Mel-O-Cream donuts are as much of an institution in Springfield as Abraham Lincoln and Illinois state government, and I raised my girls on them. Dozens and dozens and dozens of them. Those glorious, sweet and pillowy, sugary delights were a nearly weekly treat for all of us, but my Mack was a certified donut monster. She loved all Mel-O-Cream donuts, except the ones with nuts; but her favorites were the glazed donuts featuring a generous dollop of lemon curd, Bavarian cream, and all of the varieties that were covered in powdered sugar. On Sunday mornings, we would get a dozen donuts (three for every member of our skinny little family), and we would eat ourselves into sugar comas while drinking black coffee and reading the morning newspapers. It was not a healthy family tradition, but it was a cherished one.

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Not only did Mack exuberantly participate in the McDermott weekly three-donut tradition, she added to it whenever possible. We took donuts to weekend team practices for various sports, she chose them over cupcakes for school birthday celebrations, and once she was able to drive, she frequently got up a little early so she could swing by Mel-O-Cream to collect her favorite portable breakfast. The floor of her junky Jeep was littered with those small, square, old-fashioned napkins with the Mel-O-Cream logo.

When we moved to St. Louis, we were sad, and Mack particularly so, to leave Mel-O-Cream behind. Giving up that special family donut tradition was a disappointment. However, if we had not moved, a nutritionist intervention would likely have been necessary.

Yesterday, I was in Springfield for work, attending a staff meeting. As editorial meetings at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln are always ponderous and protracted, a favorite colleague told me he was bringing a dozen Mel-O-Cream donuts to get us through the day. In route to Springfield that morning, my mouth watered and my eyes glazed as I anticipated the sugary goodness that awaited me. I thought about Mack, too, and how much she always craved those donuts. When I got to work and opened the lid of that beautiful donut box and gazed upon the lovely assortment of breakfast treats, I sighed deeply, smiled broadly, lifted a perfect glazed donut with a generous dollop of lemon curd, and toasted Mack by taking a Mack-sized first bite. And then I ate two more donuts! Mack would have been proud.

I felt fat and ashamed about my three-donut day until this afternoon, when my Mack whispered in my ear and said, “It’s ahhright, Momma Bear. If I’d have been there, I’d have eaten four.” As usual, Mack was right, and it was perfectly alright that I had detoured from my usual healthy diet. I had nothing to be ashamed of because dammit, I enjoyed those donuts. They were delicious, and they made me happy. While I do not plan to revive the McDermott three-donuts-per-person plan any time soon, I had to admit to Mack, to me, and now to all of you, that I loved those three donuts with gleeful abandon, that maybe I even needed those donuts, and that I will harbor no shame for paying homage to an old McDermott family tradition from our Springfield days.

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More Hugs

Today is National Hug Day, and although these ubiquitous national days often make my eyes roll, this one is perfectly Mack appropriate. Mack hugged her people with rib-breaking enthusiasm, and there was no escape when her long arms gathered you in for a squeeze. So in honor of Mack on this National Hug Day, I want to encourage you all to offer up your best Big Mack hug to someone you love; and to celebrate the day and to honor my world champion hugger, I offer this repost of a blog I wrote back in November 2014…


If you were a person in Mack’s life, you knew that you were going to get hugs. Lots of hugs. From big bear hugs to hand hugs,* Mack hugged not only her own family members and her closest friends, but also her teachers, her coaches, and even some people she was just getting to know. She hugged you for pictures, she snuck up on you to hug you, and there was no escape from her strong grip if she decided you needed one of her famous Big Mack squeezes. Mack was not a big talker, and she was never verbally effusive with her emotions. Instead, she chose to love people by physically embracing them. Mack was full of love and delight for the people who were special to her. But Mack’s hugs were more about her wish to make those she hugged feel unconditionally loved and accepted than they were about showing her own affection.

Mack’s hugs became legendary, especially among all of her various adopted moms. At Mack’s memorial service, one of those special women (Sonya, a basketball mom and good friend) told me that she always looked forward to getting settled in at the basketball games, because she knew that even if she had just seen her the night before, Mack would run up the bleachers and give her a huge hug as if she hadn’t seen her in months. Another adopted mom (Ellen, who raised one of Mack’s oldest friends) wrote to me about how much she loved those hugs, referring to Mack as “the human Great Dane who thought she was a lap puppy.”

Mack was, indeed, a bit like a big happy puppy dog. So many photographs of her with friends reveal her inner marshmallow. She loved people hard, and she hugged them harder. Sometimes she hugged me so hard, she squeezed the air right out of my lungs. If I had a bad day, a bear hug from my Mack could make all of my worries melt away. Often, she would wrap her long arms around my shoulders, pull my head onto her chest, rest her chin on the top of my head, pat my back and say, “momma knows, momma knows.” She was being goofy and ridiculous, but she was also showing love and tenderness in her own unique way…with a Big Mack hug. God, I just loved those hugs. I cannot imagine how I will get through the rest of my life without them; and I would sell my soul to the devil for just one more.

 *Mack invented hand hugs sometime in high school. Basically, a hand hug is when two people press their palms together and wrap their own thumbs around the other person’s hand. It was just one of many silly rituals that Mack created to bond with teammates, be close with friends without being too gushy about it, and to give people around her an excuse to smile, laugh, and to be close to one another.

The hugging starting early with my Macko…

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Mack in pink is scooping up a couple of kindergarten friends here and Elyse (in the middle) was a life-long victim of Mack’s bear hugs.

Teammates were easy targets for Mack’s hugs. Mack offered her hugs in celebration of big wins and in consolation when the losses came hard…

Mack loved to wrap her arms around her “big” Sissy…

And she loved her Papa Bear…

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And here Mack is huggin’ on a football opponent…

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ha ha…just kidding (but what an awesome tackle, right?)

Mack was particularly fond of hugging those she called her “small, huggable people” and here she is with two of her favorites…

Kimber, Mack’s friend and special teammate (Mack and Kimber formed the battery of the SHS softball team), offered this lovely “hand hug” tribute to Mack on Mack’s birthday last year…

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Check out the previous Hugs blog for more photos of Mack squeezing the puddin’ out of the people she loved:

But when you’re done, go hug someone to pieces. That would be the best way to honor Mack on National Hug Day!

Mack at Rest with Mr. Lincoln

On Friday, January 8, 2016, Mack went home to Springfield, and we laid her to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery. There is some comfort and peace knowing that she will sleep easy in her hometown and that the people who loved her will have a beautiful place to commune with her spirit. It was a difficult day, but I was enveloped in the loving arms of family; and I found the strength to read the following eulogy I had written for the occasion…

We should not be here today. It is not right that we are laying to rest our sweet and silly girl. It is not fair that Mack had just twenty years on this earth. She deserved more time. We deserved more time. The world deserved more time. Here among these graves, under these old oaks, and in the shadow of Mr. Lincoln’s tomb, I am stricken by the cruel and bitter reality of my loss. Of our loss. Of the world’s loss. But as is our human condition, our lives are fragile. We cannot escape tragedy. We cannot keep sorrow away. We cannot choose all that falls upon our shoulders. And, indeed, the weight of the world has fallen upon our shoulders. So here we now stand in this historic and beautiful and peaceful cemetery, placing our Mack in the arms of eternity.

It feels right that Mack should return to Springfield. It was her hometown. It was the setting for her cheerful childhood, her spirited teens, and her assorted and amazing athletic accomplishments. It was the environment in which she learned about herself and the world. It was the context of her intellectual growth and of the development of her extraordinary character. It was the place in which she crafted that zany personality, honed her comedic skills, devoured uncountable plates of Pad Thai, and made so many cherished best friends.

Since the very first time that I visited this cemetery more than twenty-five years ago, I have been in awe of this special place. I have always felt calm and at peace in the presence of the Lincoln Tomb. Lincoln’s spirit whispers on every breeze here, and the history of Springfield rests here. It is a graceful and serene place, but it is a powerful and hallowed place as well. Mack deserves to rest in this special garden of Springfield spirits and historic whisperers. It is altogether fitting that Mack should stay here at Oak Ridge with Mr. Lincoln. She will be safe here. Her spirit will rest easy here. She will belong to the ages here.

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Grandma Marie and Grandma Dianne drew strength from each other and sported their memorial t-shirts.

Locating Mack at Oak Ridge:

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Mack’s marker is eight rows back from the road, just beyond these cylindrical markers.

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Looking northwest from Mack’s marker is the majestic Lincoln Tomb.

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