Saturday, June 29, 2013

Battling Daylight

I've been battling daylight.  My nemesis darts through this cloudy, dark summer sky with the ease of a great bald eagle riding an updraft.  The battle has been long and arduous.  VAN VAN, a white 1968 VW Campmobile, has been our chariot in this day of war.  Harassingly, we rumbled down the small winding roads of Barry and Kent county, teasing the lazy bovine and swine who wallow in their own filth, avoiding the suns torment.  My farmer tanned skin is oily and tight, permeated with the stench of burning birch wood and sunburn.  My hands hold the memory of the dozen small blue gills I released from my sons’ sharp, golden hooks. The taste of charred turkey franks and pickle relish lingers in the back of my mouth, holding on like a cocklebur.  I've been battling daylight, and I lassoed its ass and hog tied it with love. I've been battling daylight and now I sit here, with my shirt off, sipping on the Rampant Imperial IPA that is pooled in my pint glass, dripping with humid perspiration, resting nervously in my slippery, wet hand.  It trembles at the pace in which it enters my dry, thirsty mouth.  I’m worn and tattered from 3 relentlessly conspiring young men who are all but an image of their Father.  I've battled daylight, and those three boisterous, young men fought hard and will remember this battle and tell the story.  We battled daylight and made the most of this cool, rainy, summer day in the mitten and we’ll never forget how we conquered it.  #Summer #PureMichigan #BattlingDaylight

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

40 Years Gone

At 4:10 AM on March 13, 1973, I was born.  It's been 40 years.  Because of the date of my birth, I'm a Pisces and an Ox. Water is my element.  Funny, and not surprising, none of that has had a bearing on my life.  I was Baptized in the Catholic Church. I grew up in what was considered a redneck, farm town named Lowell.  When I was living there, it was every bit of those things. But, in spite of it, I think I turned out okay.

I was considered a farmer because I lived on a 12 acre plot with my parents and brother and we raised all sorts of farm animals.  At some point in my youth, we owned cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, cows, goats, horses, donkeys and chickens.  We had a big red barn with some stalls in it and two big pastures.  When I was young I remember riding the goats around the pasture.  They didn't like it so much, but I thought it was great fun.  We milked the goats and used the milk in our home.  I didn't think much of it at the time, but we were pretty green as a family.  We burned wood in the Winter, raised animals and used them for food, milk and eggs.  It was a lot of work, but taught me a lot.  I am blessed with a Mother and Father that cared so much for their children.  I think it was more important to them to expose us to different things than to give us what we wanted.  I am happy that I was brought up in that way.  I had to work.  Shoveling stalls, stacking hay, feeding animals, splitting and hauling wood, mowing grass, etc... But we had lots of time to ride bikes and explore the woods out back, build forts and have fun.

Our neighbors played a big role in my life.  There were six kids that lived next door.  Over the years we all got into trouble together and had great times learning about life.  We played outside all the time.  We had a fun little bike path at their house and were always building forts and making up clubs that we were in.  As time went on, we grew apart, grew back together, and apart again.  Some of my best memories are:  playing in the small seasonal creek in the North pasture, riding bikes, shooting roosters, my first kiss, playing volleyball with my Dad and Mr. Pawloski and Ryan or Sean in the evenings until the darkness overtook us, throwing rocks while waiting for the bus, sledding, rock heaven, the log of chew, camping in hammocks in the woods, the Pony Keg week, needing Ryan to drive when he was 14 because I had too much tequila, passing out in their basement only to wake up and think it would be funny to steal all the cushions off of their couch and stuff them in the back of my car (when I got in my car the next morning I freaked out when I saw them, so I drove over there and luckily no one was home, so I put them back), climbing willow trees.  I don't think any of us knew what we wanted in life, nor did we care.  We just had fun.

I was in the Boy Scouts and am proud to say that I am an an Eagle Scout.  Scouting was a big part of my life from the time I was old enough to join. In Cub Scouts, I loved the Pinewood derby.  I never seemed to win, but I did get 2nd and 3rd. Scouting is where I learned many life lessons like talking myself out of trouble, hiding the scent of a cigar and alcohol on my breath, how to pick up a chick, practical jokes, hazing and others that I shouldn't mention.  (By the way, John Engler kept some REALLY GOOD cigars in the Governor's mansion on Mackinac Island)   I also learned how to survive in the wild, pitch a tent in the rain and snow, tie a knot that will hold, cook on an open fire using an orange peel, how to use a knife and gun properly, shoot an arrow true, how to respect my elders, reverence for God, fellowship with my brethren and how to have fun.

I didn't really care for school, but had fun while I was there.  I never was much for the cliques and hung out with anyone who would hang out with me. I wasn't a jock, but I played sports.  Starting in the 8th grade, I played football and was on the wrestling team.  I had some good success with both until everyone got a lot bigger and I didn't. On the wrestling team, I was the 112 pound starter.  Wrestling was a lot of fun for me.  I didn't always win, but when I dropped my opponent with a goat farmer pile driver, it was over!  Or, if I worked the double chicken wing, forget about it.  On the football team I was a linebacker and offensive lineman. Seriously, at 112 pounds, I was a lineman and linebacker.  Now I know why we didn't win so much.  In my junior year, I discovered beer and bon fires.  It seems that Alto, Mi is the Mecca for bon fire parties.  It is said that you only need to pull a truck into a field, light a fire and start playing AC/DC loudly and people will come for miles.  There was a small grocery store in Ada, MI where I knew the manager and he would sell beer to me.  There were many nights when my best friend Luke and I would each get a sixer and head out to whatever party was going on.  I would drive us in my 1972 Dodge Charger.  I believe this car was my Christine, except that I, nor it, were possessed. It got me home every time and I was truly sad after I sold it.  It was with me when I snuck out of the house and went to a party at Angie's house.  I ended up breaking my leg and my best friend Jeremiah, who was legally blind in one eye and too drunk to see out of the other, drove us 10 miles back to my house so I could have my Dad take us to the hospital.  That car never failed me when I was being a dumb ass. So my best memories from high school would be:  Cruising Lowell in Wayne's Omni so we could chew, the Bylls, skiing with Jeremiah Luke and Jesse, Shaving Jeremiah's Mohawk, Jack Daniel's on Angie Brown's porch, Bridge jumping in Fallasburg, the moped gang, volleyball in the front yard, Rat Fest, Reggae Sunsplash.

On July 10, 1991, at the age of 18 and with the help of my parents, I purchased a 1968 Volkswagen Campmobile. This was one of the most significant moments of my life.  It was a dream come true for me. Up to that point, I was in love with the bus. A kid who was a few years older than me had one and he was the quintessential beach rat, surfer, and was always hanging out in Grand Haven.  I wanted that lifestyle sooo bad.  You could drive it anywhere, pop the top and you're home.  A party on wheels. Having it opened up my world to so many things.  I learned how to pull and rebuild and engine, drive slow, and enjoy the view. My favorite times were when I would load up a bunch of friends and head out to a party, or just park on a back road or two track with a case of beer and enjoy the night.  There was a lot of work that needed to be done and the majority of it I did with my Dad.  It was definitely a bonding and learning experience and we still work on VAN VAN together to this day.  When we had it in good working condition and with a new paint job, we drove it to New Mexico to visit my brother who was working for Philmont Scout Ranch at the time.  It was quite a trip and resulted in several great memories.  I'm so glad I had this time with my Dad.  It was the culmination of years of hard work and it had all paid off.  I remember when we began the trip, my Dad put the theme to the Lone Ranger on the radio as we pulled onto the road. That was his way of celebrating the start of our journey across the country that included:  yelling at bears in the middle of the night, sidestepping a buffalo, several carburetor adjustments, sewing up the popup cot with dental floss, crossing the bridge over the Royal Gorge bridge, Coasting with engine off from the Eisenhower Tunnel to what felt like Denver (quietest and fastest the Bus has ever been), the rest stop from Hell where the Alternator went out and a storm surge sucked open the pop up of the bus, a rental car and a rescue mission.

I spent three forgettable years attending Grand Rapids community College. This was a tumultuous time in my life.  Not sure what I wanted to do, wanting and needing more out of life.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any money, so I had to go with the flow.  I finally transferred to Central Michigan University and moved in with Chad Lyon and Sean Smith in a party house on Main Street.  Unbelievably, after one semester, I was on the Dean's list and was asked to join the Golden Key National Honors Society, which I did.  On the weekends, we would have great parties and every once in a while, a blow out kegger!  In my second year at CMU, I joined Alpha Kappa Psi (AKPsi), the co-ed professional business fraternity.  I expected this to be fun and a great addition to my resume. What I didn't expect was to meet the greatest people I've ever known.  People that were determined to succeed and party like it was their job!  The pledging process was much like the movie The Game.  You never knew what was going to happen next or what key to use.  It was certainly an eye opener and a place where I met life long friends who are truly my brothers. I'm intentionally going to gloss over these years as there are many holes in my memory and I want to protect the innocent.

Upon graduating college, I took a job with a small consulting firm in Holland, MI called ISG.  I was so incredibly happy to be working for this company, in Holland, close to the beach. Initially, I dreamt of driving my bus to the beach after work and watching the sunset and living the happy-go-lucky life.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  But I fell in love with the company and my coworkers. The first 5 years at ISG were very happy times.  In the Spring of 1998, ISG hired a new girl to answer the phones.  I referred to her as the secretary.  Her name was Beth Atkinson.  She had this amazing short, bob haircut that exposed her neck.  I fell in love with her immediately. It took some time, but I finally won her over at the ISG Christmas party, thanks to Bill and Mary Pollock.  After dating for around 6 months, we moved in together.  Again, I'm glossing over some details here, but this time to protect Me.

Up to this point, Beth was everything I had been looking for in a girlfriend / potential bride, but Beth had to pass the test.  I had vowed that if I were to marry, my bride would have to spend at least one week with me living in VAN VAN prior to any engagement. So, in the fall of 1999, Beth and I embarked on a "vacation" to Colorado.  We left Grand Rapids immediately after I had ridden my bike in a mountain bike race at Pando ski area.  Needless to say, Beth did most of the driving for the first 12 hours. We ended up having a great time!  Beth seemed to enjoy camping in Van Van which meant  that she passed the test. I think it was our trip up to the top of Pikes Peak that sealed the deal. ;)

Before Beth and I got together, a coworker asked me if I thought she was the one, and I remember saying, "If I can get her out on a date and she likes me back, I'll be off the market for good."  We got engaged on a hill in San Francisco, not quite overlooking the Ocean, but as close as I could get at the time.

On June 30, 2001, I married Beth.  It was the happiest day of my life. Unfortunately, 2001 turned into a sorrowful year for us.  on September 11, our country was struck by a terrorist attack that affected me deeply.  A few months later, we lost our first child to a miscarriage.  I can't tell you how difficult this time  was for us. After being on a high from our wedding, then to crash to a national tragedy and then to the loss of a child was indescribable.  But, with perseverance, we regrouped and gave birth to our first son on October 18, 2002.  Magnus Morrison Smith.  He looked like a body builder coming out of the womb.  He is an incredible kid and, at the age of 10, extremely smart and very well read.

Our second son was born on January 30, 2007.  Nolan Ryder Smith is a loving and emotional young man.  He is very much like me.  He gives the best hugs you could imagine.

After some convincing, I agreed to have our third child, Grayson Oliver Smith. Born on July 22, 2009.  He is an incredible little guy.  His hair rivals Fabio and those eyes could entrap the mind and control thy spirit.  He, like his brothers, is a good young Man and I am grateful to be their Dad.

I feel that all of my greatest accomplishments are behind me. On this day, at 40 years old, I don't know what lies ahead.  I know that, up to this point, I've made some good decisions.  I'm happy. I struggle. I love God.  I've been given so much and I'm going to nurture it like I would a young child.  I may be half way to 80, but they're saying that 80 is the new 30.  Other than the general aches and pains, I don't feel a day over 29.  I love this life and I'm glad that you are a part of it. Thank you for being a part of my life.  I've grown because of your influence whether large or small.  My advice to you:  Be good, love life, love God, explore, leave your nest, have fun and celebrate your life like it's 1999!

Thank you, all, for being there and celebrating this life with me.  I love you all and I hope you all can celebrate with me for years to come.  Here's to the next 40 years!  Slainte!

"Do not ask the price I pay, I must live with my quiet rage
Tame the ghosts in my head that run wild and wish me dead
Should you shake my ash to the wind, Lord, forget all of my sins
Oh let me die where I lie 'neath the curse of my lover's eyes"

- Mumford and Sons