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Minority shareholder

I’ll bet you didn’t know I owned Apple. No, not AN apple. This isn’t a post about an epic journey to the grocery store. This is the story of something I wanted to do for a long time: buy stock in my favorite computer company. This isn’t a story of buying low and selling high, of market savvy, or mad money.

This is a love story.

If you’ve been on Apple train for the whole Jobs reunion tour – you get it. If you’ve been on the wagon since ’84, when the first Macs rolled off the lines, you definitely get it. If you know who John Sculley and Gil Amellio are, you’ve got it bad.

If you’ve got more little white apple stickers than hobbies, you know. If you’ve got a few striped, rainbow apples sprinkled in your collection you’re pretty damn sure.

If you don’t, I’m not sure I can explain it to you.

John, it sounds like what you really need is a good deprogramming.

I admit it sounds fishy. The “cult of Mac” label rings with a hint of truth. But there’s another, simpler explanation: great products create strong customer loyalty and a great brand name. Great products can be addicting in a way. If you’ve ever bough something and six months later thought, “I don’t know how I got along before…,” you’ve got some idea what I’m talking about.

Some folks get the cool-great relationship mixed up when it comes to Apple. Some would have you believe Apple only exists because it’s cool or fashionable. I think the cool or fashionable part comes second, dependent on the first. In order to be around as long as Apple, you’ve got to have great products first, before they can be cool. In Apple’s case, great products combine good form as well as function, which undoubtably leads to the “fashionable” charge. There’s just one thing. The first computer running the Mac OS was sold in early 1984. Being cool, or it’s cousin – a fad – has a limited shelf life, and it isn’t 27 years. You’ve got to be good (dare I say great?) before you can be cool that long, while at the same appealing to more than one generation of customers.

There’s a darker side to this story though. There’s truth to what they say: “you’ve got to have money to make money.”

I bought into Apple right before the first iPad was sold. Like I said before, I wanted buy Apple stock for sentimental reasons, not necessarily to make money. However it did cross my mind that it would be more affordable before the iPad rather than after.

Well I didn’t (make money). Not much anyway.

Oh, the stock price has done great. It’s up around 50% since I invested, but I could only afford one share at the time. I’m only up a $100 or so.

On the up side, I still received notification of the stockholders’ meeting this year. That was pretty exciting stuff, until I figured someone just wanted my little piece of the vote by proxy. I don’t think they really wanted me to show up, let alone have a speaking role.

None of that really matters though. The important thing is I’ve got my MacBook and my stock.

One share of Apple I’ll cherish forever.


My parents came over for dinner a few weeks ago, much as they do every Saturday, but this week my dad brought something for me. It was an old, manila envelope addressed to me (at my parents house), postmarked sometime in 1990. It was from my maternal grandmother and it brought back a slew of memories.

In the emotional days of fall, 2001, my grandmother passed away. She was the last of my grandparents to go, out living my father’s mother by ten years, and her own husband by almost thirty-five. Even though she never learned to drive she was fiercely independent, and lived the better part of thirty of those years alone.

We did visit. Before my grandfather died they were regular visitors at our house in Billerica. Afterward, we went to her at least once a week while we lived in Massachusetts, then only once every few years after we moved to Florida. My mother hated to travel, even to visit her mother. My visits increased to once a year in college, after I started dating Cheryl. Her grandparents lived 45 minutes away in New Hampshire, so it was a two for one trip. When we met in high school, we learned we were born and grew up less than a 30 minute drive apart.

Thinking back on her long life, when you add it all up, I spent more time with her than any of my other grandparents, despite some of the gaps.

I think I knew her the least.

If you were to picture in your mind a small, wiry, old, bitter, reserved to the point of stoic, long ago widowed, small town woman from Nowhere, Vermont – you’d have a pretty good image of my grandmother. (Though she lived not far from Boston, near Salem. Yes, THAT Salem: seven gables, witches, and a lot of history.) She kept her emotions close to the vest. When I’d go to visit on our annual trips to New England I’d get a regular outpouring of emotion: her frown would temporarily disappear and she would and say, “hello John, it’s nice to see you.”

Then silence, and the return of the frown.

My phone calls went much the same way. They were one sided monologues, sprinkled with questions met with the shortest possible answer.

Imagine me trying to carry a conversation.

I’ve learned more about my grandmother since her death. It’s funny how people feel freer to talk about others after they die. That’s when I learned we (her grandkids) were all she talked about – and apparently she did talk.

It makes me wonder. Why didn’t she talk to me? She wouldn’t tell me things unless I knew enough to ask her directly about it. Otherwise, my questions were answered in general, non-specific terms whenever possible.

When I thought about her, I pictured her sitting alone in her apartment. I imagined thirty years of dinner at a table with one chair. Whenever I thought of her, I always felt guilty, like I wasn’t doing enough. I felt like I had her seemingly cold demeanor coming. I only visited once a year. I’m ashamed to admit phone calls were so painful I only called once a month. Sometimes I think it took me that long to recover from the last one. I never really doubted she loved us, in her way, but I couldn’t think of how to return it in a way I thought would make some difference in her lonely life.

She showed affection long distance, if not in person. Although she was quiet, she was always paying attention. On those visits to Danvers while we were still living in Massachusetts, I’d always make my way to her latest issue of National Geographic. A subscription of my own followed me when my parents moved us to Florida. She gave me the gift of the world every year until I graduated from college, and an apartment was replaced by a nursing home.

My grandmother listened to most Red Sox games on the radio, and followed the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots in the paper, so one topic we could discuss was sports. One of the things I missed in Florida was coverage of Boston sports. However, I’d get large envelopes addressed to me from Danvers. There’d be no note or letter inside… just clippings from the Boston newspapers about the Celtics, Sox, Bruins, and Patriots.

Then there was the money. My grandfather was college educated but not exactly wealthy (though his father did well for himself). Yet birthdays and holidays always meant big paydays for me and my sisters. Each time two separate windfalls came, requiring an obscene number of digits for a child. One came in our name, and another to my mother to enlarge the piles under the tree, or sweeten the birthday haul. Most of the checks written out to me went in the bank – and ultimately became the down-payment on our house – after wasting chunks of it here and there on motorcycles, racing road bikes (bicycles), a slowly growing tool box with standard and specialized tools for both, stereo components, or the latest pair of Oakleys.

Have I ever mentioned I may have been a wee bit spoiled growing up?

So what was in that envelope my dad had for me a few weeks ago? There was no letter. There was no note. The only thing her handwriting graced was that envelope. Inside was a front page article cut from the Boston Globe about Red Auerbach stepping down as General Manager of the Celtics, and a special pull-out section on the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run (they lost to the Edmonton in the finals… though at least they didn’t lose to the Habs in the playoffs). Reading about the efforts of Cam Neely, Ray Bourque, and Andy Moog (one of my favorite player names of all time), I suddenly felt a little tickle in my throat, a little sting in my eyes – a little choked up.

I imagined a woman who in some ways lived 35 years longer than she wanted to, following the death of my grandfather. In most of those pictures she smiled. After he died she didn’t. I imagined a tough old woman living 35 years fueled by nothing but plain stubbornness.

I also thought about all the gifts, large and small; and the things we learned from her church friends just after she died. I thought about all those envelopes over the years in the mail.

Though sometimes it may seem a little thing to others – even a little odd – some of us show our love the only way we can.


Letter I wrote

I was going to hold off on this post for another week, but I really need to write something happy today.

The following is a letter I wrote to a good friend a number of years ago (blame the 2001 me for the writing).

It was the beginning of my second year at UF and it was a terrible semester. I was unsure of my future plans and I was lonely. After my first year (in the dorms), a group of my friends and I decided to move to an off campus apartment. I thought it would be great at first, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. It didn’t foster quite as much camaraderie as the dorms, and I sensed the void.

My birthday came about one month into that first year off campus. I decided not to call attention to myself by announcing it. The morning gave way to afternoon, the afternoon gave way to evening, the evening gave way to night, and no one mentioned it. I didn’t get a call from my parents. I didn’t get a call from my sisters. (To be fair, I was not expecting a call from my family; we had just celebrated my birthday the previous weekend back home.) None of my roommates (my best friends) mentioned it. It seemed by not calling attention to myself I got no attention at all, and it hurt. I felt insignificant. I was sure it was me and I was taking it very hard.

Within my circle of high school friends there was one in particular who did not go to UF with most of the rest of us. This friend and I got together occasionally on weekends when I was home, but due to the obvious lack of opportunity we didn’t speak as much as we had in the past. On that night of my birthday, feeling terribly alone, I went to check the mail. Among that day’s mail I discovered a birthday card from this friend. My spirits were instantly lifted. Getting this card from my friend back home lifted me up as much (or more) than my friends at UF let me down. I was elated that I meant enough to someone to remember. I felt so good it’s hard to describe. Up to that point my self esteem was near its all time low. That card did not solve all my problems, but it did help pull me through that first part of the semester. That friend went on to become my best and most important friend. Many of us can point to events in life which serve as a turning point, a shift in the fulcrum to forces seeking to push our lives in different directions. We find ourselves barreling down life’s highway in a certain direction, and something puts on the brakes, sending us up life’s on-ramp to greater fulfillment. This card, this friend, this semester… all served this purpose in my own life.

This friend and I will be married seven years ago this May 14.

We began as acquaintances, one of us having a crush on the other. We grew to be friends, but one of us left town after high school. In time we both became available (who am I kidding, I was always available) and became more than just friends; in many ways deeply committed from the start. We became husband and wife, but it was only a formality; society’s recognition of what God already saw, and we already felt deep in our hearts.

Many times, when I’ve felt down or depressed, I remember a birthday card from a very special friend. I think about how much life has changed since that forgotten birthday eleven years ago, and I remember that I am very lucky. I am married to my best friend and love of my life.

Happy Anniversary Cheryl,
Love John


Why wouldn’t I wait another week to post this letter? It’s only a few more days until our anniversary. But it’s been a lousy week and I’m in the mood to indulge myself early. Why would I share this letter at all? It is kind of private. But since when have I shied away from sharing the mess in my head?

Next week we’ll be married 15 years. But that’s not all! A few days later will mark the 30th anniversary of my dad starting at Honeywell. Why is this significant? It’s when he moved his family to Florida – including yours truly.

I’ve lived in Florida for 30 years, and half of it will be with Cheryl.

They’re just numbers, but they’re kinda cool numbers. They’re more than enough reason to be happy.

Something Lost

Your mother wasn’t feeling well last night or this morning, so we called her doctor. The pain was worrisome but not unbearable. The doctor took us right in this morning and gave your mother an ultrasound to see how you were doing.

I have no medical training, but I knew enough looking at the monitor to know we will never get the chance to meet.

I noticed the nurse wasn’t saying anything, and I got the sense it was deliberate. Your mother was looking at the screen too, but I couldn’t tell if she knew what I knew, and I was no better than the nurse. If your mom had looked at either of us she would have known right away.

So now we’ve lost you before we ever had you, and my soul is filled with sorrow at the loss. Even though you were never born, the idea of you is three months old, and your loss has struck me more than I would have thought. My only memories of you are made up, fantasies of what you could have been like. We’ll never get to make real ones. I’ll never get to look into your eyes and see some of myself in you. I’ll never get to look upon your face and see some of your mother in you. I’ll never get to see you play with your older sister. I’ll never get to share my love with my second child. One day we’ll probably have another, and maybe by then I’ll have recovered from your loss. People will refer to that child as our second child, and I might too; but it’s hard to imagine now. I’m so sorry.