Monday, September 10, 2012

Ace; Portrait of a Provider and Protector

Blackmail picture. Here is Steve doing the Hava Nagila at
the Sixth Grade Field Day, sporting his brand
new Sears Huskies. Good form! (The kid in front
is either behind or ahead.) Such coordination.
Such commitment.
Am I holding hands with another guy? In 1978? 
Note: There was not a single picture of my brother Steve in which he was not smiling, except for these two, circa 1978 and 1966. I'd say, as an overview, Steve was a very content kid. It wasn't until the economy of 2008+ dragged the sides of his smile south. I can see it in the pictures. I haven't seen him really smile in such a long time. So I decided to direct this blog toward the magical time when Steve and I were in high school together and times were so all-American-small-town good. 

Foreshadowing...that far-away look in his eye...the bat....he's not thinking about anything but baseball.

Chocolate chip cookies are a staple in any American household, but in a Mormon household, a Tupperware full of cookies is akin to having a full wet bar. Chocolate chip cookies were made in secret, frozen and hidden deep in a freezer the size of a sofa, while we were at school. They were doled out one at a time because with 7 lunches to make every day the cookies didn't ever make it to the actual jar. However, once one magically appeared in your lunch, still frozen a little in the middle, you knew there must be more...s.o.m.e.w.h.e.r.e.

I was 17 years old when I was made class Seminary president in high school. In Utah, we have one class period called "released time" where you can take a religion class or an extra elective class if you want to. In our family seminary was not an elective. It was something you signed up for first, THEN you took those other, less important classes like English, math...

As Seminary class president I decided one day to make cookies for my class. I pulled out the ingredients in broad daylight. Huge mistake. One by one, the smaller Sheltons filed by, eyes shifting back and forth, curious about the E.T.A. of the cookies. By the time I was finishing up the last batches, it was dark. My brother Steve, just a year younger than me in school, came in accompanied by our cousin Bob who was the same age. They had come from football practice and were still wearing their shoulder pads, easier than carrying them I guess. They were following the smell of hot chocolate chips. "We want some," they announced. "They're for my seminary class. You can't have any." Whatever, you made thousands. You can give us one." But I was mean. "The rest are for lunches. Get outta here."

"Where's mom?" they wanted to know. Grumble...grumble...stupid...dumb...." Then they disappeared down the stairs into the kid abyss called "the basement." Then silence.

I noticed it immediately.

Even the younger kids were silent. Something must be going on. Oh well. My inner mean girl started bagging up the cookies in bread bags (Tupperware was not allowed to go to school) and tying them off.

It sure was quiet.

"I'm sure you're mad, " I yelled out, "but if you want some cookies, you should just make them yourself!" The feminist in me, was always, ALWAYS bothered that Steve never had to do anything that remotely smelled of "women's work." He took out the garbage and mowed the lawn. Big whoop.

Then about 3 minutes into the silence the lights in the entire house went off. It wasn't windy, it wasn't snowing. But suddenly it was as black as the inside of a cow's belly (not that I would know, but that's what my mom used to say) and I froze, still wielding the metal pancake turner that I was using to take the cookies off the hot trays. I walked toward the stairwell bumping into bar stools as I crossed the kitchen. I yelled down the stairs "Paula?! Penny?! Do you have the babies? Hey? Is everybody okay? Bring up the candles!"


Then I heard it. An entire bag of cookies sliding off the counter-top. Unmistakable.

Snickering. Giggling. Cramming cookies into their mouths.

But I hadn't even heard them come in the back door. "Hey! Get away from those cookies, Steve! I will kill you! Those are for Seminary! Bob!" And I took three or four huge steps toward the kitchen knocking over bar stools in my path and swinging the pancake turner around trying to hit both boys. Contact! Laughing! Screaming (from me) "Don't you dare, you idiots!!!" More laughing (from the boys) and then the little kids, who had been threatened with their lives to keep quiet in the basement started crying and blindly ascending the stairs. It was pitch black.

There was a rage inside of me that I cannot explain. I have not felt it since (For Steve anyway.)

"Get away from my cookies!" I was screaming and swinging, trying to hit them in the face. Trying to kill. I made contact several times, but they were still wearing those blasted shoulder pads. I tried kicking them, shoving them away but their hands were groping around in the dark, grabbing cookies as they screamed with laughter. I could tell that cookies were just flying everywhere. I was spouting green smoke out my ears by this time. Reaching for hair, eyes, knee caps...I w.a.n.t.e.d t.h.e.m d.e.a.d.

But it was too late. The back door to the deck was already open and the two boys were racing down the stairs and had gotten away. I could hear them laughing all the way down the street and Bob yelled back "Thanks for the cookies!"

I groped around and found the electrical box in the laundry room and turned the main switch back on as the house picked up energy and the little kids stopped crying on the stairs, bribed with cookie pieces from the kitchen floor, the living room floor...the stairwell. It looked like a cookie bomb had gone off. Furniture was everywhere. Even the kitchen rug was found later in the front entry way.

B.S. Before Steve.

I was 21 months old when my brother Steve was born. We were living in Hermosa Beach, California. I have no memories of my life before Steve, in fact, my earliest memories are of Steve and my two cousins Bob and Joe who lived in Redondo. My dad and his two sisters were very close and their kids were like my siblings too. So, I was outnumbered 3 to 1 all the years I was growing up, but honestly, I was the one with the skills and the smarts...I say as I type my blog from my mother's basement, 30 years later. Karma. That's what you call that.

Bobby, Ace, Jannie, Joey

We are Two Different Animals

Our birthdays lay in such a way that we were only one year apart in school. I tried to ignore him. I worked in the library. He played football. I was in the musicals, he was on the wrestling team. He called my friends "gay" and I called being on the wrestling team "more gay." Have you seen what they wear? I mean...have you seen what they do to each other? The places they have to hold on to...the sheer human knots created by arms and legs in unnatural shouldn't be a public sport.

Someone had to lay across the bottom I guess.
Steve was a boys boy. From the time he was old enough to make his own choices, he always stumbled into trouble as boys do. He tested my parents. Though looking back, when you have a daughter that reads books and goes to debate tournaments on the weekends...every single thing Steve did, E.V.E.R.Y. thing he did, was more colorful than that, more dangerous, more overt, more obnoxious, just plain "cooler" than their socially retarded daughter. But they didn't see it in that way. I became the "easy" child, Steve was "a handful." If they wanted to know where I was...I was "downstairs reading," or "at rehearsal." If you wanted to know where Steve was, well, think of what a group of boys, fresh out of football practice (or wrestling or baseball), would do to shed all that worked up testosterone. Homework? Yeah. Homework. No.

At the Shelton household our report cards were always magnetized to the refrigerator for a few days after they came home. It was like raising a banner for me, not so much for Steve. I often wondered if it wasn't all the sports that knocked him around in his youth that caused him to hate school with a fiery passion. Though he was required to get a B average in order to drive the cars, his grades were a combination of vowels and consonants. It was a revelation to me, that he didn't so much care about it. He still went about his day laughing and having a good time while I was well on the Prozac path by 16.

It was through his good example, however, that I learned that good grades were a way of getting my parents off my back. I thank him for the diversion. My parents rode Steve like he was a bucking Bronco at the rodeo. He was never far from their haunting looks, words, prayers. I apologize for that today. I never wanted to set him up for comparison. I always wanted to be like him.

Looking back, (waaaaay back) as I write this, the high school administrator in me now sees my jealousy. That's all it was. I craved it so much. I was pretty sure Steve had kissed most of the girls in his class (and mine) before I had gone on my first date. Which, by the way, was girls choice. Steve's group of friends was so popular, that even I, who was Senior to their Junior, knew their names and still do: Corey, Ricky, Andy, Bob, John, Evan and a big, tall, giant of a kid named Robert. Robert chased Steve home one day because Steve had called him "Moose." He was seven or eight feet tall (in my mind) and however appropriate, Steve was the next biggest kid in the group, he would always guard the quarterback. Robert didn't like being called Moose, nevertheless, it stuck. They became great friends and ate cookies at my moms house many times over the years.

I vaguely remember Steve making the Lehi Free Press before I did too. I remember that there was a picture of him standing about 20 feet away from another player that was laying on the field surrounded by coaches and an ambulance. When I asked Steve about my vague memory he delivered the classic American football story. He remembered every detail like it was yesterday.

        "There was this kid from Emery High," he began...

Suddenly the sound track from Remember the Titans is playing in his head, I can hear it too.

       "This kid was 6'2", 250 pounds. Everybody in Utah was talking about this kid. He had already been recruited to play at BYU. But during the Lehi game I really rang his bell."

Did he just say "rang his bell?" - he's was so 46 right then.

       "Lehi had almost pitched a shutout with Emery."

I think he meant to say Emery hadn't scored the entire game, but since baseball has taken over his life the last 30 years, this was what his 46 year old brain pulled up. ;-)

        "As their quarterback came down the field he was being guarded by their lead blocker. I came across the field to stop the play and hit the blocker hard. He flew five yards out of bounds then stopped and didn't move."

I'm guessing that's when all the coaches ran to him and the picture for the paper was taken. Steve was just standing there, wanting to be the hero of the moment but worried that he had just destroyed this kids livelihood. Turns out the kid hurt his leg enough to sit out for a few games. But instead of reveling in the moment, Steve just stood there, worrying about this kids future.

       "I saw him two years later at the BYU Smithfield House and I asked him how he was. He said "How do I know you?" and I said "I was the one that hit you in the Lehi game," and the future Arizona Cardinal replied "that was the hardest hit I have ever taken." 

And at the end of that resurrected moment of glory, there was a sigh. A sigh of the proud All-American football player from days past, who just turned 46. WAHHHHHHH! Had to throw that in.

The Dare Devil

It was his high school football coach, Lou Andrus, that taught him a lesson back then that has been his life's motto. Lou told his players that if you gave 110% you would not get hurt. It's when you give 80% or 50% that you make mistakes and let your focus go, that's when you suffer the consequences. I can see why you'd hang on to that lesson.

This is great for most of life's goals and dreams. But because he lived at 110% all the time, where Steve is, there is always "something about to happen," if you will. Stay close, things will get exciting any minute. For starters, when he went to Clear Creek (a summer camp) he broke out into a heavy dose of chicken pox, spreading it to the entire fifth grade.

He had a wandering dog that was nabbed by the dog catcher. He and his friends "broke the dog out of prison" nearly getting themselves put in the human prison.
Pretty sure that puppy did not
enjoy Steve as much as Steve enjoyed
the puppy.  This gives "underdog"
a whole new meaning.

He and Bob and their friend Vaughn used to jump from the rafters of the high school gym onto the gymnastics mats below. B.E.L.O.W. Which fueled his fire to become a stunt man. He even took lessons and drove a car in a demolition derby. The man has no fear.

In college he became a member of the cheer leading squad. He joined a fraternity. Ironically, he majored in criminal justice.

Yet when I asked my siblings what defined their oldest brother, they didn't say "daredevil." There was an overwhelming chorus in unison over this one. The great truth about Steve Shelton is that he will always protect the underdog. Maybe, just maybe, it's because growing up in the bossy shadow of a sister like me, he knows exactly how they feel. Then there's the fact that after his fourth sister was born, my dad said "Sorry, Ace, we hoped you'd get a brother this time," to which Steve replied, "oh that's okay. It's kinda fun being the only boy." No it wasn't. But that was nice of his 11 year-old self to say. Woot!

The Provider and Protector

Just as he always covered his quarterback, Steve has taken his role as protector very seriously, though I'm quite sure he doesn't think about it in advance. It's just an innate drive. For example, my mom loves parades. We will get up at the butt crack of dawn to get good seats along a parade route. We were at the Provo park one time on the Fourth of July. My dad was driving a float in the parade so we were one parent down. We were parked at a picnic table eating Cheerios from home for breakfast. Not kidding. Milk, paper bowls, plastic spoons...(I've also eaten Tuna sandwiches at Lagoon and peanut butter at Disneyland - oh yeah!) when suddenly a very large and scruffy man wrapped in an Indian blanket, wandered over to see what we were doing. He was obviously a few sandwiches short of a picnic. My mom said quietly, "kids, go to the car, right now." We did. But about half way across the parking lot, Steve stopped. He did not like the idea that my mom would be left alone. So he went back. He was probably 13 or 14 at the time.

My beautiful sister Paula was being stalked by a guy on her college campus and it had turned into quite a fiasco. It seemed that no one was doing enough (back in 1988) to stop him. There simply weren't laws for things like that back then. So she told Steve about it one day, because she thought Steve knew the guy. When he found out who it was, he already didn't like him and went over to Paula's apartment, happened to see the guy walking down the sidewalk and just...clocked him. Once. That was all it took.

Steve doesn't like mean people. He doesn't like situations that are obviously not fair. He can't watch reality T.V. if it involves abused animals, husbands cheating on their wives or people backbiting each other. He'll say "life is too short to waste it watching stupid people." But that's where we differ, see.....I'm not quite sure how football or wrestling are precluded from that group...but whatever. To each his own. I do musicals for Pete's sake...we dress up like other people and sing. There's some wackiness in that too, I guess. But at the curtain call our brains are still intact...there's that.

So the Steve that would pop a guy for stalking his sister, is the same guy that cries when he has to scoop up a half dead dog from the road, cries when one of his baseball kids misses a catch and feels so badly, cries when his daughters leave for college even if they've only been home for the weekend, cries when he talks to God.

Steve has always had a very close relationship to God. Unlike myself, he always got an A in Seminary. My mom told me she passed his room one night after a homecoming football game that they had lost. He was kneeling in front of his bed, sobbing...and praying. I relied on his faith when I was being stupid myself. The day he got his mission call, I was working in Jackson, Wyoming. When I got the phone call, I burst into tears. They weren't joyous tears for Steve. I realized that I had made choices that would prevent me from going through the temple with him...something I thought was way off in the future somewhere. Now here was the future, in the now. It was that very day I walked back to safety and got my poop in a group. About a year later I joined him in the field, though across the world, doing the same thing. I'll always be so grateful to him for choosing to serve a mission.

But when Steve returned he wasn't interested in going to college. Eventually I talked him into coming to SUU with me and that's where he met and married my fifth sister, Juanelle. (Your welcome.) She saved his life. Take my word for it. She was/is the kind of person you say "we like you more than we like our own brother, welcome to the family." He gladly quit school to go to work. He has a resume full of jobs working as a salesman for companies that sell doors, windows, millwork...He has had leadership opportunities in all of these companies as he has worked his way up in the business. Because of his fearless ability to give 110% to anything he does, they also have S.I.X amazing kids.

Then in 2008, people stopped building houses.

Then there was the heart attack. Then 10 strokes or more, they were never sure. Lost his job, lost his sight to the point where salesmen stop working because they can't drive anymore. He was put on prescriptions that crippled their income. Recovery. The second heart attack. New job...back to square one. Suddenly, instead of protecting everyone else, he was in the hands of his family and his God.

And it squashed that precious innate fearlessness. I saw it happen. That clawing, fighting, inner strength that held up everyone around him, left. And I want him to take it back. I want him to smile again and think about all the blessings he's gotten and given. I want him to ride this bucking bronco, this crazy American chaos, through to its end with his head held high. He has been the daredevil, the protector and provider and I'm quite sure he doesn't know how powerful he has been/is all this while giving 110% of himself. I just want to tell him that his example of riding out life's stormy weather has buoyed me up so many times. You know I'm a firm believer that God gives us certain skills and puts people in our path that can benefit from those skills. I am so blessed to have been in his path all these years.

A few weeks ago I asked him what he really wanted to do, REALLY wanted. And he said " I always wanted to be a high school coach. But I just hated school. And now I'm 46 and have two kids in college. And it's...too hard."

So there it is. After 46 years of thinking we had nothing in common but a gene pool, the thing that we do have in common is the feeling we get when our kids win a baseball game, or open a show: that pride in watching them do their best work. It's like a drug. And while you are coaching, you are oblivious to the world. You are oblivious to your own needs. You are oblivious to the fact that you are having a heart attack, or your retina is falling off. You are giving 110% to the one thing that takes you out of the world...for just a minute. Kids. One thing I know for sure, that every minute you spend coaching a kid or loving your child, is two minutes of rest you'll get back in the eternities. At least, I'm hoping for those odds.

He gave you a smiley one....
...then two more....

Then three more! Lucky!

"My dad is the strongest and kindest man I know. I hope I can be half the person he is...." -Bradie Shelton

"...I never really appreciated how hard my dad works to provide for my family until recent years. I've grown up. I understand now the sacrifices he made for his family. It's a humbling experience to know that my dad loves us and cares for us so much. I love my dad's sense of humor. He gets a lot of that from his dad. He will joke with us kids, make fun, laugh with us and at us. That's something I really love about him. He knows what makes us happy....  - Ashley Shelton

I've always adored you. I've always been jealous of your ability to walk fearlessly through life. So many other things, that were difficult for me, came so easily for you. Like...being a parent. God does know how to give his greatest gifts to his greatest protectors. You have an incredible talent for being a dad.

To you (and everyone else in the world that is feeling the pressure of this critical time in the world) I say there is nothing in our way. I just left a school I loved, students I adored, and a pay check I didn't hate. But I did it. I'm only just now learning what you have known all along: 

Thanks for reminding me.