Thursday, October 20, 2016

My Love Affair with Restaurants

I was fourteen, and my dad's close friend opened the Hilltopper, a local sports bar and restaurant. My older sisters had worked at the Hilltopper Cafe on the town square, so of course, I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I always wanted to follow in their footsteps, but just like when I started playing tennis so I could hit with Julie and Gail, my foray in the restaurant industry would be last much longer than theirs.

I don't remember much about my first day - I think it was a Sunday brunch shift. I remember a lot, though. The twenty-five hour weeks while going to school and tennis practices. Sweet talking the cooks for scraps and mistakes from the kitchen. The owner's wife's perfume. The slow nights when servers wished they could tip me more and the nights when I made a whopping $15/hour. Wing nights frequented by the high school sports teams - those were my favorite nights. So many cute boys. The quiet after the storm of a whirlwind weekend.

I remember my first experience confronting authority. The quarterback of the football team joined me as a host, and during one of our casual conversations, it came to my attention that he was making $6.75, whereas I, who had worked there a year and a half, was making $6.25. My indignant teenage stomach churned as I walked into my boss's office and requested a raise based on the merits of my performance. What did I want? Seven dollars an hour. What did I get? $6.75.

I remember Matthew. He was your quintessential server, loved by every patron. He wore crazy socks and talked with flamboyant flair, and he occasionally made the comment that made you do a double take: nude sun bathing, elicit details on foreplay between him and his girlfriend that would compromise the integrity of this blog if quoted. When you went to a Christian middle school and the most scandalous thing you did was write notes on the back of the bus, these lines stick with you. There are others, too: when everyone told their most public sex story, talked about the hardest drugs they had done: most stuck with weed, but a couple dabbled with the hard stuff on occasion. The many times I sat with them on their smoke breaks as they cussed out an idiot customer. My virgin ears lost their innocence.

Right about now, my mother deeply regrets allowing me to work in a restaurant. I don't, though. Because they were my friends, my outlet from my high school bubble. When a woman called me incompetent and I had my first and last breakdown in the back of the building, they hugged me and told me where she could stick it. And they were real.

That's what I love about restaurants - no pretenses, no facade. And if you didn't like it, they couldn't care less.

I was 18 and a freshmen in college. At the end of my second semester, I became bored with the monotony of school so I applied to the Cheesecake Factory. I worked in the bakery for the next year, pulling the typical back to back 30 hour weekend double, sustaining myself on espresso shots and cheesecake - my record was five slices in a shift, and if you know the nutrition facts - which I did - it's easy to understand how I got to a point where my button popped off my pants.

Working in the bakery was much more difficult than serving on a busy night, because while you have a finite number of tables as a server, behind the counter, you have an endless number of tickets to fill. Janelle was my lady. She was the most seasoned baker, a feisty woman who no one would dare confront. And Darnell. He was beautiful, quiet, and probably thought we were crazy. We half-jokingly encouraged him to take one for the team when our manager wasn't in a relationship. She was always in a much better mood with a man in her life.

I became a server after a year, and the Cheesecake Factory remained my escape from the collegiate bubble, a relatively homogeneous world where everyone is enjoying their safe space. When I passed through those doors in my all white and tie - what a terrible uniform - there were all kinds. There was the server with the attitude, never quite happy with how many young people or foreigners were sat in the section. The one who was always in the weeds, no matter how slow the restaurant. The jaded bartender who could tell you story after story of his exploits and the exploits of those across the bar. The sleezeball who inevitably hit on every new hostess.

There was the charmer, who could convince a table to buy a turd flavored cocktail. The one who talks about leaving - moving west and starting over. I always hoped they follow that dream, and sometimes they did. There was the immigrant cook and the one who may or may not have done a line of cocaine before coming into work. And those who saw their work as a fine craft. There were the lifers. Then there was me.

I was 22 and had decided that my 9 to 5 simply wasn't fulfilling. I submitted applications over the weekend, got a job at Commonwealth, went into my six month review and quit. They understood - some people couldn't handle the competitive atmosphere of the company, one told me. What are you going to do? they asked. I said I was going to take my college degree and work at a restaurant. My first night I followed Adrienne, an eccentric woman who knew who she was and embraced every inch of it. I spent the next three months working full time through the summer hours, building relationships with the most honest - sometimes shamelessly so - people I had met since moving to Charlottesville. After being in an atmosphere with young professionals trying to prove themselves, it was beyond refreshing. I continued to work part time for the next four years, because I needed that escape from my professional bubble.

Because when you serve people, you have to leave everything at the door. Guests don't care about your massive amounts of school work, your annoying boss or terrible day, the idiot who didn't call. They came to be entertained, to have an experience, and it's your job to forget yourself and give it to them.

When I wasn't with the customers, I was able to spend time with these amazing people from all different walks of life. They were immigrants, students, professionals, retirees. Some saw their work as an art, some as a means to end, and some were just trying to pay monthly bills or get to the next beer.

It's a rare breed, the restaurant crowd. We're flawed, like everyone else, but there lies an unequivocal authenticity among us.

I may not ever work at a restaurant again, although I've said that before and been wrong. Regardless, what I learned from my passionate foray - working in a fast paced environment, dealing with difficult personalities and embracing my own, reading people, and learning from people who are very different than you - I will carry that with me forever.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hi, I'm Anna. I'm a Christian.

Is not how I've introduced myself at grad school.

This week is National Coming Out Week. I didn't realize it when I began writing, but I thought it was an interesting coincidence. I'm not going to pretend to relate to "coming out," although I did tell my siblings that after navigating the world of men for many years, I may throw in the towel and come out as asexual. Amoeba Anna, my brother nicknamed me. Don't worry, everyone who enjoys hearing about my awkward interactions with men, I talked myself out of it as I watched baseball in HD. Those pants do it for me every time... Point is - sometimes it's hard being totally honest about who you are, and I've been surprised about how difficult it has been to be honest about my Christianity since coming to school. Not necessarily saying I'm a Christian, but explaining why and actually living it have been difficult - a reflection more of me than those around me, so obviously, my blogging conscience urged me to reflect.

The first time I shared openly about God on this blog was when I started working for VividCortex. "Taste and see that the Lord is good," I quoted as I reflected on my journey to that point. The opportunity was such a clear answer to prayer, and I thought, this is it. This is what you have for me, God. I created this narrative about where it was going to lead - I tend to create narratives for my life and expect God's plan to follow.

It wasn't at all what I expected. It was a grind, it was hard, in many ways unfulfilling, but it brought me to a place where I was utterly desperate and dependent on God. One particular night in November, when I was rejected by a program, I broke down, not knowing what I would do if I didn't get accepted to a school. During that time, God showed His faithfulness, that He rewards those who seek Him, and that while His plan is not the same as mine, it is wholly good.

And then I started business school. I signed up for the Ross Christian Fellowship, and I finally went to a meeting this week. Unfortunately, since they're held on Thursday evenings, I haven't been able to make one yet, and even so, I could only make the first twenty minutes. There were six people there. Six. Out of 800 students. You know what percentage that is? I do, because I decided to actually start studying for my stats class. It's less than one percent.

Business school is full of motivated people with a plan. We are smart, driven, independent, and successful. When asked where we see ourselves in the next five years, we're working at an investment bank, at a consulting firm. We're saving the environment. We're building infrastructure in Africa. Which are all amazing things. You know what's not a popular response? "In five years, I want to be where God can use me for His purposes to make the greatest impact." Perhaps there are a lot of festering Christian beliefs in many that I am not aware of, but for many single people in their mid-late twenties in academia, God's will doesn't seem to be the first priority.

When I began business school, I had goals for myself, if you remember. One of them was to find a church, but I think that was misguided. A more appropriate goal would have been to have God at the center of my world as the rest spins around. And if I'm completely honest with myself - and everyone reading my blog - that hasn't been the case the first quarter.

On the few occasions people have asked me why I am a Christian, I have found it more difficult to explain than I would like to admit. Many who have casually followed my blog for years have heard my musings, but for newcomers, the short answer is:

1) I am broken without God's grace. There are times where I like to think I am a good picture of Christ's love, but I know there are definitely times when I don't represent Christianity. Hence... grace. Any time you wonder why I'm happy or why I smile so often, it's because I understand the love of Christ. The times when I act like an idiot - well, that's all me.

And 2) God can do more with my life than I ever thought possible. Even though I am a smart, driven, independent individual.

During the twenty minutes I was at the Christian Fellowship meeting, we wrote down our high school expectations of the future. When I looked at my former expectations and reality, they were vastly different. But here I am, on a full scholarship to one of the elite business schools in the country, and I don't credit myself for that. I credit God's goodness, His guidance, and His unmerited favor. So why wouldn't I live for Him?

Quite simply - because sometimes it's hard. It's easy to forget God's faithfulness and become complacent when you're no longer desperate. It's easy to create my own narrative and lose sight of the fact that God's plan is greater than any fanciful one I can concoct. And, sometimes, it's easier to incorporate God into my life when it's convenient for me. In the morning with my coffee, at night as I go to bed, occasionally on a Sunday when I decide to wake up for church.

I have been a Christian for over twenty years, and the times I have been confused have been those when I have lost focus and been distracted. And the times I have had clarity and purpose have been those when I have fixed my eyes on the cross.

I visited home this weekend and went to the high school football game. Afterward, I saw my dad, who immediately opened his arms for a giant, warm hug, and I was reminded of the loving embrace of God. He meets us where we are. He meets us in our brokenness, with all our faults, and He tells us that He loves us unconditionally, He rids of us our shame, and then He invites us to walk with Him, without distraction.

So I am amending my goals to make that my focus. Incidentally, in writing this, I am completing goal number 4: to get out of my comfort zone, because while I often talk about God, it is hard to write about times when I have struggled. I suspect that means it was worth it.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Wins, Losses, Nostalgia

Hi friend! Hope this Monday finds you well. First things first: binder update. I finally ordered them from Amazon and sent them to the correct address. I should have gone with the half inch though, because they are way to thick.* You may see me walking around campus, appearing to be smuggling a small Asian family into America.

We had a couple wins and a couple losses the past few weeks. Win: I am the director of the marketing lab. I hope I get to play with schematics, but that may be a different kind of lab. Loss: I applied for a non-profit board fellows program and was rejected, which I am taking as a signal I should reconsider any charitable donations of my time. Clearly, I'm meant to be a tycoon. Win: My team and I won a marketing case competition for Land O Lakes. It was a pretty cool experience - we collaborated, argued, built consensus, dominated. Loss: I had interviewed for an internship with Conagra in August, and I got rejected. I'm not disappointed though, so I assume that means I didn't really want it. Win: I have mentally denoted everyone's Tinder song in stats. Loss: Stats. WIN: The Tribe's in the playoffs!!!

This time of year always brings a whisper of nostalgia. My dad nicknamed me Novocain* in high school after my first big freshman tennis match. It was against our biggest rival, and I was playing a senior. She had pretty strokes, a solid serve, all the fixings of an easy match. But I had guts. The match lasted four hours, and much of that was tedious back and forth as I scrambled around like a rabid mongoose, willing my legs to reach one more ball. One point lasted a very uninteresting 96 shots. I didn't win because I was technically better - I rarely did. I won because I was mentally tougher. Because I wanted it more. Because I could dig deeper.

That's why sports are so special. They're black and white, and the scoreboard never lies. They're a battle, an exhausting grind, a constant test of mental strength. And they elevate you to a level you didn't know you could reach.*

On days like today, with the crisp air and the dying leaves, I miss that unwavering focus, that singular goal. I miss that grind.

* That's what she said.
* This was one of my better high school nicknames.
* That and the beautiful, muscular men.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Elle Woods - My Hero

Short backstory. High school Anna did not like being given superfluous work, and often took a sarcastic approach if it was forced upon her. For instance, our class was a trial for the Ohio Graduation Test, wasting a cumulative 10 hours of my week, so I wrote my essay on my dream about being a stripper. Unfortunately, that gem wasn't saved, but my mother passed this AP English prep assignment my way.

The teacher's feedback: "You are an excellent writer. The AP graders may question your choice of hero."

Elle Woods, a distinguished attorney of law and a politician, is the protagonist of Legally Blonde. More than that, she is a prime example of the discrimination that blondes face and the overcoming of the "dumb blonde" stigma. Elle Woods is someone I would like to emulate because she is a great woman on many levels.

First and foremost, she has long blonde hair. Though years of dying have made my hair unmistakeably blonde, it has not yet grown past the foot mark. Many an hour have I spent lusting over such luscious locks, only to find that when I look in the mirror, my hair is still at the top of my shoulder blades. I can only continue to envy the voluptuous hair and hope that mine will achieve its greatness.
Elle Woods also has a superb sense of fashion and the bank account to afford it. Growing up in Belair, she never had an issue with money. She has indeed put that money to good use. Her shimmering high heels, glamorous gowns, and even her fitness gear are red-carpet worthy. Never is she seen looking down, but dresses, rather over dresses, for every occasion. Her bold fashion sense allows her to go places most people dare not go.

Not only is Woods bold enough to stand out, she is bold enough to prove the dumb blonde stereotype wrong. Nearly everywhere she goes, people try to take advantage of her, thinking that since she is a gorgeous blonde, she must be foolish. Proving their assumptions amiss, Woods never falls into their trickery. She works very hard to make it into law school, and once there, she is taken as a joke. Determined once again to go against the stereotype, she rises to greatness by clearing an innocent woman convicted of murder. In fact, she clinches her victory and place of respect due to her knowledge of cosmetology and fashion.

Elle Woods is an inspiration to me as a blonde. I understand the persecution one goes through with blonde hair, a nice pair of shoes, and a cute outfit. Like Woods, I am determined to prove the assumptions wrong and will rise above the odds to earn my respect. Like Woods, I will hold my blonde head high.

Friday, September 23, 2016

My 28 Thoughts

Hello! In what has quickly become my favorite birthday tradition, I am going to use this day to give you a window into my head and share 28 thoughts. Perhaps one to grow on. Since 28 is an overall unexciting number, I will make my thoughts interesting. Confessions, shortcomings, musings, sidenotes. What a delicious treat for everyone.

1. Let's start with my current location, my favorite spot in Ann Arbor - my little porch. I spend as much time here as possible, soaking in the late summer - now fall!!! - air, watching the earnest students pass, contemplating climbing the tree.

2. I've been reading a chapter of Ernest Hemingway's book each night. Turns out, the book is more than an accessory. It's been so savory, and for ten minutes, I'm beside him as he wanders the streets of Paris, unsure of what his future holds, but knowing he's where he's supposed to be. I love a good coming of age memoir.

3. Then I glance at the big oak tree* and am taken back to the days when I sat in our crab apple tree and wrote stories about bunnies and thought about my future playing tennis and living in New York.

4. I consider this blog my own coming of age tale. How cool will it be to look back in 25 years and see the beautiful tapestry that was woven? And how lucky will the world be to have 25 years of my musings?

5. Then I snap out of it and go do stats homework.

6. Stats is currently my worst class, and I don't think it's a coincidence that I sit in the back. I can't help but scan the classroom, attempt to make awkward eye contact with people - which is oddly difficult - try to guess what their Tinder profile song would be. The sweet little man is speeding through binomial distribution in his Indian accent and I'm having an internal debate on whether the guy across the room would go with rock, rap, or pop. He's definitely choosing a Beebs song.

7. Tinder profile song. It's a thing. Apparently Spotify and Tinder have recently partnered so you can judge others on their musical preferences. What's better though, is that you get to choose your profile song. We all know I've thought a lot about my batter walk up song, but this is a whole new market. How do I want to present myself? Gunpowder and Lead probably not going to work. Maybe a classic oldies: Signed, Sealed, Delivered. That might put off a strong marriage vibe, though. Or Closer because I'm unabashedly obsessed with that song.

8. I don't have Tinder, so it's really a moot point. I'm sure your wondering about my dating life. Don't worry, all you gents holding out, waiting until I make my millions, I'm still on the market. My previous prediction that my dating life would see success when Cleveland sports gained a championship was apparently incorrect.

9. I saw an eHarmony commercial the other day with a woman who was in her late twenties, stating she wanted to meet someone organically. She ends up alone at age 75, wishing she had online dated. Then I had a dream I had cats.

10. Well, eHarmony, I still think I can meet someone organically, and if I am single and 75, I will redefine cougar.

11. Back to stats and my shortcomings. For everyone who assumes I'm perfect, I have a couple more shortcomings to share with you:

12. I never know how to get rid of condensation on my window. I get that you use the defrost in the winter, but on humid mornings, I try cold air, hot air, and end up running my windshield wipers every five seconds.

13. I don't cry when animals die. I don't see this as a shortcoming, but others might.

14. I get random chin hairs. And one random neck hair that is suddenly an inch long.

15. I've recently switched my workout routine to 6 am and realized I'm not great at accepting coaching cues that early in the morning.

16. I'm at risk for ODing on gummy vitamins. Trader Joe's, how do you make Vitamin K so tasty? My worst case was about twenty, and I started to doubt the vitamins' efficacy, because this didn't affect the color of my pee at all.

17. Speaking of the bathroom, I wonder if I have to go to the bathroom, and I drink water, how long does it take the water to effect me? Do I have to go to the bathroom more after the drink of water, or is it pretty inconsequential?

18. I'm currently listening to the National, and it takes me back to my first fall in Charlottesville. The year I embraced indie music. And the Avett Brothers at the Pavillion. Besides the people, Charlottesville's music scene is what I miss the most. I don't think a music venue will ever replace the Pavillion in my heart.

19. A couple guys just passed in suits. Probably going to a ibanking or consulting presentation. I have no interest in either of those, but I do love a man in a suit. Probably best I don't pursue the professions - my mouth would hang open in the office a lot.

20. Another guy just passed on a skateboard. I'm considering adding a skateboard to my look. I think it would give me a certain level of street cred, and I'm always looking for ways to enhance street cred.

21. I have to work on my resume today, and there are a couple strengths I wish I could emphasize:

22. I'm an excellent napper.

23. My high five game is tight. Real tight.

24. I am exceptional at recognizing hair cuts. Probably because my sisters and I would compete to see who noticed my dad's haircut first.

25. I can turn anything into a competition - as evidenced by the previous statement.

26. I have a unique ability to generate extremely awkward stories.

To close - a couple confessions:

27. I stole a pair of sunglasses from CVS. I think. They didn't have a tag or sticker, and I didn't ask for the receipt. When I left, I realized my merch likely exceeded the total I paid. But we all know my feelings about CVS, so I have little remorse.

28. This is a juicy one. Remember the chicken sausage? The one I thought was stolen from the RKG fridge, at which point I sent a company email calling said thief out. I may have found it in the back of the fridge two weeks later. I still hold the thief returned the chicken sausage in a fit of shame after the email, but it's entirely possible I erred. Wow. Feels good to get that off my chest.

And one to grow on:

It's finally fall! The best season of the year, where everything feels alive in the midst of dying, the world is magical, and anything is possible. Year 27 was pretty epic, especially because I only worked two months of it. I have a good feeling about year 28, too.

*I don't know if it's an oak tree. Seems right, though.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Is Business School Stressful?

Short answer. No. At least not yet. But we all know I'm not giving the short answer.

First. New grad school rule: no getting below parallel while dancing in broad daylight. In my defense, they were playing Drop It Low, so I don't see how I had much of a choice. Still, save it for the club, Anna. Speaking of my name, I've been regretting the fact that I didn't redefine myself as Ana Navatsyk, the blonde, exotic Polack. God, I would have been so hot.

Two weeks into classes, I feel quite settled, save a few kinks. I still have to establish a reliable bookbag pocket system. Do I put my keys in the front pocket with the calculator or the middle with my snacks? Or do I put them in the side pocket where they are easily accessible but risk being dropped. And my cell phone? Should it be up front or in a pocket within a pocket? My headphones? I thought they were lost this past week until I found them hiding in some obscure compartment.

I still don't have my binders. I was very excited to use Amazon one-click, but in my enthusiasm did not change my default credit card, so now, some lucky individual at 11 Altamont Circle has binders, and I have paper all over my floor. I don't mind buying more, though, because I got my deposit check from my apartment back this week and am practically rolling in the dough.

Classes are interesting: applied microeconomics, strategy, financial accounting and statistics. The accounting and stats classes are made more interesting by the prof's* accent, so hopefully I'll stay awake more than I did in college. Potential business: accented audiobooks. Household Chores narrated Edward, the Brit. Learning how to clean the toilet has never been so sexy.

I applied to the social venture fund and was rejected. It's true - even I get rejected occasionally, but I don't think my heart was really in the application. I should only apply when my heart is committed.

Companies have started visiting campus, and I talked with Ford this week about a marketing rotational program that gives you exposure to three different strategic areas of marketing over time. You know the drill: networking, oozing intelligence. Afterward, of course, I followed the golden rule: thank you notes. Thankfully, years of Grandma Tippit threatening to stop giving us birthday money if we didn't write a thank you note has prepared me for such a time as this. I shot off an email to everyone I talked to during their work hours so as not to be disruptive. I received a response with a question on Saturday, though, and I wasn't sure if I should respond on Saturday or wait until Monday morning. Etiquette is tricky.

I had a consultation to review my communication style and efficacy. It's confirmed. I'm an amazing communicator. I also made the three hour trip to Cleveland Thursday night to have a coffee with a man entrenched in the Cleveland sports industry, and immediately return to finish a group project. The trip was totally worth it, though, if only because I had dinner with my parents and met Greg Pruitt, an apparent Browns legend.

Saturday was another game day, which meant another day of revelry, chanting, pretending I am in college again, only to be harshly reminded this morning, that, no, I am not 21. In fact, I will be 28 this Friday!

Once again, my fantasy team caused me the most angst. I made some good moves this week and was feeling pretty confident after a strong performance Thursday night, but yelled in the Trader Joe's checkout line when I saw that Coleman, the Browns wide receiver who I didn't start because, well, the Browns are the Browns, scored 26 points warming my bench. And they still lost. Very Browns of them.

So. The burning question to which everyone seems to expect the answer to be yes - is it stressful? I can't help but think I have different stress triggers than some.

Feeling wasted at your job. Working for a boss who doesn't trust you. That's stressful. But this. This is why I'm here. I get to take two years out of my life to learn, meet smart, kind people* and explore different areas where I can make an impact. What a very rare and exciting privilege.*

Instead of stress, I have felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude this week. For a dad who proudly introduces me as going to Michigan for my MBA and tells me what an accomplishment that is. For a mom who constantly shares her wisdom and encouragement. For family - man, I'm so grateful for my family. For people who have made this transition that I was somewhat dreading so very easy. And for the chance to define my future.

It's possible I'll be stressed at some point this year, but for now, I'm going to go watch Jordy Nelson lead the Sugga Momma Bears to a week two victory.

Signing off,


* When my sister first went to college, we made fun of her because she started using words like prof and drinking coffee.
* Still no d-bags!
* Plus, I'm not working 25 hours a week at a restaurant this time around.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Letter to Pappy

Tuesday morning, I packed my book bag and made the five minute walk to my eighteenth first day of school. Isn't it crazy? You were only able to finish high school - I forget whether or not the war kept you from graduating - and I have the opportunity to pursue a master's. I'm going to Michigan, but please don't hate me. I will never forget my roots.

I chose a casual chic look the first day, classy the second, and capped the week with a hint of Bohemian. Solid lineup. I entered class and looked for my assigned seat, hoping I would sit next to that dream boat. Then I remembered Luke Bryan decided to pursue country music instead of his MBA, so that wasn't possible. I wished they had sent a school supplies list because I found myself ill prepared without binders. Throughout the lectures, I struck a balance between not speaking and asking inane questions that drive the conversation nowhere and elicit eye rolls. I also tried not to roll my eyes. I did wake up anxious this morning, but that was because I knew I shouldn't have passed on Deandre Hopkins for a running back in the first round of a PPR* fantasy league. Rookie move, Sugga Momma Bears*.

Most of my classmates are at the local watering hole for the weekly drink special, but I've been thinking about you and wanted to write. Plus, I'm finishing a Netflix documentary on JuCo football, and the MBA games are tomorrow, so I need my rest to be at peak performance.* And the first NFL game is tonight. Welcome to another season of Browns mediocrity. Sixteen years after you passed, it's still a building a year.

I visited the cemetery the other day to catch up with Stephen, and as I was chatting, I realized I don't often talk to you when I'm there. Maybe it's because Stephen was my brother or maybe it's because his grave is easier to find, but I wanted to stop by today and say thank you.

I went to Woodstock last weekend, Aunt DeeDee's annual party that has grown to include most of Chardon and half the surrounding counties. Much of our rapidly expanding family* was there, including Briella, my eight year old niece.

I see myself in her, running to her gramps for a big belly hug and his hearty laugh. It's weird to think that I was her age when you were diagnosed with cancer. I'm so glad I was able to spend those hot summer nights watching baseball with you and grandma. I remember one night in particular, your body was growing frail and you were leaning over as grandma tended one of the injection wounds. You were looking at the ground with a hint of sadness, but when you saw that I was watching, you got that glimmer in your eye and flashed a reassuring smile. I only remember you smiling, no matter how knobby your knees were, or how black and blue your arm was. Maybe it's because I was young, and that's all I want to remember, but maybe it's because that's all you wanted me to remember.

You're probably wondering what I'm going to do with a fancy degree. I plan to do something great, but great is defined in so many ways. What you did, pappy - moving your family, supporting them on the little you made so they could have better, instilling values that enabled them to build strong families, and filling your home with joy and love - that was great. I recognize it's rare, and I don't take it for granted.* If I have a legacy as strong as that, well, I would consider my life a great success.

I can't wait until the day we can share a couple beers, but for now, thank you for being such a big part of the short time I knew you. Even in your absence, I hold tightly to what you taught me about fighting, about family, about love and sacrifice, and I hope that when you look down on occasion and see me, you smile.

* Points per reception
* My team name, which I thought appropriate because I am the only female. Also, you will notice it is a before and after, a classic Wheel of Fortune puzzle that I appreciate from all those nights watching it with you and gram.
* I probably have some homework I could do, too.
* You have 26 great grand children!
* Despite what grandma says, not everyone in my generation is entitled.