Steps out the door - Beside the Point


It's the season for graduations.

A time typically reserved for celebration, family, a small cash infusion, and as my daughter loves to say, "Cake", is sprinkled this year with a little more apprehension.

I spent about two hours with my family at Burlington Golf Club Saturday afternoon as my niece Natalie and friend Sydney Marlow stood in a receiving line hugging and thanking people, sneaking some veggies and the occasional chicken nugget.

The two graduates from my former high school, West Burlington, worked the room in spring dresses while grandparents huddled at tables reminiscing and silently cursing the hands of time. Uncles sit at the bar with Jameson, and talk with friends and classmates about how this year they're really going to get together... not just talk about it.

Marlow is an exceptional athlete with a wonderful family that easily works the room. She's going to Morningside to continue blasting volleyballs mercilessly at people and get an education. I sneaked in at the end of the night to congratulate her on her academic and athletic success and told her I had never seen her run faster than Thursday's district track meet at Mt. Pleasant.

Sydney is known for her infectious smile and ability to make all conference in jai alai if it was offered.

I grabbed moments of time with Nat, as she mingled with a smooth maturity and grace that can only be ascribed personally to her as uncharacteristically common. This kid, who was just nine years old yesterday with her medals and ribbons splayed out on the floor in front of her uncle for picture time, has heeps of that stuff and may not realize it yet.

I didn't take pictures this time. I usually do, but I went thinking of sunflowers, a new cellphone wallpaper of a 10-year-old Kelsey cheek-to-cheek with dad, and how I won't see her graduate college this year.

But thanks to Dr. Mike Maher of Counseling Associates in Fort Madison, a guy I hedged on mentioning by name out of respect to him, I didn't cry today and I continue to write today. He deserves the mention.

Yes, I see a therapist. Two years ago, not only would I never have thought I would need to have someone untangle the cerebral knots that were blocking out my sun, but I also would have never admitted it.

Grieving is a wicked thing and I know I will grieve for the rest of my life. It's a tough lesson that comes in daily snippets and chapters, friends and readers. Tom Gendron, Stacy Weber and Derek Doherty and many others that have "just checked in" on me for the past 16 months, are all part of the unlacing in my head.

On Saturday I did my best to not dominate Natalie's time. She came up to me after getting a majority of the receiving line emptied and showed me her mortarboard. A message of optimism was adorned with Kelsey's favorite sunflowers. A belt of the Irish whiskey kept the emotion from creeping up into my Adam's apple.

I squeezed her and she told me the hat made my wife cry, but she made amends with a hug and kiss on the Lee's cheek. My niece felt bad for the tears - she should have felt great. She's repeatedly helped keep Kelsey's memory alive.

The two were good friends and Kelsey was fiercely protective of her cousin. Most of the time from afar, but Natalie was never far from Kelsey's thoughts.

So I sit on this day and wonder about these young ladies future with all the wonderment, anticipation, and fear that comes with looking ahead.

We live in a world where we're trying to come out of the pandemic and get back to life.

Natalie wants to be a teacher, which is extremely brave considering she's celebrating the end of her high school career, only to go back to school for four more years, so she can go... back to school. This is where I have to stop pondering out loud about my niece's and nephew's future. It ticks my brother off.

I guess the point of this rambling is simple. The future may not be scary for these girls, but it's certainly a time of apprehension and maybe a little anxiety of what lies beyond this summer.

For Syd and Nat and many just like them, it's college and work, friends and parties, love and life. That may seem like a lot, but in reality it's just steps out a door. Unmapped steps.

All the best girls.

Have fun and follow your own breeze. But occasionally turn your head in the direction of those who may carry your future in their past. After all, we've taken our steps, too.

I got a lot of requests this week to write on the workforce and Gov. Kim Reynolds' shutting the door on federal unemployment benefit programs. I kicked that around a bit and couldn't find an LZ. We definitely need to safely get back to work and stop relying on federal tax dollars to pay our bills, Especially with so many employers needing help right now. I think the social implications of unemployment on steroids will have lingering effects.

But there's a legitimate debate in whether the issue is - are people being lazy and not going back to work thinking the government is paying them more to stay home, or as I've said before, did the federal government just establish a living wage and we're in a proletariat protest of sorts?

If they said you need this much money plus this much more money to live your lives while you can't work, the federal government kind of set the bar... and it ain't $7.25 an hour.

But that's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

beside the point, Chuck Vandenberg, editorial, fort madison, opinion, Pen City Current


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