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West View Days

By Tim Hayes

It came around every late May or early June.  A day of deliverance.  A day when school took a backseat, even though it fell on a school day.  The annual school picnic.

In Pittsburgh during the 1960s and ‘70s, the public school districts held their annual picnics at Kennywood Park, an amusement park that survives today.  But as for us heartier Catholic school kids, we got to go to West View Park – considered by some an inferior venue for rides and excitement, but those people were dead wrong.

West View Park admittedly did not have the size and scope of Kennywood, but for daredevil grade schoolers accustomed to dodging the 12-inch-ruler-powered knucklesmacks of passing nuns, West View had the much better roller coasters.

The Dips, for one.  An ancient wooden coaster on a simple straight down-and-back route, the Dips had a first hill that set you up for a hair-raising ride that included at least eight more high-speed, up-and-down mini-hills.  Maybe it was 10.  Or 30.  All I know is that the line to get on the Dips was worth every second.

Then you had the Racing Whippet, a double-track coaster that lived up to its name.  Taunts got lobbed over to the kids on the other train before the ride began.  Trash-talk before anybody knew what trash-talk was.  When one side pulled into the station before the other, dares and double-dares for rematches became fierce.

This was the school picnic, buddy.  Bragging rights in class the next day up for grabs, you understand.

My many years of going to West View for the picnic as a kid created some interesting memories.  Some really fun, others not so much.  Like the time riding the enclosed Ferris Wheel.

I sat in one of those egg-shaped cars that you could make spin head-over-heels as the ride itself rotated in a giant circle.  Please forgive my scientific shortcomings, but whether this was centripetal or centrifugal force at work, all I knew was that the kid across from me felt this would be a great time to toss his cookies all over that enclosed space.

As if being scrambled around like eggs in a blender hadn’t been enough of a rousing good time.  Dodging semi-digested (and suddenly airborne) cotton candy and fried chicken, while simultaneously hanging on for dear life inside a revolving steel cage?  Man, that is really living.

Of course, we had the year when my sister, bless her trusting and benevolent heart, left the day’s worth of ride tickets on a bench while she used the restroom.  Now, you might think that in an amusement park crawling with hundreds of Catholic school pupils, those tickets would have remained undisturbed.

Well, you would be gravely mistaken.  Some little thief grabbed those tickets and had him- or herself quite a day.  They ain’t all altar boys out there, Father.  As a result, I had to share some of my tickets with my sibling that day.  Ah, the vicissitudes of the school picnic.

West View Park also marks the spot where I first held a girl’s hand.  We were walking up to Boot Hill, a haunted house ride.  Trying to maintain a sweaty and awkward rookie grip, I smoothly talked her out of going on that ride and picking something better – like the Caterpillar, where the big canvas covering came over you as you rode around and around the track.  I never liked haunted houses anyway.

If you drive past the entrance of West View Park today, you’ll see a shopping center and some apartments.  The place closed down in 1977, and Catholic kids felt a troubling disturbance in the Force.  A huge pillar of our childhoods, gone.

But close your eyes, gang, and remember.  There’s our teacher over there in her civilian clothes, walking with some guy and a couple little kids.  Does she have a life away from our classroom?  Look at Sister on the merry-go-round.  Wow, she really can smile after all!

And put your hands up in the air as we hear the cars hook onto that chain, click-click-click-click, taking us up that huge hill, seconds from diving downward for the ride of our lives on those amazing Dips.  Thanks, West View.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Jack

By Tim Hayes

My parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents gathered in the modest home that Friday evening – ostensibly to celebrate a cousins’ second birthday, but really just to be together after such a shattering day.  November 22, 1963.

John F. Kennedy was murdered just after I had turned three.  Obviously, I have no personal recollection of him, his presidency, his assassination, or the national grief it caused.  JFK Jr. had turned three the very day he so famously saluted his father’s casket as it processed to the cemetery, and said later in life that he couldn’t really remember those shocking and devastating days either.

As I get older, the fascination with Jack Kennedy has only increased and deepened.  When we travel to Boston to visit with one of our children who relocated there, typically something Kennedy-related gets included in the itinerary.  I could spend days inside the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a beautiful venue on Boston Harbor with so much history and perspective.

The last time we were up there, we toured JFK’s childhood home in Brookline.  Climbing up and down the stairs where Jack and his siblings ran, seeing his actual bassinet, imagining him reading about King Arthur in his boyhood bed – just fantastic.  The U.S. Park Service maintains the house, its rangers provide the tours, and they do a marvelous job, especially during this year’s 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth.

A bust of Jack Kennedy graces my work desk.  Photos of Jack adorn my office walls.  Stickers and magnets and even a bobblehead of Jack holding a copy of “Profiles in Courage” can be spotted in and around my workspace, too.  I’ve read every biography and have collected videotapes covering the full spectrum of his life.  I can’t get enough of Jack Kennedy.

And why?  It might be that I’m an Irish Catholic, like he was.  It might be that his time in history was so packed with monumental questions of fairness, liberty, excitement, even nuclear survival.  It might be that between Jack and Jackie, the U.S. has rarely been so taken with beauty, glamour, and a youthful energy.  Talk about a full plate.  But, while all of those elements contribute to the powerful magnetic pull, I believe it comes down to something else.  Something more.

Jack Kennedy knew how to respect, elevate, craft, refine, and convey language to a degree that no one has been able to match in more than a half-century.

JFK: “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”

Go onto YouTube and search “JFK speeches.”  I dare you to listen to any one of them and not get bowled over by the careful phrasing, the powerful cadence, the undeniable elegance.

JFK: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution.”

Nixon scolded, Carter apologized, Reagan kept it folksy, Bush (both of them) kept it awkward, Clinton empathized.  Obama might have come the closest to Jack’s unique oratorical gifts, but could not surpass them.  And the current occupant of the White House?  Well…

JFK: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

As this Kennedy preoccupation of mine continues unabated, one question clouds everything else: Why did they kill him?  Imagine the domino effect of a two-term JFK presidency.  Perhaps Vietnam would not have sunk into the death spiral it became.  Bobby survives and maybe succeeds Jack.  No Nixon or Watergate.  No Carter in reaction to Nixon, and Ford’s pardon of him.  No Reagan in reaction to Carter.  It’s a fool’s errand, I know, but a riveting mental exercise nonetheless.

JFK: “Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’ — a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

Jack Kennedy was no saint.  Nobody is.  And I know that he had enormous help from his speechwriter, Ted Sorenson, another hero of mine.  Don’t worry, my admiration of JFK remains grounded in a realistic, factual view.  But, having said that, even with his idiosyncrasies, there’s no other leader I would most liked to have known than Jack Kennedy.

JFK: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

Wow, he was great.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Progress Hurts

By Tim Hayes

Walking through the storied Oak Grove of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), my college alma mater, this past week, the inevitable came to pass.

I had known this day would arrive for more than a year, but hoped against hope that it might somehow get postponed indefinitely.  But there it was, plain as day.  The Rubicon had been crossed, and we had reached the point of no return.

One of my favorite buildings, Leonard Hall, had been doomed to demolition.  Cyclone fencing had been put up around the perimeter of the three-story structure, as crews prepared to tear the old girl down.

Now, truth be told, to the untrained eye, Leonard Hall carried no distinguishing architectural wonders.  It had been built back in the 1950s on a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania budget, and functioned for nearly seven decades as a utilitarian site where thousands of undergraduate students worked their way through English classes, with the geography and earth sciences rooms in the basement, appropriately.

But for a few golden years – coincidentally the years of my undergrad career – Leonard Hall also served as the headquarters of the newly minted Journalism Department.  And that’s what made that cinderblock and redbrick building so very special to me and the other J-school pioneers of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Leonard Hall became the place where we took our first tentative steps as writers and editors.  Where we learned how journalists needed to understand the law, how governments function and tax and get held accountable for their decisions and actions, and what a glorious and terrifying responsibility that entailed.  It’s where we forged friendships and professional associations that continue today.

Plus, it stood next to Wilson Hall, where my girlfriend (now wife of 35-plus years) had most of her classes.  How perfect, for a couple of kids in love!

And now the clock ticks down to the moment when the wrecking ball swings, and that real estate gets converted into an expanded building for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.  It’s called progress.  And it hurts.

It’s just a building, I know.  It’s fallen into some disrepair.  I get it.  The well-established Journalism Department of today resides in a brand-new structure near the Oak Grove housing multiple departments from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and that’s great.  Our son, in fact, will shortly begin his senior year as an IUP Journalism major, just like his sentimental old man.

But all that doesn’t mask the fact that I wish Leonard Hall could have been renovated and saved.  Selfish?  Yeah, a little.  Impractical?  Yeah, a lot.  Emotion will always outweigh intellect, though.

It raises the question: How much progress is too much?  When does a university cross the line in sacrificing its older, historic structures to make way for new construction?  When do those decisions – while important and necessary – cause a campus to lose too much of its personality, its character, its legacy?

Maintaining that balance can be tough, especially when one of your favorite old academic halls gets the ax.  Jane Leonard, the building’s namesake, served as one of the university’s first leaders.  When she died, the people of the town loved and respected her so much that they lined the streets to watch her casket make its way to the cemetery.

In similar fashion, I’m thinking of taking a spot in the Oak Grove to watch dear old Leonard Hall meet its end, as well.  Progress hurts.  Thanks, Leonard Hall, and goodbye.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Troubled Water

By Tim Hayes

We filed into the musty, ancient classroom, smelling of floor wax, chalk dust, and crushing boredom.  The room, not me and my fellow fourth graders, that is.  The last class of the morning, right before lunch, and the mental and physical energy in the room had sunk nearly as low as our interest in anything enlightening or educational.

Sliding our keesters into the same, well-worn, smooth wood-and-cast-iron desks that my mother and my aunts and uncles all had sat in many years ago, we slowly raised our eyes to the chalkboard.  And instantly became puzzled, wary, and a little alarmed.

There, in his borderline inscrutable handwriting, our teacher, Mr. H, had scribbled all of the lyrics to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the Simon and Garfunkel hit that had been climbing the charts that winter of 1970.

“When you’re weary, feeling small?”  Well, we were nine years old, in a school that went up until the 14-year-olds in eighth grade.  How else were you supposed to feel?

“When you’re on the street?”  We grew up in the city.  The street served as an extension of every playground and park we knew.  Why is that a bad thing?

“Sail on, silvergirl?”  We had absolutely no clue what this one meant.  No clue.

But Mr. H loved this song.  Felt these lyrics down to the marrow.  It changed his life, I guess.  Because he sure seemed hell-bent on pounding this melodious ode to sensitivity and friendship down our throats, this class of miserable little ingrates he was forced to teach.

And, lest we forget, this was the same guy who felt absolutely no compunction while whipping his car keys at anybody who goofed around or gave a ridiculous answer in class.  “I will lay me down” – HA!  More like, “I will knock you out!”

Yet, with the passing of time, I think I can understand what Mr. H might have had in mind that day.  Only after you’ve been smacked around a time or two by life, whether by personal illness, loss of someone you love, getting laid off unexpectedly, swimming in debt, trying to raise a child with behavioral issues, or a thousand other problems, does a message like the one Paul and Art warbled in  “Bridge Over Troubled Water” make sense.

In one of my favorite films, “Field of Dreams,” this idea gets illustrated in some of the most powerful moments.  Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, hears a mysterious voice urging him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield.  He does, and as the story evolves, the diamond becomes the venue for multiple characters to recapture events in their lives that they either misplayed or never got to experience at all.

But the climax arrives when Ray discovers that his late father had been one of the ballplayers from “out there” in the corn who came to play on his field.  Earlier, we learned that Ray and his dad had become estranged, even to the point that Ray refused to catch baseball with him, before Ray left for college and his father passed away.

Seeing his dad as a young man, Ray says to his wife, “I only knew him after he’d been worn down by life.  Look at him.  He’s got his whole life in front of him, and I’m not even a glint in his eye.”

As a responsible husband and father himself now, Ray has the chance to appreciate what his father had gone through, and how much it would have meant to him if Ray had been a more receptive son.  As a result, he calls out, in the best line of the movie, “Hey…Dad?  You wanna have a catch?”

Ray even discovers that the mysterious voice, the one that compelled him to build the field in the first place, was his own.

I made the mistake of watching this movie by smartphone on an airplane once.  It’s tough, and a trifle embarrassing, to not weep openly while sitting next to people who have no idea what’s affecting you so demonstrably, let me tell you.  And it gets me the same way every single time.

So all’s forgiven, Mr. H.  Your heart was in the right place.  And I think some of the girls in the class might have gotten your point at age nine.  The guys, though?  Sail on, silvergirl.  We wouldn’t catch up for years.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Stop Digging

By Tim Hayes

If it’s true that in space no one can hear you scream, then it is just as true – if not more so – that in business or politics, unless you have a distinct and compelling message, no one can hear you at all.

Our society drowns in information.  Want proof?  Check this out.  More new information has been produced in the last 50 years than in the previous 5,000.  One Sunday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person in the 18th Century – that includes the Founding Fathers – would have encountered in an entire lifetime.  But that’s nothing.  Every minute of every day, this happens*:

– Twitter users send more than 350,000 Tweets.

– About 400 hours of new video get uploaded to YouTube.

– Instagram users “Like” 2.5 million posts.

– The number of Facebook Posts shared reaches 3 million.

– Facebook users “Like” more than 4 million posts.

– Online users perform 4 million Google searches.

– Users launch 4 million text messages and 205 billion e-mails.

And each of these 60-second trends continues to increase and expand every year.  Who’s sending out all of this information?  Who’s receiving it?  Is any of it being seriously understood, retained, acted upon?  And why is this important?

It’s important because we need leaders who know the value of strategic, planned, informational, inspirational, positive and effective goal-oriented communication.  Without it, a chasm opens between a vision for the future, and the perceptions and expectations of those who would follow it.  Proper communication, carefully considered and expertly crafted, bridges that gap.

The words people speak and write matter.  The challenge comes in making those words soar above the roar.  The best speakers, whether in politics, business, religion or social causes, know this.  It’s not theatrics, it’s not shtick.  It’s couching a central idea in a memorable manner.

Think of it this way.  Would you rather listen to a CEO recite a laundry list of “steps to counter a shareholder proposal” or hear him assert authority by citing his “reasons our company can do better than this.”

Would you rather endure a leader’s “litany of injustices and setbacks” or be inspired by his hopeful wish that, “With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

Would you rather be resigned to lukewarm acceptance by a morose, “We will get through this” or be roused to greatness with a robust, “If we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, then work hard toward that goal, we never lose.”

Would you rather hear a president “respectfully ask that this obstacle be removed,” or get chills when he demands, “Tear down this wall!”

They say when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.  Random, unfocused, ill-conceived verbal missives don’t build credibility.  Quite the opposite, actually.

When carefully considered and artfully expressed words stick in the minds of people, they lead to change, to progress, to a sense of shared purpose.  But if those words aren’t memorably crafted and conveyed with passion and confidence, they, like a scream in space, don’t stand a chance.

There’s too much at stake to be shouting into a void.  There’s too much at stake to be shouting at all.  Stop shouting, stop digging.  Use your platform with power and honor.  Respect your audience.  Think first, to communicate properly.

* https://blog.microfocus.com/how-much-data-is-created-on-the-internet-each-day/

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

The Joys of White Noise

By Tim Hayes

Imagine about 30 people sitting practically elbow-to-elbow in four rows of desks, most of them either on the phone or talking to someone in the room, with two men at the front of the pack, screaming for – or at – individuals standing beside them, while phones rang and general aural mayhem ensued.

That describes my summer internship on the City Desk at the late, great Pittsburgh Press during college on the way to earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism.  It also fit my first full-time job after graduation – albeit on a much smaller scale – at the small-town newspaper where I wrote as a staff reporter.

As the decades have elapsed from those heady days in the newsroom, one question comes to mind:  How in the world did I concentrate on writing with all that damned commotion?  That unending cacophony?  That eternal soundtrack of distraction?

I suppose it could be done again, but only if my life or my livelihood were on the line.  Otherwise, for God’s sake, I need quiet!

Hence the rise of white noise.  That beautiful hiss.  That sizzling path to nothingness.  The ssssssssss that refreshes.  I found that listening to white noise clears my mind wonderfully.  Those aggravating “ear worms” – a song that won’t stop playing in your head, for example – get swept away easily and swiftly, without even realizing it.  I can focus and think, and since writing is the recorded expression of thought, with white noise I can write faster, better, and more effectively.

You’ve probably seen that old Bugs Bunny cartoon with the haughty opera singer trying to rehearse in his home, while that rascally rabbit sits on a nearby hilltop plucking out a catchy tune on his banjo.  Before you know it, the opera singer gets distracted and starts belting out the same snappy banjo number.  It sends him completely off-task, off-course, and off-the-deep-end.

That would be me.  Immediately sidetracked by non-work-related sounds, music, anything.  I have friends who used to study while blasting classical music, or even heavy metal.  Blows my mind.

I need to block all that other stuff out, especially now as the slow, steady crawl to dotage drags on.  White noise works.  I love it.  When it can be deployed properly, that is.

My first forays into using white noise to cancel out distraction happened in college, tuning my clock radio to the end of the dial and letting the noncommittal sound fill the room.  It succeeded to a degree, but only until either my roommate came back to the room, or the Neanderthals in the dorm room next door turned their stereo up even louder.  An achievement I never believed possible, but there you go.

The joys of white noise didn’t really return to their full flowering until I launched my standalone consulting business, 17 years ago.

Some context here.  My enterprise began in our home, a too-small Cape Cod house with two adults, three kids, and two dogs.  My “office,” as we charitably called it, comprised a desk, chair, computer, and telephone against the wall of a garage that had been converted into the kids’ playroom.

Now can you see why Dad needed something to block out the sounds of Pocahontas plays and Mario Cart games?  So, on went the headset, tuned to the far end of the FM dial and that soothing, calming, thought-enabling hiss.

After a couple more years in that house, we moved into a larger home with a separate office and a door.  Woo-hoo!  The kids got older and quieter (because they were out a lot more with their friends), so the objective need for white noise lessened considerably.  But now I was my own boss.  Everybody else was either at work or school, so I could run my business according to my whims and wishes, right?

So on with the headset again.  Even completely alone in this house, this totally quiet house, white noise had become part of my professional pattern.  I’m listening to it right now, as I write this essay, in fact.

Some people find that sound completely annoying.  Others look at me like I’ve lost yet another screw.  And I admit, this only adds to my extensive list of quirks, foibles, neuroses, and overall weirdness.  But who cares?  Without the hiss, I may throw a hissy-fit.

You may want to give it a try.  That great leveler of neutral nothing.  The sssssssss that clears the mind, steadies the soul, inspires the muses.  Let the white noise flow, Baby.  And thank goodness I don’t have to write while sitting in the middle of ear-busting chaos any longer.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Barn

By Tim Hayes

One week every summer, from age 9 to maybe 12 or 13, I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house about four miles away as the crow flies – but at least four thousand light-years away when it came to the dynamics of that house versus mine.

I grew up with two younger sisters.  That meant I got to enjoy the privileges of both being the oldest kid, and the only male.  Pretty sweet, all in all.  No rough-housing, very little competition, a nice peaceful existence.  But at my aunt and uncle’s house, hoo boy, the makeup of the family couldn’t have been more different.

They had four sons, my cousins, and all within one or two years older or younger than me, so the testosterone there flowed freely and forcefully, 24 hours a day.  And one week each year, I got pushed head-first into those flooding whitewaters and had to try and stay afloat.  No safety vest, no life preserver, no water-wings even.  Just jump right in, and good luck.

Growing up, I thought of those guys as my brothers.  Still do.  The times spent together as kids – playing pickup basketball in their driveway, walking to their municipal park for baseball games, shooting pool in their basement gameroom, even just shooting the breeze at night before going to sleep, all with a buzzy undercurrent of “I-dare-you” one-upsmanship – helped force me out of my protective shell and toughened up a place where I could better hold my own against other guys at school and elsewhere.

The challenges that came in living a week, around the clock, with four other young bucks, transformed into insights and skills that I still find myself using, all these years later.

As college, marriage, children, and careers took each of us down separate paths, in time we all returned to our hometown.  Two of my cousins bought a tract of farmland, where they raised their families.  Once a year, for more than a quarter-century now, they have hosted a family and friends reunion, complete with hayrides, food in abundance, even a Catholic Mass celebrated in the middle of an idyllic, sun-splashed field.

For years, the centerpiece of this daylong event had been the original barn on the property.  Well-weathered wood provided the floor, walls, and slanted ceiling of this decades-old structure, big enough to host scores of guests and most of the over-laden buffet.  Spending time with family members you love, especially when the time you have to spend together gets more scarce and precious with each passing year, gave that creaky old barn a special essence.  It became the conduit for protecting and cherishing family connections, passing on revered family stories, and welcoming new members of the family by birth or marriage.

Massive wooden beams provided the underpinning and structural integrity that kept the barn standing through most of a century’s worth of winter winds and summer storms.  Eventually, though, the barn needed updating.  The wood encasing the sturdy frame had reached a point where it had to be replaced.  The barn had served its purpose nobly and reliably for a lifetime.

Yet was it worth the effort, materials, and investment to bring it up to snuff – particularly since the two families had since moved into homes far atop the hill at the peak of their property, and nowhere near the roadside location of the barn?

Over the past year, one of my cousins out on the farm took it upon himself to dismantle the original structure, salvage those immense, intractable, irreplaceable wooden beams, and use them once again as the sturdy framework of a new barn built near his hilltop home.  He did such a marvelous job, that this beautiful addition has already been reserved for two family weddings, and will continue to offer a unique venue for family gatherings for years to come.

Recognizing the deep value of those original timber beams and putting them to use once more enabled the barn to live on, even in a new form and for a new purpose.

It reminds me of how those four cousins of mine, those four brothers, instilled the core values of confidence and courage that still come into play today for me.

Surviving amid raging rapids of testosterone, even having grown up in a house where estrogen had the upper hand?  Yeah, I can swim in that pool.  Thanks, guys.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

There She Was…Smiling At Me

By Tim Hayes

This Monday, July 10, marks our 35th wedding anniversary.  This essay is adapted from a column first published back in the early 1980s when I worked as a newspaper reporter, which tells the story of that day – and why, 35 years later, she still knocks me out.

* * *

About three days before the wedding, when I already lived in our apartment in Indiana, PA, while my wife-to-be still lived in Pittsburgh, the phone rang after I got home from work, my sister on the other end.

“Promise you won’t be mad?” she asked rather sheepishly, knowing how my Italian temper had already been frayed as the wedding day approached.  “I won’t be mad,” I calmly assured her, the steam rising inside me, waiting for some horrible news.  “Whales is in the hospital.  He’s having his appendix out.”

“Whales” was my best friend in high school and was to have been one of my ushers.  The “was” became apparent with the news.

Astounding my sister as well as myself, I handled the situation with logic and cool.  Murphy’s Law would not wreck our wedding.  We had taken every precaution to see to that.  So this little piece of news was not going to develop into a calamity.  After hanging up with my sister, I called my then-fiancé and decided to ask a good neighbor of hers whom we also knew from IUP to fill in for the ailing Whales.

We had already been fitted for our tuxedos, so after work the next day I had to make the trip to Pittsburgh, pick up our replacement, have him fitted for a new suit, foot the bill, drop him off, and come back to Indiana for work the next day.  No biggie.

My wife is a super planner, and as the day got closer and closer, she became a real stickler for double-checking everything.  “Are everybody’s rooms ready?”  “Yeah.”  “The band knows the directions?” “Yeah.”  “Rustic Lodge didn’t forget about the reception there?”  “They do this all the time.”  “That’s what I mean!  They know it’s for us, right?”  “Don’t worry, everything’s ready, I promise.”  “How about the photographer?”  “You just talked to him a couple of days ago.”

“I know, but remember what happened to your mom?  The photographer forgot about the wedding in the church and now she only has pictures of her reception and the fruit sculpture!”  She was right.  And I didn’t know if we were even going to have any fruit sculpture.

“I’ll call the photographer again.”

The next thing to worry about – it seemed a never-ending list – was the rehearsal.  Because of scheduling at the Newman Center, we had to have the rehearsal right around dinnertime Friday.  The Newman Center.  That’s really where our first “date” happened, and it played such an important role in our college lives at IUP that we wanted to get married there.  Little did we realize, though, how difficult it would be for two Catholics from the Diocese of Pittsburgh to get married in a Catholic church in the Diocese of Greensburg.

It’s all the same religion, right?  Should be a snap, right?  Wrong.  The red tape.  Unreal!  But it all came together, the paperwork got filed, the rehearsal came off without a hitch, and before we knew it The Morning had arrived.

I stayed cool, watching Bugs Bunny cartoons in the hotel room while all kinds of activity went on outside – the photographer remembered to come and was taking shots of the girls, my best man and his brother decorated the Cadillac a relative loaned us for the day, and well-wishers popped in to see how I was faring.

In time, the girls left for church.  Our parents left for church.  The guys left for church.  And then it was just me and my cousin, the best man, waiting to leave for church.  It finally hit me then.  Within an hour, I thought, I’ll be getting married.  That’s a pretty heady notion for a 21-year-old.

You know the feeling just before going out on stage?  Magnify that about 100 times.  I knew something great was about to happen, but I felt scared stiff anyway.  So happy, so hopeful, so terrified.  Like the butterflies in my stomach were still caterpillars.

My clunky old VW Beetle held out long enough to get us to the Newman Center and soon the moment was upon us.  I thanked all the guys, made sure my cousin had the rings, took a deep breath, and began filing into church to take our positions.

My nerves began shake-rattle-and-rolling again.  This is it, Hayes.

The processional played as each bridesmaid slowly came up the aisle and was met by an usher.  God, I thought, I was sooooo nervous.  I honestly had never been that jittery before in my life.

But then –

She turned the corner on her dad’s arm.  She smiled at me.  And suddenly I couldn’t figure out what in the world I was so nervous about.  I had it all, and there she was in a shining white dress, smiling at me.

That same beautiful, warm, loving, happy, sunshine smile has brightened every day ever since.  Thirty-five years’ worth now, and counting.

Happy Anniversary, Love.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Gone Batty for Fireworks

By Tim Hayes

As with any true-blue American, our family loves to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July.  Just as John Adams wanted us to.

In a letter to his wife, Abigail, on the eve of signing the Declaration of Independence, July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

“Shews?”

Anyway, the first commemorative Independence Day fireworks were set off a year later in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777, and we’ve been booming and sparkling and sizzling and oohing and ahhing merrily along ever since.

In our little corner of the world, we’re blessed with fireworks from two separate sources – two golf courses not far away that each tries to outdo the other, creating a bonanza of bombast every Independence Day evening.  The best place to catch the majority of both displays turned out to be the huge parking lot behind our local high school.

So around 8:30 or so, we’d load up the obligatory suburban-family model powder-blue Chrysler Town & Country minivan, complete with kids, juice boxes, and all of the other effluvia required with carting three grade-schoolers anywhere, and head up to the high school.  Naturally, other families had scouted the same perch, so you had some jockeying for position, not wanting to block anybody else’s view but still staking the best claim for your clan at the same time.  Papa Bear stuff, you understand.

One memorable year, we landed an especially prime spot.  The hatch could be opened, the kids could sit on the back ledge of the car to sip and snack during the show.  We even had some additional ambient light from one of the tall, thin, metal light stands that illuminated the parking lot, about five feet from the minivan.

Dusk overtook the nighttime summer sky, and everyone started to get itchy for the fireworks to begin.  That’s when I first noticed a strange sound.  A faint squeaking noise.

Could the engine still be running?  No, the car was turned off and no sound came from under the hood.  Were the kids doing something with their juice box straws?  Nope.  How about those other families all around us?  Some of those kids were real whackadoodles.  But no, that wasn’t it either.  What the heck was that sound?  And where was it coming from?

Then I looked up.

Clouds of bats swarmed around the lights atop those poles, one of which stood just feet from our Town & Country.  Now, the creepy critters flew about some 30 feet above us, but how long would it take a freaking bat to cover 30 feet?  About one second, right?  Not the most comforting thought.

Total darkness now blanketed the horizon, so I decided to not share my discovery, hoping that once the booms and blasts started, that cloud of winged rats would find some other place to hang out.  Little did I appreciate how spectacularly correct that prediction would become.

At last, the first fireworks started.  One over here, another from the alternate golf course.  Intermittent and sporadic, as each show built up momentum.  Before long, the colorful explosions against the night sky became more regular, more thunderous, the powerful sound waves bouncing through the atmosphere.

And the bats responded in turn, breaking off from their close clusters 30 feet up, and now flying in wider circles, getting steadily closer to the ground.  And to all of the revelers parked across that asphalt.

Within seconds, my little secret was out of the bag, with kids shrieking, moms shouting, dads closing up minivan hatchbacks and starting up motors all over that parking lot.  It looked like the closing scene of “Animal House” when the parade goes haywire.

We got back home and made do with the view from our own backyard.  Bat-free and happy.  But for a few moments up at the high school, old John Adams would have loved it.

It had been a hell of a shew.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Beefsteak Blossoms

By Tim Hayes

In the moderately sized backyard, shovel sliced into earth across the rear corner, off to the right.  The heel of a tennis shoe-clad food pushing the blade into the ground, to reveal the black soil beneath.

Before long, a 10-by-10 foot patch had been cleared, then tilled carefully, before planting began on the first-ever Hayes Family vegetable garden.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and maybe one or two more crops comprised our tentative foray into urban farming.

A six-foot high picket fence promised to keep the deer away.  Smaller critters like rabbits, well, we’d just have to take our chances.  The real point, of course, came in giving Dad (me) some time with his kids while they were small and still happy to hang around him.  And maybe we’d all learn something together about growing, living things, and how important it is to care for them well.

We dug out rows for the different vegetables, giving the tomatoes the run of the middle patch.  Risking tremendous overreach and a flashing a bit of bravado, we put in Beefsteak tomatoes – the bullies of the bunch.  But if they came in strong and ballooned up to their juicy, skin-stretching potential?  Oh baby, we’d be the toast of our little neighborhood.  So it became Beefsteak or Bust.

The kids were maybe five, three, and one years old when all of this happened.  The size of the garden would not have impressed anybody at the office, but to our kids it looked like Old MacDonald’s Farm.  We planted the seeds, taped the seed packets to the little wire trim fence around the edges to keep track of which row held which vegetable, watered them, pulled out weeds as they poked up, and waited for nature to start the festivities.

At the right time, the buds pierced the soil and started blooming.  The Beefsteaks started crawling out from their spreading vines, turning different shades of green before taking on hints of red, while the other crops eventually came into view and started to grow under the scorching July sun.

One evening after dinner, I took our oldest out into the garden with me.  She and I carried some long wooden sticks, a hammer, and some twine.  The time to give the Beefsteaks some help had arrived.  We’d place the sticks into the ground and tie the tomato vines to them, giving the plants room to grow vertically.

I had decided on this strategy using my (severely) limited agricultural faculties, declaring to my five-year-old assistant that this would increase our harvest while letting the tomatoes benefit from more direct sunlight.  Plus, I’d seen somebody on TV do the same thing.

We worked together for more than an hour, her handing me tools and implements, holding up the tomato vines against the poles and telling me where to tie the twine around them.  Our knees, hands, and faces got smudged and smeared with the loam of the garden, but we didn’t care.  We did something important and great, and we had done it together.

One Beefsteak had fully ripened, we noticed.  It looked plump, deep red, and ready to be enjoyed.  I helped my little daughter pluck it from the vine, and it almost fell to the ground, it was so heavy for her to hold.  But she got a good grip on it and smiled up at me.

I reached down, and lifted her up into my arms.  As she held that tomato, and I held her, neither one of us said a word, but looked at each other for the longest time.  In that moment, like so many more with all of the kids over the years, there was nowhere else in the universe I wanted to be more than where I was right then and there with my child.

The pride, the gratitude, the joy, the deep, deep love for this little person and the love and happiness she felt after spending this special time with me – all got communicated as we looked at each other that late summer evening.

She’s in her mid-20s now, building a career and doing wonderfully in another part of the country.  We’ll be together again soon at the beach for a family vacation.  No Beefsteaks anticipated there, other than the ones we might buy at a grocery store in that little Jersey Shore town.

But when I see her, that moment next to a makeshift backyard garden more than two decades ago will flash across my mind once more.  And all is right with the world.  Happy Fathers Day.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes