Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part #166

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 46
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


Winter in the “Lakes Region” of New Hampshire is always harsh. For five months there is lots of snow and cold. The winter of 2000-2001 was even worse than normal. The snow started in November and piled up so fast that we had to hire a company to come and truck it away because there was no more room along our driveway. But, on Tuesday, January 9th, 2001, it was a clear and snow-free day. Adam called me at 7:45 am to tell me, “I’m up and ready to get in my car so I’ll be home in time for my car inspection.” I didn’t ask him how his trip to Newport, Rhode Island went. He had a list of important things he needed to get done so he’d be able to start taking classes at the University of Rhode Island in mid-January but I didn’t ask him about these. I’d ask him when he got home.

Mal spent most of the morning preparing for a party she was hosting that night. It was her turn to have the group of women over for the monthly “Pokeno” game so she was baking up a bunch of pastries and cakes.

As it neared 11:45 a.m.we were surprised that Adam hadn’t gotten home yet. If he left when he had said he was going to leave he should have already gotten home in time for his scheduled car inspection. I called Belknap Tire and asked if I could take Adam’s allotted inspection time since it appeared as if he was going to be late. I drove to Belknap Tire and visited with my friend, Jim Foote, while my car was being inspected.

While Jim and I were talking, he got a phone call from our friend Liz who asked to speak to me. Liz told me that Mal was on her way there and I needed to be ready to go with her right away. Mal arrived a few minutes later and as I got into the car she told me that shortly after I had left the house, a state police officer had knocked on our door to tell us that Adam had been involved in a serious car accident. The policeman offered to drive Mal directly to the local hospital where Adam was being brought by ambulance but Mal knew it would be better for her to drive our car so she could pick me up to go with her to the hospital. That way, we’d have our car there so we wouldn’t have to call someone to come pick us up later on.

The policeman was unable to give Mal any details about the accident so we had no idea of the nature of Adam’s injuries. Even though we were only a few minutes away from the Lakes Region General Hospital, it seemed to take a long time to get there. We tried to prepare ourselves for the worst. We both hoped Adam’s legs were not hurt. We knew how much he loved to dance. A cassette tape in the car played “Help Me God,” by Kathy Trocolli.

Next Chapter: The hospital

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 165

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


In October of 2000, while working on compiling all of his poetry that he’d written, Adam’s old computer “crashed.” He lost everything he had done but, since he had all of his poetry written in several small notebooks, he could start over if he had a new computer. So, for his birthday, we bought him a new state-of-the-art, very expensive computer. We didn’t ordinarily spend large amounts on birthday gifts for our kids but we knew this computer would be something Adam would use for many years. After it arrived, Adam worked on retyping all of his poetry when he had extra time. He asked me several times if I wanted to see it, but I put him off, agreeing to read it once he had it all done. In truth, I do not like most poetry so I wasn’t that interested.

As Christmas of 2000 approached, since we had just recently got him the computer, we had no idea what to buy Adam as a gift. We briefly considered buying Adam a new inexpensive car so that he’d have something very reliable for his frequent trips to visit his friends in Rhode Island. After checking out the Kia line of cars we thought the small Kia SUV might be a good idea. But after thinking about it for a while, we realized that Adam wouldn’t really take good care of a new car. Adam had bought my Honda Accord from me and within six months the car was no longer in excellent condition. He just wasn’t good at taking care of things. We’d have to come up with a better idea for a Christmas gift.

Both of our kids usually gave us a Christmas “Wish List” with some serious items, some goofy items, and a few jokes. Adam usually requested “Monkey-bacon.” One of the “joke” requests that Adam put on his list was “pay off my student loans.” Sorry kid, I don’t think so.

Mal loved Christmas. She enjoyed shopping for gifts for people, she loved Christmas music, but most of all, she loved decorating our home for Christmas. This particular Christmas season was busier than normal because we had scheduled a Laconia Christian School staff Christmas party at our home and Mal had a Christmas party for her women’s Bible study group there too. Mal set up and decorated four different Christmas trees that year but the fifth tree, in the family room, would be the one that we’d decorate with the kids. Mal had already put the lights on the tree and put the star on the top but, with the hectic schedules of our kids, there just wasn’t time to all be together to put on the rest of the decorations until a few days before Christmas.

Shortly before Christmas, Adam told us that he had decided that he wanted to go back to college. He knew he didn’t want to go back to The Boston Conservatory so he was looking into transferring to the University of Rhode Island to pursue a degree in Theatre. We wanted him to go back to college so we encouraged him to get as much information as he could before he made a decision about where he should go.

One day, after I came home to find Adam’s dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, I asked Adam to sit down and talk with me. I started by telling him that I loved him and that I was probably the only parent around who didn’t want his son to leave for college. I didn’t think he was mature enough or responsible enough to spend more time around his young friends in Newport, Rhode Island. I believed that they were a very bad influence on him and I questioned his motive for choosing a college in Rhode Island. Adam told me that the University of Rhode Island had a very good Theatre Department. He also explained that he felt it was important to be near his friends. He insisted that he knew what he was doing.

He had a lot of details to work out if he was going to be able to enroll for the January semester. He’d need to work out another student loan, get his transcripts from The Boston Conservatory, enroll in the required courses, and most importantly, he needed to secure housing. This would be the most difficult because transfer students get “last priority” for on-campus housing. Mal and I certainly didn’t want Adam to end up staying with his friends, “the Park Rats,” anymore. If he was to go back to finish his college education, we didn’t think it would be a good idea for him to be too distracted by his friends.

As Christmas approached, Adam began to work on the details for the college transfer and gave his notice at “Friendly’s,” the restaurant where he had been working. He planned to work there as close to the beginning of the January semester as possible because he really needed the extra money. Mal and I saw that Adam was concerned about having enough money to pay for his current student loans while he attended the University of Rhode Island. So, for his “big” Christmas gift, we decided to pay off his largest student loan. He was certainly shocked and happy when he opened that gift on Christmas morning! Later, when he found out that we had briefly considered buying him a new car (but decided not to because we knew he wouldn’t take good care of it) he said, “Yeah, but I bet you’ll buy Cassy a new car.” No Adam, I had no intention of buying your sixteen-year-old sister a new car.

Shortly after the start of the New Year, Adam still had no commitment of a room at the University of Rhode Island. On Thursday, he decided he’d call to insist that the college make room for him in a dormitory. He called them in the early afternoon and he was told by the voice mail message, “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received.” Adam sat on the couch with the phone held to his ear, waiting for his call to be answered by a human being. After several hours of being on hold, a new message came on saying, “The office is now closed. Please call back during regular business hours.” Adam wasn’t pleased. Since there was just about one week left before the January semester was to begin, Adam decided that he would drive to Rhode Island and take care of things personally. He told us that he would go to the college on Monday morning and stand in the office until they promised him a room.

Believing that most college administration-types would give more consideration to a nice, clean-cut looking guy, at our urging, Adam reluctantly agreed to return his hair to his normal brown color from the bright red color it was at the time.

On Friday, Adam packed up some clothes for his weekend trip to Newport, Rhode Island, but he first had to work a full day at Friendly’s. He planned to leave for Newport right after he got out of work that day. Mal and I came up with a short list of things that Adam needed to do while he was in Rhode Island over that weekend. He needed to find a local doctor to give him the school required physical, get information about available student loans, he needed to dye his hair, and he needed to get a promise of on-campus housing. I wrote these things on a piece of paper and brought it to him at his workplace. He promised to take care of these things as he folded the paper and put it in his pocket. He needed to be back in Laconia, New Hampshire by noon on Tuesday because he had an appointment to get his annual, State of New Hampshire required, car inspection and he assured me he’d be on-time.

Next chapter: Adam calls me on Tuesday morning.

Pictures: Our family in December 2000
Adam gets his school loan gift

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part #164

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 45
Mal Howley: age 46
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 16


In November of 2000, our daughter Cassy signed up through our church to go on a trip to New York City to help distribute food and clothing to the homeless. Mal and I decided to sign up too. Adam couldn’t go because he couldn’t afford to take time off from his job.

The church Evangelism leaders, Ron and Christine St. Cyr, had made many trips to New York City over the years to help the homeless through an organization in the heart of Manhattan. They also organized overseas trips to help build churches, hospitals and orphanages.

Ron and Chris really knew how to organize these trips down to the smallest detail. They required anyone interested in going to attend several instructional classes where we were briefed on the potential dangers of this kind of outreach program. New York City was not like Laconia, New Hampshire. We practiced several potential scenarios so we could reduce possible troubles. Ron firmly explained that if at any time, he sensed a dangerous situation; we were to immediately follow his orders without hesitation.

In early December, we packed several vehicles with the winter coats, shirts, socks, gloves and mittens that we collected to give to some of the people who were homeless in New York City. We drove to a building that had large rooms upstairs for us to sleep in and a soup-kitchen-function room on one of the lower floors. The men in our group occupied one floor and the women were on another. My bunk was near one of the men from my church in New Hampshire who snored so loudly that I was actually awake almost the entire first night.

Over the next couple of days many of us prepared hundreds of sandwiches and packed up bags of toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other personal hygiene products to give to as many of the homeless people as we could find. As we met the people, we explained that there were people who cared about them and we encouraged them to seek out the help of some of the local food pantries and shelters in the area. Most of the people we found were really “in need” but we were surprised when we discovered one man living in a large box with a working television and a microwave oven. He had found a way to hook up to someone’s electrical service! Still an unpleasant way to live, but he had a good sense of humor about his awful situation. Facing a very cold winter outside, he gratefully accepted our offer of food and warm clothing.

Mal and I went with a group of other volunteers to serve hot meals at another local food pantry where it was suggested that we should try to make direct physical contact with the people by hugging them or holding their hand. Many of them would go without any physical contact for weeks or months. They needed food, but they also needed to know that others cared about them. We were saddened to see the dozens of hungry people in line waiting for a simple meal. The people we served seemed so thankful for what we were doing but we were really getting even more out of this experience.

Our daughter, Cassy, went with another group to help coordinate a “Sunday School” for several thousand inner-city children. The church would send busses around the city and parents would just put their kids on the bus so they could be brought to this church. Kids as young as three-years old were sent, alone, to the church program.

On Sunday, we all went to an enormous church service held at The Times Square Church, pastored by David Wilkerson. Then, after Ron St. Cyr reluctantly led us on a fast-moving thirty-minute sightseeing tour of the Rockefeller Center area, we headed back home to New Hampshire. Our son, Adam called our cell phone to see if we were on our way home and Mal told him we’d be back home within a few hours. But we hit an area of tremendous rain that made our driving very treacherous so we ended up several hours behind schedule. Adam called us again, worried that we may have slid off the road. He knew that Ron and Chris usually had everything on a tight schedule so it was very unusual for a trip to be this late. When we finally made it home, we were exhausted but still excited about what we had done and learned on this trip. We looked forward to going again next year as a family with Adam.

Next chapter: Christmas