The combination of my sister-in-law Jessica passing away recently and the upcoming holidays, has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. My brother-in-law Jake has been posting various funny and touching stories about the two of them on their blog. This made me realize that there are many similar stories that I want to share about those close to me. So bear with me for the next couple of weeks while I spend some time recalling fond times that involve those family and friends nearest and dearest to me.
To start things off, I wanted to talk about my Dad, or Bumpa as Vanessa sometimes calls him. I’ve been very blessed to have had two parents who love each other very much and managed to stick together through the trials and tribulations of raising three crazy kids. Throughout it all, my Dad has been a constant provider, supporter, and educator. I can’t remember a single event in my childhood that he missed, whether it was watching me play soccer, watching me as a bench player in high school football, or attending any music recital or concert I had. He’s always encouraged me to learn and was always willing to drive me anywhere to see anything. Whether it was a 90 minute drive to the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, CA to see a silly wave tank or 60 minutes out to Front Royal to see some cheap giant plaster dinosaurs at a tourist trap like Dinosaur Land, he was always there for me. He’s always been there to help me move from house to house, or fix something, or offer help in any way he can.
Trying to identify just one story to focus on for him was very difficult. I instead settled on a couple of stories that highlighted his diversity and devotion. My Dad as always kept us involved with music. He plays guitar, clarinet, recorder, some piano, and sings. He even was in the University of Michigan marching band when in college. He encouraged each of us to appreciate music by constantly playing a variety of music when we were kids. He would put on the Grand Canyon Suite and tell me a story about how one could pretend that the song was about a migration of dinosaurs. Then we would listen to some Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple or put on some soundtracks like Superman or Star Wars. These were all on LP of course. ;)
I remember that when I was in 3rd grade he wrote me a song called Jake the Rattlesnake since I liked snakes so much. My mom made me a stuffed animal snake to go along with the song. I was so proud of the song that one day at school I sung it to my 3rd grade music teacher Mrs. Lunsford. She insisted that I surprise my Dad by singing it at the holiday concert that year. I told Mom, but insisted that Dad not be told until we got there. I was so proud when after singing the song Mrs. Lunsford insisted on acknowledging that the composer was in the audience. I still sing that song to Vanessa and Elizabeth all the time, though Vanessa knows it as the snake song.
Apparently Jake the Rattlesnake was pretty memorable to others at well. About two years ago we were at Fair Oaks Mall with one of Sarah’s teacher friends Bethany. Bethany mentioned she was going to meet an old friend of hers named Kelly. We were coming up the escalator to meet her and I thought to myself, wait a minute, that’s Kelly Harasek, I went to school and CCD with her. Sure enough, I get to the top of the stairs and she says “Hi James”. I asked how she remembered me and she said “How could I forget, you’re the one who sung that snake song in front of the school in 3rd grade.”
The other story I wanted to mention took place in college. I had done a lot of backstage theatre work in high school, but I had auditioned for and got cast in a production of Show Boat. This was a big deal for me from a confidence standpoint, as here I was in makeup, in costume, and singing and dancing on the main stage at William and Mary for two weeks. My family was planning on coming for the show on the weekend, but at the last minute, my Dad found out he had to go out of town on business. He surprised me by showing up for a Thursday night show instead. After the show, we went out to eat at the IHOP in Williamsburg. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but surprisingly for a college town, there are really only two places open after 11:00 PM on a weeknight in Williamsburg, IHOP and Denny’s, and both are SLOWWWWWWW. So even though he had to drive 2.5 hours back to DC that night to go to work on Friday, we just sat and talked and waited for our food to arrive. Any of you know my Dad know that his bedtime is 10:00 PM, so the fact that he was willing to go to such an effort to see my show meant the world to me.
Thanks Dad for everything. One couldn’t ask for a better example and role-model for me to emulate while trying to raise kids of my own. I love you very much!