Jordan at 30

SMU jordan

Jordan flashes a big smile after receiving his diploma during commencement exercises at St. Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington.

Today brings yet another New Year’s Eve, but in our family December 31st means something more special: our youngest son’s birthday.

This year, it’s extra special: Jordan Emilio Rede is turning 30 years old.

Hardly seems possible but, yes, our little guy is saying adiós to his 20s.

Distance prevents Lori and I from celebrating with him in person, as he’s now living two time zones away. But that doesn’t lessen our pride and joy as his parents. And I’m sure Nathan and Simone would agree that their little brother has developed into quite a guy.

jordan-pumpkin

The pumpkin patch at Sauvie Island was always one of Jordan’s favorite outings.

Over the years, Jordan has transformed himself from an energetic, physically active, risk-taking adolescent into a solid, responsible young husband and father with a bright future ahead of him.

His trajectory in the last few years has been breathtaking. But let’s not get ahead of the story.

***

Growing up, Jordan was the most physically active of our three. No surprise, considering he started walking at 10 months, well before either of his siblings. He’d climb trees, skateboard and break dance. In high school, he played coed soccer, took up snowboarding and Shaolin kung fu, and wrestled.

When he joined the Army at 21, he took it to another level during basic training. I’ll never forget how trim and deeply tanned he looked when we traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia, in the summer of 2009 to see him graduate and become an active duty soldier.

Proud parents

Lori and George with Jordan in July 2009 following his graduation from boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Joining the military isn’t what we had in mind for Jordan, but he was intent on becoming an infantryman and seizing the opportunity to challenge himself and be part of a team in service to his country. Of course, we worried when he was deployed to Afghanistan for a 12-month tour ending in December 2012 — five years ago this month.

That day he returned to Joint Base Lewis McChord, safe and sound with hundreds of other troops, stands out as one of the most emotional days of our lives.

Read “A soldier’s return” here

welcomehome1

U.S. Army Specialist Jordan Rede with wife Jamie and his proud parents in December 2012.

Jordan completed his four-year enlistment the following year and since then, the years seem to have passed in a blur.

Using his G.I. Bill benefits, he enrolled at St. Martin’s University, a small school with a veteran-friendly reputation, and plowed through four years of undergraduate study in the sciences. From their home near Tacoma, he endured a daily 50-mile round-trip commute to attend classes.

In May of this year, at age 29, he graduated magna cum laude in biology. Along the way, he won a National Science Foundation summer fellowship to study at Marquette University, an experience that piqued his interest in science research as a career.

Read “Jordan’s Journey” here

Immediately after graduation, he and his wife and their young daughter packed up and moved to Columbia, Missouri, home of the state’s flagship university, where he began a one-year fellowship aimed at giving post-baccalaureate students more experience in the lab in preparation for graduate school.

MO jamie-emalyn-jordan

All bundled up in Missouri: Jamie, Emalyn and Jordan.

When we visited Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn earlier this month, we was just hearing back from the first of several top-notch universities he’s applied to in hopes of pursuing a Ph.D in genetics and microbiology. Early next year, if the best-case scenario plays out, he’ll have a choice of where to go. (No specifics here, but we’re talking about Ivy League-caliber public and private schools.)

During our visit, I had a chance to see the lab where Jordan works on the Mizzou campus. Impressive.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

***

In spite of all his academic accomplishments, nothing makes us prouder than seeing Jordan in his element as a husband and young dad.

He and Jamie, sweethearts since he was in high school, have been married eight years now. She has been the wind beneath his wings, offering love and support from Day One.

They were married eight years ago on a crisp fall day in southern Oregon, not far from where Jamie grew up on a ranch. She worked as a licensed veterinary technician for several years but has shelved that for now to focus on being a stay-at-home mom.

Their daughter, Emalyn, was born in July 2016 and we were privileged to be the first ones (other than Jamie and Jordan) to see and hold her as an infant, within hours of her birth. Seeing the three of them together, whether in their cozy townhouse or out and about on a holiday outing, brought smiles to our faces.

So much has happened in the nine years since Jordan enlisted. That was a turning point in his life, for sure, as it gave him purpose while testing him physically and mentally. I would have never imagined he’d follow a path leading from the military to the college classroom to a university lab, but I’m damn proud that he has.

Today stands as a major milestone in his young life. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Advertisements

2017: A year of transitions

lori-george-binks

In a year of transitions, Lori and George celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary in September.

This year has felt like no other.

Seeing the White House change hands from the most inspiring president of my lifetime to the least qualified and least compassionate was bad enough. Watching that train wreck of a human being proceed to drive even deeper wedges into an already splintered populace — well, that was even worse.

But I’m not here to dwell on politics.

No, not even Trump can take the luster off a year that produced plenty of memorable moments for the extended Rede family.

Yes, there was sadness with the passing of my dad, Catarino Allala Rede, just six days after he turned 91 in March.

sc.catarino

The scene at the funeral home in Silver City, New Mexico.

But even then, there was a silver lining to his passing. I got to do a mini-road trip with daughter Simone to and from the Phoenix airport to Dad’s home in southwestern New Mexico. There, we were reunited with my stepmother, my two sisters, a niece, a nephew, and assorted cousins that I hadn’t seen for several years.

It’s funny how life’s milestones — births, weddings and deaths — are those that bring families together from near and far. But when your siblings and other relatives are spread out all along the West Coast — from Alaska to Southern California — that’s the way it is.

SC cathy-rose-george 2

With my sisters Cathy (from Dillingham, Alaska) and Rosemary (from Oceanside, California).

Aside from Dad’s death, this year of transitions was dominated by our youngest son’s graduation from college, followed just days later by his move to Middle America.

In May, Jordan graduated with a degree in biology from St. Martin’s College, a small Benedictine school outside Olympia, Washington, where he had commuted for four years from his home in Spanaway, near Tacoma. It was a remarkable accomplishment for someone who began college just months after completing a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Army, including a one-year posting in Afghanistan, and who became a father during his junior year.

 

We had barely had time to celebrate before Lori and I returned to Spanaway to help Jordan and Jamie pack up their house for a 2,000-mile move to the University of Missouri. There in Columbia, Jordan would do science research in a fellowship program designed to help students prepare for the rigors of graduate school.

Father and son embarked on a four-day road trip, with me driving a 20-foot U-Haul truck and Jordan driving the family’s Honda Fit, packed to the gills and including their two dogs and one cat. I had envisioned the trip as an upbeat adventure, but it quickly took a dark turn when the U-Haul truck got a flat tire on the first day and again on the second day in remote areas of Idaho and Montana.

We made it on schedule, but only after pounding through really long third and fourth days where sightseeing took a back seat to the urgency of sticking to our schedule. We arrived late on a Friday, unloaded the truck’s contents on Saturday, and I flew home early Sunday.

 

How I wish Dad had lived to see his youngest grandchild graduate from college and become a father, as well.

As for the rest of 2017, well, it’s no wonder it feels like these 12 months flew by. Lots of memories and two end-of-year milestones.

Travel: We stuck close to home with three trips to our quiet cabin on Orcas Island. We always look forward to the week-long respite from urban life. The trips entails a 250-mile drive to Anacortes, where we board the ferry for a one-hour sailing to the island, and then an additional 45-minute drive to our place above Eagle Lake.

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

 

In early December, Lori and I returned to Missouri for a quick pre-Christmas visit. It was a joy to spend time with our sweet granddaughter, Emalyn, and her loving parents.

Books: Literature is a passport of its own, with talented authors opening doors to unfamiliar places, people and experiences. Among those I enjoyed this year were: “Among the Living and the Dead,” a memoir by my Latvian-American friend and former colleague, Inara Verzemnieks; “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” the last in the trilogy of Swedish crime thrillers churned out by the late Stieg Larsson; “Hillbilly Elegy,” a window into the Appalachian hillbilly culture written by one who escaped, J.D. Vance;  “Lab Girl,” a peek into the world of Hope Jahren, a pioneering research scientist; and “Evicted,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of American poverty through the  racist practice of eviction. (Racist? Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.)

 

Music: I like to think I have broad tastes, though family members would disagree.  But, what the heck. I think I did pretty well catching a handful of concerts featuring artists ranging from Janet Jackson and Coldplay to Lady Antebellum, Michelle Branch, Tuxedo, Liz Longley and ZZ Ward.

Movies: No links this year because I wasn’t as diligent as usual. But I did enjoy “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Detroit” and, most recently, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Visitors: We had a surprise visit in early May from Chiho Hayamizu, a lovely young lady from Japan who was just 20 when she came to live with our family during a year of study at Portland State University. Our oldest child, Nathan, was just 13 when Chiho moved in with us in the spring of 1993.

Chiho, now 44 but still looking 20 (and even 30) years younger, was back in town for an unofficial reunion with friends who’d also been exchange students in Portland.

lori-chiho

Lori and Chiho: Radiant smiles, no matter the location or the year.

In October, my best friend, Al Rodriguez, came up from Santa Barbara to spend a few days timed to coincide with the annual Voices of August writers meetup. It was great hanging out with my longtime buddy, whether it was grabbing lunch from the downtown food carts or attending opening night of the Trail Blazers’ 2017-18 season. (They actually won!)

 

In November, two of Lori’s best friends, Terry (Long) Mullaney and Lin Dillon, came up from San Francisco for a long weekend of sightseeing and hanging out. Lori and Terry grew up on the same city block, and the two of them met Lin at the all-girls high school they attended. Nice to see such an enduring friendship.

Voices: For the seventh consecutive year, I curated a month of guest blog posts during the month of August. It’s become something that I look forward to every year, the opportunity to be informed, inspired and entertained by a changing cast of friends, relatives and online acquaintances, with ages ranging from 14 to 65-plus. Each person writes on a topic of their choice and does so in a way that brings variety and texture to the whole.

VOA 7.0 group

This year’s VOA peeps gathered Oct. 20 at McMenamin’s on Broadway. Front row, from left: Gosia Wozniacka, Elizabeth Gomez, Jennifer Brennock, Lynn St. Georges, Lori Rede, Lakshmi Jagannathan. Back row, from left: George Rede, John Killen, Bob Ehlers, Al Rodriguez, Keith Cantrell. Not pictured: Eric Wilcox.

This look back at 2017 wouldn’t be complete without two final notes:

— This is the year both Lori and I moved into a new age bracket: 65. She’s still rockin’ it as the owner of her personal training business and I’m enjoying my work as well, as an adjunct college instructor and part-time communications coordinator for a local education nonprofit.

— Chalk up another year with our two pets: Mabel, the mellowest of cats, and Charlotte, the energetic mutt who’s won our heart with her antics and underbite.

charlotte monkey

Up to no good. Again.

 

 

The mother of all milestones

SMU nathan-simone-jordan

Three reasons to be a proud father: Nathan, Simone and Jordan, all gathered at a family dinner in May 2017.

So I’m sitting in my favorite chair, with my little dog stretched out atop my lower legs, and I’m looking out the window at a silvery-gray sky. It’s perfectly quiet.

“I don’t know what to think or how I’m supposed to feel,” I say.

“It’s just like any other day,” Lori responds.

“Is it?”

A milestone day I never imagined has arrived. On this 27th day of December, life’s odometer has reached LXV. The Big Sesenta y Cinco. Sixty-Five.

An age that officially makes me a senior citizen, though some businesses and organizations consider you to be so at 62 or 60 or even 55. Whatever.

In any case, I’m now 65, eligible for Medicare and Social Security.

I don’t feel it. I’m still swimming, running, lifting weights. Working three part-time jobs: teaching at two universities and working for a local nonprofit. Reading, writing and blogging.

Two thoughts come to mind:

— The two people who gave me life are both gone now. My dad, Catarino, died in March of this year, six days after reaching his 91st birthday. My mom, Theresa, died four years ago in October, one day short of her 86th birthday.

I am eternally grateful to them for instilling so many enduring values — of hard work, honesty, loyalty — that I’ve tried to live by, as well as pass on to our three children.

I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without their love, support and encouragement. Neither had the opportunity to attend high school (though my dad went back and got his G.E.D. much later in life). Both worked a variety of blue-collar jobs and took pride in my earning a college degree, knowing I could then make a living with my head instead of my hands.

— I have much, so much, to be grateful for.

Three adult children — Nathan, Simone and Jordan — each with a personality as different from the others as one can imagine. Two daughters-in-law — Kyndall and Jamie — and one more —  Sara — who will become the third next May. One granddaughter. Emalyn. Everyone in the family healthy, happy and gainfully employed, or else in school or at home by choice.

Two furry roommates that provide entertainment and companionship: 12-year-old Mabel, our brown tabby cat, and 4-year-old Charlotte, our border terrier mix.

One wonderful wife. Lori has been with me since college and at least a half-dozen moves, most of those coming in the early years of our marriage. She adapted every time as we moved from San Jose to Portland to Bend to Salem to Ann Arbor, back to Salem and up to Portland again, finally settling in a place that brought financial stability and a great city in which to raise our family and build our careers.

SC.jacketI know I drive her nuts after 42 years of marriage, with my forgetfulness and I’ll-get-to-it-in-just-a-minute approach toward too many things. But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t recognize what an amazing and tolerant and generous woman she is. I love her deeply.

And not to be overlooked: My stepmother, Ora, now living without my dad in the home they made together in his native New Mexico. We grew very close over the course of her 46 years of marriage to my dad, and I am grateful for her love and support as well.

So, is turning 65 just like any other day?

We shall see.

Today I’m wearing my dad’s San Francisco 49ers jacket, the one I inherited upon his death. Wearing it with pride.

 

 

 

A quiet Christmas

It’s coming up on 10 o’clock the morning after Christmas and all is peaceful in the Rede abode and in our neighborhood.

Slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, and put Norah Jones and James Taylor on the CD player. (Some things don’t change.)

Outside, the distant rumble of a garbage truck making its rounds is the only sound disrupting the silence. Patches of white on the street and sidewalk bear witness to the light snowfall that we had on Christmas Eve. The mercury hasn’t moved much since then, although I’m looking at sunshine and blue skies.

For the past several weeks, the message to Buy! Buy! Buy! has been hard to escape as retailers, advertisers and marketers throw all their energy at us from every which way — print, TV, radio and especially online. We’ve gone from Black Friday to Cyber Monday to Last-Minute Bargains to End-of-Year Blowout Sales without missing a beat.

Whew. And, no thanks.

***

We had a quiet Christmas this year. Simple and meaningful and celebrated in two phases.

With our youngest son and his family in Missouri, we took the opportunity to visit them in early December, well ahead of the stress that comes along with Christmas travel. We enjoyed the company of Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn over the course of five days and four nights without the manufactured pressure of the holidays.

We did indulge in the spirit of the season, however, with a nighttime visit to the ranch where Anheuser-Busch raises its famous Clydesdale horses. Holiday lights, hot cocoa, handfuls of kettlecorn, and a close-up view of these magnificent animals made for a chilly but memorable evening.

Back in Portland, we celebrated the holiday on Christmas Eve with our other two children during a Five Dog Night.

Nathan and girlfriend Sara came over with Uni, their Yorkshire Terrier, and Hector, their rescue mutt. Simone came over with Quimby, my favorite Chihuahua, and Templeton, a Mini-Me version of an Irish Wolfhound. (Her wife, Kyndall, was unable to join us as she was committed to visiting family members in eastern Washington and Idaho.) Charlotte, as the rambunctious hostess, made it five four-legged creatures.

Dinner, drinks and dessert were a nice set-up for Punderdome, a card game for pun lovers. (Truth be told, the gathering also served as an early birthday celebration for yours truly.)

When it came time to leave, the streets were slick and icy enough that Simone spent the night, resulting in bonus time with our daughter on Christmas morning.

As dusk arrived, we kicked our plans into gear: Grab an early dinner at Frank’s Noodle House, a family-run joint featuring Chinese hand-pulled noodles, and then head on over to the Hollywood Theater to see “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Frances McDormand delivers a powerful performance as a strong-willed mother taking extreme measures to prod local law enforcement into doing more to solve her daughter’s murder. Great movie with a cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage.

(Interesting that the movie is set in Missouri. Not really, though. No such place as Ebbing. Plus, the film was shot in North Carolina.)

All in all, a very nice celebration. Even when it’s not possible to have all your loved ones in a single place, there’s a way to celebrate separately with meaning.

xmas-obama

A Christmas gift for the two of us. Miss him.

 

Daring to be real in a world of perfection

kate carroll de gutes

Kate Carroll de Gutes reads from “The Authenticity Experiment” during a promotional event at Northeast Portland’s Fremont Theater.

We are curators. Each and every one of us who writes a blog, shares Instagram photos or posts to our Facebook wall is choosing what and when to publish. Nothing appears there by chance.

We control the content — every word, every image, every YouTube video, every comment that we allow on our social media sites.

And the result? More often than not, it’s an endless stream of feel-good moments and milestones.  We celebrate births and birthdays, weddings, graduations and milestones.

We share photos of where we’ve been, whom we were with, where we ate and what we ate.

Less often, we interrupt the bliss to write about a death of a family member or beloved pet, about the loss of a job or other personal setback.

Soon we’re back at it, posting images of sunsets and mountains, cocktails and casseroles.

So what?

So what if the curated version of our lives represents a selective scraping and molding of those experiences?

So what if that version offers a distorted representation of our daily lives, untethered to reality?

***

In a new and wise book, Portland writer Kate Carroll de Gutes cuts through the facade and delivers a bracing alternative to the happy-face fantasy.

the authenticity experimentThe result is a compelling, entertaining, inspiring collection of short pieces presented under the title “The Authenticity Experiment.”

It’s a slim volume of 166 pages of 47 posts, essays and blog entries — essentially the product of a 30-day challenge she gave herself during what she calls “the best and worst year of my life.”

Could she be more honest on social media following the deaths of her mother, her best friend and her editor-mentor, all occurring within a few months of each other? Could she share the duality of her life — both the light and the dark — in celebrating the praise lavished on her first book (“Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appears’) as well as mourning the loss of loved ones?

Yes, she could be and, yes, she was. Each page crackles with the authenticity of someone who has laid aside pretense and ego in favor of honesty and heartache. The essays undulate from sad to humorous, self-deprecating to self-reflective.

The chapters are organized by the season — essays published during the summer, fall, winter and spring — and the entries draw you in with such titles as “Dear Mom” and “Death Is Like This” and “Wiping Clean Regret.”

In a prologue to the book, Kate says:

“The essays you’ll find in this book are raw and filtered through my lens as I think on the page and try to understand the journey I’m on and how my own privilege and power plays a role in what I think about death, class, self-worth, perfectionism, and other topics we usually keep to ourselves.

“I don’t offer any answers, and I don’t always find my ways to conclusions, or to better thinking. It’s like hacking a path through the forest: you can’t always see where you’re doing, and you can’t always see how far you’ve come, but you know you’re on your way to somewhere.”

***

I loved the idea of the book and admired its execution. It felt especially real having just met the author just three weeks earlier.

I didn’t know of Kate or her work until a friend invited Lori and me to a book launch event in Northeast Portland.

Read the blog post New space, new author here.

Kate was charming and witty, and stuck around to autograph the many books she sold that night, including one to Lori. They connected over the fact that Kate had spent several years living in the North Beach neighborhood of Lori’s hometown, San Francisco.

Kate-Carroll-BW-Cropped-766x1024

Kate Carroll de Gutes is a Portland writer whose debut memoir, “Objects Closer in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear,” won the 2016 Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction and a 2016 Lambda Literary Award in Memoir.

I picked up the book on a quiet weekend at the Oregon Coast in early October, but didn’t finish it until sometime in November. I’ve mulled about it since then, wondering when to write about it and what to say.

Read the blog post NaBloPoMo here

As a fellow blogger who once also challenged myself to write daily for a month, I tip my hat to Kate. She’s done a wonderful job demonstrating how we can fully share our whole selves in this era of the “digital back fence.”

B/W photograph: katecarrolldegutes.com/

Media literacy in London

london flyer front

A flier for the international program I hope to teach next summer

I keep pinching myself, but it’s looking increasingly likely that I’ll be teaching my favorite subject in historic London next summer.

London, England? That’s right.

Long story short: Portland State has an Education Abroad office that encourages professors to propose an international program of their choice, and then provides all the staff support needed to make it happen.

Adjunct instructors like myself are equally encouraged to submit a so-called faculty-led proposal, including course title, location and duration. With the encouragement of a key contact in the Ed Abroad office, I quickly came up with a syllabus and tentative daily schedule for a two-week course in a leading global media center.

The department chair approved the proposal and in late November, Ed Abroad officially gave Media Literacy in London the green light. The course is set to run from July 16 through July 30, 2018.

jen hamlow - george

I met Jen Hamlow in January 2014 when a mutual friend recruited us to play on a coed cornhole team. She’s the director of PSU’s Education Abroad office and the one who asked me this year if I’d be interested in teaching internationally.

 

***

Students have until March 15 to apply. The goal is to select 12 to 15 students to spend two weeks with me using London as our classroom for exploring similarities and differences between the U.S. and U.K. media — not just in journalism, but in advertising and entertainment media as well.  We’ll get fresh perspectives on immigration, terrorism, social media, media economics, privacy rights, Brexit and the royal family.

If all goes as planned, we’ll visit public relations and advertising agencies, a newspaper and a local TV station. We’ll meet with U.K. journalism students and their professors; tour historic Fleet Street, where British journalism was born; and visit the Houses of Parliament.

 

We’ll have a handful of guest speakers, share several meals together, and get out into the city to create individual photo albums linking the images to the key concepts in our discussions. We’ll also make time to see world-famous tourist attractions like Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.

All this in one of the world’s most popular, important cities — a sprawling, incredibly diverse metropolis that serves as the cultural, media, fashion, entertainment and political capital of the United Kingdom. Imagine New York, Hollywood and Washington, D.C., all rolled into a single city of 10 million people and you have London.

I’ve never been to London; my one and only trip to Europe was five years ago when Lori and I visited Italy and Slovenia.

Now all I need are the students.

***

According to the Ed Abroad staffers I’ve been working with, I have reason to be encouraged this course will fly.

Even before it went “live,” students were inquiring about the dates and cost of the course. Last week, I teamed with the Ed Abroad office to hold the first of at least three information sessions planned between now and the end of February. Yesterday, I participated in a conference call with a Boston-based company that specializes in working with universities on the logistics of their international programs.

By enlisting their support — as well as that of the Ed Abroad office — I can focus on the academic aspects of the course while our partners make all the arrangements for housing, ground transportation, field trips, museum admissions, orientation sessions and other logistics. I’ll have a furnished apartment while my students will be housed two to a room. I have no idea yet where we will be located, but all that will be worked out in the coming months.

londontownFor now, at least six students have taken the first step of opening an application file. At least four dozen other students have expressed interest through sign-up sheets following classroom presentations I’ve made and an Ed Abroad fair I attended during the recently completed fall quarter. I’ll continue to market the course when the winter term begins in January.  I’ll have to renew my passport, too.

I’ve tried not to get overly excited, but it’s hard not to think ahead. I imagine myself immersed in central London, accompanied by a dozen intellectually curious students, and it seems unreal. Maybe the Londontown wall calendar I purchased yesterday will bring good fortune.

London photographs: Wikimedia Commons

The Snapper

Sometimes all you want from a book is a little relief. Work can suck up a lot of energy, even if you like it. And life itself can be full of commitments and surprises.

With finals week at Portland State all done and a long-distance plane ride ahead of me, I was more than ready to pick up a lighthearted novel. Roddy Doyle’s “The Snapper” filled the bill.

the snapperEn route to and from Missouri, I enjoyed this breezy little book (216 pages) as if Doyle himself were reading it aloud and sharing pints with me at a Dublin pub. Unlike most novels, which are heavy on narrative and character development, this one feels like it’s nearly all dialogue. Make that effin’ funny, sometimes crass, but always honest, dialogue.

The story centers on a working-class Irish family and the recently announced pregnancy of the eldest daughter, 20-year-old Sharon. She’s unmarried and living at home, working at a retail job that bores her, and she’s decided to keep the identity of the father a secret.

Jimmy Sr., the Rabbitte family patriarch, struggles at first to accept the news. Ireland, after all, is a Catholic country and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy is hardly something he’d celebrate with his drinking buddies. (Keep in mind, the novel was published in 1991, so many a real-life Irish family would have reacted in the same way.)

Friends and neighbors join the Rabbittes in speculating about the father’s identity. When Jimmy Sr. hears nasty things being said about Sharon, he gets into a fight at the local pub and comes home with a bloody nose, perceiving it as a badge of honor for defending his daughter’s reputation.

But instead of saying thanks, Sharon scolds her father, telling him to mind his own business because she’s an adult who can fight her own battles.

Jimmy Sr. shuts down in resentment, ignoring Sharon for weeks until she calls him on it. Chastened once again, he admits to himself that he’s embarrassed by Sharon’s situation. From then on, he adopts an entirely different attitude, coming to realize that his role to is support his daughter and love her baby, no matter who the father is.

It’s a sweet story with tender moments between father and daughter. The dialogue is wonderfully authentic, with more F-bombs than you can count — coming from Jimmy Sr. and his pals, as well as Sharon and her friends — and repeated references to Jaysis! (Jesus!)

***

Here’s one scene where Sharon and her friends are out drinking (yes, pregnant Sharon) and one of them, Jackie, is telling the group about breaking up with her boyfriend Greg at a cafe, after he’d accused her of stealing the cream out of his chocolate eclair.

“He stuck his tongue in me ear once,”  Jackie told them when they’d settled down again. “An’, I’m not jokin’ yis, I think he was trying’ to get it out the other one. I don’t know what he f***in’ thought I had in there.”

She laughed with them.

“He licked half me brains ou’. Like a big dog, yeh know.”

They roared.

Jackie waited.

“His sense o’ direction wasn’t the best either, d’yis know what I mean?”

They roared again.

“Jesus!”

“Jackie O’Keefe! You’re f****in’ disgustin’ ‘!”

 ***

Roddy Doyle is an accomplished writer with several novels, screenplays, film adaptations, TV scripts, children’s books and freelance articles to his credit.

I’d read Doyle once before, so I had a good idea of what to expect. Lots of sharp dialogue. Characters who are rough around the edges. Themes of love, loyalty and honesty.

roddy-doyle.jpg

The Irish writer Roddy Doyle

It wasn’t until after I’d finished the novel that I realized I had no idea what the characters looked like. That is, Doyle made no effort to describe anyone’s physical attributes — hair color, body shape, etc. — and instead invested all his effort into creating conversational dialogue that captivated me from the opening sentence to the final page.

Who cares what Jimmy Sr. or Sharon looked like? What’s more important is how they navigated the stages of her surprise pregnancy while dealing with the ups and downs of their own relationship.

That is what really matters. And that is the sign of one helluva writer.

Photograph of Roddy Doyle: rte.ie

Holidays in Missouri

MO emalyn2

Happy, smiley Emalyn. (Photo by Lori Rede)

The last time I set foot in Missouri was six months ago, at the end of a grueling four-day road trip to help our youngest son, Jordan, move across country into the college town of Columbia.

We unloaded a 20-foot U-Haul truck and I left, exhausted, early the following morning.

When I returned last week with Lori at my side, everything had changed.

  • The townhouse I had last seen piled with boxes and furniture had been remade into an appealing space.
  • Jamie and baby Emalyn, who had stayed with Lori during the move, welcomed us into their home.
  • Jordan was now six months into a fellowship program at the University of Missouri designed to prepare students for graduate study in biomedical research.
  • I’d just finished giving the final exam and posted grades for my class at Portland State.

Now, we were here — 2,000 miles from home — to spend a few days with the kids and our 18-month-old granddaughter.

***

The visit went well. In fact, as Lori remarked, it’s hard to imagine a better time.

We booked our flight months ago, opting to visit well ahead of the craziness of the Christmas rush yet close enough to feel the holiday spirit.

The weather was clear and crisp, with bright sunshine and subfreezing temperatures that reminded us of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we once lived for a year during a sabbatical.

We made a couple of trips to the local mall, did some shopping, saw Santa, put Emalyn on the carousel, and visited the ranch outside Columbia where the famous Budweiser Clydesdales are born and bred.

(Click on images to view captions.)

We did some babysitting, visited a nearby park and played with their dog, Jax, a gentle pit bull. We also watched a forgettable Netflix movie (“The Ref”) and a new-to-us TV series (“The Punisher”).

Jordan and I got some guy time, and he showed me the lab where he does his research.

***

Most of all, we enjoyed every minute around Emalyn. She is a delight.

At this age, she is walking confidently, communicating in sign language with a vocabulary I estimate at 50-plus words, and smiling her way through the day. She’s an adventurous eater (watch your hummus if she’s nearby), a lover of books and animals, and a physically active girl.

She takes Baby Yoga with her mom, goes to the municipal pool for swimming, clambers on the play equipment at the park, and throws a slobbery rubber ball for Jax.

Emalyn sees us regularly on FaceTime, so it didn’t take long for her to connect the small-screen images with the real-life Nonni Lori and Papa George.

What’s most striking about Em — aside from being the most photogenic child on the planet — is that she is just so happy. Jamie, as a stay-at-home mom, has done a wonderful job as a parent and teacher with Jordan’s help and reinforcement.

Lori and I arrived on a Wednesday evening and flew home Sunday afternoon. It was a wonderful visit and one we hope to repeat again next year.