Lessons From Max

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Let me explain why my heart’s a little broken today.

It has to do with Max Foster, who just retired after 27 years of service to the kids of this town — and the readers of the Roundup.

But first let me tell you about his last official week on the job. Max gave notice of his retirement a month ago — although no one believed him. He’s famous for crying wolf in this regard. I told him that if he quit we’d run nothing but stories about soccer and paddleboarding on the sports page. I figured that would stop him. Mind you, I periodically steal his sports page for outdoor features and stuff, on account of the color position. He glowers and grumps and mumbles snide remarks about my alma mater. I always tell him I need the color position. In truth, I love to make him glower.

But Max pointedly ignored my threats and said he has to resign: He promised his wife. They have cruise tickets. She’d personally kill him if he reneged.

So he insisted we advertise his position — then he sorted through the 100 resumes that poured in. It is touching that the good Lord made so many fools and sports writers.

Now, finally, along comes his last official week after 27 years. Anybody else would be winding his gold watch (all right, we’re journalists, no gold watch — just a lot of hits when you Google your name.) Besides, he had to undergo a medical procedure on Wednesday — which required him to be at home, prepping, on Tuesday. He had the perfect excuse to amble through his last week, popping bon bons.

So I’m typing away on Wednesday morning wondering what the heck I’m gonna do with the sports page, which is supposed to print on Thursday, when a story from Max pops up in my inbox. An hour later, happens again. Hour later, again. This keeps up until I have five stories and a column. The last one had a giant note in all caps: “WE HAVE GOOD ART. DON’T STEAL MY SPORTS PAGE!!!”

Point being, Max always gets it done. That’s what a man does. Cancer. Don’t matter. Tendon damage. Don’t matter. Heartbreak. Don’t matter. Just get it done. Don’t complain. Don’t hesitate. Take the blows, crack a joke, get back on your feet.

He taught generations of youngsters about getting the job done. He taught generations of reporters how to persist, never back down and never, ever forget that what you write will affect real people.

And he loves those kids. It’s humbling to wander around Payson with Max Foster. Everywhere you go he stops to talk to someone who he had in class, on his team. Max always knows their names — and asks about brothers and sisters and parents and cousins. The most frequent response I get when I tell someone that I’m editor of the Roundup is: “Oh, so you must know Max.”

I do, actually. It has been my honor — abuse included.

I figure maybe I can still shoot for being like Max when I grow up. It’s not too late, right? I mean, he’s made huge mistakes. He’s suffered deep injury. He’s made hard choices. But he’s kept the faith. He’s raised his kids and nurtured his grandkids. He’ll do anything for a friend. He’ll give you the shirt off his back (don’t ask, you’ll feel compelled to ask about all the scars and end up drinking beer all afternoon). He has jogged steadily through life’s inevitable pain on the ice in the rain — although after the cancer surgery it was more of a shuffle than a jog. He’s taken everything they could throw at him. But he still laughs easier than anyone you ever want to meet — a great, delighted cackle — usually directed at himself.

Oh yeah, and he’s got the best woodpile you ever saw, chainsawed every bit of it his own self.

Fortunately, in that great pile of resumes we discovered Keith Morris — and stole him from the White Mountain Independent. Keith will be here in two weeks. Keith has also spent the last quarter century telling the stories of kids and coaches and parents — finding the human drama that simmers in every game. I told him that the worst part about his job will be dealing with people who gasp and say “Where’s Max?” every darn place he goes.

In the meanwhile, I’ve got my paddleboard series with soccer sidebars all ready to go. Don’t tell Max. I want to surprise him. Make him take me seriously for once.

And don’t tell him either that bit about my heart breaking on account of missing him so much — sitting there every day typing away with two fingers, hardly even looking up until the job is done.

Damn. Getting all teary eyed just thinking about it.

Definitely don’t tell him that. I’ll never hear the end of it.

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