The Working Title Is… For Scratch

It wasn’t until my Junior year in college that I faced any kind of sickness where the 766 miles between Milwaukee and Syracuse meant I would be without my Mom’s medicinal magic for the first time in my life. 

What is it about a mother’s touch placing that cool washcloth on your forehead, or the way she’d quietly close your bedroom door encouraging you to rest? I am convinced those simple acts of love held healing qualities of their own.

On this day, however, miles from either of our homes, the boy I had been dating – and who would eventually ask me to marry him – jumped into service.   He arrived at my row house with a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and a package of Keebler Soft Batch chocolate chip cookies.

I know I looked as horrible as I felt, and if memory serves, he looked a combination of frightened and disgusted.  With furrowed brow, he said, “I’m so sorry.  I asked at the store if they had the for scratch cookies because I know you love the ones your mom sends, but no one knew what I was talking about, so I got these.” 

Even the Nyquil fog and a pounding headache couldn’t keep me from giggling.  “Isn’t that the kind you said your Mom sends?  For scratch?” he asked.  I explained that from scratch meant homemade and that you start with the basic ingredients…flour, eggs, sugar.  You could see the light bulb go off in his head, “Ahhh, now that makes more sense.”  And a “for scratch” reference to our “le duh” moments was born and would stick with us forever.

So, this weekend, when I snuggled in with Netflix whose top suggestion for me was a limited series called From Scratch, I thought of Pat with a smile.  As I read the summary, I immediately realized that the storyline might hit a little too close to home, but it also said it was set in Florence, a city I love, so I thought, “What the hell, let’s give it a try.”

I’m glad I did, and I highly recommend you do too. It’s a beautiful and sometimes complicated love story…the love of a husband and wife, the love of parent and child, the love of extended family, the love of food and wine and the beautiful Italian language of love.

I ended up finishing all eight episodes in three days.  And I won’t totally ruin the plot for you any more than watching the preview would, but I had a few visceral reactions that have moved me to put pen to paper, or more appropriately, fingers to keyboard.

At one point in the couple’s journey, they adopt a child.  The scene with the birth mother is tender and touching.  The screenwriter scripted words that I can only hope my own birth mother would have uttered if given the opportunity. 

On Amy and Lino’s first night home with their newborn daughter, Amy is reluctant to let anyone else hold the baby citing the fact that forging an immediate physical bond with the adoptive parent is of utmost importance.  As Amy cradled that sweet baby in her arms, watching Lino and her dad assemble a bassinette, my emotions ran so strong, and I am certain I said out loud to the television, “That’s bulls*it.  Bond schmond.”

I spent the first months of my life in foster care and didn’t even meet my mom and dad until I was six months old.  And I am here to tell you, that “immediate bond” is nothing but a pile of malarkey, as my Grandma Hogan liked to say.  I loved my parents with my whole heart and soul.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them or mourn for the things they have missed as my daughters grow into accomplished women.  I often share my story with new moms, or with women for whom adoption guides their path to motherhood, with hope that they will be kind to themselves and know that the bond is forged through a lifetime of love…not just the first minutes or even months, nor is it shared DNA that is the conduit of love between mother and daughter.

I basked in the light of my mother’s love for almost 28 years, and it has now been 27 years since I last held her hand in mine. In a few months, I will have lived longer without my mom in my world than I did with her.  Who knew math could be so heartbreaking?

Last night, on a rainy Halloween with very few visitors to my door, I finished the last two emotionally charged episodes of From Scratch. To say they were heart wrenching would be a gross understatement. With hauntingly familiar scenes of confusing conversations with a multitude of medical professionals to having impossible-to-consider conversations with your children, I was ugly-crying on my couch. 

Until that is, what would be the final conversation between Amy and Lino.  I have no point of reference for that scene.  My husband’s disease advanced so quickly that we were robbed of that pivotal climatic goodbye.  I’ve thought about it a lot.  What I would have said, if given the chance.  Imagining what he would have said.

As Amy held Lino’s face in her hands, my ugly-cry morphed into that no-sound-producing-hiccup kind of cry.  After more than 12 years of considering it, I absolutely knew what my next line would have been.  I waited for Amy to deliver hers.  And then, a silence that seemed to last forever was finally broken by, “TRICK OR TREAT!”

Good God.  I quickly hit pause and ran to the door ready to shove a Twix bar in the face of whoever was there.  Apologies to the Zombie Cheerleader who was clearly shaken to see a blotchy middle-aged woman with tears streaming down her face downing peanut m&ms like her own life depended on it.  That poor girl will never forget this Halloween.

I resumed my place on the couch, took a deep breath and hit play.  “Thank you,” Amy and I said simultaneously.  “Thank you for your life. And for sharing it with me.” 

It was just as I had imagined.

The scenes that followed, however, bore no resemblance to my life.  Amy’s grief was so debilitating that her mom and sister had to help bathe her.  She couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time.  I watched those scenes unfold vacillating between pride over the strength I think I’ve exhibited and a fear that maybe a breakdown should have happened and is still brewing just below the surface.

This beautiful series served as a reminder that grief is a reflection of the love you shared, in both its strength and depth.  It is a reminder that tomorrow is promised to no one. That we should live our lives as fully and completely as possible.  We should burn no bridge.  We should forgive each other.  We should say thank you. Count our blessings. Love and be loved. 

We should accept the gift and promise held within each new day…always ready to write our own story, for, er, from scratch.




The Working Title Is…Oh My!

I woke to the news of Dick Enberg’s death and it made me so very sad. Not just because I am a huge sports fan and his voice was like butter for me, but because I think he was my angel Gabriel. He is the central part of a story that some could dismiss as serendipitous, but I saw as a direct message from heaven.

It was one year after my husband’s death. Looking back, I was still in the fog that follows such devastating loss, but I had somehow survived a chapter of my life that also featured lice, mice and a squirrel in the house.

Six years ago, I summarized my “touch with greatness” for some friends in an email, and I pulled it out of my Sent Items folder today. I think it is a message that bears repeating…as an ode to one of the world’s greatest sportscasters who foretold his own epitaph, but also as a soothing reminder to all of us who live with the pain of loss that is exacerbated during the holidays. Heaven’s messengers are all around us. Our hearts just have to be open to hear.

From: Katie Parks [mailto:katie_parks@comcast.net]
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2011 8:40 AM

Over the last year, there have been numerous occasions where I’ve thought I could write a book entitled You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up. Some chapters would be ironic, some heartwarming, and some just plain sad where the reader (much like the protagonist) would think, “Are you kidding me?  How much more is the main character going to have to deal with in this short span of time?” And some would send chills down your spine where the reader (much like the protagonist) sees clearly that heaven can speak to us here on earth.

Last night, a new chapter was drafted.

Maddie, Clare, Fletcher and I are enjoying a beautiful week Up North…perfect weather, complete relaxation.  Last night, Clare picked where we would go out to dinner. (Very few chapters in this book will involve cooking at home.)

Clare picked the Weathervane in Charlevoix because “she’s never been there.”  “Of course you have,” I reply.  “I don’t remember,” she says.

How can she not remember?  As many of you know, it’s a restaurant that feels a little trapped in the 70s, next to a drawbridge and waterway that connects Lake Charlevoix’s Round Lake to Lake Michigan.  There’s a whole line of windows where you can watch the traffic in the channel. And the whitefish is fantastic.

“I don’t think I’ve eaten in there,” she insists.  Of course she has. How could she not remember, years ago, when we stood in the crowded bar waiting for our table, and were surrounded by a bunch of old men who were there for their Central Michigan reunion?  Didn’t she remember when Dad pointed out Dick Enberg among the crowd?  “Who?” Maddie and Clare say in unison.  Sigh.

So, I tell them the whole story about how when Mr. Enberg passed by us, Dad and I shook his hand and told him what huge fans we were. And then I gushed babbling on about how much I love basketball and there was no one who could call a game like he and Al McGuire, and I’m sure that’s part of the reason why I went to Marquette because I loved Al and everything good in my life is a result of that decision to attend Marquette University.

I didn’t remind the kids of the part where Pat gently pulled me away from the increasingly frightened broadcasting legend saying, “No more chardonnay tonight, dear.”

Fast forward, Lord knows how many years, to last night when we re-enter the Weathervane and find it much less crowded with people but so packed with memories that I have trouble making my way past the host stand.

I am quickly pulled out of my reverie as we pass all these beautiful, albeit EMPTY, tables right up against the windows with clear views of the water. I think to myself, “Where the hell is she taking us?  I want to sit there…and there…and there.”  We end up in the back of the restaurant in a little round room, and despite the fact we usually like being among the hustle and bustle, from this table all three of us can clearly watch the channel, and just as we are seated, a huge sailboat with really rich looking people sitting on the deck holding wine glasses and wearing pastels serenely passes by the window.  OK, this will do, I guess.

I sit with my back to the rest of the room. I open my menu, comforted by the fact that it really hasn’t changed and the yummy whitefish is still there.  I’m about to point out the shrimp feature to Clare when…. no.  This cannot be.  I must be dreaming.  Or having a stroke.  I haven’t had an ounce of alcohol.  Yet.  So, I’m not hallucinating.  That voice.  Oh…my… God… that voice.

I turn my head ninety degrees and see that I am sitting shoulder to shoulder with Dick Enberg.

“That’s him,” I mouth to the girls.  “Who?” they mouth back.  (Although Clare’s was more of a stage whisper.  On a stage for the hearing impaired.)

I pull out my phone, Google Dick Enberg and pass the phone around the table.  Even the kids have chills running down their spines at this point.  Freaky.  This man who I just rambled on and on about on the ride over, who was witness and voice to many of the greatest sports events in my lifetime…Wimbledon, major golf tournaments, the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series and best of all, college basketball, is now SITTING NEXT TO ME? Unbelievable.

For the next 20 minutes, I had the BEST EVER eavesdropping experience in the HISTORY of eavesdropping, as it was just Mr. Enberg talking with his fraternity brother from college.  After that, the fraternity brother’s family joined the table and it became a little less exciting.

But in those 20 minutes, he talked about the upcoming US Open that will be his last one for NBC.  He recalled story after story about tennis, basketball, Angels’ games, Padres’ games, and the Olympics.  He said that he was asked a question recently that no one has ever asked him before, “How would you like to be remembered?”  He paused, and my heart was racing, just like it has as he’s paused before a putt, a serve or a foul shot. As he paused, I gave my very best death stare across the table that clearly communicated to my children, “Anyone chooses to open their mouths now will live to regret it.”  Even the waiter felt the vibe and stayed away.

Then Mr. Enberg went on to say that so many commentators today feel a need to be part of the entertainment, are misguided into thinking they need to add to the natural drama of sport and are just talking too damn much.  He said, “I would feel happy if, one day, it reads on my tombstone, “He was never called for interference.”


So as our dinner ended, I said to the girls, “I’m gonna say something to this guy, and if you are too embarrassed to handle it, you might as well just go to the car now.”

Florence Griffith Joyner never moved as fast as those two did.

So I, quickly and succinctly, (unlike this email) apologized for the interruption, recalled the circumstance of our first meeting in this restaurant and the irony of seeing him tonight after our year of incredible loss.  He and his dinner companions peppered me with a few questions about Pat and how we met, which prompted me to bring up Mr. Enberg’s voice-over on Marquette’s recent Father Wild video and how great it was.  (He hasn’t seen it yet! MU better send him a copy.)  I told him it was perfect, and that my response upon receiving it via email was “I could listen to Dick Enberg read the phonebook. His voice just warms my heart.”

I then told him that I believe that God has a way of letting us know that everything is going to be all right, and often that message is sent through other people. Tonight, I believe it was sent through him.  Mr. Enberg got up from the table and his prime rib (that, btw, he ordered “as rare as possible”) and gave me the biggest, warmest, nicest hug that I think I’ve had in….well, just over a year.

I’m telling you…you can’t make this sh*t up.

Rest in peace, Mr. Enberg.