Love is Thicker than Blood, Blood is Thicker than WaterThere is an old proverb that states, “Blood is thicker than water.” In modern-day, it has come to mean that family bonds (blood) are stronger than friendships (water).  “Love is thicker than blood” was my attempt to state love relationships are even stronger than blood relationships. As is my practice when quoting something, I wanted to ensure I understood its meaning. What I learned in this case (and in many cases, actually) is the quote has been used incorrectly. And, at least in this case, the original meaning is closer to what I want to say in the first place.

Tracing this proverb back to its origins reveals, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” Originally meant to convey the blood of battle forms a bond among soldiers that is stronger than family bonds, I like the direction Richard Back took it. In his book, “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”, Bach wrote, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

So, by now you are asking, “Jeff, what in the heck are you trying to say? You’ve written 200 words and I still don’t know what you are trying to say.” In Rivers of Thought, I have written a lot about love, I have written a lot about family. Today, I want to celebrate someone whom I mention frequently, but too many times take for granted. Today, I want to celebrate my wife, Carmen.

This is a second marriage for both of us. An only child, without children of her own, she was thrust into the family of Tons. Admittedly, we are not the Rockefellers nor the Kennedys, but we can be a pretty intimidating bunch. But, she opened her home and she opened her heart to all of us.

When I say she opened her home, I mean it literally. In early 2001 Carmen and decided to move in together . . . in her house. Not only did I move in, but so did my 16-year-old son Brad, who lived with me 50% of the time. Even before moving day, she made sure Brad would feel welcome by transforming her guest room into a teenage boy-man room. Admittedly, those first few years were tough. Teenage years are filled with angst enough, throw in a divorce and you get a lot of pent of anger, a good dose aimed at me. Carmen played consoler and referee. Always wary of the “stepmother” line, she danced the tightrope incredibly well.

Early in our marriage, we struggled, and I do mean we struggled, to build a relationship with my parents. Divorce is hard on everyone. My divorce seemed to be particularly hard on my mom and dad. While they labored to come to grips with the new reality (as Brad would say, “This ain’t Leave it to Beaver any more!”), the first to really open her heart to Carmen was my grandmother Granny Ton. Sara. She and Carmen developed a very strong bond in a short time. Granny loved it when Carmen came to visit and chat. Honestly, through Carmen, I was able to get to know my Granny as, well, as Sara. A woman who had lived a life of love and family. I don’t think I would have ever learned of that woman without Carmen. I will treasure the stories she shared with us during her final years and those final days.

As the years passed, our house became the place for holiday gatherings, birthday parties, and celebrations of all kinds. All put on with organization and planning that make them look easy. All with a touch of elegance and grace. (Yes, even with name cards at our plates so everyone knows where to sit!). All were invited and all were welcome. The invitation extended beyond family to friends who were without a place to go. Friends became family, family became friends.

She and my mom became friends…buddies as mom would say. The two of them would chat and carry-on like young school girls. They would go shopping and have “girl time”. As aging began to take its toll on mom’s body, Carmen was there to take her to doctor after doctor. She became her advocate when she couldn’t advocate for herself. She became her voice when she could no longer speak. She truly became mom’s Daughter-in-Love.

In the summer of 2010, we became grandparents, of sorts. Our son, Brad, had moved in with this his girlfriend (our soon-to-be daughter-in-love), Holly. At the time, Holly was a single mom to two awesome kids, Donny age 10, Charity age 8. Before school let out for the year, it became apparent Holly’s plans for the kids were not going to work out. Who stepped forward? Carmen, of course. Of course, she would wrangle the kids all summer. Oh, did I mention, our house was undergoing a major renovation? Construction going on everywhere. No kitchen. . . for about a year! Yet, those kids (and Carmen) had a wonderful summer . . . making tree branch tepees in the yard. . . hunting for “treasure” in the woods and creek. . . climbing trees. . . and, of course, signing their names in the concrete of the new foundation. Today, Charity, now 14 and a freshman in high school, still loves to get off the bus at “Grandma’s house” after school.

A couple of short years later, Jeremy’s son Braxton was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. For many months, our sweet Braxton could not travel to Indianapolis for visits. So, Grandma Carmen and I would travel to see him. They immediately formed their bond. Just a couple of weeks ago, Braxton (oh, and Jeremy, too) were visiting. Carmen, Braxton, and Jordan (more on him in a minute) duckpin bowled together. . . incredible smiles. . . incredible laughter. . . incredible love. Later, Braxton would help Carmen make garlic toast for dinner. Sunday found Carmen and Braxton busy at the kitchen table. Carmen was helping him practice writing in a new “learn to write” book she had bought for him. It was a beautiful scene! And one that melted all of our hearts!

I mentioned Jordan. March 2014 we were again all gathered in a hospital waiting room. Several hours later we were introduced to Jordan, Brad and Holly’s son. Twelve weeks later, when Holly had to return to work, Jordan would come to hang out at Grandma Carmen’s, as his big brother and sister had done. Today, Jordan loves to visit “Meemaw’s House”, and play dinosaurs, or kitchen, or cars. He loves to watch “Meemaw’s deer” in the yard, and ride “Meemaw’s tractor”. Last night, he and I were playing in the small playhouse at our property next door and he couldn’t wait to open the door of the second-floor deck (ok, it’s a pretty big “small” playhouse), stand on the deck, and yell for “meeeeeeeeeeemaw”, “meeeeeeeeeeemaw”!

Over the last few years, she again has taken on the role of caregiver. This time for my dad. As he ages and his dementia worsens, he needs more and more help. Carmen is there to help around his apartment, to take him shopping, to haircuts, to optometrist appointments, and help him to learn his new reality. During the few days I have been writing this post, Dad has been sick with an intestinal bug. Who was there (twice) to help clean him after an accident? Carmen, of course. In many of our private moments, dad expresses deep appreciation and love for Carmen. I know he is thankful to have her care for him.

There is no room in this post to retell all of the stories of my life (our life) with Carmen. Our little clan has grown. Together, we have celebrated life’s most treasured moments. Together, we have held our kids, our grandkids, and yes, our parents in our arms and cried through life’s tougher moments. Carmen is the glue, Carmen is the bond that holds it all together. I know, there is no one I would rather have by my side, there is no one I would rather share laughter with through life’s celebrations, there is no one I would rather share tears with through life’s challenges than Carmen.

She may not know “nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies”, but she does know how to love, care and nurture; she does know how to be a rock in life’s craziness; she knows how to birth a family not based on blood . . . or, the water of the womb. Thank you, Carmen Suzanne, you are loved and treasured more than you will ever know.

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I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I first met Brandon Tidwell in 2009. My son Brad was launching his Hip Hop career with his first gig at a local dive. Honestly, I didn’t know much about hip hop music or performances. As Brad took the stage, he was joined by his college roommate as his DJ and another guy. I would learn later his name was Brandon Tidwell. His role was that of “Hype Man”. A Hype Man is somewhat of a backup singer. He interjects throughout the song with the intention to hype the crowd and highlight some of the lyrics. (I have to admit, I learned that later, as well).

What I did know was that, in contrast to Brad whose energy exploded on the stage, Brandon barely moved. When he did interject, it was very tentative and hard to hear. This first performance did not bode well for a long career as a Hype Man.

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a newborn baby, it just happens everyday

Over the course of the next five years, Brandon grew as a performer. His confidence increased, his stage Paint It Blackpresence blossomed. He was truly living up to his role of Hype Man and friend, even serving as a groomsman in Brad’s wedding to Holly.

Another thing happened over that time. Carmen and I got to know Brandon and his family: wife, Bobbi Jo, son Timmy, and daughter Avari. Brandon was not only Brad’s Hype Man, but he was also one of his best friends. What we saw in Brandon was an incredibly loyal and supportive friend,  a man who loves his family and puts them above all, a man with a huge heart.

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes

That huge heart belongs to a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Brandon loves deeply and he hurts deeply as some of his Facebook posts will show.  He is a man that feels emotional pain for himself and for others in his life.

Given the time we all spent together, we knew nothing of his extended family. We were stunned to learn of the death of his mother, Vicky Hensley on September 5,  2015. After being a heavy smoker, her cause of death was listed as COPD. Brandon’s huge heart was broken. His posts revealed his pain to his Facebook world. Her funeral was a simple service and his mother was laid to rest.

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

Barely seven weeks later, Brandon’s father, Mark Hensley, died on October 29, 2015 from his long battle with ALS.

I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black

Thus began Brandon’s journey through the “year of firsts” without both his parents. The pain in his heart was almost unbearable. He tried to hide his tears. For the most part he was successful. He threw himself into coaching Timmy’s baseball team and doting on Avari. Through it he tried to be the best husband he could for Bobbi Jo.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, their birthdays…those were tough days. The visits to the cemetery…the pain broke through. Christmas 2016…


In the days that followed Christmas, Bobbi Jo’s father, Tim Marcon came to visit. Never one to sit still, he spent the time helping Brandon by fixing some things around their house while Brandon was at work. He came across an old stereo. It had belonged to Brandon’s dad. It hadn’t worked in years. In fact, it probably hadn’t been played in ten years. Yet, Brandon could not bear to get rid of it.

Tim opened the cover, cleaned it, reconnected some wires and soon had it playing music for the first time in a decade. When Brandon got home from work, his father-in-law encouraged him to give it a try. With a lump in his throat, he pushed the power button. The stereo came to life. He noticed there was a CD in the player. Long forgotten, stuck in the player the it had died. Reaching down, he pushed “Play”…

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back

The words and music hit him, hit him hard. Now, I don’t know if you believe in such things, but, it may have been dumb luck…a coincidence, or maybe, just maybe, it was his father’s way of telling Brandon he and his mom miss him too. Their hearts are broken that they had to leave so soon.

When Brad relayed the story to me, I knew Brandon had been “painting it black” for over a year. When Mick and Keith were writing of pain, depression and loss five decades ago they were describing exactly the pain, depression and loss Brandon was feeling.

Perhaps what his father’s stereo was trying to tell him was the pain of loss never really goes away. You will always miss those who have left. Don’t let that pain colour your world, don’t let the loss turn your world to black, don’t miss the moments with your beautiful family and your friends. Remember those who have left, share the stories of your memories, make sure Tim and Avari know your mom and dad.

I can hear Brandon now…”I know, I know, but I don’t know HOW”. To answer that, I will turn again to the sages of my generation, Mick and Keith.

From “Waiting on a Friend”

A smile relieves a heart that grieves, remember what I said
I’m not waiting on a lady, I’m just waiting on a friend
I’m just waiting on a friend, just waiting on a friend
I’m just waiting on a friend, I’m just waiting on a friend

And…”Let It Bleed”

Well, we all need someone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me
Yeah, we all need someone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me

Brandon, we are are here for you. Together let’s make 2017 a year your parents would be proud of!

Jeff, Carmen, Brad, Holly, Jeremy, Donny, Charity, Braxton & Jordan

Paint It Black
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Abkco Music, Inc
Waiting on a Friend
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management US, LLC
Let It Bleed
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Abkco Music, Inc

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(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Family, Friendship, Love

It started with an Angel. An Angel named Mary Ellen. The three Princes were gathered in the palace of the King. The Princess could not join them, not well enough to make the long journey. Nor, in fact, was the King present. He, being on a journey of his own. Days before, prior to his departure, the King had issued a proclamation: “Not that you will want them, but, take what you will of the things I have left behind. What you do not want give to the people as a token of goodwill.”

The three princes found themselves surrounded by untold treasures left abandoned in the castle. The King’s prophecy seemed to be true, barely a treasure had been spoken for by the Princes or the Princess. It was then an Angel appeared amongst them (hey…I’ve heard this story before!). She spoke not a word. She seemed to float, yet not. Light surrounded her. Upon her robes there was writing. An ancient text; given the date written after the words. As luck would have it, the bride of one of the Princes knew the ancient language. The fair maid, translated the words: “The Family of Sayre”.

The middle Prince, and most handsome (hey, it’s my freakin’ blog, you other two can write your own blog if you want to be the most handsome!) immediately sent word to the head of the Family of Sayre to join them at the castle. There were a handful of trinkets representing the Holy Days, surely the Family of Sayre would find use for them during the upcoming Season.

When Larry of Sayre arrived, the Princes bestowed upon him a dozen or more trinkets. Being an old and dear friend of the King and very well known to the Princes, they took to telling stories from the ancient of days and more recent news from the Family of Sayre. They were acquiring a second castle in the southern part of the kingdom. A place for their family to rest and to feast. A place for his Princess and Prince to bring their offspring and frolick in the spiritual waters.

Now, I don’t recall who thought of it first, I believe it was the handsome middle Prince (again, it’s my damn blog!), “Don’t you need some fine furnishings for this new castle? Perhaps, a bed upon which to rest after a day of chasing the fox with the hounds? Perhaps a dresser to store your robe and garments? Perhaps a lounge upon which to look out across the kingdom?” Perhaps, a rack in which to store your pages? Perhaps a roll of paper with the King’s seal?

Larry of Sayre was overcome. Yes, he would be honored to take use of the King’s things. He called upon more of the Family of Sayre to bring their wagons, they would fill them with their good fortune. Wagon load, after wagon load of treasures were taken to the the Castle by the Water. Soon, the King’s Castle had but a few items left. The Princes were pleased, they knew the King would be pleased. Not only were his things taken, they were taken by the Family of Sayre. That evening there was rejoicing throughout the land.

…and they all lived happily ever after.

An Angel Named Mary EllenOk, enough with the Fairy Tale…I could not resist! As the actual events described allegorically in the tale unfolded, the word “serendipity” was used multiple times throughout the day. The fact that we found a ceramic angel, upon which mom had written “The Sayres – 2007” was serendipitous. The fact that we called Larry and he was immediately available to come over was serendipitous. The fact that Larry and Nancy, along with their daughter Laura and her husband were, at that moment, in the middle of purchasing a lake cottage was…serendipitous. The fact that they needed furnishings for the cottage…almost the exact furnishings that dad could no longer use was…yep…serendipitous.

Serendipity was a word my mom used a lot while were were growing up. I thought it was some 60’s thing the church had created to compete with groovy, far out, and alright to try and sound cool to teens. I don’t think I had used the word in a sentence in 40 years! When Larry (of) Sayre started using it, I was transported to another place and time.

As I sat down to write this post, I went to Google to look up the definition. Little did I know I would be taken back a wee bit further than the 1960’s. I was taken back all the way to the 1750’s! 1754 to be exact, when Horace Walpole coined the term in a letter. He was describing a Persian Fairy Tale to his correspondent. The fairy tale? “The Three Princes of Serendip”.

There are SO many layers here. Three Princes…(now, do you get the three Princes reference in my little fairy tale??)…the Three Kings from biblical texts, one or all of whom could have been Persian…Persia, today’s Iran. I love when history does that to you…you go looking for one thing and you find another, far more powerful…it’s incredible, you might say…or rather, it’s serendipitous!


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dad, family, loveIt came when I least expected. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked through that garage. Dozens? Hundreds? At that moment something caught my eye. I had seen it a million times, but had never given it more than a passing thought. What was that? Today, I had to know. I walked over and picked it up…WHAM! A 2×4 right between my eyes. Holy shit! Dazed, I staggered back,as I did…UMPHFFFFF! Jeeeeeeeezussss! A sucker punch right to the gut. It would be cliche to say, “life passed before my eyes”, nay,  lifefroze before my eyes! As the moments passed, life did indeed pass before my eyes…but it wasn’t my life.

I could see them, mom supervising the planting of the spring flowers, no longer able to help, much less do any of the work. I could hear them discussing which flowers to put where, how best to plant them, and my mom’s reminder to dad to keep them watered.

Life rewound…to happier times. They would shop together at Wild Birds or Altums, picking out the perfect feeder or plant for the small manicured lawn, chattering excitedly as they drove home to place it just the right spot. Later, holding hands as they walked around the yard to examine God’s handiwork.

There they were again, moving into their new home in the retirement community. Doing it for the kids, they’d say. The pride they took in decorating the house just so. The paint colors, the fabrics, the knick-knacks. Out front was a flag pole, shrubs trimmed just so. Welcoming. The prettiest house on the block. At Christmas (a favorite time of year), lights were hung, their twinkle giving the appearance of falling snow.

Now there is a different house. They look younger. This house had something special. Grandkids! Five in all. Oh how they loved to visit Mimi and Popper. Mimi would spend hours with them exploring the scary crawl space. The boys begged for her to take them down there…even though they were a little bit afraid of the dark. Calling out occasionally in shaky voices, “Mimi are you still there?” I’m right here, just shine your flashlight this way,” would come the response.

Popper loved to play in the yard with them. They would play hide and seek for hours on end. The giggles once again giving away the best hiding spot yet!

The house and yard was as you might expect. Immaculate (except after the visit of the grandkids!). The grass mowed and trimmed. The trees bursting with leaves. In the back, were his rose bushes. He would meticulously prune them, fertilize them, and water them. He loved to take her and point to each blossom at is began to unfold.

A new image takes the place of this one. It is a house with four teenagers. Chaotic Sunday mornings getting everyone ready for church. The house was decorated with dozens of banners. Each one made with love and care. Each one with one of her favorite quotes, or scriptures. “Bloom where you are planted”, “Marantha, Our Lord Come”, “Celebrate”, “For God So Loved the World”. The newest one placed in the entry hall, the others hung throughout the “Wreck” Room (hey it WAS a house full of teenagers!).

Together they would explore their faith, their relationship, and their marriage in new light. She was beginning to be her own person. Yes, she was still the minister’s wife, and, very, very proud to be. But she was learning that she had a ministry as well. She could write! At first it was for a Sunday School lesson, then short magazine articles, finally a book. Yes, a book! I could not tell who was more proud…her, or him.

As before, the image fades and a new one takes its place. The kids are younger now, but then so are they. The house is a huge old house next to the church where he served. The house was clean and tidy, despite four young kids (don’t look in their rooms). The garage held the car. THE car! One of the first new cars they had owned. The car was hand washed and waxed…it sparkled. He loved to take her for a ride in the car, letting the wind blow through the open windows (4×4 air conditioning they would call it).

Every Sunday, she would sit in the balcony with the kids (squirming less visible there) and look on with pride as he tended his flock. He was magnificent. His faith and passion exposed with every word. His hair was dark, his eyes flashed. Without anyone being the wiser, he would look to her for affirmation that his words were heard and his message, nay, God’s message, was delivered. After church, they would all sit down for Sunday lunch around an ancient kitchen table.

The images came much faster now, like life as we age, the years moving faster and faster. They were getting younger. The four kids, were three, then two, then one. Then it was the two of them. She dressed in white. Beautiful, simply beautiful. He dressed in black, barely able to breath as he looked at her. Handsome, eyes blazing.

They were teenagers now. He making excuses to go visit his friend Chuck just so he could catch a glimpse of her. Acting totally cool and disinterested, in his rolled-cuffed jeans. She just happening to leave this doll, or that doll out so she would HAVE to go pick it up, her dress clean and bright, like she had just put in on (because, of course, she had). Days, weeks, and months before he would work up nerve to ask her out…to a church youth event (yes, a first date at a church youth event, would you expect anything else from him?).

And then it stopped. I was back in the garage. That same garage, I had been in countless times before. That same garage, where we stacked some of her things when she passed three years prior. That same garage, where I helped him fix his golf cart to make sure he could still get around, even though he could no longer drive. In my hand was a sprinkler head. The shelves before me, organized meticulously, untouched in the three years since mom had died, just as she and dad had left them, now covered with dust and cobwebs. Frozen.  It was frozen. Nothing touched, nothing moved in three years.

We were there to pack dad to move from this house to an apartment. He would be safer there. He would have better care there. We were moving him from this house. The last home they had together. The house where she laid and took her last breath. The house where he had hoped to take his last breath to join her once again. He isfamily, dad, love no longer able to care for the house, I said. He is no longer able to care for himself, I said. He cannot live alone anymore, I said. It is the right thing to do, I said.

I carefully placed the sprinkler head where it had laid, even straightening it, just so. Packing the garage would wait for another day. I took a deep breath, wiped away a tear, and went back in the house to continue packing. Later, as Carmen and I left for the day, I held my hug with dad just a little bit longer, kissed his check a little bit firmer, told him I loved him just a little bit louder. Finally knowing, what I had known in my heart for a long time…he died when she did three years ago this month.


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I am very excited to have a guest blogger for this installment of Rivers of Thought. This is from the pen (ok, keyboard) of a great storyteller. I have been after him for MONTHS to write a post for Rivers of Thought. This storyteller is none other than my cousin, Kenn Beckwith.

Kenn and I were pretty close as cousins go, even though he grew up in Milwaukee and I grew up in Indiana. A couple years ago we reconnected after being out of touch for DECADES! As we have gotten to know each other’s life journey, it is remarkable the similarity in our paths. So without further ado:

family, leadership, #AllLivesMatterIt was last October.

I was late for a meeting.

Traffic was heavy.

I was in the HOV lane because I can afford to pay the toll.

I was driving 69 in a 55.

I was pulled over.

As the trooper approached the car I had my license and insurance in my hand waiting for him. He took them and went back to the squad car. I have a clean record, but was bracing for an expensive fine.

Upon his return he noticed the windows of my recently purchased car and observed they were darkly tinted. After checking the glass with a gauge, he confirmed they were too dark. I explained I had just purchased the car and he told me to take it back to the dealer to rectify.

He then noticed my low tire pressure warning light was illuminated. I told him I had just swapped tires and the sensor had yet to sync. He walked around the car to check for himself.

He then handed me a warning ticket for the entire episode. He was polite, helpful, and in all ways, represented his profession well. I thanked him for the warning; since then I’ve slowed down and I’ve told this story many times.

I’m white.

A few nights ago ago a 33-year old man, his girlfriend, and 4-year old daughter were leaving a grocery store and were pulled over due to a broken tail light. We all know what happened thereafter. I used to have a carry permit – this man did exactly what I was trained to do – he notified the officer.

He’s dead now.

He was black.

I do not pretend to know what it is like to live as a black man in our society. Every time we add one more body to the count of dead people we hear the words “black lives matter.” Then we hear well-meaning people say “all lives matter.” As President Obama said yesterday, “you cannot ignore the data.”

The one question crashing around my brain every time I’ve told the story of my traffic stop has been, “would I have had the same experience if I had not been a 59-year old white male driving a nice car?”

No answers – just sad about the state of our country.


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family, autism“Momma”, “Dadda”, “Bye-bye”. Three of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard. I could not imagine a more perfect ending to what had been a very long week! I think I probably watched the video a dozen times…”Momma”, “Dadda”, “Bye-bye”…the last two words barely whispers.

The week started much like many others, Monday morning and off to work. Pretty typical Monday, One on One’s with my staff in the morning, followed by an afternoon full of meetings. That evening, while sitting in my office at home catching up on email, my cell phone rang. It was a number I did not recognize. So, I did what I always do with a number I do not recognize, I ignored it and let it roll to voicemail. Before I had a chance to listen to the message, it rang again, this time it was my dad’s number.

I answered, fully expecting to be talking to my dad…except I wasn’t. It was one of the nurses from the retirement community where dad lives. Dad had fallen several times and was very disoriented. She was calling an ambulance. I dropped everything and rushed to his condo. As I arrived, they were loading him into the ambulance. One of the firemen gave me the low down on his condition, I asked them to tell him I was here and I would see him at the hospital. After speaking with the nurse and the neighbors who had called her, I followed the ambulance to the ER.

Hours later, after myriad of tests, we learned that dad had experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or “mini-stroke” and was also suffering from pneumonia in both lungs. They started a series of IVs and admitted him into the hospital. (For those that know Dad, he has improved and is now back in his duplex.) As for me, I stayed with him until he was in his room for the night. I think my head hit my pillow about 2 AM.

I was up and off for a 7:30 meeting the next morning. The rest of the week was a blur. Carmen and I would tag team. She would spend hours at the hospital during the day, texting me with updates. We would talk by cell in between meetings, then meet at the hospital as soon as I could get out of the office. We would spend the evenings with dad and then head for home, stopping for dinner on the way. Most nights it was 9 or 10 before we arrived home.

Dad was improving, albeit, slowly. By Friday, we were exhausted. As we talked mid-afternoon, we decided Carmen would head for home, and I would stop in and visit with dad before I headed home. As was typical, dad would be awake and talking one minute and fast asleep the next. During one of his “naps”, I was checking Facebook. There it was, a post from my son Jeremy. A short video of my grandson, Braxton, uttering his first words. “Momma”, “Dadda”, “Bye-bye”. Not wanting to disturb dad, I texted Carmen and my heart beating like a drum…”OMG, have you seen Facebook?”

First words are always a big deal. These first words, however, had been a long time coming. You see, Braxton is 3 ½ and has been diagnosed with autism. His language skills and socialization have been particularly slow to develop. He had not spoken a word, not even close.

Carmen was not responding to my text, nor was she “liking” on the Facebook post,  could barely contain my excitement, I wanted to share the news! Finally, dad woke up and I called Carmen to share the news, then showed the video to dad. By now, all three of us were in tears.

The next morning when Carmen and I went over to Jeremy’s house to visit with him and Braxton, all I could do is grab Jeremy by the shoulders and look him in the eyes and say, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God, Oh, my God!!!”

After the week we had had, I can’t think of a better way to end it. Dear, sweet, beautiful Braxton speaking his first words.

“Momma”, “Dadda”, “Bye-bye”…the sweetest sounds I had ever heard!


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Wennie and ScottiesIt was the year 2 BJ (before Jeff) when Wennie (Wednesday) wandered out of a field and into Carmen’s heart. 17 years later (15 AJ, for those keeping track),on Saturday, Wennie crossed the Rainbow Bridge, while she will still be in our hearts, she leaves a hole and an ache.

When Wennie entered Carmen’s life, she joined a family of two Scotties, Guinness and Watney and a beautiful soul (Carmen, duh!). Guinness left us about the time I showed up on the scene. I am fairly certain, however, if the man of the house had not approved, I would not have been let in. That left the three girls and me, talk about being outnumbered!

This Christmas (stay with me on this one…you will see the point soon, I promise), we started a new tradition at Whitemeadow. We called it “Cookies and Cocktails” but it waWennie Bowls more like “Donuts and Drinks”. Both sons, Jeremy and Brad, brought their families over on Christmas Eve. The plan was to spend some quiet moments together and for Grandpa (yours truly) to read “Twas the Night before Christmas”. As I opened the book, a long forgotten sheet of paper fell out. It was “Twas the Night before Christmas (Revised)”. Something I had written way back in 2001…our first Christmas as husband and wife (and dog and cat). I could not think of a better way to celebrate Wennie and the life we had together than to share it here with you. So…without further adieu, and with apologies to Clement C. Moore…


”Twas the Night before Christmas (Revised)”

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even Wennie’s mouse
The stockings were hung on the mantle with care
In hopes that the cat would leave them right there

Watney was cuddled with us right in our bed
While visions of dog treats circled her head.
And Carmen was snuggled warmly on my shoulder
And I was just content to lay there and hold her.

When right there on our bed there arose such a sound
That we both shot out of bed with one giant bound
The room was ablaze from our outdoor Christmas lights
I thought we would both keel over and die from fright

It was then that I spied our dog and our cat
Turning our bed into there own wrestling mat
They were jumping and twisting both this way and that
I collapsed back in bed and told them to scat

Wennie went running straight up the darn tree
Watney just prancing and dancing, trying to see
The tree, it  began to shimmy and shake
The ornaments, they began to fall and break

Now Watney, Now Winnie, now doggie and kittie
On Winnie, On Watney, On kittie and puppie
Out from under that tree, get straight down that hall
Now scoot away,  scoot away, scoot away all

As quickly and straightly as arrows do fly
When shot from a bow with an archers great eye
So down to the kitchen the critters they flew
With a strand full of lights and some ornaments too

And then in an instance I heard in the hall
The crashing and smashing of the tree in its fall
And I was jumping with fright straight out of my bed
Yelling and screaming and seeing nothing but red

When Carmen and I the kitchen did reach
The critters were covered with 12 ornaments each
Watney had lights all strung from her toes
And Wennie had antlers and a red little nose

I looked over to Carmen and she looked at me too
Neither of us really knew what we should do
Laughing so hard, my eyes they did cry
I leaned down to Watney and just asked her why

Slowly I untangled the lights from her fur
While Carmen helped Wennie she quietly purred
We looked at each other right there on the floor
And knew that God could not bless us with anything more

We had each other and our dog and our cat
We had a nice house filled with this thing and that
We held on to each other with all of our might
Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night.

Rest in Peace, dear Wennie. You will be sorely missed, for this evening when I sit on the couch, there will be an empty spot next to me and an empty place in my heart. Wennie

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family, love, traditionThe writer of I Corinthians (or as Donald Trump would call it: One Corinthians) Chapter 13 begins by telling us what love is. As a PK (preacher’s kid), I grew up knowing it (and many other verses) by heart. Today, on Valentine’s Day, I would like to add a few more definitions to that author’s description.

I am blessed to have a lot of  love in my life. My beautiful wife, Carmen…my sons Jeremy and Brad…my daughter-in-law Holly and her kids Donny and Charity…my mother and father-in-law, Judy and Dave, my mother-in-law Kathleen, my sister and brothers…and of course my dear friends. Each relationship brings its lessons in love and in life. I could fill a book (maybe someday I actually will!) with the lessons learned.

Careful readers will notice I did not mention three other loves in my life; two of my newest loves and the oldest.


Love is tough

I don’t do well with blood. I don’t care if it’s mine or someone else’s, if it is more than a little scratch, it makes me queasy. Perhaps this goes back to my childhood when I had a couple of run ins with glass doors which involved a LOT of blood and a LOT of stitches.  I don’t know, at any rate, I try to avoid it. Yet, here I was, my hands covered in blood, my dad’s blood. Ok, before you think I off’ed my dad or something, let me explain.

Dad had prostate surgery this summer. Since it had been performed as an outpatient procedure, I did not want him to be alone that first night (for that matter, neither did the doctor). The nurses gave us instructions for care over the next 24 hours…instructions that included removing his catheter…seemed easy enough…easy if seeing your dad naked for the first time in about 50 years easy. So, there we were the following morning. Dad sitting on the commode, hanging out in all his glory. Me, on my knees in front of him, gently pulling on a catheter. But…something was wrong. They said there might be a little blood. The catheter would not come out. This was not a little blood. I stopped pulling and called the emergency nurse at his retirement center. Dad lives in a section that does not include nursing care. However, I think the quaking in my voice convinced the nurse she needed to buck protocol and come immediately. Thankfully, she did, and thankfully, it was nothing serious, just a case of someone (me) not fully understanding the instructions given. She quickly removed the catheter..and, as for me?  I cleaned up the blood.

THAT my friends is love!

Over the last few years since mom died, as my dad ages, we have had role reversal. The parent has become the child, the child the parent. I am closer to my dad now than at any other point in my life. We share everything, we go through everything together (including catheter removal!). We have had some tremendous times together (like going to Indians baseball games), we have had some ugly times together, arguing over life’s challenges:

“Quit treating me like a child!”

“Quit acting like one!”

Hard to say for sure, but I am positive as the words left our mouths, we realized the other had said the same thing 40 or so years ago.

He is one of the wisest people I know, so I sought his counsel when considering a job change. His thoughts were insightful and incredibly helpful. It was a poignant afternoon as we talked about his career and mine.

Late in the summer, my brother and I had to take his car away. THAT was one of the uglier moments!

No matter the day, no matter the challenge, he and I hug and tell each other we love the other.

Raising a parent IS like raising a child. You love them unconditionally, and you know they love you, as well. Yet love does not mean you give them everything they want. Love means sometimes, you have to do what you think is right for them, even if they don’t agree, even though they get angry. Love is tough (in many different ways)!


Love is communicating

Braxton Kirby Ton-Blake, my first time experiencing the love of a grandparent! All I can say to those who have experienced it is, “you were right!”. To those who have not had the joy, “It is unlike anything you will ever experience!”

Braxton is now three years old. A couple of years ago, we realized that Braxton was not developing like a typical one-year old. Our fears were realized when he was assessed and found to be on the Autism Disorder spectrum. He is a bright, beautiful boy, but as of now, does not speak. (Honestly, heartbreaking and yet, another definition of love, but that’s not for this story). For those who have experienced the challenge of Autism, you know one of the manifestations of it is “meltdowns” (ok, not a medical term, but you know what I mean). While many toddlers exhibit temper tantrums (our grandson Jordan is an expert “drama queen” when it comes to these), trying to work with a child who is autistic and does not speak during a meltdown is especially challenging.

One Saturday this summer, Jeremy and Braxton arrived on our doorstep for a visit. Braxton was in mid-meltdown! SCAAAAAHREEEEEEEEEAMING! Jeremy explained they left their house to come over and Braxton thought they were going for a ride in the car (I guess, I should mention they live next door). As they passed the car and headed out of the garage, the screaming commenced!

He was inconsolable. Trying to get him to play with any of his toys got nothing but louder screams in response. Thinking perhaps he was hungry just resulted in food flying across the room. Jeremy said he would take him home. Maybe get in the car and drive over. Instead, I took Braxton by the hand, still screaming, and led him throughout the house. Still screaming. Back to the master bedroom. Still screaming. Pointing out the window. Still Screaming. To the kitchen. Still screaming. I picked him up and took him upstairs to the playroom. Still Screaming.

For what seemed like hours, but was probably 15 or 20 minutes, he screamed. I put him down. He screamed and wanted in my arms. I picked him up. He screamed and kicked me. I put him down. He screamed and wanted back in my arms. I picked him up.

Still screaming, we walked downstairs and out into the garage. I put on my boots (still screaming) and we headed out to take a walk by the creek. Still screaming. We walked across the foot bridge (I don’t have to say it again, right, you know by now, he was still screaming) and down to the creek. We threw rocks in the water and watched the ripples. We moved on. The screams now more like whining, but still loud enough to scare the doe that was sleeping across the creek. We walked north along the creek. Soon, the screaming and whining stopped. Still carrying him, we walked to the north end of our property and looped to head back.

Braxton got down and held tightly to my hand as we trekked toward the barn. Now he was actively looking at the birds and the trees. He watched the water in the creek intently. I must confess, we took our own sweet time heading back to the house, just my best buddy and me. It was a moment long in coming, and it was a moment I never wanted to end. Love is communicating (even when you don’t have words)!


Love is joyful

If ever there was a toddler that embodied pure joy, it is Jordan Jeffrey Ton! His has one of those smiles that spreads across his face and enwraps his entire body (think of a puppy dog when you come home from work)!

My favorite picture of Jordan was taken this summer. Whenever I want to instantly smile and laugh out loud (the REAL LOL, not the LOL of text messages!), I find that picture. We were having a family picnic in the backyard, it might have been our Father’s Day picnic, I can’t recall now. What I do remember is the whole family was there. Jordan was cute as a button in his shorts and onesie. He had on a floppy hat. Carmen was pushing him in the swing, his hat blowing back each time he swung forward. His mouth open wide in a huge grin (just a couple of teeth showing by now) and giggling with each push. Sheer pure joy!

This past December, Jordan discovered Santa, or Tanta, as he called him, unable to pronounce an
“s” yet. Each time he saw Santa, he would point, bubble with excitement and grin that joyful grin and exclaim, “Tanta”! I did not realize how many “Tantas” we had around our house until Jordan visited. With each one, and with the same amount of excitement and joy, he would point out “Tanta”!  As we ran throughout the house playing and finding “Tantas”, I would always add the “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

On Christmas Eve, we started a new tradition (or at least, I hope what will be a tradition). We called it “Cookies and Cocktails”. (For the record, the kids got the cookies!) Given the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, the idea was a quick stop for both Brad and Jeremy and their families at Grandma and Grandpa Ton’s on Christmas Eve. Straight out of Christmas Vacation, I got to play Clark Griswold and read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

Braxton was crashed from the excitement of the day, so while he napped, we all gathered by the fireplace for the story. Jordan, still very much full of energy, was at my feet (somewhat). As I read the book, it was Tanta that caught his attention. With each and every page, he would point, cry out “Tanta” …and then in a low voice (I kid you not!) add in a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”! I could barely even read the book, I was laughing so hard tears were flowing down my cheeks (no wonder Santa’s cheeks are rosey). Everyone was laughing so hard! Love is joy (whether you are two or 58!)


Whatever your definition of love is…I hope you have it this Valentine’s Day! I hope you can look back on your year and your life and find many definitions of love. I would be honored if you would share your stories here in the comments on Rivers of Thought.

With love, Jeff


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Jason FisherToday, I am very excited to feature a Guest Post from a friend and colleague of mine, Mr. Jason Fisher. He is a consummate professional and one of the most talented and intelligent people I have had the pleasure of working with. His bio follows this post. Over the years, we have enjoyed several conversations about camping of all kinds, but more specifically, wilderness camping. Last week he was late for work, late for a meeting, but, his “excuse” blew me away. Let him tell it in his own words:

I may have saved somebody’s life today. Well, me and two other thoughtful passerby’s, to give credit where it is due.

So, let me set the stage. I was on my way to work, about 7:40am, cutting it a little close for arriving at a meeting with my boss, my boss’s boss, and a few others, when I get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the interstate. Three lanes of traffic barely moving, brake lights as far in front of me as I can see, and course, it’s raining.

Music is how I pass the time. Air drums and all the words to my favorite songs. I probably provided some comic relief to everyone nearby. Good.

I finally neared the source of the traffic and see that it is a white car driving very slowly on the left shoulder, nearly scraping the concrete barrier between the northbound and southbound lanes. As I drive slowly past, I see that the man driving is slumped over, clearly unconscious or worse.

I pull over immediately and jump out. The white car starts angling back across the three lanes of traffic. I quickly catch up to the car and ran alongside of it banging on the driver’s window.

Thankfully, he woke up just as we were getting to the right shoulder and he stopped the car. That was also when I noticed another guy had stopped his car right behind mine and ran up with me. A lady also had stopped with us and dialed 911.

As the guy who ran up with me and I were talking to the older gentleman who was just unconscious, but now was dazed, confused, and oddly wanting to drive away, I’m thinking, “I know this guy”. We keep talking to him, insisting that he is not OK and he needs to stay right there.

It took a minute for me to realize who the other good samaritan was. We both seemed to realize it at the same time. He is…my wife’s, aunt’s, brother-in-law’s, daughter’s boyfriend that I had met once at a Christmas party last year. Clearly no blood relation, but he is also a Marine, so that makes him my brother.

Sorry, I got away from the story of that man’s life. He seemed to stay in a confused state, I suspect maybe medication or blood sugar. Anyway, help arrived very quickly and I didn’t stick around for the rest. I’m sure he will be fine. Plus, by now I was really late for that meeting!

As I am driving away, I realize how many cars there were in front of me in that snarled traffic, it really weighed on me then, and throughout the day, that they all went by at slow speed, not noticing or not caring.

There were easily a couple hundred cars in front of me.

Nobody stopped.

If you were driving north on I-65, approaching Indianapolis this morning around 7:30-8:00 and drove by that white car holding everyone up, shame on you!

It really doesn’t take a couple Marines to chase down a car moving at idle speed on the interstate. It just takes a single shred of decency and an ounce of compassion for your fellow man. So what if you get wet and late for work?!

On the bright side, emergency services were quick to arrive after that lady contacted them, my bosses were understanding of my tardiness to the meeting, and I know my brothers will always have my back!

Jason, I’ve got nothing to add, except respect. You already had my respect as a colleague, but on that day, you earned respect at a whole new level.

Mr. Fisher is an IT professional with over 20 years of experience consulting and supporting infrastructure systems.  He is the Infrastructure Manager and Senior Systems Architect for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, which includes 57 retail locations, Commercial Services (contract manufacturing, packaging, and janitorial services), 12 charter high schools for youths and adults, as well as the Nurse-Family Partnership; all together over 80 locations in a variety of industry verticals.

He came to Goodwill in 2012, inheriting an aging, overcapacity and critically failing infrastructure.  Together with Goodwill’s leadership, he embarked on an infrastructure transformation, utilizing cloud architecture and leveraging the expertise of critical business partners.

Jason is an Indianapolis native and served in the United States Marine Corps. Outside of the office, he also enjoys hiking and camping with his wife and two children, coaching youth athletic teams, and practicing wilderness survival.


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family, tradition, generations“Wow, are those smiles identical, or what?!” That simple comment on a Facebook post of a picture of my grandson Jordan and I on his first birthday  immediately reminded me of a song from the 90’s by Push Down & Turn, the king of local bar bands during that time. Their song “Faces” by Sam King, always struck a chord with me. It still brings chills when I hear it. In it, Sam recounts his memories and feelings  surrounding the recent passing of his father.

I see that face sometimes in the the mirror
And I wonder, will I ever be like him

Because his face, I will always see,
He is a part of me
The part that keeps me alive
Is where he will always be.

I will see his face again someday in my children
I hope I can save them from his fate.

I will see his face again someday in heaven
I hope I’ll be ready when my time comes

Because his face, I will always see,
He is a part of me
The part that keeps me alive
Is where he will always be.

Copyright Push Down & Turn
Copyright Spring Street Records, Inc.

While the song is bittersweet, it got me thinking. I have been blessed with two wonderful sons. In turn, they have blessed my wife and I with four (thus far) fantastic grandchildren. What things, other than a killer smile, will they take from me? What physical traits will we share? What lessons will be passed on? What memories will we share? What habits and idiosyncrasies will handed down, intentionally or not?

family, tradition, generationsLast summer, while preparing for a family cookout at Whitetail Meadow, I was setting the fire in the firepit. My grandson Braxton was busy playing in the yard, running from one adventure to the next. As I broke sticks for kindling, he stopped to watch me intently. (Braxton LOVES to play with sticks). Soon, without any prompting from me, he was picking up sticks and “helping me” stack them in the firepit. Will he learn to love the outdoors as I do from me? His father has always been a hard worker, will that trait pass down to our Braxton?

Just a few weeks ago, our grandson Jordan was spending the night with us. I took the opportunity to read him a bedtime story. The one I chose? Why, “Gus and Me” by Keith Richards, of course! What? You didn’t know rock’s premiere guitarist has written a children’s story? The book, written for his own grandchildren, is a story of his grandfather “Gus”, the bond they shared, and the gift of a guitar thatfamily, tradition, generations would forever shape Keith’s life. Will Jordan learn to love music and enjoy the “classics” (like Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and more) through a bedtime story and a connection with his grandpa? His father loves music and had a career of his own writing songs from his heart, will that trait pass down to our Jordan?

What lessons have I learned from my dad? Honestly, there is not room here to recount them all. Recently, he and I were talking about my last blog post, “Shadows of Days Gone By”. He told me how much he enjoyed my writing. “You must have gotten that from your mother,” he told me.  You see mom published two books and numerous magazine articles during her “second career”, the first one being raising four kids. “Dad, that may be…partially…I think a lot came from you too!” Dad had been a Baptist minister and throughout his career had written thousands of sermons (“Dad Paddles the #RooseveltRiver”). “I think my writing and my speaking came from BOTH you and mom”.

I don’t remember much about either of my granddads. Grandpa Williams, the original Donut Man, I know through his donuts and stories from my mom. They lived in Wisconsin so we only got to see them a couple times a year. Whether he ever knew it or not, I think my love for tradition came from him. My Grandpa Ton, passed away before I really had the chance to know him. I know he was a hard working man. He spent many years working in the gold mines in South Dakota. I think he would be proud of the hard work I have done around Whitetail Meadow in the last few years.

family, tradition, generationsAs an amateur genealogist, I have spent hours assembling our family history (to give credit, by Aunt Betty did most of the work, I was just a very lucky recipient of some of her files).  When my Granny Ton passed away, I was blessed to receive her journals and many of her old photographs. The Facebook comment also reminded me of one of the photos of her parents, Aloisia and Franz Hickey. Every time I look at that picture, I see my dad in the face and eyes of his Grandma Aloisia. To me it is striking!

The more I study my ancestors, the more like “real people” they become. At some generation, they become themselves, not their relation to me. It’s Aloisia and Franz, not Great Grandma and Grandpa…or Sydney, Carrie, Elisha, Martin, George, Jan, and Dirk. What parts of me are parts of them? I wonder.  Did they ever wonder about me and what I would be?

As I end this post, my grandson Braxton is waking up in the next room. Spring is here, the sun is warm once again. We are going out to play. What lessons will he learn today? What lessons will he teach today? I can’t wait to discover them!

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