It’s fun driving around the country, really it is. I get asked this question more than any other on this tour. “Are you having fun?” I wouldn’t have committed to Grill’n & Chill’n if it wasn’t. Also, I believe in the mission of Christendom College so even when we have some maddening moments like my 6 year-old daughter melting down because her DVD player skipped or we hit a snag; knowing that I am spending such quality time with the three most important people in my life and getting to do something I really love (seeing the country) is well worth the effort.
What kind of snag might we hit? Well yesterday, for instance, as we approached Omaha we got news that the Kansas City area was expecting heavy rain and flash flooding on Sunday. That meant that our KC event would be cancelled. No worries, though, as we could always use a tiny bit of downtime. However, Mrs. Hester had other plans…
DAY 36/Event(?) #16
Some of you might know the Gordon family. There’s John, ’97, Jen, ’98, and Jessie, ’00. Those who have followed this blog from the beginning know that Karla has been friends with all three of the Gordon siblings. You will also note that she has made it her personal mission to track down each of them, as it seems they have gone “off the grid”. John was found in Virginia. He’s the owner of a Chick-fil-a franchise and doing quite well. Jessie lives in North Carolina with her husband Art Decotiis and their uber-polite children. Jen has been living in Kansas City for the past few years with her husband Anthony and their four kids. You know that means we had to stop and visit.
After mass at the strangest of churches in St. Joseph we drove south and arrived at their house on a damp, rainy Sunday afternoon. Jen introduced us to her husband. The very first thing I noticed about the man was his spectacular mustache. And I told him so. You see, as a man who can grow facial hair, I appreciate the effort that goes into the finished product. I’ve been blessed to be able to grow it out, shave it off, and start all over again in the span of a week – something to do with a certain male hormone. I recognize that not all men can do this and I pity them. Sideburns, goattee, handlebar, Chester A. Aurthur – you name it, I’ve done it. And I usually look pretty good for the time involved. A mustache? Yes, I’ve had a straight “cop-stache” before. It’s not my best look but I can work it. This dude? Let me tell you (or just look at the picture), his ‘stache belongs in a hall of fame.
As if showing me up in the hair department wasn’t bad enough – though with much respect – I quickly learned a few other impressive things about this guy. Their house was beautiful. The basement had recently been finished off. The backyard had a spectacular treehouse/swingset. Even the color on the walls didn’t stray one millimeter past where that blue painters tape would have been. All of these projects, I learned, had been completed by Mr. Awesome. “That’s amazing,” I said to our hosts. “I can’t do any of that.”
I grew up in a city. My dad taught me the basics of home repair and how to change a tire. I can do some kitchen plumbing, I’ve changed a disposal before. I’ve even installed a light switch! “Anthony,” I said in all sincerity, “I assembled the trampoline in my backyard. It hasn’t broken yet. I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.” Guys like this – those who can truly “build” a home for their family – or those like Greg Polley – master chef – should make me sick. But they don’t. I actually admire their skill and am inspired to do more around my own house.
And then we sat down to lunch and I asked a standard conversation starter. “How’d you two meet?”Anthony and Jen proceeded to tell me a story that left out the actual answer but instead told me everything I needed to know.
“Well,” said Anthony, “I’m actually 8 years younger than Jen.”
Back that one up again, my friend… 8 years?
I replied with the only thing I knew to say.
“Wow. Good for you, man.”
We laughed in a way that only guys can in this situation. He continued.
“She was my teacher.”
Hold the phone. Long pause. I replied,
“Dude! You are epic!”
OK, so it was an adult catechesis class, not like she was his freshman English teacher, but still!
So the guy can build stuff, grow an excellent mustache, and he married his teacher? Boy am I glad we stopped by. I just got to have lunch with the most interesting man in the world.
I think I actually started out telling a story about Karla and Jen, right? So we all had lunch and took a group photo. Her quest complete, she had tracked down the Gordon’s.
But the day was not over just yet. There was another Christendom grad we needed to see. Shalon (Spring) Riddle, ’99, and her husband Mark, ’05, live about an hour west in Kansas. We were able to meet them for dinner. You know, I’m just looking at Mark’s graduation date and wondering if he’s as fascinating as Anthony. What I do know from our time at dinner is that these two are wonderful people.
Our kids started acting up in a way I have not yet seen. Stick your kids in a car for five weeks and then let them out. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Karla and I apologized profusely to Mark and Shalon. “No problem by us,” they both said with a maniacal chuckle. “Not our kids!” They had left their’s at home and were enjoying the night out. Shalon shared that she had been enjoying the blog, particularly the story of how we had been assigned a hotel room that was already occupied. Yes, that was “fun” for us too especially considering it happened a second time.
I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy these meetings. Although I remember Shalon from my one semester; it’s really interesting to “meet” people again after a long time. I know I carry my share of insecurities but it’s reassuring to come face to face with people you haven’t seen in over 20 years and realize that they appreciate the work you’re doing. The fact that everyone seems to enjoy my brand of humor and have very kindly complimented my writing is source of heartwarming pride for me.
As we were getting back on the road to drive west for a few more hours I said to Karla “I really wish I had stayed longer.” I know I had said it to her before on this trip. I also know that it was God’s Will that I didn’t stay longer. I don’t think Karla and I would be together today if I had. Karla agreed with me. “You did what God wanted you to do and it all worked out,” she said. Then I clarified my position. “Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed,” I said, “but I think I’d fit right in as a freshman today.” That is becoming my take-away from this tour.
So if teaching ever gets to be too much of a drag I know what I’ll be doing. If any of you actual alums feel like joining me, let me know. Look at it this way. I already have two master’s degrees so I could blow off classes, right? I’m secure enough (now) not to care about my shortcomings. In a reverse twist of fate I look way better at 38 than I did at 18 even given the hair loss. Although I couldn’t actually tell you where the meadows are I’m sure I could go toe to toe with any of you once we got there. And because I’m already an “old man” I know how to avoid a hangover.