Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reunion at the "Greens"

The ringing of the phone jarred me from wherever it was that my mind had wandered into. The digital clock on the dashboard read 6:18 AM and I thought I knew where everyone was that might be calling me this early. I pulled my cell phone out of its holster and my heart seemed to skip a beat as I read the name displayed there.

“Geoff Lyons”

My mind started racing, thinking of all the possibilities that a call from him might mean…today of all days!

“Did he get lost?”
“Was Lynn’s mom ok?”
“Were they just leaving the house?”
“Did he change his mind about playing today?”

I pushed the green “connect” button on my Blackberry and as calmly as I could said, “hello”.

“You’re late!” came the familiar voice on the other end of the line. I smiled as I visualized the twinkle in his eye as he verbally chastised me for insisting that he leave early to be at the golf course in time just the night before. I explained that we were about three minutes away and then pushed the off button. “He made it”, I thought as I travelled the last two miles to the Tanwax Greens Golf course. And so started an amazing day!!

It didn’t turn out anything like I would have imagined it. In fact, a golf tournament had never even crossed my mind over the past year. Fishing maybe. Or even a Mariner’s baseball game. Perhaps even simply meeting for coffee. But golf….never. The truth is neither of them had even picked up a golf club in nearly a decade. For Geoff, it had been closer to three decades. But nevertheless this is what was bringing us all together.

It had really just started as a blanket invitation on our family website. “Anyone for golf?” the invitation read. I didn’t really get any takers. When my sister read the comment, she thought that her husband Walt might like to come up and play. He loves the game like I do. But it honestly never crossed my mind that my brothers might be interested in playing as well. But over the course of the next three weeks, after using my best marketing skills everyone confirmed that they would play. And now…the day was finally here!

Pulling into the parking lot with Deb and Walt in the car behind me, I parked next to Geoff's little Geo Metro and got out. We greeted each other with warm hugs…and warmer smiles and I wondered for just a second if we would see many more smiles throughout the day. After all, today would be the first time in nearly a decade that the Lyons’ family would all be together for anything other than a recent funeral. Our family had been fractured…no, broken for the past nine years and I knew that I had been a part of the wrecking crew. So today was even more important to me as a day of reconciliation for all of us. I knew deep in my heart that we all desired that…a family that could, and would, outwardly share the love we have for one another. The arena for that to occur just hadn’t been discovered…not until today.

Only a minute later, my older brother Frank arrived in his deep blue Jeep Liberty. As he pulled to a stop, I knew that this would be a defining moment…actually a moment that might define the rest of our family history. His door opened and he walked across the parking lot and each of us received a hug and a smile. As I watched, I was reminded of my ex-wife Paula and the relationship that she has with some of her closest friends. They can be apart and not speak for months and when they meet again, they pick up like there had never been a time of separation. That’s what appeared to be unfolding in front of me. Anyone observing this group of grey-haired men and woman on this early summer morning would never have guessed that this wasn’t a weekly occurrence. Rather, they probably would have assumed this was simply a close family that enjoyed spending time together.

The remainder of the day was magical. At different times, ending up in a group of two or three…congratulating someone on a great shot. Or commiserating over a poor one. Or simply catching up on what was occurring in each of our families. There never seemed to be a stressful moment. No one had a “mask” on so there was no risk that it might slip during the course of the day.

I will be forever grateful for the love that four other people showed on that Saturday in June. A sister who was to travel 150 miles to walk around a golf course just to be with men she loved. Brothers who gave up their only morning to sleep-in to play a game that they had avoided for many years...and leave wives at home who would probably prefer that their husbands were home as well. A brother-in-law who loves his wife enough to be a part of this magical day…and wanted her to share in it as well.

For some, the golf clubs have been put away for the year. Over time, the birdie on the opening hole will be forgotten and the “day-after” soreness will fade away. But for each member of our family, the “day” will remain with us forever.

(Walt, Mark, Deb, Frank & Geoff)

Photos by Deb Shucka

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Going Home

We hadn’t been home very long. Un-emptied suitcases were still laying on the bed. The doors to the red Chevy Berreta still open in the sloped driveway outside. Paula and I were in the kitchen…emptying the ice chest full of goodies that Mom had sent home with us from our 4th of July weekend in Walla Walla. The ringing of the phone jarred me momentarily as Paula handed me cold roast beef and left-over potato salad from the cooler. I looked at Paula to see if she was going to answer and she just continued to work, pulling food from the ice chest. I walked over to the phone hanging on the wall and finally picked it up before it went to voice mail.

The voice on the other end of the line was familiar…a voice I heard about every three or four weeks when I would call. The voice sounded distant, but strong in a controlled way.

“Mark, this is your Mother.”

“Hi Mom. We just got home from Walla Walla. Did you have a nice 4th?” I asked.

There was a short silence on the other end.

“I wanted to call you first since you got angry with me last time when I didn't call when Daddy got really sick. He’s gone. Daddy passed away this morning.”

I just stood there, the cream colored wall phone in my hand. No words. No movement. No…nothing. Paula stopped what she was doing and walked over to me…and looked at me as I just stood there, allowing the words to sink in.

“Mark…did you hear me?” the voice asked.

“Umm…yea, Mom. Are you doing ok? I’ll be up as soon as I can.”

“I’m going to call Debbie and your brothers. Jeff and Lynn are still in Hawaii so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get a hold of them.”

“Oh…ok. I love you Mom” and with that I hung up the phone.

Paula took my hand and asked what was wrong. All I could say was that it was Mom on the phone and that Dad had died that morning. I didn’t know what else to say. There were no tears. No real emotion. I stood there, looking out the window onto the street below...the heat radiating off the black asphalt baking under the early July sun. My mind was grinding…thinking about the man who was my father, now gone.

Memories of the past few years when he had been sick and in the nursing home flashed to my mind. I hadn’t seen him for nearly a year…our last trip to North Idaho the previous fall while he was still in the nursing home. Even then, he appeared so much weaker and smaller than I remembered him. He was unable to speak…just as Grandpa had been when he was in the nursing home so many years before. Mom had taken him home a few months ago because Dad wanted to be at home…and I think Mom must have known that he didn’t have that much time left.

I felt her arms wrap around me, just holding me. She asked if I was “OK” and I said yes. She kissed my neck and then my lips and pulled me to her. We stood there in the kitchen with her head on my shoulder. I’m sure her mind was thinking how strong I was trying to be. She adored her Mom and Dad and if anything ever happened to them, she would be devastated. That’s just the way it’s supposed to be with kids and their parents. But I wasn’t standing there trying to be strong. I was trying to figure out what I should be feeling...because it seemed no feelings were available.

Paula stepped away and told me that she would help me re-pack so I could go up and be with Mom. It’s where she would want to be…need to be, so it made sense to her that that’s where I needed to be as well. I told her I could help her finish putting things away, but she said she would take care of it. I needed to go be with Mom.

We headed to the bedroom and emptied the suitcase and then re-packed it with clean clothes. I grabbed one of my sports jackets from the closet and some slacks, dress shirt and tie. There would be a funeral to go to and I would need to have the right clothes. The suitcase was soon full once again and I carried it and my jacket down and placed it in the car. I grabbed the last of the boxes from the backseat and took them back into the house. Paula handed me a small cooler with a sandwich and Diet Pepsi and kissed me good-bye.

“Are you going to be OK to drive?” she asked. I told her “yes” and that I’d call her when I got there.” Be careful and give Mom my love and tell her how sorry I am” she said and walked me down to the car. She leaned in, giving me one last kiss and I started the car.

The drive north was uneventful…my mind still as much a blur as the reflector poles along the side of the interstate as I sped along. The sun was sliding down the western horizon as I passed through Spokane, still an hour and half from Mom and Dad’s place…Mom’s place now. The pace of the drive slowed down as the highway narrowed to two lanes as I made my way along the familiar route from Coeur d’Alene to Sandpoint…and then the six miles north to the farm.

The air was starting to cool as I pulled into the gravel driveway, the sun no longer visible behind the mountain that rose up behind the place. The familiar red pick-up was in the garage with Mom’s car beside it. The blue paint on the siding of the house was starting to fade some and the lawn was over-grown, obviously unattended for the past several weeks. As I stepped out of the car, the gravel crunched softly under my feet. I walked slowly to the door, opening it and going in without knocking. As I rounded the corner and stepped into the kitchen, Mom turned and faced me…with the ever-present cigarette poised between her fingers.

"You came so fast. I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow" she said as she started across the hardwood floor toward me, the trail of cigarette smoking trailing behind her.