AMDG

Busted bracket? Try broken heart

COLGATE BEAT UMBC BY FIVE POINTS. Last November.

When my dad died in December, people said, it must be so hard during the holidays. The truth is that I have a hard time at the holidays anyway. No, it’s THIS time of year, college basketball season and it’s culmination, March Madness, that is the hardest without my dad. My dad loved college basketball. It was his way of operating.

  • Ties to marriage? Who else would take his wife to the Final Four for their 25th wedding anniversary.
  • Ties to alma mater? He loved supporting Colgate basketball, through thick and thin.
  • Ties to law school? My parents were Georgetown season ticket holders for over 20 years-I grew up with Jack the Bulldog, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning.
  • Ties to the workplace? For as long as I can remember, my dad ran the March Madness office pool. But to be clear, he never grasped technology or how to operate a word document, so he always needed help. But he always scored the pool with his patented method of scoring, by hand.
  • And ties to his younger daughter? In elementary school, he coached my basketball team.

As a result, so many of my “Dad memories” are basketball stories. These are the ones I’ve been thinking about the most recently.

1. THE JEG MARCH MADNESS POOL

In the pre-internet dark ages, we had some kind of pool administration software on our home computer that my dad definitely did not know how to use. It was my first data input job–he would read and I would enter. In those days, he got home late from work so by the time we sat down to get started it was already past my bedtime. I was like 10 or 12 years old and even though I would have to get up and go to school the next morning, JEG didn’t care because, “WE HAFTA GET THE PICKS IN!” furiously scratching his head and gritting his teeth. Luckily, with practice, we became efficient (e.g. “Duke five times”) and I could do my part half-asleep. Then he would make me wait up at night for final scores so he could bring in the most up-to-date rankings to post at Carolyn’s desk (his secretary) the next day at work.  

In 2015, my dad recruited a new commissioner-in-training (but what he really needed was me, his retirement secretary, back to help him). We were never under the same roof to do our pool administration, but we didn’t have to be, because of FaceTime (which he struggled to operate).

We didn’t know last year would be my dad’s final pool. He won. He won his own pool the last year he played. What poetry.

Maybe inappropriate at someone else’s funeral, but for my dad it was totally befitting to discuss the transition plan of his pool at the wake. Paw Power, who worked with my dad back in the pre-internet ages when he was a young lawyer, has taken over the pool and brought it into the 21st century which makes a helluva lot of sense.

2. THE PATRIOT LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP: HOME COURT ADVANTAGE AND ARENA ENVY

About the time I was in middle school, I got to know Colgate basketball. We started going to more games.  We showed up early for the pre-game reception and stuck around afterwards for the post-game reception (these were the Jack Bruen days, after all). Prior to American joining the Patriot League, Navy was the closest game to home, so we often went to the Colgate-Navy game, and during those years, Navy was our big rival. I also remember traveling with my dad on the weekends to other Patriot League schools like Lehigh and Lafayette. But whenever we went to Alumni Hall at Navy, my dad would say how Colgate needs such a nice arena. Like a moth to a flame, you could just count the moments until he would say, “Colgate NEEDS a place like this!”

It was a nice arena but it was not always a fun time–oh the stress and anxiety of those car rides to and from Annapolis! During the games, Mark, the AD, and his friend Big Red would pace around the concourse (they were different days indeed). I remember the two most important games of that period though–the 1994 Patriot League Championship at Navy, when Colgate lost and also the 1995 Patriot League Championship at Colgate, when my dad took me out of school to drive to Hamilton with him, and we beat Navy. It was awesome. It was Colgate’s first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. It’s like there is something to be said for home court advantage. And I remember thinking, this place is so packed we are definitely violating fire code because I am sitting in the now non-existent aisle of the bleachers. But I was so glad that I was there to see that game. 

Imagine my surprise to find Colgate in the Patriot League Championship this year. Really, God? Really.

So off we went–over the river and through the wood from Texas to Bucknell with our two kids, carrying tradition, questionable parenting, and my dad with us.

In the intervening years, Bucknell also built an arena, which my dad coveted. “It looks so good on TV” he said. Here’s what I can tell you from my first visit to Bucknell–there is real benefit in home court advantage. The game was not pretty. Towards the end of the first half, I pulled a Mark/Big Red move, and went to circle the concourse with my baby girl. Nostalgia–it makes you do crazy things.

3. “THEY DON’T PLAY LIKE THAT ANYMORE” 

I kept playing basketball throughout middle school and started going to Mason Dixon summer basketball camp.

The WHOLE REASON my parents sent me to the girls basketball camp, run by the nobody Mount Saint Mary’s women’s basketball coach, and having nothing else in common with the boys camp than the name, location and girlfriend later wife of one of Jack’s former assistants, is because Jack, the Colgate coach, worked the boys camp. I’m serious. 

The boys camp is a big deal. It’s Morgan Wooten’s camp. From 1956 to 2002, Wooten coached at DeMatha, a boys Catholic high school in Maryland, which is a basketball powerhouse. In the 1960’s, his team beat Lew Alcindor and his team from Power Memorial in NYC (also Catholic, also basketball powerhouse). Jack also played on that Power Memorial team and later coached with Wooten at DeMatha before going on to coach at Catholic University, then Colgate, but throughout, Jack always worked Mason Dixon boys basketball camp. 

But this is forever the difference–Jack was a product of this old school, Catholic, DC/NYC men’s basketball legendary history and sub-culture. I am so not a part of it–I’m over at the girls basketball camp. But my dad loved Jack and relished these stories. 

His is also a dying breed. Jack coached a different brand of basketball from the way they play today (for better or for worse). As Hubbs (another late great Colgate) described Jack’s style, “At its best, it was a style that reflected the coach: scrappy, relentless, street tough but disciplined, cunning.”

They don’t play like that anymore. The loss at Bucknell was definitely tough to take. Home court advantage is one thing but being bad winners is another–and Jack never would have let that shit go on. A favorite of his, “they are like school on Saturday–NO CLASS.” But they don’t play like that anymore. And then he would have said some other things, too. I was far too happy to watch Bucknell lose their NCAA First Round game last weekend and for #23, the Patriot League Player of the Year, to foul out of his final collegiate game. Happy trails. Don’t let the door hit you.

4. JB + JG ON THE HILL 

The next time I remember driving to Colgate with my dad (yes, he probably took me out of school), was in 10th grade for an early-season game. Jack had been diagnosed with cancer (Playing for JB). The man that came out of the locker room was a shadow of himself. It was the last game he coached. I am so glad I was there to see that game. He died six days later. We went back to Colgate for the funeral. I remember every moment of that trip–how can you forget walking up the unpaved road to the cemetery in heels in the snow, feet wet, cold and slipping. This was also the last year I played organized basketball. 

As I’ve said, Little Miss and I went home the first weekend of December to visit my family. My dad died six days later–9 days after the 35th anniversary of his brother’s death and 9 days short of the 20th anniversary of Jack’s death. The Irish don’t believe in the funeral yielding to the wedding–Jack’s widow bailed on a wedding to be at my dad’s funeral. In the same way the team wore “JB” patches the season he died, the team had “JG” patches this year (no shamrock). In June, over Reunion weekend, he will also be buried at Colgate. Hopefully there won’t be any snow.

5. DENOUEMENT

My dad helped T and I get tickets last year, when we went to our FIRST Final Four.

It’s bittersweet and far too convenient that it is in our backyard this year. My sister is coming. We are going. Where else would we be the first Easter after our father’s death?

In the meantime, who sits at the top of the rankings in the pool? My dad. We submitted a bracket with his sentimental favorite picks and I’m not kidding it looks like he may win from beyond the (soon forthcoming) grave. So look at that. Maybe nostalgia gets you more than basketball memories and a broken heart in March.

AMDG

Six nights later

Spontaneous trip home this week. First time traveling with both kids. What a production. We’ve been busy since arriving late Monday night, preparing for today–the day of my father’s funeral and (what also became) our daughter’s baptism.

Little Miss and I were home just two weeks ago–my dad met her for the first time, my dad and I had some good conversations and when it came time to leave on Sunday, we had a good hug. I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see him. We went home, I had a shitty week, and then I got a phone call last Sunday that he passed away. He has been sick for a long time but we will never know how he actually died. I now know what people mean when they say, “I hope it was peacefully.”

So we spent this week: hurrying to get home, lining up the dates and times of visiting hours and funeral mass, securing a reception location, emailing/talking/visiting/texting with friends and family, riding the metro downtown to get the printed parking permit signs (but mostly for the benefit of OJ), meeting with the church, assembling and writing different pieces for the mass, spending time with family who arrived from out of town, and if I am honest, mostly ignoring my husband, our children and their needs. And feeling no confidence to explain death to a three-year-old.

Oh yeah, and it SNOWED–that’s SO Colgate (but SO NOT prepared for that).

Luckily, we have many wonderful family and friends around us, so we have like a bajillion jackets and warm things to keep the children warm and learning toys, board books and “big kid” books to keep the children occupied. The adults don’t have time to be cold.

After meeting with the church on Thursday, however, I immediately began looking forward to Saturday. First, I love spending time at Holy Trinity–we may no longer live here, but HT will be my spiritual home forever. Second, the readings and song selections were kind of a no-brainer so we got to spend time during our mass planning meeting talking about my dad, our memories at HT, and choreographing the coupling of funeral and baptism.

When we baptized OJ three years ago (which was the last time we were all together at HT), it was the same January weekend as my grandmother’s birthday. This past year, OJ and I came home for my grandmother’s 90th birthday, which happened to coincide with the inauguration/women’s march where Gloria Steinem said, “no more asking daddy!” That was the last time OJ saw my dad in person.

So we had planned to baptize Little Miss on that same January weekend, next month. However since we are here, being practical, I asked the people at Holy Trinity if we could do the baptism while we are in town. They agreed and suggested we do the funeral and baptism on the same day.

During our mass planning meeting, we were trying to figure out the logistics of doing both rites–do we move from church to chapel or do we start the baptism after the funeral concludes (but wait for people to leave if they don’t want to stay for the baptism)?

None of the above.

We let the LITURGY drive the decision and do the baptism right in the middle of the funeral.

But stick with me–to Catholics, it makes sacramental sense. Baptism and funeral are the two most interconnected sacraments, according to the Irish nun in SATX who taught the baptism class I attended (my SECOND in three years because the first had “expired”). In baptism we are given the pledge of eternal life. Birth and death, circle of life.

A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans 6:3-9

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. 

Last night we had visiting hours at the funeral home with an open casket–my dad obviously did not look himself, which is a hard thing to forget. We saw many, many people from my dad’s life, but I was most surprised to see some of the girls from my basketball team that he coached when I was in grade school. He always said that coaching our team was his greatest lesson about girls and women.

I think of myself as an extrovert and I really did enjoy talking to so many people, catching up with old friends, and organizing a transition plan for the management of my dad’s NCAA March Madness pool, but geez, by the end of it, I was OUT OF GAS. It was a really late night for everyone, but especially the babies. That’s okay–you can get up early in the morning to get four people fed and dressed and out the door by 9:00am.

Today was the funeral mass and reception–he will be buried once the ground thaws at Colgate. For so many reasons, today was beautiful. Sad, but beautiful.

I’m leaving the sad aside. On the topic of beautiful, we celebrated this sweet girl. Today my dad and my daughter were blessed with the same water, she wearing the family christening gown, which became the family gown when my dad wore it in 1945 at his baptism.

Over the past several months, my dad made goals to keep hope alive–he said he wanted to be at Little Miss’s baptism. So at her baptism, he shall be.

What you don’t see in the video is OJ trying to snot-rocket boogers onto my sister, his godmother. How charming. But I know this would actually amuse my dad and make him laugh, and then he would remind me that I largely ignored OJ all week and kept him out way too late the night before.

Before we left HT for the reception (at Chef Geoff’s no less! So appropriate as my father planned many a pre-game Colgate at American basketball receptions there) we snapped a family photo at a bench beside the chapel, documenting the evolution of our family at my spiritual home, from our wedding through two baptisms. One of the blog posts writing itself in my head is about The Colgate Thirteen. I have lots to say (and SO MANY QUESTIONS) about this all-male acapella singing group. Lots.

But one of the things my dad always found annoying was that his reunion coincided with the reunion of The Colgate Thirteen. For example, Cousin C (#7) and I (#8) both remember my dad’s 25th reunion in 1992–it was also the Thirteen’s 50th reunion. Over that weekend, on Friday night in the chapel my dad received an award and Saturday night, C and I both remember sitting upstairs in the chapel for the marathon concert that is the Thirteen Reunion Tribute. Impressionable young things we were. This past summer, when my dad was celebrating his 50th Colgate Reunion (he delayed his stem cell transplant to attend), the Thirteen staged their concert, but unlike 1992, the concert was webcast. I watched it live on the computer all the way from Texas because I was pregnant and home alone for the weekend. Even though I wasn’t there in person, I have to say I enjoyed it nevertheless because some songs can evoke such strong emotional responses or memories. For example, Alex Houston singing, Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye. What. VOICE.

But to today–there were several Colgate alumni in attendance, Naturally, but the most wonderful surprise is that after my dad’s casket was out of the church and the recessional song concluded, three members of The Colgate Thirteen in attendance began to sing the Alma Mater.

…When through thy valley, 
Fair Chenango twilight falls, 
Bringing its silence 
To our college halls…

The church stopped. Time stopped.

…In that happy moment, 
Love for Alma Mater swells, 
And the heart outpouring, 
Of her glory tells…

Other voices joined. And there was only singing.

Colgate, Alma Mater, 
Fairest theme of all our lays! 
Colgate! Alma Mater, 
Ever blest, thy days. 

I found out later that my mom had the idea to ask these guys before mass if they would do it. She put them up to it! But I think they were in no position to refuse her (maybe she knew that?). She said she had the idea when she was awake at 4:00am, but maybe the HT funeral guidelines gave her the idea, “Because a funeral is an act of worship, only sacred music is appropriate. This excludes the use of popular music, show tunes, and, often, patriotic music”. For our family, our name and Colgate are synonymous, owing 1,000% to my dad, so this was a special moment, singing our own brand of sacred music. Don’t worry–we can reprise in the chapel at Colgate at Reunion when he is buried (but it won’t nearly be the same).

*note: following more sleep, this post was edited from the original version

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