Tag Archives: Marilyn Jones

Don’t Give Yourself a Choice

One of the hard parts of going through a difficult part of life is the feeling, especially in today’s social-media driven culture, that we always have to present a positive face to the world. Whenever I see someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram mourning the loss of a loved one, or being honest about a difficult time, I’m always amazed by that courage. My tendency, and I’m sure many of ours, is to “grin and bear it,” and keep that smiling face regardless.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe playing Irish Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock. In one scene, Braddock’s wife, played by Renee Zellweger, goes to visit Crowe’s (Braddock’s) manager, played by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti opens the door to their apartment to reveal that they’ve sold everything that wasn’t nailed down (the movie takes place during the Great Depression). Sometimes glancing past a Facebook feed I wonder how many of us are, like Giamatti’s character was, “keeping up appearances.”

I read an article this morning by one of my favorite outdoor writers, Bill Heavey. Heavey is an absolute master with words, and this piece will break your heart.

It reminded me that we have one true obligation as writers, and that’s honesty, even when it’s not easy.

I was outside of a Boston classroom when I got a phone call from my mother in 2013, saying “You’d better come now.” That was November 18th. I booked a flight out of Logan, caught a cab to the airport the next morning, flew to Syracuse, got a ride from a relative home, and held my father’s hand. Whether it was the drugs to keep him comfortable, or the disease, he could no longer speak. He squeezed my hand, though… that I do know. I knew he’d want me to be back for class the next night, so I made arrangements to return on a morning train. On the train between Utica and Boston I got the call that he was gone. I don’t remember much about that class, just sitting through it, kind of numb, ordering train tickets back during break on my phone, and because I love words… starting to think about a eulogy.

I’ll never forget the friends, Anthony Malta, Curt Dircks and Andrew Fillipponi, who stopped everything and traveled great distances to be at the funeral. I’ll never forget how full the church was. Standing room, only.

A few years prior I’d asked my grandmother a simple question: “How did you survive the times you must have gone through?” Marilyn Jones was a mother to eight children, before losing a daughter to leukemia before she was even a teenager. She scraped for enough to support her family by running a yarn shop and then a daycare where I’d meet some people who’d turn out to be lifelong friends.  She’d later lose her husband, a grandfather that I never knew.

“How did you get through it?” That’s what I asked. “I had no choice,” she said. I’ll remember that forever. Of course she had a choice. We all have a choice, every day. I don’t think I that could even remotely understand what she was talking about until 2013. I don’t know how I bought those train tickets, plane tickets, or made it to that class. I suppose I didn’t give myself a choice.

When I thought about a project to raise money for melanoma research through fishing, by soliciting sponsors, and when I think about getting your input to help me start a beautiful magazine that I hope you’ll read and love, many times the question has and does pop into my head: “But how will you do it?”

And then her answer, always her answer…

“Don’t give yourself a choice.”

The Heart and Soul Behind Catch a Cure

12091395_10102696255289636_8511669274550224479_oI’ve had a few very kind anglers praise this project, and my ambition to eradicate skin cancer from our planet, and I’m grateful for every kind word, but I’d be remiss to take some kind of credit when there are people, and one specifically, who might not be blogging, who might not be on Facebook, but who is a hundred times the human being I will ever be, and who inspires me every day.

Pictured above is Marilyn Jones, my hero and my best and oldest friend. Ms. Jones, or ‘Nana’ as she’s know to those of us close to her, reminds me every day, every time I’m home, and with each phone conversation, how strong a human being can be, what we can endure, and how we can remain positive.

Marilyn Jones was born in 1934 into poverty, and has worked almost every day of her entire life. More than that, she has created a unique, accepting and loving atmosphere for her seven children and 13 grandchildren… a place where we all feel “home,” in a way we might not anywhere else.

When grandchildren started coming (I was the first in 1986), Marilyn closed up the doors of her yarn shop, where she knitted amazingly beautiful garments and sewed anything that needed mending, and began caring for the next generation. She watched me, my younger cousins, and a host of fortunate toddlers in Upstate New York and saw them through to the beginnings of adulthood. I have friendships to this day that were born in that daycare, and some of my closest friends are from those earliest days.

I am not, nor will I ever be a good enough writer to express how kind and compassionate, strong and beautiful of a woman this is, and I’d do her an injustice just in trying. In a single day, she’ll tell me she’ll mend ripped jeans, cook something delicious for dinner, tell stories from her past that will make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh, and do it all in such a way that reminds you that there is nothing in life you cannot overcome… indeed she has been faced with and challenged by the most heartbreaking of human conditions, whether that was losing loved ones, suffering medical difficulties herself, or… most recently, losing her beloved West Highland White Terrier, Duffy.

But before she even has breakfast or reads the paper, takes her myriad of medications that keep her functioning as best she can, she has an idea for what to do that day, what can be accomplished, what problem can be fixed, what hope can be sewn where there was none before.

She is everything, every day, that I hope that I might some day become, and I am the most fortunate of men to have had her presence in my life for as long as I can remember.

Catch a Cure’s Final Four

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Marilyn Jones leads the charge for the #1 Seed.

Alright, I might try to feign being some sophisticated academic at times here, quoting Hemingway and Harrison, but in all honesty, I’m a tattooed, country-music-loving, college basketball fan like most of the rest of you.

In that spirit, I’m creating the “Final Four,” of “Teams,” who have helped this effort more than most. This is in part inspired by the fact my Syracuse Orange are in the Final Four, so I’m paying more attention to the bracket than usual, but also because… well… it sounded fun. Without further ado…

#4: Emerson College: (Key Player: Gian Lombardo): When I executed the first Catch a Cure, I did it during the summer, between semesters at Emerson, where I’m pursuing my graduate degree in Publishing and Writing. In part I was hoping it would serve as a platform for a repeat, with greater sponsorship, but I knew working toward my degree had to come first. Prof. Lombardo, a fisherman himself, helped me build an academic project that would function with, and around, the fundraising project, and the school got behind my effort. Professor Bill Buettler, the Department Chair, and Emerson’s Dean of Graduate Studies, Jan Roberts-Breslin, were key players in getting behind this project, the function of which, in case you forgot, is to build you a magazine by asking what you want to read.

#3: Sponsors (Key Player: Get Vicious Fishing): When I decided to attempt a Catch a Cure repeat, after Buff so generously supported the first installment, I e-mailed everyone in the iCast directory (every company even remotely related to fishing) to solicit support. I sent out more than 100 e-mails detailing my project and my ambition to beat melanoma. Get Vicious, Native Eyewear,Sunology Sunscreen and Hanes and Rick Roth at Mirror Image all responded and got on board. It’s not fair to compare these companies, because some have more resources than others, and they all gave what they could, but Get Vicious agreed to donate up to $500 and contributed prizes for readers to win as well. So, although it’s close, they’re leading the charge from this group.

#2: BassOnline/BassMaster (Key Player: Tyler Wade and Steve Niemoeller): These are the people in the fishing community who came out of the WaterWork to help this project. The guys at Bassonline, almost every one of them, gave this project an essential element that it’d be nothing without: The Fish. It’s a nice idea to “Go try to catch bass on your own from shore,” as some suggested, but when pounds of fish are dollars, put plainly: you need guides. And I had some of the best on this effort. Tyler Wade and the people at B.A.S.S. gave the project a home, a place to live online, and for that I’m forever grateful. Steve Niemoeller, Todd Kersey, and all the guides at BassOnline made sure I had the means to put fish in this project, time and again.

#1: The Joneses (Key Player: Marilyn Jones): No, this isn’t a cliched phrase. My Grandmother, Marilyn Jones, getting back on her feet (literally, in a rehab center) is the old…er… wisest of the Jones family of which I’m the oldest grandson, but she embodies the spirit that exists through my large, Irish-Catholic, loving family. My cousins, Joe and Chris Critelli and Everett Lockwood are some of my best and oldest fishing friends. And my Mom, the oldest Jones daughter, is (and it’s true I’m biased) one of the kindest, most giving and outgoing people you’ll ever want to meet. Throughout this project, my family and extended family have come out of the woodwork to share my project on social media, support my effort and give me hope and faith in my attempt even when things looked bleak. This makes them the far-and-away favorite of the final four.