Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I Can't Complain

Because I get as tired of writing about politics and family dysfunction as “What’s the Diehl?” visitors do reading about it, I’m sharing a few happy memories to prove that I have them.

The day my daughter Amelia was born tops the list, of course. I still remember being afraid that she wouldn’t be perfect (and then she was), cutting the umbilical cord, holding her for the first time, nervously driving her home from the hospital and feeling so different because suddenly I was a dad. I miss that day. I miss Amelia.

The day I met Anita for lunch at Dagwood’s here in Lansing and we became more than friends ranks right up there too. I was running late and was afraid she wouldn’t still be waiting when I parked the car and ran inside but she was. I remember suggesting we move from a table in the center to a booth in the back, loving my olive burger and Long Island Iced Tea, and feeling so happy that I was spending Saturday afternoon with such an enchanting, beautiful woman.

I remember my mom taking my little sister and me to Cedar Point in her eggshell blue Pinto with her friend, Marilyn, when I was nine or ten. My mom always put us first and made sure we had positive experiences to remember. I remember waiting with her in a YMCA parking for the bus to arrive that would take me to Camp Nissokone, near Oscoda. I remember walking around the Detroit Zoo and skiing at Pine Knob and going to the movies and visiting libraries and farmers’ markets and spending a day at Camp Dearborn in Milford, where we swam, picnicked, rode in a paddle boat and played putt-putt golf.

I remember when my sister and I drove across the country with my Grandma and Grandpa back in the early 1970s, heading from Royal Oak, Michigan, to Tucson, Arizona, where they had moved. I remember stopping at Stuckey’s a few times along the way because my grandpa was in the Stuckey’s Coffee Club and visiting the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest and Old Tucson and Saguaro National Park and seeing a real road runner for the first time and thinking it didn’t look anything like the dude from Looney Tunes who gave Wile E. Coyote such a run for his money. We stopped at the 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater, east of Flagstaff, but there were too many steps leading up to the rim for my grandpa to navigate so we never actually saw it.

I remember picnicking on the lawn at Pine Knob in Clarkston with family and friends and enjoying more concerts than I can remember. Fleetwood Mac and Wayne Newton and Patti LaBelle and George Benson and Chicago and Peter Frampton and Barry Manilow and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band and The Carpenters and Jeffrey Osborne and Depeche Mode and The Doobie Brothers and James Taylor are just a few of the acts that I enjoyed in person at what’s now called the DTE Energy Music Theatre but will always be Pine Knob to me.

It occurs to me that I’ve attended a lot of concerts. In addition to the Pine Knob experiences, I’ve seen Diana Ross and Journey and Boston and Sammy Hagar and The Rolling Stones and The Who and Prince and Genesis and Ray Charles and Macy Gray and the Dave Matthews Band and Peter, Paul & Mary, among others. One of my all-time favorites was a Luther Vandross/Anita Baker concert at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena back in 1989; it was the first and only time I’ve ever seen a concert from a private box.

I remember driving across the country again in 1983, this time from Lansing to Santa Cruz, California, with my stepsister, Karen, who had been accepted to UC Santa Cruz and needed help finding a place to stay. After spending three and a half days bickering in the car, then another several days apartment-hunting in the heat, she finally found a place and I flew back to Detroit alone. My parents met me at the airport and told me Karen was right behind me – she had changed her mind and caught the next flight back. I still have some great photos and memories of that trip, including listening to lots of Bananarama and Cyndi Lauper and Kenny Loggins and seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

I remember standing in the living room of the governor’s residence in Lansing during a reception for the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland, and listening to an Irish woman singing the most beautiful version of “Danny Boy” that I had ever heard. I remember being up north in 1987 – Michigan was celebrating its Sesquicentennial that year – for the National Governors’ Association conference just outside of Traverse City. I met Bill Clinton and Mike Dukakis and the Four Tops and Martha Reeves and Junior Walker – who I mistook for the Four Tops’ tailor – and had dinner with my natural father, Mike Conroy, who I hadn’t seen in years. (He spent most of our reunion quizzing me about my little sister; that was the last time I saw him.)

I remember partying and playing games with a number of friends at a remote campsite in the middle of Michigan somewhere, and canoeing down a nearby river under the bluest of skies. It was called “Soule Survivor weekend” – our hosts/property owners, Thom and Missy Soule, loved the TV show “Survivor” – and it included obstacle courses, drinking and shooting games, races and other contests to determine who was the coolest and most worthy to plan the following year’s competition. I participated in this awesome gathering three times, I think – including once with Anita – and I’ll never forget how fun it was as long as I live.

I’ve already written about visiting the White House in June of 1996 for an intimate reception with hundreds of other guests and schmoozing with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. I’ll never forget sitting on Dolley Madison’s couch and eating jumbo shrimp while the Big Dog stood a few feet away, charming male and female alike with his magnetic personality. Say what you will about the Clinton presidency but the man himself is one of the most compelling, intelligent human beings I’ve ever met.

I remember flying to Georgia with Amelia when she was 11 or 12, and driving back to Lansing together in a U-Haul because my parents gave me a huge leather sectional. My parents are quite generous; I can’t count or remember all the things they’ve given me, including their time, unconditional acceptance and love.

I remember tossing a football with Bryant and sitting at the end of Nikita’s bed as she played her French horn for me. I remember cuddling with Maya and dancing with Devina. I remember each and every time they’ve made me breakfast in bed and made me laugh and made me feel like the luckiest dad in the world. I’d list more of the memories I have with the kids but I don’t want to break the internet.

I remember baseball at Tiger Stadium and football at the Silverdome and hockey at Olympia and basketball at Cobo. I remember how exciting it was when I bought my first house. I remember how my loving dog, Emma, a Springer/Chihuahua mix, used to jump up on the bed and lick my face. I remember Times Square and Central Park and Shedd Aquarium and the Hollywood Bowl and the Statue of Liberty and the Vegas strip.

I remember operas and plays and first dates and first kisses, and dancing and seeing comedians and walking in the woods. And I remember waking up this morning next to the love of my life, and knowing it wasn’t the first time and hopefully won’t be the last.

Yeah, my life has been pretty good so far.

If we could just do something about the crap in Washington...


  1. You're giving me memories of my own, sir! Buddy's pizza, Buscemi's Subs on Woodward, Tiger Stadium bleachers, Windsor Warlocks lacrosse and Windsor Spitfires hockey at the old Windsor Arena, the Beach Boys at Pine Knob, the DSO at Meadowbrook, my high school commencement at Ford Auditorium...
    I remember a family car trip to Florida, in a 1975 Ford Torino Wagon, mustard yellow with black vinyl interior. I rode Space Mountain in its first year, and all I could think of when I got off was,"I have to pee!"
    I was at the Franklin Cider Mill last fall. Wow, has it grown! I brought 8 gallons of cider and 2 dozen doughnuts back to North Carolina with me! My friends loved the stuff. I could charge 15 bucks a gallon for that down here!
    I rode the Gemini at Cedar Point in its first year, and every new coaster ever since!
    I loved Boblo Island, Belle Isle, and the Detroit Zoo (the penguins were always my favorite), my dad taking me and my sister to the Detroit Science Center and the DIA.
    When I was 12, our family took a vacation to Hawaii, where I tried to learn how to surf (with a 100lb board)...I fell a lot, and cracked 2 ribs, but had a blast!
    In 1977, my family decided to move from Windsor to the Detroit area, but we had to go to Toronto to get our Visa issues settled before we could move. I wanted to go up to the top of the CN Tower, but we didn't have time. Fast forward to 1997: my Dad and I went on a Mickey Redmond trip to Toronto to see the Wings play the Leafs at the old Maple Leaf Gardens. We took the train from Windsor, along with 650 Red Wing fans. As soon as we got checked into our hotel, we went to the CN Tower, and I got to go to the top after 20 years of waiting! When we got down to ground level, we took in a Blue Jays baseball game at the Skydome, then had several beers (and some fine Canadian whiskey) at the hotel bar. The next day, we toured my Dad's college, toured the Hockey Hall of Fame, had a banquet dinner with Mickey, Drew, Mike and Trudi from WRIF, then went to the big hockey game. My Dad was the ONLY person wearing blue in the entire crowd of 650! Quite possibly my favorite weekend ever, just my Dad and me! It can be only be topped by the weekend of my wedding to my wife, Jayme!
    I miss freezing my ass off at the Lion's Thanksgiving tailgates at the Silverdome, Mexican food at El Azteco in E. Lansing, pig roasts at Lake Lansing, Cedarfest, basketball at Jenison Fieldhouse, guarding the Sparty statue the weekend of the Michigan game, INXS playing both the MSU Auditorium and St. Andrews Hall in 1987.
    I'm getting long winded, I should stop. Thanks, Patrick, I loved every minute of my flashback!