As a child, Ina White could not have known that much of her adult life would be dominated by gymnasiums and basketballs. She could not have foreseen that much of it would be governed by young men in gym shorts attempting to place a ball through a hoop, but it was. This was due to one chief reason, her marriage to my grandfather Pat White.
Pat would say that he and my grandmother met in the fourth grade. She thinks it might have been later. In any case, by the time Pat left this earth in 2017 at the age of 93, he and Ina had been married for 72 years.
So, because Pat White’s life was dominated by basketball, it would come to dominate his wife’s life as well.
There were the countless evenings spent sitting on hardwood benches inside stuffy gymnasiums across Minnesota and Texas watching high schoolers with words like “Faribault” and “Mission” lettered across their chests attempt jump shots and free throws.
There were the Saturday and Sunday afternoons with the sound of squeaking sneakers and referee’s whistles emerging from a small living room television as Pat transferred innovative basketball plays from his brain into a constantly enlarging notebook and Ina efforted to read a worn paperback novel. There were the cross-country trips to small towns and large cities, to raucous high school gymnasiums that grew out like stalks in a midwestern corn field and to overpriced arenas that overpowered urban landscapes.
An aging van became a seaworn vessel and each new basketball court an untapped territory to be resourced. Pat White was on a lifelong quest to discover the perfect basketball play. Did he ever find it? I don’t know. But I know one thing: he found the perfect co-pilot.
Basketball became an outsized part of Ina White’s life because Pat White was an outsized part of Ina White’s life.
Both Pat and Ina were born in the shadow of the Great Depression. They would carry lessons from it for the rest of their lives. They grew up as a power-hungry and maniacal tyrant clenched his hands around continental Europe.
The reality of the second world war must have seemed both near and far as Pat donned the uniform of Alexandria to participate in the Minnesota state high school basketball tournament in 1943. His team finished in second place in that tournament, solidifying his resolve to make basketball a lifelong study.
Pat enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 to become a pilot, but he would miss the opportunity to fight for the Allies overseas. However, he would not miss another opportunity. In 1945, he married his elementary school sweetheart Ina.
The young couple moved to Faribault, Minnesota where for nearly three decades Pat was employed as an Industrial Arts teacher and athletic coach.
Meanwhile, Ina raised their four children. Those four children would produce ten grandchildren, who would produce nearly a dozen more great-grandchildren.
For over seven decades, Pat and Ina White were married. You might say Ina stood by Pat’s side for over seven decades. But that dismisses a piece of history. It dismisses those times when Ina carried him.
Ina White has a quiet resolve. She will not dominate a conversation. This quiet resolve conceals something, however. It disguises a mind that is as sharp as an aboriginal spear.
Her sharpness is revealed sporadically as to not overwhelm her audience. It is exhibited when she reaches into an obscure corner of her cranium to procure a distant recollection. It is exposed when she inserts a well-timed barb into a dialogue. It is witnessed after she has crushed her opponent in a friendly game of bridge and then modestly apologizes for her victory. Her sharpness is often veiled by midwestern humbleness. But it is always present.
Her husband on the other hand was not modest with conversation. He was opinionated, and he was not shy about sharing his opinions. His opinions on subjects ranged in diversity. There was sports and news and politics. There was the state of the world and its crumbling edges. Some perceived past was always far superior to any potential future. Men had gotten weaker. Children were less well behaved. People were more entitled. College basketball had been corrupted by corporate influence. The rules of the game had been changed, and it wasn’t fair.
Pat White was a good man, but a complicated one. He had been raised in a home with a dirt floor, and he carried that dirt with him for the nearly hundred years he lived. He was ceaseless in his frugality. He wore sneakers with duct taped soles and secondhand shirts and windbreakers. He stopped on the side of the road to load discarded refrigerators into his van. He was reared under the reality of the Great Depression. In some ways the Great Depression never left him. It could always return, and he would not be ill-prepared.
Pat was stern with his four children. He was especially exacting on his two sons. They would grow to be excellent athletes; he would make sure of it. They would shine on whatever playing surface they happened to be navigating, whether it be a track, a pitch, a gridiron, a mat, or a hardwood court. Their God given athletic gifts would be mixed with whatever sheer force and will Pat could influence in them so that they would always emerge victorious no matter the type of ball they held or stick they swung.
Pat would sometimes become overwhelmed by his mind. We have a term for it today. We call it depression. For a man of Pat’s generation, such a thing didn’t exist inside of the brain. Depression was external, an economic reality one may have to endure as a child. Depression dictated whether one had food inside his belly. It did not dictate whether a man could get out of bed in the morning. Depression was caused by the overreach of misguided politicians and greedy corporations not by genetics and past trauma. Depression existed out in the world but not within a man.
Yes, Pat White was a complicated man, but he was a good man. He raised four well-adjusted human beings who would go to raise a swarm of well-adjusted human beings themselves (save for maybe the author). He worked hard to provide for his family. He coached countless young people on various athletic surfaces who would take the lessons of spirit and success he imparted on them into the larger world.
He loved his growing family, and he delighted in spending time with his grandchildren. He took them fishing for trout on Minnesota lakes. He taught them how to properly shoot a free throw. He brought them cases of grapefruit juice they wouldn’t drink because, well, it was grapefruit juice.
There is a story of my grandfather. I eulogized him with it at the wake we held in his beloved Faribault a brief time after his passing. The memory I shared at the wake took place when I was in high school. Pat and Ina were visiting our home in Colorado during one of their bi-annual migratory trips between Minnesota and Texas. My father, grandfather, and I were supposed to be repainting the basement on that Saturday morning. I arrived late for our agreed upon start time thanks to the desire to sleep off a Friday night of teenage revelry. When I arrived home late from sleeping at a friend’s house, I found a door with a painted message on it. The message read: “Grandpa + Corey.” There was no scorn in that message, no anger for my late arrival or adolescent laziness and irresponsibility. No, that message carried none of those things. What it carried was love.
Yes, Pat White was a complicated man, but he was a good man. He believed in self-reliance. He believed in loyalty. He believed in hard work. He loved his children and his grandchildren, even if he couldn’t necessarily vocalize his affection verbally. He cared for his family, and for over seven decades he stood by his wife, the one who often carried him.
By day, I am a technology consultant. There is a term I use because consultants love terms. The term is “outboard brain.” That smartphone in your hand, the one you may be reading this on, that is an outboard brain. Your favorite search engine, likely Google, that is an outboard brain as well. Instead of retaining knowledge in our heads, we offload this knowledge from our brains to our devices or to mega-corporations in Mountain View so that when we need it, it is nothing more than a few finger swipes or keystrokes away. For decades, Ina White was Pat White’s outboard brain.
Often, Pat would be regaling an audience, whether rapt or not, with some long-ago basketball game he watched or some high school or college coach he met when he would stop his anecdote. He would look to Ina to fill in the name of a basketball program, an obscure coach, or a town where the singular game, out of the countless witnessed, he was currently referencing took place. His wife of 72 years would fill in the blank. Then, Pat would continue his monologue.
This is just one example of a lifetime of examples. Pat White found the perfect co-pilot when he married Ina White. We should all be so blessed.
That’s the thing about Ina White. None of us deserve to find someone like Ina. None of us deserve to find that person that can finish our sentences. None of us deserve to find someone who will learn to enjoy our passions because it means being with us. None of us deserve someone who will travel down the road of life with us even after the air conditioner has broken, a tire has exploded, and the rain has started falling. None of us deserve to have someone who will battle for seven decades to be the most important person in our lives. None of us deserve to discover someone with a resolve that makes us better. But sometimes we find it. We don’t deserve it, but sometimes fate delivers us a generous gift. By some divine offering, Pat White found his perfect co-pilot in Ina White. No, he didn’t deserve it. We should all be so blessed.
There won’t be highways dedicated to Ina White. There will be no tin trophies or ticker tape. She will not see her name flashing on an electronic billboard in front of a big city building. But make no mistake. Ina White is a hero. She is endlessly celebrated within our family for countless reasons not the least of which is that she put up with my grandfather for seven decades. I personally, have too many reasons to be eternally grateful for her to ever list on paper. One of these reasons is that I have the literal heartbeat required to write these words because three quarters of a century ago a very elegant woman decided to take a chance on a very inelegant man.
She is and will always be treasured for her laugh, her smile, and her calm, sturdy presence. And she will always be cherished for her example to each of us of what it means to live a life of steadfast, faithful love. She is an example of what it means to live a life of pure generosity and devotion, of constantly putting the needs of the people that you love before your own. Most of us will never match the example that she has placed in front of us, but it couldn’t hurt to try.
One day, in the future, Ina will arrive in a place. She will see the figure of a lanky man with a goofy smile wearing a secondhand windbreaker and a beat-up Mission baseball cap. This man will nod to her. She will join him on a walk, and Pat will be whole again.