MOVILLE, Iowa | Around midnight two weeks ago, I walk past our basement steps. Son Anthony speaks, which tempts me to charge downstairs and terminate the conversation at that hour.
I stop in mid-step. He's not talking to a friend, he's practicing a speech, a fake eulogy for the fake funeral of Woodbury Central High School instructor Denise Heiman, his all-too-real -- and very much alive -- speech coach.
He goes on about the cause of her "death," an alleged battle royale with a speech judge. So, now I'm standing on the steps waiting for more laughs at 12:10 a.m.
Anthony Gallagher graduated from Woodbury Central High School in Moville on Sunday. He and I shared a bathroom and neckties the past four years, a time in which he never left the bathroom or a tie in better shape than he found it. He's cluttered and unkempt, his bedroom and lecture notes often disordered.
He procrastinates too, hence this speech rehearsal that runs past midnight for a public speaking exam that transpires later that day.
He comes by it honestly, I admit. His mother, Jill, would have had the speech done well in advance. My eulogy for Heiman, like his, would come from the hip. Jill and Sally, our youngest, pick up after themselves, and often after Anthony and me.
Anthony's gifts show in other areas. On Senior Awards Night at Woodbury Central, he rises to accept scholarships from four organizations. He shares in a sportsmanship award and snares the coveted Citizenship Award presented by attorney Jay Phipps of the Woodbury County Bar Association.
Anthony has served as student body president, made National Honor Society, earned all-conference accolades in three sports, captured two conference golf titles and, this week, becomes the first Woodbury Central boy to play in the state golf tourney since Dave Schipper, the current golf coach at East High, qualified as a senior 14 years ago.
I'm proud and puzzled: He has 29 hours of college credit, but cannot hang up a shower mat.
It's obvious Anthony finds order where it matters most to him: In the classroom, in extra-curricular activities, in his NCAA March Madness pool, and in relationships with others, people who graduated from high school decades ago. During the summer, for example, he sometimes attends church on Saturday evening, then plays golf after he's mowed greens at The Meadows Golf Course shortly on Sunday morning. He'd just as soon hit shots and trade barbs with "senior" linksters like Lloyd Jenness and Ted Peters, guys who assemble for a weekly game at that time.
You have free articles remaining.
When Jill and I pore over the invitation list for his graduation reception, I mention Greg Brandt. Anthony smiles and says, "Yes, invite Greg. He and I tap our nose when we see each other." It's their bond, I suppose, an inside nod to humor and the classic movie, "The Sting."
"Invite Bill Hays, too," Anthony says. "I always take time when I'm mowing at The Meadows to stop and talk to Bill. He's got my back."
Hays and Anthony share a birthday and a keen interest in high school sports. Bill is a diehard fan for his hometown Lawton-Bronson Eagles, Woodbury Central's chief rival. Anthony does all he can to defeat Bill's Eagles, and they gladly rehash outcomes while standing in the rough or next to a green.
Anthony vows to make Bill his partner in the Gene Bremer Memorial Horse Race at The Meadows this summer, the first time Anthony is eligible to compete.
I watch graduation on Sunday, sitting with Jill and reflecting on our move to Moville 17 years ago. Anthony was 16 months old and perfectly content playing in a hole of dirt in our front yard along Main Street. I wondered if people might contact authorities, fretting for a toddler in nothing but a diaper, racing cars and trucks in a hole of dirt.
"He was all boy," neighbor Steve Heeren says with a laugh, "dirt, from head to toe and not a care in the world."
Anthony nods, recalling how that bunker served as his empire until he outgrew it and began digging smaller holes in the lawn for a makeshift golf course to entertain his older brothers, Grady and Paul, his buddy Dustin Widman, and our neighbor, Blake Stubbs, whom Anthony dragged back into golf, an enjoyable albeit somewhat maddening past-time.
Grass and memories cover our dirt hole these days. The graduate says if we'd dig it up now, we'd unearth a few Hot Wheels and bite-sized dump trucks and excavators he left behind.
So while he's been remiss for years in picking up after himself, I find solace in the realization that, where it may matter most, he can look after himself.