Friday, October 30, 2009

What's Important

I'm running around getting my brakes fixed, seeing my mom, doing errands before leaving this weekend for Florida.  But I just had to post this story I just read on AOL.  Makes us remember what's important in life.

Twenty Years Ago, One Hit Changed Two Lives Forever
Posted Oct 28, 2009 12:00PM By David Whitley (RSS feed)

Brad Gaines will do it again early Wednesday morning. He'll grab some Clorox and glass cleaner, toss them in the trunk of his Buick and head to a little cemetery 175 miles away.  His long, strange trip actually began 20 years ago today.  "I'll be doing it until I die," Gaines said.

He goes to visit a friend he never really knew. Then one crazy football play bound them forever. On a Homecoming afternoon, he collided with Chucky Mullins.

Gaines, a tailback for Vanderbilt, got up and headed back to the huddle. Mullins, a safety for Mississippi, never moved again.  His neck was shattered. He died less than two years later.  We read about such things, wince and move on. It's nobody's fault. It's just football.

Gaines knew that on Oct. 28, 1989. He knows it on Oct. 28, 2009.  It doesn't matter.  "I know it was part of the game," he said, "but it doesn't change the fact, you know ..."  He's tried to explain it a million times why he drives from Nashville to Russellville, Ala. three times a year. If it's the date of the accident or the date Mullins died or Christmas, Gaines has to make it to the grave that's marked simply:  Chucky, Man of Courage.

So what force drives Gaines? Why has he has skipped out early every Christmas or left home at midnight to get back for a morning meeting or barely beat the clock and found himself cleaning Mullins' grave by the light of the moon?  "There have been times I have had to hitchhike because I ran out of gas, had blown out tires, my car's broken down," Gaines said. "But I always make it."  Everybody from his wife to total strangers has worried and wondered. Perhaps the only person who could truly understand is Mullins.  "It's almost like it was fate," Gaines said.

He was a white kid from hoity-toity Vandy. His brothers had played in the NFL. He was a stud running back, the leading receiver in the SEC, a kid whose idea of hardship was getting turned down for a date.  "There have been times I have had to hitchhike because I ran out of gas, had blown out tires, my car's broken down. But I always make it." -- Brad Gaines Mullins was a skinny black kid from a nowhere town. His mother died when he was in sixth grade. He wasn't particularly fast or strong or talented, but Ole Miss coaches loved his attitude. Mullins would do anything to win.

So it wasn't surprising that he lowered his helmet and buried it in No. 44's back. Gaines had gone up to catch a pass. The force from behind knocked the ball loose before he hit the ground.  Gaines scrambled to recover it, but the refs called it an incomplete pass. He didn't even notice No. 38 wasn't moving. Before long, the number would literally mean everything to him.  Gaines couldn't sleep after the accident. He no longer cared about the sport he was raised to love. He didn't even play his senior season.

He did try to get to know the source of his pain. The first time they formally met, Gaines walked into the hospital room and tried not to visibly shake. Mullins was in a halo contraption with all sorts of tubes attached to his body.  A ventilator was rhythmically hissing at his bedside. Gaines shuffled near the bed, bent over and strained to make out what Mullins said.  "It wasn't your fault."

That was Chucky. His spirit never inspired people far beyond the South. Walter Payton visited him. So did Janet Jackson and George H. W. Bush.  More than $1 million was raised for his trust fund. Ole Miss built him a specially equipped house, and he was back in class the next year. Then a blood clot formed in his lung.
Gaines read about it and drove to the hospital in Memphis . Mullins was in a coma, but his friend got there in time to say goodbye. Then doctors removed the life-support system. Gaines went to the hospital roof and wept.

Ole Miss started the Chucky Mullins Courage Award, given each year to a senior defensive player. The winner used to wear No. 38 until the school retired it in 2006.  "You say 'Chucky,' and everybody knows what you mean," Gaines said.  You say Brad, and everybody wonders what that means.  "As I get older I've gotten even more emotional about it," he said. "I don't know, maybe raising my own kids and how fragile life can be."

He has four of them now, three girls ages one to 11, and a five-year-old boy. Gaines is a successful businessman but he still drives a 20-year-old Buick his kids hate.  "I wish your car would die," they tell him all the time.  If it does today, he'll just start hitchhiking. Gaines has lost count of the trips he's made to Russellville, but it's at least 60. None of his kids have ever gone with him. They just know their father has something he has to do.  "When I leave to go to the cemetery, they know why I'm going," Gaines said. "They see the importance of that, the importance of having love for your fellow man."

Mullins is buried next to his mother, who died when she was only 32. Gaines will pluck the weeds then clean the dirt and grime off the brown granite headstone.

Then he'll just sit and talk and pray.

It may seem odd that Gaines carries a picture of Mullins in his wallet. That his phone number still ends with the number 3800. That he just can't let go.


"He's a person I love," Gaines said, "and I miss."  It's as simple as that.

So what will Gaines' headstone read one day? Is he a Man of Guilt or Craziness or Courage or Compassion?

Whatever it is, Mullins would be proud to clean it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Have a Dream

Ok, well I guess we are all too complicated to reduce who we are to one representative song.  So I'm adding another one.............

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sweet Surrender

If you had to choose one song that best describes your true soul, what would it be?  Here's mine (especially the words I bolded):

Lost and alone on some forgotten highway
Travelled by many, remembered by few
Lookin for something that I can believe in
Lookin for something that I'd like to do with my life

There's nothin behind me and nothin that ties me
To somethin that might have been true yesterday
Tomorrow is open and right now it seems to be more
Than enough to just be there today

And I don't know what the future is holdin in store
I don't know where I'm goin, I'm not sure where I've been
There's a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me
My life is worth the livin, I don't need to see the end

Sweet, sweet surrender
Live, live without care
Like a fish in the water
Like a bird in the air

Monday, October 26, 2009

Burning the Midnight Oil

I love being retired.  I can do whatever I want whenever I want for as long as I want.  (Is that even gramatically correct?)  But I've kind of settled into a semi-schedule for waking and sleeping.  I'm usually asleep by 10 or 10:30PM and awake by 7 or 7:30AM. 

My favorite times of day/night are early, early morning (as long as the sun's up) when it's quiet and peaceful outside and late, late wee hours for the same reason.  But there's no way I can function if I were up both of those times.  So I choose early morning.

However, every odd once in a while, I find myself wide awake and still on the computer.  Tonight is one of those nights.  So I thought just for fun, I'd give you a visual of where I sit and compute while watching TV movies and the activity out my front window.  I can see people leave for work in the morning, go to their mailboxes, leave to walk their dogs, etc.  As long as I can at least see people activity, even if I'm not involved in it, I don't feel alone.  So my den is perfect for doing three things I love all at once.  (P.S.  That's Michael Keaton on the television screen in the older movie, The Paper.  If you haven't seen it, I think you'd like it.  And although that's me Skyping from FL last winter, it's typical of me sitting at home with the laptop...not proud of the look, but hey, it's one of the perks of retirement not to have to get dressed up every day.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Florida or Bust

And let's hope I don't "bust", as I'm debating whether to get my almost-time-for-new-brakes done before I go or while I'm down there, as I surely will need to do it before I make the journey back.  Especially since I plan to drive six hours away to Atlanta to visit my son's family every month I'm there.  I hope I don't kill my car this winter.  She's lasted well, but has over 165,000 miles.

But the rental agreement is signed and I leave on Saturday.  My contract states that I can pay monthly and terminate anytime within the six months I'm originally signed up for.  (Six months was an awfully long period to commit to, so I feel better about it now.)

The past three winters I've spent in Florida have been in the Tampa/Clearwater/St. Pete area, which I really love.  This year I'm experimenting with the Panhandle.  I'm expecting to like the average low-60 degree weather, as long as there's sunshine and not too many days of rain.  One thing I'm eager to see is their "Emerald Coast."  It's known for powder white sand and emerald green waters.  I've seen some exquisite photos Googling "Destin" and "Florida Panhandle" and am hoping reality lives up to the hype!  (Get ready to be blown away when you click on the photo!)

Too Much of a Good Thing...

....never hurt a soul, right?  I swear this is not going to be a blog about nature.  Not that nature isn't a good thing.  I just want to assure you that the topic only happens to be nature lately, well, because it's fall ---and a particularly glorious one at that!

Today we had such warm sunshine and temps in the mid-60's (when they've been 20 degrees below normal for this time of year) that I had to be outside.  And I took my mom along with me this time.  Two hours at Chicago's Botanic Garden passed so quickly. 

Unfortunately, it was the most crowded I'd ever seen it, the mild weather, as well as a Halloween event for the tykes, bringing many people out this afternoon.  But the crowds couldn't detract from the peace we felt walking and sitting in the English Walled Garden, Rose Garden, and Waterfall Garden (the latter being my favorite).  Clicking these photos to enlarge is a must!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

More exciting than the gray and drizzly day we are having.  If it's going to rain, I'd prefer a thunderstorm with lightning.  Then instead of feeling cooped up, you feel warm and cozy and safe inside.

This morning I vowed before leaving the house I would just take a quick peek at email and the temp so I'd know how to dress.  Uh huh.  That was at 8:45.  It is now 2:33.

Good thing I had already showered or I'd be a sad case sitting here.  Though it is one of those days best spent curled up in a blanket with a book (or laptop) and cup of coffee by the window.  And at least I have some pretty fall foliage out my bedroom window to gaze at.

And out the back window....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nature Addiction Part Two

So upon returning to the Prairie State, I've searched out my own little nature walks.  You've already seen the Prairie Path (or at least parts of it from Crystal Lake to Algonquin) in a prior post;  here is Huntley Park.

The walking path encircles the park and weaves through a tiny bit of wooded area on one side.  It's gently hilled and there is a little pond in the center upon which float Canadian geese.

Again, for a much better view, click to enlarge:

I'm Becoming Addicted

to nature walks.  Well, as much nature as you can get in the suburbs. 

This addiction seems to have taken root since I retired and have been spending winters in Florida. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area has many parks, each with distinct and varied features.  My favorite is Lake Seminole Park, with its treed entrance, many different shelters and pond/lake areas, and especially the walking/biking path.  For you nature lovers, click on the virtual tours of the parks at the link and then Philippe Park and Walsingham Park, two more I frequent in the winter.  (Click photos to's worth it!)

Driving in

Lake Seminole

One of the ponds
(Winter '08 under construction)

Another pond

Part of the walking path

Over the River and Through the Woods......

only it's not "to Grandmother's house we go" nowadays.  Since my son and his family have moved, it's Grandmother going to their house.  Which I'll be doing for a week every month once I relocate to Florida for the winter.  In the meantime, to give you a glimpse of what I miss (especially if you aren't aware of my daughter-in-law's courtesy of her):

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This is Suburbia?

It can be a challenge to find somewhere peaceful and pretty to walk in suburbia.  I'm not a fan of stepping out the door just to spend the next hour or so passing house after driveway after yard of a typical suburban neighborhood.  With cars whizzing by.

Luckily, we do have several areas conducive to feeling "one with nature" that I love to frequent.  Today I walked the Prairie Path, which is a paved walking/biking road along a now-defunct railway.  I've not traversed its entirety, but am told it passes through my town up north to Wisconsin and down south as far as Batavia.  And although they don't show up well in these shots, the emerging fall colors were lovely this afternoon (click on photos to enlarge):

It's a great path for biking or walking, stopping to rest, having a picnic lunch, or reading and people-watching!

Searching for a Winter Place

I'm looking for a little Florida place in which to pass the next six months or so.  Chicago's winters can, indeed, become that long.   And it's not that I mind the cold so much (although I do get cabin fever up here).  It's the endless days of grey that really get to me.

But with my budget, it's hard to actually find something on the beach.  I'll probably have to stop looking there and settle for something further inland.  I'm looking for something like this:

With a budget for this:

Grey, grey go away

It has been grey and rainy for weeks here, with only a sprinkling (no pun intended) of sunny days.  Today is one of those sunny days.  At last.

When I retired, I sold a rather large house and opted for a smaller townhouse in the same suburb, and an "in-town" city place for fun.  I love how the sunshine pours in through the windows of my townhouse.  I used to choose homes that had as much north exposure as possible.  Well, I've finally given up the "fear of fading."  My bedroom faces northwest, so I don't have the aggravation of light pouring in before I'm ready to get out of bed, but when I am, it sure is nice to walk around the rest of the place and see this (click on photos to enlarge):