Mom and math

Throughout my formative school-age years, my mother was very engaged in my academic career.

She expected her three boys to make all A’s and excel in everything we put our minds to. A mathematician, she worked to ensure that we take the highest levels of math available to us, believing that the knowledge and the resilience built by those courses would make us better people.

When I transferred into Lake Wales High School at the beginning of 10th grade, she advised me to take the math I needed in order to complete Advanced Placement Calculus in high school. OK, it wasn’t really advice as much as it was a statement: you will take the math you need in order to take calculus your senior year. She made it her mission to see to it I would follow through. It wasn’t easy for her or for me.

Math teacher Sharon Wallace holds papers while standing in front of a chalkboard.
Mom’s favorite class to teach was Honors Geometry, but she really excelled as a math tutor to her math-challenged son. This was an action shot of her from the 1988 Lake Wales High School yearbook.

First, I was transferring in from a private school that lacked the resources or academic rigor in mathematics to give me a good foundation. I took Algebra I in 9th grade, while most of my peers in public schools who were aiming for Calculus their senior year took it in the 8th grade. I had a lackluster teacher who taught me very little of the algebraic foundational principles I would need to master in order to take advanced math courses.

Second, math was not my best subject. I made A’s in math. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do well, it just required effort. I still have vivid memories of workbook pages of repetitive math problems of long division, complex multiplication and even addition and subtraction with large numbers. It was tedious and boring and required focus I didn’t want to give to it. I can still hear Mom, in her frustration with my lack of progress on the homework in a very out-of-character outburst, “Ninny! Ninny! Ninny!” She was right. I was being a ninny. I needed to learn discipline to complete a task rather than whine about its tedium and difficulty.

Third, in order to catch up and get on track to take calculus, I would have to take both Algebra II and Geometry in 10th grade. Without the benefit of a strong foundation in algebra, this was a daunting task. Adding to the challenge was Mom’s insistence that I be in the honors sections of both courses. To her, I was an honors student and should be in honors classes. She made it her personal mission to battle the guidance counselors and administrators until they put me in those classes. To her credit, when school started and the homework piled up, she was with me every step of the way to help make up for my lack of algebra knowledge.

Fourth, I was transferring into the large public high school after spending eight of the previous 10 years in small, private schools. There was something about a big, public school that was intimidating. I had one friend who was in a similar boat who had gone to the same private schools I had from the time I moved to Florida at the start of 7th grade. I had one friend while most everyone else had long established relationships dating back to elementary and middle school. I wanted to play sports and take advantage of other extra-curricular activities, too, placing even more pressure on myself to excel in every area of teenage life.

The double math classes made socialization that much harder because I was with my on-track 10th grade peers in Algebra II and with the 9th grade honors math students in Geometry. It’s hard to say I felt like I was “left back” a year in school because, after all, it was an Honors Geometry class. The freshmen were bright and engaged students. They happened to be just as new to Lake Wales High School as I was. It was just a little socially awkward.

Fifth, although I was extremely goal-oriented, it was hard to keep my eyes on the prize when I understood the process as undergoing extreme math torture for the right to get more torture. Giving up was never an option, but my sophomore year of high school was not a cake walk. I learned in that year to trust Mom, not only for her understanding of mathematic principles, but also her wisdom in seeing this goal through to completion.

As it turned out, after earning A’s and B’s in both Algebra II and Geometry that year, it got easier my junior year. I got on track for Calculus, so I was with my grade-level honors student peers in Trigonometry first semester and Analytical Geometry second semester. With Mom’s help, I had learned the Algebra I had missed in 9th grade, and though I still had to work hard at it, my grades were consistently A’s throughout the year.

When I made it to AP Calculus, I knew I was biting off another big challenge, but I was buoyed by the knowledge I had already survived the worst. I focused on passing the AP exam, earning college credit and reducing or eliminating my need to take another math class ever again.

Mom knew I wasn’t headed to a career in math, but the wisdom of her insistence I get AP Calculus in high school cannot be disputed. I managed to pass the AP Calculus exam and earn a year’s worth of college math credit. I did not have to take another math class every again…  or, at least until I enrolled in the MBA program 10 years after I graduated college. When we derived formulas for calculating risk in investments in my Corporate Finance class, my calculus came back to me — not so much like riding a bike but more like a ghost haunting me from the pages of a textbook.

Even more valuable than the quadratic formula or Pythagorean theorem was the character-building that took place. I learned resilience. I learned perseverance. I learned how to push through mental blocks and cope with frustration. I matured. I experienced the joy and exhilaration of completing difficult tasks. I experienced one of the most powerful feelings a human being can have: accomplishment.

Thank you, Mom, for the advice/command/willing it to be. Math did not kill me. It made me stronger. You deserve all the credit.

Glory days

Our middle son, Harris, started his senior year of high school this week. We joke all the time about how sad it would be if high school really did turn out to be a person’s “glory days.”

He’s looking forward to a good senior year, but he’s also hopeful about college, graduate school, starting his career and making a difference in the world. All this talk with Harris about the future reminded me that I’ve had some great times in life, and while they may not have been “glory days,” my senior year in high school was pretty awesome.

The culmination of my high school career was a season of peak happiness. I’m sure there were academic struggles as I wrestled with Advanced Placement Calculus, but I remember my senior year at Lake Wales High School fondly for its blend of athletics, academics, career discovery, social opportunities and accolades. After transferring in as a sophomore, my senior year was the moment I felt like I belonged.

Lance Wallace in Highlander football uniform with his hand on his football helmet
Now doesn’t that football star strike fear in your heart with that game-face scowl?

I finally played a full season of football for the Fighting Highlanders after missing out the previous seasons for logistical or health reasons (see last week’s post about my bout with mono.) I had played basketball since transferring to LWHS, but my strongest athletic desire since growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s under the enchantment of the Dallas Cowboys was to play varsity football. I tried out for quarterback in the spring of my junior year. The coaching staff wisely suggested I switch positions to tight end after it became obvious that I was not cut out to run a veer-option offense. That decision enhanced my playing time and my sense of camaraderie as I bonded with the offensive linemen. Together we battled the Florida heat and humidity, the ubiquitous gnats and our weekly opponents from around Polk County.

It was also fun to confound people who had stereotyped my interests based solely on my academic success. A girl told me during AP English one gameday Friday when I was wearing my jersey to classes, “You play football? You are a weird nerd.”

Then there was the particularly hot and sweaty afternoon when I was running drills with the receivers coach. Coach Warren paused in the middle of the drill and said, “Lance, what are you doing out here? You writing a book about this like that George Plimpton guy?”

I have always enjoyed defying social expectations. Even though I was far from the biggest or strongest guy on the team, the coaches graded me the highest rated lineman, hitting 97 percent of my blocks, in our first game, an upset of nationally-ranked Auburndale High School. I enjoyed the physical challenge, and overcoming obstacles of all kinds taught me resilience.

I had a good year in the classroom, too. Maintaining straight “A’s” all year, I finished my high school career ranked no. 3 in my class, the highest ranked male student, as my mother liked to brag. My choices of involvement ranged from Academic Team to football and basketball to drama led to my selection by my classmates as “Mr. Senior.”

My job as an intern and high school columnist at The Daily Highlander provided another source of satisfaction that year. It set up my career in journalism and communications by exposing me to new ideas, challenging me to write clearly and quickly and teaching me the meaning of ethics and professionalism.

The opportunity also introduced me to a recent college graduate out of Baylor named Bob Perkins. He came to The Highlander to be the sports editor, and because Lake Wales wasn’t exactly a hopping place for singles, we struck up a friendship. He taught me how to drive his stick-shift Ford Mustang when he broke his ankle playing basketball. Over time, I recruited him to our church.

We watched movies and ate pizza. We played basketball on the outdoor court next to the lake. We chipped golf balls in the grass by the walking path. He was a friend and mentor, and we’re still friends to this day.

Having my own car (the previously documented ’78 Nova), dating, graduating in the former Passion Play Amphitheater – or “downtown Jerusalem” as I like to tell people – all of it combined to make my senior year of high school some of the most “glorious” times of my life.

A memorable/terrible birthday

The summer of 1986 was glorious, until it wasn’t.

In the first two weeks after school ended, I met the younger sister of a woman in our church. She was my age and visiting for the summer from Chicago. When you grow up a preacher’s kid in a congregation with limited teenagers in a small town, the dating pool can be small. I immediately became interested.

Her name was Donna, and when I went on vacation to Englewood on the west coast of Florida with my best friend, Dwayne, and his family, I made it a point to send Donna a post card. It wasn’t an overly grand gesture, but it helped win her affection. When Dwayne and I returned from the beach, it didn’t take long before we were double dating. Looking back on it now, it’s clear that Donna also was facing limited dating options. A summer fling was emotionally safe and would help alleviate the teenage boredom of spending her days with her sister’s family.

I had a girlfriend in the 8th grade, but we didn’t really go anywhere or do anything together. Now that I was 15 going on 16, and I was seeing someone from the church, my windows of opportunity opened up. Donna and I spent a lot of time together that summer, including a day with Dwayne and his girlfriend at the nearby theme park known at the time as Cypress Gardens. There may or may not have been several make-out sessions in the gardens. A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell. In fact, there may or may not have been many make-out sessions over the course of our courtship that summer. And although a gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell, teenage romance has a way of turning on you in ways you least expect.

In July my family took a camper trailer down to the Florida Keys for a week of vacation, and Donna returned to Chicago. Parting was such sweet sorrow, but worse than the emotional distance was the physical symptoms I began to experience. On our drive down to the Keys, I began to feel sick. At first I thought it was just a summer cold – congestion, sore throat, headache, loss of appetite, lethargy. I figured it would pass in a day or two and would not hinder my enjoyment of sun, sand and surf. But even though we were at the beach, I didn’t have much energy for all the activities I usually enjoyed on vacation. My parents tried to make it a fun experience for us, but I felt worse as the week wore on. I spent most of the time in my bunk. We had to cut our stay short when a church member passed away, and I was not sad to go home early.

The change to more familiar scenery did not improve my condition. Not long after we got home, Mom took me to our family general practitioner. He prescribed antibiotics, and our expectation was I would recover in time to celebrate my 16th birthday the next week. My grandparents came down from Georgia with my dad’s sister and her family, and the house was full of people and activity. As I got sicker, my parents wisely set me up in the camper in the backyard as a good place to quarantine from the rest of the family and get some rest.

Rather than recover, my condition deteriorated. Those days in the camper are fuzzy. I remember my throat hurting so bad each time I swallowed that I got a cup to spit in instead. It was awful.

An overly skinny teenager in shorts and no shirt sits on a couch trying to unwrap presents with his younger brother and cousin looking on.
Emaciated and unable to breath, I can’t say that I enjoyed my 16th birthday. It was anything but sweet.

Struggling to breathe and swallow, I didn’t eat, and I barely drank anything. On my actual birthday, the family pulled me out of isolation long enough to open presents before Mom took me to an ear, nose and throat specialist for a second opinion. He examined me, ran some tests and immediately sent me to Winter Haven hospital. It was mononucleosis.

My tonsils were so swollen the doctor was afraid my airway would close. I distinctly remember the doctor discussing the possibility of a tracheotomy. I was so sick I couldn’t even muster the energy to be worried about what was happening. The specialist’s office wasn’t far from the hospital, and it wasn’t long before I was in a room getting intravenous doses of strong medication.

I spent the first night resting intermittently, as people do in hospitals when nurses are checking vitals and administering medications every hour or so. The swelling in my throat began to abate, and by the next morning, there was no need for any procedure to poke a hole in my neck. I was so doped up and so miserable, the fact it was my 16th birthday was completely lost on me. My parents were extremely worried. They were more concerned for my health and recovery than whether or not my 16th birthday would be special.

As awful as it was, a bout of mono and a hospital stay is what made it special. Instead of getting my driver’s license, going out with my girlfriend or even just enjoying cake and ice cream with my family, I remember being too sick to swallow, staying in a camper, being admitted to the hospital and losing a bunch of weight. Those aren’t typical birthday memories, and my 16th wasn’t very “sweet.”

A few days after I came home, we did celebrate with cake and ice cream. I don’t remember much about the celebration. There are pictures of me, looking emaciated and out of it, sitting on our couch with my grandparents, aunt and cousins gathered all around singing happy birthday. I spent the rest of the summer recuperating. I moved into the guest room downstairs when our family left, and it was weeks before I could play video games and board games with my brothers or see my friends. My plans to try out for the football team were thwarted. I had lost down to 150 pounds, and at 6-foot-4, that’s not enough meat on your bones to play football. Instead, I gradually built up my strength and stamina to return to school by late August and ran cross country in September and October to get in shape for basketball season.

In addition to ruining a rite-of-passage birthday, my bout with mono had lasting effects. When I went off to college two years later, my parents were overly concerned about me getting enough rest and eating right. I believed the strong drugs I got in the hospital bolstered my immune system, and, in fact, I didn’t get sick at all for at least four or five years.

I do not mean to suggest causation when combining the story of my summer romance with the tale of my illness. Everyone knows mono is known as the “kissing disease.” When I tell my boys about the experience now, I just wink and say I got mono the summer I turned 16 “the fun way.”

I won’t call my 16th birthday “happy,” but it was definitely memorable.

Childhood stories about ‘Little Lancer’

Stories not only describe a life; they can shape it as well.

That’s true for the stories I’ve heard about my infancy and childhood as I have constructed my life’s narrative. These stories contain clues that explain my reluctance to change, fastidiousness, stubbornness, refusal to give in, and spreading joy with humor and good spirits.

red-headed toddler in a navy blue sailor outfit.
Wasn’t I cute kid? And apparently I was in the Navy. Mom was always proud of my ginger locks.

These are not the only stories I’ve heard, but they spring to mind most readily and are repeated most frequently. Here is my attempt to recreate them as accurately as my memory will allow:

As long as I can remember hearing my name come up in stories my parents are telling, I have heard about my first encounter with chocolate ice cream. The exact event is somewhat foggy, but I believe it was my second birthday. My family was in Columbus, Georgia, visiting my grandparents. The celebration included cake and ice cream, which my grandfather enjoyed while holding me in his lap. He offered me a spoonful of the dark brown ice cream, which I refused by shaking my head and saying, “No, burnt.”

Another often repeated story comes from my earliest days on earth. Apparently my mother was extremely careful with my hygiene when she first brought me home from the hospital. Prone to exaggeration, my dad insists my mom bathed me several times a day. He also said Mom disinfected every surface I might come into contact with as well my toys, pacifiers and teething rings.

When reminiscing about my childhood, Dad likes to tell about my resistance to sleep. When I was a toddler, they had the hardest time getting me to stay in bed and go to sleep. Desperate, they decided one night to test a suggestion from the pediatrician: let me stay awake until I fall asleep on my own to determine my natural bedtime then gradually put me to bed a few minutes earlier each night until I went to bed at the time they wanted. On the night they implemented the strategy, I stayed up playing until past midnight while my parents stayed in the den. Showing no signs of stopping, I left the den and toddled down the hall toward my room. My parents heard a “thud” from the hallway. When they got up to investigate, they found me passed out in the floor, still clutching a toy truck.

Even now that their son will soon be a 52-year-old adult, my parents like to tell the story about the time the power was out at our house. I was very young, just two or three, but I was old enough to make the connection between the lighting of candles and the singing of “Happy Birthday.” With no lights, my parents had lit candles in the house while workers rectified the problem. The candles put me in a festive spirit, so I began to sing my rendition of “Happy Birthday” around the house. I sang “Birthday you! Birthday you!” to my parents and the electrician. It’s such a fond memory for my parents, they repeat it annually, usually when wishing me a “Happy Birthday.”

I hope the stories my children hear me tell about them will bring them more joy than embarrassment and help them as they find their place in this world.

Nelson Mandela and my historic misstep

Interns notoriously misstep so often that their ineptitude, no matter the field, is a cliché.

I lived up to that cliché when a false step during a journalism internship for Knight Ridder newspapers’ Washington bureau in the fall of 1991 became one of the strangest things to ever happen to me.

That internship proved to be an invaluable experience. It allowed me to cover real stories, receive professional editing and guidance, and, most importantly for a young journalist, have my byline on stories in big city papers like The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Detroit Free-Press and San Jose Mercury-News. It was heady and humbling all at the same time. I rode the METRO subway each day from the Eastern Market station on Capitol Hill to the National Press Club building full of hope, energy and disbelief that I could actually be doing what I set out to do. It was a dream come true.

One of the most newsworthy international events that unfolded in the fall of 1991 was South African anti-apartheid activist and political leader Nelson Mandela’s first visit to Washington. He had been released from prison in 1990 but was not yet the president of South Africa. The visit was more diplomatic than political, but the American media were eager to hear his story and learn what was changing in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela, left, shakes hands with U.S. President George H.W. Bush, right, behind two podiums with microphones.
Nelson Mandela met with President George H.W. Bush on his visit to the U.S. in 1991 shortly after his release from prison. He wasn’t smiling so broadly when I stepped on his foot. Photo courtesy of Politico.com

There were two media availabilities for Mandela during his visit – one at the State Department after his official visit and the other at an event at the National Press Club. A little before noon on that early December day, my editor, Reggie Stuart, called me over to his desk to assign me to cover Mandela’s speech at the Press Club upstairs. He told me the state department reporter would cover his remarks there, and I was to get some quotes from his speech at the Press Club to fill out the story. With almost no time to prepare, I frantically dashed back to my desk and started looking up anything in our archives, both print and digital, that might give me some context. This was pre-Internet, so research was more tedious and time consuming.

I lost track of time, and when I looked up, I had exactly two minutes to get to the Press Club. I grabbed a pen, my reporter’s notebook and my press badge and ran to the elevator. With seconds to spare, I reached the check-in table at the door of the meeting room, which was set theater style for about 300. I showed my credentials, signed in and stepped toward the door without really looking around me.

A rather large gentleman in a suit blocked the door. I attempted to get around him to the right, then the left before stepping back to allow him to move out of the doorway. When I did, my right foot landed on something solid. I heard a low moan.

I turned around, and to my horror, I saw Nelson Mandela. What I had stepped on was his foot. The big fella in the doorway? Part of his security detail. The security officer grabbed me by both shoulders and pushed me out of the way. I had stepped on Nelson Mandela’s foot. The man survived 27 years in a South African prison only to come to America for me to cripple him.

Overloaded, my brain shut down. Mandela limped a step or two before recovering as he made his way to the platform. The big guy in the suit glared at me, and I shrank with embarrassment, stumbling over to a seat on the back row. I sat, stunned, as the National Press Club president introduced Mandela who took the podium. It must have been a good speech. There was intermittent clapping. There was laughter. There was a standing ovation at the end. I honestly cannot recall anything that was said. I was in shock. I never opened my notebook.

When the event ended and the room began to clear, it hit me that I didn’t have anything to give Reggie for the story. I had blown it. This was going to be the end of my journalism career. At age 21, I was done.

Careful not to make physical contact with anyone else as I exited, I tried to come up with words to explain what happened. The short elevator ride was not long enough. In just a few minutes I found myself standing at Reggie’s desk waiting for him to get off the phone. When he put the handset back in the cradle, he looked up at me and asked the dreaded question I knew was coming: “What did you get?”

I hemmed and hawed and looked at my feet. Sweat beaded on my forehead. My mouth became parched, and words refused to form on my tongue. Reggie looked at me, puzzled, then let me off the hook.

“Ah, don’t worry about it. We already got the story from his visit to State, and it’s too long anyway. We really don’t have room for any more quotes.”

I nodded and ineloquently thanked Reggie for the opportunity. I went back to my desk, put down my notepad and plopped into my chair with an exhale of relief and shame.

It was one of the strangest things that ever happened to me, and it left an indelible imprint. It took me years to confess its occurrence, but I gradually overcame the post-traumatic hold the encounter had on me. I learned to laugh at it and not take myself too seriously. That story became one of the staples of my self-deprecating anecdotes from my journalism career.

I’m sure over the years the event has grown in my mind, and depending on the audience, I have been known to embellish. Truth is, there were no real consequences. My journalism career didn’t end before it started. Nelson Mandela suffered no long-term effects to his mobility.

The most important takeaways? I gained experience. I grew. I adapted. I learned to be on time and not take myself too seriously.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing: always, always, always watch your step.

‘Stranger Things’ and nostalgic fads from my childhood

As my family indulges in season four of Netflix’s hit series “Stranger Things,” I’m once again overwhelmed with ’80s nostalgia. It has led to many conversations with my boys about which fads of the era I embraced.

No, I did not have Steve Harrington hair. Yes, I was a high school journalism nerd. No, I did not kill monsters with a baseball bat filled with nails. Truthfully, I did not grow up in a fad-following family, but there were a few fads that slipped through.

As independent, fundamentalist, Bible-believing Baptists, we were taught to “be in the world, but not of the world.” We were expected to separate ourselves from the culture around us. I learned at an early age to mistrust anything that was too popular or seemed to be counter to my religious upbringing.

The list of prohibitions was lengthy and included rock and roll, Christian rock, any music with a beat, movies, playing cards, dancing, swearing, books with swearing, TV shows with swearing, immodest clothing, long hair (for males), sex, discussions of sex, nudity, alcohol, going to bars, eating at restaurants that served alcohol, drugs, smoking, dipping, any activity on Sunday other than church, and many others that I’m not remembering at the moment. You can rest assured I abstained from all of them.

Still, no one is an island. I was not immune to the cultural forces at work during my formative years in the 1970s and ‘80s. The first popular culture phenomenon that captured my attention was without question “Star Wars.” I didn’t see it when it was first released the summer of 1977, but I distinctly remember having a “Star Wars” lunchbox in the second grade. By the time I saw it in 1978, every kid I knew was conversant on the plot and characters. While not the first movie I saw in theaters, it was the most influential. It captured my imagination in a way nothing else had, and my parents fed my fascination with action figures and toy spaceships. My brother and I would play “Star Wars” as well, acting out scenes or creating new ones with our favorite characters. We even started writing our own space adventure movie, using our names spelled backwards for the characters. In hindsight, this was probably the first spark of an interest in writing and creating that would later shape my career choice.

A wall of Star Wars movie action figure toys fill a wall.
This display of “Star Wars” action figures would have made my younger self ecstatic with greed. I sold my brothers and my collection in the mid-1990s, just before the prequels. Probably should have held onto them. Photo courtesy of KennerCollector.com

It wasn’t just the story of “Star Wars” that appealed to me. I loved the characters. Initially, I was all “Team Skywalker,” sharing Luke’s naïveté about the universe and his yearning for adventure. As a pre-teen and young teen, I shifted my loyalty and appreciation to the roguish Han Solo. His brashness stood in stark contrast to my shyness, and I secretly wanted to be able to have a “shoot first” and fly by the seat of my pants approach to life.

Upon further reflection, it was most likely my admiration for Han that led me to partake in the fad of parting my hair down the middle. As I grew into adolescence and actually started combing my hair, I traded the bowl cut of childhood for an attempted feathered middle part like Harrison Ford wore in “Empire Strikes Back.” At the time, I never considered my hairstyle to be fashion forward, and our conservative views ensured my hair would never be so long as to touch my ears or my collar. The fact my parents permitted such an overtly worldly hairstyle was either a function of ignorance to the trend or relief that I finally wanted to comb my hair at all. I had dueling cowlicks on either side of my bangs, so the center-part cut worked as well as anything could at the time. I began carrying a comb in my back pocket, even before I had a wallet. It was 8 to 10 inches long, cream colored, and plastic with a wide handle for easy grasping when the need arose to style my hair with dramatic strokes.

We moved to rural, central Florida the summer I turned 12. My dad was called to pastor a church in Lake Wales, a small town known for humidity, orange trees, retirees and cows. It was hardly the center of the cultural universe, and my location reinforced my lack of participation in fads. I also went from being a kid no one really paid attention to, to the preacher’s oldest son. Expectations increased. Perception became crucial for whether or not parishioners criticized my dad’s ministry. My appearance and clothing took on greater importance at the exact time I crossed the threshold into adolescence.

It was at that time I began to embrace the footwear fad that swept through the 1980s – the boat shoe. We were not a yachting family, but few were who wore the dark brown shoe with rawhide laces and white plastic soles. My first pair of boat shoes were hand-me-downs from my Uncle Rocky. I thought they were tremendously cool. The only problem was that they were tan and not dark brown. I wanted to tell people that even though they weren’t the “right” color, they still counted as boat shoes and, therefore, by extension, I was still cool. I was outgrowing clothes quickly at that age, so it wasn’t long before I left Rocky’s tan boat shoes behind. The “preppy” look became the fashion fad of the mid-1980s, so plaid button up or polo shirts with Levi’s 501 button fly jeans and dark brown boat shoes without socks became my uniform. Fortunately, my look was conservative enough to pass muster with the church folks and the preppy teens of Central Florida. I’m not sure if it added to my self-confidence, but it certainly helped me blend in. Others may have embraced ripped jeans, mullets, and rock band T-shirts, I basically dressed like most of my friends.

A red-haired, teen-aged girl in blue pants, a yellow shirt with a navy sweater wrapped around her neck and Sperry Top Siders talks with a young man in a light blue polo, white pants and brown boat shoes. They are both holding books. She is sitting on a brick wall in front of a school, and he is leaning against the wall.
One did not have to own a boat to sport boat shoes back in the day. It was my footwear of choice for probably longer than was fashionable. Source BestLifeonline.com

Being a preacher’s kid was isolating. My brothers and I naturally gravitated toward video games. From the first Atari we received at Christmas around 1980 to the Atari 800 XL computer that showed up around 1986, we embraced video gaming at home as a hobby. We spent hours with those early games – Space Invaders, Asteroids, Missile Command and Pitfall. High scores were bragging rights between my middle brother and me. Video games occupied us for hours, kept us out of trouble and made sure we didn’t succumb to the list of sins enumerated above. The computer games that consumed us as the technology improved and our tastes matured included M.U.L.E., Archon, Zork, and sports games like “One-on-One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird.” There is no sound in contemporary life that mimics the whirring of the floppy disk drive as a game loads.

An original Atari video game controller with a game cartridge inserted
Too many hours to count of my childhood and teens were lost to this device, the original Atari. From Space Invaders to Asteroid to the Activision games of Pitfall and Starmaster, that little box and its joystick controllers were my brother, Lee, and my constant entertainment.

At the time and now, that combination of fads seems pretty nerdy, but the rise of nerd culture makes it easier to admit what my life really looked like growing up. The church was a constant, good grades were expected, chores and yard work were character-building. But an honest assessment of cultural participation during my formative years is incomplete without “Star Wars,” a middle part, boat shoes and Atari. And you know what? I don’t regret it.

Beach happy

I am blessed with myriad joys in my life — being married to Carla, parenting three wonderful young men, participating in our family of faith at Parkway Baptist Church, and many more. When joy is given a location — the now cliche “happy place” — my mind always goes to our summer family vacations to Santa Rosa Beach.

Every summer since 2001, we’ve taken a family vacation to the beach. The first time we took Barron, still an infant, to Saint Simons Island. Then we discovered Santa Rosa Beach on County Road 30A in South Walton County in the panhandle of Florida. Except for one visit to Cocoa Beach with our friends the Bennetts in 2010, we’ve been there every summer since. Discovering the beaches of South Walton – or, more accurately, re-discovering them for me – has brought me as much happiness as anything in my life.

Lance Wallace in straw hat and sun glasses with beach and blue-green waters in the background.
Unshaven, big sun hat, long sleeve swim shirt, SPF 5000 sunblock and prescription sunglasses — It’s the old man at the beach look, for sure, but it’s worth it for a little peace and rest.

The warm, clear waters of the Emerald Coast are the best anywhere for playing and relaxing. The bright, white sand beaches are beautiful to behold and perfect for setting up chairs under an umbrella and listening to the waves. The restaurants serve up our favorite seafood and provide unmatched atmosphere. The music venues feature local and unknown artists putting their heart and soul into their music, giving us many great nights under the stars. Santa Rosa Beach has been my haven of happiness.

I wrote the first five chapters of my novel at the beach. I taught Harris and Carlton to ride a bike in the lawn at Gulf Place. I played board games with the boys and made Skip-Bo our family card game. I watched family movies revealing to the boys such classics as “Jaws” and “Treasure Island.” I walked the beach at sunset, holding hands with Carla and watching our boys run along the water’s edge, splashing each other and chasing sand crabs. I ate a lot of ice cream. There were years when it rained more than we would have liked or when we spent too much time in the beach house rather than at the pool or on the beach, but I cannot remember a bad vacation at Santa Rosa Beach.

I think our vacations there create so much happiness because the stresses of our lives at home are stripped away. All that’s left is each other and time. Truth be told, we could probably make space for such experiences anywhere in the world. In fact, we do achieve these moments when we are at home, but the beach brings happiness in the anticipation of it as much as the actual trip. For me it’s like the season of anticipation before Christmas.

Lance Wallace and his three boys sit at a picnic table on the balcony of a beach condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico with plates of corn, red potatoes, shrimp and sausage in front of them.
One of our favorite meals at the beach is Carla’s low country boil with fresh Gulf shrimp caught that morning and purchased from Shrimpers. The family time is what makes this vacation so important to me.

Peace, contentment, relationship, creative stimulation, success, discovery, and rest are all common threads in my happiest times. Now that I have surpassed 50, I have come to believe more firmly than ever that happiness is a state of mind I can create for myself rather than rely on circumstances to dictate.

I’m looking forward to this year’s version of beach happiness and hope your summer has some for you, too.

Where is your beach happy? Share your favorite beach destination and why in a comment below.

College visits produce anxiety, nostalgia

The joke about campus tours is that they’re all the same.

This short video from College Humor captures it nicely.

After taking two such tours this week with my middle son, Harris, I’ve concluded that, yes, touring campuses starts to feel like deja vu after a while, but if you’re paying attention, there’s a lot you can learn about your children… and yourself.

I never took a campus tour at what was then Troy State University before deciding to matriculate there in May of 1988. I took them up on their scholarship offer late in my senior year of high school. It was a practical decision made for purely financial reasons. The first time I set foot on the Troy campus was for pre-college orientation that summer.

Lance and Harris pose with the bronze statue of the Mercer Bear in front of the University Center building.
Harris and I pose for a selfie with the ferocious Mercer Bear outside of the University Center.

I have taken a few campus tours since, and now that I work in higher education, I’ve given a few. Carla and I did a round of college visits with our oldest when he was making his college selection. Visits to University of Georgia, Clemson, and Kennesaw State along with an informal, football-centric trip to Auburn (thanks to our friends, the Hursts!), rounded out his explorations. He ultimately landed at KSU for a year and a half before transferring to Georgia where he is now happily ensconced.

Barron was all about the college experience, particularly the marching band experience. He was coming off two years as drum major of his high school marching band, and he wanted to march in a big-time college band that played big-time games on big-time television and gave him big-time memories. At the time of those tours, he didn’t really know what he wanted to major in, vacillating between communications and music education.

Fast forward three years and he’s now a furnishings and interiors major with a concentration in historic preservation and played his trumpet on the field at the national championship game in Indianapolis back in January. So things worked out just fine. The campus tour did not make or break his future.

Harris Wallace listens to a tour guide outside of the R. Kirby Godsey Administration Building on the historic quad of Mercer University's campus.
When we think of Mercer, we think of the historic quad, including the R. Kirby Godsey Administration Building.

Our second son, Harris, is different in just about every way possible. While he has loved his marching band experience in high school, he is not seeking that from college. He is already working his 30-year plan, which includes a run for public office concluding with the White House. The two visits he took this week were to Mercer and UGA where one of the chief features the two have in common is a law school. (Emory is on the list to visit as well.)

The rah-rah portions of the tour didn’t appeal to him as much. He did soak up the vibe, which was a hot one this week, but his interests were more about academics, application processes, scholarships, honors programs and dual degrees that allow a student to complete a bachelor’s and master’s in an abbreviated time. His goals are more academic and profession-based than his brother’s. 

As the parents on these tours, Carla and I try to be present and offer advice without taking over. That was easier at UGA than at Mercer from which both of us have a degree. Carla particularly wanted to go into every building to see how it was different from when she went there back in the ‘90s. Spoiler alert: the campus has changed quite a bit.

Harris Wallace poses in front of the University of Georgia School of Law.
Harris can envision himself attending classes here at the University of Georgia School of Law one day.

I think our nostalgia annoyed Harris more than it helped, but our personal connections to the institution made that inevitable. Those connections did lead to Harris getting to meet Mercer President Bill Underwood, something no one else on our tour with Kelli was able to do. I don’t think Harris minded our Mercerian status then.

Here’s what I have learned from the college visit process from two cycles:

Separate emotion from data. Start with your child’s career interests and work backward. It’s not criminal if they don’t know what they want to do, but if they have an idea, it’s a good starting point. Then look at the academic degrees offered. Faculty matter in those fields, too, but don’t get hung up on rankings and reputational stuff. Good students succeed no matter where they are planted. And if you, like us, have some alma maters in the running, try not to let your glory days have too much influence. Our children need to blaze their own trails. If they do choose your school, know that their experience will be different from yours.

Your child’s future is not at stake. Try to relax and help your child enjoy the tour. It may feel like getting into the right school and making the right college choice is a life-or-death decision, but it’s not. Transferring is a reality. There are many paths to success. If you feel your anxiety level rising during the campus tour, take a time out and try not to let your issues infect your child. They will make better decisions without all the extra emotional baggage.

Don’t bring that helicopter. A colleague at another university recently told me that at their college orientation, the student life staff purposely have multiple options for free T-shirts just so they can force students to make a decision. It’s part of their preparation for college. She said all too often parents will step in, or, even worse, the student will turn to the parent and ask them which shirt they should pick. Staff are trained to then redirect the question to the student: “Which shirt do YOU want?” If you haven’t already built the habit of letting your child make some decisions for themselves, the campus tour is a good place to start.

As we wait for test scores and applications to open, I’m working on being present with Harris as he contemplates his future. It’s both a help and a hindrance that I work in higher education. You don’t have to be an expert to help your child navigate this decision, and your child’s choice will not determine the course of their entire life. Their future is still very much in their hands.

We’re on our second of three times through this journey of campus tours and college selection. Harris’ experience is different from Barron’s, and I’m sure Carlton’s will be unique from his older brothers’. 

Harris Wallace talks with a female UGA tour guide on the Million Dollar Staircase on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens.
Harris gets to know “Lou” our UGA tour guide from Greensboro, NC, as they walk down the “Million Dollar Staircase.”

Carla likes to talk about seasons of life. This is one of those seasons that I’m learning to enjoy. It’s fun to reminisce, but I’m trying to let Harris make his own memories.

Hey, let me tell you about that time my roommate Scott skulled a possum in the parking lot of our dorm…

What was your campus tour like? How has it been different with your children? Did you find it stressful? Let’s process this together. Leave a comment and contribute to the conversation.

Becoming my father

As I age, I hear my father’s words come out of my mouth with greater frequency.

I see how strongly I have been imprinted by my father. I have his creativity, work ethic, conviction, stubbornness, and tendency toward anger as a way of expressing concern.

I deeply love and respect my father, and as my own set of three boys grow up, I understand and relate to him better with each passing year. He has walked this journey ahead of me and did a good job raising three boys into men of character. I hope to emulate him in that achievement.

Larry Wallace sitting on a green sofa with his two young sons, Lance and Lee, in his lap.
My dad with Lee and me when we were all MUCH younger.

My dad is no longer on a pedestal of perfection. He is accessible and knowable and human. I am innately made up of his best – and worst – qualities. Our weekly phone conversations often provoke tiny revelations about my character and call attention to my own tendencies that are adding up to the inevitable self-discovery and self-assurance that leads to wisdom.

My father’s personality made a strong impact on my brothers and me, and his traits have been both adopted and resisted. Maybe it is the way of fathers and sons, but love and conflict have been part of our relationship since early adulthood.

When I was very small, my earliest memories were of him working night shift for American Airlines and having to be quiet during the day while he slept. I remember him retiring from American to go to Bible college and go on staff of our church as associate pastor. I went from being fairly anonymous in our church to garnering attention wherever we went. From the point he “surrendered” for the ministry, he worked at being a better person to others. He was kind and attentive when approached, and I saw him apply himself academically.

Dad has always been a hard worker. Whether it was long days of sermon preparation and visitation at area hospitals or in people’s homes, he was not afraid of effort. He was the kind of church staff member and senior pastor who was willing to roll up his sleeves, literally, and unclog toilets, set up tables for the senior adult program or mop the fellowship hall.

In his younger days, Dad could be bold and impulsive. He may have been afraid of the life-changing career move when he answered God’s call on his life and left the world of airplane maintenance, which he knew well, but I never saw it. He handled the disappointment of not being called to a church in Orlando where he preached in view of a call. And he humbly went back to work on aircraft at General Dynamics when our church in Texas could not afford to keep him on staff. Those were big risks, and I’m sure stressful and trying times for him, full of doubt and concern for providing for his family. But he never failed us.

I saw my father take on the biggest responsibility of all when he accepted the senior pastor position at another church in Central Florida. When we moved from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to Lake Wales, Fla., we all viewed it as an adventure, and no one was more affected by that adventure than Dad. He became consumed by the stresses of the congregation, which also operated a kindergarten through 12th grade Christian school. The finances of both institutions were a wreck, and no one had informed him of those issues before he took the job. But as was his way, Dad internalized those stresses and did his best to shelter us from what kept him up at night.

Dad has always been a man of conviction, willing to act on his beliefs. He does not do lip service. A firm believer in the proverb “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” he insisted we help him change the oil, brakes and spark plugs on the car, so we would learn some self-sufficiency. He couldn’t abide the thought of being dependent on anyone, and he didn’t want us to not learn to fend for ourselves.

His commitment to serving the Lord obviously stemmed from conviction. I remember as a small boy looking up at him during the invitation hymn at the end of the service as he prayed and hoped someone would respond to the message and walk the aisle. Even when he worked nights, he was still at church every time the doors were open, and by the time he went on staff, he was already doing everything he could do for our church. He was basically an unpaid staff member.

Dealing with the stress of leadership may not have suited him, but the creativity called for writing and crafting and delivering sermons did. A fiery pulpiteer, he blended well the Scripture with illustrations, and when he had the time, he enjoyed studying and writing sermons. He flashed that same creativity in his storytelling around the table or with company. Whether they were stories of his growing up, his time in the Air Force, working for American Airlines, fishing trips or church life, he had a knack for holding people’s attention and spinning a good tale. He once confided in me about a book series he would like to write about an international spy with a photographic memory. I should steal his idea and write it now as a tribute. I think the idea has enough merit that I haven’t forgotten it.

He loved surprising us. Whether it was secretly packing the car on Thanksgiving Day to take us on a surprise weekend getaway to Galveston or bringing home an above ground swimming pool, Dad loved seeing our curiosity turn to joy.

Lance Wallace sits in a brown chair holding his newborn baby son who wears a knit green cap.
See the resemblance? I guess having three boys does make me and Dad more similar than different.

Like Dad, I, too, have shown a propensity for hard work. It didn’t strike me as unusual to work long into the night at the newspaper, and when I transitioned to public relations, I put in many 60-plus hour weeks writing and disseminating messages for my nonprofit employers. Yard work was my therapy. Mowing, trimming, blowing, raking, weeding – I grew up doing yard work year-round in Florida, and the dirt and sweat was as familiar to me as the computer keyboard and notepad. Like Dad, I am not afraid of working hard.

I also made a big career jump, though not as big as Dad’s, when I left newspaper journalism for public relations. I didn’t have to relocate, at least not immediately, but I embraced the big life change a few years later when we moved from Macon to Lilburn for my job.

Church is important to me, and I have wrestled with a sense of calling all my life. I spent 10 years communicating for a missions-sending organization which gave me close proximity to church leaders and ministers. I traveled and spoke in churches and saw the lives and work of missionaries up close. As much as that experience profoundly influenced me, I did not ultimately believe I was called to serve the local church like Dad or my brothers. I am at church every time the doors are open, teaching Sunday School, leading committees, chaperoning kids to camps, chairing the board of deacons and serving in a variety of capacities as needed. I love the local church and profess that love in a monthly blog called View from the Pew that captures a lay person’s perspective of church life.

Mom is the one who convinced me one day that my inclination toward writing came from Dad. I am compelled to write, recommitting myself to New South Essays during the pandemic. Whether any of my avocational writing amounts to anything, it gives me such mental satisfaction to complete even small writing projects that I have to acknowledge a genetic predisposition to creative expression.

In the days of stress that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, I have also become keenly aware that I share Dad’s habit of showing concern as anger. When I fly off the handle, it is never about the thing I’m raging against. It is the buildup of unvented frustration over circumstances outside of my control. And when I do explode, I feel shame and guilt that I now know Dad felt, too.

I am learning to handle my temper better. I wish I could be infinitely long suffering. I want to express concern as compassion and empathy. To do so, I need to go against my programming and nurture and establish a new model for my boys. Men of previous generations did not have permission to handle their emotions in constructive ways or even acknowledge that they had emotions in most cases. I have learned to recognize Dad’s feelings for what they truly are and not be scared because he seems angry at me.

In these and many more ways, I am like my father. I hope the world is better for it.

Tell us about your father. Leave a comment with what you’ve learned about yourself as it relates to your dad. Reflecting on the commonalities isn’t always easy, but it is meaningful.

River rescue

From my earliest days as a rookie features writer at The Macon Telegraph in 1992, I heard reporters talk about canoeing the Ocmulgee River and writing about it for the paper.

I was young and foolish enough to attempt it.

In the late summer of 1993 I began the ambitious project of paddling the entire 255 miles of the Ocmulgee River from its origin at the base of Lloyd Shoals Dam at Lake Jackson to the confluence with the Oconee River forming the Altamaha River near Lumber City.

The grand adventure would have been to canoe it from start to finish in one multi-day trip, camping along the route. If you figure the average person can cover 10-15 miles of river a day, you can quickly see how impractical that was. I could not put my life on hold nor would my editors at The Telegraph let me out of my other duties for three weeks.

As I puzzled over the logistics, the Central Georgia River Runners canoeing and kayaking club learned about my ambitious project and one of its members, Joe Beall, took an interest. A former naval aviator and graduate of the Citadel, Joe was single, in his early 40s, and had a lot of time on his hands. He loved kayaking and history, and his unquenchable curiosity provided the impetus and skills I needed to make the journey a reality.

Lance Wallace holds up a Central Georgia River Runners T-shirt beside an aluminum canoe at the shore of the Altamaha River in Lumber City, Georgia, with the Uvalda Bridge in the background.
I earned my Central Georgia River Runners bumper sticker and T-shirt when I finished paddling the Ocmulgee River here at the bridge in Lumber City just below the confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers, but I did need rescuing a time or two along the way.

Joe became my unofficial guide. We spent hours together pouring over topographical maps and looking at ways to break the trip into segments. Being a young, single guy myself, I was willing to give weekends and occasional weekday trips to the journey so as not to interfere with my regular workload. We divided the entire project into 10-15 mile excursions, invited the River Runners to join us when they could, and began the quest.

The Ocmulgee River, which derives its name from the Hichti words “oki” (water) and “molki” (bubbling or boiling), acts like two different rivers. The upper Ocmulgee above the Fall Line, which runs just north of Macon, is bubbling like the mountain rivers and streams in north Georgia and Tennessee. There are shoals and rapids through which the water moves quickly and can prove challenging for inexperienced paddlers like I was. Truth be told, I had to be rescued several times after falling in when my canoe was toppled by a small rapid. The River Runners called the shameful act “swimming,” and even devoted a column in their monthly newsletter called “Seen Swimming” to call out those who turned over during an outing.

“Seen Swimming” included my name several times the first few trips because I was so inexperienced. I made the beginner’s mistake of sitting up too high and grabbing the gunnels when I started to lose my balance. I had to learn to fight those instincts, get low in a canoe, and keep paddling to maintain my balance. I think the River Runners drew straws to see who would take me in their canoe those first few trips because they didn’t want to be “seen swimming” along with me.

South of the Fall Line as Georgia’s Piedmont region gives way to the Coastal Plain, the Ocmulgee spreads out, slows down and becomes a wide, meandering river, like a smaller version of the Mississippi. We did several of the southern segments in multi-day, overnight trips camping on the shoreline or on sandbars. Particularly near the end, we tried to cover as much of the river as we could with each trip.

North of Macon, the river ran fairly straight, but south of town, there were stretches where the Ocmulgee was winding and serpentine. Even with Joe’s navigational skills, it was sometimes hard to calculate the distance of a trip from a topographical map.

Such was the case on an early spring day when Joe and I had hoped to paddle a section south of Macon originating near Bond Swamp that would end up at the Bullard Landing public boat ramp near Dry Branch in Twiggs County.

It’s those twists and turns that can make estimating the time and distance tricky on the river.

There were several factors that freighted the day with stress. First, we needed to have The Telegraph’s photographer with us on more of the trips to capture some good imagery to accompany my story. Maryann Bates and I had worked well together on multiple projects, and she had expressed interest. Our plan was to go back after the story was outlined and get photos from the bank, but we did need her to join us on a couple of the trips. We didn’t want to risk her equipment, so picking an easier segment without rapids or shoals seemed ideal.

Maryann was like a big sister to me. Older and wiser, she had taken me under her wing at the paper, dispensing good natured teasing and wisdom in equal measure. She and her husband, Larry, were good friends, and at times I felt like I was part of their family, which back then included three kids. Maryann had commitments that I didn’t, so finding a day to be on the river proved challenging.

When we paddled a section of the river, we had to start the day by setting the shuttle, which meant leaving the canoes and kayaks at the put-in point, driving to the take-out with two vehicles so you could leave one to get you back to your other vehicle at the end of the day, and driving back to the boats at the put-in. Maryann drove a Nissan Pathfinder, so we left the canoe and kayak at the put-in and planned to leave her truck at the take-out. The last half mile of the road to Bullard Landing was red clay, and recent rains left it slick. Maryann handled it well, but we were both tense from the slipping and sliding to get to the takeout.

Once we put in and found our pace, and the trip became pleasant. I could hear Maryann’s camera clicking away, and the warming sunshine eased our minds. That section was somewhat remote, but there was ample evidence we were south of an urban area. We found pockets along the route where fallen trees created eddies that held captive all manner of detritus, including basketballs, styrofoam ice chests, and other garbage that washed into the river from the streets of Macon.

After a full eight hours of paddling, Maryann began to grow anxious about the time. She had a family commitment that evening and needed to be home by 7 p.m. Based on Joe’s calculations, we were doing a 13-mile stretch and should have been off the river well before nightfall. The Ocmulgee’s twists and turns proved deceptive, though, and the sunset, though beautiful, fueled our nervousness about the time.

Finding a takeout, even a well-marked public boat ramp, can be challenging if you’ve never before approached it from the water. It’s easy to miss landmarks because it all looks so different from the river. In the dark, it’s impossible to find your take out. Missing it compounds the aggravation. You eventually paddle so far down river that you realize you must have passed it. You find a spot to get out, leave your canoe where you can get back to it, and walk back up the bank through trees and thickets to where you think your vehicle should be. It can add hours to your excursion.

Maryann’s tight schedule upped the stakes of finding the take out on the first try. With daylight fading, we studied the left bank as we rounded each bend hoping for a glimpse of the Bullard Landing boat ramp. We had been on the river in excess of 10 hours as the dim light of dusk completely faded.

Joe had been apologizing for an hour when Maryann finally broke.

“SHUT UP, JOE!” she yelled at him, unable to contain her frustration.

He wisely held his tongue as we kept paddling in the dark, getting as close to the left bank as possible risking getting hung up in a fallen tree.

Just when I gave up all hope, I heard the sound of a boat motor in the distance behind us. As it grew louder, I turned to look over my shoulder to see the beam of a spotlight scanning the shoreline. Their light hit our canoe, and they called out to us.

“Hey, y’all know where the Bullard Landing boat ramp is?” a friendly male voice called from behind the light.

“We think so. We’ve been trying to get to it,” Joe answered.

“Y’all need some help?”

“Yes! Please!” Maryann answered.

Illuminated by a lantern and the spotlight, our saviors appeared to be two guys in a jon boat. Whether they were fishermen who had been caught on the river by the darkness or deer hunters looking to do some illegal “shining,” we did not know… or care.

They threw us a rope, which Maryann tied to the front of our canoe. They continued sweeping the bank for the boat ramp as they gently accelerated, pulling us safely behind them. Joe followed, pushing his tired arms and shoulders well past exhaustion.

In just a few minutes, they spotted the ramp. When the light reflected off Maryann’s Pathfinder, I exhaled in relief.

Such was life on the river. For the eight months it took us to paddle the Ocmulgee, I experienced an array of feelings: the ecstasy of seeing nature’s beauty, exhaustion from effort, fear of noises in the night, inconvenience of logistical mistakes and accomplishment when each stretch was completed. We had other mishaps. I even turned over our canoe one more time on a more southerly segment when we took a high water cut through and got pinned against a tree trunk. But that night in the darkness, searching desperately for Bullard Landing, I was rescued and I was grateful.

The only clue I have to the identity of our rescuers is a scrap of paper torn from the small manilla envelopes Telegraph photographers used to put their film in for processing. It bears the names “Rusty Evans” and “Dave” in ballpoint pen. There’s a phone number, and the words “coon hunter” and “airboat Bullard’s Landing” written under them.

Rusty and Dave didn’t make it into my story that ran over two successive weekends in The Telegraph June 12 and June 19, 1994. But their rescue has been forever imprinted in my memory.