Twelve Teachers

Twelve Teachers

Top Row (L to R): My mom, my older brothers Bob and John Second Row: My sister Betsy, Bill Anderson, Steve Fisher Third Row: Dale Willman, Mark Gravel, Tim Fletcher Bottom Row: My elder daughter Rachel, my younger daughter Emily, and my wife and soulmate, Michele

Top Row (L to R): My mom, my older brothers Bob and John; Second Row: My sister Betsy, Bill Anderson, Steve Fisher; Third Row: Dale Willman, Mark Gravel, Tim Fletcher
Bottom Row: My elder daughter Rachel, my younger daughter Emily, and my wife and soulmate, Michele

Growing up, I had many dedicated teachers. A decades-belated thank you to Mrs. Perkins (4th grade), Mr. Nash (English), and General Verbeck (biology), and Mr. Vandenberg (Latin I, 2 and, thanks to my friend Steve Fisher, who knows what he did, Latin 3). My learning, however, did not end with my formal education. I have been blessed to have had many capable managers and mentors throughout my career. Thank you, Alan Horton, Jerry Parichy, Valerie Sanford, Chris Noble, and Cynthia Clay, to name a few.

As I look back over the past 65 years, I realize that some of the most impactful educators I’ve had have been family members and friends. There are twelve individuals who stand out as the most influential teachers in my life. This week’s column is about them.

My mom, Betty Clark (she remarried). At one month shy of turning 100 years old, she is, amazingly, still with us. A WW II veteran and mother of five, she endured a difficult marriage to a husband who suffered from serious, untreated mental illness and chronic anger management issues. She had the courage to leave this situation in an era when women did not seek divorce. Having not worked outside the home in 28 years, she set out to get a job and became a dietician at the VA. She reclaimed life by traveling to many countries, her favorite being Israel. Now in a nursing home, she rallies on, showing all around her that she still has a wit. She is always game for a good laugh – just check out her photo above, taken at age 97. People ask me, “Tim, why is it that you smile so much?” That’s simple. Thanks, mom.

Bob Jones. Our nine year age gap kept me from getting to know my oldest brother when I was young. But as I entered my career, we became re-acquainted by discussing career and life challenges. Bob became a “big brother” mentor to me and taught me the importance of understanding myself and my impact on others. From Bob, I learned to look for the positive in situations and people. As a result, throughout my career, I posted on my wall these words: “Catch them doing something right.”

John Jones. My second oldest brother, five years my senior, John was the All-American boy. Growing up, he was my role model. I wanted to be just like him. I still do. He is modest to a fault and has always been the rock of our family. When there was a crisis, John was the steady hand willing to intervene to calm the waters. Over time, I have come to appreciate how kind and caring a person John is – and funny. And he taught me to love sports and playing board games – I can’t forget about that!

Betsy Jones. I could write a book about my younger sister. She has been the editor of my blog these past 11 years. (I’ll be curious to see how she edits this description of her.) When we were little, because we were the two youngest, we became very close. She is the historian of my childhood, with a memory of details I had long forgotten. Nobody I know has endured more hardship and heartbreak than my sister. But every time she has been knocked down, she gets back up. Betsy is the most resilient person I have ever known – and one of funniest. She has an expanding universe of friends because like me, they see in her one of the most giving, selfless people you will ever find. [No edits. Thanks – Your editor] 

Bill Anderson. If you want to know why I sometimes (okay, usually) act like an 11-year-old, blame Bill. Bill is my oldest friend. We met in 4th grade because our dads were best friends. For the past five decades, Bill has reminded me of the importance of staying young at heart and not taking life too seriously. When we get together, we revert to high schoolers. Bill is a person of deep faith, and one of the most high-integrity people I have ever known. He has taught me, better than just about anyone else, the importance of working to maintain a close friendship, despite the physical distance between us most of our lives.

Steve Fisher. Some may ask where I developed my warped sense of humor. Look no further. Steve is the funniest person I have ever met. I launched this humor blog, in part, to honor him for teaching me how to make others laugh. We met in 7th grade and he has kept me howling with laughter ever since. Steve also taught me the meaning of courage. Ten years ago, he almost died from a devastating illness that left him with life-altering physical injuries. But through it all, he has demonstrated enormous courage and self-deprecating humor. Steve is my hero.

Dale Willman. Dale and I met early in our modeling careers. Yes, we were models, for a one-off fashion shoot, hired by a  mutual friend, for reasons neither of us will ever understand. Shortly after we met, my father died quite unexpectedly. Dale responded in a way that sealed our lifelong friendship: he came to the funeral. He turned out to be an unexpected source of strength that I leaned on in my time of grief. A journalist, Dale has worked and taught all over the world, and instilled in me the value of broadening my worldview. Like me, Dale has a small teddy bear called Grumpy that he takes to exotic places, although only my Grumpy has been to the North Pole (get over it, Dale).

Mark Gravel. I worked in the newspaper industry for 9 years and there is only one person I keep in touch with from that era: Mark. In addition to possessing a wickedly sharp sense of humor (he has co-written several of my humor articles), Mark loves doing surprises and practical jokes. But even more importantly, Mark exudes a genuineness, a kindness, and a deep desire to put the needs of others before himself. In the dictionary under the word “Gentleman” there should be a picture of Mark, for he truly is just that – even if he is Canadian, like my wife.

Tim Fletcher. I have always admired Tim’s first name. But beyond that, my soft-spoken friend is a remarkable dad. We became friends while working at an internet startup, When I was struggling with trying to unlock the mysteries of parenting my then teenage daughters, Tim repeatedly provided an understanding ear and wise counsel to help me become a better dad. For several years, Tim has grappled with a serious illness. But through it all, he has accepted his physical limitations with positivity, grace, and a stubborn refusal to be blocked from pursuing a full life.

Rachel Jones. From a young age, my elder daughter has demonstrated a strong independent streak. I will always remember when at four years of age, as I tried to help her, she insisted, “I do it myself, Daddy.” She became extremely self-reliant and responsible far beyond her age. Her sense of determination and her work ethic astound me, be it on the soccer field or pursuing her passion of becoming a nurse. Now 26 and a cardiology nurse, Rachel has matured into a confident, hardworking adult. Most inspiring is her deeply caring heart, for her patients, her family, and her cats (not sure in which order). She teaches me all the time what it means to put the needs of others before one’s own.

Emily Jones. When she was a teenager, she and her sister taught me the importance of patience in parenting. At 4’11” tall, Em has always been the shortest person in any group photo. But she’s never let that stop her from pursuing the highest of goals in life, and with a passion. She is fearless and doesn’t let obstacles deter her from her dreams. Extremely smart and resourceful, in college she once asked me, “Dad, do you know anybody at Space X?” Of course, I didn’t. Two days later, using just LinkedIn, she corralled an interview. A week later, Space X hired her in their elite intern program. Over the years, she has amazed me with her giving heart, often surprising my wife and me with the most extraordinary gifts out of the blue (including my very cool Space X shirt.)

Michele Rushworth. When we said our wedding vows, I told her, “I want to grow old with you.” Those words ring just as true 33 years later. I am proud of everything she has achieved with her art. She has helped to push me outside my comfort zone to try new things (even fish). A voracious reader, she has educated me about other cultures, history, and science. It was Michele who suggested we pursue international adoption. She had the idea for us to move to an island I had never heard of. And whatever I learned about being a caring, patient parent, I learned in great part from my best friend’s example. Our daughters could not have asked for a better mom. It has been a privilege and a joy to be growing old – that is, older – with my wife, Michele.

I have had many truly wonderful friends throughout my life, including many people who space constraints simply don’t permit me to mention. As I get older, I’ve learned that true wealth is measured not by the size of one’s bank account but by the number of meaningful friendships we have in life. On this scale, I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams. I owe a debt of gratitude I’ll never be able to repay to these twelve funny, kind, extraordinary teachers, and to others not mentioned (due to witness protection constraints). Thank you all.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

Subscribe to my new View from the Bleachers YouTube Channel and request notifications to see my latest videos.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones

My 15 Minutes of Infamy

My 15 Minutes of Infamy

My sister Betsy and I have always been close. I always have her back and sometimes I have her throat too. Like I said, we’re very close.

My sister Betsy and I have always been close. I always have her back and sometimes I have her throat too. Like I said, we’re very close.

[The following is true.] This story is not really about me. But as is usually the case when I tell stories, I’m going to make it about me anyway. My sister Betsy and I have always been extremely close – unless you count that one time when I’m fairly certain she tried to kill me. But I digress.

Way back in 1999, Betsy was interviewed by Katie Couric on NBC’s Today Show with her twin boys. To understand how they ended up on national TV, we have to go back several years before her national television debut, to September 8th, 1990.

At that time, Betsy was massively pregnant with twins and due to deliver in six weeks. Doctor’s orders restricted her to no travel outside Albany, where she lived, in case the babies got pushy and tried to arrive early – which if you ask me, is highly inconsiderate of any prenatal youngsters. I therefore persuaded Betsy to go on a drive with me 60 miles north to the idyllic Lake George. I was particularly looking forward to a boat ride. In my defense, I was not yet a parent myself – and I’m a guy – you really can’t expect me to have a clue about obstetrical matters.

Betsy said okay – except for the boat ride – something about not wanting to rock the pregnancy boat. And she rudely insisted on driving. I gently pointed out that she was too huge to fit behind the wheel. She slugged me. Then she maliciously accused me of being a poor driver who hit every pothole and bump in the road.

Long story short, we had a lovely day up north. Betsy began the drive home, but soon got too exhausted to drive. Wimp. Reluctantly, she let me take the wheel. As Betsy had predicted, I hit every pothole and speed bump, enduring Betsy’s repeated rants of: “If the babies are born tonight, it’s your fault!” Personally, if you ask me, I think New York State needs to improve its highways.

Spoiler alert. Betsy’s babies didn’t arrive that night. In an unrelated story, at 5:00 the next morning, Betsy went into full labor. Her first words caught me by surprise: “Tim, this is your fault for hitting every bump in the GD road!” At 9 am the boys came down the chute. (Is that okay to say in a story about your sister? ) They weighed in at a scant 3 lbs. 14 oz and 4 lbs. 8oz, respectively. Though tiny, Betsy’s identical twin boys were just fine.

The same could not quite be said about Betsy. Apparently worn out from a challenging birth – or perhaps just from visiting too many tourist shops at Lake George the day before – she was utterly exhausted and became incoherent. She actually started speaking exclusively in French (she had lived several years in France). On the negative side, doctors were worried that she might have suffered some mysterious medical complication. (She hadn’t). On the positive side, her French was flawless.

The twins were born on September 9th, 1990. Most normal people would not think anything special about that date and would just be glad their newborns had approximately the right number of fingers, ears and noses. But my sister somehow figured out minutes after she regained the ability to speak English that one day her boys would celebrate a uniquely memorable birthday.

This is my sister Betsy, cradling her newborn identical twin boys. I know, it’s hard to tell them apart. So, in case you’re not sure who is who, Betsy is the one in the middle.

This is my sister Betsy, cradling her newborn identical twin boys. I know, it’s hard to tell them apart. So, in case you’re not sure who is who, Betsy is the one in the middle.

Nine years later, at the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month of the 9th year of the 9th decade, the twins would turn, wait for it, 9.

Fast forward to summer 1999. Betsy had a brainstorm – inspired by an innocent query of her twins as to what they wanted for their birthday: “We want to be on TV”. So, she called a local news station and told them how her identical twins would be turning 9 years old at precisely 9a.m. on 9-9-99. They referred her to NBC, who referred her to Willard Scott (remember him?) Apparently, it was a slow news week because The Today Show said YES! They wanted to interview Betsy and her twins on LIVE TV. Oddly, the network neglected to interview me. I’m not going to lie. That slight really stung.

NBC flew Betsy and her twins, named Tyler and Kevin (not their real names), from Albany, NY to New York City, met them with a limousine, and put them up at the luxurious Essex House Hotel on Central Park. (Okay, I lied. Kevin and Tyler ARE their real names. I just wanted to protect their privacy. I appear to have failed miserably.)

Finally, Betsy’s big moment of national stardom was here. While she was on the set of The Today Show, chatting with Al Roker, I was in my living room, wearing a nice beige pull-over cotton shirt and blue jeans, having just finished cleaning up the dishes and taking out the trash. Now that I re-read the previous sentence, I see that it really added nothing to the storyline. Please accept my humble apology.

Anyway, right after the commercial for Bounty Towels, the show was back on. Katie Couric introduced my sister and the soon-to-be-famous twins to a national television audience. She began with a warm hello to the boys. And was met with … dead silence. You could hear a pin drop. Katie prompted them with an innocent question about their favorite birthday present. She was met with a torrent of rambling twin-speak, as Barry and Larry (not their real names) answered together, babbling in harmony about some colorful thingamajig that sparkled and twirled. The ever-poised Ms. Couric, who had interviewed movie stars and world leaders with aplomb, was speechless.

She recovered, however, and steered the interview in another direction, asking Betsy, “Is it true that their uncle played a significant part in their birth story?”

And you thought I was making this up. Here’s Katie Couric of NBC’s Today Show on 9-9-99, after Betsy’s appearance with her twins. Apparently there was a scheduling mix-up, as I was accidentally left off the show.

And you thought I was making this up. Here’s Katie Couric of NBC’s Today Show on 9-9-99, after Betsy’s appearance with her twins. Apparently there was a scheduling mix-up, as I was accidentally left off the show.

Then Betsy began to destroy my reputation: “My brother Tim is a terrible driver.” She proceeded to retell the events of our driving adventure on September 8th, 1990, and how I hit every bump on the road. “I told Tim to drive more carefully because he had a pregnant woman in the car. I even said, ‘If I give birth tonight, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!’ Sure enough, the twins were born the following morning. They have called my brother ‘Uncle Bump’ ever since, because of his driving. I need to reiterate this. Tim is a really bad driver.” 

Thanks for throwing me under the bus, sis. I may be a terrible driver, but if it weren’t for Ole’ Uncle Bump, your kids would’ve been born on some forgettable date at a healthy weight and lived lives of obscurity. And you never would have been on national TV, chatting with America’s Sweetheart, Katie Couric.

So, if you ask me, this story is really about how great a big brother I was by selflessly helping my little sister achieve her 15 minutes of fame. She returned the favor by turning the spotlight on me for my 15 seconds of infamy.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

Subscribe to my new View from the Bleachers YouTube Channel and request notifications to see my latest videos.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones.

Fifty Shades of White

Fifty Shades of White

50 shades of white - crayonsWhen I was first learning how to color in 1st grade, my art teacher taught us about red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black and white. Pretty much all the colors I’ve needed ever since. Then I got my first box of 64 Crayola crayons. It blew my mind. So many colors I had never imagined. One called Reddish Orange. Another one called Orangish Red. And Indian Red, which I could not in clear conscience draw with until they renamed it Native American Red.

Recently I learned that Crayola has actually retired 34 colors – including Lemon Yellow, Teal Blue and Thistle. Did you know that for the rest of eternity there will never be anything drawn in either Burnt Umber or Magic Mint? And yet for reasons unfathomable to the normal brain, they continue to crank out that annoyingly wimpy color, Periwinkle.

They’ve replaced the retired colors with nouveau-sounding ones like Asparagus, Bittersweet, Inch Worm and Tumbleweed. What the hell color is Inch Worm?

It’s hard enough for my 8-color-palette brain to grasp the difference between Sage and Mint. More astonishingly, for all the colors in Crayola’s 64-color box, I’ve discovered there are literally hundreds of shades of white. When did that happen?

My artist wife and I were discussing what color to paint her art studio. Apparently, it’s important that artist studios be painted in neutral tones like white – I have no idea why. I had suggested Bubble Gum Pink, but apparently that’s not quite neutral enough pour ma femme artiste. No, she insisted, it had to be a shade of white. A shade of white? Hmmm….

Continue reading “Fifty Shades of White” »

Things I hope people won’t mention at my funeral

Things I hope people won’t mention at my funeral

Tim funeral - football coachRecently I turned 35 years old, and by recently, I mean 30 years ago. But more recently, I turned 65 – this past January. When you turn 65, you start asking yourself uncomfortable questions like, “How long has that mole been there?” You ponder your own mortality and your legacy and how is it that AARP got your mailing address so quickly.

Lately I’ve begun asking myself challenging questions: What have I done with my life? What do I want to do with the limited time I have left on this planet? Did I have breakfast yet? Where did I leave my car keys?

I wonder about the impact I’ve had on the people in my life. What might these people say about me if they spoke at my funeral? It got me to imagining, which got me to worrying…. a lot…. about what they might have to say:

My earliest childhood friend, Danny: Yeah, Timmy and I were tight – until he destroyed my purple bicycle. I loved that bike. You son of a bitch. When you rode it into that pond and wrecked the frame beyond repair, from that moment on, you were dead to me. You hear that, Timmy? You’re DEAD TO ME!

My first grade teacher, Miss Kelly: I remember Timothy, yes I do. He was a rather chatty young lad. An unhealthy need for approval, if you ask me. As I recall, he had the worst penmanship and he was a very slow reader. Took him forever to get through the book Fun with Dick and Jane. And every crayon drawing he ever did always included a rainbow. I privately wondered whether he might be gay. Continue reading “Things I hope people won’t mention at my funeral” »

My Visit with Mom

My Visit with Mom

[Author’s Note: My mother, Betty Clark, recently passed away shortly after her 100th birthday. I wrote this blog article, My Visit with Mom, in 2018, after a series of visits with her. I am re-publishing this article in honor of my wonderful, loving, gentle mom, who was an important influence on making me the person I am, including my appreciation for laughter. – TEJ]

Recently, I flew across the country from Seattle to my hometown of Albany, New York, to spend a few days with my elderly mother. While my father died relatively young (at age 64 – a year older than I am now), my mom is like the Energizer Bunny. At 97, she keeps going and going and going.

Well, maybe not exactly. She now needs hearing aids in both ears, her short-term memory has declined significantly, and she is legally blind, able only to make out shapes and colors but with no detail. And she needs a wheelchair to make it any further than two feet. But otherwise, she is doing amazingly well.

While my mother knew I was coming to town, she kept forgetting exactly which day I’d be arriving. So, when I knocked on her room door at the nursing home facility, I entered the room only identifying my presence by saying “Special Delivery for Betty.”  She got momentarily confused, not knowing who was calling on her.

I proclaimed I had a special order of Peanut M&M’s (her favorite candy), but she was still unsure about who was bringing her this surprise. She guessed a few names before I gave her a hint: “It’s your fourth son, Tim!” Suddenly, she lit up like a Christmas tree and hugged me like my visit was the return of the prodigal son.

Her fragile frame, once 5’3”, now barely reaches 5’. But her smile is still radiant. I would be visiting her for the next six days, and all I wanted to do was be there with her and to hopefully add a little sunshine for a few precious days.

Continue reading “My Visit with Mom” »