Mother's Front Porch

"When you're weary feeling small ... "

Dateline: Greyhawkin'

The cement was warm.

Painted green, and flaking. Peeled in little round spots, by me, with tiny fingers.

The front porch of my first house.

My first house, ever. The house where I was born. On the corner of Montrose and something. Four streets into suburbia from the Buffalo city line.

A postwar tiny ranch painted white and black. A quarter-acre of pride. Bought with money dad said, "I got fighting in the Pacific. Army couldn't pay me when they didn't know what island I was on."

War money, is what my mother called it.

If you live through an American nightmare, you get the American dream.

A blue tin Maxwell coffee can, the bank of my parents. War money, trolley driving money, furniture selling money, Statler Hilton waitress money, all went into the blue tin with the key that opened it still stuck on the side.

They were saving to have a house.

To have a front porch.

To have, me.

And it was on this front porch. On Montrose. Where I first met my mother, Helen.

It was on that porch that I realized that the person sitting next to me was more than just, mommy.

Sitting there next to me, was a human being. A lady, a woman, someone who not too far back from that green concrete porch, was a little girl.

And while the porch was one of joy for me, it was one of sorrow for her. We would sit there in the summer time, her in a folding chair, me on the cement picking at the flakes of paint on the cement, and we would watch the cars drive by ...

"That one Donnie ... that's a Buick ... "

The word Buick was said in the same tone as when we walked down Main Street in Buffalo at Christmas to look at the department store window wonderlands and when she would stop and point saying, " ... fur coat ... "

We never owned a Buick.

Mom never got a fur coat.

"Oh ... there's a CADILLAC ... "

Said in the same tone as "Hawaii."

No on the Cadillac.

No on paradise.

To be honest, it wasn't too many years later that my mother and I pretty much parted ways, her front porch became bigger, as did her sorrow, and I became ... a teenager, the cause of much of her sorrow.

At 17, I left her front porch for good.

It wasn't until many years later that I came to understand Mother's front porch.

It wasn't her porch of sorrow after all.

It was a porch of dreams.

For me.

Of Buicks and Cadillacs.

Not for her.

But for me.

It was my father who gave me the gift of humor, the gift that being nice matters.

But it was my mother who taught me about dreams.

Of chasing your dreams.

And I knew this when I was standing on my own porch.

Of sorrow.

Listening on my cell phone as my younger sister, Cheryl, in Florida could only get two words out.

"Mom's ... gone."

As I stood on my own porch that May 13th Saturday night.

The day before Mother's Day.

And felt once again, warm cement.

Flicking peeling green paint.

And watching her dreams for me drive by.

In Buicks and Cadillacs.

Billy McCaghren's front porch

The swimsuits did it.

Right there, delivered to the front porch of the McCaghren house ... the Sports Illustrated SWIMSUIT issue.

Billy remembers, "Mom was horrified."

Virginia McCaghren, an Arkansas "school teacher," in an attempt to get her sports loving son to read more, bought Billy a subscription to Sports Illustrated magazine.

"And the first issue I got was the swimsuit issue, well you can bet that she called them up and gave the magazine a piece of her mind."

That would be because, at the time, Billy was just in the second grade.

By the third grade SI was gone, in it's place, a new magazine. "Bassmaster Magazine ... mom bought me my first Bassmaster Magazine."

Which, while I'm not completely positive about this, probably landed on the front porch WITHOUT swimsuit photos.

"I remember thinking when the magazine first came in ... hmmm ... I mainly just looked at the pictures of bass, but then I read this one article bout Paul Elias, read every word in the story, loved it, been hooked ever since."

And now, Billy competes against the man in that story ... Paul Elias. Last year, 2009, McCaghren won the prestigious Rookie of the Year title.

And, in his first year fishing the Elite tour, qualified to fish the Bassmaster Classic, where he came in 24th fishing against the best in the world.

But long before that, he fished with Mom.

"Being a school teacher she had the summers off, we fished together all the time, we'd go down to the creek behind the house, she liked to fish, we would even take family vacations and fish for trout."

His first fishing magazine.

Summers at the creek.

But it wasn't always about the fish ... it was Virginia's way to connect with her son.

To get through to the other end of the line where her son stood.

"Mom taught me to be appreciative for everything I have, to treat everybody equally."

Virginia is now retired, watches Billy via the computer or in person at some tournaments. But her teaching never stops, even now.

"She recently told me to be thankful for my good days, AND be thankful for my bad days as well, because in the end, I'm getting to fish, getting to fish ... "

And when he told me that Billy looked out over Lake Guntersville, and I knew he was fishing once again.

In Mayflower, Arkansas.

As a third-grader.

Down at the creek behind the house.

With Mom.

Mark Burgess's front porch

Mark Burgess got beat up this week.

Mechanical problems.

90-plus degrees on the water problems.

Finding big bass problems.

Then to cap the whole week ... ME problems.

Mark's camper is parked just down the campground from me. An advantage for me doing stories.

Maybe not such a good thing for Mark.

We are both New England guys, Mark from Massachusetts, me living in Connecticut. Friends via I-95 North.

So Mark comes in off the water Friday, heat beat, small bass beat, doesn't make the cut to fish on Saturday.

Money beat.

And just an hour or so after he crosses the stage for the final time at this event, he gets a knock on the camper door.

That would be me.

Add db beat to the equation.

Not to mention, I think I woke him up. The guy has sleep-hair, sleep-eyes, sleep-face.

"Came to do the interview with you dude ... about Mother's Day, but I'll come back after you rest."

"No man, come on in, it's OK."

Frankly, at that moment, I thought the dude to be a bit crazy ... me I wouldn't have even answered the knock, let alone let me in.

But he did.

And when he did, and when he spoke of his Mother, I understood why.

Sally Burgess passed away when she was only 36 years old.


Mark, and his two younger brothers, never had a Mother's Day again.

And Mark was just 16 years old.

"But db, she had a profound effect on my life ... profound."

Mark grew up in a "fishing family." Fishing is what they did, what they did together, mainly with Dad, but come Spring, there came one special day.

"One day every year Mom would take me and my brothers and we would go fishing, just Mom. She would take us down to Plymouth and "Little Pond" and we would fish all day."

Sally Burgess' day with her boys.

A day never forgotten.

"Every year from when I was 10 to 16 she would take us, she would fish with us, it was just about being together, hanging out, we'd fish and talk."

Sitting in the small camper dinette across from Mark I can see his eyes starting to get red.

Maybe just sleep-eyes.

But probably, not.

"She was a huge influence in my life. Still is. She taught me to not pass up new opportunities, but she also told me to be happy with what it is that I'm doing. Be happy."

And as a friend, I know that despite the occasional beatings on the Elite trail, Sally you need to know, your son is happy.

"When she was sick that spring she couldn't do our day at the pond that year, and it bothered her. She was very sick but I remember her saying how bad she felt that we couldn't do our day together. Really bothered her."

Three months later the days of fishing with mom were gone for good.

I knew nothing about any of this when I knocked on that camper door. Just was going to do a nice, easy, interview about a man and his mom.

Had I known, I wouldn't have knocked.

Wouldn't have intruded on Sally's day with the boys.

And even now, wrote this section of the story, last. Didn't even want to include it, actually went looking for someone else to write about.

Until this morning. Around 4 a.m. When I started writing this thing. As the morning lit up the lake I would write some stuff, take a hit of Starbucks, and look out at the water. Lake Guntersville.

And around 6 a.m. just as I decided NOT to intrude on Mark's porch, I watched a child go down to the lake to fish, just yards from Mark's camper.

And behind that child came a lady.

His mom. They are parked across the lane from me.

As I watched I saw the lady bend down and do something with the fishing pole in the young child's hand.

As Sally Burgess had done so many years before.

As Sally Burgess does when Mark takes to the water.

Even now.

A porch, under construction

Newly mommed.

Julia Kennedy is.

Wife of Elite pro Steve Kennedy, mother of 18-month-old Sophia Kennedy, "So-So," as we call the toddler.

And mother, of soon-to-be-determined. Julia is pregnant with the child to be born around Labor Day.

You talk about a fishing family.

Steve Kennedy is a close friend who I believe in a past life was a BASS. Some kind of fish. The man lives and breaths two things: Fishing and family.

But trust me when I say this, even though Steve will come up to me with his perpetual Auburn University ball cap on, hands gesturing every-which-way and say, "db, what do you mean? ... " the glue that holds the Kennedy Traveling Road show together is Julia.

I once called, to his FACE, Steve an "Idiot-Savant," and he got upset thinking I had just called him out as an idiot, when in fact I was referring to his genius.

When it comes to fishing, with a bit more effort/PRACTICE, the man is a natural fishing genius.

When it comes to grocery shopping, organization, mail, planning ahead ... ah, not so much. Genius-wise.

"So-so" Kennedy at 18 months, can cast a fishing rod. Has been fishing with Steve for awhile now, even though she has only been here for awhile now herself.

Today, the day before Mother's Day, the plan is, depending on waves and pregnancy, will be the first time "so-so" fishes with Mom. Julia.

Julia and I talked about being a young mother with young children, including one she hasn't met yet, not on a porch, but at a picnic table among the RVs.

Again, I didn't know what it was I was about to hear ... and what I was told made it a two Margarita night for me. Here's Julia:

"I want to be just like my Mom, she's been such a huge influence on in my life."

And then Julia went quiet. Behind her sunglasses tears. Tears I thought were pregnancy hormone based.

I was wrong.

"It was right here, this lake, almost right around this time that I got the call from my Mom when she told me she had cancer."

I let her quiet be.

Julia's mom, Susan is the Assistant Principle at Auburn High School in Auburn, Ala. Diagnosed with cancer and now in remission.

It's the phone call in life that slaps you in the face with the fact that what begins, also ends.


And it was with that knowledge that Julia spoke as a Mom herself.

Of the 18-month-old she was about to fish with the first time.

And of the child within.

"I would never force them to do anything. If fishing makes them happy, then I want them to fish."

Behind her, Steve Kennedy is laying on a picnic table, with "so-so" trying to climb on top of him, giggling.

"Most of all, if they want to chase something, I would tell them to go chase it."

Chase dreams, as my mother told me.

Be thankful, for the Chase, as Billy's mother told him.

Chase the new, and chase happiness as Mark's mother told him.

And in the end, hope that the chase leads you back.

To your Mom's front porch.

On Mother's Day.

Which as I found out.

Is every day.

" ... when tears are in your eyes I will dry them all." Bridge Over Troubled Water Simon & Garfunkel

— db

Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at