Thursday, November 23, 2023

Fresh Turkeys

A few weeks back, during a momentous and love-packed wedding ceremony, the references flew fast and furiously, welcoming Heather's husband Ryan into a family that celebrates special holidays with an early morning 5K.  For his part, Ryan admirably offered up some nervous but brave laughs every time the reference was made.

It took less than a month for him to realize this was really a thing.

The turkeys were let loose again in Westford this 2023 Thanksgiving morning, and the ever-expanding cast of characters grew by another two this year, with Ryan and my brother Jimmy adding their pitter patter to the early morning footfalls.

Kudos to the Paternell family of Westford who opens their home, street and neighborhood to welcome dozens of runners and walkers into the Lake Nabnassett area on Thanksgiving morning.  The family collects food items for the local food pantry as the race entry.

A bit slick on the roadways to get things started, but runners and walkers persevered through icy conditions to create another bank of laughs and great memories.

Westford guest star John Piekos returned to his running roots - the streets where many a mile was logged in the earliest days of E Streeter group runs - home of the classic Lake Run, in fact.

Not surprisingly, Haley Lemay continued to crush the opposition, scaling the course's biggest hill without even losing a breath
Followed VERY closely behind her sisters, Addy and Brook, who ran the course in tandem
Throughout the course, Jimmy returned to shades of his running form from his days at Keith Academy High School in Lowell.
(Ryan wasn't taking the bait - YET.)
Chris and Brianne Lemay ran, as they always do, step for step with one another, with proud papa cheering them on
Chewie made his return to the course.  Regular readers of the blog may recall last year's Thanksgiving 5K on this course was Chewie's first official race entry.
Today, the Turkey Trot veteran waited patiently for his family so he could show them the proper course to follow.
Image presented without comment
In fact, there were quite a few turkeys to be found out there today.  Special shoutout to Katie who found an adrenaline burst mid-course and picked up her tempo!
And then came the unforgettable finish.
Thankfully there was plenty of paparazzi there to chronicle the moment for history.
With throngs of supporters raucously cheering them in, Jimmy and Ryan completed their first ever Thanksgiving 5K!
Can't say enough about the pair of them joining the fray.
Can't you just hear the Chariots of Fire theme song playing in the background?
And kudos also to the rest of the clan, including Jackie, Heather, Andrew and Katie who answered the early bell and bundled up for this year's outing!
Haley once again claimed the coveted brussell sprouts prize for her award-winning placement!

Silly faces all around for Andrew and Harper
Heading back to their cars, the two newest Turkey Day 5K converts have mixed reactions when asked about their next 5K conquest.
Once again, giving copious thanks for being able to blog about these types of exploits every Thanksgiving.  And once again, thankful we're all still healthy enough to do so.  There have been more than a few health scares up and down the collective ranks over the course of the last year, but we're all still here and all still cheerfully forging ahead.
Thankful for our extended and growing family, thankful for friendships that have spanned decades and logged thousands of miles together, thankful to watch offspring blazing their own familial trails, and thankful for a life partner who makes it all feel effortless.
Yeah, giving thanks in abundance.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

When a Friendship is Golden

September, 1973 - 50 years ago, and there was a lot going on across the Big Blue Marble.  Star Trek the Animated Series was making its television debut.  Hank Aaron was busy making baseball home run history.  Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the tennis Battle of the Sexes. Barbra Streisand released the Way We Were single (which went on to become the Billboard Single of the Year.)  And at St. Margaret's School where I was starting the fourth grade, I bumped into a new kid, a transfer in from St. Patrick's School, one of the city of Lowell's other Catholic Schools.

That was when I first met Mike Cassidy.

Interestingly, St. Margaret's split its classes in two - A and B, and Mike and I were never officially in the same class there, likely because the nuns knew the volatility of the combination were we to be paired up in the same room.

But somehow, me and this kid from Foster Street - another Highlands boy, me, hailing from D Street, connected and became fast - and, as it turned out - lifelong friends.

And anyone who knows anything about either of us won't be shocked to learn it was comic books that brought us together.

At that young age of 9, I was primarily a Marvel Comics fan, though I did dabble in a decent smattering of DC Comics.  And Mike was primarily a DC guy, with Batman topping his buy list.  I still remember some of the first comics I know Mike owned that I didn't, and thankfully, this was in the day when you traded comics back and forth to read.

I offer up all of that background, because in the ensuing years, those two comic book geeks have remained friends, and to this day, are still hanging in there, through FIVE DECADES of shared memories, including way, way, way too many that should never see print, and certainly won't in this blog.

We've travelled back and forth across the United States together, were Best Men in one another's weddings, have raised our children together, and attended more than a hundred rock concerts together, many of them being not surprisingly, Bruce Springsteen shows.

Wonder Bread super-hero cards, Looney Tunes jelly jars?  3D baseball cards in cereal boxes?  We collected and experienced them together.

Our parents, especially our Irish fathers, used to jokingly refer to us as "Pat and Mike," which apparently hearkened back to two blokes from an Irish joke tandem, though the references were usually lost on us.

Mike and I would finish grades 4-8 together, continuing to make new memories along the way,  likedoling out Star Wars calendars and suffering together through the Sgt. Pepper's remake movie featuring the Bee Gees.

And then it was on to high school and a lot of Hiding on the BackStreets.
This time, the nuns didn't know enough to keep us in different classes, though they did learn quickly, separating us our sophomore and junior years.
Senior Year Field Day captains, rocking our Springsteen tees and realizing one of Sister Theresa's worst nightmares - having to pose for a picture with Mike and I.
The circle of friends started to expand, and the likes of Tom Beaupre, Tommy and Barry Scanlon, Scott Spence and John Piekos joined the mix, creating, literally the OG E Streeters pack of friends, who made their bones breaking hearts and tearing up the volleyball and basketball courts at UMass Lowell, where Mike and I would once again reunite in the halls of kinda-learning.
There were literally dozens upon dozens of other friends drawn into this ever-expanding circle through the ensuing decades.  Some we've lost to geography, some to death, some to the evolution of relationships that just naturally take people along different paths in their lives.
So how does one encapsulate five decades of friendship?  It's impossible.  Period.
But hopefully this quick peppering of images from throughout those years will give folks some insight into the kinds of shared experiences that go into charting a friendship for the ages.
Unforgettable memories, like cutting classes to party at Boston Celtics championship rallies, where Mike could capture an epic picture of me shaking Kevin McHale's hand.
Or busting out of class to wait in line for Springsteen tickets.

The Summer of '87 sent us off on a month-long, No Surrender coming-of-age 10,000 mile voyage from coast-to-coast.  On the Road along the way, we followed the Celtics through their championship series against the Los Angeles Lakers, culminating in a life-and-death situation where we fled the LA Forum for our lives in my feeble red Renault Encore.
But we also managed to check in at some epic national treasures.
Meeting down at the Cadillac Ranch
Grand Canyon climbers
Yosemite Sams
Grand again, this time, at the Tetons
Five years later, August 15, 1992, and he stood up for me at my wedding, just a few weeks after throwing together an unforgettable bachelor party trip to see Springsteen at the Meadowlands. 
Yes, we were those fathers guilty of the adorable babies Halloween pics, too
In the ensuing years, as we both began our families, career paths would place us a few doors away from one another, Mike working at the Lowell Fire Department, me at the Lowell Police Department.
And apparently both of us could wear racing singlets three sizes too large.

As you can see, we continued to stand up for one another as we shared any number of life events, including sports banquets for our children at Lowell High School
Occasionally, there was a broccoli vegetable tray that went awry at some of the kids' birthday celebrations.  The less said about those, the better, but they might explain Mike's smile here.
We got hammered together on many occasions.  But in the end, I feel like we were worthy.
Comic books stayed in the background throughout the half century tapestry of friendship, with more than a few trips together into comic conventions or local comic shops.

We even ended up together on the cover of an issue of the amazing Spider-Man.
Yeah, we fancied ourselves Agents of Shield
We swore blood brothers against the wind, Springsteen tailgate colleagues
Almost annually, there were meet-ups at the home of twenty-five cent hotdogs every holiday season in Newburyport
Sometimes, the birthday celebrations were our own
As youths, we envisioned ourselves becoming masked heroes in our latter years.  Little did we know.
The guy who helped bring us together over common ground back in 1973 would make his return
We've walked and run many a mile Racing in the Streets along the same pathways
Japanese steak houses?  We've done 'em
And of course, we've shared many a memory at the Lowell Folk Festivals.
Especially when it comes to the Polish pierogies, an ethnic treat Mike introduced me to early on thanks to his Polish grandparents.
Which brings us to the present, and lo, another Springsteen tailgate, this most recent one at Gillette Stadium just last month.  
Time has taken its toll on each of us, as it inevitably does to all of us.  There's been lots of changes along those five decades of history.  Both of us have lost our parents along the way.  We've been there for one another through some of the worst of times, yes, but unquestionably, also some of the best.
It's rare that anything lasts a half century these days, especially a grammar school friendship when so many differing pathways emerge to divert one in different directions.
Yet somehow, all those roads still lead to the same Backstreets, and the courses of our lives continue to flow along common roads.
And in the end, we became living proof that the Marvel and DC universes could join together successfully, and a pair of Highlands kids joined by their common interest in comic books found a way to forge a friendship that has stood the test of time.
And will for many years still to come.

We played king of the mountain out on the end
The world come charging up the hill, and we were women and men
Now there's so much that time, time and memory fade away
We got our own roads to ride and chances we got to take
We stood side by side each one fighting for the other
And we said until we died we'd always be blood brothers
- Blood Brothers, by Bruce Springsteen