SKIN LIKE SILK

He’s (She’s) So Fine

What was it that drew you to your significant other? Their blue eyes? Their ginger countenance? Their smile? Their voice?

– – – – –

Garry-HOF

Lunch hour. 1968. Manhattan. A restaurant with a view of Central Park. Garry and I are sharing a big plate of excellent fries as we both snatch a little time from our respective jobs.

Our hands meet as we simultaneously reach for a French fry.

“Wow. He has,” I think, “The silkiest skin I’ve ever touched. And such beautiful hands.”

And that was it. I’d already known Garry for 4 years. He was my son’s godfather and we worked together at the college radio station, but that touch was the start of something.

We’ll celebrate our 24th anniversary this year. He still has skin like silk. And a voice like velvet.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANTON ARMSTRONG, MY BABY BROTHER!

Google my baby brother? Why in the wide, wide world of sports would I want or need to Google my youngest brother? Hold on — I got some ‘splainin‘ to do.

First, you need to understand there’s nothing humble about the oldest and youngest of Esther and William Armstrong’s three sons. They have creds. Lots of creds. My middle brother, Bill, knows how important his brothers are. Just ask him.

Dr. Anton Armstrong, Garry's baby brother

Dr. Anton Armstrong, Garry’s baby brother

Anton Eugene Armstrong is my baby brother. I think he probably likes that “baby” adjective more and more these days. Soon, he’ll start receiving AARP literature — if he hasn’t already. Welcome to my world, little brother.

Anton entered the world center stage on April 26th in a very special year. I was a high school freshman. Dwight D. Eisenhower was beginning his second term as President. John F. Kennedy was the junior Senator from Massachusetts. Elvis Presley was racking up number one singles every week. Two of New York’s three major league baseball teams were quietly hatching plans to abandon us for the west coast, leaving a generation of broken hearts.

Mom called Anton her “old age” baby but she glowed with happiness on his arrival. Mom always liked Anton best! (Spare me the groans). As oldest son in a family without girls, I was not only his big brother but Anton’s chief diaper changer, cook, playmate and baby sitter. He was an adorable baby and a cute kid. My dad, not given to spontaneous emotion, was obviously taken with his youngest son, even calling him “Tony.” I think dad was the only one who got away with calling Anton “Tony.”

It was obvious, from a very early age, that Anton was bright and talented. Even as a toddler, he had a lovely voice that would become memorable in later years. Young Anton would come into my room as I played my 45s. He would memorize two or three lines from my favorite songs. Richie Valens would’ve loved Anton’s take on “Donna”. “Oh, Donna! Oh Donna! Oh Donna!,” Anton would sing repeatedly with perfect tone changes. I figured my baby brother might be a star on “American Bandstand” one day. Wrong ballpark.

My parents decided Anton would flourish in private schools given his intelligence and quest for knowledge, especially his growing interest in choral music. Thus, Anton began attending Lutheran schools, quickly establishing himself as one of the brightest students, grade after grade.

Anton’s academic excellence continued through high school, college and graduate school. He didn’t take anything for granted, immediately giving back by tutoring younger students during summer school.

Anton didn’t forget family. He always stayed in touch no matter how busy his schedule. He would continue this even as his career blossomed and took him to an international stage as director of the world-famous St. Olaf’s Choir. I fondly remember the night when the choir performed a concert in Boston. I covered the event but kept my distance with the TV crew. Anton paused during the concert to make special note of my presence, acknowledging his big brother, one of the city’s most respected reporters. What a moment!

Marilyn and I have seen Anton’s work as a choir director, working with relatively young, inexperienced groups. In two or three hours, he turns them into an ensemble, as if they’ve been singing together for years. Impressive!

Anton has also brought diversity and freshness to the St. Olaf music department, no easy chore in a very traditional program. Anton has done this almost seamlessly while honoring music that has endured for generations.

Marilyn and I didn’t have to worry about music for our wedding. Anton, our good friends Kit Grundstein and Mary Mitchell were memorable and touching in their performances. Both Kit and Mary have gotten a lot of mileage out of singing with my brother.

Anton and Garry

I am used to being recognized after all my years as a TV news reporter. Matter of fact, I kind of expect it. As I said earlier, there’s nothing humble about the oldest and youngest Armstrong brothers. One day, a few years back, I was stopped by some people who asked if I was Garry Armstrong. I smiled and began reaching for the picture postcards I autograph for fans. I stopped when they asked if I was related to the famous Anton Armstrong.

Yes, I was humbled. But I was so very proud when I said “Yes, he’s my baby brother.”

Happy birthday, baby brother!

UNDERNEATH THE PAIN, THERE’S ME

I had a spinal fusion and laminectomy when I was 19. For the next 45 years, I pretended I didn’t have a problem. I rode horses, climbed mountains, went sledding and skating and hiking.

Then, one day, thanks to an uninsured driver who T-boned me because she didn’t feel like waiting for a green light, everything changed. There was nothing for me to fight or overcome. There was a flapping noise and I knew my chickens were coming home to roost.

Marilyn again

There was no possible cure, no new surgery to repair me. If I didn’t take reasonable care of my damaged spine, I’d be in a wheelchair. I gave up the horses, sledding and other dangerous stuff, but kept up the walking, hiking and an occasional wild ride on a roller coaster. Until the lump of calcification on my lumbar spine grew to the size of a small soccer ball and the bursitis in my hips made everything hurt.

Still I refused to give up my feet in exchange for a chair or scooter. I’m sure if I stop walking, I’ll never start again. So I save renting an electric scooter for those rare times when we’re at a theme park or something else that requires lots of walking. I don’t have the endurance to spend a whole day on my feet and the pain would take all the fun out of it for me and my companions.

Mind you, there have been a lot of other life threatening medical events along the way. But none of the other medical problems, no matter how potentially lethal, limited my life the way the arthritis in my spine has. Apparently for the last few years, my heart has also limited my activities. I didn’t realize what was going on. I had no reason to think my heart wasn’t just fine. As far as I knew, it was okay. So I attributed all the symptoms to something else: asthma, allergies, whatever. Now, of course, I know better.

I plan to keep doing as much as I can. Right now, I can’t do much. My cracked sternum is unhealed. When it is healed — another 7 or 8 weeks from now — then I’ll see what I can do.

The pain — and there is a lot of pain — is like a separate entity, perched atop the rest of me. Underneath the pain, I think maybe I’m beginning to feel pretty good. It sounds weird, I know, but the pain is a layer — like evil frosting. Underneath, there’s the rest of me. That part feels better than it has in quite a while.

So, I have to let healing finish. There’s a lot of internal as well as external healing that has to take place and there’s nothing I can do to speed the process … but a lot I could do to slow it down!

Patience is not my strong suit as I’m sure you’ve guessed. But this time, I need to find it. I can’t hurry bone and muscle. Trying to force it is likely to prolong the problem, not shorten it.

It isn’t easy! Especially with the weather turning warm at long last.