The Best of ‘All’

AJ’s Greatest Writs
I often wonder what people who come across my blog via search engines or the Blogger nav bar’s ‘Next Blog’ button think when they land here. Are they intrigued? Bored? Appalled? Do they wonder where to begin, and what the purpose of this place really is?

Sheesh…even I wonder that sometimes.

So in an effort to give new readers a little more knowledge of what my blog is about, I decided to include this guide describing my favorite stories — a ‘best of’ list, if you will. These stories and/or series’ thereof are my personal favorites and the ones that I feel are a fairly representative cross-section of my blog as a whole.

But from the get-go, however, consider yourself forewarned; most of my stuff wouldn't exactly be classified as ‘light reading.’ So please understand that pieces such as the twenty-five-part autobiography of my marriage are going to take you awhile to wade through. Nevertheless, if your attention span is up to the task, I’m hopeful that you’ll experience at least a fraction of the enjoyment in reading these tales of my life as I did in writing them.

And even though they’re all stories ‘from the archives,’ if you feel led to comment on them, please do so. I’m always interested in what you have to say and/or ask about anything here. I will always be notified when a comment is placed, and in turn will try my best to respond straightaway to any questions you might have.

You can also post comments to this and any of the other static information pages linked in the navigation bar in the blog header. Thanks to Google finally deciding to upgrade Blogger to try and compete with Wordpress (which I also use on a Hockey blog that I write), I no longer have to host these static pages on my ISP’s server, and can make them available to you, fully integrated with all the widgets and other features of the standard blog post pages.

Also, in addition to this list of recommended stories, there’s also a running, single-page list of story links you can access, apart from the somewhat ‘user un-friendly ‘Previous Posts’ sidebar archive widget. It’s called Story Index at a Glance and it lists the entire contents of my blog, chronologically, from my first post on May 22, 2004 to the current month. I actually use it a lot myself. I find that it just makes searching for a certain post much easier than using Blogger’s standard archive feature.

So anyway, if you don’t mind a little personal bias on my part, here’s what I would consider the best of ‘All.’ Hopefully you’ll agree.

Category One: War And Peace ain’t got nothin’ on these yarns…
Elaborating a bit on what I mentioned earlier, yeah, I know it can be a little daunting when you’re blog-surfing and you land on a site with a post that’s longer than most junior high textbooks. You might not be so inclined to just jump right in. In fact, most people are likely gonna keep right on hitting that ‘Next Blog’ button. To be honest, I do the same thing myself, so I know that it can be a detractor to my blog to those who aren’t familiar with me. Well beyond 90% of first-time visitors to my blog stay for one minute or less, and I can tellya, unless you’re name is Evelyn Wood, you’re not gonna be reading many of my posts in under a minute’s time.

Bottom line is, I’m wordy — plain and simple. I’d prefer to be less so, but I’m okay with it, mostly because while I’m often frustrated by the length of time it usually takes me to crank out a story, this blog is about what ‘I’ think, and I make no apologies for it, and I also know that I wouldn’t be able to say what I wanted them to say if I wrote any other way. So with that as fair warning, here are a few of my longest series’ which also happen to be among the most important to me personally.
  • I didn’t plan it this way, but I now realize that many of my blog’s random search engine hits can be attributed to one primary subject, which could easily be considered the main sub-theme of my stories: Alzheimer’s disease. My family has been the victim of a rare form of familial Alzheimer’s for generations. The particularly cruel Early-Onset variety has ravaged my Mother’s family tree since the nineteenth century. One of only a few extremely rare inherited varieties, The mysterious disease followed the family’s immigration to the United States from their native Romania. It was passed from my Grandfather down the genetic line to my mother, an Uncle, and an Aunt, striking all three with full-blown symptoms in their early 40s and death in their late 40s to early 50s. Needless to say, it has left an indelible mark on all of us, and I've devoted a great percentage of my time to writing about the impact it has had.

    So if you’ve discovered this blog in conjunction with an interest in Alzheimer’s disease, then the next two next series of posts will probably be of particular interest.

    The first one is called, Word to My Mothers. It’s a tribute to the two women in my life I’ve had the privilege of calling, ‘Mom.’ My natural Mother, Annie, and Step Mom, Maxine, had more in common than simply being married to my Dad. The family curse struck them both, but on different sides of my family.

    Annie, of course, inherited Alzheimer’s disease from her father. Maxine on the other hand, was first married to Annie’s elder brother, my Uncle Matt, who also was stricken with the disease, about a year prior to my Mom. Both were barely forty years of age at the time.

    So essentially, my Dad married my Aunt. But hold on — this weren’t no white trash hook-up, folks, but rather two people, struggling against a common heartbreak, who came together as a result of it all.

    But unusual marital ties aside, this story is one of my favorites for the obvious reason that it affords me the opportunity to celebrate these two women, and the profound effect they had on the person I have become.

    Next is another pretty lengthy piece, which may in fact be the most important thing I’ve ever written. It’s Still Ticking is the undiluted history of my family’s struggle against the hideous malady of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease, with particular focus upon my youngest brother, Alex, who in late 2004 became the latest to learn that the family time bomb was indeed still ticking.

    It’s the story of a trip I took in November 2004, accompanying Alex to Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. It was an utterly surreal three-days in which I joined my brother in submitting to a battery of tests and medical procedures, conducted by the Center’s Alzheimer’s research staff, with whom our family has had an ongoing relationship for nearly 50 years.

    The effort was to definitively determine the medical disposition of my beloved little brother — which at that point was sadly predictable — and to try to help him and his family deal with the aftermath.

Category Two: Medium Rare
If I had a little more self-control, this how I’d really prefer to write. Long enough to communicate all that I’m thinking, but short enough to pound out in less than a week, these five-to-seven-parters relate some very special memories indeed.
  • First off, a series that chronicles one of the proudest — and simultaneously terrifying — moments of my lifetime. Same Day looks back upon a miraculous event in the life of my daughter Amy; that fateful 18 hour period between August 18-19, 1987 that became the best day — and the worst day — of my life.

  • Y’know how an old photograph will often spark a memory — sometimes unraveling an entire string of memories and events from the period in your life from which it was captured? Well, about a month shy of my 48th birthday, I ran across a very old, very special snapshot of my youth, unleashing some wonderful memories that needed to be preserved. Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? is a series of wonderful anecdotes from that fun-filled time of my early adolescence that I now look back upon as the best part of my somewhat abbreviated childhood.

  • It’s far and away the most popular story on my blog (from a search engine standpoint at least) and was one of my very favorites to research and write as well. Yosemite Psalm recalls my greatest outdoor adventure: Michelle’s and my six-day, 25-mile backpacking trip amidst the jaw-dropping beauty of Yosemite National Park’s John Muir Trail. Loaded with photos, to me, this story is easily as much fun to look at as it was to write.

Category Three: Short-Cuts
While my natural bent is about 180 degrees from brevity, every now and again I’ll reel myself in long enough to write a story that doesn’t require you to pack a lunch to get through it in one sitting. Here are a few of my favorite ‘short’ (one-to-three part) stories.
  • Way back in the beginning, apparently before I contracted diarrhea of the fingers, I began this blog journey with a number of short posts that practically no one has ever read. One of those early posts is still among my personal favorites. Meeting the Beatles is the recollection of my very first rock concert on September 3, 1964, when my eldest brother took me to see the Fab Four in the midst of their historic first U.S. tour. I was only eight years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a truly a life-changing moment, that I will always consider myself incredibly lucky to have been a part of.

  • The name says it all; Stupid Things That Make Me Happy, Volume 1 is a particularly warm jaunt down memory lane for me. It touches on a range of personal idioms, from my love for my wife, Michelle, to my sense of duty as a family man, to my undying love of solitude. It’s perhaps my favorite story ever, because it’s not deep; it’s not profound; it’s stupid — and it makes me happy.

  • I kinda doubt that a lot of guys in our culture would look upon being a pizza driver a badge of honor, but I do. Oh, it’s not about the obvious prestige it afforded me (and yes, I am being facetious here), but for the very tangible victory it provided. Confessions of a Pizza Driver is a short rehash of recent personal history, recounting the three years I spent working for ‘The Poppa’ 3-5 nights a week, parlaying that extra income into financial freedom for my family and me. I actually had a lot of fun doing it, and even more writing this story; hopefully you will too. You may never look at your pizza delivery guy the same way again.

  • There’s a reason we all are who we are, and why we think and believe the way we do. Much of the reason I write is to afford myself the opportunity to explore these things in my own life, gaining a clearer focus of who I am as a social being. A Golden Rule for the New Millennium is about as concise a personal statement on my outlook towards inter-personal relationships as I’ve ever pulled together at one time. It’s based upon a quote — the one featured in the masthead of my blog — by poet Maya Angelou, which I discovered several years ago, but didn’t know to whom it was attributed until well over a year after I wrote this story. You may agree, you may disagree, you may think that I think too much, but I challenge you to examine the concept of this quote for yourself. It may change your life — I know it has changed mine.

  • For reasons that are pretty obvious, this story is one that makes me quiver every time I think about it. I guess you’d have to have lost a parent in childhood as I did to imagine what it must be like — listening in on a fifty year-old conversation with you as the subject — to know how surreal, how soul shaking such an experience could be. A Letter From Heaven is my reply to the apparently unsent letter that my mother, Annie, wrote to her own mother from her hospital bed the morning after my birth. In it she talks about me, my brothers, my Dad, and her incredible gratefulness to God for the life she’d been given. This letter came to me just prior to my fiftieth birthday, in the summer of 2006, by one of my cousins who discovered it among her mother's (my late Aunt Lee's) belongings and wanted me to have it. Words aren’t enough to describe the preciousness of such a gift, but I gave it my best shot.
Well, there you have it. I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on, but here’s hoping that you enjoy these offerings, and I encourage you to join in on the conversation if you’d like. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.

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