As I prepare myself to begin writing my first blog for Rick Reed Writes since Feb. 26, 2021, many thoughts cloud my head and heart.
So much has happened.
I’ll cut right to the chase—I got married June 18, 2022. I will tell you about it a little later.
When I lost Nancy on Feb. 26, 2017, I never considered that I would be married again. But sometime in July 2017 I began going to a weekly bible study on Wednesday evening. It began with a meal.
It was at a Methodist church in Altoona.
A dear friend named Fran invited me. She cared about us and visited Nancy toward the end.
Frankly I went to please her, not for the meal.
I never realized this small but growing group would become an anchor to me. And it was in this group that I met someone I would eventually go on a date with.
It was sometime about a year after Nancy was gone that I went on that date.
Her name is Diane. We saw each other for two or three years and enjoyed each other’s company, even though she was a Green Bay Packer fan.
This isn’t the lady I married. But it got me thinking about maybe finding someone else.
Something I needed.
And I knew Nancy would approve. One time she told me to find someone else.
And so, I did.
I started calling old girlfriends, not that I had that many.
Eventually, I called my first girlfriend, from the summer of ’71, Debbie Dickson. We met at Shop-Rite. When I went to USF in Florida for college, I wanted to end our relationship. But it was such a magical summer.
Time and distance being what they were, and we didn’t have the Internet or cell phones. It cost a fortune any time we were on the phone.
I also know she liked the boys, and the boys liked her.
I figured it was best to end it and see what happened when I got home from school.
But Deb wanted to continue, and so we did—until Christmas. She flew south and eventually ended our relationship by giving back my high school ring.
Anyway, tried to get in touch with Debbie through Facebook in late February 2021.
I first got her sister Sharon and learned from her sister that Debbie had been widowed since 2018.
I also learned she was in a relationship.
I called her anyway. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to find someone to marry.
I told her I was also widowed after 41 years of marriage.
I learned that Debra Prizer Spering had been married for 40 years. To tell you the truth, it surprised me. I kind of figured she would have had several husbands.
The news pleased me and when I was traveling to see my oldest bother Bob, his wife Elaine, and my youngest brother, Jimmy, I asked if she wanted to join me. At first, she said no. But when I got my ticket, I sent her the information.
And she said yes.
I wasn’t sure what I was doing and wasn’t thinking about marriage.
Debra later said she didn’t plan to ever get married again.
But God had other ideas.
We were together for four days and toured around Wiscasset, and the area.
I don’t know when I first started thinking about marrying her.
Probably not in Maine.
That was April 2021.
But she did pass my Maine Test. So, it was shortly thereafter we talked on the phone about getting married.
Emily, my younger daughter, and her family were staying at Greg and Kathy Godwin’s house for about eight or nine months during the pandemic. Their house is only five or so minutes from my house. We decided it was a good time to meet this part of my family, since Emily was returning to California in July.
Becca lives on the west coast of Florida, so she also came over.
I also asked my dating guru, Greg for some advice. We actually laugh about Greg being my dating guru. He really didn’t have any dating information. He’s been married to Kathy for more than 40 years. And he’s my best friend and the Best Man at my wedding.
He also helped me film our engagement at Orlando International Airport.
I saw Debbie coming down the escalator and when she got off it, I had a sign that said, 50 years, “WE FELL IN LOVE during the summer of ’71!! WILL YOU MARRY
I got down on one knee, took out a diamond ring and asked her to marry me.
She said yes!!
We had to wait until June 18, 2022 to be married, because Emily’s kids were still in school, as well as Katies’ and Tadd’s kids, Debra’s grandkids. They got out of school on June 17th. Oh yeah, the wedding was in Debra’s backyard the next day.
My only regret was Becca. She wasn’t feeling good when she got off the plane. She didn’t test positive for covid, until the second day. She saw us exchange vows from an upper window. But she wasn’t in any picture and had to eat in her room.
Other than that, it was so much fun. That’s what folks said after the wedding.
Debra’s son, Tadd Spering married us. Everything was magical.
Being a man of few words, at least that day, I remembered saying, “Wow,” when I first saw her.
And we were Man and Wife.
We went on an almost three-week honeymoon, that began in Niagara Falls. And included a trip to Cooperstown, N.Y., and the Baseball Hall of Fame, on our way to Wiscasset, Maine.
I never thought I’d been married again. But again, God had other ideas.
Now when I take a few seconds to think about it I say the same thing.
Too much time has passed since my last post but I had to do something today.
Today is the fourth anniversary of my wife Nancy leaving this earth and heading to Heaven.
It’s a Christmas gift I will always treasure. But it’s also a Christmas gift I almost didn’t get.
But I’m so glad I did receive it because it was the last Christmas gift Nancy would ever give me.
I didn’t receive it until Feb. 8,2017, almost a month and a half after Christmas, almost three weeks before her departure for someplace better.
I can’t believe it’s been four years. It seems like just yesterday. And other times it feels like forever.
There are so many mixed emotions. Christmas of 2016 wasn’t much of a Christmas for me or my kids.
I brought Nancy to Waterman Hospital Dec. 20, 2016. We realized that when Nancy would be discharged from the hospital she wouldn’t be coming home. She’d be going to a rehab place, just like she did when she went to the hospital in June 2016.
In March of 2006 Nancy received some unnamed ugly malady that has attacked and inflamed her brain. It was labeled viral encephalitis. By the end of summer in 2006 she lost most of her sight and hearing. She did receive two cochlear implants that improved her hearing for a time. It was still a struggle.
But this is about a Christmas gift. Nancy’s Christmas gift. To me.
So, let me get on to it.
I picked it up on my way home from work, it was a Wednesday. I remembered to stop at the Village Framer to pick up something for Nancy, not knowing what it was. Sometime before Dec. 20 she had our caregiver Liz, take her to frame a Christmas gift for me. It had been forgotten during the hospital stay, though Nancy did mention it to me once.
But it was quickly forgotten.
We were reminded about it after receiving a call from the shop a few days prior to Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017.
I felt compelled to get it before it was forgotten again.
I’m so glad I did, despite the tears it would bring.
Or maybe because of them.
My older daughter Becca gave Nancy a book of poster-like pictures she could write on and give as gifts.
I hope anyone who has ever received a card from Nancy can appreciate just how hard it was for her to write with her very-limited vision.
Anyway, the picture she used was a cross section of a tree with its concentric circles. On it she wrote in all caps, “God’s love for us – Loyal.”
Time for a little background.
Earlier, I came across the Hebrew word “chesed,” while studying the Bible.
The “C” is silent and it’s pronounced with a hard “H” sound.
I can’t remember why I investigated the word but I’m glad I did. It’s the type of encouraging word or verse I’ve tried to share with Nancy during those tough times.
And there were many of them.
I usually printed the verse on a single sheet of hard stock paper with the largest font size I could use.
This is some of what I found and printed for Nancy about chesed: CHESED can sometimes refer to kindness or mercy. It can also refer to faithfulness or loyalty. Most often it is translated as “steadfast love.”
Obviously, the definition Nancy liked the best was “Loyal.”
It describes God’s love for us.
God’s love for us is loyal. Always. Unconditional love.
But so was Nancy’s love for us. My younger daughter Emily once said that she loved fiercely.
I’ve placed the framed poster in the center of a living room wall where I can see it and be reminded of both God’s and Nancy’s chesed love for me.
I don’t know if the tears will stop every time I glance upon or ponder it. But I do know it’s also followed by a smile and much gladness.
That framed piece of art is next to another piece of art that was done especially for Nancy’s celebration of life. Becca asked a friend, Sarah Savage, to do a piece of art that said “free,” along with a cardinal feather on it. Nancy loved cardinals and she received many gifts with cardinals on it.
Then Becca messaged Sarah a day or so later and asked if she could do Chesed instead because that word means so much to her.
Sarah said yes and gave it to us and “Momma Nance,” Sarah’s words for Nancy.
I don’t think I realized it until just recently that Sarah signed the back of it.
Rick, Becca, & Emily,
I don’t need to remind you how special Nancy (Momma Nance) was. We all know and her kind soul will always be remembered as just that—kind, loving, loyal, steadfast.
You have no idea how much prayer has been poured out over this piece while I was making it.
Love you all very much,
Four years. I can’t believe it. So much time. And so little time. Yet, I feel so blessed that I was able to write many of these thoughts down as I remember Nancy.
My memory fades.
But not the memories of my bride.
A cool, refreshing glass of aqua fresca.
That’s what Nancy and I used to call a glass of water. A cool, refreshing glass of water.
And that’s one of the things I miss about Nancy, though it used to kind of annoy me when she would bring it to me while cutting the grass.
But now I miss it.
Let me explain.
Nancy, if you don’t know, was my wife of 41 years. She passed on Feb. 26, 2017, not quite two months after our 41st anniversary in December.
We spent that day, and several others, before and after our anniversary on Dec. 28, in the hospital.
So what’s the story behind the glass of water?
I’ll tell you. But let me give you a little background.
It’s Sept. 23, 2020, and I just cut my lawn about 30 minutes ago. That was at 1:30 a.m.
It was comfortably mild. A good day to cut the grass—even starting at 10 a.m.
Usually, I cut the lawn in two segments.
Looking at the house I cut the grass on the left side first. It’s Bahia grass and it grows faster than the lawn on the other side of my driveway. That grass is some sort of off-shoot of St. Augustine.
When it’s hot like it has been this summer, I’ll cut the left side and maybe not do the right until later, or even the next day or two.
And when it’s really hot, I’m thinking about a tall, cool glass of aqua fresca.
Did I tell you that’s what Nancy and I sometimes called it? Anyway, time for some background.
Nancy got sick on March 23, 2006. Sick enough that we went to the emergency room and eventually in intensive care.
Suffice it to say the illness never left her. By that summer she was having problems with both hearing and sight.
There were many things she couldn’t do as the days progressed, but not being a loving helper wasn’t one of them.
I’d be cutting the grass and about 15 minutes later, Nancy was holding a cool drink. Thing was, I wasn’t ready for a drink. Back in those days I could cut the grass in under an hour and would try to finish it before getting some water.
Those days are passed.
So, while I truly didn’t appreciate the glass of water Nancy held for me in those days, I would finish cutting a row and get the glass of water.
Today, when I needed water, I had to go into the house to get it. I used to bring a liter of water or so outside. But that just made it hot, or at least warm. I realized I’d got more of a break by coming inside my cool house and getting a glass of water from the frig.
But it took me a while to realize that.
There are many things that I did differently now.
Like cooking. And cleaning. And doing the wash.
I used to do it some of the time. But now, if I want food, clean clothes, or a neat house I have to do it myself.
And, just so you know, I don’t live in a clean house anymore. Things stay where I drop them.
But I still have clean clothes. And I haven’t missed many meals, either.
One thing I do miss.
It’s seeing Nancy’s smiling face that came with the cool drink of H2O.
It wasn’t your classic love story.
There were never any lines like, “You had me at hello.” Or “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.”
Nothing like that.
It was a pretty inauspicious beginning. Nothing that would have suggested wedding bells.
And it wasn’t a date, either. Me and the college gang I ran with at the University of South Florida were invited to a beach party at Diane Topping’s home. Her mom was there so we weren’t expecting a wild time. That wasn’t the crowd I hung out with.
But we knew how to have a good time, without drugs or sex stuff, even though it was the time of “free love.”
That just wasn’t us.
Diane’s house was close to the Gulf of Mexico and we spent time at the water, and then back at the house.
I knew everyone at the party, with the exception of Diane’s sister, and a friend of Diane’s from school, Nancy Horne.
It wasn’t an end-of-the-year party. It was during Easter break. We were getting ready for the third and final trimester of my junior year. It was a good time.
The main attraction at the house was their waterbed. I had never experienced a waterbed before that day. But I spent plenty of time on it during the party. We all did.
Several of us were reclining on it most of the time.
I remember reclining on it and drinking copious amounts of beer.
I also spent a lot of time talking with Diane’s friend, Nancy.
A lot of time.
I talked about my Down’s syndrome brother, Jimmy, who I ‘ve written about. It kind of made me warm and fuzzy, talking about my little brother. And I probably talked about my family too. I’m one of seven siblings so there was plenty to talk about.
The problem was, because of all the beer I’d consumed I couldn’t remember what we talked about. I knew it wasn’t anything embarrassing. But by the time we got in the car to head back to Tampa I was pretty shot.
I liked Nancy, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted or expected to see her again. It was all that beer. I figured with everything we talked about, or me talking about, I would be repeating myself over and over again.
And who wanted that.
A week or so past as the schoolyear resumed began and I hadn’t seen Nancy.
I was relieved.
But one day between classes, I think I was on the third floor of the Lang-Lit building. Nancy also attended classes there.
I was in the College of Communications specializing in advertising. And Nancy was a Speech-English major.
I guess it was inevitable. One day I was going to run into Nancy.
And this was that day.
I think she was coming out of the elevator. And I was going to get in it. I was about 10 feet away from it.
She hadn’t seen me. Yet.
But I saw her first. And I started to panic. I started backtracking.
I didn’t want to talk with her.
It’s not that I didn’t want to see her. There was some type of attraction. Some type of chemistry.
But I didn’t want to talk about something she’s already heard that day on the waterbed.
What was I to do. So, I ran. Or almost did.
I thought I was free and was getting ready to turn around when I heard, “Rufus.”
If you haven’t read some of my previous blogs, Rufus was the nickname I gave myself when we began playing intramural sports. I needed a name for the back of my football jersey.
I don’t even know if Nancy knew that my name was Rick.
But I later learned that Diane had been talking about the gang. I was an eligible candidate. But to be honest, all the guys had girlfriends with the exception of Mike Johnson. And he wasn’t a threat.
Regardless, I later learned that Nancy had set her sights on me.
So, there I was on the third floor of the Lang-Lit building, and Nancy had seen me.
I had to talk to her.
“So, do you want to come back to my apartment,” I lamely asked.
She said yes.
And she said yes 15 months later when I asked her to marry me.
And the rest is history.
But that’s another story for another day.
The possibilities were endless.
Forty-nine years ago. Could it have been that long?
I could major in anything I wanted. But I took my folks' advice and decided to try lawyering. That's what my folks saw me as.
But it took only one-quarter of Political Science at USF (University of South Florida) for me to learn my future wasn't in a courtroom.
The Vietnam War was raging. I was in the draft that first year in college, in 1971. But my number was something like 222.
It was time to take things seriously.
And, if I was serious about anything in college, it was intramural sports.
I wasn't serious at first.
I played football, basketball, and softball during my freshman year. We had a good basketball team but sucked in the other sports.
That all changed the next year. I was still in DeSoto Hall but my roommate Willy Letaw and I got off the non-visitation floor. I don't even know if they offered it then.
While I didn't have a lot of friends as a freshman, it all changed as a sophomore. Instead of being on the second floor, we were on the twelfth floor, the highest floor for boys.
Girls had the 13th floor.
I wasn't a novice anymore. I started getting some confidence.
No, I still wasn't going to be a lawyer. I was gonna have fun.
As a freshman, I was a dork. I didn't have another girlfriend after my first GF broke up with me during Christmas break.
I felt like a dork because I was a dork.
But that summer a transformation too place.
I had a bunch of girlfriends that summer. I was still naïve but not quite as naïve as I had been. I'll get into girls later. I write this just to say that I had some confidence.
That second year I was in our room before Willy arrived.
My door was open, and I had Old Milwaukee beer cooling in the sink sitting on ice.
I greeted any possible friends with a cold beer.
The first to arrive were Dennis Kenney, Rick Mottern, and Mike Johnson. They entered USF as juniors, having attended Brevard Community College. And they all lived in Satellite Beach.
We became fast friends. We also became intramural teammates.
I was the coach and also played in just about any sport.
Since we lived in an off-campus dorm we didn't qualify for the dorm intramural league. There were also the fraternities. But we didn't qualify there either.
We were independents. We had our own league.
The school gave out four trophies at the end of each year.
We got points for every intramural sport we played but it took me until the second quarter to realize that if we entered every sport we might win the trophy.
There were five sports each trimester. One major one, like football, basketball, and softball. A couple of semi-major sports, like volleyball and wrestling. And several minor sports, like cross country and table tennis.
We got a trophy that year, but it was for sportsmanship.
Who wanted to be known as good sports?
We were all about winning.
We just didn't get into enough sports to get points for the overall trophy my sophomore season.
That changed my junior and senior years. We got the overall independent trophies both years.
I'll get back to intramurals in another post, like the time my brother Stan was the 190-pound independent wrestling champion.
But I want to jump ahead to my last season of intramural sports.
We almost always had good teams, maybe great teams. But we never won a school championship.
Well, I was part of a school championship team. It was in co-ed football. Not my strongest sport. But I was invited to play with a team that had really good girls on it.
We won it all my senior year. But it would have been better to win it in football, basketball, volleyball, or softball in the men's leagues.
We were always in the playoffs and made it to the semi-finals two years in a row for softball.
We also made it to the semis in volleyball.
But never the championship.
I had already graduated when I played my last season of softball.
It was in the summer, and instead of having 80 teams we probably had closer to 20.
Even though I graduated I got a job in the intramural office. I had a job in the intramural office during my senior year. I was in charge of softball and probably a couple of other sports. Since I was employed by the school I was able to play.
My team was a conglomeration of three different teams.
Dennis Kenney played on that team as did one of my roommates, Andy Cotellis. My catcher.
I forgot to mention we all had nicknames. That second year someone decided the name of the team should be the Penthouse Paupers because we were almost in the penthouse. As mentioned earlier, that was a girl's floor. That first season I wasn't in charge but that soon changed.
Like fraternities and dorms, we decided to get uniform shirts. I think they were powder blue, complete with nicknames on the back.
Dennis became Space. Rick Mottern was Beaver. Andy became Grog. And Jerry Gambito, probably the best intramural player in the school history, became Goomba.
I didn't yet have a nickname. Hey, I was enjoying being Rick instead of Rich or Richie.
But I needed a nickname for my shirt.
So, I went back to my high school days and used a name that was part of my high school journal that sophomore or junior year.
My journal started without a name. But soon I decided it needed something.
I started calling it Mr. Muldoon.
Then I gave it a first name, Harry Muldoon.
Finally, I had a contest to give it a middle name.
There were two names I was fond of and my journal was subsequently called Harry Rufus Coatsworth Muldoon.
Or Harry R.C. Muldoon for short.
Rufus became my nickname.
I wanted a nickname people would remember.
I became Rufus.
Everybody remembered Rufus. But that's another blog for another day.
The name stuck for a long time.
My wife Nancy's family called me Rufus for about 10 years. I don't know when Rufus became Rick again. Probably when I was trying to become more professional. But I can't remember when that happened.
Getting back to that softball team the summer after I graduated. We were good, really good. And we made it to the championship game. We should have won it all. But were only runners-up.
I wish I could remember some of the names on that team. We had some really good players on it.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the team's name.
We were Rufus' Restaurant.
We didn't vote on it. I was the coach. And I submitted the papers.
It was kind of funny because most of my teammates were heated rivals the two years prior.
It was really good to play on the same team as them.
Still, we lost that game, something like 2-0. So we went out drinking. We started singing songs from the Wizard of Oz. And it turned defeat into a sort of victory.
I can remember which character I was. Maybe the Lion or the Scarecrow.
But not Dorothy.
One of the best parts of that summer was when I asked the sports editor if I could write a softball column.
It was my first writing experience.
My byline: R. Rufus Reed.
The editor said he couldn't pay me, and I'm thinking, "I could have been paid for writing sports."
But that's also another blog for another day.
Still, the best part was the name of the team.
And I've resurrected Rufus' Restaurant over the years.
But that first squad became my favorite.
Have you ever called someone a “retard” or “retarded.”
I guess that many people have used those words.
But that changed when I was 12
I was 12 when my mother gave birth to my youngest sibling, Jimmy.
Jimmy, now 53, has Down’s syndrome.
In the past he would have been called retarded. Or many other words that people have used over the years.
According to their Website, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, “People with Down syndrome used to be labeled ‘idiots, morons,’ and ‘imbeciles’ by both society and the medical profession. The label evolved into ‘Mongoloid, handicapped, mentally retarded, retarded,’ and then for short, retard.’”
I don’t tweet but, I heard that Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as a “retard” in a tweet during a Monday night presidential debate.
Ann Coulter, a journalist and author, should have known better.
Though they were using the term “Downs’ syndrome” when Jimmy was born, he could have been called retarded.
But if that was the label you used for Jimmy you would have been wrong.
Jimmy was so much more.
I call him a Renaissance Man.
Jimmy has unique talents. He colors designs with geometric-type patterns. He has a great eye for choosing just the right colors and repeating the scheme throughout the drawing.
Since those days he has truly become an artist. His work has been exhibited in art shows and at a gallery. He has sold many of his works.
Jimmy can read and write and has been a liturgist many times in church.
He graduated from Brick High School in New Jersey and found a job. He has learned line-dancing, square dancing, singing, sail boating, cross country skiing and numerous other sporting skills. For many years Jimmy was a Special Olympian. He's won more medals, ribbons and trophies than his remaining six siblings combined.
When he was 17, Jimmy was featured in a book with five other Downs children called “From 17 Months to 17 Years...A Look at Down’s Syndrome.”
My brother's chapter was aptly entitled, “Jimmy—Age 17 Years: Love...”
When Jimmy was born 53 years ago, my parents were given a choice.
The doctor said, “You can give him up or you can take him home and love him.”
That was back in the dark ages when institutionalization was still a very real possibility for kids like Jimmy. But it wasn’t a possibility for Jimmy, not if you knew Bob and Emily Reed, his parents, my parents.
It wasn’t a choice at all.
It's hard for me to remember just how I felt when my mother first told me the news about Jimmy. It was June 21, 1967, and I would soon enter high school. I'm sure I had some fear about the future—his and ours. What would it be like to have a “retarded” brother?
That came mostly from ignorance.
But it went away the first time I saw him and held him. My Mom said she can still picture me gazing at him lying in his bassinet for the longest times.
I don’t remember those days. But my mother did.
Usually when I tell someone my brother has Down’s syndrome they say they're sorry. My reply is always the same, “Don't be.”
I can't imagine my family without him. Although my family was already large, it wasn't complete until my baby brother came home.
“From the day Jimmy was born, Bob, Emily and his brothers and sisters have shown him endless love,” the book stated. “Jimmy's life has been filled with love.”
Received and given.
It's evident in his smile. Jimmy has got the greatest smile. The book is opened on my desk. I can't help but smile myself every time I look at it.
There's one photo of him with a friend. And another one of him serving up a cheeseburger at a cookout. In another, he's standing at the lectern for a reading at Mass. And in one more he's sitting on his bed with an array of trophies, ribbons and medals, with my parents proudly standing behind him.
I also like the sporting ones where he's at the edge of the swimming pool, getting instructions from a coach. And bowling.
But I have two favorites.
He and brother Stan are standing next to each other, hugging and smiling in the first. In the second, Jimmy and a friend are sitting on a gym floor, leaning against the bleachers, laughing and having a good time.
Stan, 18 months my junior, became a special ed teacher, a great special ed teacher, because of Jimmy and his impact.
Because of Ann Coulter’s tweet John Franklin Stephens, a 30-year-old Special Olympic athlete and a man with a real message addressed Coulter. I saw it on Facebook. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
Stephens also spoke at the United Nations in 2018. He was asked to tell you how someone might improve the lives of people with Down syndrome.
He said, “The key is right there in my opening paragraph. It begins with ‘I am a man.’ See me as a human being, not a birth defect, not a syndrome. I don't need to be eradicated. I don't need to be cured. I need to be loved, valued, educated and, sometimes, helped.”
I would like to meet him.
Ann Coulter should meet him.
It’s too easy to call Jimmy a kid. After all, he is my youngest brother. And he’s short. But when I remember Jimmy now, and John Franklin, I’ll used the words I’ve used for Jimmy early, truly a Renaissance Man.
My life wouldn’t be complete without him.
Where do I start? How can I begin to tell my story?
I’ve told a few people that Becca, my older daughter made a website for me with the idea that I would start a blog. Well, she made it, and she came over to show me what to do with it.
I ran a Reflections column that first day, just to have something. But I’ve always intended to start with something new.
I wrote something on Aug. 23, 2020. But I decided I didn’t want it to be my first post.
And I’ve continued to ponder how to get started.
“Tell your story,” was the reply I heard from Becca, and others.
So here it is.
I started out as a small child.
But then I realized that was the name of Bill Cosby’s second record album.
Actually, his albumwas called, “I started out as a child.”
So maybe it isn’t plagiarism, because I added small child.
Let me start at the beginning.
Looking back, my beginning began during the fall term in 1971. My life didn’t begin in 1971. I was born in 1953 and I was already 18. But an event took place that impacted the rest of my life.
I was enrolled at the University of South Florida. After unloading my stuff and my folks dropped me off at Fontana Hall on the north side of Fletcher Avenue. It was one of two 13-story off-campus dormitories at the school.
I was too late to get an on-campus housing. Fontana Hall was more expensive than on-campus housing but was probably better than me getting an apartment.
So, I got my room and after eating dinner with my folks I was alone in my room. It was still light out and I decided to do something I did a lot back in those days, I looked for a game of basketball. I went to the campus gym and got into a couple of games. I don’t know how many. I didn’t make any friends that night, either.
The impacting moment hadn’t yet it, though I know something was weighing heavily on my mom’s mind.
You see, back in 1971, Fontana Hall had open visitation. With the exception of one boy’s and one girl’s floor, it was open visitation by the opposite sex 24-hours a day.
I wasn’t expecting that.
Nor did my mom.
But after a night to sleep on it my mom decided she didn’t want me available to the opposite sex 24-hours a day.
So when we saw each the next morning my mom asked if I would consider moving into the non-visitation boy’s floor.
I think I could have blocked my mother’s move, but I'd never met my roommate that night. And I was feeling lonely, very lonely.
So, I agreed to change rooms and go to the non-visitation boy’s floor.
You have to understand that even though it was 1971, open visitation was ahead of it’s time.
But not at Fontana and DeSoto halls. There were 26 floors. But only two floors, one for boys, and one for girls, were non-visitation.
So my room was on the second floor of DeSoto Hall.
The floor had room for 64 students.
My floor only had 13.
Thirteen boys. Not sure how many were in the girl’s floor but it wasn’t much more.
If my roommate had been there night it might have been another story. But I spent the night alone.
I was one of seven kids so I never really spent the night alone.
well, except that summer. My folks had purchased a home in Florida, but I already had a job at a Shop-Rite grocery store in Brielle, New Jersey. So I was able to stay in New Jersey that summer. Without my folks. Without much supervision. My big brother Bob and his wife Elaine would stop by, but i had free reign.
I also had my first girlfriend that summer.
Suffice it to say I was very naïve. Well, maybe not very naïve. But pretty naïve. Almost very naive. I spent a lot of time together with my girlfriend. Almost every day. So, while I was naïve I wasn't lonely. Or alone.
But I was my alone my first night at USF.
And when my mom proposed the change, I wouldn’t say I was all for it. But I didn’t oppose either. I’m not sure when I met my new roommate but I’d already changed rooms once, I wasn’t about to do it again.
Do you ever think about little, insignificant things that might have changed your life?
This was one of those moments.
But it really didn’t take effect until my junior year.
And I go into that during another blog.
About 15 years ago my kids and their friends were trying to decide what type of dog would Jesus have had as a pet? First they thought a Golden Retriever would have been Jesus’ canine companion. Later they agreed it would be something small and defenseless, maybe like a Chihuahua or my diminutive Dachshund at the time, Bailey.
Upon further reflection I decide our other dog at the time, Rufus, was the dog Jesus would have picked. You see, Rufus is a mutt. A nondescript, Heinz 57 Variety type of a dog.
He’s definitely not a pedigree, like Bailey, though Bailey was supposed to be a Miniature Dachshund. Weighing in at 18 or so pounds he was definitely not miniature. We never had luck with miniatures. Rusty, our second Dachshund was also supposed to be miniature. He wasn’t and tipped the scales at 17 or 18 pounds.
We didn’t know what breed of dog Rufus was, nor did our vet. But we figured he was some sort of hound.
We got Rufus at the Lake County Humane Society about 1994 or ‘95. It was guesstimated that Rufus, which was his name when we found him, was about 4 months old. It was Rufus’s name which saved him because Rufus was my nickname in college. Anytime the girls got a stuffed animal I would say to name him Rufus. They just said, “Dadddd.”
We were told he probably wouldn’t get much larger – which was very wrong. Back then he was probably 30 pounds max. Eventually he tipped the scales at 95 or more pounds. And he hit triple digits on more than one occasion.
Rufus is very definitely a mutt.
But he was a loyal mutt. And he was also pretty smart.
I can hide a treat in one of my hands and Rufus would swat at it with his paw. He was right at least half of the time. Actually, his record was far better than one out of two.
Rufus also tried to please, although as he got older he practiced selective deafness. Rufus also smelt bad and he shed a ton of hair. Yet, I believe Rufus is the type of dog that Jesus would pick.
And I’m glad, because if I were a dog, I’d be a Rufus.
There’s no pedigree in me. And sometimes I’m overweight and smell bad, though I have kept most of my hair.
But there’s nothing extraordinary about me. I have nothing special in my breeding—only Jesus.
Those are the type of guys Jesus chose to turn the world upside down.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him,” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31. “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”
Jesus can also use pedigrees. That’s what Paul was. Among the Jews. He was a Pharisee and held to the Law faultlessly.
But it wasn’t until Paul put his pedigree behind him that God could use him.
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God,” he wrote in the next chapter. “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Sometimes, I think we get too far away from Jesus’ simple plan. We put far too much stock in pedigree papers and titles—titles we don’t find anywhere in the Bible.
And we hinder the cause of Christ because we try to pick the wise and the strong.
What type of dog would Jesus have picked?
That’s simple—a simple dog. The same type of men he called his disciples.
And thank God for that.
Author and historian Rick Reed has been writing about Florida's Lake and Sumter counties since 1991 in The Daily Commercial, The Lake Sentinel and Lake Magazine. His Reminisce column, which looks at local history in Lake and Sumter counties has appeared in The Daily Commercial since 1998. He served as the City curator of the Leesburg Historical Museum from 2003 to 2008 and wrote the Sesquicentennial History of Leesburg in 2008, a 240-plus page book of Leesburg’s history.