Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Finding meaning in the memories
Mike Riley's daughter, Kate, honors her mother.
CORVALLIS — The store located around the corner from “American Dream Pizza” carries the best caramel corn in town. It has vintage clothing, antiques, skin products and piles of charm. But it’s the caramel corn that football coach Mike Riley likes to tell people about.
His daughter, Kate, owns the place.
“When my dad comes in,” she told me, “he just stands by the door joking around and loudly saying, ‘Man, this is a great shop. It has great things.’ And he talks loudly about that caramel corn.”
I’ve written a lot about Kate’s father over the years. The long-time ex-Oregon State football coach has enjoyed an illustrious career on the sideline. He’s 69 and still coaching with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. But today, for the first time, I want to write about that daughter of his.
It’s her store.
It’s her dream.
The corporation registered as “1972 Co., LLC” opened last fall. It operates under the name “1972 Vintage Homebody.” Most customers just call the shop “1972.”
“That’s my mom’s high school graduation year,” Kate said.
Mike Riley’s USFL season started on Saturday night. The Generals, who lost only one regular-season game last season, dropped the opener to Birmingham by a score of 27-10.
Hours before kickoff, Riley called and told me a story about an antique bed frame. He and Dee found it in a consignment store in Amity just after they were married.
“I think that bed frame was the first thing we ever bought together,” he said. “It was $250. That was a big purchase for us back then.”
Mike and Dee met at the University of Alabama, where he played football. They were introduced by a friend. They eventually lost touch and drifted apart. Years later, when Mike was a graduate assistant at UC Berkeley he called her, remembering that day — May 22 — happened to be her birthday.
Dee picked up.
“Happy birthday, Dee,” he announced.
“Thanks,” she deadpanned, “but my birthday is May 2.”
I’ve shared that anecdote before. But I want to tell it again because it emphasizes the nature of football coaches, who are often manically obsessed with their jobs. It sometimes leaves their families on the outside, looking in.
“If you’re not careful as a coach,” Riley told me on Saturday, “football can be all-consuming.”
Dee had always collected things, but that antique bed frame fueled a hobby. Years later, Dee Riley and her daughter, Kate, would fill the time on Saturday mornings by going to antique shops, garage sales and thrift stores.
It was game day, sure — for everyone else. Fans buzzed about town, preparing for the tailgate. Coaches and players held pre-game meetings and planned. A football game in a college town is a big deal. But Dee and Kate would slip away from it all and meander about together.
“Some of my earliest memories are waking up early and going to garage sales with my mom,” Kate said.
The family moved a lot. It’s part of the coaching lifestyle. Riley worked in Canada, then came to Corvallis, then left for the NFL and the San Diego Chargers. After that, it was back to Oregon State for a second tour.
“The return to Corvallis felt like a treat for us all,” Kate said.
There was a lot of quality time back then, particularly for Dee and the Riley family’s two children, Kate and Matt.
“We were always with mom,” Kate said. “We were close with our dad, but she was the one who was always home. She filled in so much of the space. She was my best friend. She was Matt’s best friend. Every time we moved she was there to help us kids with confidence and encourage us.”
Dee’s hobby blossomed over the years. She acquired old items and restored them. Once, with the encouragement of her family, she rented a small space in an antique mall to sell some of her finds. But Dee usually bought more from other vendors than she sold.
“We never really lived anywhere long enough for her to open up her own shop,” Kate said. “We’d walk around downtown Corvallis. I was maybe in fourth or fifth grade and we’d talk about one day opening a store.”
What would they sell?
Where would it be located?
“Just me and mom,” Kate said. “Usually on Saturday morning or maybe a Friday. It didn’t matter where we lived. It was Seal Beach when dad was coaching at USC. We would get up early to go to the garage sales or the flea market in LA. Dad obviously supported her love of it. They were surrounded by all those old things she found.
“She is eclectic.”
Dee Riley isn’t well. You may have heard. It was last year that her husband, Mike, went public with the news. Riley explained to his team during USFL training camp that the woman he fell in love with, married, and raised children with was suffering from what he described as a mental-health condition.
“She knows Devante,” Riley said, pointing to one of his players in the room, “but she’s going to meet Devante again and it will be new to her...
“She’ll still love you. She’s sweet as can be.”
The last few years have been hard on the Riley family. Dee has been in and out of a several memory-care facilities. She’s currently living back at the family home in Corvallis along with Kate, Kate’s husband Mark, and two grandchildren, Eli, 11, and Cici, 6.
“People ask me, ‘How are things?’” Kate said. “I’m brutally honest. I tell them, ‘Not that great. It’s really hard. My mom is just not that great right now.’”
What were the signs?
How did the condition progress?
“Her personality changed a little bit at first,” said Kate. “The memory stuff got worse. The Alzheimer’s was present and rapidly getting worse. She had a pretty rapid timeline. It’s hard because you have to mourn several times.”
Five years ago, the reality became apparent. The coach’s wife who stood at the back of the room all those years during the post-game news conferences was still physically there. Dee Riley could sit at a table and share a meal. She looked like Dee. There was warmth about her, and a familiar laugh, but her family knew she was not coming back.
“I mourned the loss of who I knew to be my mom,” Kate said. “I mourned the loss of the relationship. She’s still around physically. There are a lot of glimpses. You appreciate those moments.”
Kate opened the “1972” store last year. It’s her place. She sets the hours and prices. She decorates the window display and selects the collections to sell. But everyone in the family knows where her inspiration came from.
Said Mike: “Kate has always been into that stuff and is amazing at it, but her mother is the influence.”
The store is closed on Mondays. On Tuesdays in the football offseason, Mike and Dee still go on a date night. They eat at the pizza place around the corner, then pop over to walk around the shop and help out.
“The store has kind of become a gathering place for the whole family,” Mike said.
Dee walks around and looks at items. The grandchildren play off to the side. Mike stands by the front door, crowing about how delicious the caramel corn tastes.
Kate is still tinkering with marketing ideas for the store. When mothers and daughters come through the doors, she takes note of it. Also, she has a deep appreciation for students who shop on a budget.
“We have a lot of college students and high schoolers who come in,” she said. “It’s special when they choose to spend their money here. Usually, in that position you’re buying something that is really special to you.
“I remember what that’s like.”
I spoke with Kate for a while this week about her new business venture, her two children and her experience growing up amid the backdrop of college football. She worked for a time with her dad in the football offices during college and still roots for OSU.
Her dad, Mike, told me it’s been a struggle these last few years for the whole family. They miss Dee. Even as she’s present there aren’t any sustained moments when she acts like her old self.
“It’s hard,” he said, “and sad.”
I keep thinking about that little vintage store on SW Madison Ave. I’ll stop in sometime. Dee Riley would have loved stumbling through the doors on some weekend morning with her little girl all those years ago. She always found value in items that held memories for others.
Now, her little girl is doing what she can to preserve the memory of her mom.
That kind of treasure takes love to see.
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