Stephen King has haunted my classrooms since 1975 when his first novel, Carrie, made it out of the trash bin — courtesy of his wife, Tabitha — and into the paperback market. That allowed students in my Literature of the Occult class at UD to scoop it up and trip out over the telekinetic Carrie White and her mean-spirited destruction of not only her high school classmates but also her hometown of Chamberlain, Maine. By 1980, almost half of the books in my so-called “Séance Fiction” course were written by King.
I resolved to woo King to be the keynote speaker for the University of Dayton 1982 Writers’ Workshop. I persuaded Ellie Kurtz, director of student activities at the time, to write a letter inviting him to speak. I told her to stress that his audience would be mostly students familiar with his work and eager to learn about his writing process.
Ellie had a different idea.
She told him a story about this crazed professor who teaches the occult who had been twisting her arm for months, insisting that she invite King to campus or she might not have the use of her arm, or even that arm itself, if he did not agree to come. How could he say, “No”?
When I picked him up at the Cincinnati airport, the first words out of his mouth were, “Does she still have her arm?”
My introduction and King’s presentation on that glorious night is on YouTube at bit.ly/UDM_StephenKing1982.
Since the early ’90s, I have taught Stephen King on Film on a rotating basis with other film courses. When planning the course for fall 2000, I was mindful of the1999 accident that came close to killing King on June 19 (ironically my birthday); I noticed that we would be in session on Sept. 21, King’s birthday.
Surely, a party for his 53rd birthday was in order for us to celebrate as a class his recovery and rehabilitation. The class had such a wonderful time at this event (Carrie, too, who shares King’s day of birth, was included) that I repeated it when he turned 55, 60 and 65.
This year, 2017, King turned 70. I enthusiastically shared my plans for the big “7-0” party planned for the fall with the students in my spring term class. “What about us?” a disgruntled student inquired; “What do we get?” Other students chimed in.
Since it was March, I remembered that it was the 35th anniversary of King’s visit to campus. With St. Patrick’s Day a week away, I also thought of our students’ penchant for celebrating “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” in September. So, we celebrated “Halfway to Stephen King’s Birthday.”
We watched the YouTube video of King’s speech, sang “Happy [Half-] Birthday” to King, and devoured the gruesome chocolate birthday cake with dark chocolate icing and red blood sprinkles (so we could remember Carrie, too).
On Sept. 21, 2017, we did it all over again, this time on his real 70th birthday. The only thing missing was King himself.
My invitations will never measure up to Ellie Kurtz’s ghastly motivator that brought him to the University of Dayton campus 35 years ago.
In Zambia last summer, I found the gift of presence, of love.
To organize what I learned and felt, I used teachings on solidarity by Father Dean Brackley, S.J. He invites us to have the courage to discover our vocation by lowering our status — downward mobility.
Have the courage to lose control.
I seek explanations, justifications, logic. But in Zambia, under the brightest moon, with eight of my best friends, I could let go of my control. My need to understand disappeared because that moment embodied true presence. Mwape looked at me with doe eyes. Monta hid under the sheet next to me to stay warm. Jackson and Chisala shared a blanket. We sat silently; I gave up my control; it was a perfect moment of human connection.
Have the courage to feel useless.
Jonah, 18, was our closest older friend in Lubwe, Zambia. He took us places, helped us avoid being scammed, invited us over for dinner. But he also expected that we could change Lubwe and make it better. After hearing his plans for the village, we sat paralyzed, imagining all the complicated intricacies. I felt useless; this scared me. I told Jonah we weren’t there to fix Lubwe; we couldn’t. We were there to love, to share stories, to learn about our brothers and sisters.
Have the courage to listen. Have the courage to receive.
Adriana sang “I do believe in Jesus” in her sweet 7-year-old voice as we walked home after sunset. Those five words were more English than I had heard all day from her. Anthony exclaimed in the local language how he could sneak home to America with me. I received love through avocados and potatoes. My friends gave all they had, and I received it with open arms.
Have the courage to let your heart be broken.
Mwila, whose father is dead, begged me to support him in school or buy him a school uniform. He works to afford school for him and his brother Charles. He also perceives gift-giving as love; so when I supported another student who wasn’t in school, his heart broke. Hearing I had given someone else a gift that he was not receiving, Mwila believed I loved him less. He ignored me for days. Eventually, he sat next to me and cried. I tried to help; he just cried more. My heart broke for him and his community.
Have the courage to feel. Have the courage to fall in love.
In Zambia, I couldn’t understand everything. I could only feel presence, pain and joy. One day Chanda and Teresa got in a fight that took six of us to break up. Chanda could barely breathe; I was left in shock. I walked away and began to cry, but then I saw Mwansa, a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and yelled “Mwansa, isa” or “Mwansa, come!” He ran into my arms and I picked him up. I stared into his eyes and let his innocent joy fill me. His comfort showed me that where there is immense pain, there is also immense love.
Have the courage to get ruined for life.
One of the fathers invited me into their home. The parents’ room barely fit a bed, and the seven kids all shared another room with clothing used for blankets. Mwaba, one of the sons, saw me inside and immediately ran outside. He worried I would treat him differently since I had seen his reality. But love knows no size of home or amount of stuff. That family is in my heart forever.
Have the courage to make a friend.
This statement felt less powerful than the others until I met Monta. (I am also friends with many others, and I wish I could share each of their stories.) Monta and I bickered, played cards and futball, ate fritas. He jumped into my lap at sunset every day, and although we couldn’t verbally communicate, his presence calmed me. He didn’t need anything but to sit there with me. Me being a part of his story and him being a part of mine reminded me of the power of simply making a friend.
These people, that place, taught me how to love better, more unconditionally. As I look back, the friendships I made and the pain in being separated from my new family now reminds me of my continued journey in downward mobility.
Eva Mozes Kor is a 4-foot-9-inch woman, 83 years young and dresses head to toe in her favorite color — blue. She has a magnetic energy that instantly drew me to her when I first heard of her story last fall. Within a few months, I traveled to Poland to hear her tell it herself. She made me laugh, then cry, then laugh once again. My life will never be the same.
At 9 years old, Eva was a headstrong girl living with her parents, two older sisters and twin sister, Miriam, on a farm in Romania. By 10 years old, her parents and two older sisters were dead, and Eva was living in a dirty barrack with her twin sister, kept alive only to be used for medical experiments. This was 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Her family was identified, captured, herded into a cattle car and ripped apart on the platform at Birkenau in a matter of days. After being stripped of her possessions, her hair was shaved and she was branded — “A-7063.” She was no longer a human being, a little girl meant to play and laugh and love; she was a test subject.
She slept on a wooden bunk, was provided with little food and water, and forced to submit to the orders of her captors and other prisoners put in positions of “privilege.” Three days a week, she walked to a nearby barrack to have blood drawn and to be injected with unknown chemicals. On alternate days, she was marched with the other twins of Birkenau to Auschwitz, a trip that would take up to an hour one way by foot, to undergo tests and experiments. For more than 240 days, Eva thought of only one thing — survival, for her and her sister.
Her strength to survive is only matched by the strength she found to forgive. To hear Eva’s message of peace and forgiveness is a stark contrast to the ruins of gas chambers, cremation buildings and barracks in Birkenau but is an emotional message of the power we all have to be a positive influence on the world. She challenges us to find our way to forgive those who have wronged us because holding on to anger and resentment only causes more hurt. How many of us carry around the grudges, pain and suffering from past experiences? I know I am guilty. And if Eva can forgive Nazi doctors, can’t we find our way to forgive others, too?
The challenge Eva leaves us with is to replace anger with peace. As an adult, she spent four months writing a letter that she would never send, expressing her own feelings of hurt but concluding with three words: “I forgive you.” And she meant it. With those three words, she discovered no one could give her the power to forgive, and no one could take it away.
Seven years ago, I bought a terrific grill, the Weber BabyQ.
“I am not comfortable with that name at all,” my son Joe, then 11, said as he helped me assemble it. He was right — they definitely should have focus-grouped that one.
But it had the most wonderful cast-iron cooking surface, and because it used those camp-sized propane canisters you can buy at the grocery, I never had to carry a full-size tank home in the car, praying the entire time I wouldn’t get rear-ended and blow up an entire city block.
One day last spring, I grilled some chicken breasts on it. When I took them off the grill and turned off the gas, however, the fire kept on burning.
“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just close the lid, and it will go out.”
A few minutes later, when I went back outside to put the grill away, it was a blazing inferno. My mind raced. As much trouble as my repair-ridden house had been, I did not want it to burn down. I had to act fast.
The first order of business was to carefully disconnect the gas canister. Next, I needed to put the fire out. I went inside for a large glass of water — but I stopped myself. This was clearly a grease fire. Everyone knows you don’t put water on a grease fire.
But what do you put on a grease fire?
I searched my memory, and suddenly, I pictured it clearly.
“Flour,” I thought. “You smother a grease fire with flour.”
Which was perfect, really. I didn’t have a fire extinguisher, but by golly, I had flour — five kinds of it. I was a little concerned that the cast-iron grate would block most of it from falling onto the fire … but if I used enough, surely it would work.
Except I was wrong — in the heat of the moment, I’d forgotten the lesson I’d learned every single time I’d tried to bake brownies: FLOUR BURNS. It wasn’t flour they used in that demonstration. It was baking soda. (This is no longer recommended, by the way.)
The problem was getting worse by the minute. The fire continued to rage, and thick smoke from the burning flour was now filling the neighborhood. The time had come to call for help.
Since this was clearly not an emergency, I did not dial 911. I looked up the regular number for the fire department. Of course, calls to this number ring directly to 911, because what fire isn’t an emergency, and what city has a special dispatcher just for non-emergency fires?
“Oh, hi,” I said. “This is not an emergency. My little grill is on fire, and I can’t put it out. I tried flour, and that just made it worse. Can you tell me what I should do?”
“What’s your address, ma’am?” the dispatcher asked. I gave it to her.
“I’ll send someone out,” she said. Seconds later, I heard the siren.
“Oh, my gosh … that’s for me,” I gulped.
The fire department is approximately 45 seconds away. And it wasn’t just any siren. It was the hook-and-ladder. Several firefighters got out in full gear. They almost seemed disappointed when they saw the BabyQ.
“We saw the smoke, and we could smell it all the way from the station,” one said.
Within a couple of minutes, the flames were out. They were really nice about the whole thing.
“I swear this won’t happen again,” I said, embarrassed. “Would you like some chicken?”
They didn’t. I thanked them and promised to clean my next grill regularly.
I am now the proud owner of a terrific new grill. It’s exactly like the old one … except for the name. It’s now called the Weber Q1000.
It goes great with my new fire extinguisher.
The ongoing discussion of school lunch shaming — throwing out the trays of children unable to pay — dredged up a long-ago childhood memory. Ike and Mamie occupied the White House, the Rosenbergs were already executed, and nobody in Washington was cozy with the Kremlin. I’d just started first grade, and it was Fun Day at my small elementary school. Rows of squirmy children assembled in an auditorium with a raised stage at one end. Later that year I’d make my debut there, playing a singing crippled boy. When I got healed at the end, folks reached for their handkerchiefs, though attentive relatives noticed my crutch shifted sides during the performance.
A teacher read us Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl.” I cried as the little girl in the story tries vainly to warm herself with her dwindling stock of unsold matches, with each new flame bringing flickering warmth and fleeting visions. The most poignant for me was her dead grandmother beckoning to her.
I loved my Grandma, and as a boy on the Iowa-Minnesota border, I knew bitter cold. The same church bell I’d eventually be big enough to ring had called Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family to worship the previous century. Her blizzards were my blizzards.
Our Fun Day entertainment included Heidi, the only film in the school’s library, a fragile copy of the Shirley Temple classic. Heidi was a cherished annual event. As years passed and the aged celluloid perished, scenes often ended abruptly. Clara’s miraculous recovery from her wheelchair took increasingly less time.
Before the film started an older boy was selling fresh-popped popcorn. I eagerly joined the line. When my turn came, I was crushed to learn that hot buttered popcorn cost a nickel. Like the little match girl, I had no money. No nickel, no popcorn. It was a rough introduction to finance.
This was my own fault; I forgot to bring home the fragrant mimeographed note reminding us to bring a tiny bit of cold cash for Fun Day refreshments. We weren’t rich, but there was always money for things we needed, mainly books, books and more books. Eventually I’d have piano lessons, too, from a “fancy” college teacher 16 miles away.
Soon I’d be older, more confident. Mom would become PTA president, and I’d be secretly proud that she was smarter and prettier than anyone else’s mother. Eventually I’d understand about money, and she wouldn’t need to tie my lunch coins in a knotted handkerchief so I wouldn’t lose them.
But that day in 1959 I was still 6. All I knew was that everyone else had popcorn and I didn’t because I had no money.
My teacher, spotting me huddled against a wall, swiftly came to my rescue with a nickel produced from her large purse. Nearly six decades later I remember her act of kindness to an unhappy child. Thank you again, Mrs. Fawcett.
Though things have changed since that day, much remains the same. Those piano lessons paid off, and now I’m the “fancy” university teacher people drive to see. My debuts in Carnegie Hall and 36 countries were with Steinways instead of a crutch. But I still like popcorn, cherish the memory of my Grandma and tear up at sad stories. I forget to take notes home, too, though nothing’s mimeographed anymore. My popcorn fiasco didn’t teach me anything, except how crushing it is to be the one with none.
Remembering Mrs. Fawcett reminds me how much I owe to the wonderful teachers who shaped and inspired me. Several narrowly escaped the Holocaust; they survived to teach with a passion that showed us what really mattered. Attacks on the teaching profession pain me. Are all these critics self-made? Some of the hardest-working and most generous people I know on this planet are teachers. Thank you all.
Hungry children remember more than you might think.
Among a dozen sleeping bodies, I awake to cold and rain. Peter, our leader, will soon say, “Let’s get some breakfast going and row to shore for the marathon run.”
Tea, granola and honey on a 20-foot open boat will be followed by a 7-mile run on a rocky trail around our island base camp. We are nearing the end of a monthlong sailing experience in 1975 at Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Maine.
A young teacher on my high school staff told me about Outward Bound schools and their theories about learning from the experience of overcoming obstacles in natural settings such as sailing and backpacking.
At age 42, I had a doctorate and a career as the principal of a 2,000-boy high school. But now I was in a competitive situation full of 20-somethings. Many were experienced sailors; I did not know the difference between port and starboard.
I was learning — about adjusting to wind and weather and 20-somethings and about encountering myself.
Water — fog, rain and waves — was the constant that month. We daily moved from one island to another, sometimes sleeping on the boat. It was never hard to fall asleep.
Outward Bound was about learning from experience. There were no books or lectures. The instructor said as little as possible. The experience took place in a group setting because the theory is that the truth is in the group, in the community — and all are responsible for finding it.
Years later, while biking, I stopped at a meadow to admire a mare and a colt. I noticed that, although the mare followed the colt everywhere, she just let it wander around finding its own path except when it ventured near to me. Then the mare chased it off in another direction away from the danger of my presence.
I tried to convince students that this was a symbol of my teaching style; I am afraid they did not understand my method. When I would later ask them about my style of teaching, all they could say was it had something to do with a horse.
My Outward Bound experience convinced me that the greatest service a teacher can do for students is to let them find their own paths in their own ways, to intervene only when their wandering in one direction is not working.
I turned right on Irving Avenue from Trinity, right again on Brown Street, and finally left on Stewart Street, crossing the Great Miami River and heading past the Arena to Interstate 75.
I glanced around, hoping these sites on the thoroughfares of my life would remain indelible in my memory. I had 500 miles of driving ahead of me, but I was in no hurry.
There was Milano’s, where I’d purchased hundreds of sandwiches, including many I’d taken to fellow UD alums waiting at the end of innumerable road trips. There was Timothy’s, where … well, I’d spent more time than necessary.
Flanagan’s, where I could still hear the sounds in my head of my roommate’s band playing from my student days. And the Arena, where I’d seen hundreds of games.
Earlier that Sunday in the Arena my son grasped the hand of UD President Eric F. Spina and was handed his diploma, becoming the third of my three children to graduate as a Flyer. He joined his siblings, his mother and me as UD alumni.
As I merged onto I-75, heading south to our home in Atlanta, I was overwhelmed by the impact of my nearly 37-year direct connection with the University and the city of Dayton. And tears welled in my eyes as I realized that relationship was over.
I’d taken the drive the other way up Stewart Street in August 1980 as my parents moved me into Stuart Hall. I’d visited campus just once and made an impulsive, poorly informed decision to attend UD. I expected to transfer after the first semester.
That was just the first of several times I’d nearly convinced myself that I’d be better off leaving Dayton, as university and city became inextricably linked for me.
But I ended up loving the place.
Upon graduation, I resisted the idea of staying even though I had a great job offer from the Dayton Daily News. After all, my friends were going off to places like San Diego. Later in life, I would wrestle several times with opportunities elsewhere.
But I stayed. And as I wrote when I finally did leave 31 years later in 2011:
“Now I realize that Dayton was the perfect place to build a life … along with my wife, whom I met here, and my three children, I leave behind the place that will always be home.”
But we really hadn’t left it behind.
After we moved to Atlanta in 2011, my eldest daughter was already at UD. Her younger sister and brother would follow.
They had opportunities elsewhere, and I sometimes wondered if I should push them to attend another university, perhaps one closer to us. But privately I was proud of their decisions, made with pressure to go elsewhere, because I knew they recognized a good place and would be happy.
Plus, they kept me linked to the place where I passed nearly every important milepost of my adult life.
As I navigated my career, marriage and raising a family in Dayton, I was always within a couple of miles of UD; it gave me confidence as the backdrop of my life. I would use the library, occasionally be asked to speak to a class and bump into an old professor.
We moved to a home within a few blocks of UD, where we’d live for 18 years. Our babysitters were UD students, including my sister (Mary Riley Casa ’90) and my wife’s sister (Brooke Meehan Ratterman ’94).
Having children at UD gave me the excuse I needed to visit — and a powerful reason to set off around the country for NCAA basketball tournament games.
I’ll have to be more creative now, inventing business reasons to visit town, and perhaps to catch a Flyers game and have a late dinner afterward at the Pine Club.
I just can’t leave the place behind.
Kevin Riley is the editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was previously the editor of the
Dayton Daily News. His wife, Tracy ’84, and his children, Anne ’12, Erin ’15 and Colin ’17, are all UD graduates. He can be reached at kriley@AJC.com.
The scene: Explaining to my parents in Cleveland my decision to leave my corporate job to join a startup company, 3-19 Coffee.
Me: I might be taking a new job with Mike (Weaver ’06). He’s starting a specialty coffee company with another partner, and they think I would be a good fit for the team.
Mom: Specialty, like Folgers?
Me: Not exactly.
Dad: But you have a great job.
Me: I have put a lot of thought into this. [This conversation happened when my wife was seven months pregnant with our first child and I was 10 months into my engineering job and enjoying it.]
Dad: Why do you think this would be a good move? [I had also convinced them it was a good idea to do a stove project in South America, to move to Denver with no job, to spend a year in American Samoa.]
Me: If I don’t take it, I think I’d regret it the rest of my life. [I said the same thing when I started a company to get solar lighting solutions to rural Guatemalan families.]
Mom: So will you have a coffee shop?
Me: We will sell everything online at the beginning.
Mom: How will this company work?
Me: People are willing to pay a higher price for quality coffee when they know the farmers are being paid fairly. We would source great green coffees, roast them with care, then sell and ship the freshly roasted coffee.
Dad : OK.
Me: People’s willingness to pay more for better coffee allows the farmers to make more money, which in turn allows them to get better education and medical care for their families, reinvest in their farms, and save money for their children’s futures.
Mom: And what is the name of the company again? 3-19?
Me: Yes, 3-19 Coffee. The founders’ wives share the birthday March 19. The branding is really cool.
Dad: So that’s it?
Me: No. A portion of every sale will go toward social projects in any community taking part in our coffee from seed to cup. The first project will be an art program with Catracha Coffee in Santa Elena, Honduras. Youth there do not have opportunities to create art.
Mom: How will that help you sell coffee?
Me: Well, it won’t directly. But by funding this art program, we tell customers we are seriously committed to social good.
Mom: Is Cleveland one of your communities?
Me: I’m working with an artist here in Cleveland who does projects with kids here like those in Honduras.
Dad: Why this focus on art?
Mike: 3-19’s mission is coffee, art and community. People everywhere should have the opportunity to express themselves creatively.
Mom: An artist in Cleveland?
Me: Yes. She’s going to be one of our 3-19 Coffee featured artists!
Dad: Featured artist?
Me: We’ll partner with artists to design the art for our packaging. We commission art and customers select which art they want on their coffee tins. And, we’ll put a video bio on our website for each artist to promote their work.
Dad: It seems like your heart is in this.
Mike: Trust me, we should be able to find people that share our beliefs and LOVE coffee, too.
Mom: Would you have to travel? What about your future daughter?
Mike: My wife and I have already been working out how we could make it work if I had to leave the country for several days. We want to be honest with our customers that we have seen, firsthand, operations on the ground.
Dad: This is a big decision, Michael.
Mike: I’m excited. I have faith that taking this risk will be worth it. I love that I will be using my Spanish and working with video production again. I’ll learn, get better. I want to bring stories from around the world to people’s living rooms and smartphones. When I used to sip a cup of coffee, it was just a sip. Now it’s a story.
See those stories at 319coffee.com.
The station wagon was a golden yellow; the purple letters on its side read “Cathedral Latin.” An impressive ride for a young man at one of Cleveland’s premier high schools in the late 1950s, early 1960s.
A student cheering Latin’s Purple and Gold would have loved to have it. But it belonged to the school’s athletic department, and I, in addition to being a teacher, was assistant athletic director. Among the people I knew at Latin were the athletic director, Pat Tonry, S.M., and Chris Conlon, S.M., both of whom became lifelong friends. Chris’s death on March 26 brought me to thinking about those years.
Roughly 35 Marianists, many of us in our 20s, lived and worked and enjoyed life together. Chris taught Latin I, II and III and comparative literature to seniors as well as being faculty moderator of the senior class. Pat taught religion to seniors in addition to his AD duties. I taught English and religion and later moved to American history.
In addition to its academic quality, Cathedral Latin was a sports powerhouse. One of its track and football stars became an All-American running back in college. We are still in touch with each other.
But much of the experience for us Marianists was in our everyday life. We ate lunch in the school cafeteria, breakfast and dinner in the three-story house we shared with each other. Besides our work, there were playful times. For example, the school had a life-size statue of the martyr St. Sebastian, complete with many arrows stuck in his body. We liked putting the statue in a shower stall and pulling the curtain and being amused by the reaction of the next person taking a shower.
The principal of the school and director of the community, Father James McKay, S.M., knew when to say “no” but tolerated our pranks. He was a model of wisdom and dignity. We learned a lot at Latin — about teaching students and relating to their parents and living in community, about friendship, about what it means to be Catholic and Marianist.
Reflections From Along the Wilmington River – January 10, 2017
“I am 97, not 98,” she gently corrected me. “I was born in 1919.”
I quickly did the math in my head, and realized my great aunt, who is like a mom to me, was correct. I had aged her by a year since her birthday five months ago. In this season of her life, every day counts.
Ten days before Christmas, I had flown into Indiana to spend a few days with her. We were seated in her small apartment living room in a seniors’ independent living community — she on the couch with one cat curled up in her lap, the other cat nestled on the seat of her walker nearby, and I sitting in one of the two chairs. A 3-foot pre-lit, pre-decorated artificial tree stood on a table by her couch. Quietly we watched the snow fall outside her window, enjoying our time together.
“You know what I miss most?” she asked, breaking the silence.
Shaking my head slowly as I turned toward her, I was curious as to what she might say. Her house? Driving? Her husband? Clear vision? Mobility? Good health? Gourmet cooking? Which would it be?
“I miss who I was,” she whispered.
There it was, the truth suspended in the air between us, as we oh-so-carefully and gingerly navigated crossing the tightrope of her life, hearts clinging to the balancing pole of the inevitable, with no net below to catch us should we fall. Five little words: She missed who she was.
I nodded, not sure what to say or even if I should say anything. The cat resting in her lap stretched lazily and purred; the other meowed in response. We continued to watch the snow falling on the tall pine trees outside her window, two snow birds flitting in and out of the branches, as I waited to see if she would say more.
No other words followed. It would seem that she had said all that she needed to say in those five little words.
I miss who I was.