October 19, 2009

Golf Lesson

Filed under: Atlanta,Family,Uncategorized — schroder @ 7:54 pm

I played golf today in a client’s foundation golf tournament and shot pretty well. After people see me drive the ball far down the fairway, they inevitably ask me how often I play. The answer is, not much, perhaps five to 10 times a year. Not that I don’t love the game, I do. In fact, if I had to cherry-pick my dream career and start all over again, being a touring golf pro would be hard to beat. My problem is time: Running my own company keeps me glued to my computer and phone. That, and I don’t belong to a club.

Golf lesson

Chris David, right, squaring my shoulders at High Hampton Inn golf lesson.

I did, however, get a golf lesson last year that was the best ever. I’ve probably had four or five lessons in my life. I still have notes the pro wrote from one in high school and I have the videotape from an afternoon I spent at a Hilton Head vacation golf session. So when I accompanied my wife on a travel writers trip to the High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, NC, I was eager to learn that I could take a free golf lesson, even though I was a tagalong.

I had nearly two hours with High Hampton’s golf pro, Chris David. He not only explained what I need to do to improve my swing, he also explained the whys – the philosophy behind the golf swing. Suddenly it made so much more sense to me. In fact, Chris’ analysis of my golf swing rang a familiar bell. My approach to golf is apparently similar to the same critique other professionals have made of other parts of my life: my dancing, my public speaking and my opening up in intimate relationships. In all of them, counselors or instructors have told me I hold back, that I need to loosen up, put more of me into what I’m doing.

Ah, the lessons you learn later in life … If only I had taken these lessons to heart earlier.

While I only played golf twice during the summer, I did get to play golf two days this week – both games had been postponed by the September floods in Atlanta brought on by weeks of rain. The other time I played with my brothers, Jack and Mike, and my nephew John Waddy.

Picture for CS

Nephew John Waddy, with brother Jack, me and brother Mike.

But my favorite golf memory is when Jan and I visited my son Thomas in Scotland, when he was enjoying a semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. Thanks to Jan’s travel writer connections, we were able to stay in the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, overlooking the Old Course, of course. While we didn’t call in time to get a tee time on that course, we did get to play the adjacent Duke’s course.

We were treated to an array of Scottish weather: sun, clouds, rain and wind. What would Scottish golf be without it? Thomas and I did get to pose on the famous bridge on the Old Course’s 18th hole. On Sundays, the course is closed and is open to the public to walk around at will. For such a storied tradition, I was surprised but happy to learn that the famous course is, after all, a public park – and on Sundays, everyone can walk it as if they were Bobby Jones or Tiger Woods.

I’m still not that great at golf. When I get to the greens I inevitably have an errant chip or a three-putt, but my approaches in the fairway are much more impressive now. And now I do try to throw myself all the way into it. Dancing, eh, that’s still is another thing. Maybe Chris can help me with that, too!

St. Andrews

On the course at St. Andrews with my son, Thomas, right.

February 8, 2009

Wallet and keys

Filed under: Atlanta,Family,Life Stories,Media — schroder @ 7:11 pm

Today, the weather was so nice and warm that Jan and I decided to take a long walk around the neighborhood with our dog, Riley. At the last moment, we decided to take in one more block of homes at the end of our street. As we turned the corner, we ran into Clark Gore, whom I’ve know for several years as he worked once for a client of mine in the commercial real estate industry – he’s currently leading the newly merged office of Jones Lang LaSalle.

Clark Gore

Clark Gore

“I was just catching up on some reading today and read about your wallet and keys,” Clark said, referring to the January 1, 2009 edition of the AJC, in which I submitted a New Year’s resolution for the Peach Buzz column. I had to laugh, I’ve had so many people comment on that little one sentence item.

Rich Eldredge of the AJC writes a near-daily column called Peach Buzz that is one of the most read items in the paper. In fact, President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn told Rich it’s the first thing they read every day. Or so Rich says. Each year, he asks for readers to send in their resolutions and then he publishes it on January 1. Most of them are really serious or spiritual, as they should be. I figured he needed a little comic relief.

It wasn’t just my imagination. A couple days after Christmas, I spent a day and a half looking for my wallet and keys. I actually drove to work without my license one day, which I never do. I had looked everywhere … at the office, in my closet, under the sofa, in my mail, coats, pants, briefcase, car … everywhere, two and three times. Even Jan joined in the search for a couple of frustrating hours. Nothing!
 

My wallet and keys, in case you find them.

So I was faced with that age-old dilemma: cancel all my credit cards or hope that nobody else finds my wallet before I do. I kept checking my credit cards online … things appeared dormant.

Finally, after retracing my steps again, I remembered that I had them last in some pants and went through them again … and they weren’t there. Then I looked below in my closet … only shoes. But wait, there was something shiny there. Voila! Seems they had fallen out and right into my shoes, a pair I didn’t look in earlier!

So when I read Rich’s request for resolutions, I emailed him mine: “I resolve to spend less time in 2009 looking for my wallet and keys.” I didn’t tell Jan I submitted it … I only showed her when it published, knowing she had suffered with me. It stood out among the longer,  weightier resolutions.

Since that day I have done better. I try to put them in my mail slot at home when I arrive … a place where my mail piles up, ashamedly. A few days later, I saw my classmate Eric Bleke at our high school reunion planning meeting and he said he read my comments and laughed.

“Do you have that problem,” I asked, searching for kinship.

“Oh no,” he said. “That was one thing my dad drilled into me as a kid … ‘Everything has its place!’ So I always put them in the same place every day.”

My son emailed me earlier today, saying he saw the item when a google search delivered it to his computer. Others have mentioned it to me in the past few weeks.What a life that column has, post-publishing.

Thankfully, Clark said he suffered from the same malady and has spent a lot of time in his life looking for his wallet and keys. I told him I had done a lot better here in 2009, but I have a whole year to mess up again. Here’s to keeping this resolution!

November 19, 2008

Birthday Cards

Filed under: Family,Life Stories — schroder @ 11:17 pm

I usually plan a low-key birthday. Two years ago today, I drifted in my office on my 50th birthday and no one – thankfully – remembered or noticed. I escaped all the black balloons and crepe paper. This year, my staff posted birthdays on the office calendar, so there was no escaping it. So Jan and I scheduled pizza and a cake in the office – deliberately low key. I received all the normal calls from my siblings and mom and kids and closest friends, which is what I really look forward to. 

Tonight, coincidentally, was a busy night for scheduled events. Many nights, nothing is on the calendar. Some nights, we get invites to a number of business or social events. Tonight, we were invited to four or five business events and/or restaurant openings, so we postposed any evening birthday dinner to this weekend, when my kids, Sally and Thomas, (both who have jobs for more than a year – yea!), will be in town. 

But after I parked the car and headed inside tonight, I decided to check the mailbox one last time. There was a handmade card waiting for me. It was a “cover” card of two James Taylor albums with my face transposed on JT’s – continuing the great scam I enjoy of being his lookalike. This card goes in my birthday card hall of fame for creativity. I showed it around all week. 

I have several folks to thank: Jae Stephenson Robbins, who is a friend and neighbor and owns a marketing firm with which we collaborate, called Resource Real Estate. Seems a young staff member there, Jessica Younglove, who interned with us a couple of summers ago, found out from her boyfriend, Reid, who happens to be on our staff, that today was my birthday. Jae later told me that Jessica went to her and teammate Leslie Wright and said, “We should do something.” They let Jessica do the rest, except for Jae, who smuggled it to our mailbox while we were out. 

Okay, marking my birthday is not such a painful thing. Particularly when people have such a good time celebrating it with me. Thanks, all!

February 14, 2008

It was a blast!

Filed under: Family,Fatherhood — schroder @ 2:15 pm

Every year I try to take my son and daughter on a trip somewhere fun. We live in three different cities and work in three different industries, so it’s a time to catch up. Last year, I took individual trips, but this year I booked a weekend with me and Sally and Thomas (Jan was in Savannah with 20 classmates celebrating their, ahem, recent noteworthybirthdays).

My history of trips with my kids is slightly legendary. We used to have one major mishap each trip, a mishap that we go over with fond memories on successive trips – including this one. There was the time we flew out West for two weeks of camping (and some motels) from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone … the first night we arrived at Coral Pink Sand Dunes in Utah, unloaded all the tent and camping equipment – only to learn I left the tent poles back in Atlanta. We scrounged around a dump and found some scrap metal for the first night or two, later buying poles at a camping store.

There was the time we drove a rental car to the top of Mount Tamalpais (Mt. Tam) outside San Francisco and drove all the way to the top, only to realize we were very low on gas … we coasted in neutral all the way back down the hill to a gas station.

Shuttle

Or the time we were in France and I misunderstood the instructions of the rental car guy who didn’t speak English and I later filled the tank with the wrong kind of gas … forcing us to sputter to a stop at the side of the highway at night, but just a few feet from a tow truck who was just finishing service on another car. He towed us back to his house and drained our tank and refilled the fuel lines with the proper fuel. We drove off happily late in the night back to the chateau in Vendome.

So this time, I gave the kids a choice … big city, small town, out West, New York, Miami? Or maybe a cruise. They voted cruise. I checked the dates and found the one line that worked for our calendar was a Disney cruise heading to Nassau and Disney’s private island. I read the online comments and even adult kids had great times on Disney cruises. So, why risk my record? I decided to leave it all to Disney. So Sally flew from Charlotte, I flew from Atlanta and Thomas flew from Raleigh. We all landed in Orlando at the same time, grabbed a rental car and drove to Port Canaveral, where we hopped on board with unusual ease.

We were greeted on deck with an adult beverage and the countdown for the Shuttle blastoff – just a mile away. We had a great view from the deck of the Wonder. It brought back memories from 1992, when we went to Disney World and realized there was a Shuttle blast on Monday. We stayed an extra day to see that. And this was another beautiful bonus to yet another great trip.

Disney did a great job … food was great, the cabins were very nice, shows were well done and we all especially loved Castaway Cay, their private island. Sally and Thomas got enough sun to show some burn when they headed back to the office on Monday. This time, it was a perfect trip and we all left with fond memories to talk about in future years.

Photo: Sally and Thomas on the deck on the Disney Wonder with the Shuttle blasting off between them on February 7, 2008.

November 20, 2007

Breakfast with Bo

Filed under: Family,Public Relations — schroder @ 10:08 am

I am blessed with a large family, with dozens of cousins all over Atlanta. One I try to keep in regular contact with is my cousin Bo Spalding, who is just two years older. We had breakfast this morning to catch up on our respective families and firms.

Bo is a prince of man, with a dry wit and keen insight into media and PR. He comes by his intellect and charm naturally, being the fourth in a line of three gentlemen before him, each of whom was a managing partner of the law firm, King & Spalding. (We share the same great-grandfather, who co-founded the law firm in 1885.) We went to Georgetown Prep together for a year or two together.

Six years ago, when I left the newspaper business, Bo asked me to lunch at Colony Square in Atlanta, where his and Glen Jackson’s firm, Jackson Spalding, was then located. I had just sold my newspaper business to my business partner, Tom Cousins, and I was trying to figure out what to do “when I grew up.” Bo asked what plans I had.

“I’m not quite sure,” I told Bo over lunch at Houlihans. “I may start another publication, I may start an ad agency or maybe I’ll move to the coast and write a book.”

B_spalding_2

Bo thought for a second about those choices and said, definitively, “I have two words for you, son … Public Relations.”

“Public Relations,” I said. “I never thought about that.” My only contact with PR firms had been on the receiving end of numerous phone calls to my newspapers from young members at larger firms, asking me if we “had received the press release” they had faxed us recently. That’s one of those calls that editors do not enjoy (more about that some other time).

“It’s a great business,” Bo said. “And you’d be a natural. Of course, I can’t hire you, you’re a cousin, but I’d be happy to refer you to other PR executives in town who could give you a feel for the business and maybe they’ll hire you.”

And thus began my transition to PR. I spent a year working freelance for other firms and, after a four-month stint as general manager for one small firm, I thought I had gathered enough experience to start taking on my own clients. So next month marks the fifth anniversary of my firm, Schroder Public Relations, and I suppose I owe it all to Bo. While I had worked for newspapers in a number of jobs, from reporter to editor to marketing and in-house PR, I had never worked inside a firm.

Bo was right, it is a great business. I enjoy the creativity, the writing, but mostly I enjoy being a business partner to our clients and a counselor on a whole range of issues, from media relations to communication to an Internet strategy. And the business model is a lot more successful these days than newspapers, I’m sad to say. I love newspapers, read numerous ones each day and I sometimes miss being on the planning end of a great issue, so it’s hard to watch the shrinking of that industry. But I can work in PR for years to come, even past the normal retirement age, should I – and my clients – so choose.

And, I hope, to continue to enjoy occasional breakfasts and lunches from my cousin and mentor, Bo.

Photo: PR Executive, and cousin, Bo Spalding

November 13, 2007

Suzanne and the Candy-stripers

Filed under: Family — schroder @ 5:47 pm

Saturday will be my sister Suzanne’s birthday. In honor of her, I thought it would be most appropriate to share the article about Suzanne and her friends that ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month. The mother mentioned in the article is ours, Van Spalding Schroder. Enjoy.

Candy-stripers reunite after 50 years

By Gracie Bonds Staples, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/24/07

Suzanne Cronk has long wanted to re-create the moment captured in the old black-and-white photograph. It represented two of the best years of her life, shared with her closest friends. They were eighth-graders in 1952, a girl clique of 11- and 12-year-olds, some smiling, some holding hands, all in their striped pinafores. The six of them have remained friends for more than 50 years.

Suzanne_and_friends_then

Suzanne_and_friends_now_5

They called themselves the “Mission Belles” but the truth is they had no mission except togetherness. They attended the same Catholic school, the Cathedral of Christ the King. They lived in the same Atlanta-area neighborhoods. They spent the night together, walked to Buckhead after school or to Wender & Roberts Drug Store for a Coke.

One day, one of their mothers gently informed them they needed to do something with purpose. Arrangements were made for the girls to stop in for a talk with an administrator at St. Joseph’s Infirmary. The Mission Belles soon were calling themselves St. Joe’s Little Helpers, getting to work at 8:30 a.m. as newly minted candy-stripers.

They traded sleeping time for visiting patients, filling water pitchers, delivering flowers and making beds. They came face to face with poverty and suffering and death for the first time in their young lives. They never forgot the four boys injured in the car accident; the 18-month-old baby revived after her heart stopped; or the little girl badly burned in a house fire.

“We were glad the hospital wanted us,” Cronk said in a newspaper interview in 1954.

By then, high school course work and a slew of extra-curricular activities were taking more of their time. Volunteering at St. Joseph took a back seat. In 1957, they graduated from Christ the King High School and, for the first time since they started school, went their separate ways. They went off to college. They married. All but one of them had children and grandchildren.

Three of them became registered nurses: Cronk, who now lives in Jasper, and Betty Lou Brennan Douglas and Julie Paquette Smith, both of Florida. Catherine Lehner Hallighan, of Chamblee, has retired from teaching in the DeKalb County public schools. Carol Schnurr Connolly of Pawleys Island, S.C., was an avid volunteer. And Patricia Harrison Robert of New York, worked 13 years as director of communications for Radio City Music Hall, then traveled with the Moscow circus, doing advertising and public relations.

Although they mostly lived in different states, Douglas said they stayed in touch “thanks largely to Suzanne.” They talked on the phone. Some got together occasionally for a game of bridge. And every five years, without fail, as many as possible returned to Christ the King for a class reunion. In April, they gathered for their 50th, the first time in 25 years all of them were able to attend.

Cronk knew this was perhaps her last chance to get a photo of them in the same line-up as they were all those years ago. They gathered for the photo, a girl clique of 67- and 68-year-olds. Forever friends.

Their years at St. Joe, Cronk said, made their relationship richer. Having that old photograph kept it alive. The new one makes it immortal.

Top photo: Pictured in 1952 from left are Julie Paquette Smith, Carol Schnurr Connolly, Patricia Harrison Robert, Suzanne Schroder Cronk, Betty Lou Brennan Douglas and Catherine Lehner Hallighan, who called themselves St. Joe’s Little Helpers.

Second photo: Suzanne Schroder Cronk, fourth from left, waited 25 years but she finally got her friends together for a photo at their 50th class reunion. With her from left, are Julie Paquette Smith, Carol Schnurr Connolly, Patricia Harrison Robert, Betty Lou Brennan Douglas and Catherine Lehner Hallighan

November 5, 2007

Thomas and Friends

Filed under: Family,Fatherhood,Spirituality — schroder @ 7:00 pm

This morning my son Thomas called in a panic, a rarity. He handles life so well and is such a dear soul that when he’s calls to report “good news and bad news,” something’s really wrong. Today, his dog, Huntly, and furry roommate Magnolia, slipped out the deck gate of their house in Raleigh, NC, and went for a long, unsupervised run through the city streets while Thomas was at work. Thomas found out from his roommate, who called to say the dogs were missing.

Thomas found Huntly, an Australian Shepherd, on the Internet while he was working a summer internship in Bangkok, Thailand. He emailed me Huntly’s photo and announced he wanted to buy him upon his return to the States, right before he completed his senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill. Despite the advice of his parents to the contrary, Thomas followed through on his purchase and kept Huntly at school and later took him to Raleigh for his new job after graduation. We counseled Thomas that he may be just feeling a little homesick after a semester abroad at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and a summer internship halfway around the world, but Thomas was not to be denied. He knew what he wanted, a sweet, affectionate, high-energy dog that he could train to chase and catch the frisbee.

Thomas_huntly_magnolia_2

Thomas_and_amanda_5

Thomas has always been a loyal friend. Even though as a child, he lived in Charlotte and Atlanta, he has tried to keep ties with friends in each city and those he developed during his journeys around the world. Of course, Thomas’ closest friend is his girlfriend, Amanda Brown, whom he met at a high school basketball game in April 2001 when they were both sophomores. They’ve been inseparable ever since, surviving the surefire test of going to colleges halfway across North Carolina from each other. She graduates next month from Appalachian State with two degrees and she may join Thomas in Raleigh, depending on job offers. They have an amazingly stable and close relationship, drawn even tighter from their semester together in Edinburgh (Amanda went to another college across town that semester).

But his closest buddy these days is Huntly. Thomas works only a mile from his house in Raleigh, so he’s able to go home at lunch and play with him. But today, the playful dogs bounced their way out of the gate, which may have been left unlocked by a weekend visitor. Thomas tried to keep his mind on his job as a stock market investor, but he was having trouble. About 45 minutes after first getting word of their escape, Thomas’ cell phone rang. A neighborhood veterinarian from Crossroads Veterinary in Raleigh happened to be driving down a busy street, when she saw Magnolia and Huntly run out in the traffic. Magnolia slipped away, but Huntly was hit by a passing car in front of the vet, who stopped, grabbed Huntly and took him to her hospital for treatment.

Luckily, Huntly only suffered bruising and some sore ribs, as the X-rays showed no broken bones or serious internal damage. I tried to explain to Thomas how the angel on his shoulder was watching after him again, with the vet being right on the scene, but Thomas of course was very shook up by the trauma and most concerned about Huntly’s health.

Huntly will be home healing soon. They secured the gate at Thomas’ house so the mishap won’t be repeated. Thomas is back at work and we’re all thankful it wasn’t worse than it was.

I tried to remind Thomas of the blessing this day really brought … that God allowed Huntly to only be nicked by one car and He sent an alert neighborhood vet in the next.

Oh yeah, and the good news Thomas was calling about … he was promoted, along with four or five others in his freshman class of 24 at a new Raleigh office, a division of a New York investment firm. The firm enlarged Thomas’ ability to trade or option larger blocks of stock during the day.

So, today, Thomas’ job awarded him larger parameters. Huntly and Magnolia tried to enlarge theirs. I’m hoping everyone in Raleigh – as well as the good Lord – keep their eyes on those dogs, just to ensure they don’t try it again anytime soon.

Photos: Thomas Schroder with Huntly, left, and Magnolia in October 2007; with Amanda at St. Simons Island a few years ago.

November 2, 2007

Sally’s 25

Filed under: Family,Fatherhood — schroder @ 10:27 pm

My bride Jan and I drove to Charlotte this afternoon to have dinner with my daughter Sally on her 25th birthday. Fortuitously, we reserved a room at the Doubletree Inn at SouthPark, which turned out to be a few steps across the street from Bricktops, a restaurant Sally later selected for dinner with us and her mom and stepdad Jim.

Things are going well for Sally now. She’s working as a business account executive in a Charlotte IT and telecom consulting firm. She has friends, a few too many cats and a supportive family. She also has a new car, an Acura 3.2, of which she is quite proud.

Sally_and_cake

Sally_and_car_2

I brought the traditional family cake from Atlanta, a double caramel bar cake from Rhodes Bakery on Cheshire Bridge Road. My family’s been eating these cakes since I can remember. Old photos of my brothers and me blowing out candles atop Rhodes cakes fill our family scrapbooks. Here’s a shot of Sally with hers, apologies for the flash not working!

Callender has been a great mother to Sally and, now, after a few years of struggle, the two are close friends, having lunch most every week. Jim has been a terrific stepdad to my son Thomas and Sally. We had a couple of issues in the early years, but I have nothing but thanks and appreciation for the job he and Callender have done shepherding my kids. Until Sally and Thomas began driving at age 16, Callender and I would meet every other weekend, halfway between Charlotte and Atlanta, in Greenville, SC and exchange kids and luggage. All that driving has kept my relationship close with both my children. Now Jan and I and Callender and Jim get along like old friends at dinner – and I’m particularly thankful for that.

Photos: Sally Schroder at dinner with the Rhodes caramel cake, and with her new Acura, showing off those leather seats she looked so long to find.

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January 1, 2002

“The Journey” Together

Filed under: Family,Life Stories — schroder @ 12:00 pm

My friends tease that I’m related to everyone in Atlanta. What is true is that I am “the baby” of my immediate family of two brothers and two sisters. We are rather spread out: by the time I was born, my oldest sister was nearly college-age. While some of us had traveled together through the years, it occurred to me that we had never all been on the same trip when we boarded the same airplane two years ago to go to a cousin’s wedding in Maine. (In hindsight, we probably should have split up on different flights.) The trip was a success and we agreed to get together each year.

One of the things about my big family is when we get together, we often only have time for small-talk. When we planned this year’s annual weekend together for August, I was interested in finding a tool to break down the normal barriers.

In July, I ventured into and was incredibly surprised by the premiere of a locally produced film. As the 90-minute film rolled along, I realized the experience of watching “The Journey” is similar to my life: It isn’t filmed particularly well, the sound is rough in spots, the plot is unpredictable and isn’t even laid out in a logical sequence. Then I began to listen for the pearls of wisdom hidden amidst its rocky scenes. And there were many.

After I emerged from the theatre, I had one urge: to ensure my family saw this film together. I wasn’t sure why, but I had a hunch that if anything could hot-wire an emotional reaction from my siblings, The Journey might be it. I was right.

After a glass or two of wine, we all sat down to view it. They laughed, they listened and some cried. As we prepared dinner, each one pulled me aside to share a significant emotion the film had triggered. At the table, instead of the normal banter, I asked each person, including in-laws, to share the thoughts they had quietly told me. For my family, this led to the most significant discussion we’ve ever had.

One sister said she realized her grandmother was the only family member she felt had ever really connected with her and she lamented she didn’t have such a relationship yet with her own grandchildren. A brother lamented that he had let issues prevent him from sharing his appreciation with our dad before his death seven years ago. One questioned why her approach to her son was so restrictive and why she didn’t appreciate his novel nature. She realized it was because that was how she was raised. Another feared for a grandchild’s self-esteem as he exposed his sensitive nature to his “macho” world. My mom was suddenly struck by never having told her long-deceased mother thanks for all the unappreciated sacrifices she had made when trying to raise three daughters during very, very tough times.

For me, I learned that, despite my nature to hide in tough times, it is okay to ask others for help when I need it. I also reaffirmed that, in the end, being a good father, manager, lover or friend is more about listening than lecturing. I need to listen more. That night at dinner, when I did listen, I could not believe the stories I heard.

Soon, it was time to clean up the dishes and call it a night. As we wandered off to bed and even when we have reconvened since, my family returned to our normal ways of relating. Yet something is slightly altered. For we have opened up and shared a deep fear or regret with our group and now, having shared that, we will are able to reconnect on a deeper level as the happy and sad scenes are written into our individual journeys.

October 1, 2001

Mom and her new PC

Filed under: Family — schroder @ 7:48 pm

For years, my mother has lamented that she does not hear often enough from her children and grandchildren. “I call and leave messages at your office, but I never get anybody,” she’d say.
I usually had one response: “Mom, it’s time you got a computer. If you sent us email, you would hear back from us immediately!” She said she was “too old to learn something new and complicated” like a computer, but I kept assuring her that lots of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s were internet-adept.

Then one day, she called to say she had just returned from a meeting of the condo association and that everyone in the building, including her, now had broadband. “What does that mean?” she asked. “It means it’s time we bought you a computer,” I said.

So I purchased a new, fast, inexpensive computer and she was suddenly typing again after a 50-year break from the keyboard. And it did bring us closer together, but not in the email-exchanging way I had envisioned. What mom needed more than anything was a tutor and I became one of several relatives who have spent time with her in front of cyberspace.

She’s been frustrated all these years when TV news or the paper referred to web sites for more information. So, in a few minutes, I had her clicking through on the New York Times, yahoo and other sites of interest. She most enjoys researching an ancestor who once served as a congressman and a colonel in the Civil War.

She will call me a couple times a week, getting computer tips. Often, if I have meetings in Buckhead, I will stop in and help her when she is stumped. One day she called and said she couldn’t get anything to download. I dropped by, looked at her attempt and noticed she only had two “w’s” rather than the required three in the internet address. We had a good long laugh about that.

Several times a week, her children and grandchildren might receive an email from her asking about family or giving advice. Frequently, an email will arrive on my screen, urging me to get a flu shot or go more frequently to church. One, entitled “Renew,” suggested I “take a minute to get back your dependence on God. He is such a comfort, and wants to direct you. I’m afraid you have gotten in the same phase I am: too much world, and newspaper and TV. It clouds my mind!”

My mother turns 85 years old this month. She is a wonder of energy. All her offspring wish we had her zest for life and ability to focus on people most important to us. Since my dad died seven years ago, she has been more active than ever, driving to the beach, the mountains and all over town.

Her definition of family is large, including nieces, distant relatives, neighbors and ex-in-laws. Several times in the past few years, she has been thoughtful enough to send a little money to my ex-wife in Charlotte “just to help with back-to-school.” Recently, I drove Mom up for my daughter’s graduation. Mom held court at dinner the night before and at the ice cream store after the ceremony. She asked questions of my children’s step-dad and his kids and helped ease some awkwardness. Afterwards, my ex mentioned several times “how great it was to see your mother.”

As my children reach college-age, I’ve begun to think how much I look forward to being a grandfather. I never knew any of my grandfathers; they died years before I was born. But I did know Mom’s mom and her grandmother, who lived to be a month or two short of her 100th birthday. I believe Mom will live beyond the century mark and will be there to serve as my role model. I am humbled by her awesome example. Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.

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