Posts Tagged ‘Mom’
Providing support has its limits. No matter how much we might want to do more for someone we love, when we’re in the cheering section, there are many moments we can only watch while our loved one does the hard work.
I learn and relearn (but never completely master) this lesson often as a parent, husband and son.
The lesson was never more harshly taught than during the untimely deaths of my parents. Mom passed away at age 64 of recurring breast cancer. Dad, a nationally competitive marathon runner in his 40s, died at age 73 of pulmonary fibrosis. We were fortunate to be at their bedsides, to hold their hands, during the last days and weeks of their lives. But at the end of each day, the hard truth was, Mom and Dad had to face their illness and ultimately their mortality alone.
A far more joyful, recent event again reminded me of the limits of providing support to a loved one. Joni, Emma, Ada Grace and I cheered for Joe at an IronKids Triathlon in Avon, Colorado. I stood at the edge of the swimming pool as Joe lined up with 80 other kids each waiting their turn to swim. I thought to myself we arrived here together but now, Joe is his own journey. Joe and only Joe had to master his nerves, fight through the pain of a side ache (he gets every race) and muster a second wind to finish the run. There was nothing more his family could do except cheer – and cheer we did.
Playing a support role is not always easy. When we’re at our loved one’s side during times of illness it often means sleepless nights, gut wrenching tears and suppressed emotions. Supporting our kids presents different kinds of sacrifices – spending money, long hours standing around waiting, and getting up at absurdly early hours to, in this case, set up a bike and lay out a towel. But the stresses of those of us in the support role are trivial compared to the challenges of being a competitor – whether it’s competition against illness, in sports, or taking on the fear of starting middle school.
It was a privilege to be witness to my parents’ final hours. It is a privilege to watch my children take on the challenges of growing up. In times sad and happy, there are many days I would like to do more for the people I love. But, I have to settle for holding a hand, saying “I Love You” or shouting ‘til I’m hoarse, “You can do it.” That’s all one can do when they are sitting on the sidelines.
It is, indeed, a privilege.
Bob and Barbara Creighton came to Atwood in search of a town in which they and their children could play a vital role and they found what they sought. They were proud to call Atwood home until the time of their deaths.
Robert Atkinson Creighton and Barbara Lee Wilson made their home in Atwood in 1960. They raised two sons who now have families of their own – Alec, his wife Christie and their children Ben and Rachel of Fort Morgan, Colorado and John, his wife Joni and their children, Emma, Joe and Ada Grace of Longmont, Colorado.
Barbara was a homemaker, mother, grandmother and active in the community. She served as president of P.E.O., Union Club, and Town & Country Guild, was a volunteer reader to Atwood first graders and the 1991 starter of the Lake Atwood Ten Mile race. She served on the boards of the Atwood Public Library, Kansas Quilters’ Organization, and High Plains Banking Group in Colorado. Barbara enjoyed needlework, gardening, genealogy, and was an avid reader.
Barbara stood toe-to-toe with breast cancer on two occasions. She beat the odds and triumphed over the disease in 1987. She was able to enjoy 15 additional years of life and spend time with all of her five grand-children. Barbara passed away on May 28, 2002 in the company of her husband and sons.
Bob was given the opportunity to practice law in Atwood by Forest W. Brown. His law partner when he retired in August 2005 was Charles Peckham. Bob worked with his secretary Margaret (Kanak) Hagler for 27 years.
Bob gave up competitive running in the late 1980s and focused on his law practice, banking and public service. Bob served as president of the High Plains Bank Holding Company based in his boyhood home of Flagler, Colorado. He was appointed by Governor Mike Hayden to the Kansas Board of Regents, which he served as chairman. He also served on the Kansas Hospital Closure Commission, Kansas Commission of Judicial Qualifications, Board of Governors of the KU Law School and to the Kansas University Hall Center for the Humanities Advisory Board.
In June 2005, Bob was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. He always said, “If complaining would help, I’d shout the loudest. But the truth is you get the years you get.” Bob passed away on April 5, 2007 leaving behind his wife Lavina, two sons and their families.
* * *
Submitting to The Rawlins County History Book
Dad would give us an update on “community news” most days over lunch. He took his coffee break around 10:30 in the morning at Currier Drug. The twenty or thirty minutes in the drug store booth rolling dice (horses) and sipping coffee was a daily ritual for many folks in town. It was the place where Dad caught up on a variety of tidbits about people’s lives – illnesses, vacations, quality of the crops, achievements of children who’d moved from Atwood. He’d share this news with us over our noon meal (that’s what Dad called it, never lunch or dinner).
The group at Currier’s was different every day. There were regulars like Dad but the folks who shared his booth were never exactly from one day to the next. That’s was part of the appeal. He could catch up with one person on a Monday and someone else on a Tuesday.
The news from Currier Drug was seldom momentous. Some people might call it trivial or perhaps even gossip. But the news exchanged at Currier’s and other coffee spots in town is the kind of knowledge that binds loose networks of people into a community of friends and neighbors.
We care about people when we come to know the “trivial” details of their lives – and the lives of their extended families. Nurturing these bonds does not require long and intimate conversations. Just a snippet of news now and again at a chance encounter in the drug store or café is more than sufficient.
That’s why places like Currier Drug are so important to the civic health of a community. Ray Oldenburg wrote a whole book about it called, The Great Good Place.
Homemakers (as the job was called when I was a boy) like my mom did not take part in the coffee break ritual in the same way as people with paying jobs. He could be harder to keep up with the news. That’s why women’s clubs and coffee at the house was so important. It also is one reason we went to the post office to pick up our mail. It would have been far more convenient to have the mail delivered to the house (believe me I pointed this out on several occasions). But the daily trip to the post office was an excuse to get out of the house and a chance to “run into” someone for a little news.
Now, full confession, when I was sent to pick up the mail at the post office I was always a little leery. I didn’t get cornered by an adult in a game of twenty questions. I just wanted to get in and get out. I am guilt of peeking in the post office door to make sure that there was no one “chatty” inside who would slow me down.
Small town folks, when they are candid, will tell you that trips to the grocery store also must be carefully planned. If you have a busy day, the last thing you want to do is get caught in “rush hour” at Williams Bros. Who’s reading this from Atwood who hasn’t tried to slip in and out of the grocery without getting chatted up?
I thought often about the post office when I first subscribed to AOL in the late 90s. Several friends and acquaintances had AOL in those days (I don’t think my kids have even heard of AOL). The instant messaging feature on AOL was cool – except when it wasn’t. I loved the chance to have a quick visit with friends like Matt Cunningham during the middle of my work day half a continent away. Sometimes, though, I’d be in a hurry and a friend might “see” me online. The next thing I’d know, “bing,” I had a message begging for an instant response. I felt it was rude to ignore the person or say,”Gotta go.” So, to avoid being rude, I tried to figure out how to “peek” in AOLs door just like I did the post office so long ago.
But, I digress…
Facebook has some of the qualities of a Currier Drug. It is a place to pick up a little bit of news from a loose network of “friends.” People sometimes ask why anyone would care about what people write on Facebook – it’s just trivia and gossip. I learned in Atwood thirty years ago, that’s the kind of information communities share. It’s what keeps people feeling a sense of connection to one another during those gaps when longer visits aren’t possible or when more meaningful interactions are not needed. In that sense, trivial information is not trivial at all.
Nothing will or can replace a face-to-face relationship and a virtual community can never quite replace a geographic community – or at least I hope that it doesn’t. But, Facebook has provided a fun way to hear tidbits of news from friends, literally across the globe. I sometimes share that news with my family over our evening meal (Dad’s name for supper). It feels very familiar.
* * *
Currier Drug from Decision Weather website
Atwood Post Office by courthouselover on Flickr
We all know television was very different forty years ago compared to today. Our parents told us stories of listening to radio broadcasts of The Lone Ranger or the Shadow. We now tell our children tales of the time when television was limited to three channels, began with test patterns in the morning and concluded the broadcast day with a rendition of the National Anthem.
Sunday night was my favorite night of television when I was very young. Normal family rules did not apply. We are allowed to eat in the living room rather than at the kitchen table and, most importantly, watch T.V. while we ate.
We set up T.V. “trays” in the living room. Our trays were small wooden tables that stacked on top of each other. These tables were gifts from my grandfather Creighton who broke one slamming his fist down when K.U. was called for too many men on the field in the 1969 Orange Bowl, blowing sure victory against Penn State.
Not only were we allowed to eat in the living room, but Sunday night meant a special meal – one my mom didn’t have to cook. We often had Swanson T.V. Dinners. My favorite was the Salisbury Steak. I also was partial to the Turkey and German Style Dinners. I’d be scared to try any of these today.
Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom came on first. Marlin Perkins narrated the show sitting at the desk under the Mutual of Omaha logo. As a child, I assumed he was sitting in Omaha, Nebraska. I had no concept at the time that the show was sponsored by an insurance company.
Jim Fowler, Perkins’ assistant, became a legendary figure over the years as baby boomers wrote and produced countless television parodies of his heroics – “Jim will now enter the brush and wrestle the lion.” He was the Crocodile Hunter before there was a Crocodile Hunter.
I had a collection of savannah and jungle animal figurines (made of plastic of course) that I brought out of storage every Sunday night. I enacted lion hunts of zebras on the fireplace hearth as I watched the natural drama unfold on the screen.
The Wonderful World of Disney was the evening’s main event. Each Sunday, we were treated to classics such as The Parent Trap, Herbie the Lovebug, and That Darn Cat. Dean Jones and Hayley Mills were the stars, not Lindsay Lohan. My favorites starred Kurt Russell as Dexter Riley with the gang at Medfield College – The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him Now You Don’t, and The Strongest Man in the World.
Television is not the event it once was. Children don’t wait weeks in anticipation of the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. Families don’t plan their weeks around a special T.V. night. Thursday nights is not Must See T.V. Media no longer reports on the new lineup of shows for the kick-off of the television season – shows seem to premier at random times throughout the year. Disney has its own channel. And, there’s nothing that special about setting up the T.V. trays in the living room.
I don’t miss these things for my kids. They weren’t such a special thing in my life that I wax nostalgically for their return. But, as a young boy, Sunday night was exciting.
I am curious, forty years from now, what my children will tell their children about family rituals that have come and gone. What are we doing today that will be unimaginably out of date in just a decade or two?
Only time will tell.
I miss the Tastee Treet.
My family and I went out for summer time burgers tonight. They were good greasy burgers from Five Guys Burgers. But our meal didn’t even compare to my memories of the Tastee Treet.
My mom, Alec and I often ate lunch at the Tastee Treet on summer Thursdays when we were out of school and Dad went to Rotary. I always ordered a cheeseburger with ketchup and onions, fries and a chocolate shake. I dipped my fries in the shake. Mom was an enthusiastic fan of Audrey’s famous Hickory Burger. Sometimes we’d eat on the picnic bench. Other times we’d take the food home.
Saturday nights the whole family would go for ice cream cones. Standing on the red step built so kids could reach the window, I ordered a chocolate-vanilla twist with crunchy sprinkles or sometimes dipped in chocolate. My dad would chat up one of the other patrons while we waited for our cones. I’d watch the spectacle of bugs zooming toward their final zap in the electric charged light that hung just a few feet from the window.
The Tastee Treet was kitty corner from the swimming pool sitting to the south and east. It was in a perfect location for a rest period snack – the ten minutes each hour when the life guards took a break. The trick was making it across the hot asphalt street. We’d run yelping as fast as we could, trying to stay on the balls or our feet, but the tar still scalded our skin. Nothing felt quite as sweet as making it to the Audrey’s grass or back to the lawn in Kelley Park. It would have been too easy to just wear our shoes.
My favorite swim day treat was an ice cream sandwich carefully wrapped in a white paper bag. I’d lick the edges in a circle until I’d carved out a groove, eat the cookie to the edge of the ice cream and repeat the process again. A wet swimsuit was far better than a napkin to wash off sticky hands.
Audrey hung in there for all the years I was a regular at the swimming pool closing down the Tastee Treet some time later. My kids take swimming lessons in Atwood most summers. They look across the street at the ice cream sign that lit up when I was a kid and ask what it used to be like.
I miss that we’re not able to walk across the street for a cone.
* * *
Thanks to Doug Nichols for the photos. Found them on Flickr.
We don’t really know our own parents. We don’t know them like we might come to know a good friend.
As children, at almost any age, we don’t really want to know about many aspects of our parents’ lives.
We cringe if we hear even a whisper of their intimate relationships. Mental images of our parents being intimate causes us to cry out, “La, la, la, la…” in hopes of erasing the picture from our minds. We’ll do just about anything to pretend that our parents don’t have the same interests and urges we do.
We don’t really want to know about our parents’ fears or hardships unless they are historic tales. We want our parents to be sources of strength and stability. Even as we age, we want our parents to tell us everything’s going to be okay. We don’t want to know if there are worries that keep them up at night.
We don’t even really want to know about our parents’ dreams, especially if those dreams might interrupt our own. We especially don’t want to hear our parents tell stories of dreams unfulfilled. As children, what do we do with that?
When we talk about dreams with our parents we want those dreams to be ours. We want our parents to offer encouragement, and perhaps even financial investments, to further our own aspirations. We want someone to we can turn to who will focus exclusively on us. We want our parents to be that someone.
Perhaps that’s one reason it’s hard to say good-bye to our parents when their time comes. There isn’t anyone left who we can reasonably expect to make us the center of attention. It’s okay to want your parents to focus only on you. It’s selfish with your spouse. It’s weird with a friend.
For some of us, the roles are sometimes reversed. We must offer aid, encouragement or investment to our parents. We do what we can. But, that’s not what we really want.
We may know we’re being selfish in our relationship to our parents. We may strive for a different type of a relationship as we age. We may try to become friends. We may succeed up to a point. But, somewhere deep inside, we want to keep our parents in their box. We want them to be who we want them to be rather who they might want to be or who they actually are. (Say that three times fast.)
At least, I will say these things about myself.
It is inherently unfair to tell stories or write about people who you would prefer to keep in a box. It’s impossible to set aside the biases you feel – even, or perhaps especially, those biases you can’t name for yourself.
I have and will write about my parents on this blog. I run the risk of exaggerating their virtues and their faults. I run the risk of reflecting on their lives with my expectations not their own.
Children’s stories about their parents are invaluable family treasures. But, we must listen to and read these stories keeping in mind that, as children, we’re not always able to see our parents as the whole people they truly are.
Again, at least, I will say these things about myself.
It would be nice if there was an easy way to share our personal setbacks with our children so they could benefit from our experience. Heck, I’d settle for a not so easy way if it was effective.
The reality is that the only way for our children to learn how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back in the game is to get knocked down in the first place.
Last night, I told my daughter Emma about a setback I had my freshman year at the University of Kansas.
I won a Summerfield Scholarship from KU – awarded to “top graduates from Kansas high schools” – based mostly on my ACT scores. I received few letters from colleges or universities prior to taking the ACT. Once I received my scores, the letters arrived soon after.
I never seriously considered attending any school except KU. It was where I wanted to go. It was a family tradition.
My parents, both graduates of KU, were thrilled when I was invited to interview for the Summerfield Scholarship. They were more excited when I was named a Scholar. I was one of the few Atwood graduates to earn the award. I think Harry Wigner did before me. There may have been more Atwood grads to earn the award since, but I must confess I don’t know.
At the time, I did not understand or appreciate the significance of the award.
As happens to many college freshmen, I did not focus on my studies as I should. I was having too much fun being away from home, having the freedom to go out with friends when I chose. I spent too many Thursday nights and Wednesday nights at places like Louise’s and The Hawk.
My first semester grades reflected my lack of focus. Thirteen hours of B and three hours of A. Not bad, but not good enough for a Summerfield Scholar.
What’s more, five hours of B were a complete act of charity.
I went to see my calculus professor about my final exam. As she pointed out my errors, she noticed an error of her own. She had made an addition mistake when calculating my scores from the three part exam. I hadn’t earned a B. My test score was 76% not the 86% she marked on the paper. My overall grade was just over the cusp of 80%. A final exam score of C would knock my overall grade to C, too.
My professor sat at her desk in silence for well over a minute contemplating what to do. Finally, she said, “If you wouldn’t have come to see me, I would not have found my grading error. I’ll let you keep the B.”
I was grateful at the time. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until later.
Shortly after the semester came to a close, I received a letter notifying me that I would not receive the Summerfield Scholarship the next semester due to a low GPA. Losing the $500 dollars was a blow. (A semester’s tuition in those days was $496. The first time I paid, I received four dollars change.) Even tougher was breaking the news to my parents.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
My parents, perhaps not surprisingly, were supportive and encouraging. Dad made a typical, short and to the point comment. “Earn it back,” he said lightheartedly as if he had complete confidence that I would.
That’s what I did. It took two full semesters but I finally elevated my overall GPA to just over 3.5 – the mandatory minimum for a Summerfield Scholar (it’s even tougher today, the minimum is 3.65). That’s when I fully realized the generosity of my first semester calculus professor. If she had given me a C as I deserved, I would not have raised my GPA over 3.5. I would not have been eligible to be reinstated.
These are the types of lucky breaks and acts of kindness that can change lives.
I told Emma this story because she failed a Language Arts test this week. Her teacher, too, is giving her a second chance. She has the opportunity to take the test again next week. This exam was her first major setback as a student. Sure, there have been times she could have done better. But, on balance, she is a very good student.
It was hard for Emma to ask Joni to sign the letter from her teacher informing us of the failed exam. It was even harder for her to tell me.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
In a few weeks and certainly months, we all will have forgotten about this one exam. I have complete confidence Emma will do fine on her “redo.” My hope is that Emma’s lasting lesson will be learning to deal with setbacks in school.
As parents, we want to protect our children from heartaches and even minor setbacks. We know what it’s like to fail and we don’t want our children to endure the pain.
But, we can’t always protect our children nor should we try. Our kids can’t learn what they need to know by hearing stories of our skinned knees. The important lessons come from skinning their own.
Are we more mobile now than we were a generation ago? Two generations ago? Do people move more now than they did in the past?
For the past few years, I ask these questions when I give speeches or talks. Groups always answer a definitive yes.
The answer is no.
About one in five of us move homes in any given year. That’s about the same as it was in 1950, 1960 and every decade since. Richard Florida writes in the March 2009 edition of The Atlantic Online: “Last year fewer Americans moved, as a percentage of the population, than in any year since the Census Bureau started tracking address changes, in the late 1940s.”
What gives? How is it that fewer of us are moving but most of us believe the opposite to be true?
This is my hypothesis: In the past, when we moved, we really had to move. Now, we can change locations but never leave or we can stay in the same place and travel the world.
I grew up in Atwood, Kansas in the far northwest corner of the state. Mom’s family lived in Wilmington, Delaware. Travel in the 1960s and 1970s was expensive. A family of four could afford few airplane trips from Kansas to Delaware. We saw my maternal grandparents every other year, at most.
Telephone communications was not cheap either. We would only call on weekends or, perhaps, after 7 p.m. People watched clocks in those days before they made phone calls – the cost difference was significant. Long distance rates led us to limit our calls to two or three times per month.
Two or three calls per month. A face-to-face visit every other year. That’s not a lot of contact. It is almost unimaginable in a Facebook, Twitter, Skype sort of world.
That’s what it meant to move two generations ago. When you left a community you were gone. If you wanted to be part of a community, which most humans do, you had to invest yourself in your new hometown. You put down roots at your new address.
That’s not the case anymore. We can stay connected to our favorite people no matter where we live.
A year or so ago, I was doing a project at the University of Kansas. We were interviewing students about how Facebook is changing their social networks and friendships. I vividly recall the remarks of a young woman who lived in Saudi Arabia as a high school student because her father worked there as an petroleum engineer: “The first thing I do each morning is use Facebook to talk to my family and friends in Saudi Arabia.”
My mom lived half a country away from her parents. Her contact was limited to two or three times a month. Staying in contact with multiple friends was out of the question except by mail. Two generations later, a young woman can talk to her parents and friends half a globe away on a daily basis.
Communications technologies and low cost travel make it far easier to leave home. We can stay connected to our loved ones ever day. Personally, I’ve been enjoying Facebook a great deal. I have reconnected with high school, college and graduate school classmates scattered across the country.
Today I enjoyed the exciting news of a new KU Basketball recruit with my nephew in Lawrence, Matt Cunningham wherever in the nation he might be covering basketball games, and Phil Priebe in Fort Collins. We had a shared experience of sorts without ever being together. I watched the news break on Twitter. Then, we used Facebook, text messages and the phone to talk. It all felt very modern.
These are great gains from my perspective. I am able to maintain far more relationships with people whom I care about than has ever been possible before.
We also are losing something. Fewer of us are putting down roots in the places we actually live. Scholars such as Robert Putnam have well documented this phenomenon in books such as Bowling Alone. The trends began before social media was even on the scene.
Those of us who work in the public sector feel the consequences of local detachment on a daily basis. It is more difficult to govern ourselves today than in the past, in part, because local communities don’t exist the way they once did.
This begs the question: What will local mean? When we look a few years down the road how much more will our communities be transformed?
I have written before on this blog that growing up in an intensely local community was a defining experience of my life. How will geographically dispersed communities reshape all our lives?
We don’t know the answers. But, it’s clear that community will be different than it was.
“Why do we have French toast every Wednesday,” Dad asked Mom in a casual manner. His tone was one of genuine curiosity.
But, I knew immediately this conversation was going to end badly. Badly for me.
I loved Wednesday mornings until this fateful morning when I was nine or ten. Dad made us oatmeal every day of the week – except Wednesdays. That was the morning Mom got up early and made French toast.
Mom’s French toast was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, I’m pretty certain she used Roman Meal bread – sandwich slice. But it was a contrast I looked forward to each week. I would count the days when I could forgo the routine of brown sugar and milk on lukewarm Quaker Oats.
Dad on the other hand couldn’t imagine why anyone would want anything except oatmeal. It’s what his father ate every morning. It’s what his grandfather ate – or so he said. Dad enjoyed the entire ritual of oatmeal from box to stovetop to bowl. He used the same portions of oats, sugar and milk each morning.
“We don’t have to,” Mom replied in just as casual of a tone. She set down the plate of French toast she’d just taken off the skillet. Then, she proceeded back upstairs to their room.
I walked into the kitchen the next Wednesday morning having forgotten the previous week’s proceedings. I noticed the brown sugar on the table rather than the syrup. I looked toward the stove and their stood Dad serving up a fifth bowl of oatmeal. My heart sank. Dad had a spring in his step.
Each morning, Dad made oatmeal for us all. He laid out the served bowls and a spoon on the counter between the kitchen and the breakfast table. We picked them up as we came down to breakfast. If I was running late, my oatmeal would be cold.
Dad made one bowl for himself, the largest. One each for Alec and me. One for our dog Gruffy, which Dad put down after he was done eating. And one for Mom, which was never eaten but always served.
We never had French toast on Wednesday again.
I am reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. His thesis is simple: The context in which you grow up matters.
· What are the norms, rules and habits of your community’s culture?
· What do you have access to when you’re coming of age?
· What are the skills you are able to practice over and over?
· Are you the right age and demographic to take advantage of opportunities?
The answers to these questions will have a lot to say about what you accomplish as an adult according to Gladwell.
Bill Gates, for instance, transferred to a junior high school that had access to computers before most universities. He was able to practice computer programming for hundreds of hours before many of his peers were able to practice at all.
Steve Martin explains in his memoir Born Standing Up (but not in Gladwell’s book) that he grew up a bike ride away from Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. He got a job in these parks at a young age and was able to hone his skills as an entertainer for years before he “burst onto the entertainment scene.”
As I read, I began to ask myself what is the competitive advantage one gains from coming of age in Atwood in the late 70s and early 80s? The answer, in my case, reinforces Gladwell’s thesis.
I am not a good athlete. Even if I was, the odds are low I could have developed such a talent in Atwood according to Gladwell – not enough access to practice time. Even small cities like Longmont, it is possible to practice one sport year round. This type of specialization, Gladwell suggests, is typical of those who rise to the top in their field.
Those of us growing up in Atwood did have better access to something that is scarce to those living in small and large cities – civic life and politics.
Playing an active role in the community – being active in civic clubs, serving on boards and committees, holding elective office. In cities, these are things that “they” do. In towns like Atwood, these are things that we do. Our friends, neighbors, acquaintances must play a role. The law of numbers dictates that a high proportion of small town folks are also active community leaders – whether they like it or not.
I serve on the St. Vrain School Board. The district has nearly 25,000 students and seven municipalities. There are seven school board members. The same number as in Rawlins County. Most people who live in the St. Vrain school district don’t have a clue who I am. I am a “them.”
Politics and civic life have been part of my life from my earliest memories. I sat on my father’s shoulders in 1968 as he stapled Dole for Senate placards on telephone and electric poles around town.
I went door-to-door for the first time in 1972 when Mike Hayden first ran for the state legislature. The pizza party at Mike and Patti’s house later that night may have been the first time I met Joni. The thing I remember most on that day was a man who lived on 8th Street shooing me from his yard, “I’m votin’ for Hayden. Keep your dang flyer.”
Mom and Dad both served on town boards. Mom was on the Library board. Dad was on the Hospital board when Dr. Walton abruptly left town. I remember looking through the window of the State Bank Meeting room as Dad presided over a full meeting to sort out the options when Dr. Walton left.
Dad was County Attorney for a spell and became mayor my senior year of high school. My dad liked to tell people that our kids – Emma, Joe and Ada Grace – are the only people alive who had a grandfather and a grandmother who both served as Atwood’s mayor (Betty Mickey is the current mayor).
My neighbors served on boards and held elected office, too. When I think about the people who I knew best growing up, most did a stint in some sort of public service. The people who governed community organizations, the town and county were the same people who you saw at school events, church and grocery store.
I had opportunities to serve on community boards myself – and not just student council. I was a youth board member of United Methodist Church. I took part in many civic events as a member of 4-H, Boy Scouts and MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). Being active in the community was a normal part of life. Not as much in bigger cities.
Many of us growing up in Atwood were able to have a taste of state politics and government thanks to Mike Hayden. We had the opportunity to serve as legislative pages, sometimes more than once. It was normal to have your picture taken with a governor.
When Mike ran for governor in 1986 I was the perfect age (21) and had the family financial means to take on an unpaid, 80 to 100 hour week job as his driver. I was able to do this without jeopardizing my ability to pay for college. Not an option for many.
With assistant to the eventual governor on my resume, I was able to overcome borderline grades to earn a nomination for a Rhoades Scholar interview from KU and then gain admittance to Harvard. As one person who nominated me for the interview said matter of fact, “Your grades are unimpressive. But, you’ve had some good experiences.”
These were my advantages:
· I had many role models in my life who taught me that playing an active role in the community and politics is necessary and good.
· I was from a town and state small enough that I was able to witness government up close not from a distant gallery. Kansas has 65 more legislators than Colorado and, now, a smaller population.
· I was from the right town, the right age and the right income level to take advantage of a family friend’s success as a candidate for governor. Who knows if I’m admitted to Harvard if Mike lost the primary in ’86.
All of these things played a role in shaping my career working with public sector organizations and public leaders.
That is Gladwell’s argument. Success requires hard work. Typically, years of hard work. It also requires good fortune.
I draw three lessons from Gladwell’s work.
· We need to pay attention when opportunity presents itself. Opportunity is more abundant than we sometimes think.
· We need to be prepared to work hard – sometimes very hard – or the opportunity may pass us by.
· When we experience success, we should remain humble. There are a lot of people – and typically a few lucky breaks – that helped us get to where we are. (For fans of Ayn Rand, she didn’t have a clue.)
Community: That was my Atwood advantage.