The Happiest and Most Enduring of Memorials

There is a smart, joyful, and kooky young woman at Truman State University for whom writing is an essential activity of life. She is also a devoted fan of sleeping, eating, and steering clear of spiders. Oh, and her name starts with an “M” and she is witty and adores absurdity. Sound familiar? Uncanny, indeed, but in all of these wonderful ways, she truly is just like our Mack. So I am beyond charmed and delighted to announce that Marisa Gearin—a senior, creative writing major from St. Louis—is the second recipient of the Mackenzie Kathleen McDermott Memorial Scholarship. Kudos to the Truman State Foundation for finding yet another Mack-like spirit on which to bestow the award that honors her life.

Even before official word from the Truman State Foundation, I received a welcome holiday gift in December in the form of Marisa’s handwritten, thank you note. marisaIn the message, penned in a slightly larger, but scratch-style writing quite similar to Mack’s own, she exuded passion in her descriptions of her writing and in sharing her aspirations for her life beyond college. Like Mack’s sister Savannah, she hopes to live and teach abroad after graduation. The scholarship will help ease the costs of her final year at Truman and will help her save money for graduate school, as well. Marisa writes poetry and short fiction and has been involved with the Truman slam poetry team TruSlam (check out her Mack-perfect, spider-hating poem at She has published work in the Truman publications Windfall and Monitor and is the author of a collection of short stories entitled Egg Teeth: Realist Fiction for Young Minds. The back cover of Marisa’s book would have earned critical acclaim from Mack, tickling her funny bone and eliciting her classic crooked smile and a hearty Mack cackle.



In my heart, I am starting to think that Mack herself might be intervening in the selection of these scholarship recipients, whispering in the ears of the judges, telling jokes to bend them toward the most Mack-appropriate of the candidates. In my head, I know that Mack would be pleased to make this little, annual difference in the life of a student writer. Knowing that it would please Mack so well adds another depth of meaning in the enormity of this scholarship to my emotional wellbeing and my search for solace in a world without her.

Mack’s scholarship began as a simple gesture of grieving parents to honor a beloved child. The scholarship has become a living memorial to Mack’s beautiful life and spirit and to the joy and meaning she brought into our lives. The scholarship at its core is for and about Mack. But it is also about the amazing student writers it benefits; first Megan, now Marisa, and all of those amazing student writers yet to come. Mack’s scholarship is also about the donors who have made it possible. The power to confer this $1,000 annual award lives within the love and generosity of all of the amazing human beings who have helped endow the scholarship in perpetuity. I am still overwhelmed by the contributions that provided the initial endowment way back in December 2014 and by the donations that continue to flow in support of building the endowment for even greater impact.

I have said it before, but I can never say it enough, and so I am saying it once again. Thank you for loving Mack and for supporting this scholarship in her honor. What could possibly be more gratifying than helping a passionate, student writer like Marisa Gearin pay for college? What could possibly be a more fitting way to honor our Mack, whose joy for life brought so much joy into our own? And what could possibly bring a grieving mother more solace than a legacy that preserves her child’s spirit in the present and connects her legacy to the future? This scholarship really is the happiest and most enduring of memorials; a living, breathing tribute to a beautiful life well lived, to the promise of lives yet lived, and to the gratitude and love within the living hearts that Mack left behind her.


The Mackenzie Kathleen Memorial Scholarship Fund
(for creative writing students)
Truman State University Foundation
205 McClain Hall, Kirksville, MO 63501

True Bulldog 5

Spiders and Bugs

One summer afternoon as I was enjoying some quiet time with a book after work on my serene front porch in Springfield, a blood-curdling scream pierced my solitude. Through the screen door behind me, I heard a door slam upstairs, and then a thunderous noise roared down the stairs inside of the house as the screaming grew louder and louder and more and more shrill. Just as I was about to put down my book and go see what was happening inside, Mack flew out of the front door, jumped across the front porch, and raced into the yard. “There is an army of beetles in my bathroom!” she shrieked. “They tried to kill me!” Mack stood in the middle of the yard, dancing and whining, shuddering with revulsion, a look of pure disgust and horror across her little freckled face. When I started laughing at the child, she told me to shut up and go do something about it. Mack stayed in the yard as I went upstairs to repel the invading army. When I opened the bathroom door that Mack had slammed during her noisy and narrow escape, I found a dozen or so leaf beetles—the little orange bugs with black spots—hanging out around the nautical window high in the corner of Mack’s bathroom. So, basically, a handful of cute little lady bugs had defeated the brawny, ten-year-old Mack, sending her screaming in defeat out into our front yard.

Once when Mack and I were playing a quick round of nine holes at Pasfield Golf Course down the street from our house, Mack propped up her golf bag on the tee box of the third hole. She reached into her bag to withdraw her driver, as I was putting down my own clubs to watch her tee shot. After Mack withdrew the club, she let out a high-pitched squawk, threw down the club in a panic, and took off running down the open fairway. “A spider, a spider,” she yelled. “Oh my god, there’s a spider in my bag!” She kept tearing down the fairway as she yelled and while I peered into the golf bag, which miraculously had stayed upright. There dangling among the shafts of the clubs, I saw the remains of a small spider web. I started laughing, but Mack kept running! If there had been a spider present at the time Mack had reached into the bag for her club, it had disappeared during the ruckus. My high-school senior had abandoned her clubs and went screaming down the fairway of a busy golf course because there may or may not have been an eensy-meensy spider in her golf bag. And, what’s more, Mack adamantly refused to continue playing until after we had emptied out the entire contents of the golf bag and made damn sure that the offending spider was long gone.

Over the years, most of Mack’s friends and family members witnessed first-hand Mack’s response to bugs. But for those of you who never had the pleasure of a Mack-meets-bug episode, let me be direct and perfectly clear. Mack hated all creepy crawlies, great and small. Mack was terrified of every spider and every bug that ever lived. And although Mack adored all mammals and liked very much all reptiles, she abhorred and abominated insects and arachnids; and if one dared to introduce itself, you could rest assured that Mack would make a spectacle of herself getting as far away as possible.

To further illustrate the depth of Mack’s fear and loathing of spiders and bugs, I offer the following tidbits…

Mack may have been one of the best tacklers on her youth football team, but she ran away from adorable and beloved fireflies.

Mack never cried when she broke her arm, but she screamed like a baby every time she saw a bug, however small it was and no matter how close it was to her body.

Mack was one of the most self-sufficient teenagers I have ever known, but whenever there was an ant in the kitchen or a spider in her bathroom, she called her dad to come home from work to kill it.

For her entire life, Mack refused to sit in the grass, because a grasshopper might join her.

Mack once toughed out two days of high school basketball practice when she was suffering from a horrible sinus infection, but she once refused to get into my car when we discovered there was a chirpy cricket hiding inside.

Some of the best cardio I ever saw Mack do was in response to seeing an insect. Mack was no track star, but if she was fleeing from a bug, she probably could have been a state-qualifying sprinter.

Mostly, my Macko was a quiet person who rarely ever raised her voice. But, I kid you not, Mack’s scream at the sight of a bug could shatter eardrums and crystal wine glasses!

This face does no real justice to the faces Mack made when she was horrified by a spider, but it reveals something of the disgust she always felt when a creepy-crawler had the nerve to make her acquaintance…


And this just in…

After I posted this blog, Sierra, one of Mack’s dear and life-long friends, provided the following picture of Mack fleeing a spider. Apparently, during a weekend friend trip to Ali’s cabin, a spider made its appearance in Jackie’s car and Mack jumped into the trunk to get away!

oh no