Uncle Involved

Aunt Corinne passed along a recent news article about Uncle Mack, who has been volunteering to help out the Savannah prosecutor’s office, which is staggering under a crushing case load.  Although Uncle Mack’s legal career, pre-retirement at least, was entirely in the civil arena, he’s thrown himself into the project, studying criminal law and helping out the prosecutors wherever he can.  You can see the article here.

5806308_web1_sav_022418_mack-webnerUncle Mack is one of those people who has always been “involved.”  When he lived in Reston, Virginia, he was active in leadership positions with community organizations and was featured in a full-page news article.  (The article referred to Uncle Mack as a man in “triple focus,” because of his many activities, and had a three-exposure picture of him.  It was a very nice article, but the “triple-focus” description cracked me up and has always stuck with me.  Now, whenever I see UM, I try to work in a gratuitous “triple-focus” comment just for the heck of it.  Now I’ve been able to work it into this blog post, too.)

The desire to be “involved” has, if anything, seemingly intensified after Uncle Mack retired from a long and successful career as an intellectual property lawyer.  I’m not sure I’m even aware of all of his activities, but I know he’s been working on playing the sax in a jazz combo, he’s taken acting classes and acted in a few independent, locally produced films, and now he’s helping out the prosecutor’s office.  It’s impressive, and Grandma Webner would be proud.

The experts say that a key element of any successful retirement is having interests to pursue, so you stay mentally engaged and physically active.  Uncle Mack is a living demonstration of that concept.

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End Of An Era

After more than 75 years, the Diamond Grille in Akron is changing hands.  Since 1941, the restaurant with the great name and the classic, cool neon sign has been owned by the Thomas family and has held down the same spot at 77 West Market Street.

12024588-largeThis week the Thomas family announced that it has sold the restaurant to a long-time waitress who promises to keep things pretty much the same they always have been — with the exception of renovating the bathrooms and adding some fresh vegetables to the menu.  I guess that long-time fans of the restaurant, and I am one of many, will be willing to accept those slight modifications so long as you can still go to the Diamond to get the same great steaks and seafood, drink the same great drinks, and enjoy an atmosphere that makes you feel like it’s 1958 and Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. might just be found in the booth next to yours.  It’s one of those joints that is unforgettable and timeless.

The Diamond Grille has been an important part of Webner family lore and was a place that my mother and father used to socialize with their friends.  Uncle Mack worked there when he was a callow youth, and Kish and I had had a memorable dinner there with Mom, Aunt Bebe, and Uncle Mack and Aunt Corinne a few years ago.  The last time I chowed down at the Diamond I took a colleague there for lunch.  She’d never been there before, and as we were eating she looking around with a sense of wonder and said:  “This place is great!”

Of course, she was right.  The Webner family wishes the Thomas family the very best as they move on to other things, and wants to thank them for a lifetime of wonderful memories.  If you’re interested, you can read about some of our experiences at the Diamond here, here, here, and here.

Keeping Track Of Uncle Mack

10502429_944538671533_2387090454819837848_nFacebook obviously has its faults, but it’s got one huge virtue — it makes it so much easier to keep track of what your friends and family members are doing.  Take Uncle Mack, for example.  What’s the lawyer/saxophonist/actor/occasional Webner House contributor in the family up to?  It turns out he’s been working on a film called The Orangeburg Massacre.  Calhoun ‘da Creator’ Cornwell is the motivating force behind the movie, and his Facebook page has lots of information about it, including the photo above in which Uncle Mack is prominently featured.  A trailer for the film is due in the near future, and I’ll post it when I see it.

The Orangeburg Massacre is the name given to the incident in which South Carolina Highway Patrolmen opened fire on students at South Carolina State College, who had been protesting in an effort to achieve desegregation of a bowling alley.  Three African-American students were killed and and 27 people were wounded in the shooting, which occurred on February 8, 1968 — more than three years before the much more well known Kent State shootings.  Does anyone doubt that the relative notoriety of the two incidents has at least some relationship to the race of the students who were victims?  It is wonderful that a film is being made about the Orangeburg Massacre, 45 years later.

Some people retire and do nothing except work on their tans and frequent Early Bird specials at local restaurants; others use their newfound free time to explore new interests and expand their horizons.  Uncle Mack is squarely in the latter camp, and I think what he is doing is pretty cool. I don’t know anything about the movie or his role, but I am proud of his willingness to tackle it and, we can hope, contribute to greater awareness of a shameful, racist chapter in American history.

Bebe Webner

Bebe Webner died last night at the age of 86.  Our hearts and thoughts go out to my cousin Tony and his family, Uncle Mack and his family, and the other members of the Webner clan whose lives were touched by this good person.

Aunt Bebe has been a fixture in our lives for as long as I can remember.  She and Uncle Tony were frequent visitors to our house when we were kids, first when we lived in Akron and then when we moved to Columbus.  She was a sun worshipper who always had beautiful tan, a deft bridge player, and a huge sports fan whose biggest passion was Ohio State football.  Our family gatherings were frequently punctuated by her laughter and her memorable voice, with just a touch of gravel at its lower registers.

Aunt Bebe was one of those people who taught you a lot just by how they lived their lives.  She worked for years for an Akron doctor, babysat his children, and became a beloved part of his family.  She was widowed for 27 years and lived frugally, yet remained relentlessly positive about her life and the world at large.  Her birthday and anniversary cards always had words of support and were signed with her trademark closing, “hugs, Aunt Bebe.”  She was an everyday example of self-sufficiency who mowed her own lawn and kept her house in spotless condition until she moved to a smaller, more manageable apartment only a few years ago.

Even Aunt Bebe’s celebrity status as “Buckeye Bebe,” a huge fan and pen pal with former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, had an important lesson to impart if you were paying attention.  Aunt Bebe didn’t write to Coach Tressel to try to get an autograph or some item of memorabilia that she could sell on eBay.  Instead, she wrote because she cared and wanted to provide words of encouragement to a person she admired.  She figured that Coach Tressel could use some uplifting words every now and then — just like the rest of us.

Aunt Bebe’s final days had their own valuable lesson, too.  She knew the end was near and was fully prepared and at peace with her life.  She welcomed the chance to move beyond.

God bless you, Aunt Bebe!

 

Uncle Mack Acts Up

We’ve all missed the postings from Uncle Mack on the family blog lately, but now I’ve learned there’s a reason:  he’s been acting in films written, directed, and edited by Carl Kotheimer, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

The first piece is called Grief, and appears above.  The second piece, called Desert Places, appears below.  A trilogy is planned, so I’m looking forward to seeing the third and concluding part of the story.  And for those of you looking for a little inside knowledge, I can tell you that the wedding photo that is featured in Grief was, in fact, taken on Aunt Corinne and Uncle Mack’s wedding day.

I’m biased, but I think my Uncle is pretty darned good in these two short films.  Of course, the fact that he is playing a grumpy old man probably helped.

Well done, Uncle Mack!  Well done, indeed!

ETA:  Uncle Mack requested that I take the links to the films down because the director has entered the film in a contest and the films can’t be published anywhere else in order to be eligible for the contest.  So, if you haven’t seen the films, you’ll have to take my word for it on Uncle Mack’s acting talents and wait until the contest is over.  If we get clearance to do so, we’ll post them again.

Diamond Dinner

A quick trip up to Akron today.  Aunt Corinne and Uncle Mack were in town, so Mom, Kish, and I went up to visit with them and Aunt Bebe.  It was great to see everyone and to check out “The Buckeye Room” at “Buckeye Bebe”‘s pad.

The quick jaunt was properly capped off by dinner at the Diamond Grille, which — as any regular reader of this blog knows — is a fabulous steakhouse and the source of many fond memories for Uncle Mack.  A few oysters, a glass of wine, some great conversation, and a perfectly cooked medium rare Porterhouse steak as big as a stop sign later, we were back in the car and rolling down I-71 to Columbus, letting the digestive juices do their work.

A Webner’s Webner

Soon Uncle Mack will mark his 70th birthday.  They’re celebrating the occasion tonight in Savannah, Georgia with an early surprise party.  I wish Kish and I could be there, but we can’t, so I’ll express my birthday wishes with this post.

First, I want to congratulate Uncle Mack on making it to 70.  In our long-lived age, 70 doesn’t seem like a big deal, unless you are part of a family where every male within memory has keeled over on the shy side of that milestone.  Uncle Mack, the younger Webner men — Tony, UJ, Bill, Richard, Russell, and me — thank you for breaking through that grim genetic glass ceiling!  Now we have a glimmer of hope that we might actually be able to enjoy our golden years.

When I was kid, Webner family gatherings usually included a heartfelt, if somewhat alcohol-fueled, speech about how ours was “the greatest family in the world.”  I think Uncle Mack truly believed that.  He’s always loved his parents, his brothers, his wife and soulmate Aunt Corinne, his kids, and his extended family.  He is the Webner’s Webner.

And, like any good torch-bearer, he carries qualities that characterize Webners.  What are they?  A sharp sense of humor and a hearty laugh.  A mostly stoic endurance of life’s slings and arrows.  An appreciation of a cold beer at a raucous family gathering.  Quiet support that often doesn’t get reflected in a hug or an emotional display.  A willingness to let people try different things — with the understanding that judgment eventually may be pronounced, in pointed terms, about the results.  (I think Laura, Betsy, and Billy will know what I mean.)

To these qualities, Uncle Mack has added a youthful exuberance and spirit.  Whether it be writing a novel about crime in the Washington diplomatic community, or becoming involved in a cultural organization, or playing an instrument in a band, he has always been willing to dream about doing something else that might just capture his fancy.

I know this because, when Kish and I lived in D.C. in the ’80s, I occasionally played Sancho Panza to Uncle Mack’s Don Quixote.  On one fine Saturday, he dragooned me into driving miles into the Maryland countryside to pick up lathes, band saws, and aged woodworking equipment, as well as a supply of wood, from an older friend who was giving it all away. Why?  Because Uncle Mack planned on becoming a craftsman, proficient at making his own furniture and other household items.  We spent hours on this exercise, drove back with a fully loaded Econoline van, and lugged the heavy metal devices into Uncle Mack’s inner basement, getting the van stuck in his back yard in the process.  To my knowledge, that equipment didn’t result in Uncle Mack becoming a master woodworker — but that’s really beside the point.  It was the dream that mattered.

Uncle Mack’s willingness to dream has served him well, in his career and in his life.  It propelled him to law school, encouraged him to move to the Chicago area, the New York City area, and then Washington, D.C., where he reached the pinnacle of the trademark bar.  He’s always been willing to try, often successfully, to push the envelope and move the law forward to allow greater protection of famous personas and other forms of intellectual property, and I think his imagination has contributed immensely to the fine career he achieved.

No one is perfect, and I’m sure Uncle Mack would readily agree that he isn’t the exception to that rule.  You try to be a good son, a good brother, a good husband, and a good father, all the while pursuing your career and providing for your family as best you can.  When you fall short, as humans inevitably will, you pick yourself up and work at it some more.   And when the retirement years finally come, you hope to have, as Uncle Mack clearly does, that spark and zest that allows you to retire to something, rather than merely retiring from something.  We can’t all have the verbal motivational gifts of a Knute Rockne — but a life quietly well-lived can be more deeply inspiring than the most fiery halftime speech.

I wish Uncle Mack a happy 70th birthday and hope that he has many, many more.