Official Stadium Rankings

Following the game this weekend in The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, our sports editor, Jack Nuckols, produced this document:

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Based on this, we will be providing official rankings of the 10 stadiums the boys have visited.

Jack’s Rankings

(based on field, view, food, and atmosphere)

1.              PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates
2.              Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City Royals
3.              Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
4.              Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
5.              Citi Field, NY Mets
6.              Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds
7.              Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
8.              Citibank Field, Philadelphia Phillies
9.              Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
10.          Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

Alex’s Rankings

(based on food)

1.     Great American Ballpark, Skyline Chili Dogs
2.     PNC Park, Pot Roast Nachos
3.     Citi Field, Shake Shack
4.     Kaufmann Stadium, Those pretty girls took us out of the cheap seats and into the great seats – free nachos and ice cream!
5.     Citibank Field, Philadelphia Phillies
6.     Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
7.     Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
8.     Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
9.     Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
10. Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

Mike’s Rankings

(based on field, view, food, and atmosphere)

The Transcendent

1.     PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates
2.     AT&T Park, SF Giants

The Exceptional

3.     Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles
4.     Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
5.     Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds
6.     Coors Field, Colorado Rockies
7.     Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
8.     Petco Park, San Diego Padres
9.     Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
10. Dodgers Stadium, LA Dodgers
11. Citibank Field, Philadelphia Phillies
12. Citi Field, NY Mets

The Meh

13. Coliseum, Oakland A’s
14. Angels Stadium, Anaheim Angels
15. Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
16. Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

8 Observations from a trip to Cincinnati

This weekend we made it to Cincinnati for our first game of the season. A roadtrip to meet up with Shani’s folks at The Great American Ballpark. Here are 8 random observations:

1) I could be a professional baseball park travel agent. I got prime seating for $28, parking for $5, and executed an exit strategy that was easy as pie. All this for a sold-out game. I have this down to a science. In fact, NuckolBall readers should feel free to contact me for consultation if you’re visiting a ballpark. I’ll set you up.

2) I found the people of Cincinnati to be incredibly kind and helpful. And every single one of them want to talk about why Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

3) During batting practice, baseballs gather in between the pitcher and hitter. Every once in a while a bat boy has to run out an pick up all of those balls. But with the Cardinals, all the players go out and do it as a group. These are millionaires and they’re doing it like they did in little league. I have never seen another team do this – and it speak volumes about the Cardinals to me.

4) If you get to Cincinnati, get your ass to Skyline Chili. They make these chili dogs that have a 6-inch cloud of finely-shredded cheese piled on top. You wonder how you can fit in all in your mouth, but then it mushes together into cheesechilihotdogonionsmustardheavenallgone. Alex is digging in to one in this photo:


5) 90% of the time, Shani is the worst co-pilot on earth. She alternates between reading, dozing off, and fiddling with her phone. She sets her water cup overtop my carefully arranged power cords. She is deeply annoyed when I ask her to put the creamer into my coffee because I’m busy driving a car.

But then there’s the other 10% of the time. She’ll pull out a chapter book and read aloud in her melodious voice. The boys will be captivated and keep begging for just “one more chapter.” Or she’ll snatch up my phone (the phone I’m using the navigate with) and start cycling through TV theme shows on Spotify.

“You know this one, I bet.”

“Is that Dallas? No…Dynasty!”

“It’s St. Elsewhere, silly.”


“How about this one – I loved this show!”

And yes, we’ll miss our exit, but still we’re in hysterics as we sing the theme to Moonlighting together.

6) My boys’ ability to road trip is simply mindboggling. We did 11 hours straight on Friday and come Sunday they jumped right back in the car, eager to hit the highway.

7) Shani’s parents are my perfect role models for what I want to be as a grandparent. They drove 600+ miles to spend 24 hours with the boys. Saturday morning they took Alex to Target so they could get a sewing kit. One of his stuffed animals had a tear and required “groin surgery”.

Shani’s folks get it and they do it 100% right.

8) My life is divided into 2 seasons, baseball season and not baseball season, and there is a valve in my heart that opens up in April and then slides shut with the final out of the World Series.

This Saturday I sat in the sun at The Great American Ballpark and watched the Red and the Cardinals play. My son was next to me talking with his grandfather about Stan Musial. A few seats over, Alex was chattering away as he showed Shani and her mother photos he had taken of the game. I could smell the mucky spring scent of the Ohio River, which flows behind right field. I had a big, cold Bud Light and a bag of peanuts.

That valve in my heart was wide wide open.

It’s 2015. Play ball.

Reader’s note: The NuckolBall sports editor, Jack Nuckols, has now officially ranked the ballparks he has visited. That list will be coming this week.

Here are some photos from the weekend.

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On Popularity

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

My social life starts, ends, and centers on one thing: the Chief. So naturally, it is here where our story begins.

We met in 2nd grade. I remember running into his mother in the grocery store and her telling us that they were moving in around the corner. Chief was peeking out from behind her legs. Almost immediately, we become inseparable. We shared a bond of laughing, creativity, and food.

We shared so many fun times. Textbook kid memories. We would ride our bikes around the neighborhood and try and run over caterpillars in just the right way so their heads would spurt off. We would walk the entire length of Old Vestal Road to get to the Grand Union. I’d buy a box of Fruity Pebbles, he would buy Apple Jacks, we would walk home and eat both boxes in their entirety. We spent hours making comic books. I’d come up with entire superhero teams and awesome villians and then Chief would draw them. We’d staple the sheets of paper together and display them with pride in our rooms.

Or we’d just walk around the neighborhood and laugh. I don’t even know what about, but GOD would we laugh our faces off. We must have looked like drunken fools. I can even remember laughing about jokes kids had made behind my back about the way I said potato (“bu-day-duh”). Chief told me all about what they were saying and I laughed just the same. I guess nothing was funny to him unless we’d both laughed about it.

His parents were so incredibly welcoming to me. If I was there at 6:00, I’d sit right down to dinner without a second thought. Mrs. Flesher had a shelf in the laundry room reserved for clothes of mine that ended up in her laundry. We slept over at each other’s houses constantly. Whole weekends would go by where we were never apart.

This was my person. My guy.

Fast-forward to 10th grade.

As we entered our sophomore year, we found ourselves the two coolest kids in a group of choir singers, theatre club members, swimmers, and Risk players. As freshmen, our lockers were assigned alphabetically. But in 10th grade, we were allowed to choose our own spots. As Chief and I headed up to select our lockers, Bryan Brick called out to us.

“Hey – why don’t you guys put your lockers over here with us? You don’t want to be with those guys.”

And just like that, Chief and I had made a social leap. Bryan’s group was of higher social status than our current group. But beyond that, Bryan’s group had 2 distinct appeals:

  1. Bryan Brick was the toughest kid in our school. It made anyone in his group immune to any threat. All you had to do was invoke Bryan’s name and you were safe.
  2. Bryan Brick’s group included a pack of hot 9th grade girls. Girls who were farther along the scale than the girls we hung out with. They weren’t full-on sexually active, but they were headed in that direction a hell of a lot faster than the girls in our old crew.

So this became our social life. This was life with cool kids. Weekend nights were spent like this:

  • We would gather at someone’s house
  • Bryan would pick on the girls and they would giggle
  • All the guys would maneuver around Bryan like his hyena pack, lunging for Bryan’s favor. Each seeking an opening to crack a joke at one of the other hyenas. If Bryan found your joke funny, he’d lead all the hyenas and hot girls in a laugh at the victim of your joke.

And while Chief and I were the coolest kids in our old group, we were at the bottom of this new group. We quickly joined the hyena battle – and both of us went after the weakest member of the pack: each other. It was a battle for who would be 2nd to last in the pecking order and who would be last.

The master stroke came when Chief drew caricatures of everyone in the group and presented it to Bryan. Bryan LOVED it. He taped it inside his locker and brought all the girls up to see it. Chief would stand by, basking in the glow. (I don’t have to tell you that Bryan’s caricature was huge and handsome. My caricature was dumpy and small.)

I tried to counter using my own special skills. I made up superhero identities and powers for everyone in the group. Bryan was The Smasher, with superhuman strength. It was awesome.

But Chief had me. I presented my work to Bryan, who liked the idea, but when I suggested that I was going to get Chief to draw them, Chief scoffed.

“I’m not drawing those,” he said like I was trying to hand him a dead fish.

With that, it was over. I was last hyena. I settled into the role of “good sport” and permanent butt of jokes for the group. I became sort of a jester and I pretended to like it.

But a few weeks later, an opening presented itself. After school, Chief and I were out with Bryan at the local Burger King. Bryan started poking fun at a group of girls in the next booth. After 10 minutes of flirting, we left and headed back to school to catch the late bus. At the far end of the parking lot, Bryan stopped.

“Think they’re still there?” he asked us.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“Go find out,” he ordered Chief.

“What? Go back?” Chief asked.

“Yeah. Run back there and see if they’re still there,” Bryan commanded.

“OK!” Chief nodded and off he ran.

I stood there with Bryan, side by side. I saw that my moment had come.

“I can’t believe he agreed to do that,” I said. I snickered at Chief’s obedience and weakness. Bryan and me, we didn’t take orders. Bryan nodded along with me.

“I own him,” he snorted smugly.

I stood there next to him and I felt those words go right up my spine.

Maybe it was all the sleepovers. Maybe it was the way Chief’s family has treated me. Somewhere in me there was still a last shred of decency and self-respect. It rose up and shook me to my senses. In his nasaly, trumpety voice, Bryan Brick had just announced that he owned my best friend. Screw him. Screw this.

And that was the end. It was that easy. There was no confrontation. I never said anything to Bryan or anyone in the group. We didn’t stop being friends. I just drifted away. Just like that, I was out.

I rejoined my old group of friends and they took me back without a word. There was an empty locker over by them that didn’t lock, and I moved my stuff into it.

Weekends became fun again. We’d hang out and watch movies. We’d sleepover in someone’s basement and play Risk late into the night, drinking Jolt soda. We’d play manhunt at the playground or sneak out at night to play caraphobia. I went back to girls who were in the slow lane – which was the lane I was comfortable in. Everyone was nice to each other. When someone made a joke at your expense, the laughter made you feel accepted not put down. In short, it was a group of kids that made me feel good about myself.

I was done with Bryan Brick and the cool kids. And while it may have been a short-term loss in status, it turned out to be one of the best long-term decisions of my life. Because I’m sure you boys have figured out by now that the group of friends I’m talking about is the same group of friends you see all the time on camping trips and when we get together for the premiere of superhero movies. We have been groomsmen in each other’s weddings and godfathers to each other’s kids. Not a week goes by when we don’t talk to each other.

In fact…here’s a photo of us in high school. (Hmm…makes me think we might have been more popular if we dressed better.)


And here’s a photo of us 20 years later headed out on a camping trip.


When you’re in a diner and there’s that table in the back full of guys who are laughing so loud the whole restaurant can hear them? That’s was us then and it’s still us now.

And the Chief? What ever happened to him? I’ll answer that with some photos.



The first photo is Chief standing up as the best man in my wedding. The second photo is Chief getting married a few years later. I got to stand up and be his best man.

Chief didn’t last much longer as a cool kid. I think he probably went to one more dreadful hyena/hot chick gathering after I left the group. Within a week his stuff started showing up in my new locker. Soon he moved in full time and we spent the remainder of our sophomore year sharing a locker that didn’t lock – but we were used to being in each other’s space.

I guess Bryan Brick didn’t own him after all.

So…I’ll end with my advice to you boys on being popularity:

  • If your goal is to be popular, you define yourself by other people’s opinion – which means you have no power over your own life.
  • The coolest thing in the world is to be nice to people and to be yourself.
  • Popular kids are boring. Don’t waste your time.

The Official Rules for Calling Shotgun

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

I hear a lot of silly variations on shotgun rules among your friends. Usually it’s them trying to weasel their way into an illegal shotgun call, but sometimes they just have bad parents who don’t teach them the right rules. I always put the hammer down, but as part of the Donna G Project, I will lay out the official rules with no uncertain terms. These rules are non-negotiable and not up for debate.

Here they are.

Basic rules:

  • First one the call “shotgun” sits shotgun.
  • You must be outside to call shotgun.
  • If you have called shotgun, but go back inside (no matter the reason), you have forfeit your right to shotgun. Shotgun is up for grabs the instant you go inside.
  • Being inside means your head breaks the plane of a doorway. If you can keep your head outside, you still have shotgun.
  • If a girl is driving and your buddy likes that girl, consider letting him have shotgun. That is not mandatory, but it is highly recommended 

Rules for professionals:

  • The primary job of the person sitting shotgun is to support the driver. A professional shotgun will manage maps, phones, beverages, food, music, etc., and do so in way that places the driver’s needs first. For example:
    • Following a drive-thru purchase, a professional shotgun will always make sure the driver is 100% situated before opening their own meal.
    • A professional shotgun will never hand a driver a cheeseburger that is still wrapped. A professional shotgun will unwrap that sandwich exactly the way the driver wants it, so the driver can focus on driving. You are the driver’s hands.
  • A profession shotgun never falls asleep. They are there to make sure the driver is awake, alert, and supported.
  • A professional shotgun takes the role of Iroquois Runner.
    • Iroquois Runner will run any and all quick errands that are required (put a package in the mail, pick up a pizza, etc.)
    • Iroquois Runner’s shotgun status is protected while running an errand, even if the errand takes them indoors.
    • Following an errand, Iroquois Runner is to get back into the car:
      • Through the open window (opening the door is not allowed)
      • While the car is driving away

These are important rules. Learn them.


About the Road

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

In the spirit of the Donna G Project, I wanted to impart wise words to you boys about the road and about driving. People have fantasies about what it’ll be like to be a dad. In most cases, guys picture themselves throwing a ball in the yard with their son. Me, I always imagined myself teaching a son how to drive. (I am an excellent driver.) Then from there, I’d teach them the true beauty of the road. (I am a once-in-a-generation road tripper.) This post will be about those two things.

So here’s what I have to say about driving:

This one is simple. My list of demands has only 2 items.

Demand #1)

When you drive, you are in control of a 1.5-ton hunk of metal that is moving at 60 mph. With the movement of mere inches with your hand you can instantly kill others or yourself. Never – not for one second – take this for granted.

If I strapped a bomb to your chest, gave you a trigger to detonate it, and then asked you to walk around a mall, you would be filled with terror, right? Well, a car has the equivalent potential for destruction.

By no means do I want you to drive with fear; I want you to drive with joy and wonder. But at all times, respect what driving is and let that respect influence every decision you make.

Demand #2)

Understand the principle of having multiple goddam lanes and STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE PASSING LANE UNLESS YOU’RE PASSING.

If you are in the left lane and not actively passing another vehicle you are an asshole. I’m sorry to use that term with a 9- and 11-year-old, but no other word is up to the task. You are dragging down the GDP, you are compounding your contribution to global warming, AND YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE! The highways are filled with drivers who fail to realize this principle. Do not be among this group. DO NOT BE AN ASSHOLE.

Whew…OK…Ok, that really covers driving. Get those two and we’re good…Deep breath…Let’s move on to a trickier subject.

Here’s what I have to say about the road:

I’ve been mulling this over for weeks, trying to figure out what message to give you. I’ve been trying to list out the principles to guide you to know what the road means to me. But in all actuality…I think you already know it. Sure, I could prattle and preach, but it’s already in both of your guts. Both of you can shrug off 6 hours without a second thought. You’re there. It’s there.

In 2009 we took our first serious family road trip. On Day 3 your mother took this photo and posted it on Facebook saying: “Who knew? My boys are Road Warriors!”


God, what fun we had!

We stopped at those weird corn statues and played tag for an hour. We stopped for ice cream at least once a day and I’m pretty sure that was our dinner a few times.

At your mother’s high school reunion she went out with friends and I was alone with you guys in the hotel room. Alex, you fell asleep, but Jack didn’t. We lay there in the dark and talked until midnight. My brother had just returned from Afghanistan, and in that sweet, tiny 6-year-old voice you asked me all about it. I could sense your little brain sorting through it all in the dark next to me. Such a big, crazy, conflicted world and how the hell was I supposed to explain it all to you when I don’t understand it myself? I must have said “I don’t know” at least 100 times.

We camped in Shenandoah National Park and your mother and I shared a bottle of white wine by the fire after you guys were asleep. I still have the label from the bottle.

Alex said “dood” instead of “good” and soon we were all saying it.

And I know you guys won’t ever forget when Jack spotted the bear as we were driving out of the park. You’d have thought we won the lottery.

That road trip was a milestone in my life as a parent. That was when the world opened up. Suddenly we were free – I wasn’t stuck on kid duty anymore. You guys weren’t baggage – you were companions. All the amazing stuff out there was available again. You weren’t holding me back anymore – you were coming along. In my head, that road trip was the debut of who we are as a family. It was just the 4 of us, as a unit, on the road, responsible to no one but ourselves. No one was waiting for us; no one was scheduling around us. Everything we had to consider was right there in that car.

Road Warriors. My job here is done.

I don’t have a list of demands for road trips, but I do have some rules that I follow. I don’t care if you follow these or not; you’ll develop your own stuff.

  • I never let the tank get below 1/3 full.

I was once driving in Wyoming and I just wanted to go go go and I kept passing gas stations until I was nearly empty and by that time it was midnight and the next few stations were closed. I had to pull over for the night and it killed me. So I’ve never made that mistake again.

  • When I have to pee, I pee.

Look, some guys hold it like crazy. It’s a point of pride to make as few stops as possible and make good time. Me – I pee. Granted, I’ll literally pee almost anywhere too, so it never slows me down too much. But I pee when I have to pee.

  • I honk when I see a dog pooping.

Whenever I see someone standing there uncomfortably while their dog is taking a poop, I honk and I wave. And then I laugh my head off.

There you have it. I’ve got no real advice to end this one with – you guys don’t need any. I’ve attached my resume.

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And here are a few more photos from the 2009 Road Trip.

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Spring Training Outreach- Quick Update

Sooo…Jack sent the following email to all the MLB teams who have spring training in Florida.

Dear ,

Hello. My name is Jack Nuckols. I live in NJ. I am 11 years old and really into sports and sports writing. Two years ago I went around to different minor league stadiums and interviewed players. Then I wrote an article on it. Last March it was published in the local newspaper. Then that spring I went to the Mets stadium and interviewed a reliever named Scott Rice. I also got the chance to see a press conference and have backstage passes. I am planning on getting another team to help me finish this article. So this spring training I was wondering if I could go to get another interview of a relief pitcher and other players.

Thank you,


The Blue Jays have already responded and put us in touch with their media folks. BOOM! If the point of being a dad is to exploit your kids to get exposure to cool stuff — this could be remarkable. Jack’s grandfather is also planning to join the exploitation. Stay tuned!

If you’re new to NuckolBall, here’s a link to the article Jack got published last year. If you really want to read about the whole experience, click “Minor League Project” in the Categories over on the right side of this page. We had some amazing experiences with that article.



About My Mother

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.


I will begin with the flaws, because they are glorious.

  • My mother’s defining characteristic was her smoking. My mother was the best smoker in the world. Credible estimates have her between 4 and 5 packs a day. She was so nicotine-addicted that she couldn’t sleep more than 2 hours before her body would wake her up to smoke 2 quick cigarettes before she could go back to sleep. After we moved out of the house I grew up in, when we pulled away her chair there was a huge brown stain that ran up the wall and out over the ceiling. She literally left a smoking shadow after she was gone.
  • She had a bizarre skin condition that made her prone to rashes. She refused to see a doctor (because a doctor would tell her to quit smoking), so she tried to medicate the rash through a series of diet changes that friends and strangers told her about, but nothing really worked. It condemned her to a wardrobe of loose-fitting mu-mus that minimized any chafing.
  • She’d broken her shoulder when I was in 7th grade when she slipped on the ice. She refused to go to the doctor (because a doctor would tell her to quit smoking), so it had healed in a way that left her slightly askew. She walked with a slight hunch and she couldn’t raise her right arm above her head.
  • She had exceptional trouble with word recall.

“Go downstairs and get the…thing!” she would demand.

“What thing?”

“The THING! The…the…THING!”

“Thing” could mean anything from a can of beans to a folding table. I can remember countless times I had to bumble around the basement searching for the “thing” that was right next to the “other thing”. Then I’d be sent back down until I finally managed to retrieve what she needed.

However, her word recall did work to your favor sometimes when she couldn’t come up with your name. If a crappy job was headed your way, you could sometimes make your escape if you were quick enough.

“Someone needs to paint the porch. Harry….no, Chr…no…”

“I gotta go, Mom! Bye!”

“God damn it! Get back here…YOU!”

  • She had insane theories about how the world worked that were based on nothing even resembling fact. The barometric pressure affected mood. The key to being organized was to buy dozens of multi-colored pens. The skunks were eating all the dandelions!

So with all of this, it should be no surprise that she had a heart attack when she was 55 – and that she didn’t go to the ER for nearly 48 hours. I was living in NYC at the time. When I got the message from my father, I called her hospital room.

“The doctor said I have to quit smoking,” she told me.

“Are you going to?”

“Yes!” she barked at me. “I don’t want to die!”

But she did die. She died that night. The phone rang at 3AM; it was my dad. He told me what had happened, but I knew the instant the phone had woken me up. I don’t remember the conversation clearly. I know I called my brother right after, but I don’t know what we said to each other. I remember Shani staring right into my face and saying, “You don’t even get it, man!” I think we went through my address book together to pick out all the people she would call and tell the next day. What I do know is that the whole world became a vacuum the instant I heard that phone ring. Gravity disappeared. I was somehow floating and so was everything around me.

I was really close to her and I liked her a hell of a lot. I looked up to her. She was a damn good mom – first ballot Hall of Famer. And I could physically feel her love like a heat lamp blasting on me – and not just when I was with her. It was love I felt 24/7 and love I felt a thousand miles away.

But the heat lamp had been unplugged. I guess that was where that vacuum feeling came from.

(For the record, I’m writing this on a plane and the woman next to me is trying to pretend not to notice that I’m crying. It’s messed up, boys. I still miss the crap out of her.)

OK, so this is going to sound nuts – but the days immediately following her death were fun. They were.

I took the bus to Binghamton. My brother flew in. My uncle Coddy came. Uncle Bob. My Aunt Joan came back into our lives (thank God). Marie, of course.

My friends appeared like genies – POOF – they were there. From all over the country they came to make me laugh, to talk it out with me, to cry with me. I can remember being on the phone with Chief when he called from LA.

“I’ll be there tomorrow around noon.”

“Wait,” I started. “You don’t have to…”

He bulldozed right over me. “I’m coming. I just got off the phone with Discover to raise my credit limit. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

People brought heaps of food. They hugged the hell out of me. Neighbors came by. My mom’s huge array of friends sat and told me stories about her. I got drunk with my father and brother. Your uncle Chris and I went for a walk at midnight and didn’t get back home until dawn. About a million people came to the funeral and every last one of them told me just how much they loved my mother.

And it was fun. It was filled with love and authenticity and support and laughing. It was fun.

What was not fun was pretty much every day for the next 9 months. Because the truth is, it sucks when your mom dies and you feel like shit for a good long time after it happens. I barely did any writing for the entire summer. I got an awful review at work that September. I kept feeling cranky or unmotivated or just sad. Time and again Shani, bless her heart, would say to me: “Is this because of your mother?” And AHA! The light would go off and I’d realize that had been it all along. Until I’d forget it again a week later.

In fact, I will share with you my death advice. Here are 3 things that were really helpful:

  1. My Uncle Bob told me that the average grieving time is 13 months. He warned me that you would feel it for that long – and you would notice when it starts to pass. And knowing that was helpful.
  2. My high school English teacher came by and shared her husband’s story. He had nearly died of a heart attack earlier that year. He described it as floating up through layers and layers of light, and each layer was more wonderful than the next. Knowing that helped too – especially when I imagined her that night when the second heart attack took her. She’d told me just hours before that she didn’t want to die – but I hope at the end there were layers of light and wonderfulness.
  3. My friend Bruce told me this: He said that he was sorry I was in pain. But the pain was there because of love. And while he wished he could take away my pain, he would never want to take away the love I’d had. That really helped. That was some genuine wisdom that I clung to many-a-time.

But back to my mom – because now I want to tell you about the positive traits.

The best way to describe her is to say that she was a force of nature. And a force for good. She was one of the most active forces of good I’ve ever personally known.

She was the president of the school board and a deeply involved one at that. She knew everyone in the district and they all went to her with concerns. Bus drivers, administrators, teachers, students – everyone knew Mary. And she seemed to know whatever tough thing that was going on in their life.

At least once a month a parent would show up at our door. Usually it was a father, and usually he would be near tears. The doorbell would ring and a giant, strong man would be at the door asking for the help of my bent and nicotine-addled little mother.

And my mother would go to bat for every single one of them. She’d set up meetings with principals. She’d intervene with the police. She’d arrange for tutors. She’d talk to truant officers. Once a teacher had put his hand down a female student’s shirt – and believe you me, Mary Nuckols took that one on full force.

And the school board was just the beginning.

She was an Accord Mediator. Rather than go to court, people would first try Accord mediations, which basically meant my mother tried to help families work through really bad situations before going to court. You can bet she needed a few extra cigarettes after those meetings.

She was on the local board of Voices for Children, which is a group that advocates for kids in foster care. This meant that kids who didn’t have their own parents to stand up for them had my mother. Who was a pretty damn good advocate.

She was on all kinds of state committees on education and frequently went to Albany for meetings.

Then beyond the formal, organized ways she helped people out, there were dozens of more personal examples.

For example…A young girl down the street was in an abusive relationship. My mother brought her into the house, showed her an envelope with $500 cash in it, taped the envelope behind a picture in our living room and said to the girl: “If you ever need to get out right away – that money is there. The front door is never locked and this money is yours.”

For example…One night over winter break when I was in college, I came home to find a woman and her teenage daughter in our guest room. They lived at the end of the block and their house had burned down. And sure they were much closer to other neighbors on our street, and yes they had literally never met my mother – but guess who took them in? Guess who negotiated with insurance companies for them? Guess who took them out to buy clothes and toiletries? My mother just couldn’t help herself.

Which brings me to my main point – and why I started with the flaws. Here is what I learned from my mother:

You always have an excuse. Everyone does. You always will have plenty of reasons why you’re too busy, too distracted, too whatever to help people. You’re too busy to volunteer. Your life is too hectic to pitch in. You’ve got too much going on to help out.

My mother is evidence that those excuses are a load of crap. My mother had every excuse – from poor health to too much going on already – and still she always jumped right in at every turn. I try to live up to that. It makes me SO damn proud that your mother has been the president of your PTA, runs the local book fair, volunteers for her college. And there’s something poetic about the fact that your mother and I met volunteering.

My mother was a good person. I believe she is in heaven (smoking). I desperately wish she could have met you boys — I think about that during talent shows and diving meets. She would have delighted in the two of you and would have annoyed the crap out of me with advice on how to raise you. That would have been fun. We missed out on that from her dying.

And the takeaway? I have three takeaways to share with you:

  1. Please don’t smoke. Not a single puff. Not ever. It would hurt me deeply to see you do that. I would see it as a major failure in my job as your parent.
  2. Please be good people. And to be good, you have to do good. Goodness is active; you can list it like bullets on your resume. That’s what being good is.
  3. Finally…please accept the full-blast heat lamp of my love for the two of you. It is mighty and it shines with terrifying intensity. And know this – if the pain of loss is equal to the strength of love that existed, it is my intention to make my death as painful for the two of you as I possibly can. I apologize for this in advance.


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