and professional, to not laugh out loud at my desk in a room full of students. I had no trouble keeping control until the last sentence: "Bonds are government issued interest bearing securities."

Well, the student was half right in his answer, and I was able to keep my professional wits. Barely.

On another occasion, I had an English assignment to grade. With that one, I did go on to completely lose my composure in peals of laughter which I tried valiantly to hide but to no avail. I had to leave the room for ten minutes initially, hiding in an empty teacher's lounge while leaving the other instructor (there were two of us at all times in our teaching arrangement) to lament my having abandoned him. Luckily it was a slow night.

The assignment was to make comparisons in the form of analogies. The first prompt read: "Tom's car was old." Expected responses were along the lines of, 'Tom's car was older than baseball.' Instead I was treated to, "Tom's car was older than a dead frog."

I was okay at first; I stifled my giggles, although it took it a few seconds of tongue biting to maintain myself. But I was good.

The next prompt was, 'Abby was hungry.' Harmless enough. Until I read the student's offering.

"Abby was very hungry, like a sad clown who had fell off his bike."

I immediately roared uncontrollably. Shawn, the other teacher, asked what was up. Giving him the paper I replied between guffaws, "Read the first two sentences and I'll be back in a few minutes."

On my return, finally beyond any wild laughter, the first thing Shawn said was, "I can see why you didn't give credit for the first analogy. The frog may not have been dead that long."

I returned after another twenty minutes. Good times.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Religion and Mercy

If it isn't obvious enough by now, I am a huge fan of Mr. C. S. Lewis. My wife found a copy of The Screwtape Letters at a garage sale almost 30 years ago, and I read and was hooked. As is my usual habit when I discover an author I like, I proceeded to seek out and read all of his books.

I haven't quite made it. Not being interested I have never read any of his books in his academic specialty, Medieval and Renaissance literature. And two of his books, Dymer and Spirits in Bondage, being published early on in his career and before his reconversion to Christianity, well, I haven't honestly looked very hard for them. I have read a passage from Dymer and it sounds interesting, though.

I cannot begin to tell you enough about a later edition of Screwtape which includes the addendum Screwtape Proposes a Toast. As it happens he was addressing American education, and was dead on in his assessment. I have used his arguments there quite often in my dealings with, ahem, modern educators.

The Abolition of Man may be the best work of nonfiction outside of the Bible. Mr. Lewis' defense of the doctrine of objective knowledge is far more fantastic and profound than the small book in which he delivers it. In short, I adore the man, and must credit him to a great degree in cementing my belief in God.

Yet there is a skeleton in the closet which most of his admirers, Catholic and Protestant alike, tend to downplay or ignore. And that is his refusal to make pronouncements about certain particulars of Christian doctrine. He asserts that he is not enough of a theologian to do so.

I am not aware that one must be a theologian in order to understand most theology. I understand, as a Catholic, that the consecrated host is really the Body of Christ. Lewis famously says in regards to this that Christ's directive is, take, eat, not take, understand. I say with all due respect that he rather begs the question. Why would God not want us to understand? Wouldn't we want that closer relationship with Him?

Much of it can be linked to the psychology of Mr. Lewis I'm sure. Dr. Joseph Pearce wrote a very good book called C. S. Lewis and the Church of Rome which deals with the issue of why Lewis never became Catholic as he certainly was very close to it. Dr. Pearce's answer was, essentially, because of Lewis' background and his Ulster stubbornness (he was from Northern Ireland).

I would have to agree. And I don't mean that without sympathy: sometimes, and I say this with absolutely no disrespect intended, invincible ignorance gets in our way. Lewis may not have had the capacity to take that next step; it's the same as I think of my dear maternal grandfather who, though he came to accept and respect my father's Catholicism, could not be expected to easily let go of his Southern Baptist background. Thankfully, God will accept us on those terms, if the situation is real and sincere, and not an intentional blindness.

That question used to plague me yet now I can accept it. But even in that light, we still must address our skeletons as honestly and openly as we can. C. S. Lewis did what he could with what he given, and had accomplished with it a far sight more than anything most of us have managed. So he perhaps could not take that last step towards full Christianity. How many of us can? It is an area in which we must be supremely grateful for God's mercy.

Friday, December 4, 2015

He had a way with words

I loved me Grandpa Joe. He had wisdom, he did, and he had humor too. He had a sense of self which belied description.

He was literate, he truly was. He had a way about him. You understood him. If you looked.

If you was unloading a truck with a hoist, when the load was secured, you would raise her down. Raise her down, I tell ya. That's how you done it.

Raise her down. I'll not forget that phrase. You want something on the ground, you raise her down.

Ah, me Grandpa Joe. He had a way with words, he did. And a special kind of wisdom. He had that too.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Father the baseball player, Father the priest

It's funny how in life there are times where a person or an event from your past comes back into your mind seemingly out of nowhere. Just this past weekend I found myself telling my son how Fr. Willoughby, a former pastor of our church (St. Dominic in Detroit, MI) used to drink cola warm. He believed that you tasted the flavors more fully with warm pop. For whatever reason, the story had simply 'popped' into my mind.

Then yesterday, an old friend from the parish called my mother to say that Father Willoughby had passed away on November 19.

I'm not intending to be maudlin nor am I trying for an 'aw, that's too bad' moment either. But I'm interested in why I would be thinking of him recently to then hear the news of his death. I wonder if we are being told something, or reminded of something when such things happen.

In Father's case, it is with fondness that I remember his faithfulness to the Church, his straightforward yet friendly instruction, and his friendship itself which I recall well. What really struck me was his obvious humility, his willingness to accept that he wasn't the center of human history. He could see that it wasn't him or his opinions which mattered, but rather what was right. A little story he told on himself one day might illustrate that trait.

Before joining the Dominican Order in 1942, Fr. Willoughby among other things had played semi-professional baseball. He was a first baseman, I believe he said. One day, his team was involved in a game where Walter Johnson, whom baseball fans know was a quiet, flamethrowing pitcher for the old Washington Senators, indeed that he was part of the first class selected for enshrinement in Cooperstown, would be the home plate umpire. Needless to say, Father and his teammates were excited about that.

As it was, Father came up in the bottom of the first with the bases loaded and two out. He worked the pitcher into a full count, then let the next pitch go by. Johnson promptly called him out on strikes, ending what turned out to be his last chance at baseball semi-immortality. "I was sure it was a ball, but I guess it was a strike", he said, and in truth matter of factly, at the end of the story. Indeed, it was profoundly self effacing.

My wife teased him, "That first part was the ballplayer talking, but the second was the priest talking!" Father just smiled, and kind of nodded his head. He could take teasing too.

Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine. Godspeed, Father Willoughby.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Granddads and smartphone games

Temple Run. If you haven't heard of it, haven't yet got the fever, it's a game you can play on your smartphone. And it's addicting: I can blame my granddaughter for that.

One day while she was visiting she asked, "Grandpappy (yes, Grandpappy; I chose it myself, it's unique) can I borrow your phone?" So I lent it to her and she helped me set up an online account with Apple or somebody; I haven't accessed it since so I really don't remember. She then downloads Temple Run and shows me how to play. Then she laughs at how inept I am at the game.

I'll show her, I thought. Between that visit and her next, I played that game all the time. I played until the battery died on my phone. I gathered coins and bonus points and leveled up several times. I upgraded the game with the coins I had won. I kept playing until the day came that I was in a zone. I ran and ran through that temple, missing nary a turn nor a jump, outrunning the ape like creatures which guard whatever that temple is or is supposed to be, and went farther than even I had imagined I could play. When that particular game was over, to my amazement and deep pride I had scored Three Million Seven Hundred Thousand points. I write it that way because it sounds better than 3,700,000.

I could hardly wait for my granddaughter's next visit, when I would have her in awe with this feat of smartphone derring-do. After her and her family had unpacked, she went and plopped down on the living room couch. "Ahem," I coughed, then announced, "I scored 3.7 million points on Temple Run."

"I don't play Temple Run anymore Grandpappy. It's boring." She said that with her eyes glued to whatever game she was playing then.

I visibly deflated. When you can't impress your grandchildren, who can you impress?