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Bacon: Sports and life lessons come from Mom

John U. Bacon
Michigan Radio

250 years ago my mom’s side of the family lived in Yonkers, New York. But being United Empire Loyalists, when the Revolutionary War started they escaped to New Brunswick, Canada. And that’s what makes me Half-Canadian Bacon.

Mom grew up in Milltown, New Brunswick, a town so small it no longer exists. It had one school building, with no lab, no gym, no school teams. 

When my mom was five her parents gave her a pair of fancy CCM skates for Christmas. She was so thrilled, she wore them to bed that night. 

"Figure skates?" I asked.

“No,” she said, looking at me as if I had two heads. “Hockey skates.”

“You played hockey?”

“Of course! Everybody did!”

In fact, that’s about all they did. There wasn’t much else.

For a little woman from a little Canadian town, Mom proved to be quite brave. She transferred to the University of North Carolina, married my dad, and moved with his Army unit in 1959 to Fulda, Germany, where the Soviets would march through if war ever started. They were there when the Berlin Wall went up. Scary times.   

After Dad finished his tour of duty and then his residency in New York, they moved to Ann Arbor. It was here Mom taught her three children how to skate. When I was five, we were skating on an outdoor rink when I fell on my backside, and mom leaned over to help me up. A photographer captured the little scene, including mom smiling and me laughing. The photo appeared on the cover of the rec department’s program for years. 

Back when parents weren’t expected to attend their kids’ sporting events, Mom and Dad went to every game they could – no small trick with three kids involved in swimming, hockey, and baseball, while Mom was teaching grade school. Mom had an uncanny knack for noticing when I had a hop in my step, and when I didn’t. And she wasn’t afraid to tell me either. 

Mom taught us, repeatedly, that “Your character is what you do when you think no one is watching.” I learned accountability from her, too – sometimes the hard way. When I was in college my parents bought me a nice North Face winter coat. The first night I had it, someone at a party took it home. When I called my parents the next day, I said, “I’ve got some bad news: that new coat you bought me got stolen.”

Mom said, “That is bad news. Gonna be a cold winter.”

It was. Guess who hasn’t lost a coat since?

When I started coaching my old high school hockey team I gave my parents a schedule but I never expected them to attend. They came to almost every game – in Trenton, Traverse City, and even Culver, Indiana. I’m grateful we shared that ride.

Dad is 89 now, and my mom almost 86. Dad shuffles a bit, and Mom’s memory slips a little. As Dad says, “Between the two of us, we’re doing okay!”

Mom can’t always remember what happened yesterday, but when I ask her about family history she can tell detailed stories about her parents, her friends growing up, and almost everything from our childhoods. She remembers what matters most. A grade-school mother’s day card, made fifty years ago, is still vivid.  

She often says, “Getting’ old ain’t for wimps.” I imagine at times it must be a little sad or scary. But when I drop off their groceries every week, Mom is always upbeat, happy to see me, and prepared with topics to discuss.  

Having grown up during the Great Depression and World War II, she said she always wanted to feel safe, and now she does. We should all be so lucky.

I realize one day she could forget me. But I can never forget her.

Is there anyone in your life more important than your mother?

John U. Bacon is the author of seven national bestsellers. His next book, “Let Them Lead: Unexpected Lessons in Leadership from America’s Worst High School Hockey Team,” comes out September 7. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, it's management, or it's license holder, the University of Michigan.

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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