Friday, June 21, 2013

Keeping my Shoes Tied

Sister Francesca noticed me coming in late and with almost no notice managed to whack me on the side of the face. It sort of stunned me, but to be honest, it wasn’t a brutal blow to the head as much as it was a surprise. I was in eighth grade and I guess I assumed it to be a fair warning about my tardiness. St. Luke’s was my school for grades one through eight. That was nine years for me. (I repeated the first grade.)

Sister Francesca once made a bargain with me I will never forget. If I could keep my shoes tied for a full day she would award me a holy card. By applying double knot strategy to both of my shoe strings the next day I was able to deliver on the challenge. She hardly noticed but I was bold enough to remind her. I was the recipient of a Mary, Mother of Jesus holy card. (Quite an accomplishment for a clever underachiever like myself.)          

Sister Francesca expected a lot from me. She was my first grade teacher (the first time). By the time I met with her wrath on the staircase that day I was tardy in grade eight, she was the principal of the school. (Sister Francesca made it a point to mention that the spelling of principal ended in PAL. She wanted me to grasp that principle I guess.)

My mother and Sister Francesca had to decide together about whether or not to promote me to the second grade. They must have been unsure of my readiness but wanted to make a careful decision. Holding me back meant I would be in the same grade as my younger brother Greg at that parochial Catholic school in Lakewood, Ohio. 

A two week experimental start in grade two in Ms. Victory’s class resulted in a speedy confirmation that I was, in Ms. Victory’s professional opinion, NOT ready for grade two. So like the minor league player that moves up for a “cup of coffee” I was sent back to grade one for more development. My brother Greg (just a year younger) was always in another section but from that point on we were in the same grade.

I was put on the spot when classmates wanted an explanation. “Are you guys twins or something?” My way of diffusing the embarrassment was to make light of it all. “I flunked the first grade.” If I owned it and delivered the line well enough, it took on the tone of self-deprecating humor. I learned early on that facing defeat in such a way was disarming. Kids can be cruel at that age but you win if you can outsmart them by showing that you are not vulnerable. I was of course, but this defense mechanism made me seem less of a target I guess.

Maybe I was a late starter, because by grade three I was a teacher’s pet and by grades four and five I was excelling in most subjects. Never a whiz kid but generally recognized as creative and a reasonably good student the rest of the way at St. Luke’s. By the time I was playing CYO football in the eighth grade I was like the Mean Joe Greene of the St. Luke’s Crusaders Lightweight Football Team. (I actually had to lose weight to play but in doing so I was still the biggest kid on the field.)    

So in a kind of weird way I have to thank my pal the principal, Sister Francesca for who I am today.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Great Dad from the Greatest Generation

On July 21, 2013 my father turned 95 years old. He was living in a nursing home for veterans in Land o Lakes, Florida near Tampa. Artist, athlete, veteran, family man, business man and a genuine role model. You learn a lot being around a guy like that. As near as I can tell, he's the sort that rises to every occasion and every challenge. He made it look easy. On August 20, 2013 he left us. (He will be missed.) 

James O’Connell Morgan was born July 21, 1918.  An artist, veteran of WWII, loyal husband and father, Jim Morgan was founder of Morgan Studio in Cleveland, Ohio, the advertising, art and photography business he started and ran for the better part of four decades. Later in life, he lived in the village of Key Biscayne in Miami, Florida and Keller, Texas with his wife Mary until her passing in 2011. He then moved to Tampa, Florida.    

He Graduated from St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. (He was an average student, but showed early talent as a promising artist and illustrator.)

He Graduated from John Carroll University where he was a Three-year letter winner and two-year starter as both offensive and defensive lineman on John Carroll's first and only Big Four championship team in 1939. Team's record was 13-3-1 (.794) in his two years as a starter.(He was 60-minute Morgan at John Carroll University in Cleveland). Years after he graduated, he was installed in JCU’s sports Hall of Fame.

He studied at Pratt Institute of Design in New York where he began to solidify his career path before the call of military duty caused him to take a detour. The year at Pratt and the time he spent in New York City influenced him greatly.

He was a soldier during World War II. First enlisting and later entering officer candidate school (OCS). He served as a leader of a camouflage unit and led Black troops (at a time when the army was still segregated). He went wherever they asked him to go and yet was able to stay out of harm’s way. He served his country with honor for over four years.

After his time in the U.S. Army, he began his career at Malmquist Studio as a commercial artist until he left to to start his own business in Cleveland, Ohio. He founded Morgan Studio in 1951 as “the architects of the printed page.” He was convinced that design was a noble and worthy profession. Along the way, Morgan Studio
served a roster of blue chip clients including Ohio Bell Telephone, Youngstown Steel Door, Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, L’erin Cosmetics, Ernst & Ernst, Glidden Paint, Stouffers Restaurants, Lake Erie Screw Corporation, Mooney Chemicals, Cleveland Federal Savings and Bonne Bell Cosmetics.

He was a devoted husband to Mary Francis Lawton Morgan (married in December of 1942 –Mary died May 2011). They were married for almost 70 years.

James O’C. Morgan and his wife had six children: Sundance (formerly James O’Connell Morgan Jr. – born 1944), Mary Lynn (born 1952), Wesley (born 1955), Gregory (born 1956), Daniel (Born 1958) and Robert Morgan (born 1959).  

He has nine grandchildren:

Lynn’s children
James O’Connell Varney*
Philip Varney

Wes’ children
Lindsey Lawton Morgan
John Benjamin Morgan

Greg’s children
Wesley Morgan
Matthew Morgan

Rob’s children
Megan Morgan
Tara Morgan
Kevin Morgan

* Jimmy Varney and his wife Susan have two children -  a girl and a boy: Colleen and Lane.

Dut-Duts. Ferris Wheel in the Flats. Old Rocks. Lake Erie Fresh Water. Snake Oil. Water Colors of beaches, lighthouses and horses. Cartoons and Christmas books. In the cold gray dawn when the stars were gone. Ohio Bell. Bonne Belle. Mooney Chemical. Youngstown Steel Door. Morgan Studio Black Pencils. Razor Blades. Captain Linguini. The 8-year plan.And Bang? (Game over.) John Carroll University HoF. WWII Camoflague Impressario. Great Dad from the Greatest Generation.  

I had a dream last night, I dreamed
I had to pick a Mother out.
I had to choose a Father too.
At first I wondered what to do,
There were so many there is seemed,
Short and tall and thin and stout.
But just before I sprang awake,
I knew what parents I had to take.
And this surprised me and made me glad:
They were the ones I always had!
(Andre by Gwendolyn Brooks)




Saturday, June 8, 2013

Viva Palma Ceia

A year ago the Republican National Convention was a gathering in Tampa to officially nominated Mitt Romney for President. Party leaders delivered speeches around the convention theme, A Better Future.  It’s almost a year later and Obama is still president. Dad is moving closer to his 95th birthday. Greg’s boy Matthew is in college at the New College of Florida.* (Matt and I share our birth-date with Joe Cocker and Cher. He’s 21 now.)

Four years have passed since Lindsey and Chris began sharing a two bedroom apartment in the South Tampa, just a few blocks from Bayshore Boulevard in the South Tampa neighborhood of Palma Ceia. The long winding sidewalk on Bayshore along the bay is a favorite of joggers. Tropical storm Andrea manages to produce enough water to cause it to be closed to traffic part of the week. (Five days in Florida, four of them rainy days. It’s okay.)  

I’m on a mission of support for the remarkable, incredible, determined and fantastic Lindsey Morgan. She is down more than 150 pounds. A stomach band, diet, exercise and now adominoplasty (tummy tuck) are all part of her journey. She is a poster girl/testimonial for Orange Theory Fitness; an inspiration for all of those she encounters as youth group director at Temple Schaarai Zedek; a case study success for cosmetic surgeon Daniel P. Greenwald and a champion for all of those who may have self-doubt about what they may or may not be able to accomplish in life.

Dad is surrounded by vets at Baldamero-Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O Lakes, Florida. He’s not keen on the cuisine this evening; Shepherd’s Pie, Corn, Mashed Potatoes and white bread with butter. He does enjoy his cranberry juice though, before moving on to chocolate skim milk. Greg makes a note to check with dietary. He wants to follow-up on medication protocols too. This is a new location for J. O’C. M. Greg is watching the details. Since being delivered to the dining area, Dad has a mild obsession with the time. He checks his watch frequently and comments. “No-one has the right time here. Do you know what time it is?” Of course, I can’t resist the set up line. My catchy response, (I get to use it at least a half dozen times as Dad raises the question again and again): “Well Dad, he (Greg) doesn’t know and I don't care,” offering two plausible excuses to the irresponsible lack of attention to the passage of time. It’s true that I don’t care because I know these are precious moments and I’m not on my at home or in control of anything.  It’s not true that Greg doesn’t know what time it is, however. He is in charge of a long list of time-sensitive logistics at his household. (He might be in charge of picking Lauren up from a Girl Scouts community service function or stocking up on groceries for Taco Night at the blended Morgan-Yoho compound. He might have to meet with a roofing contractor. He might have to make arrangements for the next Broker Poker Night, Real Estate Lives meeting or Red Cross fundraiser. In fact, just recently he has been pressed into service to be chaperone for Lauren’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic, for which he may need to prepare.)

Uneventful and rainy for most of the trip, I finished reading Dethroning the King about the InBev take-over of Anheuser Busch and started reading The Wizard of Lies about Bernie Madoff and the giant Ponzie Scheme fraud he masterminded (a book recommended to me by Chris Dewey). Since Lindsey was not very mobile this week we watched a lot of pre-recorded reality television episodes of Little Miss Supreme pageants; little people adoptions, pawn shops, pickers, cooking competitions and the dangerous perils of crab fishing off the coast of Alaska.

What time is it? I don’t care, but it is incredible how slowly it seems to move and yet how quickly it passes. Maybe I care more than I like to reveal.

*Sarasota, FL - New College’s historic Bayfront Campus sits on the former estate of circus magnate Charles Edward Ringling (1863-1926), the older brother of John Ringling. Charles was one of the owners of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and was in charge of production, while his wife, Edith, participated in the business and was a member of the board of directors of the circus.