Tom’s Posts Archives

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

I love keeping up with the Joneses. This came to me recently as a neighbor struggling with a yard in transition this spring expressed a panic over what the neighborhood would think.

For years I lived with the fear that our yard/home ruined the neighborhood. Each spring our lawn was yellow with weeds. Summers it was dirt. Autumn leaves were all over it. So many leaves, always left for spring. One year the siding kept flying off of the house. Our driveway crumbled each time it was shoveled. Then I started keeping up with the Joneses.

A great release came the year I began to use our neighbors the way I did the growth charts for our children in the doctor’s office. Although I resist the idea of comparing the growth of children I have found comfort in my keeping up with the neighbors when it comes to owning and operating a home.

When our neighbors behind us washed their house last fall I was reminded it was time to do the same. Our neighbor across the street had her trees cut. I remembered that I had to trim some. Another neighbor had ducts cleaned. I need to do that too.

I have found our neighbors to be great teachers. Early on I rushed mowing the lawn, almost running while doing it. But when I spotted the man across the street get in a mow during his lunch from work, walking the mower with prupose but not in a frantic panic, I did the same. Another neighbor hung her clothes to dry on hangers instead of using the wooden pins. This way the clothing was ready to hang indoors. I did that too. One of my neighbors covered his air conditioner in the off season with wood to keep out leaves and debris. I do it now too. There are so many things I have learned about owning a home from my neighbors.

Keeping up with the Joneses. Great sense to me–and it makes my life as a homeowner here in Monona so much easier.

PICKING UP AN OLD HABIT

Since I no longer am able to ‘cruise’ down Winnequah Road while listening to music behind the wheel to attain my zen moment I decided to run. Something I have not done in more than twenty years. Before marriage or family. Prior to the medical belt I wear because of back trouble even to do a simple chore in the yard. I was going to run. Why not?

This was not prompted by any thoughts to be healthier. Not even the steady stream of runners I’ve watched pass my kitchen window as I have prepared and cleaned up meals for the past dozen years made me do it. I decided to run because my daughter put some new songs on the IPOD the kids gave to me for Father’s Day several years ago.

It became a group effort. My oldest son had some running shoes I could fit into. My wife bought running shorts that left me feeling as if I was in my boxers as I left the house. Armed with the IPOD and my medical belt I was on my way.

I was graced with the start of a perfect day Sunday as darkness gave way to the promise of sun that would melt the frost I saw in certain spots. For a few minutes I walked, telling myself it would be a good warm up. I remembered this, recalling how I would run through Hyannis Port on Cape Cod to the jetty where I’d sit on the rocks watching the ferry leave for Nantucket. I was just picking up an old habit. All my life I have been an avid walker. I had this.

My ‘run’ began on Baskerville–up the hill. The peak my youngest son always loved from his stroller a few years back would be a small reward–looking out over the lake. By the time I reached that point I thought I might die. Going downhill was small relief. That came on Tonyawatha during the stretch leading to the pier. There I stopped to watch the sun come up over the lake and shine upon Madison. That was when I remembered the part I liked about running back in Hyannis Port all those years ago–stopping to sit on the rocks and watch the ferry leave for Nantucket.

Another jogger appeared. He was moving slower, steady and measured–gave the nod. Lucky for me I was walking by this time so I was not exposed as the poser I was. Walking through Monona the world became familiar again. Walking–I had this.

So I tried running again. Something I hear people might do when they turn fifty. Will I do it again? I am sure that I will because the memory of standing on the pier in Monona watching the sun come up on the lake will be such a good one–when I turn seventy.

Winnequah Road: The New Stop Zone

Truth be told we do not like to stop. As a society the worst thing a person can do is to go backwards, slow down or stop. We really don’t like being told we have to stop. So Winnequah Road is sporting a few new stop signs and people want to cry in their soup about it. Too bad.

As a parent one of the first lessons one teaches children is to slow down, stop. Don’t run or you might get hurt. Take one stair at a time. But when this same command is gven to us we do not like it.

OPRAH has been very vocal about the car being a NO PHONE ZONE since January, even had a national day for it last month. Wisconsin just passed a law against texting in the car while driving. So why can’t Monona declare Winnequah Road a STOP ZONE?

I live on Winnequah Road so I suppose I am guilty of not wanting traffic to go by my home too loud or fast. That could be it–or maybe it is the years I have spent waiting for a school bus with my kids observing what people on Winnequah Road do in their cars as they zip past our bus stop. Texting and talking on a cell phone, two of the craziest things a person driving can do, are only the start of it. I have seen people putting on makeup, brushing their teeth and a man in a convertible even shaving.

This week I spotted a man talking on his phone and using his other hand to hold up a box perched on his passenger seat. When I wondered aloud how he was driving I was informed by the kids, who seem to know everything these days, that he was proably using his knees.

Will the signs stop accidents or prevent speeding? I don’t know. Is this the best solution to the problem? I am not sure. Does it change the flow of traffic to a point of distraction itself? So it might seem. But it is an attempt, frustrating as it might be.

Grief always flies in the face of change. All change is not always good but sometimes it is needed to look at something in a different way.

Of course this is not a popular view to hold. So what–this is not a popularity contest. We are talking about saving lives. I will more than likely be the first to get a ticket for missing the new signs. But will I deserve that ticket? Yes if I am guilty of being a distracted driver. I am too often distracted while driving.

When a stop sign appeared at the start of Winnequah Road off of Monona Drive I was frustrated by it. But truth be told one Sunday a few years back I nearly hit some bikers there. The stop sign makes me slow down, realize I am no longer on Monona Drive. Perhaps the signs on Winnequah Road near Maywood Park will do the same.

So I will have to take my medicine, get a ticket if I am too distracted for the new stop signs near my home–but when it happens I will more than likely be traveling at a slower speed on Winnequah Road than I have before.

Take a spring walk through Monona

Here are a few photos of spring trees in Monona:

A SPRING WALK

A SPRING WALK

A SPRING WALK

Living like you are dying

For almost a year now I have been living as if I am dying. Not because I am dying but because I am surrounded by a series of lasts as our oldest son prepares to leave for college.

Just before last summer I became aware of the fact that our son would be leaving us. I suppose I knew it all along but it became real as our lives were flooded with college visits, applications and test scores. As he finishes his search this week that has taken him from California to Boston and all points in between it has seemed at times I am left with the remainder of a long lists of ‘lasts’ as he prepares to leave Monona.

Last fall was the last time he would celebrate his birthday with us at home. Next November he would be in a dorm somewhere with his friends, most likely.

The holiday season was the last that would not include the rush of travel, a bus or train for him to catch or us to meet–possibly a flight if he went far away.

During the heavy snow of January and February I realized it was the last winter I could call through the house for him to shovel for me. Time to buy that snowblower I have been putting off. Spring has brought a series of lasts as he finishes his time at Monona Grove High School.

This summer we will know the last of the lasts. Our last time gathered together to watch the Memorial Day Parade together. The last Fourth of July Celebration with all of us together? A last swim–even though the pool is not our son’s passion. What if he stays at school next summer? Is the yearly trip we take as a family in August our last together? Will he be somewhere else doing something else during that time? Can we even fit the trip in with the move to college now part of our backdrop?

But in the end college is not death. It is a birth of sorts. I remember it well as the time my ‘real’ life began. So in the midst of all the lasts and leaving that have managed to tug at me this year there have been hints of the things to come. A time of excitement and celebration. A new life for our son in a different place. It just won’t be happening here in Monona anymore–or with us.

An early morning lawn mowing debate

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH, Spring!
The sound of a mower cutting through the lawn reaches into the windows, drowning out the sound of birds. It’s spring.

I have always viewed the sound of a neighbor’s mower in two ways–a small comfort for a season I enjoy and the tiny urging that my own lawn must be mowed.

At 50 I have become one of those men who pays too much attention to their lawn.  Not that it always shows.

But this is not six in the evening when a meal awaits the family at the end of a long day.  It is six in the morning and one of our nieghbors is mowing their lawn– LOUD!

For some this is a grumpy start to the day.  While some assert that it is not such a bad way to wake up others claim it is TOO EARLY TO MOW THE LAWN!

In the wake of this lawn debate I am silent because I have been guilty of mowing earlier than nine in the morning once or twice.  I have never been brave enough to mow at six in the morning.

From my kitchen window I marveled at the guts it took to do it.  Part of me had to hold back from going out myself to join the culprit.

But no worries–my family would tie me to a chair before they let that happen.

I cause enough shame to our teenagers mowing and raking in sandals, socks and shorts.

Not to mention that I often shovel at two or three in the morning when only a fox moving down the center of Winnequah Road keeps me company.  I will NOT be allowed to have us known as the house that mows at six in the morning!

But as the debate went on I began to wonder about those loud blowers of snow that begin to sound around six  on winter mornings.  Are they any worse than a mower at that time in the spring?

And I wonder which was louder… the early morning lawn mower or our debate about it?

By seven-thirty as we all were leaving the house the debate was over.  Our neighbor who mowed at six in the morning was forgotten by all–but me.  I could not help but think as I left the driveway how great his lawn looked at the start of a spring day.

While we were growing up our parents told us how well off we were. It often started with a ‘WHEN WE WERE KIDS…” statement.

While we listened to their tales of walking miles to school in the snow and cold we felt lucky–although we also walked miles in the cold and snow. We were better off than our parents had been when they were growing up, it seemed. That gave us, and our parents, a sense of comfort. I am not sure that is still true.

A recent school board meeting here in Monona included the topic of bullies. I am well versed in the topic of bullies. When I was in school I attracted bullies. But somehow the bullies these days seem different than the ones I dealt with.

For nearly a decade now this new brand of bullies have been on the horizon. We had student shootings at schools. Those shootings were caused we were told, in part, by bullies who made the lives of the shooters terrible.

More recently we have had a rash of students ending their own lives because they are not able to deal with the bullies. At times adults have even become involved, using the computer to bully teens to their death. After these deaths the bullies continue.

This past winter after a high school girl in Boston ended her life the bullies wrote bad things on her ‘memory page’ for her friends and family to read.

In February I had an email from my high school reunion site. I had no desire to connect with anyone from high school but the email took me there. It pulled me in. I found myself writing a few messages to people. They wrote back. The best thing that happened was that I was able to write long overdue ‘thank you’ notes to people who I needed to thank.

When I was in high school I was lucky because of the proximity of my locker to Terry Mullin. His locker was next to mine. Terry was on the football team. As bullies punched me and kicked my books down the hall, or poured chocolate milk over me, Terry and other members of the football team stood up for me. One of them was always looking out for me it seemed. That made life bearable.

This winter the email from my high school allowed me to thank Terry Mullin. It prompted me to write to other members of the football team. Their messages back to me were great. I wrote to the drama club because people in that group helped me along the way also. All winter we enjoyed new relations as fifty-year-old men and women. By early spring I had a whole new version of my time in high school.

As I watched the Monona School Meeting on television with my teenagers we talked about my experience and the experience they are having–that they see others having. In the end we wondered if bullies were really that different now or not.

Too often these days it seems there is not a Terry Mullin or football team, drama club or others, there for the students the bullies target. Perhaps that is the biggest difference from then to now.

By having a meeting that includes the topic of bullies Monona seems to be taking a step toward encouraging people to stand up for the victims bullies target. I like that idea, embrace the thought that at fifty a student here in Monona might be writing a thank you to someone who made their life during high school bearable. If this conversation continues our kids have the opportunity to have it as good as we did.

Is it possible to love Monona too much?

During the recent economic downturn the country has endured I have experienced a foreclosure without having gone through one myself.  A family I know lost their home this year, in part due to their great love of Monona.

From the time I met this couple they have expounded upon the great virtues of Monona, while never living here themselves.  When they lived in Madison they were more visible than many local residents are.

Four years ago they made the mistake of moving away from Madison to a town forty-five minutes away.  That put them on the road each day back and forth to their great love–Monona.

Their church was in Monona.  The children went to school in Monona.  All of the sport activities their children were engaged in were in Monona.  As jobs were lost and bills began to mount they took comfort in Monona.

After a difficult year this family has settled–not in Monona.  Situated west of Madison they still have a great love for Monona.

Knowing them and ‘living through’ their ordeal with them these past months I have been given a gift.  Through their eyes I have come to see the city of Monona the way one does when entertaining out of town visitors.  Often the hosts wonder why they do not do all the fun things they did when guests were in town all of the time.

I spent this year enjoying the parks and the lake more, grateful for the schools and filled with wonder over the simple things like taking a walk through the streets of Monona.

As summer approaches I am filled once again with the great things offered here in Monona.  This year I intend to enjoy them even more–through the eyes of people who lost nearly everything for their love of a place I am lucky enough to call home.

The Other Tom Mulroe

Tom Mulroe is dead.  The news traveled to Monona last week. It was a surprise to me.

The year I was fourteen I was named Carrier of the Week for the local newspaper I delivered in Oak Park, a suburb outside Chicago.  After my name and photo appeared in the paper I became aware of another Tom Mulroe my age who lived a few blocks away from me on the other side of Austin Boulevard–in Chicago.

Prior to that my father was the other Tom Mulroe for me.  I am his junior, named after him.  When he died a few years back friends in Oak Park thought at a glance that it was me–then realized it was my father.

Over the years I have heard about what the other Tom Mulroe is doing. During college we ended up both being friends with a co-worker of mine.  I heard that he married young and had a large family, did not move too far from the area where he was born.  Out of high school he did odd jobs.  The last I heard he sold sinks–was quite good at it.

Three years ago this Christmas we spoke on the phone.  I talked about Monona, where I live.  He was eager to bring his family here, to a place he said that he felt sounded like heaven to him.  A town in Wisconsin by a lake. It was the type of place he’d like to retire to he said.

Time passed.  We both were caught up in our lives.  He never made the trip.

At fifty he died last week.  The news came to me here in Monona over the phone from my mother, who was aware of the other Tom Mulroe through me.

In the midst of all this I became aware a few weeks ago of a book called THE OTHER WES MOORE by Wes Moore.  It details the lives of two men who have the same name.  I was reminded of the other Tom Mulroe then, just prior to hearing he had died.

The truth is there are many other men named Tom Mulroe.  My teenagers put my name on Google a year or two ago and found them.  The one I knew was not one of them.  I intended to talk about that over the phone with him when we spoke again, or if he ever made it to Monona–a place he perceived from our conversations to be heaven.

Encounters of the “Public” Kind

Like all towns, Monona has a fair amount of public people who reside in it.

Recently I was told that I was rude because I did not introduce some people who I was with to a public figure who I am neighbors with.

We were at a park near our home when this happened. The public pereson in question was juggling three small children on playground equipment. It struck me as odd that I might have been rude for not introducing the people who I was with to this public figure.

If you live long enough you more than likely find yourself in the path of a public person. Long before we were married my wife and I encountered Oprah Winfrey on a street in Chicago. We kept walking, although I would have enjoyed meeting the woman attempting to get into a car.

On a train to Boston from Chicago, when we were wearing a rut in that portion of the country, we sat in a cafe car alongside John Madden who was reading. He is famous for a fear of flying. We ignored him.

This has become a pattern. I never considered it rude or questioned it, although our teenagers felt like we missed out the summer of the election when we saw our current president riding bikes past us with his wife and children during a visit to Chicago.

The year we were married Rose Kennedy turned 100. We were living on Cape Cod. All of Hyannis Port was flooded by people attempting to get a glimpse of the big Kennedy Party that July.

We had lived a few doors down the road from the Kennedy Compound long enough to come to ignore it and the sightings of United States royalty.

I went to the beach that Sunday to avoid the crowds determined to ‘encounter’ a Kennedy. That was when I bumped into Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Alone on a stretch of sand I later learned the Shriver Family owned, I was annoyed by their appearance. Who were these people who were suddenly a part of my solitude on an isolated beach I had made my own since living there?

I felt invaded by the couple with a young child in their arms who laughed and took photos, not recognizing them in my bothered state.

As I was leaving, my time alone on the shore ruined by these people, they were also leaving. On Cape Cod large green flies that bite are a part of the summer landscape. Salt boxes are positioned near the shore to attract them but they still can be a presence. This is when I realized who the couple I was bothered by were.

‘Wicked flies,” the man said in a voice that could only belong to Arnold Schwarzenegger. I nodded then left after a few moments of local small talk that never included my disclosing to them that I knew who they were.

Later when I told people this story, as all of Cape Cod talked about the chaos the birthday party for Rose Kennedy had caused, I was surprised when I was told I should have demanded an autograph and taken photos.

I was known in those days for always having some sort of camera with me. A woman my wife and I know, who is like a mother to us, said I had more grace than to do that.

It turned out Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger were the ones with grace since I was on a beach they owned and was invading their private moments.

I had the same feeling then that I did recently when I was told that I was rude for not introducing the people who I was with to the man in the park with his children.

Is it rude to ‘ignore’ a public person or perhaps ruder to not ignore them?

Would I want to be approached while I was with my children at a park?

If I had made the introduction I suppose the camera phone might have come out earlier than it did. A photo of the man and his children would have been taken instead of my ushering us to the parking area–on with our day.

I suppose I was a bit rude because I excercised a bit of control over the situation from my end. But then isn’t that what all of us do during our inevitable encounters with public people–one way or another?

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