Permanent Pain and Bright Beginnings

Five years ago today, the beautiful world fell into darkness when the light of our lives left us. Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott was a beaming smile of sunshine, a giggling goof of joy, and a bulldozing force of nature. Her absence left holes in the hearts of everyone who loved her, holes that can never be refilled.

Five years have filled no holes. Five years have healed no pain. Five years have not made me miss her less nor feel her a absence less keenly. In fact, some days–days like today–I miss her more than ever.

Balance is the lesson I have learned in the deepest grief of a mother’s broken heart. Every day I must balance my love for Mack and my permanent pain from the loss of her. Every day is a struggle, but on the good days, sprinkled in between the bad and the okay and the barely breathing, I can find that balance. I can take hold of some peace and find some solace. I have that scar upon my heart, yes, but joy and beauty and light are possible.

Today, Savannah is starting an exciting new job. Today, I am moving into a charming old house in a new town. Today, Kevin starts looking for his own path, too. Today is going to be one of those days when balance is vital, as our little family carries all of our pain and all of our love forward into the next five years without Mack.

Today I walk with sorrow, but I also walk with hope and the real prospect of peace. I walk onward into the sunshine of this bright beginning.

Better than Angels

Many well-meaning people have told me that Mack is an angel now, in Heaven. That she is eating infinite quantities of sour candies, sushi, and Thai fried rice in a place where the weather is ever perfect for her open Jeep to drive down beautiful, tree-lined avenues, music blaring, with a car full of puppies. I do not doubt that religious belief eases the burdens of grief for religious people. Yet I cannot seek comfort in the magical thinking of religion. For me, death is terminal to the flesh and to the soul. I keep the spirit of Mack within me and allow her impact upon my life to guide me, going forward, but my grief is grounded in the painful reality that neither her body nor her soul inhabit any world. And so, in the absence of spiritual solace, I seek a more tangible comfort.

I have spent innumerable hours pondering this idea of angels, of the meaning of the people who pass through our lives and of the trauma their deaths inflict upon the living—the people they leave behind in the world to understand and to make peace with the fragility of being human. Losing Mack ripped open the flesh of my emotional vulnerability and offered shocking clarification of my own mortality and of the mortality of every single person I love and need. But losing Mack also uncovered, in the exposure of my bones, other lost people, living there, with me still, although long gone from the world of the living. In the parlance of the religious observer, I have three angels: Mack, my dad, and my maternal grandmother. But I have come to understand that the bold impression that each of these three marvelous humans made upon me and the tangible guidance they continue to provide me are much more powerful than any otherworldly existence they would inhabit if heaven was a place and angels lived there. But what does any of this babble mean, anyway, and why do I feel compelled to define Mack, Jim, and Kathleen as something other than angels?

There is a historical debate about whether upon Abraham Lincoln’s death, his Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton consigned Lincoln to the “angels” or to the “ages.” If one subscribes to magical thinking—as author Joan Didion argues every grieving person does, at least at the immediate impact of a loss—then it is likely that perhaps all of the people present for Lincoln’s last breath, each of them grounded in Christian theology, believed Lincoln had joined the angels in Heaven. Certainly Mary Lincoln believed it so. But what we have learned in the 153 years since Lincoln’s death is that he actually resides with the living. He does not inhabit some ethereal plane as an angel, but rather he belongs to the ages, regardless of what Stanton might have actually said. Lincoln exists in the bones of America; just as Mack, Jim, and Kathleen exist in my bones. Lincoln is, for Americans, a folk hero—a tangible historical presence who corroborates our past, who by the example of his own leadership offers tools for leadership in the present, and who in his human worth provides inspiration for the future of America. Mack, Jim, and Kathleen are, for me and for my life, folk heroes—the tangible comfort I seek, because they corroborate my past, they by the examples of their own lives give me tools to navigate my life in the present, and in their human worth, and from their significance in my life, inspire me to gaze forward, onward, toward the future.

In looking back across three and a half years of the blog entries in Being Mack’s Momma Bear, I realize that what I have written is a series of “Mack-tales,” stories of Mack’s life and the influence she had upon the people who knew her, many told with some moral or inspirational purpose beyond the story itself. My individual stories about Mack are all true, but taken together, they read as folktales; and Mack, I think, reads like a folk hero. It is not my intention here to argue that Mack is a folk hero in the way that Abraham Lincoln is a folk hero. Rather, my point here is that we all have people we have lost who are so much more than angels looking down upon us from some kind of heaven, happy away from the ones who loved them, looking down upon mere mortals through some bright, heavenly light. And I also think it is good and useful, in fact it is a tangible comfort, to recognize the folk heroes we were so damn lucky to know and to keep them with us by telling their stories. Perhaps not for the ages, but for us and for our immediate families, as a way to make sense of life, of death, of the world around us, and of our fragile but beautiful human connections.

I am going to keep pondering this idea of folk heroes, and probably of angels, too. It is a topic, as yet unresolved in my brain, and about which I intend to write more. But for now I want to tell you about my first folk hero, my grandmother, whose name I gave as a middle name to Mack and whose stories I shared with my girls as they grew. My  grandmother died when I was in graduate school, and she was with me, tucked deep within my bones, throughout my doctoral studies as I gutted out soul-crushing seminars, grueling reading lists, and inhuman schedules. My memory of her grit and her sass offered me strength and solidarity from beyond her grave. I did not have any real sense at the time that she was with me or that I had attached so much purpose to my memories of her. But now I do, as it is one of those curious light bulbs that have switched on in my psyche, through the fog of my grief for Mackenzie. So on what would have been her 95th birthday, I give you Kathleen: a woman, a grandmother, a folk hero. See for yourself why she is so deep within my bones and how much of her folk-hero character and traits ended up in the bones of Mack, as well.

Kathleen was a hard-working, tough-talking woman who survived the depression, sacrificed during World War II, and suffered premature widowhood and early breakdown of her body and her health. She was a real-life Rosie-the-Riveter who swooned over Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. She was a diabetic addicted to sweets and to junk food. She was a house-dress-wearing, pocket-book-carrying granny who enjoyed pinching and teasing her grandchildren and wrapping them up in bone-crushing bear hugs. She had the delicate penmanship of an artist, the mouth of a dishonorably discharged marine, and she crocheted colorful blankets while watching professional wrestling. Kathleen did not bake pies and whisper; she worked in a box factory and told dirty jokes. She was crass and direct and devastatingly funny, full of chutzpah, contradictions, and complexities. She was true to who she was and how she felt and what she thought, and she never apologized for any of it.

Kathleen indulged my sweet tooth, once cheering me on as I devoured a Hostess Ding-Dong in one outrageously large bite. She appreciated and encouraged my spunk. She taught me to use my middle finger with authority, both literally and figuratively, and she showed me how to be bold in the big, bad world. She adopted my friends without putting on fake grandmother airs. She made card games uproariously fun, but she also made them dangerous, threatening to get those who bested her with her “bowling-ball grip” as she gestured over the card table, three angry fingers pointing skyward. First-time hearers of Kathleen’s unique and sometimes obscene vocabulary gaped, veteran hearers tittered, and everyone, in the end, understood that in speaking her truth in her own language, Kathleen had scooped them up into her bosom to love them, to boss them, to be herself with them, and to bear witness to their true selves, as well.

A 1943 photograph of Kathleen is one of three perched within the deep grooves of a giant framed mirror on the floor in my bedroom. In her photo, Kathleen is wearing a vibrant floral dress and is wrapped up in the arms of my handsome, uniformed grandfather who will soon be in Europe fighting Nazis. On the right is a photograph of Jim, my father, in 1981. Standing in my childhood kitchen, he is wearing a suit vest, tie, and an impish grin as he holds up a glass-bottle of Pepsi. In the middle photograph is my precious Mack in 2010. Clad in her red, high school basketball silks, bearing her lucky number 4, she spins a basketball atop her long, right index finger. When I propped up those photographs there, more than three years ago now, I had not given much thought to the intent of their placement. But now their purpose is perfectly clear. These are the photographs of my folk heroes, spanning nearly seventy years of time and history. Mack, Kathleen, and Jim are folk heroes. No different, really, than Abraham Lincoln, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Revere, or any other folk hero you might imagine–at least not to me. My memories and my stories of them are the folktales of my life, and they are my tangible comfort. They root me to my past and to my Indiana ancesters, they ground me in the present guiding me by the examples of the lives they led, and they inspire me to see a future, even if it is one without them.

And, that, my friends, as you likely already know, is precisely what folk heroes are supposed to do.

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Kathleen and Clyde c1943

Mack Saying Hello

My sister’s cell phone crashed this week; and she lost everything on it. She was particularly sad to have lost a special Mack album of photos that would sometimes randomly pop up when Tracy was least expecting it. Like Mack finding a way to be present. Like Mack saying hello.

Well, tonight when Tracy was setting up her new phone, that Mack album showed up, the only files to successfully transfer from her old phone. No contacts, selfies, or other photos; just that Mack album. Tracy was certain it hadn’t been there before, but there it was, nonetheless, welcomed and cherished. It was like Mack finding a way to be present. Like Mack saying hello.

It’s Weird. It’s Wonderful. And it’s little bit of Mack magic that neither my sister nor I care to question. Because sometimes we really need Mack to be present. And we love it when she pops in to say hello…

Missing Mack

It has been a rough month. No lies. Like amusement park rides, emotional roller coasters make me nauseous, and March has jarred my body, unsettled my mind, and bounced my spirit up, down, and sideways. I spent most of the days of this month, sometimes hours at a time, keenly missing my Mack, missing life around me, and mostly missing any level of strength to cope with my sorrow. Passing a second of Mack’s birthdays without her, giving the most important professional presentation of my life at Ford’s Theatre just two days later, making my first visit to Mack’s grave at Oak Ridge Cemetery, and then marking the fifteen-year anniversary of my father’s death on the same day as a McDermott family dinner in Mack’s honor really beat the crap out of me. March has punched me hard in the gut; and right now rainy April never looked so good.

But I am not writing today to remain submerged within my sea of sorrows. Rather, I am writing today to settle my stomach, to put March 2016 in my past, and to set my sights on a happier spring. I want to leave behind this emotionally challenging and spiritually draining month by sharing the blessing of a new family tradition of which my sweet, spicy and always hungry Mack would heartily approve. Mack’s cousin Jacquie, the eldest McDermott cousin, had the idea last year to plan a Mack Day Dinner, and so we gathered for Thai food, Mack’s favorite cuisine, on her first missed birthday, on March 17, 2015. Then, on March 26, 2016, at the King & I Thai restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, twenty-six McDermotts made the Mack Day Dinner an annual tradition. From the belly of our sorrows, a beautiful new family tradition is born. A tradition in which we can all miss Mack together. A tradition that will keep us connected to Mack’s spirit. A tradition that will keep us connected to each other. And a tradition that tethers the past, the present, and the future.

Missing my Mack…

Mack

gravesite

March 26, 2016

Missing my dad (here with Mack)…baby Mack and Dad

But thankful for a new tradition…

 

Cousins’ Weekend

In the McDermott family, Cousins’ Weekend is a cherished family tradition that has had a magical impact on the personal connections that eighteen McDermott cousins, now ranging in age from five to twenty-seven, feel for each other. In 1989, Bill and Dianne, Mack’s paternal grandparents, took the first two McDermott cousins—babies Jacquie and Savannah—to their Wisconsin cabin for a weekend; and that trip became an annual event around which five McDermott families planned their summers. Mack attended her first Cousin’s Weekend in 1995, and for the next eighteen years it was a highlight of each summer for her. During those weekends, she became a strong swimmer, failed at water skiing (the only sport she never conquered), lived on hot dogs and chips, fell in love with all of her cousins, and became the magnetic ringleader of the little ones.

On the south bank of Fish Lake, just two miles or so southwest of the Wisconsin hamlet of Hancock (population 417) the McDermott family cabin sits nestled among giant and fragrant pine trees. The humble, two-bedroom, wood-frame house, which is perched high up over the lake, accommodates the large and boisterous McDermott clan for one long weekend every August. There is a multi-level deck, a long wooden staircase down to the boat dock, an inflatable pier, a tree house, a private loft for the teenagers, and a small patio and yard. Therefore, the large group can spread out a bit, but it’s always crowded, ever noisy, and a raucous good time. Now in its twenty-sixth year, Cousins’ Weekend is a chaotic, full-blown McDermott party to which nearly all of the some thirty McDermott clan members make annual pilgrimage to central Wisconsin to share food, to spend time on the lake, to take impromptu walks and bike rides, to loudly talk over each other, to tell bad jokes and to laugh, and to roast marshmallows around a small fire on the beach at night.

Although she generally steered clear of large and loud gatherings, Mack enjoyed the hell out of Cousins’ Weekend. She loved the water, tubing, the late-night card games, the walks to the neighboring campground snack bar, listening to her Uncle Brian play guitar, organizing various ball games in the yard, teasing her grandpa and her uncles, and sharing her electronic devices with the youngest kids and teaching them tricks with a basketball. Mack adored each of her crazy cousins, and the feeling was mutual. And although it is probably wrong for me to say it out loud, let alone to put it into writing, Cousins’ Weekend never officially began until Macko arrived. The younger cousins would eagerly await her arrival, as Mack was frequently delayed by a basketball tournament, and there were always squeals of delight when their tall and smiley big cousin walked through the cabin’s front door.

This weekend, the cousin gathering at the McDermott cabin is underway. It is the same chaotic, fun, and magical time it always has been. Mack’s grandparents and father are there, as are three uncles, two aunts, and fifteen McDermott cousins. Those rambunctious cousins are swimming, boating, playing silly games, and laughing. Cousins’ Weekend is about fun and time together, after all. Yet there is also a dark little cloud that has settled over the cabin and the lake and the woods. Macko is missing and, in many ways, Cousins’ Weekend will never be the same again.

But it is absolutely true that Cousin Macko would be so very happy to know that the tradition continues and that far too many people are crammed into that cabin, together once again, catching up with each other before the summer ends and all of them are busy with their own lives. Mack would be excited to know the little ones are learning how to water ski. She would chuckle to learn that Grandpa Bill is still trying to shake the older kids off of the tube into the cold water behind the boat’s wake. She would be happy that hot dogs and toasted marshmallows are being consumed with reckless abandon and that someone (probably Cousin Sam) is telling a very bad joke that has made everyone laugh and at least one little cousin fart.

But Mack would want her cousins to know that Cousins’ Weekend was “da bestest,” that they were all—each and every one of them—important to her, and that she always enjoyed her time with them, even though it was often too short. And, perhaps most importantly, Macko would want her cousins to know that much of what she understood about people and the world around her she learned from them; and she gained most of that useful knowledge during those magical meetings with them at Fish Lake in the middle of Wisconsin.

Cousins’ Weekend, 2005 (Mack is in the middle in white t-shirt, sporting her corn-row braids)…

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Cousins’ Weekend, 2011. No doubt, Mack is telling one of her uncles “what’s up” as Kevin and Grandma Dianne look on…

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Here is Mack (in a blue tank top) leading the pack of kiddos in the yard and on the beach…

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Fun on the inflatable pier and slide. Mack’s back is to the camera, as she gets ready to jump into the lake…

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In this photo, Sam is hanging on tight to Macko to keep her from leaving…

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And, finally, a picture that for me sums up the value of Cousins’ Weekend. Here Mack is on the right with Kelty on the left, and little Zachary sandwiched in between his two adoring and fun older cousins…

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Springfield Family: Mack and Laura

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The Springfield Family Girls: Laura, Maggie, Nell, Mack, Mandy, Savannah

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.

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Laura, Savannah, Mack in purple, and Laura’s brother Matt

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.

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Mack and Laura, who is wearing one of Mack’s soccer team shirts.

on couch with Laura

Sugar coma? Or all-night SSX-Tricky marathon?

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.

mack and laura

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!

Go…Pack…Go!!

When my girls were growing up, we were a football family. The NFL dominated our big-screen TV during football season, and we attended several games in St. Louis, San Diego, and Indianapolis. Mack played tackle football for three years and flag football for two, and the rest of us delighted in watching her play. We participated in a Pratt family football pool, and we all owned NFL apparel. Even Savannah, who did not embrace the game with Mackenzie’s high-energy enthusiasm, requested a Miami Dolphins winter coat for Christmas one year. And although Kevin had the least amount of interest in the game, he genuinely liked cheering for the Rams after they moved to St. Louis.

In Springfield, we lived between Chicago Bear and St. Louis Ram territories, but Mack became a devoted Packers fan. She did not, I assure you, get this Packer thing from her momma, as I have been a San Diego Chargers fan for thirty-five years. I am not really sure why Mack chose Green Bay. Perhaps it was something simple; perhaps the color green tickled the Irish in her. For Halloween in kindergarten, she asked for a Packer uniform, so her interest in the team definitely started by the time she was five. Perhaps it was even earlier than that, because the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1997, and we hosted a party that year. Yes, I guess that Super Bowl was likely the start of her green and gold fandom, now that I think about it. On Sundays during football season, Mack and I would watch our respective teams, tuning to the Packers at noon and then focusing on my west-coast Chargers at 3. We wore our own team’s colors, but we always cheered for each other’s teams. I cherished those cold, winter Sundays, curled up with my knowledgeable and rabid little football fanatic.

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Mack grew up loving those Packers and the indomitable Brett Favre, and as soon as she was able to choose her own number in sports, it was always number 4 for her beloved quarterback. When she got a Build-a-Bear for her birthday one year, she dressed her in a football uniform and christened her Brett. She counted a Packer winter coat in her vast collection of Packer apparel, and she wore one favorite Green Bay sweatshirt for ten years…long after she had outgrown it! She often sported a braided Green Bay necklace, possessed one of those crazy foam-cheese-wedge hats, and loudly protested whenever sports announcers failed to recognize the talents of wide receiver Donald Driver, her second favorite player. As well, my sweet little girl became an impressive, and often foul-mouthed, trash talker; and her enthusiastic celebrations following a Green Bay victory, especially when enjoyed in the company of a forlorn Chicago Bears fan, rivaled the jubilant qualities of the Lambeau Leap.

Kevin, Savannah, and I all thought it was quite adorable that our little Macko loved football so much, and I was not even a little mad that she had chosen the Packers over my Chargers. Hell, I was just thrilled she wasn’t a Raiders fan! However, the members of the Chicago McDermott clan—blinded by their love for the Bears and their sad level of comfort with games in which no touchdowns are scored—were far less accepting. At McDermott family events, especially at Christmas as the Packers were soaring into the playoffs and the Bears were struggling for their third or fourth win of the season, Mack delighted in extolling the virtues of her team’s Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, first Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers. She would then ask her grandpa, her uncles, and many of her cousins how it felt to never have their own quality quarterback to love, and she would press them for answers as to why they threw away their devotion on the bad-news Bears.

When Mack reached high school, typical teenager activities and her three varsity sports crowded out football. Yet she remained a Green Bay fan for life. “Mack for the Pack,” she always said. Occasionally, she would still sit down to watch a big Packer game or an NFL playoff game with her momma bear. She also continued to keep up with her team’s roster and their wins and losses, and she never tired of poking fun at her misguided Chicago Bear kin. At summer outings at the family cabin in central Wisconsin, Mack always packed (pun intended) Green Bay apparel, happy to play the role of an annoying cheese-head. When the mischievous cabin neighbor, a fun-loving Wisconsin native, installed a large Packer logo on the way-up, tip-top peak of the McDermott cabin—far out of the reach of a common, household ladder—Mack offered him her hearty congratulations for carrying out such a fantastic, diabolical plan. Every single time Mack saw that logo on the McDermott cabin, she would laugh and laugh, acknowledging that it was, without a single doubt, one of her favorite things in all of the world.

Mack never asked that I try to find two elusive and expensive tickets to a game at Lambeau Field, and I do not recall her even suggesting that we try to see them in a visiting stadium. Once when she was very little, we visited Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the Packer Hall of Fame; and we watched a Packer practice, peering through a chain-link fence to catch of a glimpse of Brett Favre. I have some great pictures of that trip, including a blurry one in which Mack is kicking a football on a little-kid’s gridiron, surrounded by cardboard cutouts of Packer players. But despite that trip to the Packer Holy Land, I can tell you that I very much regret never taking her to see her Packers play.

No doubt, Mack would probably tell me it did not matter then, and that it does not matter now. What mattered was that football and the Packers were just two of those trivial but enjoyable things she loved. I also think she would say that embracing football was about having fun and sharing a passion with her momma bear; and that loving the Packers made her unique in our family and gave her a weapon with which to expose the angry vein on the forehead of her Grandpa Bill, whom she loved to tease but always adored.

Partly because my team failed to reach the playoffs, but mostly because Green Bay was Mack’s team, I am going to cheer my heart out for the Packers this weekend and, hopefully, in the Super Bowl as well. Rooting for Mack’s Pack, I will reflect on all of those special Sundays on the couch with her, and perhaps those sweet memories will carry me through another difficult day without her. I will close my eyes and picture Mack’s grown-up self all stuffed into that favorite little-kid Green Bay sweatshirt. I will hear her singing: “bum bum bum…bada…bum bum bum… GO…PACK…GO!” And maybe for good measure, I’ll prepare some Mack-quality trash-talking to throw at her grandpa as well.

Now come on, Aaron Rodgers, bring us two more victories this lonely football season. Go…Pack…Go!!! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob7T1w9_NJk)

That favorite sweatshirt…

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My favorite number 4ever…

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Frisky and Macko

I had the privilege and the great fun to have two full-time comedians in my personal life: my dad and my younger daughter. Both Jim and Mack enjoyed life, made the absolute most of each day, and soaked up every ounce of sunshine that came their way. But the rarest human quality shared by this goofy pair was the ability to see humor and fun in the most unlikely of places. When these two characters found humor or manufactured their own, they both laughed from way down deep in their bellies and their souls. While their childlike demeanor sometimes had the capacity to annoy more serious members of their peer group or family circle (like me), mostly, their good cheer was welcome and infectious.

There were many, many reasons why his family and friends called my dad Frisky, because he had more energy than a classroom full of kindergarteners, always bouncing, cackling, teasing, and making a competitive game out of the most ridiculous activities. One time when we were visiting him in southern Missouri, where he had settled into quasi-retirement, he greeted my girls with one of those 100-count boxes of colorful, tubular popsicles. He immediately began encouraging Savannah and Mackenzie to consume them two or three at a time; but, of course, just eating them was not enough. At some point in our weekend visit, probably late into the night after hours and hours of playing cards and consuming horrifying quantities of Hostess Ding Dongs, Doritos, and Pepsi, he organized a tasting game out of those damn frozen treats. He sorted them out, prepared bundles of every color for each one of us, and then conducted a blind taste test. We were all charged with tasting each color—red, green, orange, yellow, and blue—and with reporting the flavor of each, while blindfolded for added drama, of course. Jim made a great deal of fanfare over the entire test, dragging it out and providing lively, running commentary, carefully recording the results and, in the end, declaring a winner. I have no memory of who won, but I can tell you that we all laughed and laughed and ate way too many popsicles. My kids always remembered that silly experience with their silly grandfather; and, I am certain, such interactions with my dad made a deep impact on my little Macko.

Unfortunately, my kids had little time to know my father, as he died too young in 2001. I adopted some of his humor, and I have a penchant for various childhood delights (like cartoons, Disneyland, merciless teasing, and popsicles), but I turned out to be far too serious by Jim Pratt standards. Therefore, I am pleased that he was able to see some of his sunny perspective and humor in Mack; and had he lived longer, he would have been happy and proud to see how much like him she would ultimately become. Because somehow, either through genetics or that short seven years that their lives overlapped, Mack got the silly, happy, laughing genes of my father. Whenever she was chuckling over stupid jokes, badly singing a ridiculous song she had composed on the fly, or compelling her family members or friends to participate with her in a Mackified handshake or a made-up game, she reminded me so much of him…those sparkling brown eyes, all those freckles and that impish sense of humor.

As I continue to reflect on Mack’s good life and celebrate her character and qualities, I have begun to see much more clearly the connections between these two important people in my life. My dad would have been seventy-one this week, and as has become my custom, I will on his birthday enjoy a Pepsi, a beverage for which his love was legendary. But this year, without Mack to share that Pepsi and swap some crazy Grandpa Jim stories, I want to tell one of Mack’s favorite tales. No doubt she enjoyed this one partly because it reflected so well on her football knowledge and her Irish luck, but also because it was one she vividly recalled and for which she possessed a tangible memento.

Jim Pratt preferred that his family members share his devotion to the NFL; but he required them to participate in the Pratt Family NFL Football Contest Pool whether they loved football or not. While he let some family members, like my mother and my husband, mostly off the hook, all others were compelled to partake. Even girly little Savannah, who made her picks based upon the likability of the team mascots, enjoyed the fun. For years, my dad would call everyone up each week and record their picks in his Pratt Book of World Records (a ragged notebook smeared with the colorful felt-tip ink he always used). Bragging rights were the only reward for being a weekly or a season winner, yet we all trash-talked and fussed as if serious money was at stake. Mack was particularly good at the trash-talking, but she backed up her sass with an impressively accurate pick record. Not at all surprising, really, because she dutifully compared team records, assessed strengths of schedule, and evaluated injury reports before making those weekly picks; and her methods yielded frequent bragging rights.

In Week 7 of the 2000 NFL season, Mack did what no other person in the history of the Pratt Family NFL Football Contest Pool had ever done. Not my dad. Not me. Not anyone. That week, four teams were idle, but twenty-eight teams played fourteen games. Mack did her homework, selected her winners, and on October 19, after the Tennessee Titans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday Night Football, she had accurately picked every winner. My dad was over the moon. He went nuts. He believed this may have been the single best Pratt family accomplishment EVER, and he decided it deserved much more than bragging rights. So at Christmas that year at my sister’s house, he orchestrated a mini award ceremony in front of the Christmas tree. He delivered a rousing speech, attesting to Mack’s impressive skills and the unworthiness of the rest of us slugs to compete in the same league with her. And with a great deal of drama, he presented Mack with a plaque, professionally engraved, recording her astounding achievement.

Now I ask you, is it really any wonder why Mackenzie was the happy goof that she always was? I think not. No doubt Grandpa Frisky had an important role to play in that youthful spirit that made my Macko so fun and so unique.

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