(Mac gets to drive his first boat and adjust his baseball hat at the same time)

I didn’t win any money this weekend, although I bet a few races at Ellis Park, Saratoga and Monmouth Park.

And, it really didn’t matter.

I didn’t have the greatest weekend with my handicapping, either. Only got two winners out of the 11 races on Saturday, although Friday was a bit better. Even took Sunday off, which is a rarity for this old war horse.

And, it really didn’t matter.

I didn’t zip down to The Breakers, the greatest marina/nightclub on the Kentucky Lake. Missed my boys Rookie, Zeb and Johnny Mac. Missed the music. Missed the camaraderie.

But, it really didn’t matter.

I had the greatest weekend of my life.

It was like hitting the Pick 6, and I have only done that once in my life. It was probably like hitting one of those “Jackpot” things, although I don’t play those. Pure adrenaline rush.

It was like standing in the winner’s circle of Churchill Downs after our Miss Jacqueline ran off to a 6-length win. Pure joy.

It was like sitting in the tack room with the late, great horse trainer Woody Stephens, and listening to him tell how he and his horses won five Belmont Stakes in a row. Pure history.

It was like sitting in the jockey’s room at Santa Anita and chatting with the late, great rider Bill Shoemaker. “The Shoe” didn’t give many interviews. And, the words came out like the nails of an old horse shoe. Pure journalism.

It was like a cold drink of water on a 100-degree day. Pure quench.

My son, Brad, and his lovely wife, Kate, and my two grandsons, Ford and Jack, came to our Lake House on Friday. They brought their new puppy “Blue” with them. They brought their smiles and love of life and moved into my heart and house.

My daughter, Alex, and her wonderful husband, Evan, showed up on Saturday. They brought their son, John McLean, along, too. That little boy — who will turn 1-years-old the first week of August — never cried once. Not once. But he laughed a lot. A lot.

It was the greatest weekend of my life.

And, please allow this old “Pops” a chance to tell you why:

Early on Saturday morn, before the sun took total control, Brad took Jack and Ford down to the dock to teach the boys how to fish.

They took my pole. They took my dad’s tackle box. A tackle box that had not been opened since my dad’s passing over 3 years ago. A tackle box full of fishing equipment. More importantly, a tackle box full of memories.

(Brad teaches the boys how to fish)

The boys don’t really know how I felt when I watched them from my deck chair and from far away. Let’s just say that the lake is a few tears deeper now, and I know their great grandfather loved watching — from behind that cloud that looks like an Eagle — and seeing those lures being used again, too.

It was a special time. It will forever hold a special place in my heart.

A bit later on Saturday, after “Mac” arrived on the scene, we loaded up the tube and set sail.

Jack and Ford got the first trip, squeezed around their dad. They jostled as the tube turned into a water trampoline. They laughed from the soul. They smiled from ear to ear. They were exactly what a 5-year-old boy and a 4-year-old boy should be. They were happy.

Then, much to the dismay and stomach turn of “Mother Alex,” Evan and “Baby Mac” loaded onto the plastic device that was pumped full. In a way, the tube reminded me of Donald Trump during a Rose Garden press conference. A mixture of orange, red, and hot air.

(The boys watch “Baby Mac” get his first tube ride)

Brad took one side. Evan took the other. “Baby Mac” slid in-between without one grunt; without one groan; without one cry; without one hesitation or fight.

And, we took off on “Baby Mac’s” first tube ride. Ever.

He laughed. And, then he leaned his beautiful black, curly hair and head over on his Dad’s shoulders and took a nap. So much for stress of the open seas.

It was a special time. It will forever hold a special place in my heart.

The entire weekend was just like that. Over. And, over. And, over. Special moments. Special times. Precious memories. How they linger.

We played on “Splash Island.” Even “Pops” got his Jackie Gleason-like body in the water. And, that doesn’t happen often these days. The water levels can’t stand the sudden rise at the dam.

We stopped and swam in the most beautiful cove on God’s Green Earth. A place where the “Big Person” took a little more time to paint. Jack did a perfect back flip. We rated it a perfect “10.” Ford perfected his “Cannon Ball,” his “Can Opener,” and his “Flip,” too. All perfect “10s.”

We went to the marina to get gas and free, frozen popsicles. Thanks Tom. Hit the spot.

It was special times. They will forever hold special places in my heart.

But I have to close with one story that just stole my heart, more than any other. One lasting memory that shall never fade.

You see, upstairs, I have a bedroom where we keep a set of bunk beds. They come in handy when we have “the boys” visit. Whether they are Will’s friends — all of whom are 16 now — or the grand kids — all of whom are now under the age of 6.

This weekend, it was Ford’s and Jack’s room. It is where “Pops” would go to read them a book before bedtime. It is where the boys took turns getting to sleep on the top bunk — a prized possession.

On Friday night, it was Jack’s turn to sleep “upstairs.”

On Saturday night, it was Ford’s turn to hog the top bunk.

On Sunday night, the last night, it was…OMG…whose turn?

We decided the only way — only “fair way” — to settle it was to flip a coin. Ford took tails. Jack took heads. Brad had the honors of doing the flip.

The coin went up. The coin came down. The coin got flipped and slapped on the back of Brad’s hand. For the longest time, we waited for the outcome. It seemed like it took forever. Like a wait for the photo finish to flash up on the tote board. Like the wait for a steward’s inquiry to get adjudicated. Like the long walk back to the barn after a tough race.

As it turned out, the coin was sitting with the “tails” turned up. Ford’s faced turned up. He had won. He got the top bunk.

Immediately, Jack’s face turned down. And, so did the tears. They fell like rain. Fast and furious.

It was not the way to finish the weekend. It broke our hearts.


Suddenly, without encouragement or lobbying, Ford said to his dad, and I quote:

“Let’s flip again, Dad. I don’t think it was fair the first time. Let’s do it again. This time we will have a real winner.”

Now, Ford, you see is 5 years old. He will turn 6 in a couple of weeks. And, he just showed more love and maturity than we have seen from a President in years.

So, Brad took the coin and flipped it again. Coin went up. Coin came down. And, the coin got turned. The hand moved. The reveal:

It was heads. Jack had won, this time. The tears dried up like a wet towel on a hot, July day on Kentucky Lake.

Ford clapped for his brother. (I swear, I’m not making this up.)

This time, the tears were mine. Tears of joy. Tears of amazing grace. Tears of love. I knew right then that Brad and Kate had raised two amazing boys. I knew right then and there we had two more amazing McLeans. And, I knew Alex and Evan were raising one more — just like them.

It was a special time. It will forever hold a special place in my heart. Forever. Special.

Before we went up to read our book, I called Ford over to the side. I grabbed my phone. I typed in the website for www.lego.com. We went to the Ninjago section. Ford’s favorite section.

It was time to add to Ford’s birthday wish list. It was time for a reward. After all, that’s what “Pops” do best. We spoil. We reward. We love. Without limitation. Without hesitation.

This morning, everybody loaded up.

It was not long before everybody was gone.

I stood in the driveway and watched them all drive off. I waved all the way until they disappeared over the hill.

Suddenly, everything was so very quiet. And, I realized I missed the noise; the barking; the laughs; and the cries.

Suddenly, everything was still. And, I realized I missed the hustle; the bustle; the fixing of the cooler; the carrying of the towels; and the roar of both the boat motor and the kid’s yelps.

Suddenly, everything had changed. And, I realized — right then — that I had, too. I was saddened by the departures, alright. Stomach ache sad. Yet, I was made anew by the arrival of so many new memories, too. Uplifting memories.

It was the best weekend ever. And, I realized I had won more than I could ever win betting the races.

This weekend, I had won the love of my three grandsons.

Glory, hallelujah.

Glory, glory, hallelujah.

The future is marching on.

(My three grandsons, from left to right: Jack, Mac, Ford)

(Grand-dog “Blue” learned how to swim and dive, too)

(We all had a great time at the Lake House)

(Brad teaches Jack and Ford how to fish)

(Jack and Ford play with Mac and watch him take his first tube ride)

(A time to share)

(A time to rest)

(A time to ride and a time to drive)

(A time to fish and a time to act like a fish)

(A time to nap and a time to rest)

(And, a time for Pops to celebrate)