Running Stories

Memories Missed

Green Mountain Marathon
South Hero Island, Vermont
October 13, 2013

On Wednesday, October 12, 2013, Mary and I were once again at the Manchester, New Hampshire airport. It was 3 days after the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon with only 4 days to go before the Green Mountain Marathon in Vermont. I had just finished a couple days of work meetings in the D.C. area and we were anxious to get back on our marathon “bookend” vacation.

We drove north into New Hampshire. It wasn’t the most direct route to Vermont but a friend had encouraged us to take in the Kancamagus National Park and the community of Conway, New Hampshire.

Off the interstate, we stopped for breakfast at a local eatery in the very small town of Franklin. It didn’t look like much but it definitely was “local”. We perused the area papers and listened to the early morning coffee drinking crowd talk of their daily plans and “living the dream”. We had found this to be an often used phrase in New England. This phrase reminded me what this next marathon was really all about.

October 13 has been etched in my brain as long as I have been able to remember. It was October 13, 1963 when my father died in a car accident. As fate would have it, I would be running in Vermont on the 50th anniversary of his death. While Vermont would be the 27th state on my 50 state quest, it would be marathon number 28 (completed a Michigan marathon twice). This number held a special significance because he was only 28 years old at the time of his passing.

“Living the dream? Are you kidding me?” I thought to myself. I understood the intent of the phrase but could only think about all the dreams I had had over the years that involved having a father. I poked a fork at my food contemplating the marathon and how my father’s death had put me on this path. I thought, “With 26 miles to run on Sunday, what are the top 26 memories I missed with my father over the past 50 years?”

#1 – Christmas – So many years as a kid, all I wanted for Christmas was a father. My dream was to wake up on Christmas day and find him sitting in the living room waiting for us to open presents. Today, I have kids and now a grandchild that make Christmas so very special. Still, at almost 52 years of age, I wake up Christmas morning wanting only one thing.

Highway 112 from Lincoln to Conway in New Hampshire is called the “Kanc”. The fall colors were past peak but the views of the White Mountains were still very nice. We stopped a few times to see some waterfalls, bridges and streams. It was a relaxing drive and got us back into vacation mode.

We lunched and shopped in Conway for a brief time. Then, we headed west on Route 302 past Mount Washington (the highest point in NH) toward Vermont looping through the very narrow northern New Hampshire area. Entering Vermont, we enjoyed the rural scenery and more mountains.

#2 – Teach me to ride a bike – A neighbor, Art Rehn, and a great uncle, Paul Anderson, put together some old bike parts and presented me with my first bike. It had training wheels to keep me upright. Mom would later take them off. When I fell, I got up…by myself…and tried again…by myself. I didn’t need anybody’s help. I didn’t want anybody’s help. My dad was supposed to be there. He wasn’t. I figured it out…by myself.

We arrived at a cabin on North Hero Island, Vermont in early evening. The small house sat in the woods on the shore of Lake Champlain. Owned by a friend and fellow director on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association board from Vermont, Michelle DaVia, the cabin was a rental of hers that she was letting us use without a charge in support of my Marathon4Kids efforts. The key was under the mat just like she said it would be. Our first taste of Vermont hospitality was generous and low tech!

Friday morning, I took my first run since the New Hampshire marathon. It was an easy 3 miles on gravel roads with some fog hanging over the meadows. I got a big wave from a passing car that made me feel at home all over again.

#3 – A game of catch – Around age 10 or so, I ordered a leather baseball glove from a Montgomery Ward’s catalog. There were no organized leagues in the small town of Timber Lake, South Dakota but there were kids and unofficial games that made me want my own glove. I put it on the handle bar of my bike and I was ready for a game at any time. A couple years later, we moved out of our small mobile home into a government house built for low-income families at the end of main street. It had a pitched roof that I could throw my ball on then catch it as it came down. I simply couldn’t get myself to ask any adult to play catch with me. I was “okay”. Again, I didn’t need anyone. Inside, I was dying for an adult to ask me to play catch. I needed somebody to “want” to play with me. Isn’t that what real dads did? In my first 12 years of life, I caught a ball from 2 adult men, Pepsi Lawrence and Alex Shaw. I still have that glove. I still remember their faces and can feel the ball hitting the leather.

This short run felt good and was all part of my week long plan. Prior to this run, I had made a concentrated effort to get in some good walks every day. When Mary wanted to shop or check out a waterfall, I didn’t argue. I took the opportunity to walk and stretch out the legs. I also kept up a nightly yoga routine. At the end of the run, I felt like it all had worked. My legs were ready for another marathon.

#4 – Share a meal – Growing up, mom would get home shortly after 5 pm. Sometime later, she would have a meal prepared for my brother, my sister and me. At my best friend Scott Cudmore’s house, his dad, Grover, would be at the table. At Grandma Mary Anderson’s house, Grandpa Rusty would be there. At other tables, there was a father figure. At our table, it was just us – always just us.

We drove into the town of Burlington, Vermont later on that Friday. Burlington was about a 20-mile drive from our cabin. Mary wanted to shop and I was in “no argue” mode so we enjoyed the rural sights as we drove from the country to the city. Burlington is larger than our home area of Traverse City but the 2 communities have a very, very similar feel.

#5 – Kiss my mom – As I grew into my early teens, I would meet Grandpa Rusty at his house in town and help him with chores on his ranch south of Timber Lake. Grandma always insisted on a good-bye kiss. Grandpa would smile and grant her wish. He was never too big of a “man” to hide his affection. I so wanted that for my mom.

We walked in and out of many small shops of all kinds. When I got a little tired of being on my feet, I simply sat on a bench and watched people come and go. Eventually, we made it to the local running store that was also the location for packet pickup for the race. There was no traditional race expo just some store sales. It was a simple in and out.

#6 – Teach me to drive – One day long before my 13th birthday, Grandpa Rusty and I were out in his pasture and he stopped the pickup. It was a Ford F-250 with two tone green paint and a 4 speed manual transmission. I was shocked and scared to death when he told me to get behind the wheel for my first driving lesson. I must have killed that truck a dozen times or more as I tried to figure out the stepping on the gas and letting out the clutch coordination. Grandpa never got mad. Later, as I got better, he would let me drive on the gravel roads to and from town. I am sure I never went much over 30 mph which had to make the 17 mile trip into town so very slow for him. He never lost his patience. Other boys would talk about their dads and driving. Silently, I would thank the lord for Grandpa Rusty.

Back on the islands, we met Michelle and her friend Ann at Shore Acres on North Hero Island, a short drive from our cabin. Vermont Electric Cooperative General Manager David Hallquist joined us as well. Michelle serves on his local board of directors. Ann had spent some time in our area of Michigan while growing up. So, we had a nice evening of conversation about Michigan, Vermont, local cooperative issues and national board “stuff”. The restaurant had great views of the mountains and the lake. It was a very relaxing evening.

#7 – Watch a Packer game – In the fall of my 5th grade year, we got our first colored TV. It was hooked up on a Sunday. I watched my first ever NFL game that day. The Green Bay Packers won. They became “my” team. I loved football and watched whenever I could but always alone. I wondered what it would be like to lay on the floor while my dad stretched out on the couch as we talked football while watching a game, any game – just one time.

Saturday was a lazy day. We set no alarm and simply slept in until we couldn’t sleep any longer. Walking down to the lake, we found it like a mirror. There was no wind and a couple sailboats sat anchored on the water. We took two kayaks out on the water and enjoyed an hour or more of paddling around the bay.

#8 – Teach me to hunt – Boys in my class learned to shoot and hunt in junior high and high school. I took hunter safety class and passed with a perfect score. Grandpa Rusty took me grouse hunting one time and tried to give me some pointers. It just wasn’t the same. We never talked about it but I don’t think either heart was in it. The other kids had stories of dads, guns and fun. Nobody had stories of Grandpas and guns. I went out a few times with friends, my brother and cousins. It wasn’t good enough. I had a perfect picture in my head and eventually got good at finding excuses as to why I wasn’t a hunter. I have those excuses at the ready yet today.
We continued the “lazy” theme for the rest of the day. I don’t like to be on my feet much the day before a run so we lounged around the cabin and drove parts of the race course. This is my time to get the “game face” on. It sure wasn’t hard to relax and focus off the beaten path and in such a beautiful rural area.

#9 – Tell me to kiss the girl –Scared to death, I asked my first girl out, Marilyn Keller, as a freshman in high school. I had no clue and nobody to get advice from. My sister, Deb, and cousin, Dale Crance, gave us a ride to and from the high school. I can remember the crinkle of her dress as we danced a close dance and the sickness in my stomach as I tried to make conversation. I dropped her off without a kiss good night. We never went out again. I needed some manly advice and had nowhere to turn. Three years later, I dropped Mary off at her house for the first time. Again, I didn’t kiss her good night. I corrected that mistake a couple weeks later and life with her continues but figuring out girls on my own was the absolute worst. So, the instructions to my boys on their first dates were simple: “Be respectful, walk her to the door and kiss the girl”.

Saturday evening, we attended the Infinite Pasta-bilities meal hosted by the 7th and 8th graders at Folsom School on South Hero Island. It was in the middle school gym and unlike New Hampshire the week before, it felt very much like the small town hospitality we really enjoy on these trips.

We were greeted at the entrance to the gym, walked to our seat at a cafeteria table and assigned our own personal waiter, a young student. We simply had to tell him what we wanted off the hand made menus found at the table. He catered to our every need with drinks, salad, main course and desert. It was a great touch of personal service. We enjoyed a home cooked meal under a basketball hoop and a painting of the school’s Patriot mascot.

#10 – Catch my eye on the sidelines – I only made the starting line up of the high school football team one year, my senior year. I was the center on the offensive line. We went through our early schedule undefeated and faced one final conference game against our long time rival, the Harding County Ranchers for the Little Moreau Conference championship. Our fullback and a good friend, Kelvin Lawrence, had a field day. Myself with cousin John Winterberg and teammate Tim Quinn at the guard positions consistently blew open the middle of the field in a lopsided victory. Kelvin’s dad, Pepsi, was there on the sidelines watching. I didn’t search the sidelines. Nobody made the 150 mile trip to watch me. It still hurts.

The next morning, Mary and I were back outside the school at the race start near the school and an apple orchard. The course was an out and back that was 90% on South Hero’s West Shore Drive. There would be views of rural countryside and the lake all day long. Mary would be able to drive on other roads that paralleled the course and leap frog around to catch me 4 or 5 times.

#11 – Drop me off at college – Mom was willing to take me but I insisted I could handle it. So, we simply loaded up the car with everything I needed. I put home and Timber Lake in the rear view mirror. It’s a lonely feeling leaving home for the first time by yourself. Once again, I didn’t need anybody. There was no dad to count on, to lean on. Be tough. Be strong. Don’t let anybody see the hurt. Mom had other things to worry about. I was “okay”.

Without the traditional national anthem, the race was started promptly at 8:30 a.m. Temperatures were in the 50s and forecasted to peak somewhere over 60. Perfect weather for a run in the country!

#12 – Oil change – At college, I had the old 1977 Nova that I purchased from mom. Grandpa Rusty was far from a mechanic but listening to others talk, I knew one of the main maintenance tasks was changing the oil. How in the heck was I going to learn how to change the oil on my car without admitting I didn’t know how? Asking for help was not something I was good at. Walking the aisles of the auto parts store, I found a Quaker State box with oil change instructions on it! Then, when a friend talked about changing his oil, I suggested that we help each other and do 2 cars at once. Of course, I suggested we do his first. It was “single parent kid, don’t show your cards to nobody” genius. We got it done and nobody ever knew what I didn’t know. My secret life was safely hidden once again.

There was a big downhill shortly after mile 1. I thought, “Holy crap, you have to go back up that hill at mile 25!” No matter, I was caught up in the enthusiasm of hundreds of runners excitedly chattering as the race began. The out and back course would require the half marathon runners to separate before the 7-mile mark. I knew that I needed to ride their energy as long as possible.

#13 – First job – In August 1983, I was hired as Billing Clerk at Moreau-Grand Electric Cooperative in Timber Lake, South Dakota by Office Manager Bart Birkeland. The electric cooperative was one of the best places to work in town. I was excited to say the least. I told mom and Mary as fast as I could. Lord how I wanted to pick up the phone or drive down the road and tell my dad. I had a real job with wages and benefits. He HAD to be proud of me this time. It hurt. Oh, it hurt. Once again, I hid it deep inside and moved on. By then, I was a master at putting on a good face and moving on.

The elevation of Lake Champlain is only 95 feet above sea level. This would make one think that the course would be relatively flat. It was not. The hills were once again not very large (except for mile 1 and 25!) but they were consistent. If there wasn’t a hill on every mile, I can easily say there was one somewhere in every 2-mile stretch of the course. I tried to maintain a steady pace on the way up and pick up some time on the downhill without hammering too hard. Running downhill can take a toll worse than the uphill if a runner isn’t careful.

#14 – One touch – Are we ever too old for a hug, a pat on the back or a simple ruffle of the hair from a father? Countless times I have watched fathers give a loving touch to their sons over the years in all kinds of situations. I want one, just one.

Somewhat to my surprise, I felt very good for having run a marathon just one week earlier. I paced myself with a group of guys running together about 50 yards ahead of me. After 10 miles, I was averaging near 8:20 per mile. I was starting to feel the effort but thought I would just “roll” with it as long as I could.

#15 – Work side by side – I worked in the field and on the ranch with Grandpa Rusty. I helped my uncle, John Anderson, milk cows and do chores when he took over the farm for a time. I branded hundreds of calves with Roger Lawrence the summer after I turned 16. All were good men that taught me different lessons while getting sweaty and dirty. I loved those days and craved their attention simply because I knew it was as close as I would ever get to the real thing. I never made much cash but each “atta boy” or “nice job” was like a breadcrumb to a starving child. I was worth something to someone. I mattered….to a man.

The trees, water, hills and countryside reminded me very much of the Old Mission Peninsula back home in Michigan. The wind was picking up off the lake and was a small factor at times. The water stops were well staffed with friendly local volunteers and very organized. Much of the course was on gravel roads that certainly were a welcome relief to my well-traveled legs. Nothing says “rural”, “home” or “small town” like a gravel road in the country.

#16 – Wedding Day – Is there a bigger day in anyone’s life? I was 22 years old and working full time. Mary was 19 and in college. We were married on June 8, 1984 in Timber Lake in a wonderful ceremony surrounded by friends and family. On the morning of the wedding, I found some quiet time and dreamt about the conversation I wanted to have with my father before I walked down the aisle. I wanted him to smile at me and tell me how lucky I was. I wanted him to tell me it would all work out in the end. I wanted to know he would be there if we got in trouble. I shook my head back to reality. “Be happy. Enjoy your day. Aren’t you used to answering your own questions by now?” I thought to myself as I pulled the bag off the tuxedo.

Spectators were very, very few. It wasn’t hard to pick Mary out of the small crowds. Vacation cabins with water views, hayfields and an occasional barn all added to the relaxing small town theme that I was now becoming to associate with Vermont and its people. Often times in the past, screaming hoards along crowded streets have given me energy to run on. On this day, I found energy in the scenery, gravel and rural back roads.

#17 – Make my wife smile – I watched Grover Cudmore welcome his daughter in-law to the family. I stood in the wedding party while Pete Long brought a smile to the face of his son’s new bride. I sat in the room while uncle Adrian Crance teased cousin Roy’s wife while both smiled and enjoyed each other’s company. What would have that been like for Mary?

In the next 6 miles, I passed most of the group of guys I had been pacing with for so long. They had spread out and each was now running on their own. I had lost my 8:20 pace but my worst mile over the first 16 was still only an 8:44. “I will take that”, I thought to myself.

#18 – Zachary – On May 21, 1986, our first son Zachary was born. We called family. We told people at work. I called Grandpa Rusty even. Grandpa wasn’t a talker and even less so on the phone. It was awkward but it was all I had. The Anderson name was going to live on. I could now start making the memories I had missed. I had Mary to talk to. It was enough. I wasn’t alone. WE weren’t alone. Over the years, I wore my arm out more than once playing catch with that boy.

The marathon wall is always out there somewhere in each race. Fighting the miles, hills, wind and maybe, just maybe a start that was far too fast, I found myself in a steady decline into the proverbial wall. From mile 17 through 22, I went 9:06, 9:22, 9:56, 10:15, 10:19 and 10:48. With 4 miles to go the wall was heavy on me.

#19 – Andrew – Our second child and son, Andrew, was born on December 5, 1989. We were living in Medicine Lake, Montana at the time and almost 400 miles from home. When he was born, Andy had a tint of red in his hair. Again, I called Grandpa Rusty to talk about another son and tell him that this one was a little “rusty” just like his great grandpa. Grandpa was aging at the time and living in Gillette, Wyoming. He and Andy never did meet. My sons would never know one grandfather and I knew that Grandpa Rusty’s best days were behind us all. It made me sad for my little family.

Double-digit numbers are a disaster for any marathoner trying to get under the 4-hour mark. While 4 hours and 30 minutes is considered an average time and finishing a marathon in any amount of time is an accomplishment worthy of pride and praise, the 4-hour mark had always been a goal of mine. Secretly, before leaving on this double marathon trip, I told myself that I wanted to go under 4 hours in both races. Since it took me 17 tries to do so for the first time, I did think it was a bit of a stretch goal. Probably why I kept it to myself!

#20 – First General Manager’s job – In September of 1991, I was hired as General Manager of Niobrara Electric Association in Lusk, Wyoming at the young age of 29. I had now reached what I felt was the top of my profession AND most importantly, I had lived beyond the age of 28. Outliving your father is a strange feeling. Doing so while managing employees decades older than you for the first time was also a different feeling. Mary’s dad, Francis Reinbold, was proud. He told everyone down at the coffee shop in Timber Lake. He and Mary’s mom, Anna, came out to Wyoming for a brief visit. It felt good. Francis was a gruff old German farmer and we didn’t talk much but simply knowing he was happy, made me proud. It wasn’t my father but it was “a” father. It would do. It would have to do.
While I still was enjoying the rural course, I now began doing the 4-hour math as I ran with my head mostly down. I had a small chance if I just kept running and didn’t walk. The double-digit numbers kept coming however. I was tired, so tired.

#21 – Collette – Our baby girl, Collette Noel, arrived on November 8, 1994. Grandpa Rusty was now gone. I missed making that awkward call. We had good friends to share her with in Wyoming. My dad wasn’t there to raise his daughter. Would it really do me any good if I could call him now? What could he know anyway? I don’t know that I got real sad this time. I was more pissed off. Bastard left 3 kids alone so he could go out with the boys drinking and playing cards. Mary and I could handle our 3 without him. I chose Noel for her middle name because she would be our last baby and I wanted a reminder of how good Christmas could really be.

Mile 23 was 11:06. My brain cried out, “C’mon man, move it.” Mile 24 came in at 10:28. “Well, hell, that is a little better!” the legs replied. Then, there I was, at the base of the big mother hill and mile 25. I got up and over in what felt like a snail’s pace of 11:37. “Son of a bitch man!” I screamed inside my head “You still have a chance!”

#22 – Amelia – I became the grandfather my kids never had on April 18, 2013 when Amelia Marie arrived to our son Zachary and his wife Cassie in Cadillac, Michigan. I put my ear up to the hospital door as Mary and I anxiously awaited her arrival. My son didn’t need to make a call when he came out of the delivery room. He had to only walk down the hall for a hug. Decades of wondering and craving melted away as I held her for the first time. She was beautiful. She was perfect. I was there. I had her in my arms. Waves of relief swept over me. For one day, I had broken the cycle. I gave her back to her parents, turned and wiped back the tears. I wanted to be around for the years ahead so, so bad.
Mile 26 was flat and I dug down for all I had left in the tank. On the 50th anniversary of my dad’s death, I very much wanted to get under that 4-hour mark. I could see the finish line banner growing closer. My watch chirped out and I looked down at a mile 26 time of 9:07. “Run! Run! RUN!” I was now screaming to myself out loud as I sprinted down the ever so crucial final 1/5th of a mile. I crossed the finish line in 3:59:10…..3:59:10. YES!

#23 – Grown Up Conversation – My kids are now grown. One of my simple pleasures is talking to them about their homes, bills, work issues, politics and dreams. In the quiet times as I am running or sitting on the deck removing my shoes as the sun rises, I often wonder what a simple conversation with my dad would be like today. After 50 years, what would we talk about? What would he think of the world in 2014?

I bent my neck down to accept the finisher’s medal, walked a few steps to the side and crumpled down on the grass. I was spent. With little time to spare, I had accomplished the day’s goal. After 16 weeks of training and 50 years of wanting, I found myself head down on a Vermont island a thousand miles from home with nothing left. I was satisfied but it hurt, physically and emotionally.

#24 – Love – Mom always told us kids that she loved us. I never heard any dad of a friend tell his kids he loved them. Uncle John was the first man I ever heard use the “L” word with his kids. To a teenager craving affection, it made me feel good to hear him say it to them. As time went on, he would tell me he loved me too. We saw each other in the fall of 2012 and he did so once again. It never gets old. Sometimes, I think I tell my kids I love them too often. “Do they really appreciate it?” I often wonder. I do it anyway. If I don’t ever see them again, I want it to be the last thing they remember me saying.

Mary Elizabeth Reinbold Anderson, the lady I affectionately refer to as “The Cheerleader” helped me up just as she had in so many ways over the past 34 years since we first met. Together, hand in hand, we headed back to the car and the cabin, leaving the small town race behind.

#25 – Marathon finish – Often, I cross the finish line of a marathon and look around at the family gatherings. I find my friends, family or Mary waiting for me. This is always good. Still, I look around. I am searching for the fathers and sons. I want to see it. I need to see it. Fathers and sons sharing a “bucket list” accomplishment, I can only imagine what it feels like. How many finishes will I have before this craving goes away?

There were 30 male finishers in my 50-59 year old age bracket. I finished in 11th place. I took a little pleasure in the fact that my time would have been good enough for 5th place in the 20-29 year old male group. I guess the “old guys” respect the distance a little more and probably have more time to train than the “boys” do. There were 239 finishers both male and female. I finished in 76th place. I took great pride in that number because I had just covered the distance the week before.

In no hurry, Mary and I enjoyed a few more hours at the cabin. I had a long, hot bath that felt a little bit like heaven. We lounged in the living room while watching the Packers beat the Baltimore Ravens. We left a thank you note and gifts that were far less than the value of the cabin rental for Michelle and Ann. Then, after putting the key back under the welcome mat with a smile, we headed over to Manchester, New Hampshire to catch the morning flight home.
A
s the number of marathons continues to grow, I have found appreciation for the marathon schedule that doesn’t have us rushing to catch a flight on the same day as the race. It takes a lot of stress out of what is supposed to be a vacation!

The website for the Green Mountain Marathon states that it is a race put on by runners. I have to agree. I would recommend this marathon to anyone who enjoys a small town event. It is well organized, relaxed, welcoming and the course while not easy offers some great scenery. If you let them, Vermont and the back roads of South Hero island can take you ever so close to wherever it is you call home.

#26 – A friend – There have been many little moments, struggles, questions and big events over the past 50 years that made me yearn to have a father. But, most of all, I think I just wanted a friend. I have always imagined that never ending friendship is at the core of a father and son relationship. Over the course of half a century, how many friends come and go through our lives? Friendships that are lasting are rare and often involve family. I try my best to be a friend to my kids. I always wonder if I have been good enough. I have no benchmark. I can’t look back at what my father did. I am simply trying to set an example for them to pass along to the next generation. Fatherhood and the friendship that comes with it will forever be uncharted territory for me. On most days, I can accept that – on most days.

When I meet my dad in heaven, I will ask him for forgiveness. Forgiveness of the anger I focused on his absence so many times over the past 50 years. When a boy and later a man gets frustrated from holding down his feelings so hard for so long, often the only feeling that escapes is anger. It isn’t fair. It doesn’t solve anything. It simply allows the energy of frustration to burn off.

I will walk through the pearly gates and ask, “Dad, was I good enough?” In my heart, I hope the answer will be “Yes. Good enough, son. Good enough.” Then, I imagine that he will tell me he left so long ago so that I could help others with a passion that could only be born by loss. One person had to leave so many people could benefit. I think about this and feel selfish for wanting him there so many times and at the same time, proud that I made it without him. I know that I didn’t ever really do it all alone. I now know that I am truly “okay”. I do matter. I can make a difference.

Finally, as a man, I believe I have answered the “why” that I cried as a child in those dark and lonely quiet times when nobody was around. On most days, I am at peace with the “why” – on most days. I am moving on. I have always been moving on.