Gamifying Foot Races, with and without Mom
Hoping never to outpace my favorite memories
I asked an artificially intelligent chatbot to do some gratitude research in support of this newsletter.
As a result, I discovered a new quotation from Cicero: "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Speaking of gratitude, my mom has been facing some health challenges, so I’ve been thinking about how much I appreciate my parents, their friends and the shrinking number of people of my parents’ generation.
Recently I told my wife Kate the story of the time I first beat my mom in a foot race. I was about ten years old, and I prided myself in being fast (back then, small and fast). My teacher, Jack Petrash, gamified running and all sorts of physical play such that at recess, we held foot races like the ancient Greeks did. I knew the speed ranking of the fastest girls (such as Jessica Case and Andrea Humphries) and the fastest boys (Robbie O’Hara and Aaron Gilmartin) in my third grade class. I was not as fast as those classmates, I remember telling myself, but I had other skills that came in handy for someone who played some version of tag every day. As I knew how to dodge, to pivot on the fly, I would not be caught.
So I knew that I could provide my mom some competition when we lined up next to each other on the blacktop of Stoddert Park (in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C.) around dusk on a summer evening. I raced as fast as I could, and I could hear that my mom was with me for the entire run, but somehow I crossed the finish line first. I wondered at first if my mom had let me win, but she voiced her incredulity during the entire sunset walk home to Tunlaw Road. As this was the late 1970s, I believe we were both barefoot. Our race was fast, but our time together was unhurried.
As a girl, my mom was athletic rather than social, she once told me. After school and on weekends, she would hang out at the Turnvereine, a German-American gymnastics and cultural center where my mom learned to swim, to do gymnastics, and to play volleyball. I don’t know that the family thought itself as being particularly German, but my mom’s grandfather on her dad’s side and my mom’s great grandfather on her mom’s side both came from Germany (though the great grandfather met a nice woman from Harrisburg named Catharine Jones, so I have Jones’s on both sides of the family).
One time about 30 years ago my mom was visiting our Sacramento apartment, and we happened to walk past 3349 J Street where one can still find one of the oldest extant Turn Vereine center in the United States, founded in 1854, just four years after the city was incorporated. Seeing the place triggered all sorts of memories for my mom, memories that she shared with us as we walked back to our Midtown home.
She’s not able to share such memories today, but she still depends upon the strength of habit and of body that she developed in Detroit back in the 1940s and 50s to sustain her during these more difficult times. As one of the resident writers in our family, I am called upon to keep memories of her memories, sharing them here to keep alive the spirit of our forebears whose dreams and sacrifices provided us the foundations we needed to show them that we turned out all right, and then to thrive in their absence.
Mostly I was thinking about gratitude because of how thankful I am to the more than 125 people who have donated to my fundraiser for the Smith-Lemli-Opitz Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports research into the rare syndrome that has so significantly affected my son Jukie. As you can see from the Facebook page for the fundraiser, we have reached 82% of our goal of raising $10,000. I really appreciate all of you who have helped out. I wonder if we will make it to $10,000 on Facebook. Many (including some readers of this newsletter) have also given via the Foundation website. Thanks, everyone, for supporting the Pub Quiz in its subscription form, and for supporting this Jukie-featured fundraiser for a good cause.
Here are five questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
Horror Actors Named Williams. Who had the female lead in the horror films Get Out and M3gan?
Pop Culture – Music. Dan Reynolds, the co-founder of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group LoveLoud, is also the lead singer of what imaginative band responsible for the hit “Radioactive”?
Sports. What Oklahoma professional sports team plays its home games at Paycom Center?
P.S. I’ve been researching genealogy on Martin Luther King Day. My dad knew Coretta Scott before she was married, so I wondered if we were related to her. It turns out that she is the “wife of my tenth cousin, once removed.” As Reverend King said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.” I hope you enjoyed the holiday.
P.P.S. I am hosting a faculty forum at UC Davis this coming Friday (January 20th) on ChatGPT and Higher Education, and we have more than three times the early pre-reservations to attend as usual. I’m looking forward to the conversation! Follow The Wheel at UC Davis if you are curious about that part of my job.