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Another Year to Celebrate

The best year ever?

By Joey Kennedy

Happy New Year! It’s 2019, friends, and the perfect time for reflection. How was your 2018? What are your hopes for the new year?

I’ve been writing this “B-Curious” column for three years and nine months now. This is my 45th monthly column. Hardly seems that long or that many. I’ve loved writing since I learned how to write. Kindergarten, maybe? First grade for sure.

As a child, I’d write fanciful stories about silly things. As I got older, the writing turned more serious. I went through a phase of writing short fiction. Really bad short fiction. I turned to nonfiction in high school, where I became a “paid” writer for the local newspaper.

My first byline in the Houma (La.) Daily Courier came when I was a sophomore at Terrebonne High School and wrote a few paragraphs about our junior varsity football team. I don’t remember if the Tigers won or lost. I do remember that byline: “By Joe Kennedy.”

My parents, completely without imagination, named me after my father. He was “Joe David Kennedy Sr.” I am “Joe David Kennedy Jr.”

When my dad’s co-workers saw my first byline, they assumed Dad had written that story. He came home from work laughing about it. But it was no laughing matter to me. My byline in the Courier after the next week’s JV game was “By Joey Kennedy.” I’ve been Joey ever since.

I did not wish to be confused with my father.

In a fit of nostalgia, I went back through the 45 columns I’ve written for B-Metro, and decided some of them warranted updates. So here we go:

My second column, in May 2015, was titled “Driving with Birmingcabbie.” I did a ride-around with my neighbor Rod Walker who drove a taxi for Yellow Cab. Rod knows Birmingham very well. Today, Rod is a Realtor, but when he’s not selling property, he still drives people for a fare. Except now he drives for Lyft and Uber, and he still has some great “fare stories” to tell.

Later that year, I did another driving column. In November, I wrote “Driving Miss O’Hara” about the play-date my wife, Veronica, and I have every week with Jo Ellen O’Hara, the longtime food editor at The Birmingham News. Jo Ellen has macular degeneration and doesn’t see well. She stopped driving about four years ago. So each week, we run errands, have lunch, and just enjoy each other’s company. Veronica, Jo Ellen, and I, now 81, still have our weekly sojourns. Though Jo Ellen sees more poorly now than ever, she still knows Birmingham and can give out directions to just about anywhere with just a street name. She’s an amazing woman.

I wrote about the mass shooting at the Orlando gay nightclub Pulse in July 2016. The column—“Oh, Birmingham. You Could Have Been Orlando—discussed how it was possible such a tragedy could happen in Birmingham or anywhere. A madman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in June of 2016. But since then, we’ve seen more horrific mass shootings than I can count. Still, Congress has done nothing to enact sensible gun restrictions or improve the nation’s broken mental health system.

In October of 2016, I wrote “The Mentors Who Changed My Life.” One of those, the late Ron Casey, was editorial page editor of The Birmingham News. Ron died much too young, at 48, of a heart attack. Ron meant so much to Veronica and me that we named our new Pug puppy we adopted that year “Casey.” Alas, Pug Casey also died far too young, in May 2017. He was 10 ½ months old.

UAB student Sandi Jo Minor was my topic for the April 2017 column, “We’re Smiling, because Sandi is.” Sandi was my student, and she has cystic fibrosis. Now Sandi is in nursing school. She still faces health challenges, but she’s still smiling, too. Sandi and I try to have coffee every few months to catch up. She’s a remarkable young woman.

UAB made another “B-Curious” column in 2017: “Out of a Blaze” in September, about the return of UAB football after the program was ended in 2015. UAB’s return has been outstanding. The Blazers won seven games and went to a bowl in their first year back; in 2018, UAB took the Conference USA championship, its first ever football title, and played in another bowl game. From no football to conference champ in two seasons—that’s pretty good for a program once dismissed by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees as irrelevant.

In August of 2018, I wrote “The Wedding: My daughter is tying the knot.” My “daughter,” now Nicole Denton, married the love of her life, Sara Kate Denton. Though Nicole isn’t my real daughter-—Veronica and I never had children—she is the closest I’ll ever come. I knew I was going to give a wedding toast and do the daddy dance with her because her parents were not attending the wedding. But when I arrived in San Diego for the event, she gave me a card which asked, on the front, “Will You Walk Me Down The Aisle.” I lost it, and was still losing it the next day, when I walked Nicole down the aisle with her brother, Jake. Nicole and Sara Kate are living well as newlyweds in Southern California.

And in September 2018, I wrote “Lauren’s Brain Tumor Journey,” about our now 14-year-old great-niece, Lauren Beck, who is undergoing treatment for a tumor on her thalamus at Children’s of Alabama. The treatments are shrinking the tumor, but in late November an MRI showed a new, smaller lesion near her cerebellum. Lauren remains in great spirits and entered a clinical trial at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia in mid-December. We’re confident that 2019 will be Lauren’s best year ever.

Happy New Year, and I hope your 2019 is your best year ever, too. •

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