Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy ending

The machine that is in charge of reunions for my high school class is getting cranked up again. I've done some work over the years finding people as well as writing up such documents as invitation letters to former teachers. This year I added another job to my list of talents. I guess I'm now in charge of social media.

Here's the translation: Julie Kreher Porter asked if anyone knew how to set up a Facebook page for a group in anticipation of an October reunion. I've done that, and so I set up the basic page in about 10 minutes. It's not hard with a little experience, which I have.

I've posted a few items from my scrapbook and other sources - a couple of pages from the school newspaper, some pictures from past reunions, a link to my blog on the Abdul Rahman award. But there's a story I've never told anyone, and this isn't a bad format for it.

I graduated from high school back in the stone age, in a world of eight-tracks, in 1973. The ceremony was at Villa Maria College in Cheektowaga, and in the 40 years since then I think I might have been in the parking lot once.

The proceedings were in the afternoon. We had a class of close to 350 people. As I recall, there were instructions before the graduation event that applause was discouraged for each individual graduate, as it might drag the ceremony from Sunday into Wednesday or so. Naturally, I tried to make a few trades with other members of my class along the lines of "I'll clap for you if you'll clap for me." But I didn't really expect anyone to do it.

We went through the ceremony, which was pretty typical, and headed up to the stage by row. As I recall, I had planned while walking across the stage to smile at my two friends and classmates who were on the stage, Jane and Brenda. My name was announced over the public address system, and I started to walk.

And lots of people began to clap. I'm not saying it was a thunderous ovation, and nobody stood up. But it was certainly much more applause than anyone else had received so far, a warm sound that caught me completely off-guard. As I walked across the stage, I did the logical thing for a 17-year-old - froze emotionally - and completely forgot about smiling at anyone on the stage.

When I walked down the steps to return to my seat, I can still picture Mike Coppola sitting in the first row on the aisle. Our class president seemed as surprised as I was, and just shook his head and smiled at me.

After the ceremony was over, I saw my parents pretty quickly. My mother came out with this: "Oh my God, everyone in the place was clapping but your mother. I didn't think we were supposed to clap, so I didn't." She added that one of her friends had just come up to her and said, "Budd got more applause than Dr. Moomaw," the superintendent of the school system.

It turned out that my last moment as a high school student might have been my best moment. So, almost 40 years later, my fellow classmates, I finally thank you for that.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A second act

I didn't realize it at the time, but I first visited the house of my eventual friend of the past 40 years, Glenn Locke, right about the time when his mother probably was going through the worst part of her life.

Glenna, who passed away on Saturday and who was the focus of a nice remembrance "ceremony" today, no doubt had thought her life was going to be nice and orderly when she approached the 50-year mark. She had grown up in a nice family, gotten married, had two smart kids and was living a very comfortable lifestyle in a fine home in suburban Buffalo. What was there not to like?

I must have showed up in the house for the first time at some point around 1972. Glenn and I stopped by to play bumper pool. (Note: I got clobbered.) I had heard at some point that Glenn's parents had split up. That hadn't happened to many of my friends at this point - an innocent age - and it wasn't something that I'd bring up first in conversation.

However, I did notice that the big house was pretty empty. Glenn's sister Beth was off at college, so it was just Glenn and his mom there. The building felt quiet and empty. I'm not saying that the house resembled the "castle" that was shown at the end of "Citizen Kane," but there was a little sadness involved in moving about it. Too many things, not enough people.

I can't imagine what the experience was like for Glenna. While she wasn't hurting for money, the sudden change in lifestyle must have been enormous and rather depressing. And there was the whole matter of dating again. That's a scary enough process when you're in your 20's. It must have been worse for someone approaching their 50's, knowing the statistical odds of finding another partner were long.

What do you do? The best you can. Glenna soon moved into an apartment a few miles away, bringing the college-aged Glenn along, and found a job. In other words, she adapted. I remember how much Glenna tried to make Glenn's friends welcome during visits, although talking with parents was never our top priority when we came home for a week or two for Christmas.

Glenn and I still can joke about the fact that his mom would come home from the grocery store during those times and the years that followed, having bought beer for the refrigerator for us. However, it was usually the cheapest beer in the place - Simon Pure or some other off brand. Most parents never quite fit in during those years with their kids, and at the worldly age of 21 or 22 we probably acted a little like "beer snobs" about that. However ... we probably would have confessed under interrogation that we appreciated the gesture more than we let on.

After several years of this had gone by - and the years must have been lonely and difficult for Glenna at times - Glenn passed along the exciting news that his mother had found someone new to share life's experiences. When I asked who was the lucky man, Glenn laughed and said it was Ralph Wilson. Football fans in Western New York know that name, of course. So when I chuckled and said, "Ralph Wilson?" Glenn replied, "Ralph Wilson of Bells (the supermarket chain), and not Bills." I commented that I couldn't believe she would marry the "wrong" Ralph Wilson. By the way, when something happened to the Bills in later years, the phone of Lancaster's Ralph Wilson often would ring as angry fans would call.

And so Glenna Locke turned into Glenna Wilson, picking up an all-new family along the way. Widower Ralph had children from his first marriage, and Glenna seemed more than thrilled to treat them like her own kids. There was always lots of food around when I'd visit, and always some laughter.

Glenna watched the stepchildren turn into adults, get married and have children. Eventually Ralph died, but Glenna stayed close to the "other" family (her own children lived out of town) and enjoyed musicals and mysteries if her DVD collection was any indication.

I didn't speak at today's ceremony. But if I had, I would have said just how happy I was that this nice lady really did have a nice second act to her life after the considerable drama that entered it right before intermission.

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New man in charge

It's been a busy few days at One Bills Drive in Orchard Park.

On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills defeated the New York Jets to close out a disappointing regular season. Fans came in with high expectations thanks to some high-profile roster moves, but they didn't quite work out. The offense was inconsistent, and the defense was worse than that - allowing points in bunches in too many games.

That all made Monday feel inevitable. Head coach Chan Gailey and his entire coaching staff were dismissed. Gailey had three years to try to turn the Bills around, and couldn't do it. Buffalo was under .500 each time, and that was about as much patience as any team in the NFL has these days. If Gailey had come back, he might have been greeted by some serious numbers of empty seats on opening day.

Was that it for trips to Orchard Park? Nope. The media made the drive back to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Tuesday as well. The Bills held a news conference to announce that Russ Brandon had been promoted to team president. Owner Ralph Wilson was "passing the torch" after being in charge since 1960.

Brandon said many of the right things at the news conference. The team's record clearly has been unacceptable for more than a decade (not a single playoff appearance in that time), and the Bills have frequently been less than relevant in any discussions about the NFL. (In other words, they are the Columbus Blue Jackets of pro football.) Brandon wants to get to work to change that, and supposedly he and other executives are off on a interview tour at this writing.

There's no way at this point of knowing what will happen with this change completed. I had heard that Wilson had taken a major step back from day-to-day operations some time ago, and that the Bills were more or less telling him what they planned to do - and having Wilson essentially rubber-stamp it - as opposed to having Wilson make all of the decisions himself. Is this much of a difference?

I'm the opposite of an insider when it comes to the Bills' organization, but I'll be looking for one immediate clue for a possible change of philosophy. Wilson was never a fan of coaches who were big names and thus on the expensive side. I'm not sure why; maybe Chuck Knox's time here was a bad experience somehow. Three years ago there were a lot of good-sized names out there, and the Bills hired none of them to take Gailey. If someone like Lovie Smith shows up for a news conference at One Bills Drive soon, that would be a pretty clear signal that times had changed.

Then again, it's easy to wonder just how much of a different a coach can matter, even at the NFL level. There are all sorts of good people out there that more or less know what they are doing. The ones who succeed for the most part seem to be the ones who have a very good quarterback.

Let's think about that. The Bills have never really replaced Jim Kelly. Doug Flutie and Drew Bledsoe had some moments but their good days didn't last long enough. You can go through Todd Collins, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Alex Van Pelt and now Ryan Fitzpatrick, and you won't find anyone that has been even average statistically. Come to think of it, the Bills went through the quarterback wilderness between the end of the Joe Ferguson Era and the start of Kelly's time here.

Around the league, teams like New England, Green Bay, Denver and Atlanta have top-notch quarterbacks and are in the playoffs. A few teams have won Super Bowls without someone very good at the position, but not many.

The problem is that you never know where the next good quarterback is coming from. That means Brandon and the rest of the Bills front office could use some luck in the upcoming season to identify a new face at that spot who can make a difference. Otherwise, we may be having more news conferences in a relatively short time.

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