Category Archives: Running

9/11 at 11

We go from here.

When I was growing up my father said this to me when I did something that threw me off stride in my march to adulthood.  No choir boy, I heard it often.

I’m grateful to have been raised by parents born in the 1920’s. Mom and Dad weathered the Great Depression and WWII. “Potato pancakes” was a staple at their supper tables. Mom was a survivor of polio, Dad, bloody combat.  When he was nineteen his platoon was decimated in the Battle of the Bulge, seven soldiers alive at the end, five walking, they carried the other two to a field hospital.  The platoon was filled with replacements and Dad and the others followed Patton across Europe to victory.

We go from here.

My parents experienced suffering in a way few from succeeding American generations have. But that suffering provided a sense of proportion to their daily lives. Far too often now, Americans, as individuals and a country, invoke the term “crisis” to describe things that I’m certain my folks would view as challenges, but not crises.

9/11 was different.

I asked Mom if it was worse than Pearl Harbor.

“Yes,” she said, voice cracking.

I called Dad.  Only months from death, three packs a day of Lucky Strikes taking their toll, he struggled to breathe and his short-term memory was shot. But he understood what happened on 9/11.

“We’ll beat ’em,” he whispered.

We go from here.

A few weeks after 9/11 I drove to West Lafayette, Indiana with three buddies from high school to watch the Illinois-Purdue football game.  I don’t remember who won. I recall a small plane approaching the stadium, a wind-whipped advertising banner in tow. Everyone’s attention went from the game on the field to the plane in the sky.  I realized I’d never hear the approach of an airplane or gaze at its flight path in the same way again.

Ten years passed.

The fall of 2011 I was at the Illinois home game against South Dakota State with a friend I’ve made since 9/11. Two trumpeters played taps and there was a moment of silence. Throughout the game uniformed service men and women, Illinois alums, talked and waved from the big screen on the stadium scoreboard, some holding babies, others taped from overseas posts.

The next morning, the tenth anniversary, I stretched in front of the TV, preparing to run three miles on a quiet Sunday morning.  Relatives of people who were killed on 9/11 read names of victims, ending with their loved one and a brief remembrance of what they meant to them. Tears welled in my eyes.

I ran.

Along the way I waved to friends, neighbors and a local cop on patrol.  I thought of the last decade, years 9/11 victims and their families lost. With rare exception, my wife, Yolanda, and I put our children to bed every night and awoke with them each morning.  We went to piano recitals, soccer games, swim meets, first communions, birthday parties, and high school graduations. Our daughter, Anissa, blossomed into a woman. Our son, Michael, survived a horrific auto accident. The paramedics told us there was a ten percent chance someone survived such a crash in one piece. Our son walked away and, two years later, off to college.  Both my parents died.

I finished my run strong, racing up the final hill to our house.  I snatched a cold bottle of water from the fridge and wandered into the TV room where Yolanda was watching the 9/11 memorials.  Paul Simon sang “Sound of Silence.”

When he finished, Yolanda told me that earlier that day a suicide bomber injured seventy-seven American service men and women at a base in Afghanistan. Five Afghani civilians, including a three-year old girl, were killed.

It’s Sunday, September 9th, 2012, and I open the Champaign News-Gazette to articles about memorial plans for the eleventh anniversary. At the bottom of page one is the headline “On average, U.S. has lost a soldier each day in 2012.” One of the latest casualties was Pfc. Shane W. Cantu, twenty, one year younger than Michael. Cantu was, according to his buddies, a lot like my son, a gregarious guy who lit up every room he entered. Cantu was ten years old on 9/11. In the story, a military historian says Afghanistan has become the “’Who Cares?’ war.”

Ten years, now eleven.

We go from here.

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Filed under 21st Century America, 9/11, Citizen Soldiers, Family, Friends, Greatest Generation, Illinois Football, Newspaper, Running, September 2012, Small town America, World War II

Morning Paper

The older I get the earlier I awake. If the trend continues, I ‘m concerned I might be rising at 4:00 a.m., eating supper by 3:00 p.m. and hitting the hay at 8:00. The jokes about senior citizens early bird dinner specials starting at mid-afternoon taking on a different, more practical meaning to me.

“You know,” I say to my wife, Yolanda, “and I’m not saying we’ll ever do this, but eating early kinda makes sense if you’re startin’ the day before dawn. I mean, think about the pioneers, Ben Franklin, early to bed, early to rise…all that jazz.”

“Iy, vato,” she says, slipping into Spanish when aggravated, “you’re staying awake with me until 10 to watch the news.  I’m not ready to live with an old man.”

Often, around 9:30, I’ll nudge her awake, both of us asleep on the couch and we’ll stumble upstairs to bed. With the hard-earned judgment of a man married for over twenty years, I make no comment about living with an “old woman.”

As was so often the case, Ben Franklin was correct regarding the pluses to rising early. I can write, check email, and take a soul-centering run through my silent, slumbering small town. It also allows time to read the morning paper while drinking a couple of cups of steaming coffee, two practices which Ben would approve. The solitary act of reading the newspaper gives me the chance to consider the news of the day at my pace with no hyperactive news anchors, flashing “ALERTS,” or gold commercials touting the end of the world. (Apparently a lock box filled with precious metal will, according to G. Gordon Liddy, make economic Armageddon more palatable since those of us with gold will yield a profit.)

A newspaper contains none of these distractions. We are in control of the process, interacting with a newspaper in ways we do not with other media. We read what we choose, lingering over an article or ad that catches our attention, scanning past those that do not.  We separate the thin pages with our fingertips, smell the “fresh off the press” scent, hear the snap, crackle, pop as we crisply fold it to the shape we desire.

Of course, not everyone has time to read the paper in the morning or has delivery available. When I lived in downtown Chicago and rode the El to work I purchased the Chicago Sun-Times at a newspaper stand. I chose the Sun-Times not because I thought it was a better paper than the Tribune, but for its tabloid design which made it easier to read on a crowded train. When Yolanda and I lived in Dallas and drove to work, dropping the kids off at daycare along the way, there was no time to read the Dallas Morning News.  Busy with two toddlers up to bed time, we never woke up any earlier than necessary. So I’d read the paper on my lunch break as I munched on a sandwich.

Newspaper readers also have the choice to prioritize sections per individual tastes. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren famously said: “I always turn to the sports page first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

As a sports fan, and a person who grows weary of what seems to be an increasingly dysfunctional world, I enjoy the sports page as well. The Champaign-Urbana based News-Gazette, our daily, has one of the best. But I save sports for last. First, because for me, like Earl Warren, it is the most entertaining and satisfying section so I savor it like dessert. Second, and more practically, Yolanda and I share a love of the morning paper. Since I rise about an hour before her, there is usually no conflict. But to preserve early morning peace I read the hard news, editorial and local sections before she comes downstairs. These are Yolanda’s favorites and she pours over them like she’s preparing for the bar exam, mumbling in Spanish when, you guessed it, she disagrees with a point of view offered in a column or editorial.

The other section I make sure to look through is the obituaries. Some may think this macabre, but for me the obits are similar to the sport section because they highlight an individual’s accomplishments. Even more so, they provide insight into the deceased’s life by recording lineage, loves, and passions. This is particularly interesting when the individual has lived a long and productive life. The list of parents, spouse, children and siblings go on for paragraphs followed by the place of birth and a recounting of a life from childhood to death. Even in the tragedy of a life cut short, there is always a paragraph or two about the individual’s love of family, friends, music, reading, model trains, doll houses, school or any number of passions. You certainly will never learn such personal things by listening to brief obits on the local radio station.

No, it is only the newspaper which gives us the breadth and depth of coverage we need to digest local, national and international events. From coverage of local bake sales to the machinations of an international economy, from high school softball scores to the Olympics, from the death of a fellow you knew as Frederick, but his friends called “Spud,” the newspaper covers it all.

Most importantly, for an “old man” like me, I don’t have to stay up until 10:00 p.m. to learn about it all.

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Filed under 21st Century America, Family, Newspaper, October 2011, Running, Small town America, Sports page

Fifty-Fifty

“When you turn fifty,” one of my friends told me on my birthday two weeks ago, “you have more days behind you than ahead. That’s the reality, not fifty-fifty like some people like to think.”

And “Happy Birthday” to you too.

While he might have saved that Eeyore like insight for another day, my friend is correct.  The odds of a 50-year-old living to 100 are 1 in 37.  Although my paternal grandmother made it to ninety-seven and my father might have lived just as long were it not for a three pack a day smoking habit (the genes on that side of the family are stout) it is doubtful I will see my 100th birthday.  Although I share those genes and my mother lived into her early 80’s, from an actuarial perspective, it’s unlikely. That’s nothing to beat myself up about.  Not too many folks become centenarians.  Certainly I try to take care of myself. I am no longer much of a drinker, but I’ve had more than my share of booze over the years, like to smoke a cigar a couple times a month and other than a bowl of oatmeal each morning I eat whatever I feel like.  Not thinking that adds up to a 100 year life span.

So I concede my friend’s point. The end is closer than the beginning. Perhaps that is why, at fifty, we tend to take stock of ourselves more than other milestone birthdays.

On the plus side, I am very much in love with my wife, have two great kids, enjoy my day job and the people I work with and am able to express my creativity through writing. I enjoy good relations with my brothers, sisters, in-laws and have a wealth of friends, fellow parishioners and neighbors.  I live in a small town that allows me to not have to get in a car every time I want to do something. I walk to work, church, the post office and the American Legion for the occasional whiskey shot and cold beer. Once in a while after Saturday night Mass I combine my taste for booze, ability to walk and the practicing of my faith and stop at the Legion for a drink on the way home. How nice is that?

Physically, I’m in good shape.  At 6-2 and 180, I’m where I need to be height and weight wise. However, I have a cranky back as the result of an injury in my mid-thirties which caused two bulging discs to press on my sciatic nerve and caused considerable pain. Through physical therapy I avoided surgery and have had minimal problems since.  Last  year I was diagnosed with early stages of hip impingement (the ball joint of my leg is rubbing against the socket and will likely require surgery in the future.) It causes stiffness, not pain, and I do exercises every day to strengthen my abdominal and upper leg muscles, thus relieving the stress on the joints.  Every third day, I run three miles at an eight and a half-minute per mile pace. Certainly not fast enough to win my age group in a 5k, but better than most 50-year-old males I suspect.

As for stress, I confess to a lesser amount now that both kids are in college. Out of sight, out of mind in regard to worrying about them certainly holds true.  That, and the fact that my wife, Yolanda, and I know they are where they should be at this stage of their lives and are happy, makes for content parents. Probably my biggest concern is in regard to this country’s economic future. A concern that many folks carry these days.  While I’m employed with an income that provides for my family’s needs, I come in contact with hard-working people every day who cannot say the same. Economic well-being is not something I ever, or have ever, taken for granted, but what disturbs me about our current state of affairs is the lack of confidence in the future.  I have not encountered this among folks from so many walks of life as I have the last few years.

I wonder myself what life may be like when Yolanda and I can no longer work and our bodies start to fail us.  It seems that every time you pick up the paper another societal institution is crumbling down upon the individuals who supported it. Our national psyche is unsettled, too many Americans are living in fear, and without a dramatic change in the near future this may become what some economic forecasters call the “new normal.” If so, who wants to live to be 100 anyway?

That all said, I sleep well at night. Perhaps it’s because I was raised by two people who survived the Great Depression and WWII and they taught me to take care of what I can, turn the rest over to God and do my best to enjoy the day.  Let’s face it, life is a crapshoot.  How we all happened to be here to begin with still a subject of debate.

So, in response to my friend, yeah, I’m no actuary, but  I get it.  Sure, it’s unlikely that I will make 100  But as I sit  here on my screen porch with our Sheltie, Sammy, I’m OK with that.  The sun is shining and a soft breeze is blowing as I write. With rustling fall leaves signalling their approach, a friend and his three-year-old son, our God son, walk by and wave.  They’ll be over for supper later. I’ve got a pork roast in the smoker and Yolanda is making potato salad.  We’ll visit, eat, have a couple of beers, Yolanda will play in the leaves with our God son and we’ll watch the sunset on the screen porch.

Like everybody else, I have no idea what the future holds or whether I’ve lived more days on this earth than not. But in this moment, in this place,  I do know the odds that today is going to be a great day are better than fifty-fifty.  That’s good enough for me.

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Filed under 21st Century America, 50th Birthday, 5K Races, Baby Boomers, Economics, Family, Friends, Greatest Generation, Institutions, October 2011, Running

“We go from here”

We go from here.

When I was growing up my father said this to me when something occurred that threw me off stride in my march to adulthood.  No choir boy, I heard it often.

I’m grateful to have been raised by parents born in the 1920’s. Mom and Dad weathered the Great Depression, “potato pancakes” a staple at both their supper tables, and WWII.  Mom was a survivor of polio, Dad, bloody combat.  When he was nineteen his platoon was decimated in the Battle of the Bulge.  Seven soldiers alive at the end, five walking, they carried the other two to a field hospital.  The platoon was filled with replacements and Dad and the others followed Patton across Europe to victory.

We go from here.

My parents experienced suffering in a way few from succeeding American generations have.  But that suffering provided a sense of proportion to their every day lives which I find lacking in America today.  Far too often as individuals and as a country we invoke the term “crisis” to describe things that I’m certain my folks would view as challenges, but certainly not rising to the level of an emergency.

9/11 was different.

I remember asking Mom if it was worse than Pearl Harbor.

“Yes,” she said, voice cracking.

I called Dad.  A few months from death himself, he struggled to breathe and his short-term memory was shot. But he was aware of what occurred.

“We’ll beat ’em,” he whispered.

A few weeks after 9/11 I drove to West Lafayette, Indiana with three buddies from high school to watch the Illinois-Purdue football game.  I don’t remember who won. I recall a small plane approaching the stadium, an advertising banner trailing behind.  My attention went from the game on the field to the plane in the sky.  I realized I’d never hear the approach of an airplane or gaze at its flight path in the same way again.

Ten years pass.

Yesterday I’m at the Illinois home game against South Dakota State with a friend I’ve made since 9/11.  Two trumpeters play taps and there is a moment of  silence. Throughout the game uniformed service men and women, Illinois alums, talk and wave from the big screen on the stadium scoreboard, some holding babies, others taped from their posts overseas.

This morning I stretch in front of the TV, preparing to run three miles on a quiet Sunday morning.  Relatives of people who lost their lives on 9/11 read off the names of the victims, ending with their loved one and a brief remembrance of what they meant to them.  Tears well in my eyes.  I go run.

Along the way I wave to friends, neighbors and a local cop on patrol.  I think of the last ten years.  With rare exception, my wife, Yolanda, and I put our children to bed every night and awoke with them each morning.  We went to piano recitals, soccer games, swim meets, first communions, birth day parties, and high school graduations. Our daughter is now blossoming as a college freshman.  Our son, having survived a horrific auto accident (the paramedics told us there was a one in ten chance someone walks away from such a crash — our son walked away) is halfway through college and making plans to live in Taiwan after graduation.  Both my parents passed but remain a presence, a gift I will cherish until my final day.

I finish my run strong, racing up the final hill to our house.  I snatch a cold bottle of water Yolanda put in the fridge for me the night before and wander into the TV room where she is watching the 9/11 memorials.  Paul Simon sings “Sound of Silence.” Tears well in the eyes of the people in the crowd.

When he finishes, Yolanda tells me that earlier today a suicide bomber injured seventy-seven American service men and women at a base in Afghanistan. Five Afghani civilians, including a three-year old girl, were killed.

We go from here.

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Filed under 9/11, Family, Football, Friends, Greatest Generation, Illinois Football, Running

Setting the Right Pace at the Hoopeston Sweetcorn Festival

Things are hopping in the usually slow-paced Hoopeston, Illinois, also known as the “Sweetcorn Capital of the World” (confirmed by the town water tower for the skeptics among you.)

It’s Labor Day weekend and the annual Sweetcorn Festival is in full swing.  Beginning on Thursday, the local park morphs into a carnival complete with rides, barkers, fleemarkets, tractor pulls, demolition derby, a beer tent, classic car show and live entertainment.  (Elvis looks and sounds great by the way.  At least the three from last year did.) Beauty queens buzz around town, thirty plus young women, runner ups in their state Miss America contest, they travel to Hoopeston to participate in the National Sweetheart Pageant.  It’s no minor event on the pageant circuit as seven former winners have gone on to become Miss America.

By Friday night empty lawn chairs line the curbs of Main Street as locals stake their claim to shady areas from which to watch the Saturday morning parade. Perched on the back of classic convertibles the sweating, ball gowned beauty queens force smiles and wave.  High school bands, drumline thundering, blast away.  Clydesdales and politicians hoof by, leaving you know what in their wake.  To be fair, the pols do toss out candy, especially in election years.  The Shriners zoom along in tiny cars, completing a synchronized figure eight every few blocks, the crowd cheering.

For the more health conscious, or at least those who want to offset the sweetcorn, tacos, strawberry shakeups and funnel cakes, there is the Bill Orr Memorial Sweetcorn 5K Classic.  Bill was a friendly, full-faced fellow who always called me “Pem” and was quick to buy me a beer when we ran into each other at the American Legion.  He was a local funeral home owner and organized the race for years before passing away.  Naming the race in Bill’s memory was automatic and unanimous.

The start and finish line is two blocks from our house and early Saturday morning my wife, Yolanda, and I, amble over to register and line up for the start.  We reminisce about Bill as we walk — “House looks good, Pem,” he’d holler when strolling by on a summer evening, Yolanda and I sitting on the screened porch.

Like most 5K runs there is a mix of people.  The top runners are already running, getting in a mile or two warm up so they can break from the gate at full speed.  Male or female, they sport racing shorts, mesh tank tops and black wrist watches to track their pace.   They will post times in the mid-teens for the 3.2 mile run.

There are gals and guys like my wife and I, wearing loose-fitting grey or black cotton gym shorts from Wal-Mart and t-shirts bought on vacation, sleeves chopped off at the shoulder.  Mine says “Emerald Isle, North Carolina.”  A fellow, whom I’ve never met from a neighboring town, stops and asks me when I was there.  We talk about Hurricane Irene and hope the best for the Carolinians who weathered the storm. Yolanda and a local farmer talk about the tomatoes he gave her to make salsa.  She canned them and gave him some jars “extra hot” the way he prefers.

Plenty of kids under twelve, escorted by parents, mill about.  They do not stretch or run warm up miles.  Loose as the proverbial goose, they chatter away with mom or dad.  When the race starts some take off like rockets.  Their parents catch up and slow them down.  The kids settle in for the long run.

Yolanda and I separate.  She is a walker and retreats to the back of the pack.  I position myself about halfway in, not wanting to get in the way of any serious runners (or stampeded by eager kids.)   As I run the first section of the race the mayor gives me a wave, he’s stopping traffic at a corner, as does a friend who works at the post office who is monitoring another intersection.  A local cop hollers at me: “Yolanda’s gonna catch you if you keep up that pace, Mike.”

I am off to a slow start, running a 9:15 first mile.  It’s hot and humid and I debate whether I want to put forth the effort to make up the lost time.  I hit the two-mile mark in 18 minutes, shaving 30 seconds off the second mile, but I remind myself there is a hill at the end of the course.  Feeling good, I pick up the pace and run side-by-side with a father and daughter.

“How old are you,” I ask the girl.

“Seven,” she says.

“Wow, you’re doing great.”

“And she loves it,” her dad says.

“I hate it, Dad,” she says with a roll of her eyes.

But the look she gives me as I go by reveals the heart of a competitor. I don’t think she’ll let me pass her next year.

I hit the final hill at a good clip (for me) and run hard toward the finish line.  It’s not Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, but for a few seconds I run as hard as I can and revel in the feeling.

“Go Mike,” someone hollers from the crowd gathered around the finish line.

“Way to go, Mr. Pemberton,” a young voice shouts.

I hit the finish line at 28 minutes and change.

Too slow, I think to myself.

I visit with folks, chug ice water and munch on fresh watermelon and cantaloupe slices supplied by the race organizers.  Bill would be pleased with their work.

Yolanda finishes and we touch base with more people before walking home, reviewing the race and hoping for cooler weather next year.  As we do, I think about my 5K  time and our small town.

And I know, I’m running the race at just the right pace.

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Filed under 5K Races, Family, Friends, Running, September 2011