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Rest in Peace

August 13, 2012 1 comment

He died on a beautiful Saturday morning in August. He’d say it was good golfing weather. The cancer started in his lungs, and quickly moved its way through his body. After giving his family a chance to say goodbye one last time, he went off into the Great Whatever. We spent the weekend packing up the house; sifting through memories, throwing out old junk, swapping stories and trying not to be too sad. He was in his 80’s, and I think he would have considered himself lucky to be around that long. He’s at peace now. There won’t be a funeral—he wasn’t religious—but they will be throwing a party to celebrate the life of my father’s father.

To him, The Good Life was a round of golf or a hunting trip—the rest was just waiting. In an increasingly synthetic world, it is refreshing to think of how much joy he got out of the outdoors. Through him and my father, I learned to find beauty in nature; even on a cold October morning, I could sit in the grass or in a camouflaged boat and wait for the sun to rise. I still take walks through the woods and am reminded of hunting in northern Minnesota. I can still smell the fire burning in the cabin’s fireplace mingling with cigar smoke and whatever was cooking, and I can still hear the sounds of laughter, cards shuffling, dirty jokes, and poker chips clanking after a long day of walking and waiting.  These remain some of the fondest memories of my childhood.

A lot of moments and memories go with him, but the good ones will live on through the magic of storytelling. There’s the one about the time he dressed up as Santa for the younger grandkids at a family gathering. His air travel woes as a traveling salesman in the 60s and 70s, like the one where they had to foam the runway because the plane’s wheels didn’t work. Stories of living in St Paul, of raising seven kids, of golf games and duck hunting and trips to the lake. He’s gone, but people live on forever in memories and stories. All we can do is keep telling his stories.

It’s easy to focus on the bad things—the cancer, the last few days, the grief—but I choose to remember it differently. I’ll remember seeing him with a huge smile and has dark-tinted glasses, shaking my hand and saying “Tommy, how are ya?” I’ll remember being a boy with a BB gun, walking to our hunting destination, scared as hell of the dark or a noise in the woods or the cold, and grabbing onto his leg for dear life.

Sometimes, all you need is a reassuring pat on the head to feel like everything is alright. That was a long time ago, but I haven’t forgotten that simple lesson.

Rest in Peace, Grandpa.

They Survived Madison, Wisconsin

July 10, 2011 1 comment

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Last August, I wrote about leaving the city I had come of age in and how it felt to leave all of my friends behind. As it turned out, I would get a job within the next couple of months, move out of my place in Minnesota, say goodbye to my temporary roommates (Mom and Dad), zip down I-94 and start a new life in my old town.

Now it’s almost one year later. Time flies, and I find myself thinking about how much movement happens in August and how much change occurs before the leaves turn shades of orange and red in this beautiful college town. New blood revitalizes the city and the old guard is packing up, leaving and transitioning to a new stage in their lives.

For the first time, I’m not part of it. My life is comparatively stagnant, though not necessarily in a bad way. I’d be completely immune to the moving and shaking of the August rush (a new apartment with a good friend barely counts as change) but for the fact that some of my best friends are moving on. 

It’s a strange feeling watching friends you’ve known for some of the most formative years of your life leave. I’ve gone through it a few times, but this time it seems more potent, more permanent, because the last batch of my college friends without jobs in Madison are taking off. On one hand, I feel happy for them, because I know they’re headed out to chase their future and become the types of people they always dreamed of becoming.

On the other hand, it’s such a huge sadness to see cardboard boxes packed with memories you helped create fade away, down East Washington or Gorham headed towards their next big adventure. Pieces of a “me” that no longer exists are in those boxes, pieces that only remain in memories and pictures and deep pangs of nostalgia. As much as I dread watching my friends leave, I’m also mourning a past version of myself that they take with them.

It’s weird to be on the other side of moving out. I know that I have a life here, and I’m very happy with it, but I can’t help but wonder what life will be like without being in the same zip code as some of the people I’ve formed deep bonds with. I’m worried that after they leave, I’m going to be a less interesting person.

Then again, I know myself well enough to understand that I’ll never be happy with myself if I get complacent. I’ll always be chasing fun and running away from boredom. I’m not friendless in this town by any measurement. I still have a network of people I consider some of my best friends. I’m meeting people I barely knew in college, people who were only ancillary characters in my life’s story, and we’re becoming very close. We cling to each other because we all haven’t quite figured out how to make new friends, and I’ve started to figure out what amazing people they are.  I also work with some very cool people, many of which I consider friends.

Everyone will move on eventually, and so will I, and we’ll go through these motions all over again. And that’s ok, because this change is good. It’s movement.  There’s really nothing to worry about, because it’s all part of life. I can take solace in the fact that wherever my college friends are, and whatever they do, we’re inextricably linked to a particular time and place together. We’ll carry those memories with us, and they’ll help shape who we become.

So here’s to old friends dispersed across the country, starting new lives and starting over. For now it’s so long and goodbye, but I have a feeling our paths are bound to cross again. My couch is always open.

I Survived Madison, Wisconsin 2006-2010

August 1, 2010 3 comments

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Sunset over Lake Mendota

The first time I laid eyes upon what would be my college campus was Labor Day 2005. I was on a tour to see which colleges I liked so I could start applying. Before the tour, my dad, brother and I wandered around State Street and eventually ended up on Langdon Street (Langdon is “Frat Row”). You could just feel the hangovers of the people celebrating the end of summer and the start of a new year.

Empty beer cans were all over, furniture was out on the sidewalk waiting to be picked up; the area looked a little decrepit.

And I smiled.

Right there and then, I fell in love with the Babylon of the Midwest: Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s been five years since my first introduction to the city. I graduated and it’s time to move on, and that means leaving my home of four years behind. It’s time to pour a 40 of Keystone Light (naturally) on the curb for my brief but memorable stint as a Badger.

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