Retiring Takes a Plan

Most of you already know that I retired at the first of the year just shy enough of 42 years with COX to go ahead and round it to 42. Wow! What a final year it turned out to be.

First of all, I had a plan. Or I should say, Julie and I had a plan. That plan was to retire either in April when I turned 65 or, at the end of 2018. As we were running up to the end of 2017, I was leaning towards April. But it wasn’t anything that I had shared with anyone at work. The timeline for sharing the plan was part of the plan and it would be closer to my end date.

Then, a few things happened, starting with four key people at the station retiring within a year’s time. They caught me by surprise and, it turns out, they all had their plans too.

And those individual and personal plans resulted in over 150 years of institutional knowledge rolling out of the station over the course of six months.

VP & GM Tim McVay, my boss since 2011, and Deborah Denechaud, Director of Sales, retired at the end of 2017. Then, in April, Programming Director Art Rogers retired followed by Director of Community Affairs Jocelyn Dorsey in August. It was like a graduation class closing out incredibly successful careers and signaling the end of an era in many ways. And this was MY class. We had all grown up as managers together.

Then, at the end of 2017, Cox Media Group announced that it was restructuring the Atlanta properties as of January 1, 2018. The restructuring would integrate TV, Radio and Newspaper into one unit with new leadership. In the place of the traditional leadership positions of TV and Radio general managers or a publisher for the newspaper, this transformative structure created leaders in three key tracks: content, marketing and sales. These three leaders were tasked with breaking down barriers between the units to harness the power and unique competencies of the three business operations and see what we could do together.

Also in 2018, two historical milestone events were occurring: the 50th  anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4th and Channel 2 WSB-TV’s 70th year on the air on September 29th.

Big moments like these are why you work for Channel 2. This station has the depth and breadth to “get” to the heart of what those moments mean to the community and we have the historical footage that few TV stations have maintained. The team here of programming producers, marketers and journalists knows how to tell big stories like no one else with the skills in using the new media to put the historical coverage into modern-day context and storytelling. And, both events gave the three outlets, WSB-TV and Radio and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the opportunity to really dive in together and demonstrate how working together makes for better community coverage in the end.

So, layering all of these things together as the year was beginning, I decided to stay for the whole year. I could accomplish a lot in doing so and really cap my final year with Cox and Channel 2. I could also lend consistency in a sea of change and work with the new leaders to assist in the transition.

Although it was very lonely without my colleagues of the last 18 years, I’m so glad that I did it that way. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

In early October, after the two brand-defining milestones of Dr. King and our 70th, I spoke privately with Jane Williams, the CMG EVP overseeing Atlanta. Jane is a longtime  friend and colleague, a former Director of Sales for WSB-TV who left the station in 2007 to become COX VP of TV Sales. But, in her heart, she never left Channel 2. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to Jane and the personal attention she paid to my retirement, and for her leadership and friendship over the years.

A week later, I announced it to my staff prior to the station staff the following morning at the quarterly station meeting. It’s funny that I was probably more nervous in facing and making that announcement than any presentation before. It was a very big personal reveal, which, once said out loud, is hard to take back. Retiring is a defining moment in a person’s career and life.

The announcement really set the ball in motion. The November sweep gave me something to really focus on and put my shoulder behind. Then, bam! It was December and my time at Channel 2 was over after 19 years.

But, not before the station held a retirement luncheon complete with special guest speakers, live music, food from Fox Brothers Barbeque, some really cool gifts and plaques, and, of course, the tape. Barry Sinnock and Lisa Spivack, my cohorts in creative minds, produced a great video voiced by our veteran station announcer, Scott Chapin.

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The event was an amazing honor. Never had I been showcased and celebrated as on that day. And, my 95-year-old mother flew in from Durham to join us. What a joy it was. And, what a way to go out.

I am so fortunate, so grateful and oh so proud – proud of the work of the amazing people with whom I partnered over the 42 years, proud to have worked at WSOC-TV, WPXI-TV and WSB-TV and proud to have worked for COX.

One of my plans for retirement is to refocus my energies from managing to rekindling the pursuits that started me down this path in the first place, writing, music, photography and visual arts. And, leverage those interests with the master’s class that I received in digital and social media during the last 15 years of my career.

As I relight this blog of mine, I wanted to share with you what I believe that I said that day in my last official act as the Director of Marketing for Channel 2 WSB-TV.

Retirement Luncheon Remarks

December 11, 2018. WSB-TV Studio A

erp_5558There comes a time and the time for me is now. On October 10th, in a station staff meeting, I announced my decision to retire. After 19 years at Channel 2 WSB-TV and almost 42 years with COX, it was a true bittersweet moment and led us to today and this wonderful gathering.

First off, let me say thanks to each and every one of you for taking the time out of your day to come and be here together. I hope that you can feel how you fill up this room with greatness, because that is what you have achieved over and over again and it exudes from your combination of forces – a force multiplier, something we’ve been calling our “secret sauce” for some time. Keep that. It’s precious. It makes you stronger.

And thanks to the team that is putting this on today led by Barry Sinnock, Lisa Spivack, Donna Lampkin and Sabrina Guler. You sure know how to throw a luncheon and make a guy feel special.

I want to thank Jane and Mike for being here representing Cox Media Group and for their support through the years.

And, I want to congratulate and welcome Sean Garcia who will be the next Director of Marketing for WSB-TV. Many of you know Sean from his nine years here in marketing. He went on to Jacksonville as promotion manager and then became Marketing Director at WFTV in Orlando. Welcome Sean. You’re going to do a great job here.

Gloria Lee, the Vice President of ABC Affiliate Marketing and Promotion flew in from LA to be here today. Gloria and I have worked together for almost 20 years starting with my move from Pittsburgh to Atlanta. We both began our new journeys at the about the same time in 1999. Very earlier on in my tenure here I served on the ABC Affiliate Marketing Board for four years, two as a regional representative, one as president, and finally as ex-officio. Gloria and I really got to know, respect and love each other as we partnered in ways to impact the brands of both ABC and Channel 2.

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L-R, WSB-TV Retirees Donna Mayer-Todd, Debbie Denechaud, me, John Pruitt, Jocelyn Dorsey, Tim McVay, Art Rogers and Greg Stone

And I want to recognize the royalty of faces back in the building today! To see Monica, John, Greg, Bill, Tim, Debbie, Art, Jocelyn and Donna Mayer-Todd – all these former greats in our station who did their part to punch that “Best Station in the Nation” ticket, thank you for our years together and for coming today.

Hey, this year has really been something hasn’t it? A very special shout out to Paul Briggs, Moya Neville and Donna Hall for their leadership through the year. No one has worked any harder than Paul, Moya and Donna on such a huge project as aligning TV, Radio and Newspaper together as one. Thank you.

I want to thank my wonderful partner in life and love, Julie Hazelton Riley. No one knows more than you, Julie, about the life of being married to a husband and a TV station at the same time.

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Blair, Mom and Julie

Julie and I met within my first month at WSOC-TV. We’ve been together ever since.

 

Thank you for all of your love, support and inspiration over the four decades. You gave me strength, wisdom and courage to make the difficult decisions along the way, and you were there for so many celebrations. And, all that hard work is soon to pay off in retirement. Right?

We’re so proud of both of our now grown children.

Our son, Clark, lives in Portland and works for a huge software firm. Unfortunately, he couldn’t swing the extra week to be here this far in front of Christmas. Love you son and we can’t wait to celebrate with you. Clark worked the infamous Channel 2 and Georgia Lottery patrol for a couple of summers.

Our daughter, Blair is here today. A former WSB-TV intern, she now works in Atlanta for a big time global public relations firm. She’s taught me a lot over the years about PR.

Julie and the kids lived the TV marketing life. Clark starred in his first of many TV promos when he was around two. It was a morning promo and he was wearing the full uni-jammies with feet. The kids and their friends were extras many times over, and they have been to enough parades and fireworks to last a lifetime.

Like any good speech, I want to thank my mom and dad for all their love and support through the years. Dad passed away three years ago. We never stop missing him but he continues to be on my personal board of governors.

erp_5496Mom is here today. Mom would you stand up please. Ladies and Gentlemen, the wonderful, unsinkable, hilarious and loveable, Martha Glymph Riley. She’s 95 damn years old, and she flew alone down here from Durham NC to celebrate with us. She’ll tell you a thing or two about a thing or two, in particular she has a few words about Atlanta’s airport!

Leaving is not easy and I have been very moved by the outreach of folks from inside and outside of COX with whom I have worked over the years. This company gives an employee a long reach.

I can’t tell you how much I have loved and appreciated working for COX starting way back in 1977 in Charlotte. This company nurtured me, promoted me and gave me every opportunity to succeed, and, allowed me to fail some along the way. I have had other offers over the years that stirred me a little, but when I opened up the hood on those organizations, they never equaled the character of COX. They were good, but not great. Attaining success but not through the same values as I have always felt resonated inside of the core of who we aspire to be at COX.   COX has been my family.

I admired Jim Kennedy from the day that met him at Lake Hearn not long after he took over the company reigns. He stopped by to talk with a handful of us marketers from the COX TV stations. He was so down to earth, and so appreciative of the work we all did to contribute to Cox’s success. He wasn’t too proud to openly discuss the difficulties and challenges he found in his new role, and he just hoped that he would measure up.

Well, through Jim’s leadership, this company went from good to great, growing it exponentially into the behemoth it is today. Thank you, Jim, and the COX family and now, Alex Taylor, for staying true to Governor Cox’s core beliefs: treat employees like family and always do the right thing.

Maintaining those core beliefs starts at the top. As a manager and leader, I have worked for extraordinarily supportive bosses in John Howell in Pittsburgh, and Greg Stone, Bill Hoffman, Tim McVay and Donna Hall here in Atlanta. The best of the best.

And, I hold the various teams with whom I’ve had the opportunity to play, lead or partner in the highest esteem. Each project and situation built a whole new “band of brothers and sisters.”

My father worked for the same family-owned company for 35 years. It was his passion and joy. I’m so lucky to have found the Cox family, pursue my passions and joys, and then, be able to retire from the company that launched my career…and, to retire from this great station of ours.

Channel 2 WSB-TV, is unlike any other. To get the opportunity to work here is a big darn deal. It is another to pass the test that the staff here puts to every new employee – you’ve got to represent and know your stuff. You’ve got to give it all you’ve got and what you give must be of the highest caliber. Working with the best makes you better and it makes us all work constantly to improve. We owe that to each other.

The pressure to succeed here is immense. There is so much pride and purpose, so much responsibility under such scrutiny. It is after all, the hometown of the company. This is the Cox family’s TV station. The one they and all of the senior executives in the company watch. It’s also the one their friends watch. And nothing can really prepare you for that.

Here’s to each of you, and your journey. Whatever your career plans, after years of hard work, stress and satisfaction, it will happen overnight, and you’ll be where I am. Moving on.

I know that you will nail it and continue to make a great company greater. I’m depending on you.

But before I “move on,” I want to end with a special thanks to the #1 Marketing and Design Team in the Country! Please stand and show yourself:

Barry Sinnock, Lisa Spivack, Julie Schulman, Donna Lampkin, Jamila Tyson, Mario Mendez, Adrianne Klabik, Ty Cody, Theresa Ferguson, David Ferebee, Corey Tatum, Sun Hey Kim, Daniella Lubisco, Shawn Goodrich, Shawnte’ James and Caleb Diaddigo. I just love saying those names. They show the diversity of this great group and they each are as creative as they sound.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your dedication, creativity, innovation, commitment – for sleeping here during the storms –promoting our people and our brand with love and devotion and providing a keen sense of protection and guardianship. You are simply the best. The station owes you a real standing “O.” I know that I surely do.

What an honor it has been to work with each of you here today.

Channel 2’s mission is to do well and good at the same time, to hold the powerful accountable, to communicate with our viewers on all platforms, and inspire them with the stories of Atlanta, that they can only get on Channel 2 Action News and WSB-TV.

We’re proud. We’re hungry. We’re beyond competitive and we’re dedicated to the community we serve and to each other to deliver “Coverage You Can Count On.”

“We are WSB-TV!” Say it with me! “WE ARE WSB-TV! WE ARE WSB-TV!

And that is what I will miss every single day. I will stay close with my Channel 2 and COX Media Group Atlanta family because you will come into my home and into my phone and into my car whether it’s televised over the air, on cable or over the top, and, through radio, newspaper, social and digital. It is all Channel 2 Action News and WSB-TV. It’s all the result of what YOU do Every Day. Every Newscast. Every program, promo, ad sale and master control switch.

Thank you Fred Blankenship. You are THE Master of Ceremonies and the master of getting us all up and on to great things in the morning.

As my father said to me, “It’s been a great ride.”

”Thanks for coming.

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Saying goodbye to the area outside of my office of 19 years. 
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Zoey The Mountain Cat

August 1998-June 2017

In 1998 we were all gathered at Mom and Dad’s cabin at Beech Mountain NC as we have gathered every Labor Day weekend for years. We drove down from Pittsburgh. The Knoxville Rileys drove across from Tennessee. Marti and Susan drove up from Charlotte and Mom and Dad, of course, were already there waiting.

Early in the weekend, a bunch of us went out and played Beech Mountain Golf Course. When we returned to the house Julie, Clark and I first met this little kitten. Blair and Peyton were carrying her around with Russ close behind. They showed us this tiny, tan and white fur ball.

“Look what we found underneath the deck!” they all said in unison. “Its mother must have left it.”

Dad warned, “Don’t bring it in the house or feed it! If you do, it’s yours. The mother will never take it back.” Peyton immediately made a pitiful face and continued cuddling the foundling.

Now, I’m not 100% sure that Dad wasn’t mixing up his animal wives’ tales of birds and mammals, but right or wrong, it struck a little fear in the kids. And me. With a cat at home, I was not looking for another, even in the face of the overwhelming cuteness of this kitten.

As I remember, and I’m happy for anyone to correct me, there was a general period of putting her back where they found her over that first night, some continued meowing, fretful children, worried and concerned for this helpless animal, and her still being under the deck the following morning…and all of that led to the pictures you’ll see of us as a family now in charge with yet to be named, Zoey the Mountain Cat.

Because my memory has been challenged a time or two in the past regarding the exact details of an occurrence, I asked Julie, Clark and Blair to review my story of Zoey for clarity, after all, it was eighteen years ago. Here’s what Blair had to say:

“I remember us all being excited over her, but I also remember assuming the role of mom. I can’t remember the night of leaving her outside. Did we really do that?” [Yes]

“I remember going to Fred’s [Fred’s General Mercantile – the only store at Beech Mountain] to try and find food. Fred only had adult canned cat food in stock. We fed her that and gave her milk. As I remember it, she stayed inside with us and slept in the nook in my neck.” [She was supposed to be outside where her mother could find her! Now I know why her mom didn’t come back.]

“And it was over. With Peyton and Russ’ help. I think a cat was a non-starter for Uncle Page and Aunt Maggie. We sweet-talked Mom and Dad into letting us take her home.

“I remember Zoey being “my” cat from the beginning and she rode the seven hour drive back home to Pittsburgh mostly in my lap.”

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Sep ’98 Beech Mountain. Zoey joins the Pittsburgh Riley family. Dad is thinking, “I told them not to feed that kitty!”

 

Her name, “Zoey,” also came from Blair, according to Blair. No special or memorable reason. She just liked the name. Julie recalls having some part in the naming, but cannot clearly recall it (remember, eighteen years.)

Thus began what turned into an almost 19 year affair. I remember how easily she fit into my shirt pocket at the time and how Crazy sized her up very quickly as a challenger to her home and personal comfort. She later moved towards just ignoring her while popping her every now and then with a quick paw slap as Zoey wandered towards her. Later, Zoey became the huntress, earning the nickname, “Stone Cold Steve Kitty,” courtesy of Clark and his buddy, Steve Thomas. Of course, that was in reference to the wrestler, Stone Cold Steve Austin. She would wait for Crazy behind corners and on top of tables and pounce on her when she walked by. Crazy quickly made her move on to something else.

Zoey would also sit on our shoulders and every now and then nip our ears, another reason for the “Stone Cold Steve Kitty” nickname.

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Zoey making herself at home in the Burgh

As cute as Zoey was, she did not suffer much petting in her early years. If you picked her up she would give you one, maybe two strokes of her head before she would strike with a quick snake-like bite to your hand. Not very endearing. We attributed that to her early days and being deserted by her mom. She didn’t trust anybody except for Blair. She slept with Blair, and when Blair was home, the two were together. Zoey spent a lot of her time outside hunting, but when Blair whistled for her to come home, she came running out of the woods. Except one time for two weeks.

We’ve all gathered around the memory fire on this one and not surprisingly, I have barely a spark of remembrance of when Zoey disappeared for about two weeks, long enough to where we were beginning to lose hope. Blair remembers posting flyers around the neighborhood. Behind our house was a huge Pittsburgh hill that steeply rose to Steve Thomas’ neighborhood. The kids walked that neighborhood knocking on doors until a woman said she recognized Zoey as another woman’s cat. They went to the lady’s home and there was Zoey. The woman was very apologetic saying that she thought Zoey had been abandoned.

Zoey never disappeared again.

As she grew older, and when she was out of sight, walking the house, she would turn her normal “meow” voice into some other worldly and out of body sound. It didn’t sound like a cat at all. It was a deep, guttural call that sounded something like “ah rooolll, ah rooool.” She would instantly shut it off if she saw you. I made a game of trying to sneak up on her when I heard her start. I wanted to see her face to see what shape the sound took coming out. I never ever could catch her in the act so that I had a clean view of her from the front. Always, she was walking away. As soon as she felt me, or anyone, in her presence, the sound instantly changed to a normal meow.

Crazy died in the early 2000’s of old age and kidney failure. Not long after she passed, we started to notice our mountain cat gradually became more friendly and almost welcoming of petting. At some point she surprised us and started hopping up on our laps when we settled down for a little prime time TV. Then, she started getting up on the back of my leather chair while I was sitting in it. I would hear her purring, feel her paw as she stepped on my shoulder. And the purr got louder as she nosed my ear, a lick or two turned into her softly chewing on my earlobe. It tickled rather than hurt. Her purring sounded like a big engine right in my ear. It was so cool. Sweet really.

She was quite the hunter. Our Atlanta backyard played host to a chaotic crowd of squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, moles and birds of all shapes and sizes. Years ago we put up a bird feeder and bird bath. The seeds sprayed off of the feeder by the picky blue jays and dove attracted even more squirrels and chipmunks whose romantic adventures bore more and more of them.

And Zoey spent much of her time hunting them and thinning the herd. Not always catching them for sure, but man she did love to hunt and stalk her prey. Over the years she brought a couple of live birds and chipmunks in the house, which we luckily saw and captured in a Laurel and Hardy-like comedic moment, with Julie mostly screaming and hovering behind me offering words of encouragement like, “Get it!” while I used a towel like a net, gently dropping it over the bird to keep it from taking off. I carefully gathered the towel around the little creature, finally picking it up and ran – not sure why – it out the back door to release it into the wild again. I could only hope that Zoey had not damaged it in some way.

She was much more successful catching baby rabbits in their ground nest which was always tragic. Nothing cuter than baby rabbits nor sadder than dead ones.

She proudly brought us catches that were no longer living. We thanked her, catching her before she snuck under the couch.

Her favorite place to hide her kills was under the lacey leaf Japanese maple right off of the back patio earning it the name, “the dead bush.” There, she’d finish them off and, I guess, eat them some. Every so often, Burgh would catch the scent of an animal under the dead bush – thank goodness, only he could smell it – and we’d find him forcing his way underneath the low hanging tree with his rear end sticking out.  All part of the comedy of life with pets.

IMG_0927One thing that a cat brings to a house, besides the aforementioned dead, or mostly dead, animals, is calm and relaxation. Nothing inspires contentment and a sense of being at peace with the world as a sleeping kitty lying outstretched across a step of the front stairs, with the sun streaming in through the foyer windows laying shadows of the window panes framing her like a photograph.

Zoey, when awake, was a pacer. She moved around the house in a very predictable path, leaving her paw print trails in the newly vacuumed carpet. She would go up the back stairs, down the central upstairs hallway, into our room to the chair by the window, then into our bath for a drink out of the toilet bowl. This was quite the feat. She would jump up on the seat, then lean down into the bowl, stick her paw into the water and lick it off. Of course, this would leave the seat wet, something one of us would discover later. Neighbors might have heard a “Damn it Zoey!” as one of us got a wet seat.

Then, she’d stalk down the front stairs and along the window sills of the living room bay window. She moved like a caged big cat at the zoo. Then, to the water and food bowls in the laundry room through the cat door, and back out again, up the back stairs and repeat.

Sam Ashton and Zoey knew each other well. Sam, our golfing buddy and dear friend, is allergic to cats. She sensed that right away and whenever Sam was over long enough to take a seat, she appeared from nowhere to jump on to his lap. She didn’t go for Val, who is only slightly allergic. She just selected Sam. Funny how animals sense who doesn’t want them near them and then just go for it. Sam, as always, was a great sport. “Oh, there you go. Nice. Thank you so much Zoey!” Achooo!

Over the years she ran into another feline or two who prowled through our yard and we’d hear the cats howling their scream of death. One or both of us would run outside and there she’d be, facing off with a cat always twice her size. Growling and howling at each other. We’d startle the interloper away, which retreated never losing sight of Zoey just in case.

Then we’d snag her and take her back inside for safety. A few times the howling turned into a fight and a trip to the vet to take care of some puncture wounds. Mostly, it was a all howl and growl.

Then, four years ago, Julie and I both noticed that she was a little slow and wobbly, almost like she was drunk. We took her to the vet. She was dehydrated. Further examination proved that her kidneys weren’t working as they should and that started the process of weekly visits to the vet for a “filler up” of saline to keep her going. She came back home raring to go as if nothing had happened. Then 7-10 days or so, back to the vet for a refill. Yes. I tried to do it myself at home, hanging the saline bag from the kitchen light fixture over the island. The problem was, I just could not get the HUGE needle to…well, you know…go in like it should for a subcutaneous drip. I decided it was better left to the professionals.

We, and by we I mean Julie, me and the vet, were amazed at her resilience. Because of her petite figure, she always looked like a young adult to us, seemingly never aging. Then, her buddy, Burgh, left us at the end of March. Alone, she started showing her age. The refills didn’t resolve her wobbles. She got weaker, so that effortless jumps floor to chair became something that took preparation and trial.

Julie and I both admitted to each other that she was old. Kidneys failing. Creatinin levels rising. And I remembered Dad’s failing health metrics.

We steeled ourselves to what was coming faster than we’d expected right on the heels of losing Burgh. And then, she was gone. Tuesday, June 13th. We buried her in the side yard next to Burgh’s ashes and behind the concrete bench we had put over his site.

And now it is just Julie and me. It’s not any quieter. Zoey didn’t make any noise other than her meow turned wail. Burgh had been the noise maker.

There is a definite feeling of less life going on in the house. I mean, nothing is moving itself around on its own except for the two of us. I miss that. I miss her walking across my laptop keyboard or over my iPad just like the cats do in the YouTube video. I miss her chewing on my earlobe. I miss picking her up, hearing her meow at my touch, and then, when I cradled her like a baby in my arms, I miss her putting her paw on my face to touch me as if to say, “I see you.”

I know that Julie misses her more than me. Zoey and Burgh were her buddies while I was at work. And they followed her from room to room, from study to kitchen to bathroom to outdoors. Wherever Julie went, they followed. If she were somewhere for a while, they’d get comfortable and take a nap. When she’d move on, they’d move on, Burgh probably sooner than Zoey.

So now I’m sure you’re all wondering when we are getting another animal and if so, dog or cat? For right now the answer is neither. We’re going to let this all sink in and see what it feels like. It’s too soon to tell, although a few friends have definitely suggested getting back on the bike again is the best way to heal the sadness. And I appreciate that. We’re just not going there right now. I’ve had an animal all on my own and then with Julie since 1977. Forty years. From Kritty Krat and Dusty, to Crazy to Zoey and Burgh. They’ve all been wonderful companions in similar and different ways. And we were blessed by their being a part of our lives. Ours and our children’s. We’re just going to ride with that some now. Thank you all for your consideration and thoughts. So many of you have enjoyed pets in your lives. You know what it’s like.

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Zoey on her stool waiting for a treat.

Greatest Dog Ever

Burgh strikes a poseBurgh Riley

December 25, 1999-March 25, 2017

Started on March 25, 2017

Seventeen years ago, he was the transition allowance. Or at least the getting of a dog was the allowance made when we uprooted our teenage kids, Clark and Blair, from their only known home in Pittsburgh and moved to Atlanta, Georgia.

“You have ripped us away from all of our friends,” said a very unhappy Clark. “I want a dog.”

To be honest, I caved on the idea pretty quickly. I felt pretty darn horrible about the timing of moving our family. The kids were in that very tough age of having cemented friends, playing sports and doing well in school. Not to mention that we all loved our life in The Burgh. We had drilled very deep down into our souls about this opportunity. Finally deciding that we would go for it set in motion so many forces that it felt like all of a sudden we were in our new home in East Cobb County, Georgia. And Clark wanted a dog. We felt like, well, he deserved to get something. Blair, of course, wanted a dog as well to go along with our cats, Crazy and Zoey the mountain cat.

“So, let’s say that we’re open to getting a dog; what kind of dog were you thinking about?” I asked. “A Great Dane,” Clark quickly responded. “Whoa there!” I laughed. “That is a huge dog. You really need some space for a dog like that to run.”

“No you don’t,” he said. “I looked them up. Great Danes are wonderful house pets.”

“Maybe, but not in our house. They’re just way too big. Think smaller.”

“Okay. How about a Lab?” he suggested. I thought about that for a minute. Labs, too, are big, but nothing like a Great Dane. Plus, I had been around some and they are wonderful animals. Sweet as can be. “Okay. Your mom and I will talk about it.”

And we did. I don’t remember much about the discussion but shortly we were driving southeast to just below the Atlanta airport, turning down some country roads finally finding the address our vet had given us. He recommended this country boy breeder because he was known for breeding great Labs and he had a new litter…with papers.

This was 2000, the new Millennium, beginning of the new century. Before Google maps, WAZE or the Channel 2 Traffic app. Getting there was a journey in and of itself. It was a home address, not a business. What we found was a very modest ranch home with an old Camaro in the driveway. It was definitely the home of a single man. Sparse. Simple. Down right plain. But, clean.

The pups had full run of the utility room and hallway in the back of the house, which had newspapers spread out to protect the linoleum floor. The mother, a Yellow Lab, was out back. The father was a Black English blockhead Labrador that had served his purpose and returned to England, leaving this brood and papers with very fancy names of the pups’ ancestors.

The litter was a mix of both solid black and solid ivory puppies although one ivory colored cutie had a black spot on his back. “I’m probably going to end up with that one,” the breeder sighed. “Nobody will want him with that spot.”

He picked us as the story goes.

That made us give serious thought to picking “Spot,” but then this solid ivory puppy came up to greet us and that was that. He picked us as the story goes. We made the deal and worked out the arrangements. We had to leave him with his mom for a few more weeks. On the drive back to the house we talked about names. “Iceburgh” came to mind first, thinking about his coloring and the mascot for Pittsburgh Penguins. Then, we shortened it down to “Burgh,” a fitting tribute to our previous home, friends and…hockey team. And, to forever remind us of our wonderful 15 years there as we began to build a new life in Atlanta.

Two weeks later we returned to pick up our first ever puppy. And so it began, our life with a dog uniquely named Burgh, who lived up to his name and more.

The early days were a mix of wonder, angst, frustration, sleeplessness and laughter. The hard part was it was like having a newborn baby in the house again, this time whimpering and barking instead of crying. Julie took the brunt of it and I wasn’t sure that she was going to make it with all of the other stress in moving, getting the kids into new schools and learning the ropes of life in Marietta. All while I was spending most of my time at work or commuting.

But then Burgh made it through a night, then another, and then he was good.

Next, we had to learn how to train him faster than he learned how to train us. We beat him in some points and he beat us in others. He turned out to be extremely smart and picked up on things quickly.

It became his job, his morning routine. And he did it every morning like clockwork.

One thing he learned early on, with a little help from Julie, was to pick up the morning paper in the driveway and bring it to us. It became his job, his morning routine. And he did it every morning like clockwork. We’d let him out the back door and he would trot around the back of the house to the bottom of the driveway, pick up the day’s AJC and return to the back door. Of course his reward was breakfast, which he gobbled up in a few bites. If, for some reason, the paper was delayed, he was left empty, having not performed his job, and he was not right until it finally arrived and he could go get it.

He learned how to be a great walking partner and learned the route by heart. There was one bridge over Sope Creek next to the golf course that had a huge tree growing beside it with vines hanging down. Something about it riled Burgh every time we approached it on the outbound leg of our walk. His hair stood up on the back of his neck as a slow low growl grew from his throat. When we were about 10 yards from the bridge I would let go of the leash and he would charge it, ending up with a few fierce barks over the side of the bridge. Julie and I decided it must be the bridge troll. Interestingly, it had no effect on the walk back. He repeated this attack every walk for the next 15 years.

Burgh was unique. He was Labrador retriever that really didn’t retrieve. He was interested in fetching a ball or a stick a maximum of three times. Then, he lost interest and wandered off or lay down.

He was a Lab who didn’t like water. He wanted to jump in, but he just couldn’t.

He was a Lab that didn’t bark at people who came to our front door. So he wasn’t much of a guard dog. To him, no one was a stranger, and every one wanted to pet him. Even kids afraid of dogs.

In the hierarchy of personality traits Burgh was a beta. Maybe even a theta but most certainly not an alpha dog. His little Jack Russell cousins (Page and Maggie’s pups) ran over him and out tugged him in tug of war with a rope. He just didn’t see it as a competition for very long and let go, even after swinging them around effortlessly, he gave in. And they would bark and growl as if to say, “You may be big, but you’re not that tough.” And he seemed to say, “Uh, well, okay.”

He was a dog that turned out to be allergic to cats…and we had two of them. Once diagnosed, I gave him monthly injections for almost sixteen years.

He was a dog that would go the full trip to anywhere without going to the bathroom. Even the six hour drive to Durham. Even when we stopped and hoisted him out of the car so he could go. He’d sniff everything in sight, but never go until we arrived at our destination.

He was a (young) dog who held it all the way to Beech Mountain, passing on the opportunity to go in a brief walk around the grounds. Then, in the excitement of all of the greetings in Marti’s family room, we heard the kids yelling, “No Burgh!” I turned around as he deposited a big one just to announce his presence with authority.

He was a dog who snored, especially when he slept on the floor of our bedroom – for many years. I would often get out of bed and roll him out of the snore.

He was a dog who went out in the morning to pee and turned up wonderingly following his nose in the back yard of our neighbors, totally ignoring our calls even when he stared right at us.

He was gentle and tolerant with his much smaller, higher energy cousin dogs, Grounder and Sketcher, Page and Maggie’s Jack Russell Terriers. He’d let them lead the way on walks, and entertained their playfulness and games that they would start, often around his head, ears and nose.

He quickly grew large enough to be a bonafide counter surfer, training his owners to never leave bread anywhere near the edge of the counter or it was gone. He was also adept at opening the cabinet door under the sink to get into the garbage. We solved that with two tactics; installing child protective closures as well as never throwing away bread or meat in that particular trashcan.

He mastered the art of the heroic pose, ears up, standing tall and surveying his area with a strong oversight. And when lying on the floor, he crossed his front paws, suggesting his true and supreme reign of confidence and self-assurance.

He was the youngster who, with the van full of Hazelton cousins, dropped a deuce in the back of the car, creating a lot of excitement and laughter and wailing from the kids, screaming for me to open all of the windows and forcing me into an “emergency” pull over on a neighborhood side-street. When I stopped the car, the side door flew open and the pack of kids abandoned ship, holding their noses, leaving me to deal with the surprise package. Burgh sat there wondering why everyone jumped out of the car and left him alone.

He was a show stopper on our walks, and we walked everywhere with him. People always smiled as we passed, staring at this beautiful dog. Often they just had to walk up and pet him. Kids hugged him and scratched his ears and kissed his nose. Burgh slobbered all over them and they loved it.

His good looks and talent earned a starring major role in an in-house video screened at my company’s annual conference. In it he not only picked up the paper, he started the coffee, turned on the TV – to Channel 2 Action News “This Morning,” of course – checked out the station’s website before getting in the car with his mom. He punched the knob on the radio dial to turn on WSB-AM 750. He was amazing! And he loved his media.

As he hit 15, he let us know that he needed to shorten his walks from 2 miles to just the neighborhood. Gradually he told us that a walk up the hill was enough. At 16, the cul-de-sac was enough. And then one day he seemed to say as he handed the paper to me that, well, that was that. He just couldn’t make it to the end of the drive and back anymore. That last time he said, “I’ve done all that I can. You’ll have to get your paper from now on.”

He was, and forever will be, the greatest dog of our lives.

He was Burgh. And, like I did this morning, I’ll never pick up a paper from the driveway and not think of him and how he transitioned us from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, from high school to college and from college to life. That’s a lot of work for one dog. And, that is why he picked us. I, for one, am forever grateful.

Note: It’s taken me over a month to write, re-write and rewrite this again. And to find just the right photos and a video of his paper delivery.

Since I first started, we received his ashes, held a small memorial and committed them into the ground in our back yard. We placed a memorial bench over the site to give him a place still in our lives.

To this day, when I wake up in the morning, I think that I hear him barking, as he did a lot in his last year with us when he couldn’t get up by himself. And when I open the kitchen door I still have a brief expectation to hear his nails on the hardwood floor as he got up to greet me.

And every evening when I return home from work and open the door from the garage I reflexively anticipate him there, happy to see me, or at least hear him and am almost surprised to remember that he is gone.

This weekend I caught up with my dear friend and former boss, John Howell, with a long overdue phone call. As we worked our way through how the family was doing John said that Gail had wondered just the other day about how Burgh was doing. He went on to say that he had told Gail, “Honey, I’m sure that if Burgh had passed that Steve would have published a long article with photos and video accompaniment to let us know. I think it’s safe to say that Burgh is still with us.”

I sat on my answer for moment before saying, “John, you’re right and it’s already written. Burgh passed a few weeks ago and I just can’t finish what I’ve written. Every time that I edit it, I add more that has to be edited.” He expressed his condolences and how he knew what Burgh meant to us and that Burgh was a really good dog. A beautiful dog. 

I started that editing circle again this morning. Firmly committed to putting it to bed by finding and repairing misspellings or grammatical errors, smoothing out sentences and adding the pictures. But then I added more copy, including this “Note.”

I realized in the process that Burgh stood for more than a dog in our lives. His time with us marks a terribly important passage in our lives. The two go hand in hand. My hope is that he always felt safe, loved and happy. He surely seemed that way to me except for the final days.

A few weeks before Burgh died, Julie had an idea on how to pay tribute to him after he was gone. She started saving bagged newspapers in a grocery bag which I stumbled into in our garage. That’s when she told me of her idea. The weekend of his passing, we laid them out on the driveway at the spot where he found the paper every morning. The photo homage to our paperboy says it all.

Thanks for reading. I hope you got to pet Burgh at least once in your life, and wipe some slobber off of your sleeve and ivory fur off of your black pants. It would have been worth it.

Father’s Day, The US Open and Oakmont

One of the many wonderful things about Father’s Day has been its tie to the final round of the US Open. And, this year, it returned to historic Oakmont Country Club just up the Allegheny River north of Pittsburgh. And that opens up the door to some memories of extra significance and some storytelling.

But first, 13 months after Dad’s passing, I celebrate Father’s Day thinking of him and the many great times we shared together. And, I celebrate our Riley family as well, which just grew by one in April with the birth of Katherine Riley Gerke, daughter of my niece, Claire and her betrothed, Luke. Then, we’ll grow even more in October when Claire and Luke wed followed two weeks later by Clark and Ashley’s wedding.

Back to the Open and Oakmont…

In 1994, when we lived in Pittsburgh and I worked for WPXI-TV, an NBC affiliate, I scored four tickets to the Saturday round courtesy of my then boss, John Howell, and NBC, which was picking up the tourney starting the following year.

Mom and Dad’s drive up from Durham to join us coincided with the infamous OJ White Bronco chase on June 17, 1994. A very surreal event to be sure.

We had a blast at the tournament even though it was a sweltering 95 degrees. The tickets gave us club house access and parking right inside the entrance. We walked the entire course that day, and appreciated the shade of the trees that have now been famously removed. On Father’s Day Sunday, we watched on TV as the championship ended in a three-way tie between the baby-faced, gum-chewing, smooth swinging nobody, Ernie Els, Loren Roberts and the much maligned Brit, Colin Montgomerie.

Ties after 72 holes are settled with an 18-hole playoff on Monday. Mom and Dad stayed and we watched that amazing test as well, which ended in a two-way tie between Els and Roberts. Those two went into sudden death and Els won his first major at 24.

Four years later, John and I were invited to play Oakmont through the station’s sponsorship of the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association’s Centennial celebration. With an opening for a fourth, John offered up that I should invite Homer. This is the story of that day.

Oakmont Tuesday

July 28, 1998

As early as 5:30 arrives in the morning, it seemed to just creep into view on my digital bedside clock. I had waited all through the night: 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30, when I let the cat drag in, 4:30 and finally 5:30. Time to get up and get ready to play, no, experience, the penultimate in golf at the historic Oakmont Country Club. Home to amateur and major PGA championships that lists more PGA winners than any other course except for Augusta National.

And Dad, John Howell and I were set to play with Rosemary Studer – a member, our host, and a 12 handicapper. She was standing in for her husband who was unable to play.

Excitement doesn’t begin to describe the feelings coursing through my veins.

And the weather was set to be picture perfect. We were instructed to wear pants just to avoid any potential for embarrassment for too short of shorts.

John picked us up right at 6:30 in his Cadillac. We arrived at 7:15. The bag master took out our clubs from the trunk. He looked at John’s ball retriever, removed it from the bag and said, “You won’t need that here. No water at Oakmont.” He loaded our clubs onto a flat back maintenance cart and sped away saying as he drove off that we would find our bags on the range.

We walked up to the clubhouse. Rosemary bopped down the stairs and introduced herself, already familiarized with our names – the perfect host.

We each were assigned a caddie – no carts allowed at Oakmont without a doctor’s note. No carts. No cart paths. The way golf should be played.

We loosened up at the range, hitting balls stacked in perfect pyramids. And on the famous practice putting green tied to Number 9 green, I got to feel the magic of Mr. Stimpmeter. I learned what “slick” meant. Johnny Miller said one of the many impressive things about Oakmont lies in how it stays ready for championship play, never letting it’s pants down.

And almost before I realized it, we were leading off the day’s field on Number 1, the hardest starting hole in golf, according to Miller, the winner of one of the most storied Sunday rounds in US Open history, in the heat of a Pittsburgh Summer at Oakmont.

I almost fainted in my backswing, managing to sail it down the left side of the fairway, finding the first of many of Oakmont’s infamous bunkers. The son of the developer, W. C. Fownes Jr., was said to place new bunkers where players managed to miss the others already lying in wait. My caddie said, as we started off the tee, “You struck it very well. Just a little left, right in the trap Ernie Els found in the playoff round in the ’95 Open.” Well, I’d never played a course with that kind of name-dropping possible.

Walking down the fairway, looking at Dad and John, with our caddie entourage, it felt like we were walking on hallowed ground.

As if the round meant anything of significance, I could try to take you through it all, but relax. I won’t. I brought some good parts of my game, a lot of very good drives with my new Big Bertha driver.

“Yep, I think the boy done out drove his knowledge.”

On the seventh hole I really connected. Rosemary, a great admirer of other’s shots, couldn’t get over how well I struck it and how far it traveled. Dad, in classic Homer style, quick with the needle, said, “Yep, I think the boy done out drove his knowledge.”

But my irons searched for targets, left and right of where I meant to aim, and putts that made me feel heroic, and putts that shook me to my toes, as balls rolled slickly by the increasingly tiny cup and continued and continued on as if gravity would never halt them.

None of us lit it up but Dad put up a fight and broke 100. John brought a decent game. I felt good breaking 100 too. and learning that sometimes a four putt wasn’t all that horrible. Rosemary very quietly shot 80 something. She graciously hosted us for lunch.

And boom, we were through, left to recall our play around the dinner table and savor a great day on a truly great and historical course – the best on which I’ve ever teed it up. It couldn’t have been any more special with Dad. I took some photos during the round, picked the best, mounted our card and the pencil, and framed them for Dad to commemorate our round. I gave it to him for Christmas that year.

Post Script

I was planning to include some of the photos of that day and went off searching for them. Two hours and lunch later, I can’t find them. We have a pretty organized drawer of photos but the 1998 years are missing. I did a lot of searching and got lost in what I found on my way to not finding the set I wanted. Such is life. It’s a journey of the unexpected while you’re on your way to what you expect. Happy Father’s Day to all. There’s no greater blessing.

May 7, 2015 Dad died. May 7, 2016, he lives.

Today marks the first anniversary of our loss of this great man from our daily lives.

Today marks 365 days since the last time that Dad and I spoke to one another and it was just a brief time before he passed. I woke up this morning thinking about him and matched the ticking of the clock to the way this day unfolded last year, our last words, and the call that came shortly after from Lin to say that he was gone.

Ginger had dialed the phone for him that morning and when Dad got on the line he sounded like his normal self, cheery and optimistic for the day ahead. But Page had called the night before with words of foreboding. I told Dad that Julie and I were getting on the road shortly to come see him. We were in the middle of packing for the six-hour drive to Durham. He said, “It’s always a pleasure to be with you and Julie,” and that he looked forward to seeing us. He wished us a safe trip and then he said, “I love you, Steve. Thank you for all that you’ve done for your mom and me. You’re a good son.” I tried as hard as I could to sound strong, choking through how much I loved him. Then we said our last goodbye and he passed the phone back to my sister who said, “Hurry Steve.”

I’ll always be thankful to Ginger for her gift of that last call. Although we had been with him a lot through his struggle in the hospital, this turned into what we both knew was our last goodbye. It gave me some closure to know that in his waning moments we had reaffirmed our love for one another.

And now, on this morning, a year later, I am struck by how much Dad and I have been together since his passing. He lives in my dreams as alive and real as ever. He lives in my thoughts bubbling up in different moments of every day, so present that’s it’s like we just talked about the latest in our world. His hand is still on the tiller of my heart and I can hear his words, and see through his eyes. It makes me want to be a better man, a more forgiving man, a more fun-loving man who gave so much of his time to others.

I dreamed of my brothers last week, and could see Dad right there with them. I was smiling so much my brother Lin asked me what was up. I told him that Dad was standing right next to him. And then I woke up. I could feel that smile on my face as I lay in bed.

Do we miss his physical presence, the warmth in his smile, the way he lifted a gathering with that spark of fun in his eyes and rapid quips that helped you taste the moment? You bet. He was so unique in his point of view and his point in life that no one is able to replace him in mine.

Homer lived a great and long 92 years. It would be selfish not to recognize how truly fortunate we were to have him in our lives for so long. Long enough for most of us “kids” to reach our 60s, and most of our kids to reach into their 30s. For us all to know each other so well and to celebrate so many things together. What a blessing.

Maybe his long healthy life fooled me in to thinking he was not quite mortal. He was always so “bigger than life” to me. But you can’t beat this system of life and death. And yet, in many ways he did. He left so much behind for us all. And I cherish him and his memory so.

I remember the deep bottomless pit of sadness in my heart and soul that week together in Durham for the funeral. I’ve never seen such pain in the faces of my mother, my sisters, brothers, our children, cousins and our wealth of family friends. I think that we are all healing, but the hurt still works its way into my heart and causes me to take a quick breath in realizing that he really is gone.

Homer. Homer. Oh Homer. You were such a man. Such a father, brother, husband, grandfather and friend. Such a piece of goodness on this earth. These dreams make me look forward to sleep. I hope that they never stop.

A Girl + A Boy = Another Boy in 1984

First off, let me not bury the lead.

Happy Birthday, Clark!

When you came into our lives on this day in the early morning hours, you brought a new kind of joy and wonderment that cannot be explained, only experienced. As you passed your way slowly through the canal of that mysterious portal between unborn and born, from living protected in your mother’s belly erupting into the harsh and dangerous realities of changing temperatures and the noise of the world, your mother and I went through a portal of our own. What transpired in those moments and sprung to life just as you did were the realities of our own profound hopes and dreams.

As I look back from the 32 year advantage of now, I see so clearly that having you was our commitment to the future. Our future. Your future. And our belief in the future of mankind. I mean, who would bring a helpless baby into the world if they didn’t see a bright and promising future for their child.

So here you are and how did we do?

If I say so myself, we did a magnificent job!!!

We added the best playmate a young fella could ask for in your sister, Blair.

We moved you to two great cities, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, each giving you a grounding and a rounding that nudged, fudged and molded you into the wonderful man you are on this day. The man in whom Ashley has put her love and trust.

We gave you rope to go out and experience life. We reeled you in when your choice wasn’t the best, then let your earn you way out into the world again.

We let you take us out of our own comfort zone, leading us into places that we would not have gone on our own.

Like, for instance, through an open door into the basement of the Dean E. Smith Center in April of 1993 in the afterglow of a National Championship. Had we not followed you we not have seen the wall in the hallway on which were marked the height of players in the same tape and pencil markings that parents use to capture the growth of their kids. Players like Eric Montross! As if that wasn’t enough, I looked away from the wall and you had kept going, even as I chided you to wait, fearful of our interloping into this hallowed place and getting nabbed by security.

And then, before I realized it, I had chased you down the hallway which tunneled out on to the floor of one of the country’s greatest basketball arenas. There, at center court, was the big decal of North Carolina, our native state: your mother’s, mine and yours. And there was you. Standing amidst the beautiful powder blue.

“Isn’t this great, Dad! What if I had stopped when you told me to?”

That’s just one experience that we would not have had if left to our own devices.

There are so many more as you grew and played hockey, went to Georgia Tech, traveled to Australia, then Europe. Became a man of, if not the world, maybe half of it.

And now, you and your love, Ashley, have planted your own stake in the ground, become engaged, moved to Portland and bought a house you’ll turn into your very own home.

I’m so proud of you. Of what you’ve accomplished. Of who you are and what you are. You are an inspiration to us all on many different fronts. I could not say it any better than through the words my father wrote to me on my first Father’s Day in 1984:

“Parents who are devoted, loving and understanding are a necessity.

Sons who are devoted, loving and understanding are a luxury.

Thanks for being our luxury. We pray that you will be Clark’s necessity.

We love you, Mom & Dad”

Clark, Happy Birthday, son. You are our luxury. We knew it then, way back int 1984.

Mom and Daddio

A Girl. Two Lamps. A Birthday and a Bonehead. The story of how a love affair came to an end. Almost.

sc0000277c - Version 2So, it all almost came to an end before it really got off of the ground. I’m speaking about this long love affair between Julie and me. “Bonehead” is how I would describe me then looking back from now. But then, well, I thought I was doing something pretty swell for our first birthday celebration together.

You know, that first birthday/holiday is a weird affair. You can’t skip over it like nothing was happening. But you don’t want to overstate anything that might put too much pressure on the new relationship.

I should have just bought her a new album or three. We both loved music so much. I was smart enough to remember that later, but not this first time. Having no real plan, I went to the farewell party for a reporter leaving WSOC-TV. It was kind of a combination party/yard sale. The stuff looked good in her place and I was in need of something to make the right statement and show my understanding of Julie, and, the point in which we stood in our new relationship. I thought that I found it. Actually “it” was a pair of matching beautiful (I thought) living room lamps. Julie and her roommate, Diane, had the coolest apartment, very well furnished mostly by Diane courtesy of her recently ended marriage. I thought Julie would enjoy getting and having something of her own in the scheme of the apartment décor. It was that, combined with having nothing in hand and no real plan, and, this sounded pretty good to me. I mean, who wouldn’t want a matching pair of yellow lamps?

I found out pretty quickly when I presented them as her birthday gift. Shortly thereafter, she cooled our relationship and then, cut it off.

Now, I’ve told this story many times in our 38 years together. Why? Because I’m still a bonehead. It usually doesn’t ingratiate me well to Julie. She feels a little embarrassed that she stopped our relationship because of her dislike of my gift. I know this and yet still I trod where I shouldn’t.

But, the truth is, I love this story. I love how young we were when it occurred. I love how dumb I was. And how my stupidity insulted her sense of thoughtfulness and caring. It gave her good right to question whether she wanted to invest her future into such a thoughtless, if endearingly handsome, bonehead of a guy.

I usually tell a little more of the story just to dig my hole a little deeper.

See, she broke it off just before Thanksgiving when my folks were driving down to Charlotte to enjoy the holiday with my sister, Marti and me, and to finally meet this wonderful girl that I’d been talking about since, well, early summer.

That was a tough one to explain to the folks. I’m not sure that I connected the lamp part of the story in explaining to Mom that, well, things had cooled and they weren’t going to meet the girl of my dreams…at least not yet. Thanksgiving was not so great that year.

Oh, have I mentioned yet this critical fact: Julie lived next door to me. Our townhouse apartments shared the same common entry. Her front door was directly across a 10-foot space from mine. Hard to be that close and broken up.

But we were. The next week I could hear her leaving for work in the morning – I worked the night shift. I watched her get in her yellow VW Super Beetle and drive off with my heart. But I left her alone, which turned out to be the hardest and smartest thing that I’ve ever done. See, although I left her alone, I lived next door too, and she felt my presence as well. The happiest day of my life was when, a week later, she knocked on my door, told me she missed me. I told her that I was sorry. She told me she was sorry.

It tells the story of our lives together. That’s the hardest patch we’ve ever had to endure. That one week apart, unhappy with our relationship, gave us both enough time to realize that we were meant to be together. And we have been ever since.

And that’s why I love telling this story the most. And why I love yellow lamps although I don’t own any. It’s a story with a happy ending that keeps on going.

Happy Birthday Julie Hazelton Riley. You’re the best thing ever to come into my life.