I had the incredible fortune to raise my girls within a loving inner-circle of friends in Springfield, Illinois. There were ten adults and ten children in our close-knit group. Standing Friday night dinners at D’Arcy’s Pint, frequent Saturday nights hanging out in each other’s homes and backyards, annual New Year’s Eve celebrations, and occasional weekend excursions filled our calendars with good and clean fun since 1995. The close relationships we formed over the years also afforded moral support and encouragement in achieving personal, academic, and professional goals and provided emotional support during times of illness, disappointment, and heartbreak. We laughed together, we played together; we shared time on bleachers together, watching our kids play sports; and we communed over shared interests in politics, literature, food, and the high hopes for the future of our kids, our families, and the world. Our Springfield circle was not just a close group of friends. It was an extended family for all of us. My girls not only had two parents and a sibling who adored them, but they also grew up in the loving embrace of eight adults who loved them as if they were their own children, and they came of age among eight kids who were as close to them as siblings.
In the past few years, this Springfield family of ours has become somewhat geographically disbursed. Yet the bonds have remained ever strong. It is upon this twenty-year-old group of friends—this extended family— on which I now so mightily depend. WE lost OUR Macko. She is our first shared loss. Together we grieve and together we search for solace. Over the past several months, I have focused much on my amazing Springfield family, seeking comfort from them and providing it where I am able. I have been buoyed by the knowledge that each and every member of our tight-knit Springfield family carries Mack within their hearts, remembering in their own ways her life and the imprint she made upon them. In their loving hearts, Mack lives on, and this knowledge brings me some comfort.
I have been thinking lately that I want to write about Mack and the members of our Springfield family, to tell funny stories about her time with them, to share details about their relationships, and to reflect on how they enriched her life and how she influenced and inspired them as well. Last week, a member of our Springfield family faced a devastating medical diagnosis, a difficult surgery, and a lengthy recovery. So it is with Laura that I will begin an intermittent series of essays about Mack and these wonderful and special and amazing people who shaped her growth and development and gave her twenty years of unconditional love and support.
Laura was just nineteen months old when Mack came into the world. For a very brief time, Laura was a little jealous, and she heartily objected when her father paid any attention to Mack. “NO, baby Kenzie,” she would scream, “MY daddy!” But it was not long before these two silly little girls were friends. They played basketball together, they gorged on candy together, and they spent hours playing the board game “Life” together. At Friday night dinners or Saturday gatherings, they were inseparable as toddlers and as kids. They shared babysitters when the grownups went out alone, they shared each other’s clothes, and together they conquered the Nintendo snowboarding game SSX Tricky. Laura and Mack also became famous for their undying devotion to the movie My Cousin Vinny. They laughed hysterically every time they viewed it, sometimes viewing it multiple times in one night. They recited the lines as the movie proceeded, and they frequently acted out the best scenes, even when they were way too young for some of the content of the dialogue and, of course, the profanity!
Laura was a year older in school, and she and Mack had mostly separate circles of school friends. So, naturally, as they grew into their teens, they spent less time with each other. In high school, middle school, and college, they sometimes went for a few weeks without seeing one another, but they remained in touch through text messaging and they never stopped caring for each other. They always made an effort to schedule “dates” to catch up on each other’s lives. If it had been a couple of weeks since she had seen Laura, Mack would say, “I need me some Laura time.” Then she would summon Laura to our house, and the two of them would bake some terrible cookies or pig-out on unhealthy snacks and stay up all night watching My Cousin Vinny. In 2014, Mack was at Truman State in northern Missouri and Laura was at Milliken in central Illinois, and it had been some time since they had seen one another. So in April, Laura spent a couple of days with us in St. Louis, because Mack needed some “Laura time,” and I am so thankful they had that last special time together.
For eight years, Laura has suffered from Crohn’s. The disease interfered with her adolescence, subjected her to long stretches of horrible pain, and forced her to endure numerous hospitalizations and inconvenient medical treatments that sometimes thwarted her ability to live the life of a normal kid. After the most recent flare-up of the disease, Laura’s specialist in Chicago told her that medicinal treatments would no longer provide any remedy or relief and that the removal of her colon was the only option. A twenty-two-year-old kid should never have to face such a serious diagnosis. She had to consent to the drastic surgery or risk losing her life. It took several days for Laura to process the news, but she decided to have the operation.
Last Saturday morning before her surgery, Laura was resting in her hospital bed, scared as she waited for the nurses to take her to the operating room. She turned on the TV, and after flipping through the small number of channels that were available, she found My Cousin Vinny. On a Saturday morning on one of just a handful of channels, her favorite movie and the favorite movie of her lost “sister” quieted her fears. Mack and Laura were together again. As Laura told me later, “I felt so much more at ease, feeling Mack’s spirit.” Laura went to surgery with a calm and hopeful attitude, and her surgery was a success. She will face a long recovery and adjustment period, but the doctors are very hopeful that pain and suffering are in Laura’s past and that health and happiness await her. One thing is absolutely certain, Mack was in Laura’s heart at the very moment she needed her most, and those two girls had a family bond that will last forever.
Laura and Mack, two special members of the Springfield family that consists of the McDermotts, the McKinneys, the Ericksons, the Mutman-Doyles, and the Parsons-Mosers. I love them all!