These are the thoughts of a Texas transplant in West Michigan who makes his living as a newspaper reporter by evening, and a struggling novelist by day.

Friday, January 26, 2007

not the news i wanted to hear

it's a day after my cell phone rang and my brother was on the other end with news of my dad's operation.

i knew the news wasn't good even before i flipped open my cell phone. it was shortly after noon here and i expected to hear from them around mid-afternoon because the surgery was going to take about six hours. as soon as the phone began to ring and i made my way upstairs, i knew the news was bad.

my brother uttered a few words but he couldn't say much. he handed the phone over to his wife who told me what happened.

this info. is based on what i heard yesterday and again today from my sister.

they went in and took a sample of his liver, the good part i'm assuming. after looking at it, they determined that it was heavily scarred. i'm thinking it is scarred from all of the chemo he took. they said it was the heavy chemo from early on. it turns out that docs have encountered situations like this before and the alternative to go ahead with the surgery is negative; the patient ends up dying on the table. the liver can't sustain the operation, the stress of it and it gives out and the patient dies. so they closed up my dad and decided that he could live longer if they didn't operate.

the news wasn't shocking this time around as it was back in sept. and my brain already new that an early call is not a good call.

my dad is in OK spirits, as good as can be expected, anyway. he's accepted the situation and said that perhaps this will make him and everyone else stronger and more united. wow, whaat a way t look at it. he could have gone the route of depression or anger; instead, he's calm and has accepted. my mother appears the same. but she doesn't really show emotion in this case; i haven't seen her or heard her cry about this in a very long time.

i was glad both my siblings were able to go and be there during this time with my mom. it means a lot.

the course of action will change for my father. he will go back to chemo but only after two months' rest from it. i don't know the facts of how much and how often or what type of chemo. that is something i will have to find out in the next few days.

what a week. what a week.

Monday, January 22, 2007

the pebbles

the past few weeks i've seen several movies taht have caused me to tear up. it's strange because movies never did that to me.

i watched "dances with wolves" again and once more it happened. it's tought o watch the stupid soldiers kill two socks, a needless killing. then it's heartbreaking to hear winds in his hair admit his friendship to the lieutenant. the other week i watched "field of dreams." this movie isn't as bad as "wolves" but it does have its moments. for me it's when he sees his father dressed up and ready to play at the end, then they finish up by playing catch. it's a heartwarming scene that can take any kid back to when they were a kid.

well, that did get thinking of when i was a kid and how my dad would sometimes play catch or toss a football with us. it comes back more these days knowing my dad will once again have an operation to remove a large portion of his liver thursday. it seems this time it's a go and so i hope all does turn out and it can be removed and then we'll see where things go from there.

then last week i was talking to a coworker and she told me about this author coming to town and how he used to imagine diseases his parents getting (when he was young), perhaps as a defense mechanism in case something did happen.

immediately, i dashed back more than 25 years and saw a kid doing a similar thing, although no disease was involved.

as a child i was terrifed of losing my parents in some way or another. it was me and my brother, but he was younger than me. and we wouldn't be alone because we had lots of relatives to take care of us. however, it scared me to think i could lose them in someting like a car crash.

so, i didn't like them going out together, alone. it didn't matter if we (all four of us) were in the car, but not the two of them alone.

as my coworker talked about this author, i was transported back one day wheni was a wee lad and was outside my aunt's house. she lived next door to us. my parents had gone out and i was outside by the long, concrete and gravel porch, sitting on the steps, looking longingly toward the dirt road, waiting for the sound of a car and my heart would race until i saw it and then everything would be fine.

in the meantime, i decided to prevent, yes prevent, anything fromhappening to them. i looked around and saw the side of the two-foot high porch was covered in smal pebbles embedded into the concrete. i walked over to them and pulled at one. it came out easily.

then my young, innocent and had a brilliant idea. i would protect them by pulling out as many pebbles as they were old. so if my dad was 40, i'd pull out 40 pebbles and do likewise for my mom.

i set to work on this task as the sun began to lower on the west behind the house. i would pull out a pebble and put it on top of the porch. i recall panicking that i wouldn't reach the number of pebbles i needed.

but i did find the amount. and as a kid, finding 40 pebbles seems like a lifetime. plus, finding an almost equal amount for my mom was tough. i think i found much more pebbles than i needed, which was fine by me. i don't recall the number.

and my parents made it fine that day to my obvious delight. and they've made it fine every time.

i hope my dad makes it fine this week and i hope in the back of my mind that that day as a silly little kid that i plucked 80 plus pebbles for my dad.

calls abut stories i've written

interesting message left on my answering machine tonight. i was showering and dawn was asleep. she barely heard the phone ring. later she woke up and said somebody's called.

i checked the machine and it was diane daniels from channel 3. she wondered if i could help out with some info. on the shooting from the day before. the tv news stations didn't really get anything until sunday night (tv 8 talked to the two people i didn't talk to last night taht were at the house).

i thought it was interesting that chennel 3 would call me for something like that. i wondedr if they read the story and then decided to go through the phone book to track me down? who knows.

would i have helped her if i'd gotten to the call? yeah, i guess so. i mean, i already had the story for sunday's paper and we had a folo for monday, but the info they would have wanted we already had in print sunday. but it didn't quite work out. still, i have to wonder how they got my number. i'm not even sure i'm listed in the book with my full name. let me see...well, i guess through aprocess of elimination, they would have gotten it.

so that got me thinkig about who reads the paper, my stories and my name in print. no, not a glory ting, actually. it's more of a scary thing. i got to thinkin that these folks in kalamazoo read my article, possibly critiqued it, hopefully not laughed at it.

that got me thinking of other calls i've received in the past concerning other stories i've written. some are interesting, on is very weird and a little scary.

i did get a call about a year and a half ago after i wrote an article on pumpkin seed spitting in zeeland. this woman from indiana called me and wanted to know more details, thoughtit might be interesting for her kids, or students to try in a contest.

i received a phone call from this woman in ohio who was dating a man who was lost at sea (lake) back in 1980. i did a 25 anniversary on it and she contacted me. she said a couple from the area sent her the article i'd written on it. she'd met the couple years ago and she gave them her card (she's an attorney) and told them whenever anything came up on the boat and the men who were on it, to call her.

one topic drew attention with both e-mails and a phone call. i'd written a piece on the ku klux klan in michigan. it was a work two professors had made. i got an e-mail from a college student in the northeast somewhere asking me for direction to the profs. i also got a phone call from a teacher from the east side of the state wanting to know if her students could attend a lecture or documentary on the klan.

than, one night, my phone rings and i get this call from a high ranking official of the klan in arkansas. i'm chatting with this guy for something like 30 minutes. i asked him if he wouldn't mind talking to the profs about the documentary and about the klan. he refused, saying he'd only be ridiculed and let have his peace. he was not threatening, though, it was pretty intense nonetheless. i didn't hear from him again.

and so those are a few of the calls i've received. i'm sure there are more but i can't recall them.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

the shooting

my quiet evening at home got turned upside down just after 6 when jim h. called me. he said there had been a shooting earlier in the day in one of the townships. dawn wasn't home so i couldn't get out. but after calling one of the photogs, i taggd along.

jim. h. was going to be satisfied with an eight-inch story, using cop line stuff and what i could possibly get from neighbors. usually it's almost futile to get info. from the neighbors because they want to stay out of it. so on the way there, i asked for a little karma to go my way and wished for the best.

all i knew was a 14-year-old boy was shot and killed in a house by a 17 year old. the older boy was in custody. i knew nothing else.

we arrive and cops are still at the scene, even though it's nearly five hours later. the area is cordoned off with yellow tape. it's dark, cold and a blanket of snow covers every front yard.

one of the patrolman comes up to me as i'm walking up and i identify myself. he asks the lt. in charge (who's back at the office) and the lt. said to call him for whatever info he can provide. i ask if it's Ok to chat with neighbors. he says fine.

so i'm walking around trying to get a feel for the neighborhood. no one's out. most houses are dark with the exception of still put-up christmas lights. one attempt fails and only produces to awaken a dog inside and the security light to turn on. another one, i can't even reach the door because i can't find the way up with all the snow.

i finally get a teen who says he was staying across the street, but he didn't know the boy who was shot. still, i figure it's better than nothing and it's another source, so i might be able to pull off the eigh inches needed.

walking back, the photog says there's a man looking out of a window from a house i had just pointed out. i made my way up the walk and after i knocked, the door was opened.

i was greeted by a young girl, an older man and several large dogs who wanted to lick me. tey were sent away and i explained who i was. i couldn't believe my luck.

it turns out the sister, girlfriend best friend and a cousin of the boy who was shot were in the back room mourning. they said i could go back there and talk to them.

i made my way to what looked like a small indoor porch that was separated from the house bya sliding glass door. i hunkered down and started chatting with them as they cried.

i wasn't so aaffected by it as i was earlier in the week when dennis and i had to attend a memorial type service for a 13 year old who'd died in a car crash. that was really, really tough. but then it had been in the news for a few days and he, his younger sister and father all lost their lives.

here, this was an equally sad situation where a boy had died in a house across the street from where i was talking to his sister and girlfriend. but it was different. i don't know if t was because i was so surprised that i got to talk to relatives of the boy. usually family doesn't want to talk to the media so soon after a death.

i genuinely felt bad for them. i can't imagine losing a sibling through those kinds of circumstances and then having to sit there and talk to a total stranger about what might have happened and what kind of a person my brother was.

i got info and managed to put somewhat of a face to the name by a few details. the hotog made his way inside, tired of waiting out in the cold, i guess, and he managed some poignant shots of the kids huddled together. it made for a better picture for the story than a picture of the exterior of the home where the boy was shot.

and so it was done and we went back to the office and i hashed it out after the lt. called me with more info. that made the story much more solid with the smal, added details from the lt.

rest in peace felipe.