Sunday, April 20, 2008

"The Answers in the Wind" - by Tamara Jones Wpost

ISaturday, May 12, 2007; C01


Matt Deighton grabs a broom and starts sweeping the living-room floor, a chore clearly more cathartic than practical in the ruins of his childhood home. The cozy little bungalow is a heap of splintered wood, jagged glass, broken brick and shredded drywall now, like everything else in this heartland town that disappeared a week ago when a 200-mph tornado tore through just around bedtime.

Greensburg is gone, all but a few of its 1,500 residents homeless, left to shovel and bulldoze and sweep entire lifetimes into piles of debris. Sometimes treasures are discovered -- a widow's wedding band, a little girl's favorite teacup, a beloved Bible -- but mostly it's just trash. Insurance adjusters drive up, take one glance and write "total loss" on their work sheets. The homeless homeowners nod their heads, sign the papers, then go back to sifting.

Once the Deightons started digging, though, three generations of them, something they couldn't describe seemed to be set in motion, and they found themselves reluctant to stop long after it became clear that nothing more could be salvaged. And so they kept digging, for hours and then days, from morning until the evening curfew, because what was being unearthed in the rubble of Sycamore Street was more important than any possession they had lost.

Sometimes, they learned, the wind takes away what we need to give up but can't, things invisible and intangible, wrestled from a stunned heart's grasp.

* * *

Arlene Deighton sits on a folding chair in her driveway, watching the artifacts of her 76 years pile up around her. The noonday sun blazes down on the floppy white hat her older daughter, Sheri, insisted on getting at the Wal-Mart 30 minutes away. Arlene, her four grown children, a granddaughter and a handful of in-laws are living in the clan's two RVs now at a county lake that's always been a favorite retreat for them.

Arlene sometimes forgets what happened that Friday night eight days ago, when her younger boy, Matt, rushed her through the hail into a neighbor's fortified basement across the street. Matt, 44, moved back home a few years ago to get his bearings after his catering business failed in Texas, and he became his parents' caregiver. Jim Deighton died of lung cancer last summer, but Arlene insists it was three months ago.

Sheri, her sister Lori and Lori's 23-year-old daughter, Lacey, took Arlene to Wal-Mart after the siblings found her and Matt unharmed in an emergency shelter in the neighboring town. Sheri, 51, remembers how irritated her mother was as the girls kept piling things into the shopping cart -- a hairbrush, underwear, shampoo, cheap clothing. "I don't need those things!" Arlene protested. "Put them back, I have all that at home!" No you don't, the girls kept saying, remember the storm? Back and forth they went, until finally Sheri lost it. She wishes now she hadn't been so harsh.

"Mom, if it's not in the cart in front of you, you don't have it."

Now Arlene wears her new Wal-Mart pantsuit and chats with the public health nurses who are walking through the streets giving everyone free tetanus shots. Ambulances cruise slowly past, their crews offering cold water and Gatorade. The Red Cross truck comes by with ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Arlene's older son, Mike, 57, who flew in from Florida to help, emerges from the foul-smelling basement wearing a rubber Bob Dole mask.

"You know, through all this, we found out you can still laugh," Arlene remarks. "No use crying."

Arlene says she isn't sure whether she'll rebuild, but the decision isn't hers alone to make anymore. She has emphysema and arthritis. Her children worry about the dementia that's still in its early stages, suddenly making her forget what a toothbrush is.

At night at the campground, the kids discuss her future. Maybe it's time for assisted living. "I mentioned I might like to come to Florida," Arlene later reports, "and Mike said, 'C'mon down!' But I imagine once I got there, I'd just want to turn right around and come home." The kids aren't sure how much of this she truly grasps. "Mom's kinda in her own little happy place so we're just leaving her there," Sheri says.

Another snowy-haired survivor sits in the driveway with Arlene. Lori Deighton married the boy two doors down, and Ora Ellen Doyle, her mother-in-law, was still living there. What the tornado didn't destroy, rainwater and burst pipes did. The sodden floors and collapsed walls are about to give way completely, and it's not safe to go back. Ora Ellen can't bear just sitting here in Arlene's driveway, though, and they keep finding her poking through her life's debris with her cane.

"Every time I go over to my house, here comes my son," Ora Ellen complains after Lori's husband, Jerry, has fetched her back yet again.

"They don't want you there in that rubble," Arlene replies tartly.

"I haven't fell yet," Ora Ellen answers.

Arlene's yard is starting to look like an apocalyptic flea market. "This was a family where you were brought up never to throw anything away," Mike explains dryly. Matt and his mother were the most avid collectors, both nostalgia buffs who used to enjoy yard sales and the rural auctions where they could bid on vintage pieces like the three Victrolas that survived the tornado. Matt found the John Deere pedal-tractor he had when he was 5, and the old wooden highchair with puppy cowboys on it is unscathed. Arlene doesn't exclaim or cry or even say much about any of the things recovered. Her lack of sentimentality dismays Ora Ellen, who wants whatever she can reclaim, no matter how damaged, of the papers and photos and belongings that were once her own parents' and grandparents'. "I just like those things," is how she explains it.

"I had it long enough," Arlene says of her belongings, "it's time to move on. There are so many things I want to tell him." Her husband, she means. His overcoat is hanging from a rack in her front yard. "I know he's not coming back," she says. This loss is nothing compared to that.

Her children keep surfacing with more things they've recovered. Cheese graters and old toys and the newspapers with Kennedy's assassination. Mike finds his football trophies, and Matt rubs his leg at the sight of an old lawn-dart game, remembering the time Lori accidentally speared him. Their mother watches them idly.

"There's some good tea towels," Arlene tells Matt, spying some dishrags in the mess of her twisted kitchen.

"You're getting new ones, Mom," he replies. "These went through the insulation and have asbestos on them, they're dangerous."

Arlene sees an unopened bag of kibble. "Matt, would you be afraid of that dog food?" she wonders. His Dalmatian, Molly, is safe at the kennel.

"Yes," he says with a laugh, adding, "Can you tell Mom went through the Depression?"

Ora Ellen jumps in.

"Not really," she snaps. "She don't want to save nothing, and that's not Depression."

She bends down to pick up something glistening in a mound of Arlene's rubble. It's a tiny glass deer, unbroken. She holds it up to Arlene, her voice half-challenge, half-lament: "You want it?"

Arlene shrugs elaborately and scowls. "Probably," she says curtly.

Ora Ellen gently places the figurine on a cracked table and goes back to her chair, waiting for the chance to slip away again, to her own ruins.

* * *

"C'mon in, sorry the house is such a mess!" Matt calls out to everyone who wanders up, never tiring of the joke. He is the emcee of this little open-air amphitheater, the one who jubilantly points out the ugly brown folding chair that he and his father found in a New Orleans alley when driving home from a Florida trip a couple of months after Katrina. The chair survived this beating, too. Matt is starting to feel like the Katrina chair himself. Losing his business, taking care of his parents, his dad dying, a great-nephew drowning, now this. Matt's voice is too loud, too buoyant, when he tells friends on his cellphone: "I have no tears left."

He goes for a tour of the demolished Main Street. Here was the old Rexall drugstore with its old-timey soda fountain, where the same guy had been making Green Rivers and Black Cows since he got the job as a teenager. Now Dick Huckriedy is 73, and the wind took away what he couldn't give up. Next door was the print shop where Matt hollered hello every morning to the buddy who ran it, and across the street was the town's beautiful art-deco gem, the Twilight Theatre. Movies were shown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The last title up on the marquee was a comedy: "Are We Done Yet?" Matt can't help but laugh at that. That tumble of bricks was the high school, this concrete cave was the beauty parlor.

The sun never felt so hot, so punishing, in May before. Those skeletal trunks were big shade trees -- chestnuts and cottonwoods -- now stripped of leaves and bark. Thirteen people died in the storm, and everyone says it's a miracle there weren't more. Survival has no rules of logic. Five chocolate cupcakes can be seen intact in the rubble of a home with absolutely nothing else left.

The insurance adjusters are coming, and they'll cash out Mom's house. That's what the siblings have decided. Matt is worried. Do they get it yet, that he's a victim, too? He drives past the National Guard checkpoint to the next town, 18 miles away, where he spends five hours filling out forms for federal disaster relief, Salvation Army vouchers, unemployment, a new driver's license, a post office box. His brother has been telling him to get a job, move on with his life, but Matt feels rooted here.

Back at the house, the women are digging with bare hands through a teetering pile of debris, oblivious to the jagged wood and jutting nails.

"It's here, Matt, I can feel it!" Lori cries. "It's right here." She and Sheri have been searching for days for the heavy white ceramic teapot their mother always kept atop their fridge. "It had Dutch people on it," Lori recalls. The kids were forbidden to touch it, growing up. Lori is determined to find it now.

"I guess I never realized the significance of it," Lacey admits, joining her mother and aunt in the treasure hunt.

"It was The Teapot," Sheri explains. "We could never touch it."

An insurance adjuster is trekking through the debris, too, using a laser device to measure what used to be the dimensions of what used to be a house. It was a modest place, two bedrooms and a basement, 1,200 square feet, by the adjuster's calculations. Arlene doesn't remember what they paid for it when they moved here in 1976, but it was a pretty little place, she says.

Lori suddenly lets out a little yelp. In her hand is a tiny plastic doll, which she winds up. "On my sixth birthday, I got a dollar, and I went to Robinson Hardware and got this little baby for 88 cents and she's still crawling." Lori chokes up, and Mike, the big brother, pauses from his work.

"You got the change?" he deadpans.

Mike is the authority figure here, "the one who thinks he's the boss," his mother says with some amusement. The tension between Mike and Matt is palpable. Sheri usually finds a way to intercept with a pleasant family memory or an offer of sunscreen. Lori is the fixer, a role she's taken on literally now, collecting pieces of even the cheap china with fervent vows to glue everything back together. She and Sheri like to make stained glass, so what can't be repaired, they promise to re-imagine and give a new life. Shards will become sun-catchers.

Mike wants Matt to help him drag a fallen wall away, to give them better access to the bedrooms. And they should roll back that wet carpet. Maybe Mom's diamond ring is hidden in the fibers somewhere. They found her gold band sparkling on a stair the first day. Maybe they'll be lucky again.

They've been sifting for four days now, and it's Lacey who observes that most of the digging "is just to occupy the time so you don't have to think about it."

The tornado has been strangely liberating, Lacey thinks.

"I hate to be a part of this, but at the same time, I'm very humbled by it," she says. She sees a strength of character she never really appreciated before in the two homeless grandmothers sitting beneath a vast Kansas sky full of promise one moment and menace the next. Lacey starts nursing school in two weeks, and the volunteer effort she's witnessed in Greensburg this week has made her think about going into disaster relief.

She and her Aunt Sheri went for a long walk together, stopping to chat with people clearing out their own debris. "It's like walking around in Mayberry," Lacey says, "no phones, no Internet, no TV. It's the simple life, and every once in a while, you need to live it. The world has slowed down." They've all been robbed of the illusion of control, scoured clean, left no choice but to start fresh.

When Sheri spots a butterfly, she swipes at the tears that roll down her cheeks again, moved by the flash of color in this sepia-toned moonscape. "Where did you come from?" she asks.

* * *

The insurance company has sent out a second representative, a young man whose business card reads "Scope. Appraise. Replace." He's here to inventory and put value on every item lost. The Deightons borrow a game room at a friend's farm, sitting around a poker table trying to remember everything.

How many waffle irons? the adjuster asks. How much were the bean pots worth? Any rolling pins?

"Mom was a really, really good baker," Matt says, remembering chocolate cake with white frosting.

"Tea towels," Lori adds to the list. "Aprons."

"Aprons, aprons, aprons," adds Sheri.

"She loved aprons," Matt agrees.

On and on they go, itemizing one family's history, salt shaker by salt shaker. Arlene and Ora Ellen are back at the lake. Everyone will decamp this weekend. Both the grandmothers will be going to Oklahoma, it seems. A house went on the market next door to Lori's, and Ora Ellen will lease it for a year. Arlene will go to an assisted-living home.

Matt's only plan is to stay behind, to keep churning through the ruins of Sycamore Street, not looking for anything in particular, just digging until the wind whispers that it's time now to go.

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"A Living Memorial" By Ian Urbina

April 15, 2008

JONESVILLE, Va. — After their daughter, Austin, was killed in the Virginia Tech shootings last year, Bryan Cloyd and his wife, ReneĆ©, asked that donations in her honor be sent to a program that repairs dilapidated houses in the poorest parts of Appalachia. To the Cloyds’ surprise, the program received nearly $70,000 in gifts almost immediately.

“We realized there was no better therapy than doing more of that,” said Mr. Cloyd, an accounting professor at Virginia Tech, who began organizing trips for students to work in the hollows of Virginia.

But for the Cloyds, the trips were not just an attempt to heal. They were also a chance to redefine the memory of their daughter, a process that set an example for a university still struggling to move forward as the first anniversary of the worst campus massacre in American history approached on Wednesday.

“For us, this has become a way to remember these students, many of whom were very involved in activism and service,” Mr. Cloyd said. “They should be known for how they lived rather than how they died.”

This year, the Cloyds have ushered about 150 Virginia Tech students and faculty members on five weekend house-repair trips, and they plan to continue running regular trips from now on.

In the classroom, Professor Cloyd, 47, has shifted beyond his typical focus on taxes and begun offering an honors class titled “Inventing the Future Through Our ‘Ut Prosim’ Tradition,” a reference to the university’s motto, “that I may serve.” Students in the class spend one weekend working with the house-repair project and the rest of the semester developing proposals for other types of service.

In Jonesville, the Cloyds’ efforts brought 69-year-old Louella Moore to tears.

“Honestly, I don’t know how to thank these people,” she said, shaking her head as she peered shyly through her window, watching Mr. Cloyd and his students dig holes for corner posts that would soon support her new front porch.

A year ago, Ms. Moore said, her house seemed to be caving in around her. The water heater broke, then part of the roof and the foundation started to collapse. Ms. Moore said she had little money to do anything about it. Her life, too, seemed to be closing in, she said, as a daughter died of a heart attack, a brother-in-law died of a brain tumor, and her husband died of unknown causes, all in about three years.

But Ms. Moore stopped crying when asked about the Cloyds.

“What they have gone through, and now they have started all this,” she said, wiping her eyes. “It just makes me strong.”

For the Cloyds, repairing the homes of others was a way to restore their sense of humanity, they said.

It was this message that they took to university officials late last year, encouraging them to step up efforts to get students involved in public service. In response, the university started a program in October called V.T.-Engage, which asked Virginia Tech students and faculty and staff members to perform at least 10 hours of service each, for a total of 300,000 hours, in honor of the victims of the April 16, 2007, shootings, which left 33 dead, including the gunman. Members of the Virginia Tech community have already completed more than 200,000 hours this year.

“Purpose and hope — the raw ingredients of happiness, right?” Mr. Cloyd said, taking a break from offering support to two English majors who were trying to stand firm in foot-deep mud as they steadied a 16-foot pole in concrete at a house in Lee County.

Mr. Cloyd said Austin had gone on four weeklong trips with the Appalachia Service Project when the family lived in Champaign, Ill. More than any other experience, he said, those trips shaped her desire to become an international studies major and pursue a career in social service.

By honoring Austin’s passion for social justice, Ms. Cloyd said that she had been able to stay connected to her daughter’s friends, many of whom have joined the weekend outings.

“Really, we’re the ones who benefited from all this,” she said.

Like many of the victims who were involved in political issues or social service activities, Austin had an intense interest in raising awareness about the ethnic killings in Darfur and working to stop mountaintop removal, a controversial method of coal mining, Mr. Cloyd said.

Since its founding in 1969, the Appalachia Service Project has helped repair more than 13,000 homes in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. The trips are run year-round, and volunteers pay about $100 for a weekend trip and about $300 for a week. The fees help cover room, board and building materials.

“Over the years, we’ve drawn our volunteers predominantly from church groups,” said Susan C. Crow, the organization’s chief executive. “What the Cloyds have helped us do is better tap into the college student demographic, which is important because these young people are at a key moment when they are shaping their career and other priorities, and that’s when we want to push them to consider service.”

For Lauren Patrizio, a sophomore political science major, this push to reconsider priorities was proving to be disorienting.

Looking at the half-finished porch that she was helping to build, Ms. Patrizio said the tangible sense of accomplishment, the friends she made on the trip and the conversations she had with Ms. Moore had left her second-guessing her plans to go directly to law school after graduation.

“When you see what a concrete difference you can make for the better in a real person’s life, you start wondering about law school and where it will take you,” said Ms. Patrizio, 20, who was a lifeguard with Austin Cloyd at Virginia Tech.

“I don’t know — the whole experience has rattled my plans a little,” she added.

Told of Ms. Patrizio’s comments, Mr. Cloyd paused and smiled.

“Reflection on life can be really tough sometimes,” he said. “I know that firsthand.”

Sunday, April 6, 2008

"A Small Town Mourns 21 Dead" by Ken Moritsugu

1997 Pulitzer Prize winner - spot news

Montoursville, Pa. -- They knew them as the girl who spilled the fries in the car. Knew them as the boy who shot baskets and lighted the candles at church. Knew them as the girl who wrote poetry and played the piano.
In this small central Pennsylvania town they knew them all, knew them as the kids who sold them pizza or a hoagie or washed their cars to raise the money for a trip to France - a trip that ended in tragedy, when TWA Flight 800 exploded, taking the lives of 21 people from this tight-knit community.
"Everybody knows everybody," said Ron Paulhamus, a print shop owner.
And now everybody grieves. Sixteen dead high school students, five dead adults. Twenty-one dead friends.
"There will be very few people not affected by it," said Paulhamus, whose 16-year-old son, Ross, attends the local high school.
Ross's mother, Ginger, said her son is devastated. "These are kids he grew up with and he's known and pals around with everyday ... Everybody you know has either a friend or a family who's been affected."
Ginger and Ron Paulhamus attended a hastily called noontime prayer vigil with other community residents at Bethany Lutheran Church for members of the high school French club and their adult chaperones who boarded the fatal TWA flight to Paris Wednesday night for a 10-day trip during summer break. Some victims were high school athletes. Others, musicians. One was an acolyte at the Methodist church.
They left behind sisters and brothers, girlfriends, boyfriends and best friends.
The crash was like a knife through the heart of this central Pennsylvania community of about 5,000.
"I'm still shaking," Michelle Follmer, 19, told friends outside the high school late Thursday morning.
"Brock lost his girlfriend," Josh Lewis, 17, told her, speaking about a mutual friend.
Follmer already knew: "She was in my car Tuesday night. She spilled her fries all over my seat," Follmer said, forcing a laugh.
They were talking about Michelle Bohlin, 16, a swimmer who had just finished her sophomore year. They recalled how excited Michelle had been about the trip. And the others: Jody Loudenslager, a distance runner on the girl's track team. There was Rance Hettler, the church acolyte and a basketball player and Wendy Wolfson, who played the piano and wrote poetry. The airline had not released their names, but several residents and friends identified people they knew who had taken the trip.
And then there were the adults: Judith Rupert, a secretary at the school practically since she graduated in 1961. Rupert was asked to join an overseas school trip for the first time after enthusiastically helping so many classes with fund raisers; French teacher Debbie Dickey and her husband, Douglas, a salesman. The couple left behind two children, ages 5 and 7; two others include a former school board member and a mother of one of the students on the trip.
BrenDena Trick, 27, an assistant girls track coach at the high school and a 1987 graduate, heard the news on the radio as she and her husband drove to work. "I just couldn't talk, I felt like someone punched me in the stomach," said Trick. "We went on to work," she continued. "We were just a wreck. We were in tears."
By the afternoon, a somber mood had descended on this community, just east of Williamsport, where many residents work. There was a holding out of hope, with many of the bodies not yet identified, of someone miraculously surviving the crash. There was disbelief. And there was shock.
Experts said it was a lull before the full outpouring of grief that will undoubtably come.
"It's been eerily quiet in there," said Dan Chandler, the high school principal. "You almost think too quiet. It's early in the process, we're told, and I think there will be much more grieving later."
"We really didn't believe that all was lost," said Gary Hettler, whose younger brother, Rance, was aboard the plane. "We never really gave up hope and we still haven't given up hope yet." As of Thursday afternoon, Hettler said his parents still had not received the official confirmation from the airline that Rance had been killed. "I just couldn't believe it happened to such a perfect role model student as my brother. He was the epitome of a role model."
At the high school, which has 800 students for grades 9 to 12, counselors talked to grieving students and adults as the media hovered outside. The flag was at half staff, and students tied red and white ribbons and blue and gold ribbons around the flagpole and nearby signposts. A few bouquets of flowers were left outside the entrance.
Downtown, walking distance away in this compact community, the mood also was subdued. At Turkey Hill Minit Markets, a gas station and convenience store, clerks said that they had bought a sympathy card for their manager, who had a niece on the plane. One customer said his cousin was a passenger. And a worker from the tire shop across the street said his friend's wife also was aboard. "I don't know anybody in this town who isn't thinking about it," said Tanya Kelley, one of the clerks.
The students were described almost universally as an outgoing, fun-loving crowd, the types who never hesitated to raise their hands to volunteer for this or that project. The trip cost $1,200 to $1,500 per person, Chandler estimated, and the students paid for it with their fund-raising and family contributions. None of the money came from the school.
"They are an amazing combination of talent," Chandler said. "We look at them as real leaders, both in our school and in our community."
Fourteen of them were still in high school, and two had already graduated. The French Club tries to take a trip to France every three or four years, so each student has a chance to go during his or her high school career.
The community pulled together for the victims and their families. Clergy planned to hold another prayer vigil in the high school gymnasium last night. A local bank offered to set up a relief fund and a memorial fund. Local hospitals sent psychotherapists to the school to work as counselors.
The crash followed an unusual number of tragedies for the community this year. A January flood caused $1.5-million in damage and took eight lives in the surrounding county. One high school student dropped out and committed suicide. Another died in a car crash on an icy night. And a third-grade student was killed by a school bus.
"Stuff don't happen just in the big towns," said Josh Lewis, a 17-year-old student. "It happens in Montoursville."

Olivia Winslow contributed to this story.

"Thomason is glowing in the glare of the game" - by Shannon Ryan

Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - February 2, 2005

When Jeff Thomason attended Super Bowl Media Days in the past, he usually sat in the stands, bored, wondering if anyone would interview him.

As a tight end for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII, occasionally a reporter or two would ask him a bizarre softball question.

"Which do you like better: Twinkies or Ding Dongs?" Thomason recalled.

As the newest member of the Eagles, Thomason was not lonely in the stands yesterday. He answered more than random questions about junk food, too.

About 1,000 media members conducted interviews at Alltel Stadium in preparation for the Eagles-Patriots meeting Sunday. Many of them chatted up Thomason .

From hard hat to helmet, Thomason has become the Super Bowl's feel-good story, one every media outlet wants to tell. And think, just a week ago, he was working in a trailer at a construction site.

After retiring from a 10-year NFL career two years ago, Thomason was brought back by the Eagles for one more game. It just so happens that his last hurrah is the Super Bowl. Thomason replaced tight end - and friend - Chad Lewis, who suffered a foot injury during a touchdown catch in the NFC championship game.

The scene yesterday was a glimpse into the whirlwind celebrity that has enveloped Thomason . For an hour, he sat at one of 14 podiums reserved for star players. Terrell Owens had one. So did Donovan McNabb.

Freddie Mitchell did not. Neither did David Akers.

But Thomason did.

At least 15 reporters surrounded him, sometimes as many as 30, during the hour-long session. News outlets from Shanghai to Denmark, Britain to Mexico, Orange County to South Jersey peppered him with questions.

Thomason , a happy-go-lucky sort by nature, beamed through it all.

"I don't belong up here," he said. "It's a dream come true. How many guys sitting at their desk get a phone call to come play in the Super Bowl?"

He was asked about two dozen times to detail the phone call he received from Lewis. By comparison, only twice was he asked about the Patriots' defense.

The Eagles' belief in his skills got him to the Super Bowl. His circumstances, however, placed him in the spotlight. He has appeared on the Today show, Good Morning America, and CBS's Early Show. An upcoming feature on 60 Minutes will air on him.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy wanted to remake him. ESPN stopped at the construction site to involve his crew in a segment.

Hollywood movie producers, Thomason said, have approached him about developing his story into a film.

He knows how he would cast the part. No, not Brad Pitt.

"I'd like to play myself," he said.

It would be his third gig in a month.

After previously talking about how he had requested vacation time from Toll Brothers construction company, his boss called and let him off the hook.

"He said anyone who makes the NBA Finals, the World Series or the Super Bowl gets two weeks off," Thomason said with a laugh.

He was asked three times if he felt as if he had won the lottery. Each time, he said yes - with emphatic sincerity.

Media Day for Thomason also had its strange moments.

A Texas radio station gave him a golden microphone trophy, asked him to make a fake acceptance speech, then took the trophy back. A country music station asked him to shout out "Free Bird" in honor of an upcoming Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. He obliged and was asked to do it again - but with more feeling this time.

Thomason is a 35-year-old husband and father of three from Medford. He is a project manager in Chesterfield. Both towns are in Burlington County.

Lately, he has even been defining himself more as a triathlete than as a football player. He was asked about that as well. From his best time in an Olympic triathlon (2 hours, 50 minutes) to his next event ("Escape From Alcatraz" in June).

Thomason 's next - and last - big workout is Sunday.

Until Monday, he is a professional football player. After that, he answered repeatedly, it is definitely over.

While Thomason is taking his duties seriously, he realizes his story is the hot topic. That's fine by him.

"This is my 15 minutes," he said. When the game is over, "I go back to my desk, and I sit there and zone off and wonder what happened to me over the last two weeks."

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 215-854-5503 or

"Small Town, Big Heartache" - By Pamela J. Podger

AN AMERICAN PORTRAIT: Sept. 11 - July 18
Small town, big heartache
Rebuilding New York City's devastated fire truck fleet fell to a tiny town in Wisconsin.
San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, July 18, 2002

(07-18) 04:00 PDT Clintonville, Wis. -- Inside a sprawling, salmon-brick plant at Seagrave Fire Apparatus, Connie Crain's grease-stained hands install pump gauges and control lines on a fire truck headed for New York City.

One of 54 engines ordered urgently by the city's devastated fire department,
the truck is part of a $25 million contract to replace the vehicles destroyed Sept. 11.

"It seems, when you're working on the trucks, that you go back to that horrible day. It's an eerie feeling," said Crain, a 29-year-old mother of three. "You want to get done as fast as you can because you know these trucks are really needed. But you just don't know what will happen next in our country."

Seagrave has delivered fire trucks to the Big Apple since 1918, so New York officials naturally turned to this small Wisconsin city of 4,734 people, about 40 miles west of Green Bay, for help in rebuilding its fleet.

Strong ties have grown over the years between New York's firefighters and the residents of this four-stoplight city, where days are measured in factory shifts, Little League games and dairy milkings. This is a place of cube steak, frozen custard and 75-cent beers. Folks often stop to fish in the Pigeon River, which bisects Main Street, a thoroughfare lined with tall brick buildings and light posts adorned with flags and flower baskets. It's a town with an equal number of bars and churches.

As the city's largest employer, with 360 workers, Seagrave is entwined in Clintonville's identity. There's the annual Fireman's Festival in August, where spectators watch water-hose fights aimed at whiskey barrels. There's the Trucker's mascot for the new $23 million high school -- which 15-year-old Nick Keller jokes will require maps and a global positioning system when his freshman class moves there in December.

The company's CEO, James Green, says Seagrave workers took pride when they heard stories about their trucks -- pulled from ground zero with broken windshields and flattened metal, but still able to pump water. One government official in New York told him that 37 firefighters, ducking for shelter in the sturdy cabs of several huge Seagrave trucks, had survived the falling debris from the collapsing twin towers.


Seagrave has revved up its annual 200-truck production of fire trucks to meet the task of rebuilding New York's fleet. Managers and workers are pulling together to donate a $353,000 pumper. Factory hands have given cash and are working through their vacations to complete the order by the end of the year.

"For the folks here, we were given an opportunity to help," Green said. "9/11 had a devastating effect on the plant and on all of us because there is such a personal connection between us and the city of New York. The response was inspirational, and signs went up in the plant, 'Whatever it takes, we'll do it.' "

Green says progress is steady on the replacement trucks, each outfitted with a commemorative

9/11 medallion. When the first handful of replacement trucks left Clintonville on Jan. 22 -- including one with a large mural of a firefighter and an American flag -- crowds cheered them off at 6 a.m.

Clintonville, said Tom McDonald, New York City's assistant commissioner of fleet services, "is small, but big in heart." A frequent visitor to the city and the Seagrave factory, he posted 140 condolence notes from a Clintonville eighth-grade class outside his office door for a while to boost morale.


After the terrorist attack, he said the city's fleet was in "very, very bad shape," and they were forced to use older reserve trucks. The department appealed to Seagrave for a rapid response.

"Now, the trucks are rolling through our doors," McDonald said. "You just don't start delivering trucks at that pace without everyone in the factory stepping up."

Away from the plant -- known locally as "The Drive," a reference to Seagrave's parent company, FWD Corp., the original patent holder of four-wheel- drive technology -- the effects of Sept. 11 linger in Clintonville. Factories cast off workers or closed third shifts, said Mayor Dick Koeppen, 61, and some, already struggling from the recession, buckled after the attacks.

But any remnants of hard feelings from a short 1999 strike at Seagrave quickly dissipated.

"There was no more bickering and pitter patter -- everyone just wanted to do their jobs," Koeppen said. "Before 9/11, New York was so distant from the little bitty Clintonville. But then it was like the big brother in our family was attacked."

On the city's southern outskirts, Randy Erickson milked his Holsteins at 4 a.m. one recent morning, listening to a trivia call-in show on the local radio station, as his wife, Carol, bottle-fed several calves.

One of their sons, Matthew, 22, is a National Guardsman, and the prospect of war is a constant threat. Carol commented on other changes she's seen in her friends: Folks are more cautious about flying, and they listen closely to the news.

"There were a lot of people who were laid off around here because of the trickle down," said Carol, as a cat lapped up spilled milk from the dairy parlor floor. "People aren't spending as much anymore, or they think about it more.'

Across town, LaVerne Keller, 76, was holding a rummage sale. A $150 snow blower in "greate" condition stood in the driveway, and shoppers bought boxes of ribbons, canning items and church hats. Keller recalled how she had been baking an apple pie in her kitchen when she first heard about the attacks.

"It is like when Kennedy was shot -- you know exactly what you were doing," Keller said. "I just couldn't believe it. I said a prayer then -- and I still do for all of them."

That same prayerful sentiment has driven a steady stream of Clintonville citizens to ground zero over the past 10 months to mourn lost friends and relatives.


Tending her bar on Main Street, Cindy Beery, 41, has shared friendly banter for more than a decade with many of the New York City firefighters. In February, she went to ground zero to say goodbye to some of the firefighters she had befriended, visited on birthdays and shamelessly plied with her secret 10-shot drink.

"I lost 39 friends in 9/11, and the monsignor told me I needed to go grieve over the coffin," said Beery.

She pointed to the stool where New York City Fire Chief Peter J. Ganci, 54, who frequently joshed with her over frosted mugs of Miller Light and a krautburger, liked to sit -- "the one closest to the beer tap." Ganci, a 33- year veteran, was at ground zero just minutes after the first plane hit the North Tower and perished as he tried to get his men to safety.

Beery is a prankster who mercilessly switches off lights in the men's bathroom with controls under the curved wooden bar. Tired of painting the wall above the urinal, she installed a headrest -- and occasionally inks it fire- engine red -- to tag the foreheads of unwitting visitors who lean against it for support.


As word spread of her connection with the firefighters' families, letters with donations started to arrive at her vintage bar. The total eventually reached about $2,000.

"When I called New York and talked with the firefighters and their families,

I tried to be their support block. When I was at the bar, I tried to be strong," Beery said. "But one day, the day that (New York Gov. Rudolph) Giuliani spoke, I just locked myself in my house and bawled."

Another who made the trip to New York is Joel Ratlaff, 52, who on a recent day sat outside the Clintonville Lanes bowling alley. Ratlaff said his niece had died on the 103rd floor of the South Tower on Sept. 11, about the same time that his brother was loading windshields at the Drive.

The men and women "in this town are putting the fire trucks together, and I know that with every bolt they put in, they feel the pain," said Ratlaff, drawing on his Camel Light. "It is something, how many people are traveling to find out about Sept. 11. This is something that just won't die."

"Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old" - By Laura Holson

March 9, 2008

AS president of the Walt Disney Company’s children’s book and magazine publishing unit, Russell Hampton knows a thing or two about teenagers. Or he thought as much until he was driving his 14-year-old daughter, Katie, and two friends to a play last year in Los Angeles.

“Katie and her friends were sitting in the back seat talking to each other about some movie star; I think it was Orlando Bloom,” recalled Mr. Hampton, whose company produced the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, in which the actor starred. “I made some comment about him, I don’t remember exactly what, but I got the typical teenager guttural sigh and Katie rolled her eyes at me as if to say, ‘Oh Dad, you are so out of it.’ ”

After that, the back-seat chattering stopped. When Mr. Hampton looked into his rearview mirror he saw his daughter sending a text message on her cellphone. “Katie, you shouldn’t be texting all the time,” Mr. Hampton recalled telling her. “Your friends are there. It’s rude.” Katie rolled her eyes again.

“But, Dad, we’re texting each other,” she replied with a harrumph. “I don’t want you to hear what I’m saying.”

Chastened, Mr. Hampton turned his attention back to the freeway. It’s a common scene these days, one playing out in cars, kitchens and bedrooms across the country.

Children increasingly rely on personal technological devices like cellphones to define themselves and create social circles apart from their families, changing the way they communicate with their parents.

Innovation, of course, has always spurred broad societal changes. As telephones became ubiquitous in the last century, users — adults and teenagers alike — found a form of privacy and easy communication unknown to Alexander Graham Bell or his daughters.

The automobile ultimately shuttled in an era when teenagers could go on dates far from watchful chaperones. And the computer, along with the Internet, has given even very young children virtual lives distinctly separate from those of their parents and siblings.

Business analysts and other researchers expect the popularity of the cellphone — along with the mobility and intimacy it affords — to further exploit and accelerate these trends. By 2010, 81 percent of Americans ages 5 to 24 will own a cellphone, up from 53 percent in 2005, according to IDC, a research company in Framingham, Mass., that tracks technology and consumer research.

Social psychologists like Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied the social impact of mobile communications, say these trends are likely to continue as cellphones morph into mini hand-held computers, social networking devices and pint-size movie screens.

“For kids it has become an identity-shaping and psyche-changing object,” Ms. Turkle said. “No one creates a new technology really understanding how it will be used or how it can change a society.”

Marketers and cellphone makers are only too happy to fill the newest generation gap. Last fall, Firefly Mobile introduced the glowPhone for the preschool set; it has a small keypad with two speed-dial buttons depicting an image of a mother and a father. AT&T promotes its wireless service with television commercials poking fun at a mom who doesn’t understand her daughter’s cellphone vernacular. Indeed, IDC says revenue from services and products sold to young consumers or their parents is expected to grow to $29 billion in 2010, up from $21 billion in 2005.

So far, parents’ ability to reach their children whenever they want affords families more pluses than minuses. Mr. Hampton, who is divorced, says it is easy to reach Katie even though they live in different time zones. And college students who are pressed for time, like Ben Blanton, a freshman who plays baseball at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, can text their parents when it suits them, asking them to run errands or just saying hello.

“Texting is in between calling and sending and e-mail,” he explained while taking a break from study hall. Now he won’t even consider writing a letter to his mother, Jan. “It’s too time consuming,” he said. “You have to go to the post office. Instead, I can sit and watch television and send a text, which is the same thing.”

But as with any cultural shift involving parents and children — the birth of rock ’n’ roll or the sexual revolution of the 1960s, for example — various gulfs emerge. Baby boomers who warned decades ago that their out-of-touch parents couldn’t be trusted now sometimes find themselves raising children who — thanks to the Internet and the cellphone — consider Mom and Dad to be clueless, too.

Cellphones, instant messaging, e-mail and the like have encouraged younger users to create their own inventive, quirky and very private written language. That has given them the opportunity to essentially hide in plain sight. They are more connected than ever, but also far more independent.

In some cases, they may even become more alienated from those closest to them, said Anita Gurian, a clinical psychologist and executive editor of, a Web site of the Child Study Center at New York University.

“Cellphones demand parental involvement of a different kind,” she said. “Kids can do a lot of things in front of their parents without them knowing.”

TO be sure, parents have always been concerned about their children’s well-being, independence and comportment — and the rise of the cellphone offers just the latest twist in that dynamic. However it all unfolds, it has helped prompt communications companies to educate parents about how better to be in touch with their children.

In a survey released 18 months ago, AT&T found that among 1,175 parents the company interviewed, nearly half learned how to text-message from their children. More than 60 percent of parents agreed that it helped them communicate, but that sometimes children didn’t want to hear their voice at all. When asked if their children wanted a call or a text message requesting that they be home by curfew, for instance, 58 percent of parents said their children preferred a text.

“Just because you can reach them doesn’t mean they have to answer,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which is studying the impact of technology on adolescents. “Cellphones give teens more of a private life. Their parents aren’t privy to all of their conversations.”

Text messaging, in particular, has perhaps become this generation’s version of pig Latin. For dumbfounded parents, AT&T now offers a tutorial that decodes acronyms meant to keep parents at bay. “Teens may use text language to keep parents in the dark about their conversations by making their comments indecipherable,” the tutorial states. Some acronyms meant to alert children to prying eyes are POS (“parent over shoulder”), PRW (“parents are watching”) and KPC (“keeping parents clueless”).

SAVANNAH PENCE, 15, says she wants to be in touch with her parents — but also wants to keep them at arm’s length. She says her father, John, made sure that she and her 19-year-old brother, Alex, waited until high school before they got cellphones, unlike friends who had them by fifth grade. And while Savannah described her relationship with her parents as close, she still prefers her space.

“I don’t text that much in front of my parents because they read them,” she said. And when her parents ask who is on the phone? “I just say, ‘People.’ They don’t ask anymore.”

At first, John Pence, who owns a restaurant in Portland, Ore., was unsure about how to relate to his daughter. “I didn’t know how to communicate with her,” Mr. Pence said. “I had to learn.” So he took a crash course in text messaging — from Savannah. But so far he knows how to quickly type only a few words or phrases: Where are you? Why haven’t you called me? When are you coming home?

When his daughter asks a question, he typically has one response. “ ‘OK’ is the answer to everything,” he said. “And I haven’t used a question mark yet.” He said he had to learn how to text because his daughter did not return his calls. “I don’t leave a message,” he said, “because she knows it’s me.”

Savannah said she sends a text message to her father at least two or three times a day. “I can’t ask him questions because he is too slow,” she said. “He uses simple words.” On the other hand, her mother, Caprial, is more proficient at texting and will ask how her day was at school or how her friends are doing. (Her mom owed her more facile texting skills to being an agile typist with small hands.)

Early on, Savannah’s parents agreed that they had to set rules. First, they banned cellphone use at the dinner table and, later, when the family watched television together, because Mr. Pence worried about the distraction. “They become unaware of your presence,” he said.

Mr. Pence is well aware of how destabilizing cellphones, iPods and hand-held video game players can be to family relations. “I see kids text under the table at the restaurant,” he said. “They don’t teach them etiquette anymore.” Some children, he said, watch videos in restaurants.

“They don’t know that’s the time to carry on a conversation,” he said. “I would like to walk up to some tables and say, ‘Kids, put your iPods and your cellphones away and talk to your parents.’ ”

But even he has found that enforcing rules is harder than might be expected. He now permits Savannah to send text messages while watching TV, after he noticed her using a blanket over her lap to hide that she was sending messages to friends. “I could have them in the same room texting, or I wouldn’t let them text and they would leave,” said Mr. Pence of his children. “They are good kids, but you want to know what they are up to."

Other families face similar challenges.

In 1999, Marie Gallick got a family plan for her and her three children and found that each of them had a different approach to cellphone use. One of Ms. Gallick’s sons likes to talk, she said, while her other son, Brandon, who lives near her home in Raritan, N.J., preferred to text. How much they communicated with her, she said, depended on their mood. And she found she had to be careful about what she said and how.

“There is emotion behind it,” she said. Once, one of her sons didn’t answer his cellphone when she called, so she sent him a text saying, “NICE OF YOU TO TURN ON YOUR PHONE.”

“They thought I was mad,” she said. Ms. Gallick did not understand that using capital letters was the same as yelling. (She said she had the same problem when she began using e-mail, which, perhaps, makes her problem as much about adapting to digital shifts as it is about communicating with children.)

Brenda Ng, vice president for consumer insights at T-Mobile, the cellular provider, said her company’s studies show that while cellphone use can cause division, it, too, is “the glue” that cements relationships. “It may seem mundane, but they keep people together,” Ms. Ng said.

Consider this: Brandon Gallick, who is 23, recalled a night last year when he was driving home on a country road near Hillsborough, N.J., and a large donkey ran in front of his car. He couldn’t wait to get home to call his mother. “I had to text my mom right away,” he said, noting he sent text messages to friends, too. “I wanted to tell her about it because it was so funny. We don’t see many donkeys in New Jersey.”

Ms. Gallick appreciated the message. “I like it when he does that,” she said. “It makes me feel special.” But again, the unintended consequence was more miscommunication for her.

“It took five texts before I thought he really meant it,” she said. “What I find is that you have to text each other more to understand each other than if you just picked up the phone. You are constantly asking, ‘What did you mean?’ It is a form of alienation but at the same time it is keeping us in contact.”

In fact, texting appears to be easier than talking for some cellphone users, providing yet another distraction for them inside their cars. Mr. Blanton at Vanderbilt, like many of his peers, texts his mother and friends even when both of his hands should be on the steering wheel.

“I can text without looking at the phone,” he said. “It’s definitely not safe. Sometimes I’ll look up and I don’t remember where I’ve been driving.”

MS. TURKLE, the M.I.T. professor, says cellphones offer another way for the Facebook generation to share every life experience the second it unfolds.

“There is a slippage from ‘I have a feeling I want to make a call’ to ‘I need to make a call,’ ” she said. “You don’t get to have a feeling before sharing that feeling anymore.”

Ms. Turkle recalled a vacation with her daughter in Paris, where she hoped to immerse her in the local culture and cuisine. “Part of the idea of Paris is being in Paris,” Ms. Turkle said. But during an afternoon stroll, her daughter received several calls and text messages on her cellphone from friends back in Boston. Her daughter, she said, felt compelled to return every one.

When Ms. Turkle asked why she didn’t turn off her cellphone and enjoy the city, she said her daughter replied, “I feel more comfortable talking with my friends.” But her daughter’s friends didn’t even really want to talk. “They just want to know where you are,” Ms. Turkle said. “It’s a new sensibility.”

It is a new sensibility on many fronts. Jan Blanton said her relationship with her son, Ben, is closer because cellphones make reaching out so simple. And that has caused her to reflect on her relationship with her own parents.

In the early 1980s, when she left home to attend college, Ms. Blanton said, her relationship with her parents was frayed. “We didn’t have open communication,” she said. “I wasn’t close to them. Maybe once a week I’d call. My parents were happy when we were out of the house.”

Ms. Blanton wonders if things might have been different if they had text messaging back then. Her son now sends frequent text messages to his grandfather, discussing baseball and fishing. “I can write better than I talk,” said Ms. Blanton, whose relationship with her parents is now close. “I think we would have had a better experience.”

It is likely that in just a few years, younger members of the digerati will consider cellphones like those the Blantons are using to be relics. While many consumers have become fashion-conscious about the latest in technological devices, analysts say that young children and teenagers are particularly so and more likely than their parents to continually gravitate to something new.

Mr. Hampton said his daughter Katie recently asked for a BlackBerry so she could better send e-mail to her friends and have unfettered access to the Internet.

“I said no,” he recalled. “It’s not necessary.”

But then again, Mr. Hampton said, he may change his mind. “No one is teaching kids how to use these things,” he said. “But in fairness, adults don’t know how to use them, either.”