Posts

After posing that question, the executive I was having lunch with went on to explain he had always tried to create a family-like environment at his company. “You know, having fun, hanging out, being one of the gang.”

Now he was faced with some of his staff not performing. When he tried to address it they pushed back saying “You’ve changed”, or “You’re overreacting”, or worse. 

It’s a tough question and one that many managers and leaders struggle to answer.

It doesn’t matter if you are new to a management role or, like my friend, someone who has been leading people for several decades.

Can you be friends with the people that work for you? 

The old adage is you can be friendly but not friends.

As a new manager back in a decade that started with a “9”, I took that advice. Many of my friends were now my employees. I all but stopped socializing with them. There were no more parties, no more weekend trips on the houseboat, and no grabbing a drink after work.

Oh sure, we still did team happy hours occasionally (hey, it was the 90’s) but for the most part, I became “management”. 

It took me a long time to realize that old adage was, well… BS.

I think the reason our managers and mentors espoused that adage was because it makes the tough times easier.

It is far easier to have those tough conversations about performance or layoffs if you don’t know what is going on in their personal life.

They may be going through a divorce, or have elderly parents who are in failing health, or have kids that are struggling in school…you know, all the real stuff that doesn’t make it to Facebook. 

Do you know them?

I now believe you have to know those in your office on a personal level.

How else are you going to lead them?

  • Knowing them helps you to celebrate with them when their kid enters kindergartner or gets accepted into college.
  • Knowing them helps you connect, we all (even leaders) crave connection, we are human after all!
  • Knowing them helps you to lead with empathy and compassion.

Yes, those tough conversations are tougher…on us, they were always tough on the other person. If those types of conversations are ever easy…you are in the wrong job! 

But, it is a two-way street.

Do they know you?

To form those relationships you have to let your employees see you for who you are.

Tell them about the joy of a new grandchild, or the pain of the death of a parent. To form those relationships you have to be vulnerable. 

For the leader who asked the question… be vulnerable.

  • Tell them about the sleepless nights worrying about making payroll.
  • Tell them how you feel the weight of 200 individuals and their 200 families.
  • Tell them about the gnawing in the pit of your stomach every day as you care for your business almost like your child.

If they don’t respond with empathy and compassion towards you, if they don’t see you as a friend, but also a leader who has to have tough conversations, if they don’t rally to the mission at hand, perhaps you don’t have the relationship you thought you had. 

I would love to hear your thoughts! Please comment (or email) on this topic. Have a leadership question you would like to ask? Send me a note. I am happy to share my thoughts and have others chime in as well! 

The Land of Serendip

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, lived a King, his three Princes and his one Princess, and their wonderful spouses and families. When we last visited the Land of Serendip, the Princes received a visit from an Angel, we now return, 18 short months later…

The King of Serendip was about to embark upon another journey. The Prince of Whitetail issued a proclamation on the King’s behalf. “Hear ye, in the name of the King! Let it be known across the land, the time has come for the King to leave the Forest of Hawthorne and reside instead in the Village of Hickory. The Princess of Whitetail and I will see to it he has the necessary comforts for the journey and for the winter ahead.”

As the word spread throughout the kingdom, messages were delivered from the Prince of the Western Lands, the Prince of Raymond, and the Princess the Green Lakes. Each messenger brought words of support and the offer to travel to the Forest of Hawthorne if need be. The Prince of Whitetail sent them on their way with assurances there was no need for them to undertake such journeys.

The day of the King’s journey was soon upon them. The Prince took the King by the hand and led him from the Forest, while the Princess and her porters packed some of the King’s belongings to be sent on ahead to the Village of Hickory. The King was distressed, he did not want to leave the Forest. The Prince and the King halted at the shop of Maidens of Medicine for the King’s treatments and to ensure his room at the Village of Hickory was ready for his arrival.

The wait merely added to the Prince’s feeling of dread for the journey ahead. He tried valiantly to relieve the King’s distress, while the dread mounted within his soul. His mind was racing with thoughts of threads to pull. What was that sound? The sound of someone approaching. The Prince looked momentarily without recognition, but then…the veil fell from his eyes to reveal Sir Larry of Sayre! Why was he here outside the Forest of Hawthorne?  

Familiar with the journey ahead and being a long time friend of the King, and much older (and therefore somewhat wiser) than the Prince, he’d come from afar to provide the magic of listening ear to the King. As the sands in the hour glass slowly moved from top to bottom, he was there to share the burden of the Prince and Princess. Through his laugh, through his stories, through his heart of empathy and compassion, he was able to lessen the King’s distress and cause the Prince’s dread to nearly vanish.

As mid-day faded and the shadows lengthened, it was time. The much older (and somewhat wiser), Sir Larry of Sayre, with a tear in his eye, bid adieu to the King and Prince as they took the road toward the Village of Hickory to meet the Princess.

The King and Prince arrived at the Village of Hickory, where the Princess was just finishing up with the King’s room. She had done a wonderful job preparing the way and ensuring even the smallest detail was tended to for the King.

Thank you, Larry. Thank you for not asking, because the answer, as you knew, would have been “Nothing”. Thank you for knowing what was needed even when I did not. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being present. You gave us more than you will ever know…then again, maybe you do.

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 (I don’t think she understood she was marrying all of us when she said “I do”!).

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 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 girl friend (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 was not going to work out. Who stepped forward? Carmen, of course. Of course, the 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 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 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 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, like 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 play house 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” play house), 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 not 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 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.

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.
Or Follow Him on Twitter (@jtonindy)

Jeff blogs on a variety of platforms:

 

 

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!

 

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.
Or Follow Him on Twitter (@jtonindy)

Jeff blogs on a variety of platforms:

 

 

 


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.

 

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.
or Follow Him on Twitter (@jtonindy)

Jeff blogs on a variety of platforms:

 

 

 

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!

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?
Expanding your circles on Google+?
Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.
Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

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!

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?
Expanding your circles on Google+?
Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.
Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

It was a drive I had made countless times in my life, though it had been a few yefamily, Green Lake, memoriesars since I had visited. For me it had long been hallowed ground. Turning into the entrance brought back the same feeling…the feeling of entering a different place; the feeling of familiarity; the feeling of leaving the hustle and bustle behind (oddly enough, it is the same feeling I now get when I descend into the valley in which we live). This trip was different though, this trip had a purpose. Our family was gathering, my siblings, our kids, my nephews, our kid’s-kids. We were gathering from hundreds of miles away. We were gathering to celebrate my sister’s wedding. We were gathering to scatter my mother’s ashes along the lake shore she loved so.

Green Lake, is a conference area located in Central Wisconsin, located on the shores of Green Lake, near the town of the same name.  It’s official name is Green Lake Conference Center (we knew it as The American Baptist Assembly Grounds), to us, it was just Green Lake. As we drove down the main road, through the dappled sunlight, many of the changes since our last visit several years ago became apparent. Later, as we walked around the grounds, familiar spots seemed like shadows of days gone by.

family, Green Lake, memoriesMy brothers and sister and I grew up here, spending every summer vacation for years with our parents. We didn’t know until many years later the only reason we could even afford to stay at Green Lake was that my dad was actually working at the conferences. We were oblivious! In our younger days, we would spend our mornings (and parts of the afternoon) in the children’s programs, graduating from “door to door” each year. (Think vacation bible school with each age group in a different house, with a different color door). The afternoon’s activities included swimming, hiking, crafts and sports.

Even before we came as children, mom and dad were coming to Green Lake. Recently, I found a wood-burning project dad had made in 1945 while at Green Lake. He would have been 15. I wonder, was he actually at Green Lake when World War II came to an end? Why did they come to these grounds? Because their parents came to these grounds.

In the 60’s and early 70’s, Green Lake was a different place. It was bustling with activity. Hundreds of visitors each week. The front gate was manned by a guard, only allowing in the registered conference attendees, those there to play golf on the championship golf course, employees and a handful of folks that lived on the grounds. As children, it was safe for us to roam across the entire place. At night, our favorite activity was “deer hunting”. This involved piling four kids into a car, keeping them quiet, as my dad drove slowly through the overgrown gravel roads deep in the woods looking for deer. We would keep track each night of how many we spied.family, Green Lake, memories

As we grew older, we were able to explore more and more of the grounds on our own. As the years went by, my older brother and sister got summer jobs, graduated high school and no longer vacationed with us. My younger brother and I continued to anticipate our annual excursions. Together we explored, roamed the grounds, made friends with other kids attending (especially, the cute girls-made it to second base for the first time at the top of one of the water towers on the property!), and wreacked the typical havoc of two teenage boys.

Somewhere during this time, we got word they we adding an additional 9 holes to the golf course. You see the conference center was struggling to make ends meet and the revenue generated by the course was key to keeping it afloat. Not being a golfer at the time, we were devastated! How many acres of our beautiful woods would be devoured by 9 holes of golf? Gone was Quarry Road, gone was Tower Road. All for a stupid game?

Fast forward a few years, we were now grown, married, and had kids of our own. Being a young financially struggling family, we could not afford to go on vacation. When my parents invited us to join them at Green Lake for a week, we jumped at the chance. Soon, the annual trek was reignited. Each year mom and dad, all the siblings and their families would descend upon the hallowed grounds. At first, we all stayed in the same house. As our families grew, some of us would rent cabins, or stay in the camp grounds, but we would always spend time together throughout the week hiking, running, eating, and playing games.

family, Green Lake, memoriesMom would relish in the game of posing the JT and Brad’s stuffed animals while they were at the Children’s Center. It became quite a game to guess what Mimi had done with them now as we walked back to the cabin. That Pooh had many great adventures: playing board games, washing dishes, grilling out, watching TV, and playing tennis!

During this time, we were to learn some well-kept secrets of parenthood (JT, Brad, Jeff, Ross and Kyle you cannot read this part until YOU visit Green Lake with YOUR children, so just skip to the next paragraph). Secret #1 – Vacationing at a locale with a Children’s Center with lots of activities for kids ROCKS for the parents too! Parental down time! Secret #2 – When hunting for deer, it is not necessary to be as quiet as church mice, but how else are you going to get four kids to stay quiet for an hour?

We also discovered another secret – town! Yes, there was life away from the conference center. Before long, our annual treks had to include a meal or two at the Goose Blind Bar and Grill and Pizza Hut. We also included tours of the Rippin’ Good Cookies factory, the Amish bakeries and the various antique shops in the area. Who knew?!!?

Green Lake announced plans to, once again, expand the Golf Course. We were disappointed to hear more of our dear woodlands would be plowed under, however, since I had taken up the game and Brad was learning to play as well, we were excited (with a tinge of guilt) to play the new nine. Soon, “The Woodlands” would become our favorite of the two courses on the grounds.

By now, life had changed yet again and the annual trek fell by the wayside. Green Lake, always living from “paycheck to paycheck” was experiencing financially tough times. They began family, Green Lake, memoriesto sell more and more lots to private owners. It seems lake front property could garner a very high price! Our parents were now retired and spent three months a year volunteering at the Conference Center. They purchased a modest mobile home and leased a spot in one of the mobile home parks on the property. Carmen and I made it point to drive up to visit, if even for a long weekend, many summers while they were there. For a time, we had a motor home (Clark, that there is an RRRR.V.!) and we would stay “right next door” in the extended lot they had leased.

As mom and dad grew older, they decided to give up the trailer at Green Lake and sell it. During our final trip to visit, we learned the Conference Center was selling off the largest section of woodlands yet to a developer who would be building million dollar homes on the property, even the east gate would be removed to allow the homeowners easier access to the grounds and their homes.

Shadows of days gone by…memories of simpler times…a lifetime (five lifetimes actually) of memories. There are still parts of the grounds that remain. The grand hotel, Roger Williams Inn; Judson Tower standing guard; the boat house with it’s marina and docks; some of the cabins and houses; all can still be found. Call it the world we live in today, call it progress, call it competition for our attention and entertainment, call it what you will. I found myself saddened to walk the grounds and see the shadows. Much of what I remembered is “just ‘living memory’ that sadly no longer exists”.

 

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?

Expanding your circles on Google+?

Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.

Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

A Guest Post by Jill Renee (Ton) Stollenwerk

It was the Saturday before Christmas. Carmen and I had just collapsed on the couch in front of a roaring fire. We had just celebrated Christmas with our two-year old Grandson Braxton, our son JT, and our parents. We had “just settled down for a long winter’s nap”, when just to my left there arose such a clatter…ok, it was my cell phone vibrating to  alert me to a text message. It was from my sister, Jill.

Text Exchange

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text Exchange 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within moments, my phone rang (or rather vibrated).

The Story of Jill and The Little Black Lamb

As I entered the Christmas season this year, I became keenly aware of my mother’s absence. She passed away in July, 2013, but this year I have missed her anew so much.  Mom was the tapestry of Christmas as I grew up and even as I was an adult with children.  Mary Ellen, Mom, Mimi brought Christmas to life for her family and friends. She could do Santa magic, holding on to the Sear’s Christmas catalogue until after Thanksgiving for her children to dream Santa dreams that she knew they couldn’t afford. Yet, observing her, you knew how strongly she embraced the Christmas story of Jesus coming into the world.

I was a PK, preacher’s kid, and was used to our family life reflecting the liturgy of the time of year.  I didn’t appreciate as a child the impact our family rituals would have on me.  This year, I have been looking for Mom.  I wanted to experience her in the ornaments she and Dad had given us kid through the years.  Dating back to 1973, they had given me an ornament each year, in keeping with the tradition given by Mom’s parents.

My precious ornaments had been packed away for several years.  Many circumstances in my life kept them from view until this year when my boxes had been moved to my new home.  I unpacked the boxes of ornaments, hungry for a glimpse of my mother.  I reminisced childhood Christmas memories with my new husband.  One strong memory was how my mother pulled four active children together many evenings during advent each year.  Somehow she managed to slow us down enough to light the advent candles, read a scripture, read a story and perhaps even sing a song together.  My initial memories of those times were how we kids fought over the honor of lighting a candle or reading a passage.  My memory now is of a very patient mother who was determined to bring the light of Jesus’ birth to her children.  And she did.

I continued my search for my mother this Christmas.  I wanted so badly to touch her, feel her, and embrace her.  I thought about all the stories she read to us each year.  “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Other Wiseman”, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and “The Little Black Lamb”.  My favorite for some reason was “The Little Black Lamb”.  I remembered vividly sitting by my mother as she read the story and I looked at the drawings in the book. It was a very simple story. I poked around my saved books and found all of the stories, given to me by my parents in the early 70’s.  All except “The Little Black Lamb”.  As if on a mission, I went to Google to find that story.  And I found it finally.  Somebody had typed it up and posted it to their blog.  No credits were given to the author, which I thought was sad. (for the record, the author is Emily S. McCracken).Scan10094

But I had my story and that brought me closer to Mom.  Later that day I went out to our garage to put on my boots for a trek to check on the horses and peacocks with my husband.  On a table next to my chair was a stack of books.  Oh yes, these were the children’s books I had told my husband could go to Goodwill, because we had no little ones around.  He had wisely saved them in hopes I would send them to my grandson, Ben, in Florida.  I picked up one of the books and opened it.  It opened to the story of “The Little Black Lamb”!  This was my mother’s book that she read to me and my brothers.  The pictures were exactly as I remembered.  How could I have had that book in my possession and forgotten how important it was?  I heard my mother as clear as a bell saying, “Why are you looking for me?  I have been here all along.  You just had to see me.”

I was choking back the tears as I climbed the stairs to the office to call my dad and share with him.  There was no answer on his cell phone, so I called the house phone.  The answering machine picked up my call and I heard my mother’s voice over the phone. Her sweet voice recorded long before the stroke that destroyed her voice and took her life.  I called my brother, Jeff, because I knew he would understand. I wanted to connect with my mom this Christmas and, oh my, I did.  My mother was a gift at that time I needed it most. Isn’t that kind of the way it is with God?  “I am here.  Why are you looking for me?  I have been here all along.”

Jill’s gift was “finding” our mother…my gift was sharing the moment with my sister.

 (The Donut Hole referenced by Jill’s text was a post in this blog).

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?

Expanding your circles on Google+?

Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.

Interested in IT and the CIO Role? Check out my series “The CIO is Dead! Long live the CIO” on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

 

It was mid-November. It was a day of firsts. First time to ever attend a Catholic Funeral Mass. First time to be given an Easter Egg at a funeral service of any kind. First time ever seeing someone hand out money at a funeral. First time seeing someone deliver a eulogy while wearing rabbit ears. And, first time taking a photo during a funeral service (hey, if you saw someone delivering a eulogy while wearing rabbit ears, you would have taken a photo too!).

I knew the service was going to be different before I even arrived. This was, after all the funeral for my my dear friend’s mother…just 15 months after my own mother’s passing. I wasn’t confident I would even be able to make it through. But, I had to make it through…for him.

As the service began, I was initially struck by how little I knew about my friend of twenty years. Were these things I knew and and forgotten? Were these things that went in one ear and out the other? Or were these things I never knew in the first place? I seemed to remember he had siblings. Did I remember there was one brother and one sister? I seemed to remember his father had passed many years before. Did I remember he was paraplegic?  Some friend I was.

One by one family members and friends made their way to the front of the church. As they spoke a picture was painted, a picture of a mother, a friend, a teacher, a devoted parishioner. There was the daughter who spoke of a mother who taught her what it means to be a lady; the son who read the story of his mother’s life in her own words from a letter discovered among her belongings; the lifelong friend who spoke of schoolmates who had been best friends and co-workers for a lifetime. And then…and then there was my friend.

family, friendship, Dennis Cuffel“OK, everyone we are going to play a game! Everyone has to listen, and there are going to be rules!,” he shouted as he approached the microphone…wearing pink rabbit ears. He then told the story of the infamous “Cuffel Easter Egg Hunt”. He started by asking who had even heard of the Egg Hunt. Of the 90+ people there, most everyone raised their hand. “Who has participated in the Easter Egg Hunt?” Very few hands were lowered.

He went on to explain the rules of the Hunt. There were 92 eggs hidden (90 this year and 2 left over from last year that were never found). Inside each egg was, not candy, but a number. After all the eggs had been found, his mom would call out numbers.

“Number 1, who has number 1? You get a nickle.”

“Number 2, who has number 2? You get a dollar.”

“Number 3, who has number 3? You get a ‘Happy Easter’.”

This would continue until all 92 numbers had been called. Prizes ranged from 5 cents to twenty dollars to a “Happy Easter” greeting.

“Ok,” my friend continued, “when you came in you were given an egg. Everyone stand up and open your egg. Ok, if you have numbers 1 – 3, sit down and have a Happy Easter. If you have 5 – 39, sit down and…Happy Easter.” He continued until three people remained standing. “Who has number 40 (her year of birth)? You get five dollars.” He walked out into the church and handed the woman a five dollar bill. “Who has number 74 (her age at death)?” You get ten dollars.” Finally, “who has number 4 (her treasured grandchildren)? You get $20.”

He then went on to talk of his mother. The lessons he learned from her, her love of games. He talked of her spirituality, her unconditional love,  her compassion for others, her selflessness. As I sat there, I realized I knew more about my friend’s family than I thought.

Mrs. Cuffel, I never knew you, we never met. I have known your son for over twenty years. After having attended the celebration of your life,  after hearing the stories, sharing in the laughs, the smiles and the tears, I realized, through your son, I DO know you. You raised a wonderful family. You raised a wonderful man. Spiritual, compassionate, a great friend. You should be proud.

Dennis, I love you brother. Have a Happy Easter!

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?

Expanding your circles on Google+?

Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.

Interested in IT and the CIO Role? Check out my series “The CIO is Dead! Long live the CIO” on Intel’s IT Peer Network.