Terror in Aruba, Or: Another Maloney Family Vacation

use-aruba-posterIn the summer of 1969, my father decided that we needed a family vacation, and chose Aruba as our destination. Aruba was such an obscure place at that time that most people had never even heard of it, much less traveled there. About three hotels had been built, with more to come, because gambling was legal in Aruba.  This vacation meant that all four of us Maloney children were going to leave the country for the first time (my sister Marbeth was married by then, and off on adventures of her own), which was exciting. We had to get vaccinated for smallpox, which was also exciting. My father had to get new passports for himself and for my mother, which was more exciting than it probably should have been. When he asked the clerks of Cook County, Illinois, for a copy of her Birth Certificate, they calmly informed him that my mother didn’t exist. Since he was really sure that she did exist, my father was disgusted with the obviously incompetent clerks in the Cook County Records Office, and he let them know that in some very colorful language.  Despite my father’s best efforts, Cook County was implacable.  There did not exist a birth certificate for anyone named Mercedes Lynch. Frustrated by this Typical Government Incompetence, he stomped home one afternoon complaining loudly (and colorfully) about this situation. My grandmother, Mommy Mayme, was visiting us and she asked my dad what on earth he was going on about. “According to the %^&^ clerks at Cook County,” he said, “Mercedes doesn’t exist!”

“Oh,” my grandmother said serenely. “That’s because her name is Loraine.” My father was not an easily surprised man, but this was a surprise. He had been married to my mother for twenty four years, which was a lot of time to be in the dark about her actual name. Mommy Mayme and Grandpa George had a somewhat unusual marriage in that they often operated in separate orbits that occasionally intersected. Grandpa George was out with his friends celebrating the birth of his daughter when the people in charge of birth certificates made their rounds in the hospital where Mommy Mayme gave birth. They asked my grandmother what her baby’s name was and she told them it was Loraine. From that day forward, Cook County knew her as Loraine Lynch.

Either no one told Grandpa George, or he heard the name and rejected it. When my mother was born, my grandfather was reading The Count of Monte Cristo and liked the name of one of the characters: Mercedes. My mother was baptized Mercedes Marie Lynch. All of this was news to my father. (Years later, we found out that my mother’s sister Bernadette was—according to Cook County—actually named Virginia Alice. My grandparents really did need to work on their communication skills).Once my father knew my mother’s actual name, he obtained a passport for her and we were off on our Aruba Adventure.

I was thrilled to be on this trip. The first thrill was flying in an airplane. We flew KLM and they were very nice to children; I was provided with a free toy (a small toy like a Lite Brite without lights) and as much pop as I wanted. Always interested in food, I was eager to be served a whole meal right there on the airplane. My disappointment was deep when our food came and it turned out to be eggs with some sort of foul smelling red sauce splashed all over them. My father told me that this was a dish called Huevos Rancheros, but to my eight year old self it looked like a crime scene. I stuck to pop.

I am not sure what time we were scheduled to arrive in Aruba, but we touched down very late at night. The late flight was no doubt cheaper, and my father was on the lookout to cut every corner he could: bringing his wife and four children to a Caribbean Paradise must

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I was promised a licorice drink.

have cost a good bit of money. Even though we arrived at our seaside hotel in the deep of the night, I was wide awake. I needed to stay alert, because there was going to be a special licorice drink waiting for me at the hotel, and I didn’t want to miss it. I knew about this special licorice drink because my Dad had shown me the brochure for the hotel when he was planning our trip. The brochure portrayed beautiful men and women strolling along white beaches sipping cocktails. “Come to Aruba!” it said. “When you arrive, we will greet you with our special licorice drink!”

To my considerable dismay, when we walked into the lobby—six exhausted Maloneys and a great deal of luggage—there no drinks of any kind in evidence. There wasn’t even any licorice. There were no beautiful people strolling the beach, or even lolling around in chairs in the lobby. I tugged on my mother’s sleeve as we headed to the elevator and whispered, “Mom! What about our special licorice drink?” Bleary-eyed and pale with exhaustion, my mother said, “What? What are you talking about? Get in the elevator.”  My Aruba vacation began in bitter disappointment and I muttered something under my breath about false advertising. For the duration of our stay, I never stopped looking around for some hotel staff to offer me that licorice drink that was mine by right.

My dad had reserved two rooms: one for my brothers and himself, another for my mother, my sister Susan and me. The rooms were very nice and the beds inviting; after a long trip, we all went to bed. That first night was by far the most comfortable night we spend in our hotel, through no fault of the hotel. Whenever we stayed in hotels, my dad was always resolute that we would squeeze every ounce of value out of his investment. That meant that from the moment we walked into a hotel room until the moment we left, the thermostat was set to temperatures so cold that we would ache with it; in Aruba, we had a balcony attached to our room and every morning as soon as I woke up I scurried out to that balcony to warm up enough to move my arms and legs without pain. We also kept all the lights on until we went to sleep and we always had the television on. Electricity came free with the room, so we made sure to get our money’s worth and more.

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My father took this picture of me from his balcony next door.

The balcony we used for thawing out was lovely; it looked out over the Caribbean Sea and the hotel swimming pool. The moment I saw the Olympic-sized pool and high dive, I knew where I would be spending most of my time. I loved pools of all sorts, and usually had to be called out of the water whenever I was around one, my fingers and toes wrinkled as raisins. To my surprise, the pool in Aruba was filled with salt water. After the first shocking mouthful of salt, I adjusted and then I couldn’t get enough of that pool. The high dive that would no doubt cause night terrors for anyone writing an insurance policy for a hotel today, but we kids adored it, and had a great deal of fun jumping off. We eagerly reprised our stunt from the Three Coins Motel in Las Vegas; (here) we did have the good sense, at least, to confine our “jumping off the diving board while seated on lawn chairs” activities to the low dive. Aruba was a very laid-back place, and the Hotel’s philosophy was apparently “Be Stupid At Your Own Risk.” We certainly took them up on that offer.

My father not only brought us to this Island Paradise; he laid out some serious money so that we could have some Authentic Island Adventures. On our second day there, he announced that he and my brothers would be going scuba-diving and my mother, my sister and I would be renting Sea Jeeps. Since I wasn’t at the Scuba-Diving Event, I cannot tell the story of what happened there. I remember only that my father’s oxygen tank somehow ended up on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea and my brothers are still amazed, fifty years later, that he lived.

I do, of course, remember the Sea Jeeps. My father, finished defying death in Scuba Gear, was there to see us enjoy our motorized frolic in the Caribbean Sea. My mother went first, and she seemed to enjoy zipping around the water at the speed of about twenty miles per hour. Once she was ashore, I think my sister Susan must have gone next, although I have no memory of her on the Sea Jeep. It’s possible that I was so panicked about my turn on the Sea Jeep that I didn’t register what was going on immediately beforehand. I had zero desire to ride a Sea Jeep. From what I could see, they went very fast and needed some serious steering. I was clumsy enough in gym class at home to kill myself engaging in such pedestrian activities as riding a scooter across the gym floor or jumping over “the horse.” (here) I shuddered to think what the risks were here, with an actual motor and a Sea in the mix.

Adding to my considerable anxiety was the fact that the minimum age to ride a Sea Jeep was fourteen. I was nine. My father didn’t want me to miss this Fun Experience, and so he lied to the young man in charge of renting the Sea Jeeps and told him I was fourteen. As with the lounge-chair-off-the-diving-board caper, Aruba was very relaxed about enforcing this rule. They were also lassez-faire about life jackets. I knew I was taking my life into my own hands; emerging from this experience alive was my only goal.

The fellow in charge told me to sit down on my Sea Jeep and put my belt on while he told me how to work it. I sat there listening as intently as I could to his fast patter of instructions: once he started the motor, he said, I should head about fifty feet out or so (how far is fifty feet, I wondered), then gently start to turn left and motor around for a while, enjoying the sea breezes and salty air. When my minutes were up and it was time to come in, he continued, he would signal me and I would then turn the Sea Jeep around and head back to shore. It was important, he warned, that I not turn off the engine until I was about ten feet from shore, because the Sea Jeep would stop abruptly as soon as I turned it off. Too far out, and he would have to wade in to get me, and he did not want to have to do that. My head swimming with questions, I nodded dumbly when he asked if I was ready, and he started my Sea Jeep.

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The people on the boat were watching me with horror.

My first discovery was that Sea Jeeps are very speedy. In mere seconds, I was out plenty far, certainly fifty feet if not more. It was definitely time for me to gently turn left as instructed. In my panic, I didn’t have a clue which way left actually was, so I turned the wheel and hoped for the best. To my horror, I was still heading out to what looked to be the middle of the Caribbean Sea, so I tried again to turn. I was successful the second time, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t gone left because now I was headed directly toward a huge glass-bottomed boat filled with tourists who were looking at me with their mouths open like “O’s.”

Vaguely hearing a lot of screaming from the shore, I turned the Sea Jeep again and missed the Glass Bottomed Boat, though not by much. Thankfully, I was now headed back to shore; there were several people waiting for me who were still yelling and waving their arms frantically. Reminding myself that I was to turn the Sea Jeep off when I was ten feet from shore, I held on for dear life and plowed home to safety. My ability to gauge speed and distance was no better in this direction; I turned the key to “off” about one and half feet from shore. White faced and none too pleased with my father, the fellow in charge barked at me to “Exit the Sea Jeep!” and I gladly complied, grateful to have survived another Maloney Fun Experience.

Our family vacation was divided into two segments: daytime fun and nighttime fun. Once the sun went down in Aruba, my parents and my brothers enjoyed the nighttime fun: gambling in the hotel casino. Unlike the swimming pool and the Sea Jeep Concession, the people in charge of the Casino enforced the Adults Only Rule strictly. Whether because my parents didn’t want my sister Susan to miss the Fun Experience of Losing All Her Money, or because they just didn’t like being told what to do, they decided to dress Susan up one night (she was fourteen) in a dress and my mother’s pearls and high heels, in the hope that she would fool the bouncers and be admitted to the Casino. She was, and so I was alone for one night in Aruba. I missed Susan, and was happy to hear that she had no desire to go back the next night.

Other than the “Let’s Pretend Susan is an Adult” night, I had my sister for company during the long evenings of Adult Gambling. It wasn’t a great deal of fun to be in our hotel room for hours on end, and the Dutch Antilles were not known for their marvelous television programs. Several nights into our enforced room stay, Susan decided that it was time to take matters into our own hands. It was 9:30 at night and we were children in a foreign land, but Susan announced (to my utter joy) that we were going to the beach. Earlier in the afternoon, when we had left the water to come back to the hotel for dinner, Susan thought the surf was just starting to get wavy. We both adore wavy days, and hated to lose what might be our one chance to play in waves, since the Caribbean Sea was almost always as still as glass.

We threw on our bathing suits and grabbed some towels and made our way down to the beach. Once we ran past the pool area and onto the actual sand, the night was as black as ink, and even though we were only feet away from the water, we could only hear it. And we heard waves. Joy! We ran straight ahead toward that siren sound and right into them. These were not small waves, and it was so dark that we could not see each other, our own hands, or the next wave. I remember seeing a sky filled with stars and nothing else. The water and the air were black, and it was easy to lose track of which was which.

Susan, being older and marginally wiser, realized fairly quickly that this escapade was turning very dangerous very fast. Using her most assertive, grownup voice, she shouted at me to head into shore. While things like Sea Jeeps terrified me, I was never afraid of water, even when I should have been. I didn’t want to go in; being in the Caribbean Sea at 10 p.m. in a high surf could was exciting and fun. Certainly mere water couldn’t be hazardous—or, maybe hazardous for other people, certainly not us. It was only when Susan’s voice moved from stern to outright panicked that I reluctantly started paddling toward what I hoped was the shore. It was so dark that we really couldn’t see where we were going.

The only reason we are both alive today is that Susan has a much better internal compass than I do, and she guessed correctly which way we had to go. Even paddling in the right direction, it was an ordeal to get back to sand, because the waves by then were truly impressive. We did make it back, and scampered back to our room to dry off and get back into our pajamas, Susan still trembling. Some sixth sense told us not to mention our late night caper to anyone, and it was years before we told our parents about that night.

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Deep Sea Fishing: The Dream

My father wanted to make sure that we had a lot of Fun Experiences while in Aruba; the Sea Jeep/Scuba Diving Caper wasn’t the end of our Caribbean fun. He decided that we should all have the experience of Deep Sea Fishing. This entailed making arrangements to hire a local fisherman and his boat; our Captain would take us all out into the Deep Sea and provide fishing lines and bait for us. Until I was in Aruba, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Deep Sea Fishing, so this did indeed sound like an adventure. We were to meet our Captain at the docks at 5:00 in the morning. Anything that entailed getting up at 5:00 in the morning sounded exciting to me, so when dawn was breaking and my dad woke us up, I bounded right out of my cot and onto the balcony to get the feeling back in my arms and legs and greet the day. My teenaged brothers were less enthusiastic about this awakening.

My dad had directions to the proper dock and knew the name of our boat for the day, so off we went. We found the place and the boat, but there was a man passed out cold on the dock, which was not a sight I had ever seen. My father woke him up, which I thought was a rude if not dangerous thing to do, especially because when the man opened his eyes he looked pretty ill and disheveled. My dad knew something we didn’t know; this man was our Captain for the day. The man pulled himself up, adjusted his pants, and gestured for us to get onto the boat. We were off.

The Caribbean Sea was beautiful, and the early morning air was salty and mild. We all sat in the boat and basked in this loveliness and peace for at least ten minutes. Then my brother Johnnie lurched up, turned around, and vomited over the side. My mother had a fragile stomach, and the sight of Johnnie throwing up, in concert with her own mounting queasiness, had her up and around in no time, also heaving over the side of the boat. My dad, Jamie, Susan and I were grimly holding our own, trying to enjoy the beauty of nature and ignore the hot saliva rushing up into our mouths, when our Captain starting cooking our complimentary breakfast. To our noses, breakfast smelled like fried offal with a side of rotten fish. That was it for us. Only my dad managed not to lose his previous three meals to the Caribbean Sea. The rest of us enjoyed a close-up view of the water directly beneath our streams of vomit.

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Deep Sea Fishing: The Reality

After my dad and our Captain enjoyed their breakfast, accompanied by the soundtrack of Five Heaving Maloneys, it was time to fish. My mother, my siblings and I were in no shape for any activity other than praying for death, but my dad had paid a great deal of money so that we could have this Fun Experience, and we couldn’t bear to let him down. We somehow pulled ourselves away from the sides of our boat and our Captain handed each of us a fishing line, which he had helpfully baited for us. Our bait came out of a big bucket of dead fish under our feet, the sight of which sent my brother Johnnie back to the side of the boat. So far our biggest discovery was just how much a human being could vomit without throwing up his own stomach. Our lines properly baited, we threw them into the Deep Sea and started to fish.

Unluckily for us, the fish in our corner of the Caribbean Sea had extremely high fish I.Q.’s, because every single fish we nearly caught simply ate our bait up to the dead fish head and them swam merrily away, no doubt taunting us as they departed. My brother thought he really had one at one point, and he enthusiastically pulled his line in; our collective thinking was that if we could only each catch a fish, my dad would be satisfied that we had had a Fun Experience and we could get back to what we really longed to do, which was vomit some more and hopefully pass out. When my brother pulled his line, though, once again he had only a dead fish head on the end of it, which swung wildly toward the boat and slapped me square in the face. That was the end of Deep Sea Fishing for me. I thought I had been close to foul smelling fish before, but having one directly applied to my face was enough to finish me off.

Having lost his best shot at catching a fish, my brother was forced back to the side of the boat for the vomiting, but while he had been struggling with his fish, apparently the wind changed direction. We realized this because he vomited into the wind this time. His vomit blew right back in his face and shoulders instead of falling into the Caribbean Sea. He was officially finished with fishing at that moment as well. Along the way, my mother and other siblings had given up and were cradling their heads and moaning softly. My sister Susan started singing under her breath; I heard snatches of The Beach Boys song, “I Wanna Go Home.” We still had a few more hours on the boat, and my dad had paid for the full day of fishing, but even he could see that he was not going to get his money’s worth on this adventure, and that if he insisted we stay the full time out at sea, several of us just might die of dehydration. He told our Captain it was time to go in.

After our day of Deep Sea Fishing, we took a few days to just relax at the hotel and not attempt any Fun Activities whatsoever, which was just fine with me. I loved that pool and the Caribbean Sea was kind of fun, too, even during the day. It wasn’t long  before our last night in Aruba had arrived.  My parents and brothers went to the Casino, and Susan and I were left to entertain ourselves in our room. As on the night of our Wave Adventure, we were bored very quickly. Knowing better now than to go down to the pitch-dark beach, we decided that it couldn’t hurt anyone if we just went down to the pool area. The pool was open but empty, and we didn’t have our bathing suits on, but it was very pretty there with the pool lit up and the Divi-Divi trees swaying in the breeze. My brother Johnnie wandered over and saw us there, and Susan asked him how things were going in the Casino. Not well—not for Johnnie, anyway. He had lost money, and he was feeling downcast. I figured he must be really sad, because his disappointment seemed to have robbed him of the power of speech. He was slurring a lot of his words and stumbling over easy words like “blackjack” and “bankrupt.” Eventually he wandered back off, and Susan told me that no, Johnnie had not suffered a sudden stroke as I feared; he had been drinking. Ah. I knew all about that. I just hadn’t recognized that as something Johnnie did. Lots of things were just different in Aruba.

Susan and I went back to our room, and decided to sit on our lovely balcony and enjoy those sea breezes for the last time. For some reason, my dad came back up to the room, probably to get something he needed down at the Casino, like more money. I did know how my dad seemed when he had been drinking, and I could tell that he had been drinking. Even stone cold sober, my father had a habit of tempting fate in ridiculous and dangerous ways, thus terrifying his children, and a few cocktails only made this side of his personality stronger. My dad started leaning out over the balcony rail, commenting on our lovely view and this lovely trip that was ending the next day. Foolishly, I said, “Daddy, please step back from the railing. You aren’t steady on your feet.”

Of course, that was the worst thing I could have said, because my dad heard it as a fun sort of challenge. He promptly climbed over the balcony rail and stood on the ledge that jutted out about two feet from the rail. There was nothing between my father and the pavement 17 stories below except air. Now I was frankly terrified, and I whispered, as if the very breath of my voice might blow him over, “PLEASE, Daddy, come back over the railing.” His blue eyes twinkling with mischief, he started to bounce softly, up and down, on the two feet of cement. I saw no way he was going to live through this, and I didn’t know what to do. I froze. I don’t know where Susan was, but I don’t think she was there. I couldn’t move or speak—it was, I think, my first moment of utter terror. Seeing no escalation of my challenge—what he took to be a challenge, anyway–he climbed back over the rail, told me to get to bed, and went back downstairs. I didn’t tell anyone about those ten minutes on the balcony, and I am not sure my dad even remembered it. I am very glad that he didn’t die in Aruba in 1969, but I am still amazed that he didn’t fall. Perhaps God didn’t want my poor mother to have to figure out how to transport a dead body and four children back to the United States, and He had mercy on her. As our mother and the wife of Jack Maloney, she had certainly earned a few favors.

Our flight out of Aruba was the following morning, and we were late getting out of bed. The “Farewell to Aruba Tour” had taken a toll on both of my brothers and my father, and they were not feeling so hot. By the time we actually got ourselves to the airport, we had missed the final boarding call. Out of the plate glass window, we could see our plane taxiing away from the gate and gliding toward the runway. My mother gasped, stunned at the sight of her ticket home leaving her behind with all of us and no money.  I have no idea to this day what my father said to the ticket agents at the gate, but they called the plane and the plane stopped. All six Maloneys, suitcases and all, hurried through the gate and out the door of the airport. A portable set of steps was wheeled out from somewhere, the plane door opened, and we climbed aboard. That was fifty years ago, and I have never since seen a plane stopped and reopened for tardy passengers. Say what you will about my father, but he was a heck of a salesman.

poster-arubaMy father wanted us to have an unforgettable and Fun Experience in Aruba. That we certainly did. In fact, certain parts of that vacation are seared into my brain, and I can be heard talking about some of those moments in my sleep even to this day. I think of our Aruba adventure whenever I see a Glass Bottomed boat, a Sea Jeep, a fish head or a man jumping up and down on two feet of cement suspended seventeen stories in the air. Oh wait; I never saw that sight again. Thank God. Satisfied that he had done his fatherly duty and given us a great vacation, my father headed back to home and ordinary time with his lovely wife Mercedes. I mean Loraine.

 

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Al’s Sixth Man and Jack’s Fifth Child: Al McGuire, My Dad and Me

allie-2Most girls who develop crushes confine themselves to swooning over just one young man; at the age of twelve, I fell head over heels in love with a basketball team.

Actually, this love affair began with just one fellow—he was a “college boy,” an athlete, and devastatingly handsome. His name was Allie McGuire, and his father was the Coach of the Marquette University basketball team—the Warriors. I never met Allie, but that didn’t stop me. I fell in love with his picture.

It happened on a Sunday—February 20, 1972, to be precise.  Sundays were slow, long and quiet in 1972. Shopping malls and grocery stores were closed, and there was no such thing as Target. My family spent Sundays going to mass in the morning and then having dinner in the evening with the good dishes in the dining room. The hours between mass and dinner often seemed interminable; Sunday was the only day I was ever bored enough to make houses on the floor out of a deck of playing cards.

On that particular Sunday, I was sitting in the living room waiting for dinner. Sunday dinner was never something I looked forward to; whereas my mother was not averse to “going rogue” and serving English Muffin Pizzas or Spaghetti during the week, Sunday was always a roast or a ham. I hated both. As I waited for my unappetizing dinner, I picked up Sports Illustrated—in my mind, the dullest magazine on Planet Earth.

I had zero interest in sports. Gym class at Christ King School was torture; “sports” involved ridiculous and painful activities such as climbing ropes to the ceiling for no good reason, folding my (chubby) body onto a scooter the size of a postage stamp and racing to the wall in a flop sweat with arms flailing while my teammates screamed at me, or ropesstanding at the furthest reach of the outfield for softball and praying the ball came nowhere near me. That same prayer was said by every member of my team, because I had no idea how the game of baseball was played. Not understanding the game would have made it very difficult to know where to throw the ball, but that was never a problem, because I had no idea how to catch the ball. On the rare occasion that a ball sailed near me, I ducked.

Since I knew as much about basketball as I did about softball—nothing—the fact that I picked up Sports Illustrated at all testifies to how very bored I was that day. On the cover that week was a picture of the most beautiful boy I had ever laid eyes on—Allie McGuire. I turned to the page featuring the article about this fierce-looking and well-chiseled young man, and read the whole thing. By the time dinner was served, I was completely in love. I spent the rest of the night gazing at the picture of Allie McGuire, and—I kid you not–at bedtime I put the magazine under my pillow.  I was in love, and I realized that my only chance to be with My Beloved would involve watching basketball. I was going to have to become a basketball fan. Love demanded it.

Sitting alongside my brothers and my parents the following Saturday, I watched my first basketball game on our black and white television. Marquette lost, but they won their next games and went to the NCAA tournament, where they were eliminated in the second round. The season was over, but I was just getting started.

More than anything, I wanted season tickets for the 1973-74 season. Marquette basketball was a hot commodity; Al McGuire’s teams were consistently ranked in the top five and McGuire was a showman. He gave the fans great entertainment value for their dollar. Students could get tickets to some of the games, but for regular season tickets, there was a long waiting list.

At least, I thought, I can get student tickets. Both of my brothers were students at Marquette, and they could each buy two student season tickets, for a total of four.  I babysat all summer and saved every penny I made so that I would be able to afford  tickets. The line for student tickets started to form early in the morning of the day before they were put up for sale. Students waited in line for upwards of twenty-four hours, sleeping on the pavement overnight. Both of my brothers waited in the line, both got tickets, and they gave one to my father and one to me.

coaches1977almcguire_t960Tickets in hand, my father and I attended our first Marquette basketball game together in November of 1972. I will never forget the moment I walked into the Milwaukee Arena on that chilly November night. Until that game, I had only seen the games on black and white television; this place was an explosion of color, a riot of noise and festivity. The air was electric and filled with music. I felt as if not just basketball, but my whole life to that point had been black and white, and I had just walked into the color. I was Dorothy stepping out of Kansas and into Oz.

My dad and I had never had a “Daddy’s Little Girl” sort of relationship. I was the fifth of five children, and by the time I was born in 1958, my mom and dad already had a thirteen year old, an eleven year old, a nine year old, and a five year old. They had their hands full. Jack Maloney was a traditional father, the sort who demonstrated his love for me by putting on his suit every day and going to work, the kind who didn’t hug me much but made sure I had a place to sleep and food to eat and a good Catholic education. Our love for the Marquette Warriors didn’t turn either of us into affectionate buddies, but it was nonetheless something that we shared. I do not recall ever saying “I love you, Daddy!” or hearing, “I love you, Sweetie!” but Marquette basketball gave us the chance to say “I love you” the only way we knew: “They called that a foul? Are you kidding me?” Or: “Hey, Ref! That Notre Dame guy travelled! He walked! Pack a suitcase, fella!”

Sitting near me in those early days must have offered my dad—not to mention all the other fans seated near us–many opportunities for sanctity. How, I wonder now, did they stand me? I knew nothing about the actual game of basketball. What I lacked in knowledge, though, I more than made up for in enthusiasm. I heard the others cheering and tried to go with their flow; I was known to shout “gold-tending!” at random moments. How was I to know that it was “goal-tending,” not “gold-tending,” much less that it made little sense to shout it when our guard was dribbling the ball up the floor? At a alliecertain point in one game, Allie McGuire—the love of my life—was about to shoot a free throw. I yelled out lustily, “We love you, Allie!” A young man several rows ahead turned and said, “I have examined my feelings and I do not in fact love Allie McGuire.” I ignored him. The “we” was just a cover anyway. It was I who loved Allie McGuire, with all my heart.

Watching every play with the intensity of a starved hunter waiting for a bear, eventually I learned—and came to love–the game.  I arranged my high school life (I was a freshman) around the Marquette basketball season. When that 1972-73 team lost in the NCAA tournament to Indiana and their new coach, a smart aleck named Bobby Knight, I was heartbroken. Not only was the season over, but there was no guarantee that I would be able to get student tickets the following year; both of my brothers were now alumni on the wait list with all the other non-students.

Once again, I spent my summer babysitting and saving my money just in case I somehow figured out how to get a ticket, but I wasn’t optimistic. And then Lady Luck smiled on me, in the form of a big fat dermoid cyst on my right ovary that was twisting on its stem and had to come out (see “The Day a Banana Cake Nearly Killed Me” here ) It was major surgery, and I was in the hospital for a week. Hooked up to many tubes, unable to eat, and in a whole lot of pain, I was one sorry sight.

The nurses at Children’s Hospital bothered me constantly, trying to get me to blow into some medieval-type bottle apparatus. The idea was to get my lungs going after my surgery, because at that point my only physical activity was moaning and they feared pneumonia. In order forestall this fate, I was supposed to blow all of the water from one giant bottle into another bottle and then back again. I couldn’t cheat, because the second bottle had a pellet of blue food coloring in it. The nurses needed to see all of the water back in the first bottle, but it had to be blue. I hated this activity with a burning passion, and I regularly refused to do it.

At some point in the Great Battle of the Blue Bottle, my father decided to walk over to the Marquette Athletics Office (which was about three blocks from the hospital), and ask for a souvenir to bribe me with so that I would make a bigger effort to win the Bottle Battle. When my dad walked into the building, he nearly walked right into Al McGuire himself.  Always ready to seize an opportunity if one arose, my father told Al about me and asked for a memento. Al replied to my dad by saying, “Let’s go.” Go? Where? “Let’s go see your daughter.” Before they left, Al turned to his secretary and asked her for some Marquette memorabilia for me.

So there was my dad, walking into my hospital room and behind him, there was Al McGuire. I was still hurting, and I had been drifting in a bit of a fog no doubt caused by whatever medication they were giving me for pain. When I opened my eyes and saw Al, I wondered briefly if I had died, and was in heaven. Apparently (I heard this later), I kept saying, “Al McGuire? Are you here? Are you Al McGuire?” in a goggle-eyed sort of way.

He was there all right.  And Al gave me two MU wall hangings, a shirt that said “Al’s Sixth Man,” and two season tickets, one for my dad and one for me. If someone had handed me my large and disgusting dermoid cyst at that point, I might just have kissed it.

For the 1973-74 season and for the rest of Al’s reign as coach, my dad and I had season tickets in Section 17, Row K. We never missed a game, not that year and not during the years that followed. I wore my Al’s Sixth Man shirt to every game, home or away, and whenever Al would spot the shirt, he would nod slightly in my direction and smile.

Marquette was ranked first or second in the country throughout the 1975-76 season, switching places every few weeks with the Indiana Hoosiers. Conventional wisdom was that either Marquette or Indiana would win the NCAA tournament. In those days, tournament teams were matched by the luck of the draw rather than being seeded. Also, teams were assigned to their nearest region, no matter how many ranked teams lived in the same region. Thus it was that both Marquette and Indiana were invited to the Mideast Regional; each team won its first two games and so would face each other in the regional final. Only one of the two top teams in the country would be moving on. The game was close for a while, but then Al was called for two technical fouls in a row, and Indiana used the free throws to pull ahead by eight points; they never looked back.

My dad and I were devastated. We had watched the game on television in Milwaukee, and allie5my dad suggested that we head to the airport to greet the team when they arrived. (In this era, there was no such thing as “airport security,” and people wandered around airports at will.) By the time the players and coaches disembarked, I had been crying for hours. I was bereft. When Al saw me, he walked over and gave me a hug, saying, “Hey. Don’t take it so hard.” My sister took a picture, but I knew I would never forget that moment when Al McGuire comforted me over a loss.

Marquette lost some key starters after their season ended against Indiana, but they were still projected to be a top ten team for the 1976-77 season. A few games into that season, though, Al resigned as Marquette coach. The team and the fans were stunned and dismayed that Al had decided to leave coaching for the corporate world. Both my father and I were distraught. The team lost three games after Al’s announcement, regrouped and started to win again, and then, near the end of the season, lost three more.

No one was sure that Marquette would have a good enough record even to be invited to the NCAA tournament that year, but they squeaked in at the last minute. The team won its first game, against Cincinnati. They won their second game, against Kansas State. They won their third game, against Wake Forest. Marquette had made it to the Final Four in Al’s last year as coach. Milwaukee was delirious with joy, and my dad and I led the cheering.

My sister Marbeth and I (she and her husband were also fans) drove downtown on a freezing cold day in Milwaukee to wait in line for tickets to Atlanta, Georgia and the Final Four. I cut my classes (I was a freshman in college at this point) and my sister brought all four of her young children. It was so cold that we had to take turns standing in line and running next door to the Holiday Inn to warm up enough to get feeling back in our hands and feet. But we got tickets, and the four of us—me, my dad, my sister and her husband—flew to Atlanta for Al’s Last Hurrah.

I was sitting next to my dad and wearing my lucky shirt in the first game when Marquette’s Jerome Whitehead scored a wobbly layup as time expired and beat UNC-Charlotte. I wore my shirt for the last time two days later when Marquette faced Dean Smith’s North Carolina team for the NCAA championship. About an hour before the game started, I was wandering around the Omni and practically walked into Al, who was getting ready for a television interview. He said, “I see you still got the shirt,” and I said “Yes, but I won’t wear it again after tonight.” He nodded a little, and smiled.

allie3North Carolina was heavily favored to win, and for the first half and a good bit of the second, it seemed inevitable that they would be the champions. Ahead by several points, Dean Smith put his team into their notorious “Four Corner” offense. In 1977, there was no shot clock in the college game, and so whenever a North Carolina team took the lead, they would simply pass the ball around the perimeter and use up as much time as possible before taking a high-percentage shot.

Anticipating the possibility that his team would encounter the Four Corners, Al had devised a series of plays designed to rattle the players in that offense, and his plan worked. newpaperThe UNC players got flustered, lost the ball and missed some shots.  Marquette tied the score, forcing Smith’s team out of their offense. Marquette scored a couple of quick baskets, and the game was ours. As it dawned on the crowd that Marquette was going to win the championship in Al’s last game as coach, they began to roar. In the section where the Marquette fans were seated, the fans were crying, laughing and yelling with joy.

As we jumped out of our seats, cheering wildly, I turned to my dad and he turned to me. We had soldiered together through thrilling wins and devastating defeats. Neither of us was any good at saying to the other, “I love you,” but we had no problem saying together, “Give ‘em Hell, Al!” Our version of hugging was to shout out “Stop dribbling the ball! They’re in a zone!” On that rainy evening in March of 1977, as the final seconds of Al McGuire’s last game and first championship ticked down, we looked at each other and screamed, “We did it!” Then we hugged each other with all our might.

me-and-dadMy father died in 1997. Al McGuire died in 2001. My dad brought Al McGuire to me in 1973, when I was a sick and depressed twelve year old kid. Al McGuire brought that same twelve
year old girl the coolest shirt in the world, two wall hangings, season tickets, and the best thing of all: a way to hug my father. I was in every way a lucky girl.