The kid’s
be alright

The Caboose


In elementary school, Reily was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. “Forensic anthropologist,” she answered without hesitation.

“There’s no such thing,” the teacher said.

Fast forward 10 years, and Reily will move into her dorm on Friday and pursue a dream of being a forensic anthropologist.

In the Summer of 2004, Mandy and I were living the suburban life: cul-de-sac, great neighbors, excellent school system for Jeremy and Peyton, two dogs, a cat – all the things that made Metro ATL appealing. Our home had about an acre of land, so a push mower, a weed eater, and a blower were all you needed for lawn care.

During one of those lawn-mowing sessions, I noticed my beautiful wife bounding down the steps, smiling … and I knew something was up. I’d finished the grass cutting and edging and was blowing the clippings from the curb. As Mandy got closer, I flipped the switch on the blower, and it whirred to silence.

“I think I want to have another baby,” she said.

Immediately, I flipped the switch on the blower, and it whirred to life.

Russ was 11, Jeremy was 10, Peyton was 7, all were in school, and it was only a matter of time before they would graduate high school and fly, fly away. No, we were not going to reset the clock. No, not happening. … Nine months  and one day later, Annabelle Reily completed our humble abode.

“I think I want to have another baby …”

– Mandy Cross, SUMMER 2004

Life with Reily is … different, in an enjoyable way. Jeremy was a boy – turn him loose, and eventually, he’ll come home to eat. Peyton was a girl – turn her loose and hope for the best, which meant, hopefully, everyone left with their head still attached, and the coroner wasn’t needed.

Russ, he’s laid back, the epitome of chill. There are times you have to check for a pulse. But he can flip the switch and be the life of a party.

J-bird, he played ball from sunrise to sunset. We never worried about him. He was amiable, affable – wouldn’t say shit with a mouth full of it.

Pey, she could be a handful. The “suffer no fools” adage? That was her mantra; she was not shy about calling out folks for their bullshit. Not surprisingly, she’s in her final year of law school.

Rei, she’s a combo platter – chill, amiable, affable, likes to find common ground, but will low-key cut you with a deliciously sarcastic vocabulary that makes most things she eats taste salty.

As much as J-bird is like his mom and Pey is my mini-me, Rei is a mix made in the darkest depths of Diagon Alley. One day she will appreciate how pretty she is; that came from her mom. Hopefully, she will appreciate how strong she is; that came from her mom, too. I’ll be happy if she embraces that her attitude is 100% dad.


Reily’s desire to be a forensic anthropologist began when she discovered the TV series “Bones.” We knew something was up when she began dropping factoids at the dinner table:

  • There are 26 bones in the human foot.
  • There are five stages of human decomposition.
  • William Bass started the Body Farm at UT to study the decomposition of human remains.

Coming from a kid still in single digits, Mandy and I agreed to secure the knives and put locks on the cabinets. I’ve slept with one eye open for a decade.

To be transparent, the macabre is Mandy’s lane. Her birthday is near Halloween, and the family heirloom on her side of the family is a petrified cat. It was found – a mouse still lodged between its claws – in the attic of the old homestead. … At some point, the dark side rubbed off on Rei.

Still, I draw her to the light. She gets emotional over the things that matter in life – family, friends, and The Third Saturday in October. And meeting Bill Bass. The night he spoke at a local high school, you could not have taken the smile off her face with a DeWalt sander.

Soon, Rei will walk the hills and The Hill where Bass and many others laid the groundwork for her life’s work. Along the way she will sing “Rocky Top” with 100,000 of her closest friends and her #VFL family. She will cram – and fret – finals. And like her siblings, she will phone home to check in on mom and dad … and end the call with the real reason for the call: “Y’all want to buy a poor college student a pizza?”


So here we are, on the cusp of being empty nesters (or free birds, as a friend insists). Rei packed three 48-gallon totes and a laundry basket. The truck is loaded. It’s gotten real – The Caboose will wake up Saturday in her dorm room.

I am excited. She will meet people. She will continue to grow as a good human. She will do a million things, and none will surprise us.

I’m also torn. It will be Mandy and me for the first time in more than 26 years. What if she doesn’t like me? (Nah, not a chance …)

Friends have asked if we are looking forward to having the house to ourselves. “No doubt,” I’ve boasted. And now, the time has arrived. I wish it were yesterday when we had one more day.

I want one more day of her sarcasm, her smile, her laugh. One more movie night. One more time walking past my chair and grabbing a handful of popcorn without breaking stride.

Not to mention more time arguing whether Taylor Swift is all that and a box of Cracker Jack compared to the old man’s generation of crooners. Fortunately, she’s leaned into the good stuff too; she digs Billy Joel.

Kick ass, kid – you know what you want and how to get it. You be you. I will always be a phone call away. Always.

Vienna waits for you.