Catharsis

When the news broke that we killed Osama bin Laden, I knew that bottle of Jameson wouldn’t last through the night. Mainly because we killed him. Bin Laden didn’t die of kidney disease. He wasn’t captured and tried. He didn’t even meet his demise in a drone attack. He saw the Navy SEAL who gave him a double-tap to the head.

That’s why I want to see the death photos.

I don’t doubt that he’s actually dead. A U.S. president would be committing political suicide to lie about such a thing.

And I don’t care about pissing off overly-sensitive Islamofascists. They’re already pissed, and frankly, they should see the photos too. If for anything to show them the consequences of attacking the United States — eventually, you will meet your fate.

I want to see the photos because it would make me feel good. Unlike the president, I want to “spike the football.” Bin Laden’s half blown-off face should be on posters and T-shirts.

Some say that’s not how Americans act. That we are set apart from the rest of the world in how we react. Tell that to the thousands who gathered outside the White House, at Ground Zero and on college campuses to celebrate Sunday night.

Those who compare our demonstrations to those of Palestinians after Sept. 11, 2001 are dead wrong. Celebrating the deaths of thousands of innocents is nothing like celebrating the termination of the face of evil that perpetrated such an attack.

Perhaps the president doesn’t get it. After nearly 10 years, he got to see the photos — shoot, he watched the raid in the Situation Room in real time.

The rest of us didn’t get such catharsis.

There is joy to be had that Osama is no longer drawing breath. But it would be even better if we could see the bastard’s dead face, and allow that image to replace those seared in our memories from Sept. 11.

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My real mom

There is so much that can be said about my grandma, but I’d like to focus on just one aspect of what made Grace Chambers such a remarkable woman.

Last spring, after grandpa died, grandma and I were having breakfast and I mentioned something about my “real” mom. Grandma stopped me and said in her stern way, “she wasn’t your ‘real’ mom — all she did was give birth to you.”

She was right.

For much of my life growing up, it was just my dad and me. As I told you all in May, we lived with my grandparents for a while, and I was blessed to have that chance to get to be that close to them. Even before that, they were a huge part of my life.

I was born in Alamogordo during May. On that day, there was a freak snowstorm in Santa Fe and grandma and grandpa couldn’t get out of town. I can only imagine what it was like in their house. Last year, grandpa told me “it was hell” — because grandma was beside herself and angry that they had to wait a couple of days to head south.

Grandma took it on herself to fill the role of my “real” mom. She made sure I made it to the dentist and doctor, ate my fruits and veggies and had plenty of clothes to wear. In kindergarten, she secured a transfer so I could attend what she considered to be the best elementary school in town.

When dad and I moved to Albuquerque, grandma would show up every few weeks or so to fill our freezer with container after container of her spaghetti sauce and her split pea soup. While my dad grew tired of the soup, I still love it. Though I’ve stopped ordering it at restaurants because I’ve yet to find a batch as good as grandma’s.

Uncle Mike and Aunt Dianne definitely helped fill that role for me too. But grandma was my rock.

After we moved to California, grandma was still determined to make sure I had stability and a strong foundation. That didn’t always go over well with the step mom, but I don’t think grandma cared about that. In fact, I know she didn’t care — grandma was always the one in charge.

They visited often in the beginning, and I still spent my summers in Santa Fe — my grandparents carting me around town to swimming lessons, vacation Bible school, camp, museums, you name it.

As traveling became more difficult for them and life became more busy for me, I didn’t see them as often — but we spent a lot of time on the phone. Each call would include questions like, “Do you need anything? How about socks or underwear? Have you been taking your vitamins?”

At 32-years-old, I was still being mothered. But her persistence paid off. There are no fillings in my mouth because she pounded the importance of dental hygiene into my head.

She loved to take us grandkids shopping. If we were traveling and there was an outlet mall or Herberger’s within 50 miles, we had to go there. Though I suspect we were just an excuse for her to hit up the department stores.

But don’t get me wrong, she let me know when she didn’t like something I was doing or planning to do. I can hear her tone now, as I’m sure all of us in the family can: “Now, Tom.”

But she wouldn’t dwell on those things. She didn’t spend a lot of time rubbing our noses in it — I said a lot of time. There definitely were moments when she would let you know you had screwed up. But once her point was made, she moved on.

Our routine phone calls didn’t stop. During the last few years, grandma seemed determined to get me to move back to Santa Fe. I began receiving a weekly envelope, stuffed with the Sunday help-wanted ads and jobs sections of the New Mexico papers. I still have a voicemail I couldn’t delete from a few weeks ago about a job opportunity in Santa Fe.

It seemed that 22 years after we left New Mexico, she just wanted me to come back. Knowing that the job market for my chosen field had dried up, she still wanted to protect me and help me start over. Till the end, she was my real mom.

So much so, that in the family the words “your grandma” and “your mom” are synonymous. When talking to me, my dad and uncle still refer to each other as “your brother.” Though it can be confusing at times, we don’t bother correcting ourselves.

Both of my grandparents were my biggest fans. It’s hard not to talk about grandma and grandpa without making the story about yourself — because they both were so focused on our well-being, our happiness and our goals.

And it wasn’t just me. They were all of our biggest fans. Half my conversations — once we dispensed with the weather, politics and whether I needed any undies — were about what Shelley and Kevin were up too.

And though it is heart wrenching, it is fitting that they left us together. Their example of love for each other can’t be beat. Grandpa used to joke that grandma said she’d “never do it again,” referring to their marriage. And it’s true — they are the epitome of a perfect love. Inseparable and in love for 55 years.

Their house has always felt like home to me more than any place else, but after the last few days I realize it wasn’t the house — it seems hallow without them. They were what made it home.

As a family we’ve been comforting ourselves with the typical phrases: They’re together now, grandma can breath without an oxygen tank, grandpa’s hands are working perfectly, they’re in a better place.

But the clichés only go so far. They don’t mitigate the fact that there’s a huge void left in our lives. Our foundation hasn’t just been shaken — it seems to have vanished.

For me, I can only hope to live a life that meets my grandparents’ expectations and to follow their example. Only in that will the foundation remain.

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‘… but the seats are special’

Jon Stewart examines the important questions journalists should be asking themselves after the departure of Helen Thomas from the White House briefing room — and it’s sad.

Especially the clip of former Bush Press Secretrary Ari Fleischer:

“The definition of what’s a journalist now is changing, but the seats are special.”

Ugh.

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Eulogy

Most anyone who gets to know me for more than a couple of days hears about my grandpa. The conversation usually starts when they ask me why it is that I am the way I am.

As with all of us, there are many reasons, but my explanation always starts with one of my fondest memories: Grandpa would pick me up in the middle of the day when I was released from kindergarten and take me home for lunch. We’d sit down to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and talk — usually about Ronald Reagan.

That political discussion we started 27 years ago never ended.

I feel that I was the luckiest — or most blessed — of us grandkids because during those formative years I was able to spend so much time with him. The impact he had on my life was profound. When I was a child, my grandpa was my best friend.

Even after we no longer lived under the same roof, I was at my grandparents’ much of time — during the summers, Christmas and Easter breaks and many times in between. In addition to making me a Republican, during that time grandpa taught me many things.

Grandpa had an amazing interest in the world. He religiously watched the local news, cable news, “Nightline” — all of it. His mornings started with bitter coffee and no less than two newspapers, a habit I picked up. It was a priority for him to be informed. His curiosity became mine.

When I went into journalism, it was always comforting to know that there was at least one person out there doing his best to keep the news business solvent.

In those early years, he and grandma spent a lot of time driving me around town — to swimming lessons, tennis lessons, vacation Bible school, museums, Pastor Ben’s house to play with Bart, historical sites, movie sets. During the many vacations we took together to visit family, stops were added along the way, sometimes taking us far beyond the quickest route. We went to the Grand Canyon, the Denver Mint, Mt. Rushmore — even the birthplace of Herbert Hoover.

But he wanted me to be well-rounded.

That’s probably why, when I was young, he taught me how to tie a perfect Windsor knot, mow a lawn and make friends at a hotel bar. He even once tried to teach me how to hit a baseball, but grandma put an end to that experiment when a stray pitch hit me in the head.

Those things will always be with me. Whenever I get into a political debate or write an editorial, my grandpa is there. Whenever I put on a tie, eat a grilled cheese sandwich or travel to a place I’ve never been, he will be there with me.

The biggest thing I hope to have learned from my grandpa is to be a man of love. As a family we’ve talked about how much he enjoyed to so-called “little things” in life — a cold beer with mixed nuts, a baseball game, a crackling fire, mountain views, ’57 Chevies and looking to see if there’s “water in that river.” It didn’t matter which river it was, just that there was water in it. If you said something that was a lyric of song he knew, he would start singing it. Not always on key, but he would sing it.

Those “little things” gave him so much pleasure because he truly loved life, and that was contagious. He was the embodiment of joy. The only times I saw him get angry were when the St. Louis Cardinals lost a playoff game or the Iowa Hawkeyes missed a touchdown. I think the only people he hated were the ones who put on a Kansas City Royals uniform.

Family was so important to grandpa. He loved and felt an eternal connection to his parents and sisters. He would often recite a prayer at dinner he learned from his grandparents in their native Swedish tongue, and ask us to “pass the smör.”

And I know from the stories I’ve been told and from experience that there wasn’t anything Grandpa wouldn’t do to support each of us.

He loved and accepted the people he met. From his wonderful life-long friends to any of our friends. He didn’t get caught up in the silly dramas that encompass so many people’s lives — he simply enjoyed being around people, which made people enjoy being around him. One of my friends who met him briefly 8 years ago still asks about grandpa whenever we talk.

He loved this church. Grandpa’s faith was of the sort that Jesus said we should all approach God: As a child. He was curious, and excited to be here. Hearing his favorite hymns put a smile on his face all day.
When we would come together, much of our conversation that afternoon would be about Ben’s sermon. Though I think he enjoyed the time after the service, in the Common Room with all of you just as much — if not more.

But for all that grandpa taught me, through the tremendous example he set for us and his love for life and family, he wasn’t acting alone. More than anything, he loved you grandma. You two truly were one entity.

He was always in love with you. Just last Christmas, while we were looking at old slides, whenever a picture of grandma popped up, grandpa jumped in his seat and said, “Yowza!”

Everything he did for us he did with you. We have such a wonderful family, and that’s a testament not only to grandpa, but to the life you shared together. I can only hope to someday find love like that.

And I can only hope to live up the example of love that grandpa set for me.

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